Home » Happiness Tip: Have a Family Game Night


Happiness Tip: Have a Family Game Night

Want to boost your mood this week? Challenge your family members to an old-fashioned board game.

A whopping 91% of families who play games report that playing games together improves their mood — even for 13-17 year olds — according to a recent survey (commissioned by Hasbro but conducted by an independent research company). Additionally, the survey found that the more a family plays games together, the more satisfied parents tend to be with their family time.

Here are four tips for making a family game night count:Twister night

1.) Don’t keep score or automatically let kids win.
Although rivalries can be really fun (47 percent of those polled said the fiercest rivalries were between parents and kids during family game play) they can obscure the benefits of family game night. Once everyone is enjoying the process and fun of playing games together — without obsessing over who is winning or losing — then go back to keeping score, to teach the important skill of winning and losing gracefully.

2.) Don’t feel compelled to play games that bore you. Make sure you have a selection of games that work for everyone in your family, no matter their age. Family game night can be fun for everyone.

3.) Be the fun family in your neighborhood. As kids get older, time with their peers becomes more important to them than time with their family. Don’t let these priorities conflict! Instead, encourage kids to invite a friend or two to come to your family game night. Let the teens choose the food and the music (but check their smartphones and devices at the door!). On weekends, plan for game night extensions, allowing teens to continue play without parents and younger siblings.

4.) Have a board game date-night. My husband and I used to love to play dominoes after the kids would go to bed. Even if you don’t have kids at home, or if they are too young for a family game night, turning off the TV and tuning into your partner for a fun game can lift your mood.

Take Action:
Decide which day of the week will be your weekly game night, and then be consistent so that it becomes a ritual anticipated by everyone.

Join the Discussion: What games do you love to play? Inspire others by leaving a comment, and be sure to mention the ages of your children if you’ve got them.


  1. Cathy says:

    Our 6 year old guy loves playing games, esp. Junior Monopoly and now Fishingopoly. He is learning how to add (they involve play money), and also how to weather the ups and downs of being ahead, and then behind and then maybe ahead again! He also thrives at and enjoys memory card games, and we have several of those. His dad has always taught him strategy, such as in tic-tac-toe and checkers, and doesn’t let him cheat or win on purpose (unless his spirits really need lifting). Noah will often choose game night over a movie night.

  2. There are so many great games out there today. In fact, we’re kind of in a game Renaissance right now with hundreds of great games being published worldwide each year. It’s that worldwide nature of board gaming that is very exciting. Today, you can play English language versions of games from America, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Japan, and Korea (among others). As you can imagine, these aren’t the Monopoly or Trivia Pursuit from our childhoods either.

    A couple of games that your families might enjoy that are a little off the beaten path include:

    Settlers of Catan:
    This is a modern classic board game that originated in Germany. You are players working together to settle and develop a reconfigurable board that represents the island of Catan. You’ll gather resources like wood, stone, and sheep, and use them to create settlements and roads and earn points for the best planning. One of the fun things in this game is that you get to trade goods with other players to help make the sets you need to complete that things that you need to build. Part of the fun is trying to get a good deal on your trades without helping the other players too much. This game has sold millions of copies over the years and now rivals Monopoly in worldwide sales. You can pick it up in most Targets, order it online, or even try it out and buy it at any *good* friendly local game store.

    Halli Galli:
    This is a fun little speed card game for the family that consists of a deck of cards with fruits like bananas, strawberries, and kiwis with one to five of the same fruit on each card. All the cards are dealt out face down into a stack in front of each player and the bell is placed in the center of everyone. Then each person, in turn, flips over a card. As soon as five of any one fruit among all the players are showing, the first person to hit the bell wins all the face up cards and puts them under their deck. The last person that has any cards left is the winner. Young kids that can handle simple addition and teenagers love this game, we’ve almost worn out the bell on our copy. You can pick it up at specialty toy stores, your friendly local game store, and online.

    No Thanks!
    This little card game was originally published in Germany (there are lots of great little German card games out there). It’s a deck of 32 cards number 3 to 35. These cards represent points in the game. Each card’s face is it’s point value. At the beginning of the game, you shuffle the cards and randomly remove 9 from the deck. Then you place the stack in the center the of the table. Then you give each player 11 of the chips (that number may change based on the number of players). One card is then flipped over from the deck. On a player’s turn, they can decide to take that card and put it face up in front of them. All cards in front of players will be added up as their points at the end of the game. If the player doesn’t want the card, they can say “No Thanks!” and place one of their chips on it to pass. The next player(s) can do the same. Anyone who ends up taking the card also gets the chips on the card. The chips can be used to pass on future cards and, at the end of the game, are subtracted from the final score. Also any cards in a series only count the lowest card in the series for their final score. So, if I took 20, 23, 25, 24, 21, and 22, I’d only count 20 towards my final score. But there is always a risk (because of the 9 cards that are removed each round) that a run won’t exist, so you can easily get stuck with points. As you play the game deeper strategies, like letting high cards go around to get more chips when you have the next lowest in the series in front of you, begin to emerge. A really great game that you can pick up for under $15 dollars at your friendly local game store or online.

    Forbidden Island:
    This is a great cooperative game that comes at a great value with great little game pieces and wonderful art. In a cooperative board game, all the players are on a team together and are working against the game itself to win (or lose). As such, this is a great game for mixed ages as the older, more experienced players, can help younger kids with their turns. In Forbidden Island, you are a team of treasure hunters that have come to a sinking island to try to get four powerful treasures before the island sinks away. The board is made up of a series of tiles that get flipped over and removed from the game as that part of the island floods and then sinks. Players use special abilities based on their specific roles (like Engineer, Helicopter Pilot, and Diver) to work together to shore up the flooding and navigate the island to pick up the treasures and hopefully escape. However, every turn more parts of the island flood and sink away moving inevitably towards one of the several ways to lose the game. The only way to win the game is to get all four treasures and make it back, together, to the helicopter pad and leave. There are variable board layouts, six different roles (of which you only use four per game) and the ability to set the difficulty of the game that make this a great game with lots of replay value. Many people that we show this game to buy their own copy. It is available at Target, Barnes and Noble, online, and your friendly local game store.

    This is a great little abstract game that is like Connect Four on steroids that is easy to learn and take years to master. It comes in lots of different versions including two and four player variants with various materials that make it something that you might just leave out on your coffee table (as you might a chess set). Basically, each turn a player places a chip of their color on one of the sections of the board, then they rotate any section of the board. The idea is to get five chips of your color in a row, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, to win. While it is a simple concept, it is amazing to see lines of five seem to materialize out of nowhere as they place a piece and rotate a section to create their victory. I’ve had more fun watching my 8 year old son’s face when I either pull such a move on him (or even better when he pulls one on me). If you want to start exploring abstract games, Pentago is a good start. You can find it at Barnes and Noble, online and it should be able to be ordered from your friendly local game store.

    This is a cooperative game (like Forbidden Island) but simplified and only using cards. In the game you are working together to create a fireworks display of different color fireworks represented by five colored suits of a card numbered from 1 to 5. There are three 1’s, two 2’s, two 3’s, two 4’s, and one 5 in each color. At the beginning of the game, the cards are shuffled and five cards are dealt to each player. The catch is that you MUST pick up your cards such that the colored suits face OUT and you only see the back of your own cards. You, however, can see the front of everyone else’s cards. On your turn you can give a clue about either a number of color that exists in another player’s hand, play a card (hopefully in sequence) or discard a card (hopefully not one that you need to complete a run. The goal is to lay down, in sequence from 1 to 5 a row of fireworks in each suit. For every clue you give, you burn one of a limited number of clues that you are allowed to give. For every card you discard, you get one clue token back. You also get a clue token for completing a sequence. Whenever you play a card out of sequence, you loose a fuze token. After loosing three fuze tokens, you lose the game. When you are done playing, you count up the highest card of each suit that you were able to collectively play to get your score. A perfect score is 25 and nearly impossible to get. A score of 21 or greater is very respectable. Every time we teach this to anybody, they want to play over and over to try and get a better score. You can pick this up at Barnes and Noble, your friendly local game store, and online.

    These should get your started, but there are a myriad of games out there to try. I would highly recommend checking with your local library, friendly local game stores, and Meetup.com to see if there are any community game days in your area. Game days are a great way to try a lot of different games (learning board games is usually easier when some else is teaching them) and see what types of games you and your family enjoys before buying any. Also many libraries have started to add board games to their collections and most good friendly local game stores have a library of demo games that you can either try in the store or check out and try at home.

    Board gaming is a fantastic way to spend time with family and friends and I hope you all enjoy it as much as our family does.

  3. Karri says:

    As a single parent, I wanted to create this tradition of a family game night. So, we (my 8 year-old son and I) invite my sister and her husband (who have no children) to come over every Sunday evening. I cook dinner for everyone and after we eat we play games. Right now the favorite is Farkle. My son refers to this as our “feast.” And always asks if we’re going to have a “feast” this week!

    • What a great tradition. I love it.

      My wife and I play lots of games with our kids, each other and our friends. Together we host a community game night at our church, and for the past two years we’ve hosted a 24 hour board game marathon with Extra Life (https://www.extra-life.org) to raise money for our state’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

      Board gaming is a big part of our families life together. We’ve built a lot of great memories from it. I grew up gaming with my extended family and even to this day, I regularly get to play games with a cousin who lives in this area. My kids love to see him and I think they are getting a good model of grown up friendships by seeing us play and playing games with us around the table.

      You are doing a great thing for your son. That’s something that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

  4. swiedner says:

    One other way to encourage games in the house, as I’ve recently discovered, is to dump lego on the dining room table. Tip: put all the lego in a bed sheet so you can easily grab all four corners of the bed sheet and sling the whole load over your shoulder, like Puss n Boots.

    It becomes this central meeting place. My son (7 y.o.) and I create all kinds of cars, trucks, monsters, monochromatic creatures, and more. My 4 y.o. daughter makes two dimensional plan views of houses on big flat pieces of lego. My wife sorts the pieces for us. It’s awesome. Just this morning I was discussing the black car I made with my son explaining that it could be a bat mobile. He quickly corrected me saying that Batman doesn’t do red (the windows were red). “Batman only likes black and very dark grey” he says in an evil, dark sort of way.

  5. Suzanne Lyons says:

    Hi Christine and Raising Happiness community! My kids are teens now…we play cooperative games and love them! I am an educator too and started the small company CooperativeGames.com a few years ago to promote this marvelous genre of games. You can learn lots more by visiting my website CooperativeGames.com…so please check it out! Sorry to sound commercial, but I do believe there is something fantastic here we should all be talking much more about! Cooperative Games promote inclusiveness, sharing, teamwork–and fun 🙂

      • Suzanne Lyons says:

        Hi Christine. Thanks for asking. A cooperative game is a game in which players don’t compete against one another to win. Resources and decisions are shared and players sink or swim together. Cooperative games are beginning to catch on in the popular culture though the pioneering work on cooperative games was done in the 1970’s. There is some amazing and little known research on them too as well as many, many great time-tested–as well as new–games! Board games, circle games, PE games, etc. etc. (BTW I am hoping to do some writing for the GGSC on this…also please let me know if you’d ever like to learn more. There is so much to say!)

      • Hi, Dr. Carter-

        There has been a HUGE increase in cooperative games in the last couple of years. Designers have started to explore this space as a way of introducing players to different forms of gaming and for eliciting certain feelings from the gamers that play them.

        Often these games are challenging and offer ways to adjust the challenge level for the players. When you lose one of these games, there are balanced just enough to make the team feel that winning was within their grasp. Even at the easier levels, players may only “win” about 60% of the time. This is important because, if the game were too easy, there isn’t a sense, among the team, of fulfilment for beating the game. If you lose, it makes you want to try again.

        In fact, whenever I teach these games to others, I kind of hope they will lose the first time because then they’ll realize the challenge of the game and work even better together the next time for a win. A friend tells the story of a church youth group “lock in” where she brought and taught her copy of Forbidden Island to a group of teenagers. The lost, on the easiest level, over and over throughout the night although they improved each time. Finally, early in the morning hours, there were able to escape the sinking island with all four treasures and they each grabbed one of the plastic treasures and ran a victory lap, yelling and laughing, around the outside of the church. These games have that type of effect on people.

        There are many FANTASTIC cooperative games on the market right now in many different themes and styles.

        The two I mentioned in a previous comment are Forbidden Island, where adventurers work together to get four treasures off a sinking island, and Hanabi, a wonderful cooperative card game where you work together to put on a fireworks display.

        Here are a few more.

        Mice and Mystics:
        You are knights transformed by a magical spell into mice and must work your way through a castle and battle spiders, rats, cockroaches, and centipedes along the way while avoiding the castle’s cat and overcoming the physical obstacles of the rooms around you. This game is built around an integrated story with sections that you read aloud as you complete various encounters.

        You are scientists working for the Center for Disease Control who are fighting the spread of four viruses that are experiencing outbreaks throughout the world. This is by the same designer, Matt Leacock, as Forbidden Island.

        Forbidden Desert:
        Also by Matt Leacock, this is a game where you adventurers crash land in a desert ruin and most overcome shifting sands and scarce water supplies to find parts to a magical flying machine in order to escape to safety. My 8 year old son lists this as one of his all time favorite games.

        Flash Point: Fire Rescue:
        You are firefighters battling a blaze and rescuing people and pets from a burning building.

        Shadows over Camelot:
        You are knights of the round table going on quests and defending Camelot from invading armies. This one is interesting as there may be a Black Knight that is secretly working against the forces of good. This one is fun with teenagers.

        Sentinels of the Multiverse:
        A superhero card game where you each have a different superhero and do battle together against a supervillian that is controlled by the game.

        Freedom, the Underground Railroad:
        You are abolitionists and workers on the Underground Railroad working to help slaves escape to safety in the North and to abolish slavery.

        Castle Panic:
        This is a tower defense game in board game form. Your team lives in a castle at the center of the board that must defend itself against marauding monsters. This game, with it’s cartoon art, is a great one for families.

        Escape the Curse of the Temple:
        This is a frantic dice rolling game where you are adventurers trapped in a temple and you are rolling dice in real time trying to match sets that will let you move through the temple and collect crystals that will enable you to escape. The game comes with a soundtrack (also downloadable as an MP3) complete with creepy music and audio queues that get your adrenaline up and that serves as a timer for the game. The game only lasts ten minutes! It’s amazing! Kids love this game so much and want to play over and over.

        There are a ton more out there in many different themes and for various age levels and interests. I HIGHLY recommend that families check them out. Any good specialty toy store or hobby game store will be able to recommend a cooperative game that will fit well with your family’s interests and many will be able to demo a game for you so you can try them on for size.

        If I had to recommend only one to buy, it would be Forbidden Island. You can’t beat the price to value ratio on it and it is available everywhere from Target to Barnes and Noble to online to specialty toy retailers and hobby stores. Everyone, it seems, carries this game. At it’s full price of around $17, its still a steal and comes in a beautiful embossed tin. You can often find it for as low as $7 to $10 at sales (when we find them this low, we pick up a couple of copies for our gift box at home).

        • I should also mention that there are iPad apps for both Forbidden Island and Pandemic that might give you another way to try the games out at a cheaper cost before buying the actual game for your family.

        • Suzanne Lyons says:

          Thanks for providing this review of some very great cooperative games, Great Big Table! I think you are right on! I hope you will check out CooperativeGames.com to see my spin on cooperative gaming. As a mom and an educator, my hope is that we can use these games in the schools to nurture the spirit of cooperation and thereby learn to address common problems as a team rather than adversaries. You do mention purchasing the games online at the big retailers. I have to put a word in here for small retailers such as myself who are 100% purpose driven. I use recycled packaging for shipping for example and I curate games myself that I personally can guarantee, etc. So it’s great if people can support the small retailers…there’s a lot of love and a lot of dreams in what we do!

      • Suzanne Lyons says:

        Hi again…yes, cooperative games are really taking off in recent years in the US. But games like this have been popular in Europe for a long time and the oldies but goodies have had a cult following for years. I get the most wonderful letters from people who have treasured cooperative games and their overall ethic of peace and sustainability. And I’d like to add that cooperative games are often games people play in groups that don’t need any materials at all. The emphasis is on coming together to play without needing to compete. True, many recent cooperative board games pit players against the game itself, so the players are “competing against the game”. That’s fine and fun and cool–and I love Forbidden Island etc. I just want to note there is another version of cooperative play. There are some wonderful classic games such as Max the Cat, where the players cooperate to win, but they do not defeat the game. In Max, the players are little creatures such as mice and squirrels and they are trying to escape a tom cat. The little creatures not only scurry around the game board to escape, they can use tokens such as milk and catnip to lure Max back to his porch…so the game has an underlying mindset of coexistence and cooperation–even among those with inherently adversarial points of view. This mindset offers obvious advantages in many contexts today. …let’s remember the original vibe of cooperative games and keep it going!

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