Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cooperative Games

Last night, while I was making dinner, my children coerced H into playing a game with them. That’s not an easy task, and I was impressed by their guile. The game of the evening was Cranium, which is a long-time favorite in our house, although for whatever reason it doesn’t get pulled out too often.

That got me to thinking about other games that my kids have enjoyed and even (don't tell!) learned something from.

We tend to play games in a cooperative manner when possible, not because I insist, but because the kids like to collaborate on solutions. The games I list here easily translate into cooperative games, by playing with cards showing or by having everyone contribute to a solution. I have lots more, but I think I’ll start with these.


This is a fantastic game and one that my kids played to death. I still think it’s a great game, even after hours of playing it (and that’s saying something!). One of my favorite stories regarding this game happened a number of years ago. The game involves a set of tiles with pathways on them, and the tiles get shifted each turn. On each turn, a player’s goal is to make his/her way to an object following a pathway on the tiles. But since the tiles shift, you have to reevaluate the board every turn. I remember staring at the board for minutes on end, ploddingly following tile after tile to find a viable path, when G walked over, looked at the board for approximately 6.5 seconds, and said, "Oh, all you have to do is go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and then you can get to the bag of gold." Gee, it was so obvious. Why didn’t I see it?

Take Off!

This creative game is a fun and painless way to learn world geography. Because of G’s interest in geography, we ended up with a lot of geography games, and this one was one of the most ingenious. The goal is to get your fleet of jets to circle the globe (actually a long map) before anyone else’s fleet. Each country has a selection of paths that your jet can fly, and the roll of the dice determines what paths you can take. This game is great because it allows everyone to give input into the best route, but the winner is largely determined by chance (a must if you have children of different ages and abilities playing). Just about any age can play this game with the help of an adult, because so much of it is spacial. It was one of the games that showed my kids that they were way better than me in the knowledge-of-geography department. (Well, that’s not that hard, actually.)

Secret Door

This is a simple little game targeted to young children. It’s a cooperative game by nature, and it’s surprisingly engaging. I figured my kids would lose interest in it after a few plays, but they played it on and off for years. It’s basically Concentration, but with a twist. The kids’ goal is to figure out what’s behind the Secret Door without running out of time first. One of the nice things about it is that it’s frequently winnable, but the kids lose often enough to keep it challenging. That balance is a hard line to walk, which most games for young children aren’t able to manage and thus end up boring.

Games play a big role in our homeschooling, so I'll try to do better at posting some of our favorites over time. Stay tuned.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like The Joys of Older Kids.


  1. Are these games suitable for a 6-year-old? His birthday is coming soon (ok, so a 7-year-old), and the best gift is always a new game! Labyrinth and The Secret Door both look interesting.

    Would a 7-year-old be ready for Cranium?

  2. What a coincidence! A lerner's has moved into sunsetvally, and A and I were discussing buying a board game yesterday. He and I had an interesting discussion. He said all board games were basically the same. "..a set of limits, a set of goals, and one ultimate goal, and a way to possibly progress from start to finish." I am still thinking about that line with pleasure! I was about to tell him that that was true about life too, and decided he had to be allowed to discover that for himself. I guess this is true basically, and the pleasure comes from the people you play with, the actual hand you've been dealt, the actual set of goals, and maybe even figuring out the ultimate goal.

  3. Wendy, Both of those games would be good for a 7yo.

    Cranium could work, as long as he was partnered with an adult. There are spelling scrambles and charades--he'd have to be a good reader to do it on his own. It's intended for adults.

    If he's high energy, check into Hullabaloo (one of my kids all-time favorites) and Cadoo, which are also by the Cranium people.

    Another idea for a great birthday gift is the Dangerous Book for Boys. Every homeschooler needs that one!

    Deepa, what a perfect response that would have been!

  4. Thanks for the reviews. It's nice to come across games other than the old standards.

  5. We had such a blast playing the Secret Door the other night for a family game -- so refreshing to play cooperatively instead of competitively. THanks for that!

    We particularly like Apples to Apples, Snorta, CoCo Crazy, ZIngo and QUiddler 'round these parts. Maybe I'll do a knock-off post.

  6. Thanks for the great game ideas.

  7. Another thanks for the game ideas... though my kids are a bit younger (just turned six and almost three).

    My older son loves playing Wildcraft, which is highly cooperative. I'll look into the others!