10 Great Visual-Spatial Board Games

Last week I published a huge guide to board games and what you can learn while playing them.  But as I stood in front of our wall of board games, one thought kept creeping into my mind.  “This is a fantastic game and I know it really utilizes thinking skills!  But why can’t I put my finger on what it is they are learning when they play this game?!?

Then I read this article in Scientific American.  It turns out that when we think about “learning” we generally focus on quantitative and verbal ability (you know, the kinds of things measured by the SATs and most other standardized tests).  But check this out:

Spatial ability, defined by a capacity for mentally generating, rotating, and transforming visual images, is one of the three specific cognitive abilities most important for developing expertise in learning and work settings… While those with verbal and quantitative strengths enjoy more traditional reading, writing, and mathematics classes, there are currently few opportunities in the traditional high school to discover spatial strengths and interests.

Visual-spatial games have been around pretty much since the beginning of board gaming.  Common examples include tic-tac-toe, chess, checkers and, of course, jigsaw puzzles.  But here are some modern games that also exercise those visual-spatial mental muscles!

Spatial Favorites for Little People

Busy Town – This is a giant six-foot long cooperative board game to be played on the floor.  Do you remember hunting through the detail-rich pages of a Richard Scarry book looking for Goldbug or other characters?  Now you can do that as a part of a board game and help your team to reach the picnic before the pig family eats all the food!


Battle Sheep – Take turns laying out the tiles of hexagonal spaces to make a playing board.  Grab your stack of sheep tiles – each one with a unique and funny sheep character.  Begin the game with all the sheep stacked on one edge space.  Take turns dividing your piles and spreading your sheep around the board.  How far can you spread your flock without being blocked by your opponents?  The components are of excellent quality and fun to handle as you play the game!

Labyrinth – Move through the maze to find the treasures on your list.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, because the maze moves!  But don’t worry, on your turn, you get to choose how to adjust the maze by adding in a tile to the side and sliding one row of tiles up, down, left or right.  Plus, the tile that is removed on the opposite end might have a special move on it, like an extra turn!

Tonga Island – This game is like a Memory game with a fun twist.  You are sailing your boat from island to island looking for tropical treasures.  The only problem is that you won’t know until you get to the island square where the ports are and where the routes lead.  Uncover each square as you reach it to explore the island.  When you leave the island, cover over that portion of the map.  Can you remember where that island is located and what treasures it holds the next time you sail that way?

One- and Two-Players

Hive – A modern twist on chess, without the board, Hive uses hexagonal tiles marked with different insects.  Each insect has its own movement – circle the hive, climb over the other insects or take on the characteristics of a piece you are touching.  Surround the other player’s queen bee to win the game!

Mine Shift – This is a great two-player game.  All you have to do is to move your four gems from your side of the mine to the other before your opponent can do the same with his.  The fun starts when the mine tiles shift and turn as you move.  Move a gem from one tile to another? Or just move the whole tile!  You have to decide!  (If you love it, check out the four-player version as well.)

Wrong Chemistry – Can you assemble the (fictitious, pun-y) element shown on the card by moving the tiles and discs to match the picture?  You have a limited number of moves to rearrange the pieces before your opponent takes over and creates a totally different layout to achieve his own objectives!  This is a light and fun, but think-y visual puzzle dual!

"Wrong Chemistry" with Mr. Right!
Playing “Wrong Chemistry” with Mr. Right!

Castellion – Yes, there actually are other one-player games besides the solitaire card game!  As you draw tiles, use them to build your castle, seeking to meet certain pattern-objectives along the way.  Should you use that tile in hopes that it will work with later tiles?  Or risk discarding it to protect the set-up you’ve already developed?  Watch out, there are also attackers mixed into the tile deck who will overrun your castle if you haven’t met your objectives before they show up!


Visual Delights

Indigo – I have to be honest – my favorite thing about this game is the artwork!  Designed to look  like the treasure trove of a merchant expedition to the Indies, this game is all about acquiring gems.  Gems move along richly embroidered “silk” and “ribbon” pathways to reach your hold.  Rotate and place the hexagonal tiles just right so as to coax those gems towards you!

Lanterns – When my husband bought this game, he said that he thought it would be relaxing to play.  I didn’t understand what he was saying, but he was right!  The tiles in this game each feature a group of lanterns floating on the water.  Position the tiles to your best advantage with bonuses for matching the colors of adjacent lanterns. Absolutely lovely, and fun!



Bonus Games!

Sorry, I just couldn’t limit my list to only 10 games!  Here are a few more to check out!

What visual-spatial games does your family play??


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!

  • We love Blokus! I am going to check out some of these other games. I love to give board games for Christmas.

    • Absolutely, Blokus is a good one! If Blockus is a hit, I bet you guys would really like Indigo!

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