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We had Thanksgiving Dinner with good friends and some friends of friends, and it was lovely. After dinner the adults staggered to the couches while our collective children ran off to play.

Despite feeling relief that they were taking their play elsewhere, we talked about our kids and how they spend their time playing. I mentioned that my kids were game-playing maniacs. And that’s when I got the response, “Oh, my kid gets so upset when she loses — she hates to play games. What do you do?”

And this is what I was going to tell her.

I was going to tell her that I tell my kids that that the purpose of a game is to have fun. So if they aren’t having fun, they can quit the game at any time. But that also means that if I’m not having fun, I can quit too. Also, I let them bend the rules and I even let them win more games than they should. But as they get older, I’m more of a stickler about the rules.

But I didn’t say that. Who wants a lecture after a lovely dinner? Besides, my kids still get upset over losing the occasional game and I’m not 100% sure that I’m on the right path here.

Instead, I sang the praises of cooperative games.

Co-operatives games need a better name — and they need a better reputation. They should be called: ‘Games That Do Not Lead to Emotional Breakdown by People Who Over-Invest Themselves In The Outcome.’ (Notice I used the word ‘People,’ not ‘Children.’ Plenty of adults won’t play games because they can’t bear losing.)

Co-operative games used to get a horrible rap from grown-up gamers, many of whom honestly could not see the point of playing a game they could not individually win. But that was before the pandemic.

I mean — before the game Pandemic. This board game, for adults and kids 10 and up, was published in 2008. It’s become so popular that not only can you find this game at your local indie gaming store but there’s a good chance that you will find it on the shelves of a chain toy store near you.

The game involves all players working together to contain and eradicate diseases that pop up relentlessly around the world. This video from Wil Whetaon’s TableTop Series is a fun introduction to give you a good idea how it’s played. Obviously Pandemic is not appropriate for the younger set, but the good news is that there are many cooperative board games for children that are both fun to play and less likely to result in board-flipping meltdowns.

Here are some I’ve actually played — and were my list of recommended games at Thanksgiving:

1. Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye Found It

cooperative games: Busytown Eye Found It!

One of the most endearing aspects of Richard Scarry books is all of his detailed illustrations that invite and reward careful attention. So kudos to the folks who designed this game around the aspect of his books. Players travel along a road on the board and every time someone spins and land on Goldbug, it’s time to break out the magnifying glasses and go on visual scavenger hunt. But Busytown isn’t really a race to the finish because the final leg of the journey has to be taken together. Good fun.

2. Hoot Owl Hoot!


This game is published by Peaceable Kingdom, who specialize in cooperative games. We got it as gift and it was well-received, especially my then four-year-old. The goal of Hoot Owl Hoot! is to move all the owls from the start to the nest before the sun rises. The game makes use of brightly coloured cards and tokens and requires no reading to play, and it makes a great Candyland replacement. Now, let me tell you: Candyland – with its sadistic tendency to send our youngest back to the start just as she’s about to win – has been the source of many an upset child in my house. Hoot Owl Hoot! is much, much more fun and adorable.

3. Sand Castles


And the third cooperative game was also given to us as a gift and it really surprised me. Not the game itself, which is just a simple “gentle game about helping each other to build Sand Castles by the Beach.” No, what surprised me is that the game comes from Perth, Ontario. The family business is called Family Pastimes, and all their games are designed by Jim Deacove who has been designing and making cooperative games since 1972. They produce cooperative games for all ages, and they cover all sorts of themes and topics. You heard right! We’re talking small batch, eco-friendly, made in Canada, cooperative games here for you and your family. Amazing.

* * *

This is just a list of three games that I know well. But if you are interested in learning more, I came across this site while researching this post: The Board Game Family’s Top 5 Cooperative Board Games. I was particularly happy to find a game that’s completely new to me. It’ll probably end up on someone’s Christmas or Birthday list. The game Forbidden Island got this glowing review:

“Forbidden Island should really be #1 on this list. Of all the cooperative board games we’ve played, Forbidden Island is terrifically suited for young kids. It’s very simple to understand, has fantastic components, and plays in a relatively short amount of time. It’s also the best deal in board games out there. For under $20 you get a fantastic family board game.

And it’s even designed by the same creator as Pandemic. Huh! See what can happen when we all play together?

Mita Williams is a User Experience Librarian in Windsor: @copystar on Twitter. Activity Book is a regular column about family, games and tech — don’t miss her guide to Pokemon for the uninitiated.

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