“Living” Board Games: High Quality Family Fun

There is a time for structured learning and instruction.  And we can make use of a variety of activities to meet that objective.  But when we come to “family time” or “game night,” the objectives are different!  Have you ever played a game that everyone knew was actually instruction in sheep’s clothing?  Or struggled to stay engaged with a game your kids wanted you to play with them?  When the objective is family fun, what you want are some excellent board games, designed for family interaction!

I began writing here about investigating the Charlotte Mason concept of “living books” and how it got me thinking about the concept of “living board games”.   If the idea of “board gaming” evokes thoughts of Candy Land and Monopoly, you may never have experienced a “Living Board Game”!   My husband, the board game expert in our household, shared some thoughts about what makes an excellent board game.


Quality family games are engaging for multiple age groups.  What does “engaging” look like?

    1. You are so involved that you really want to win, not just finish the game.
    2. You enjoy the gameplay so much that you’d play again, even if you don’t win.  (In family board gaming – typically more than two players – statistics suggest that you will probably lose more often than you win, so games that are only fun if you win won’t have much staying power.)
    3. You are drawn into the gameplay such that even when it is not your turn, it is interesting to watch what other players are doing and what choices they make.  (This is especially enhanced by game mechanics that result in some sort of interactions between players – i.e. the decisions of other players affect you and your choices.)
    4. The experience of a great board game makes family memories and stories.  You are still thinking about it the next day.  The play-by-play is enjoyable, even in the re-telling.

kids gaming


Quality family games have excellent gameplay.

    1. They are built around engaging mechanics or an engaging theme that is supported (or at least not detracted from) by the mechanics.
    2. They invite analysis (“thinking”) but in an organically entertaining way.
    3. Many of the best family games on the market today do not involve “player elimination.” In other words, all players play to the end of the game.  Winning isn’t determined by “last man standing” but by points or other progress tracked throughout the game.  This prevents those who fall behind spending “game time” watching other people finish the game without them.
    4. They usually include some kind of catch-up mechanic.  This reducing the likelihood of a “runaway winner”.  When the person in the lead is more easily able to make progress, the gap between the winner and the losers grows rapidly and those not winning become increasingly disinterested in playing.  Some games include special end-game scoring or bonuses so that it isn’t really clear until the last minute who will finally triumph!

ketchup mechanic


These days, excellent family board games have high-quality components.

    1. Board game manufacturers have learned that the tactile experience of playing a board game is very important.  Part of the enjoyment of board games is the physical movement of aesthetically pleasing bits and cubes and the handling of sturdy cards and dice.
    2. Sturdy boards, thicker cards and solid – perhaps even wooden – bits and player pieces make for long-lasting board game life and playing time!  Family versions of games often have larger cards, larger tiles and larger, sturdier player pieces.

You can find lots of recommendations here of some of our family’s favorite and well-loved games!



Lynna Sutherland is a homeschool mother of eight always-homeschooled kiddos ranging in age from high school to kindergarten. She loves to encourage parents in the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and offer creative ways to manage a large family and a multi-age homeschool!

  • Lynna, this is so cool! I was never a board games person. This post made me see lots of value in it that I haven't thought about before. Thank you for sharing!!

    • Thanks, Ana! My husband really led the way for us in this pursuit and it has meant hours of family fun and together time!!

  • I love board games and have been trying to get my kids into them. We LOVE Blokus and will play for hours. We gave Settlers of Catan a couple of tries but it was very confusing. I’m thinking I need to watch some youtube videos to try and figure it out. I will check out your recommended games. We are always on the lookout for good ones.

    • Kelly, over on the old blog I did a bunch of posts and scopes about games we’ve enjoyed playing, even with littles and how to modify them for kids if needed. Hoping to get back into more of that over here!

  • Wondering what game is shown in the cover photo? Thanks!

  • I think the tactile factor you mentioned above is underrated. How much time spent at video games do we actually remember? I have way more childhood memories of playing board games with my sister and friends than I do of playing Ms. Pac Man!

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