15 Unique Board Games and RPGs for Families That Aren't Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit

Clockwise from left: Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty, Bubblegumshoe, Stuffed Fables, and Dungeon Mayhem.
Clockwise from left: Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty, Bubblegumshoe, Stuffed Fables, and Dungeon Mayhem.
Image: Wizards of the Coast, Evil Hat Productions, Plaid Hat Games

Families are experiencing some of the hardest changes with social distancing. Kids are home from school and parents have had to transition to a new way of learning for the first time. There’s also the issue of keeping kids entertained while they’re stuck inside for hours. We’ve made a list of family-friendly games, sorted by age group, to make the downtime a little easier.

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This is the third piece in a series where I’m highlighting board games and tabletop roleplaying games for folks to try out at home. We started with single-player-friendly games (sometimes referred to as solo or “solitaire play” games), then two-player games, and now family-friendly games. We’re also keeping the door open for more articles in the future, including one for board games and RPGs for folks who’ve been separated by social distancing, and we welcome suggestions for things you’re looking for.

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I’m including a mix of physical games and digital versions—Steam versions of existing games, or PDFs of various RPGs—for folks wanting options that don’t involve home delivery. I’m also highlighting game developers’ websites for purchasing over big box stores and Amazon, unless that option isn’t available, but make sure to communicate with potential sellers about their delivery situations. Amazon has also been facing serious delays because of high demand, so that’s something to consider when making purchasing decisions.


Young Kids (3-6)

A look at how to play Animal Upon Animal.
A look at how to play Animal Upon Animal.
Photo: HABA

Animal Upon Animal

Animal Upon Animal from HABA is an entertaining stacking game where kids (and adults) try to create large structures out of wooden animal pieces. Think of it like Jenga in reverse, only with more unique challenges and problem-solving skills. There’s also a version for even younger kids called Animal Upon Animal: Small and Yet Great!, which features larger animal pieces. Animal Upon Animal costs $25 and is available on HABA’s website.

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Rhino Hero

Also from HABA, Rhino Hero is a variant on the “house of cards” game, where players try to build a tower by placing cards in different patterns—all while the pesky rhinoceros thief is trying to scale the building. The game says it’s for kids ages five and up but I’ve played it with my four-year-old nephew just fine. Rhino Hero costs $15 and is available on HABA’s website.

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A look at the setup for Count Your Chickens.
A look at the setup for Count Your Chickens.
Image: Peaceable Kingdom Press

Count Your Chickens

Tired of Candyland? Count Your Chickens follows a similar structure—only instead of taking a leisurely trip through a candy forest, kids are working together to bring a hen’s baby chicks back to the coop. It’s a great collaborative game that helps with cooperative and counting skills. Count Your Chickens costs $16 and is available at several stores like Target and Walmart.

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Some of the art for No Thank You, Evil!
Some of the art for No Thank You, Evil!
Image: MonteCook

No Thank You, Evil!

No Thank You, Evil! is a tabletop roleplaying game designed with younger kids in mind, helping them learn the initial rules of RPGs through the already-familiar concept of make believe. Players create their own kid characters based on a couple of fun, inspiring traits (like a robot who only eats candy canes) and they work together to explore the lands of Storia: The Land Next Door. There are a number of tools available online—including as PDFs—to help parents set up their own games, including character sheets, scenarios, and adventure packs. No Thank You, Evil! is available as a PDF for $10 on MonteCook’s website.

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Kids Dungeon Adventures

If No Thank You, Evil! sounds a little daunting for your four-year-old, there’s Kids Dungeon Adventure. It’s a simple two-step roleplaying game where kids use their blocks, Legos, or other at-home toys to build a dungeon, then create a story to go along with it. Creator Ben Garvey has made a rulebook for the game that includes storyline suggestions, treasure ideas, monster cards, battles, and tips for introducing kids to roleplaying games. Kids Dungeon Adventure costs $6 and is available on Garvey’s website.

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Older kids (7-12)

The different characters you can play as in Dungeon Mayhem.
The different characters you can play as in Dungeon Mayhem.
Image: Wizards of the Coast
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Dungeon Mayhem

Wanting to get your kids familiar with Dungeons & Dragons? Dungeon Mayhem is a great way to get the ball rolling. It’s a two-to-four player card game where players do battle using a variety of spells, abilities, and weapons. Each character in the game is based on a different D&D class—paladin, wizard, barbarian, and rogue—so it’s great to try different combinations and see what comes of it. I’ve played this with kids as young as six and they’ve gotten the hang of it pretty easily, though you may want to start off by pairing them up with an adult player to explain the rules. Dungeon Mayhem costs $15 and information on availability is on Wizards of the Coast’s website.

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A look at what’s included in the Disney Villainous game.
A look at what’s included in the Disney Villainous game.
Image: Ravensburger

Disney Villainous

Of course I was going to recommend Disney Villainous. This one has been on regular rotation in my household over the past two weeks. In this game, each player takes on the role of a different Disney villain, and everyone works to accomplish their own individual goal...while sabotaging everyone else’s. It’s good for up to five players, and the series of expansions guarantee even more variety of gameplay and challenges. Disney Villainous costs $45 and is available on Ravensburger’s website.

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A look at the gameplay for Stuffed Fables.
A look at the gameplay for Stuffed Fables.
Image: Plaid Hat Games
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Stuffed Fables

Stuffed Fables from Plaid Hat Games is a fantastic way to get kids familiar with RPG campaigns. Players take on the role of stuffed animals trying to save their child from a series of terrifying nightmares. What makes this game special is that it’s a roleplaying game you don’t really have to plan. Instead, it plays like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, with each page telling a new part of the story—and featuring a new map for the latest encounter or adventure. Stuffed Fables costs $70 and is available at Target and Barnes and Noble.

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Part of the cover art for Hero Kids.
Part of the cover art for Hero Kids.
Image: Hero Forge Games

Hero Kids

Hero Kids is a tabletop roleplaying game that was designed for kids and adults to play together. It’s set in a fantasy world, and players take on the role of noble (underage) heroes trying to save their friends and the world. What’s great about this pen-and-paper game is you only need traditional six-sided dice that you’ll find in any old Yahtzee box, meaning it’s accessible for adults who are new to the genre as well as kids. It also says it works for kids as young as four, with gameplay options to keep kids engaged even when it’s not their turn. Hero Kids is available as a PDF for $6 on DriveThruRPG.

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Broomstix

For kids who’ve outgrown the most introductory RPGs but aren’t quite ready for Dungeons & Dragons yet, there’s a cool intermediary game that uses more complex rules in a setting they’re most likely familiar with. Broomstix, a free roleplaying game from Jared A. Sorensen, takes place in the world of the Harry Potter series. Players are students at Hogwarts—ideally part of the same House, although they can be from different Houses (except Slytherin). They take classes, compete in Quidditch tournaments, and perform other tasks the average Hogwarts student would complete. It’s a fun way to show kids who’ve read Harry Potter how to understand complex RPG rules, because they’ll already understand a bulk of the material. Broomstix is available as a free download, but it doesn’t come with a campaign.

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Teens (13+)

A look at what’s included in Betrayal Legacy.
A look at what’s included in Betrayal Legacy.
Image: Avalon Hill
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Betrayal Legacy

A Legacy game is a smart investment for social distancing, because it’s an ongoing story that the family can look forward to every month. Obviously we’re avoiding Pandemic Legacy for, well, forever, so instead I’m recommending Avalon Hill’s Betrayal Legacy—which I’m currently playing with a couple of friends (or, rather, I was). Set in the world of Betrayal at House on the Hill, Betrayal Legacy is a 13-episode game that unfolds slowly with each session—adding new characters, locations, and challenges. By the end of the game you’ll have a unique copy of Betrayal that can be played on its own. Betrayal Legacy costs $75 and is available at Barnes and Noble; it’s also on sale at Walmart for $55.

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Wingspan

Wingspan is technically for kids 10 and older, but I’m putting it in the teen section with the caveat that some younger kids might be down for it too. This is a beautiful and calming strategy resource game where players are building natural habitats to attract certain birds. It’s a great game and an even greater educational tool—plus it’s a way to get your kids chatting about nature during times they can’t really go outside. Wingspan costs $60 and is available on Stonemaier Games’ website.

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The box cover art for Joking Hazard.
The box cover art for Joking Hazard.
Image: Cyanide & Happiness

Joking Hazard

From the folks behind Cyanide & Happiness, Joking Hazard is a Cards Against Humanity-style game that replaces phrases with memes and comic strips. One player puts down two panels and it’s up to everyone else to come up with the final piece of the comic strip. Keep in mind, there are several panels in the set that are really adult, so it might be a good idea to go through and pull out the worst ones before playing. I’m not saying you have to; your teens are almost grown-ups, they’ve seen porn, they’re trapped in your home, and the world sucks. Maybe they can have a little raunchy humor, as a treat. Joking Hazard costs $25 and is available on Cyanide & Happiness’ website.

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Part of the cover art for Bubblegumshoe.
Part of the cover art for Bubblegumshoe.
Image: Evil Hat Productions

Bubblegumshoe

Evil Hat Productions’ Bubblegumshow is a tabletop roleplaying game where players are teenage detectives solving mysteries in a small town. You can make it like a Nancy Drew story, Stranger Things, or something even weirder. Using the Gumshoe system, this is a game that can be played with two or more people, giving it a lot of variety. This one is for kids 13 and older, so it’s a perfect way for pre-teens to learn the rules of more complex roleplaying games and get them familiar with the collaborative storytelling experience. Bubblegumshoe is available as a PDF for $8 on DriveThruRPG.

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Some of the artwork for Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty.
Some of the artwork for Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty

It’s time: You’re finally ready to introduce your kids to Dungeons & Dragons. But how do you get them familiar with the rules and keep them entertained? A great solution is a starter kit that takes Dungeons & Dragons and adds the quirkiness of Rick and Morty to spice things up. Taking place in an old-school dungeon (and inspired by the graphic novel series of the same name), players can use one of several pre-made characters to explore and find all the references that non-fans will not understand.

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Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty is a funny game with lots of tongue-in-cheek jokes and nods to the series, but it’s also a surprisingly effective learning tool for Dungeons & Dragons. Plus, the starter set comes with everything you need to start a campaign. Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick and Morty costs $30 and is available on Fantasy Grounds. There’s also a digital version on Steam for the same price.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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Arcanum Five

How is Trivial Pursuit even a viable game anymore? When it came out, it was coasting on the late days of a shared American culture. There’d been three major networks (and then finally a fourth), plus some reruns on a UHF channel or two if you lived in a big city. For the most part, players shared a common culture. Water-cooler conversations were possible because last night, everyone had the same selection of entertainment, sports, and literature.

If you played in teams, you could reasonably expect that one person’s lack of knowledge in a particular area might be filled in by someone else. In games I played, the big gap was always age. A lot of the original deck questions covered eras I just never experienced.

Today, our fandoms and entertainment choices are so fragmented that it’s entirely possible to be an expert in one area without having even heard of the most important things in another. Aside from playing one of the specialized editions, how does it even work? It seems like a lot of answers would come down to “yeah... I have no idea who that is.”