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Need a gift for an inquisitive kid who loves to learn – and analyze everything? Never fear. There are a lot of great board and card games available, covering a range of skill levels and themes. War, ancient civilizations, mystery, sci fi, Harry Potter and nothing-but-strategy versions.
I’ve highlighted more than 20 below, and have broken down the list by: games for two or more players, single-player games, and oldies, but goodies.
Strategy games for two or more players
Ticket to Ride
Board game by Days of Wonder (2 to 5 players)
This game is a favorite among strategy games. Players must connect iconic North American cities and build train routes to earn points. They compete to grab the best train cards and routes before their opponents. Ticket cards challenge you to plan ahead and connect two faraway cities for additional points.
Due to Train to Ride’s popularity, the manufacturer has expanded this game into a series, with each one focusing on a different country.
There’s also a junior edition. All versions have excellent reviews.
Cooperative board game by The Op Games|usaopoly (2 to 4 players)
Is the child you’re buying for a Harry Potter fan? If so, the Hogwarts Battle game is sure to be an awesome gift. It isn’t a lame product solely relying on a popular brand to make a quick buck. It’s actually a lot of fun! Players strive to defend the wizarding world from evil forces by recruiting allies, uncovering magical items and mastering powerful spells. Seven successive game adventures offer increasing difficulty as they attempt to save Hogwarts from the Dark Lord! (Official Harry Potter-licensed merchandise.)
Settlers of Catan
Board game by Catan Studio (3 to 4 players)
You also can’t lose – in the gift-giving sense, anyway – when you give this to a kid who loves strategy. It’s a civilization-building board game of harvesting and trading resources. Players control their own civilization and look to spread across a modular hex-board in a competition for victory points. Players also must beware of a robber’s evil plans as he steals resources and items from the wealthy.
Like other wildly-popular games, this is a series now, with a junior edition as well as versions that focus on other civilizations, such as Merchants of Europe and Settlers of America.
There also are extension packs for the original game with explorer, knight, barbarian and pirate societies. All have high ratings.
Board game by Spy Alley Partners (2 to 6 players)
This is a classic “hidden identity” game that will have you bluffing, deceiving and double-crossing friends and family to earn the title of the world’s top spy. It’s also a fun way for players to sharpen then deductive-reasoning, logic, interpersonal and body-language-reading skills. The game’s rules are simple, but this Mensa award-winner can take a long time to master.
Board game by Ravensburger (2 to 4 players)
Find the shortest route through the maze to win. Sound easy? It isn’t. The labyrinth constantly changes because parts of it can slide into various positions on the board. What’s more, the game is easy to differentiate for various ability levels. (For example, you can vary the number of cards and the order in which things can be found.) Players learn cause and effect, planning, association, recognition and taking turns.
Board game by Space Cowboys (2 to 4 players)
This strategy game has an economic theme. Players experience the European Renaissance era as they vie for control of gem mines, trade routes and storefronts. Those who are able to produce just the right jewels can even gain the attention of noble patrons like King Henry VIII or Queen Isabella of Spain. In other words, it’s a great way to make economics, history and social studies fun. What’s not to love?
Board game by Roxley Games (2 to 4 players)
As its name suggests, this game is inspired by the Greek architecture of cliffside villages on Santorini Island. Players race to build their way to the top of a stack of blocks. They receive cards with “god powers,” which provide additional abilities that are unique to each player. The objective is to move their characters to the third level of the town. A player also can win if his or her opponent can no longer make a move. Santorini is ideal for two players; however, you also can team up to play two against two.
Board game by PlayMonster (2 players)
In this classic game of battlefield strategy, players command their armies (complete with spies), and devise plans using strategic attacks and deception. The first player to capture the other army’s flag wins. Perfect for kids who like history and the Napoleonic era.
Card game by Mattel (2 to 10 players)
This is the UNO card game you know, but with a fun twist! Play the special FLIP card and you must turn over all the cards – including the draw pile – to reveal an entirely new set of numbers and colors on the opposite side.
In addition, each card has a “light side” and a “dark side.” Penalties on the “light side” of the deck are the same as classic UNO. On the “dark side,” however, the penalty cards are tougher, like Draw Five and Skip Everyone! Seriously fun.
Taco vs. Burrito
Card game created by a kid (2 to 4 players)
This fun game is the brainchild of Alex, a seven-year-old, who I suspect was listening to a lot of Parry Grip songs. And it’s surprisingly strategic, given his age. Basic gameplay is easy to master; however, the action cards shift the game into unpredictable territory. Prepare for excitement – and hilarity – up to the very last card!
To increase the maximum number of players from four to eight, buy the Foodie Edition expansion pack, too.
Board game by Indie Boards and Cards (2 to 5 players)
This game is based on the concept of our future generations modifying The Red Planet to support human life (a process called terraforming). Giant corporations, sponsored by the world government on earth, initiate projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level and the ocean coverage, until the environment is habitable.
Each player is one of those corporations. They work together to terraform Mars, but also compete for victory points that they can earn for introducing plant life or animals, building human infrastructure, and accomplishing other commendable milestones. When the terraforming process is complete, the player with the most victory points wins.
The product description says it’s possible to play the game solo. While that’s true, the game loses a lot because there’s no conflict or competition. Two to five players are ideal.
To make the playing experience even better, add accessories, such as this Terraforming Mars player-mat overlay (pictured left) . It prevents the game cubes from accidentally moving around on the player mat.
The creator, Board Game Boost, also makes accessories, like game-component organizers, score-tracker overlays, character stands, for other games, such as Azul and Star Wars Rebellion.
Solo-player strategy games
Brain Fitness solitaire chess
Think Fun has a lot of great games for bright and curious kiddos. This highly-rated solo chess set is no exception. It has four levels of play, from beginner to expert, and includes ten chess pieces.
The set also comes with a booklet that contains 80 challenges (with solutions).
Card game (1 to 7 players)
This is a five-suited, rummy-style game from SET Enterprises that has a rotating wild card. It’s easy to learn, and is really versatile in that you can play the game solo, or with as many as seven people.
To make the gift even better, consider adding the 5 Crowns Score Sheets.
The Original IQ Tester
Like a game of checkers, the player jumps pegs (and removes them from the board) until he or she can no longer make a move. The goal is to achieve the highest score possible. The game is easy to play, but difficult to master. There are thousands of different solutions and, with so many possible moves to make, it’s easy to become addicted.
This version, by Venture Manufacturing, is handcrafted and comes with a nice storage cup.
Oldies, but goodies
Board game by Hasbro (2 to 5 players)
Players try to take over the world in this classic game of military tactics and risk. Alliances, betrayal and surprise attacks ensue as players try to conquer their opponents’ territories. The enclosed game guide explains four different ways to play: Secret Mission, Classic, Risk for 2 Players, and Capital, which is a shorter version of the classic game.
There also are highly-rated versions, such as a Game of Thrones edition, and a Legacy edition in which choices and actions that a player makes in one game carry over into the next.
This classic strategy game, played by millions worldwide, involves no hidden information. Each player begins with 16 pieces. There are rules for each type of piece and the ways in which they’re allowed to move on the board. Like checkers, a player can use the chess pieces to support each other and create opportunities to win the overall game. The objective is to place the opponent’s king under an inescapable threat of capture. (This is called checkmate.)
For a great selection of chess sets, visit Chess House. They have high-quality chess boards and interesting themed chess pieces that are true works of art. I also like their travel sets.
If you really want a challenge, consider Go. Dating back to the Zhou dynasty, it’s believed to be the oldest continuously-played board game. The board has a grid on it, and players move game pieces (called stones) on the lines’ intersections. The objective is to surround more territory than the opponent. Stones are removed from the board if “captured.” This happens when a player surrounds an opponent’s stone, or group of stones. The game proceeds until neither player wishes to make another move.
When comparing the game to chess, Go has a larger board with more scope for play. In addition, there tend to be more options per move.
The standard Go board has a 19” × 19” grid, containing 361 points. Beginners often play on smaller 9” × 9” or 13” × 13” boards.
This well-made, reversible version by Brybelly has two grid sizes: 19” × 19” and 13” × 13”.