Fifth is a wonderful and confusing era at the same time for board games. Children about five years old are nearly enough to play a game on their own as long as it is simple, and are often fascinated by the idea of structured play that the board game represents. But at the same time, they can still find it difficult to deal with loss and have very short attention spans.
To make matters worse, a lot of the toys you’ll find on the shelves have educational themes worthy of tempting parents, but kids will spot them as grueling educational tricks a mile away and demand something more fun. Finding the best board games for kids is not an easy task. So here is a selection of competitive and cooperative games that are easy for 5-year-olds to play on their own where the learning elements are well hidden. And you’ll often find them interesting enough to stick with yourself, too.
A great way for kids to get into hobby games is to take a familiar concept — in this case, dominoes — and give it a fresh new twist. Here, dominoes show different types of terrain. Players choose from four exposed pieces and place them in a growing landscape, trying to match the terrain on one or both ends with existing pieces. For each such match, they get an egg, which is either worth a point or gives them the right to choose who picks the piece in the next turn. Quick play with a nice person and very simple in teaching and learning, it is attractive to children while teaching them role-playing and simple strategy.
At the age of five, co-op games where no one has the shame of defeat is still a great way to avoid family feuds. And they don’t come much better than Outfoxed, a memory and antagonist game where players have to discover which group of suspects they suspect are Macron who stole the chicken pie. It has a neat tool that determines whether or not a particular clue, such as a wand or a hat, is something that matches the suspect’s photo. So by building visual clues about the culprit, your group can slowly eliminate suspects and focus on the criminals. But each clue risks bringing them closer to the edge of the board where they escape, driving excitement levels higher at every turn.
All Carcassonne / Carcassonne Junior
The original Carcassonne is a fairly simple strategy game that’s good for older kids and families, but it’s still a bit too big for a five-year-old. Alternatively, you can introduce kids to the same concept with this fun starter version. Like an emerging iteration, it involves placing randomly drawn tiles to create a network of roads that intersect a pastoral landscape. But he flips the player’s piece placement on his head, as if the road is complete, players place identically colored pieces from their inventory. The first player to put all his pieces wins. Visually appealing and easy to play, it’s a great way to learn basic strategy concepts.
HABA is a German company that makes great toys for kids with bright, chunky wooden pieces and simple strategies to draw a little imagination. Monza is no exception, using basic concepts to create a fast and fun racing game. The path is divided into colored spaces, and in turn, each player rolls six colored dice. Then they try to draw a path around the other drivers and the restricted spaces matching the colors they have rotated on the board spaces. It’s intuitive gameplay and a great mix of luck, excitement, and a little bit of skill.
Kids concept: Animals
Concept is a game that offers clues for adults but also comes in this kid-friendly, animal-based co-op version. The painting is full of icons depicting things like color, size, habitat, and body shape. One player has a random animal card that they can’t see but other players can see, and these players have to use the board symbols to help the guesser get his animal. It’s a good level of difficulty for kids, plus it has an educational element and can be played without text while kids are still learning to read, making it a great all-in activity for the family or for kids to play on their own.
Magic Miz Kids
Another game based on a franchise for adults, Magic Maze Kids abandons many aspects of the original game that aren’t kid-friendly, such as silence and theft theme, in favor of animals collecting potion ingredients. It maintains the escalating tension of the collaboration trying to move the pieces around a board while the sand timer flows down towards losing the set. All players can move all board pieces, but each player can only move them in certain directions: the goal is to move certain pieces to certain places while navigating obstacles. With tutorials to teach them the game and lots of bright chunky pieces, Magic Maze Kids will have a great time.
animal on animal
Another HABA game, this one uses a kid-friendly mechanic, which is often better than adults: dexterity. Against a group of cute but erratic animal pieces, the goal is to get rid of all of your pieces by balancing each other on top of each other in the middle of the table. The roll of the dice dictates your options for spins, and instead of stacking, you might see the base of the stack expand or even give an animal to another player, which adds more excitement along with the risk of a pile falling. Best of all, unlike many of the games on this list, Animal Upon Animal is just as much fun for adults.
Bugs in the kitchen
Often times, games with electronic gadgets prove to be disappointing. But good design, like Bugs in the Kitchen, can really get the kids into the fun play factor. The tool here is a vibrating electronic bug that can move itself almost randomly around the board. However, there is a maze above the board made up of lots of pivot gates that you can trap in different sections. Players roll the dice and move a matching shaped gate, trying to either get the bug into their corner to score a point or into someone else’s corner, depending on the mode you’re playing.
As you might imagine from a publisher called Peaceable Kingdom, Hoot Owl Hoot is a cooperative game where the group wins or loses together. Your goal is to get all the baby owls back to their nest before sunrise by moving them along a path of colored spaces. You can change the difficulty level by changing the number of owls, which is a nice touch. Each player has a hand of cards that can move an owl to the next space of the corresponding color, owls jumping along the way by calling “Shout”. But if you are not lucky to draw a solar card, you should turn it on and bring the timer towards the end of the game for more excitement.
For more ideas, check out our roundup of the best board games to play in 2022.