Winter is the heart of board game (and card game) season. The low-tech appeal may seem almost quaint, but everyone can use some unplugging, plus games are a great way to bond as a family. Our picks below, a mix of classics and somewhat under-the-radar specials, was assembled with the help of the toy experts at local boutiques Gift Hero, Mary Arnold Toys, and Dinosaur Hill, plus testimonials from local game-crazed fams. Have fun!
Gather your kids for a classic game of charades. Whether you hop like a bunny or drive a racecar, Kids on Stage: Charades will help nourish your child’s imagination. Each playing card has a picture of something fun to act out. There’s no reading involved so it’s easy to play with kids of all ages. ($20, Mary Arnold Toys)
Getting ready for kindergarten? Practice for the upcoming school year with Zingo! Sight Words, an educational game that combines vocabulary with bingo. It helps children learn to quickly recognize words and become great readers. ($20, Gift Hero)
Make winter travel fun and educational this season by teaching your children about the 50 states. Great States Junior is a multi-award winning game that teaches children to recognize states and their locations with no-reading-required cards. You can even map out your next family trip while you play the game! ($24, Gift Hero)
Continue practicing letter recognition and upper/lower case letters with this simple matching game. Airplanes to Zebras comes with packs of visually stimulating puzzle-shaped cards with pictures of items like animals, cars, and
playgrounds. Thanks to self-correcting cards—the right letters only fit with the right visuals—children will learn to spell in no time. ($13.75, Dinosaur Hill)
Bring the Yankees and Mets into your living room with the Spot It MLB sports game. Cards contain different symbols that have to be matched up with those on other cards. The game includes instructions for five different variations with different goals. It’s a favorite of 11-year-old Joshua, son Gift Hero’s Co-Founder Lisa Fielding, whose camp bunk mates all love the game. ($16, Gift Hero)
In Qwirkle, players arrange matching colors and shapes on wooden blocks into as long a row or column as possible. There are 108 blocks with 6 various colors and shapes—the possibilities are endless! ($26, Mary Arnold Toys)
Hive is packaged in a small pouch, perfect for portable fun, whether you’re on a trip, at a restaurant, or just in the living room. Each “insect” in this chess-like creation has its own rules for movement in trying to protect its own Queen Bee while attempting to capture the opposing queen. This easy-to-learn game keeps players thinking ahead. ($31.99, Toys“R”Us)
The tic-tac-toe with a twist that took over Europe is now coming to NYC! Pentago is a two-player game with the goal of creating a row of five same-colored marbles. The twist: The board that the marbles sit on are divided into quarters, and after each move, each player turns one section 90 degrees and changes all the placements. Doris Jelliffe from Dinosaur Hill loves this game for engaging the brain: “There’s a lot of thinking ahead involved and visualizing what will happen with the turn.” ($22, Dinosaur Hill)
In the easy-to-learn game of Ticket to Ride, players work toward building railroads routes, with hopes of completing a route between adjacent cities or the longest continuous route overall. It’s a fun way to learn geography: Different expansion packs include Asia, Scandinavia, and Europe. ($50, Toys“R”Us)
Exercise your process of elimination and memory skills to find the guilty three among seven criminals in Three of a Crime. One player draws a card to determine who committed the crime. As others draw more cards that contain different combinations of three criminals, the first player will tell them how many—but not who—is guilty. ($25, Amazon)
In Pandemic, everyone wins or everyone loses. Learn to work in a group to protect the world from, well, a pandemic of four diseases. Each player is a different type of medicine-related specialist and can contribute in his or her own way to contain the disease. Go team! ($39.99, Toys“R”Us)
We just have to mention Apples to Apples, the classic group game that never gets old. Red cards and green cards have to be matched together, based on shared characteristics. A different judge decides what the best pair is—so it helps to know the players! ($19.99, Toys“R”Us)
You can generally find these games at empires like Toys“R”Us and Amazon, as well as good independent stores like the ones we consulted for this story. For more toy ideas, be sure to check out www.newyorkfamily.com.