Educational Board Games

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Last Update Date: 11 April 2022

Today, we are looking at educational board games that can be used for game-based learning, not to be confused with the teaching method of gamification.

The educational board games we’ve suggested offer great benefits for some lesson objectives and skills that can be learned with them, such as;

  • Strategic thinking,
  • Increased interactivity and excitement,
  • Increased retention,
  • Social-emotional growth through the development of "soft" skills.
educational board games

Best Educational Board Games for Kids

1. Ecosystem

Ecosystem is a card-drafting game that does an amazing job teaching biodiversity. It’s a perfect example of how a game can teach a specific topic.

ecosystem board game

During the game, players draft cards to place them in front of them in order to score points. Each card represents a different animal, insect, or feature of their own personal ecosystem that they’re building.

Students will naturally learn about biodiversity and ecosystems simply from playing the game and interacting with its scoring mechanics. Bears eat fish and forage, so they score points based on their proximity to streams and bees. Foxes are prey animals and score as long as there are no wolves or bears around.

Each card has its own specific scoring mechanism that follows the learning objectives.

Mechanics Pros Cons
Card Drafting Simple to learn and quick to play in 15-20 minutes. The cards are a little small.
Set Collection Beautiful artwork It doesn’t work well with 2 players.
Pattern Building

2. My First Castle Panic

Castle Panic is a cooperative fantasy game where players defend a castle that’s surrounded on all sides.

my first castle panic

The “My First” version simplifies the concept by having monsters attack from a single direction, albeit from a much longer road. Players have to match cards to the shapes and colors on the board to capture the monsters coming to attack the castle.

Not only is Castle Panic engaging, but it also promotes communication and social skills by forcing players to work together and trade to defend their castle successfully.

Each card has its own specific scoring mechanism that follows the learning objectives.

Mechanics & Skills Pros Cons
Cooperation Cooperative gameplay Older children will have more engagement and fun with the standard version of Castle Panic
Hand Management Great for younger kids 4+
Pattern & Set Building
Communication
Planning & Problem-Solving

3. Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles puts kids in control as they learn the fundamentals of programming. The goal is simple, get your robot turtle to the gem.

robot turtles

It is one of the fun family board games that has parents control the robots while the children play cards to program the movements. It’s extremely family-friendly, and although it’s not cooperative, it’s also not competitive. All players can potentially win as long as they can get their turtle to the gem.

It’s a game that encourages kids to make robot noises while also introducing the basic concepts and vocabulary of programming languages. It even lets them debug their program by taking back moves.

Each card has its own specific scoring mechanism that follows the learning objectives.

Mechanics & Skills Pros Cons
Programming Designed for pre-schoolers Can be too simplistic for older children
Science: Programming Great interactions between parents and children
STEM Introduces programming concepts without a computer or specific language

4. Virulence: An Infectious Card Game

Virulence is a fast-paced bluffing card game. Players go through the whole journey of a virus infecting and replicating within a cell.

robot turtles

Virulence uses a blind bidding system where players secretly choose a virus card which is then simultaneously revealed. From the highest number to the lowest number (the most virulent to least), players get to choose a viral component used to score end-game points.

Virulence does an incredible job of not only showing the different components of a virus but also the insight and information on how viruses spread.

The mechanics force players to think several turns ahead and evaluate which cards are more valuable. If players try to save their more virulent cards for later rounds, they may end up acquiring vaccines or other low-cost cards that aren’t as advantageous.

Skill Focus Pros Cons
Science: Viruses/Biology Portable Highly Competitive
Critical thinking Easy to learn
Quick to play

5. Santorini

Designed by mathematician Gordon Hamilton, Santorini started out as a purely abstract strategy game, similar to chess or checkers.

santorini board game

The object was simple; construct a building to the third level. Santorini falls under the category of “easy to learn and hard to master” games. In 2016, it was redesigned with a more family-friendly appearance and added extra hero powers by introducing thematic gods.

The game itself requires (and teaches) the same skill set that’s necessary for chess, yet it’s done in a simple and modern package that’s much easier to teach younger children.

The 3D nature of the objectives helps build spatial reasoning, planning, and critical thinking skills.

Skill Focus Pros Cons
Spatial Reasoning Easy to learn Players can sometimes get eliminated early
Critical thinking The updated version allows for player abilities
Planning Quick to play

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6. Labyrinth

Labyrinth comes from Ravensburger, a prominent German board game company that’s been known for producing educational games since 1883.

labyrinth board game

Players start on different corners of the board and take turns drawing cards that show their next objective on the board. What they have to do is get there. Sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately, the floor and walls of this magical labyrinth are constantly moving. Every turn, players have to push a row of tiles that ends up shifting the entire maze.

Mechanics & Skills Pros Cons
Modular Board Simple to learn Can be very competitive, depending upon players
Movement
Spatial Reasoning
Develops Problem Solving Skills

7. Potato Pirates

Potato Pirates was designed specifically to teach programming fundamentals in a fun way, without players ever touching a keyboard or a computer.

potato pirates board game

The developers of Potato Pirates have created several games that teach tech-based skills in an analog setting, which may sound counterintuitive but works incredibly well.

Players start with 2 ships and a handful of cards. The programming language comes in the form of cards that introduce programming terms like “if,” “else,” and “while.”

Once players ready their ships, they can switch them to attack mode and send them out to pillage someone else's potatoes.

Skill Focus Pros Cons
Programming Fast-paced competitive action Can include early player elimination
STEM Learn programming concepts without a computer
Logic

8. Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game

Wildcraft is a simple cooperative card game where players venture out into the woods to find edible plants for a pie.

Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game

There are a set number of edible ingredients that players need to collect, and unless players work together, they won’t be able to get them all.

Along the way, players may encounter obstacles like poison ivy or bee stings and have to find herbal remedies to fix them.

All of the artwork, from the board to the cards, is beautifully done and really brings the theme to life.

Wildcraft is an example of an introductory or gateway game into board gaming. Although it does teach about certain plants and natural remedies, the value of Wildcraft comes from the cooperative aspects and the potential to explore new topics to inspire children to learn more outside of the game.

Skill Focus Pros Cons
Teamwork Beautiful Artwork Latin names for plants can be difficult to pronounce
Science: Edible Plants & Healing Herbs Narrow scope for educational purposes

9. Mojo English

Mojo English was designed by a veteran ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.

mojo english board game

Players are given a handful of cards and take turns using the cards to build sentences. Each card is a different part of speech, including adjectives, nouns, verbs, conjunctions, and even prepositions.

Taking turns, players take their cards and rearrange them to form the most complex sentences they can make. Each card is worth a set number of points, and the more complex the sentence, the more points it’s worth.

The sentences created are family-friendly and usually pretty funny, for example: “The friendly trolls dance in the moonlight.”

This game manages to condense English grammar into a few decks of cards that include some of the more obscure grammar rules. It’s an incredibly useful tool for native English speakers as well as for those learning English as a second language. Mojo falls somewhere right in the middle between gamification and game-based learning. The game itself sets out to teach a skill, but it does so in a genuinely entertaining way for kids.

Skill Focus Pros Cons
English Grammar It works incredibly well as a teaching tool, and it manages to grasp the different nuances of the English language and condense it down into a single deck of cards. Older children may not enjoy some of the cartoon characters.
Storytelling

Differences Between Gamification and Game-Based Learning

Gamification is the addition of game elements to an activity or lesson to create a more interactive experience that supports the learning objectives. A simple example of this would be having children try to catch a ball before answering a question or playing a Jeopardy-style review.

Gamification is definitely a more interesting way for students to learn, as opposed to traditional drills and memorization, but student motivation typically stems from a reward/penalty system in the form of points, candy, or some other scheme. When the gamified reward system is removed, commonly, student motivation is removed along with it.

educational board games for kids

Game-based learning, however, is more focused on student interaction where the game is a complete and total package. The game itself is the motivation for students, and learning becomes part of the process of the game.

Studies in game-based learning have also shown that this method helps build complex reasoning and social skills. An excellent example of game-based learning done right can be seen in the University of Oregon’s Games 2 Teach program.

Both strategies are valid, but we focused on the benefits of playing educational board games only in this article.

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