5 Secrets to a Supercharged Board Game with Kids

board game with kids settlers of catan 1Scrabble, Chess, Connect Four and Monopoly are just a few of the classic games I grew up with.  But I have a confession to make.  I’m really not a big fan of board games.  When I was a kid, I loved Scrabble. I still do.  Apart from that, I avoid board games like a plague.  No throwing tomatoes my way please but a game of chess is like hitting a brick wall for me.

Until late last year when I realized that the world of board games has changed a lot since I was a kid!  Joma asked me to find new and engaging ways for us to gradually minimize the time our kids spend on their gadgets. He suggested a board game.  Imagine my excitement when I discovered that there are other games out there. Settlers of Catan7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, and Carcassonne are some of the more modern, sophisticated and mind-boggling games that can rival many electronic games in the market. Okay, at least for us.

The Settlers of Catan is our most current new favorite.  Players strategically gain points as they settle on the uncharted island of Catan.  The gameplay involves trading resources to build and expand the settlements.  You earn 2 points for every city you build while a settlement is worth 1 point.  The first one who gets 10 points wins.  We first bought the base game and later on got the Cities and Knights expansion.  That’s how much we love it! Click here for more details on the game.

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Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about this game.  The reviews said it involved strategy and negotiation.  I thought If I fail miserably in the game of chess, I’m sure this one is not going to go well either.  Not wanting to be a killjoy, I reluctantly sat with the boys for our first Catan game.  Heart grumbling.

Eventually, after a few hours, I was so drawn to the game and was actually having fun.  As I look around the table looking at my boys laughing their hearts out, I felt a sudden nudge from the Lord, saying.  “Isn’t this priceless, Monday?”  It sure is!

Nevertheless, I lost my first game of Catan. And that’s totally fine with me.  I am grateful that the Lord has changed my reluctant heart and allowed us (including me) to have fun in the process.  To me, that is a roaring victory!

Here are the top 5 secrets that helped us have a supercharged board game with kids. For ease of recall, let’s use the acronym B.U.I.L.D.


1. BRIDGE the gap

Sometimes as parents we find it hard to connect with our children.  Playing board games help bridge this gap and build a stronger bond with them.  Kids love that you are able to speak their language just by knowing the game itself.  I realized that when I take the time to really know the game, Keefer is more engaged (and so am I).

Game rules will sound super complicated at first, but the more that you play, the easier it gets.   The names of the resource cards (Ore, Grain, Lumber, Wool, and Brick) and development cards were a bit overwhelming for me at first.  When I am overwhelmed, I tend to zone out.  No bueno.  So, I hopped on to YouTube and watched videos on how it is played.  It took me a few games of Catan before I fully understood the ins and outs of the game. But it is all worth it.  Our game nights are more exciting because we try to outwit each other’s strategy.

The next time you play a board game with your kids, perhaps make extra effort to familiarize yourself with the names of the tokens, cards and game pieces.  Engagement is key to bridging the gap. Children feel that they are listened to and that their interests are valued if you are engaged.

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2. UNPLUG from devices

We live in a digital age where everything is wireless.  Our phones, game consoles, computers, and tablets have replaced whatever human interaction that’s left.  Please don’t get me wrong.  We loooove technology.  It has helped us tremendously in improving our lives but we realized that families nowadays are struggling to stay off their gadgets and devices at the dinner table or even at family game nights.

Unplugging from technology brings the family together for a face-to-face interaction.  This has made a huge difference in our relationships when we started to have unplugged nights or weekends as a family.

Before the game starts, we put everyone’s devices away and turn off the tv.  Anything that has flashing screens on must be unplugged or turned off. It made our time extra fun because we were all there for each other.  It also lets everyone know that we value them enough to put away our phones to spend quality time with them.

I encourage you to unplug and stash your devices in a box, away from the table.  Make memories when Instagram is not watching.

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3. INCLUDE the littles

Catan is recommended for ages 8 and up.  Clearly, it is not age appropriate for toddlers.  However, with close supervision, they too can participate.  Seth’s job is to roll the dice (consider using soft dice).  He smiles from ear to ear whenever he gets his turn to roll the dice.

On one occasion, he rolled a “7”, causing a burst of excitement and nervous laughter from everyone.  The robber is activated whenever anyone rolls a “7”.   This prevents anyone from collecting resources from the hex where the robber is until the robber is moved again.  Now here’s the kicker.  Anyone who has more than 7 cards on the table has to get rid half of their cards.  So keeping lots of resources may not be a good idea as the robber can attack anytime and rob you of your resources.  Seth loves this part so much as he gets to keep some of the resource cards.

Generally, toddlers have a short attention span.  They can barely sit for more than 10 minutes.  Board games, however, are a great way for them to practice social skills and improve their attention span.  We foster closer relationship at an earlier age and facilitate learning by getting the little ones involved in family games nights while they’re young.

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4. LEARN in the moment

Since we started homeschooling, board games became my go-to supplemental activity for academics as well as building character.  Board games help kids develop patience, persistence, negotiation and social skills, focus and healthy competition.  I love the teachable moments that happens unconsciously while we are having fun together.

Catan is an extremely competitive game.  When you are not careful,  it can bring out a sore loser or a boastful winner in you.  We have to constantly remind our kids (and ourselves) that in life you win some and lose some.  A reality that we have no control over despite our greatest efforts.  We are reminded that in God’s gameplan, we are not measured by our successes and failures but by our character in the face of defeat and triumph.  Win or lose, we have to keep pride out of our hearts.

Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12

5. DEACTIVATE work mode

Putting technology distractions away (our phones/computers/TVs) is already a challenge.  Switching off our brain is even harder. Seems like it has it’s own plug for some reason.  Have you ever sat down in a board game but your mind is wondering about what you’re going to do after?   I’m guilty on this one. I am a working mom and it is so easy to plug into work, ministry and homeschool 24/7. If I’m not careful, my mind would be somewhere else – the laundry basket filled to the brim, emails to respond to, meals to prepare and spelling tests to be done. Truth is, the laundry and emails can wait for another day.  We can order takeaway even for just one night and the spelling test, oh well.

Having an uninterrupted time with family is a great way for us to do something together that has nothing to do with work, ministry, and homeschooling.  On game nights, we consciously do not bring up those topics and no awkward, “So how did your day go?” questions.  There is plenty of time to do that on another occasion.

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So there you have it!  Secrets are out.

Do you have any good stories about making board games fun? What are your favorite board games? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Looking for ways to have a fun board game with kids while building stronger relationship? Check out these 5 secrets to a supercharge game nights that even moms will enjoy. Featuring, Settlers of Catan boardgame.

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