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If you want to have some bonding time with your family that doesn't revolve around watching a show or movie, game night can be an easy way to bring everyone together for an hour or two. Bonus: They can also be great for breaks during remote instruction or homeschooling, and playing non-electronic games has been shown to improve kids' social skills, encourage teamwork, and boost language and math skills.
As you look at options, you'll want to consider the game's optimal age range, number of players, ease of use (especially for younger kids, it shouldn't take longer to explain the game than actually play it!), and length of time required—remember that littler ones may have trouble sitting through extended sessions. Finally, remember that when it comes to the official recommended minimum age, YMMV: Even if you have a younger child, they might be able to enjoy playing with a bit of help, patience, and rule modification.
Here, the best family games to make game night a blast.
Best Overall: Pressman The Original Rummikub
Fans of this fast-paced tile game, which mixes in elements of gin rummy, report that it's a huge hit with players of all ages, from grandparents all the way down to elementary-school kids. The recommended age is 8 and up, but some parents report success with children as young as five. Each of the four players gets 14 tiles at the start of the game, and the object is to be the first to use all of them by creating "groups" (maybe three of the same number) or "runs" (consecutive numbers in the same color).
The use of a draw pile means the game is a mix of chance and strategy, and even younger players will get a chance to win if they get lucky choosing tiles. The game also helps reinforce early math concepts such as sequencing and pattern recognition, but it's not so strenuous that you won't be able to enjoy fun conversation as you play. One round takes about 20 minutes, slightly longer if you're playing with kids who need a little extra help.
Best Board Game: MindWare Qwirkle Board Game
Although the graphic, brightly colored tiles might look simple, this is a game that will help teach even its younger players about strategizing, planning ahead, spatial recognition, and problem solving. Qwirkle evokes standbys like Scrabble and Dominoes: The point is to build rows or columns that are all the same color or same shape, without repeating identical tiles. Getting six in a row is called a "Qwirkle" and earns bonus points.
Young players will grasp the concepts quickly, while more seasoned players will enjoy getting a bit competitive—the more you play, the more you can develop strategies to block other players in addition to getting your own sequences. It's recommended for children ages 6 and up, and one game takes about 45 minutes.
Best for Teams: Czech Games Codenames
Although the minimum recommended age for this game is 14, it can be enjoyed by younger players with a bit of help, especially since it's most often played by splitting into two teams. The basic idea: Each team needs to identify and connect with all of their agents, known only by their codenames and described as "undercover spies working in the field." They also have to avoid uncovering members of the opposing team (since this helps them win) and, of course, the assassin (that leads to sudden death—and the end of the round).
There's a Spymaster on each team who knows the secret agents' identities, and tries to help their teammates by providing one-word clues. The rules can be a little complex, especially regarding what's allowed to be said out loud. But the game is heavy on creative word play and requires careful, deliberate thinking, which makes it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are additional variations as well, including an "every player for themself" version, and one that has a single team working together to win.
"The more we played, the more fun the rounds became as everyone starts to get the hang of the word associations, particularly ones that will provide clues to locate more than one spy at the same time."—Sarah Vanbuskirk, Product Tester
Best Card Game: Exploding Kittens LLC Exploding Kittens Card Game
This popular card game may have a ridiculous name, but don't think that means things won't get competitive as you play. The way to play: You draw cards from the pile on the table, and if you pull an exploding kitten you're out, unless you can use another card to do things like defuse the kitten, relocate it, skip your turn, or target one of your co-players. The rules are simple, but since the game is based on luck, each round will be exciting in its own way.
Be warned: This game is heavy on the potty humor, though it's nothing too extreme—think silly images like "goat butts." Just make sure you don't buy the adult-themed one labelled NSFW. The basic set is meant for 2 to 5 players and each game takes about 15 minutes.
You can get a few different expansion packs to keep the game feeling fresh, which are highly recommended, especially if you want to play with larger groups. The expansion packs come with cards that offer new moves, such as the "streaking kitten" card, which allows its holder to secretly keep an exploding kitten card without being killed.
"The game’s creators recommend ages 7 and up, but we think that depends a lot on the 7 year old. Age, really, is less relevant than temperament. There’s not a lot of reading, and the concept is simple to understand, but there’s strategy required to make the game fun and not just random, and that requires patience and concentration. Some younger kids might find that kind of a tall order."—Danielle Centoni, Product Tester
Best Video Game: Nintendo Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Need an exciting, entry-level video game that everyone in the family can learn quickly? Mario Kart 8, which even six-year-olds can master, is your jam. The concept—racing cars—is simple, and each player can customize their character (there are 42 to choose from) and vehicle, down to its tire tread and glider type. The game includes nearly 50 different courses, and there's a Smart Steering option to help younger kids (and their rusty parents) avoid driving off the road.
Once you've mastered the various racetracks, you can also switch to battle mode, which offers challenges like balloon popping, grenade tossing, and coin collecting. Up to four players can play in person, and if you want to include family members from far away, you can also play remotely with a crowd of up to 12.
Best for Young Children: Pressman Charades for Kids
The problem with many games is that for younger children to become truly engaged, they need an adult sitting with them to help read. This version of charades, aimed at children aged four and older, can be played with both pre-readers and older kids, so you just might get lucky and find it occupies your preschooler while you empty the dishwasher.
Little ones simply act out the visual clue shown on the card, while older players roll the dice and play the written choice that corresponds to the number that comes up. The game comes with 450 different charade options, so you won't feel like you've quickly exhausted your choices (other brands of picture charades are much more limited). It's best played with three or more people, and a sand timer is included to keep things moving at a brisk pace.
Best Outdoor Game: Ropoda Six-Player Croquet Set
Want to get some extra time outdoors with the family? There are lots of lawn games to make the backyard more interesting, but a croquet set has true mass appeal, whether you're talking about little ones old enough to wield a mallet and make up their own variations (make sure to watch them carefully, since these are made of real hardwood!) or older relatives who actually remember the rules and variations.
This set is attractive, colorful, and durable, but isn't expensive enough that you'll feel the need to be delicate with it. It comes with a handy canvas storage bag that's easy to toss in your trunk if you're going to the park or on vacation.
Best for Teenagers: What Do You Meme? Family Edition
This hilarious card game, which is heavy on adorable animal and kid photos, is a more family-friendly spinoff of a popular NSFW game. (Note that even if you have older teens or college kids, you'll probably want to stick to this family edition unless you want everyone at the table blushing.)
For each round, there's one photo card in play, and each player is dealt a handful of caption cards, with one person designated the judge. The object is simple: Create a meme that's funny enough to impress the judge. The minimum age is 8, making it perfect for game nights when everyone's around, and it's most fun played with at least three or four people.