The Little Lake County editors and their kids have been busy playing and trying out the latest toys and tried and true favorites to bring you this holiday wish list. All items are ones that we have tried, played with and are kid and parent approved.
Best Games for Kids
Best Games for School Age Kids
Perplexus – A solo game it’s a maze contained inside a huge ball. Note in the picture the one that is being played is the larger than life display at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, the blue and white one is the actual size toy. We own both the original and the Death Star, yep, they turned the Death Star into an insanely difficult puzzle maze. There are various styles and sizes. The manufacturer recommended age is six; however, the mom recommended age is probably four to five years for the easier one. All kids will have fun flipping and twisting the maze, but younger kids will have trouble accomplishing anything. Note that the puzzle does contain a marble inside so if a young child manages to break it open, it would be a choking hazard. That being said, ours have been thrown (by toddlers) onto wood floors and not sustained any damage or broke open.
Twizmo! Games Tak-Tak a two player strategy game my son describes as mash-up between chess and checkers. While the rules and game play is not necessarily easier than chess there is a lot less to remember to get started. We played at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair and my son beat the game representative on his first play through. Recommended age is eight and older.
I’m assuming that most of you don’t have competitive word search tournaments with your kids; I’ll admit being a little nerdy on that one. This game essentially turns a word search into a team sport. Up to four players search for given words in a puzzle. The winner with the most tiles on the board at the ends wins. Oh and you can erase your players lead by intercepting their words. Recommended for ages seven and up.
Klask is a game that caught us by surprise. It is a simply-designed, award-winning game from Denmark where players use a magnetic handle underneath the playing board to navigate a playing piece on the top of board. The goal is to hit a small ball into the opposing player’s goal without attracting any white magnets onto your own playing piece or having your striker falling into the goal. It’s a lively game that doesn’t get too raucious because the strikers are moved with magnets. Klask playing tables are a huge draw at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair; there is always a line to wait and play this game.
Quick Cups by Spinmaster
Quick Cups is a timed, matching and stacking game for up to six players, and great for kids ages six and older (but is fun for the whole family, too). All players get the same five small cups, and players have to stack the cups to match the color sequences on the cards. The first person to stack the cups correctly and ring a bell wins the round. Cards have the color sequence displayed either horizontally or staggered in a stack in different arrangements, so it takes a bit of thinking to complete the task.
Best Games for Preschoolers
Spot It! is a game that really could have been put in any of the categories because their are so many varieties. From ABC’s and 123’s to Holidays and favorite Disney Characters there is a game for every child on your list no matter what they like! We own several varieties of this game including the party version shown and everyone enjoys it. Even our preschooler and occasionally our three-year-old can play along with us. Be sure to read Little Lake County’s review of Spot It! and other Blue Orange games here.
Brownie Match by Educational Insights
My 9Melissa) youngest two children (age 3 and 5) broke into this game as soon as I walked in without from the Chicago Toy & Game Fair and have played it repeatedly. Part matching game and part find-it game, the spinner tells you what kind of brownie you need to pick. If you have a good memory and remember where you saw it you will have an advantage, but it’s not necessary. My three-year-old never remembers where the pieces are and still has fun and enjoys playing. It’s also great for helping us reinforce numbers.
I hate to sound like an un-involved parent, because I do play with my kids, A LOT, but the best part of this game is that preschoolers can play it ALONE. Yes, alone. Once you help, or teach them how, to set it up the game talks them through different movements. The kids bounce, twirl and hope to different shapes, colors and activities shown with pictures on the pads. Even when they don’t get it exactly right they kids always end up giggling and having a blast. It’s a great way to get preschoolers moving in the cold winter months, and maybe go to the bathroom in peace.
TY Friends Game
If your youngsters is as Beanie Boo obesessed as ours (still) are, you will have no problem shelling out the bucks for this adorable game featuring Beanie Boo characters. The game teaches memorization, numbers, colors and shapes, lasts about 15 minutes, and is perfect for kids ages three and older. You might even have a Beanie Boo or two at home that will watch your little ones play the game and cheer them on.
Q’s Race to the Top by EQtainment
This game is designed to increase manners, social skills, impulse control among young players. While an adult is needed to read the cards to players, the players help Q, a monkey, race to the top of the tree house as they answer questions and perform balance and coordination activities. This game promotes emotional intelligence skill-building among players, and there is a full complement of additional Q toys, such as a plush Q monkey, travel cards, coloring book and storybook/CD set.
Best Games for Families
Our family (Melissa) owns several different Days of Wonder Games – Ticket to Ride (now available at Target), Small World, Mystery of the Abbey, and Memoir 44. Our whole family (kids ages 9 and 11) enjoy playing these games together. Each one has beautiful created boards and pieces that are durable, no flimsy cardboard here. Almost all of them offer options and to expand or contract based on the number of players or difficulty achieved.
Happy Salmon Game We were introduced to the Happy Salmon Game by a very enthusiastic creator at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. This fast paced group game (minimum of 3 players) will get everyone up and moving around. We broke it out on Thanksgiving and had a blast with cousins of all ages. The recommended age is six years and older and I agree because of the speed, even my nine-year-old had a hard time keeping up the first time we played. The speed is also what makes it great because we could play a round in minutes before dinner was served. It would also make a great movement break or ice breaker in a classroom or youth group setting.
Carcassonne Board Game this is currently our family’s favorite game. Depending on how many expansions you have (we have two) the game can be played quickly and by as few as twopeople. While the recommended age is eight years and older, our kindergartner has managed to play on a team, but there is a lot of remembering who can do what and where for children younger than eight. The game is played by placing beautifully illustrated tiles and building your empire.
Oregon Trail – only available at Target
As parents that remember playing the original game on the computers in our schools computer lab, this may be slightly more entertaining for the adults. Despite not having the nostalgia and the slightly complicated rules my nine and 11-year-old love this game and are always asking to play it. My suggestion to make the most of it is to not get hung-up on rules and just decide what you will do on certain cards and do it. Beside nothing is funnier to kids than filling out tiny gravestones; we even all make-up old-timey names to play under.
Nuts About Mutts
Don’t let the cute dog on this box of this deck of cards fool you into thinking this is just a game for younger kids. It’s a great family game, and can be played at two levels: basic or advanced. Essentially, it’s a matching game of color, number, or dog breed, but then includes a mix of cards that changes the game play, keeping it challenging and competitive. This is one of four Grandpa Beck’s, award winning games. Others to look for include Cover Your Assets, Skull King and Golf.
Exploding Kittens is a strategy card game that is perfect for kids as young as six as well as adults, and is for two to five players. We’ve (Jennifer J.) found it to be perfect for the tweens and teens in the family, who invite us to play often. The game is fast-paced, and the object is not to pick up an exploding kitten card, which means you explode (unless of course you have a kitten defuse card) and renders you out of the round. The cards feature hilarious drawings and quirky sayings that make the game fun and memorable for players of all ages. There is also an additional expansion pack for the game called Imploding Kittens, which adds 20 cards to the game and increases the potential number of players to six.
What games are on your kids wish list this year? Tell us about them in the comments so we can try them too!
Disclosure: Some links provided are affiliate links and we will earn a small portion of purchases made through those link. Thank you for supporting Little Lake County. Some writers received products in order to provide better insight and information on the product. No compensation was received in exchange for placement in the guide.