A unique way to choose the best board games for 4 year olds
There are plenty of websites out there that rank the best board games for 4 year olds or the best board games for preschoolers (or even the best board games for kids in general). However, most of them focus on just that: the kids.
I may not have product testers or thousands of dollars to dump into the process, but I have something at least as good: three kids of my own (including, yes, a 4 year old, but also a 2.5 and 7 year-old).
While some lists are hung up on the best board games for kids to promote literacy, to play while traveling, or to teach cooperation, this is a different kind of list.
My goal is to help you assess the best board games for your 4 year old (or preschool-ish aged children) while simultaneously measuring how much sanity of your own will be sacrificed each time you play (or witness your children playing) the board games in question.
Whether you’re looking for a birthday gift, Christmas gift, or just need to stock up on some screen-free entertainment, this list is exactly what you need to make sure you don’t make a purchase you regret.
Note: while this post is geared toward the best games for 4 year olds (so, your average preschooler), this list has worked well in our house from ages 3 to 7 (and counting). I suspect we’ll be getting good use out of these games until my kids are at least 10 years old.
I do all my shopping (board games and otherwise) online
[While this is not meant to be a promotional post, please be aware that as an Amazon Associate, I do earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.]
If you prefer to do your shopping in physical stores, well, you’re a better person than I am. If you have received a gift from me in the past decade, you can rest assured that there is a 98% chance it was purchased online because going shopping with my kids makes me sweat through my clothes in misery.
As such, I’ve included Amazon links for each game I recommend. Mama didn’t raise no fool and Amazon Prime is my boyfriend.
And now… the best board games for 4 year-olds!
Board Game: Pie-Face
Best for: Ensuring that you bathe your preschooler, no matter how lazy you may feel.This game involves smashing a lever repeatedly until a pile of whipped cream is smashed into your opponent’s face and you emerge victorious and unscathed. It is easy to assemble, tasty, and no doubt, your 4 year old (and other kids, and probably adults) will love it.
The real question is: are you willing to do bath-time as soon as it’s over?
I’ve been very open about the fact that bathing is an area where we’ve become rather slouch as parents. However, after several rounds of Pie-Face, bathing becomes a non-negotiable. You can wipe down your kids with a rag temporarily, but they will definitely need a full clean-up by the day’s end (think whipped cream in the ears, hair, etc.).
If you’re not up for that, this game is a hard pass.
Board Game: Connect 4
Best for: Indulging your childhood nostalgia and frustrating you to no end when you realize your four year old can’t count to four.This classic game is best for parents of one or two children. If you have just one, you can play with them; if you have two, make sure they’re old enough to play one another while you sit back and sip a glass of wine. You’re going to want that wine (and possibly earplugs) when they start fighting and crying over who is losing/will lose/lost.
This game also has the bonus potential of highlighting your child(ren)’s inability to understand strategy or the basic concept of the number four. And don’t even get me started on what constitutes a diagonal line…
Educational alarms aside, this is a perfect board game for four year olds because the rules are simple. The number 4 is right there in the name, so surely that can’t be a coincidence!
Board Game: Memory Games.
Best for: Destroying anything that may be left of your ego
The two most popular memory games in our house are the Star Wars memory tile game (which comes in just about any edition you can think of — Disney, Baby Animals, etc.), and “Hatchy Matchy” (which is your classic memory game re-fashioned in the shape of Hatchimal eggs).If you are unfamiliar with Hatchimals in your house, think cute, tiny, animal figurines that have amassed a full-scale army and are prepared to take over your home the second you turn your back. But I digress…
Anyway, back when I used to play memory games with my oldest, and only my oldest, I would occasionally “let” him win so he wouldn’t get discouraged.
Well, now that I have three kids and my brain has atrophied, I don’t have to “let” my kids win anything. When it comes to memory games, they destroy me. The toddler is still learning to play, but I am no match for my 4 year old or 7 year old.
I regularly come in last place, even when I’m genuinely trying. It’s a little discouraging, to be honest, but it is giving my kids plenty of opportunities to practice being gracious winners (and, allegedly, this style of game is a good way for 4 year olds to improve their concentration and memory skills).
Board Game: Zingo!
Best for: Maxing out sibling rivalry and encouraging a lifetime of failed relationships
Don’t let my description fool you – this game is a favorite in our family and it’s great because a lot of people can play at once. It also allows you to play two different ways — one more competitive, one less so — so it’s good for a wide range of ages.
Zingo! is essentially Bingo, but instead of numbers, the players look for pictures on their boards that match the pictures on little tiles fed out of a slider. It’s rather soothing watching the tile-slider feed out the game pieces, two at a time.
However, unlike Bingo, where everyone can mark off a particular number when it’s called, only one person can claim a matching tile to mark off a spot on their board. This is essential knowledge, because you need to establish hard and fast rules for how a player will “claim” a tile, lest you find yourself in the middle of an intense death match over who called the soccer ball tile first.
Nothing says “fun family bonding” like a nosebleed from being elbowed in the face by your four year old (ask me how I know…).
Board Game: Headbanz
Best for: Ensuring endless rounds of children screaming, “I ALREADY GUESSED THAT!” and causing you to lose your faith in our educational system and/or your homeschool instruction.
In this game, a player draws a card and, without looking, places it into their headband so that only the remaining players can see it. The player wearing the card then tries to guess the image/item pictured on the card. In doing so, the guessing player can ask questions of the others to help him or her figure out what’s pictured on the card. This is where things go awry.
4 year old: Does it fly?
Remaining Players: Yes.
4 year old: Is it an owl?
Remaining Players: No.
4 year old: Is it a tiger?
[abrupt parental record scratch]
Parent (internally, but also possibly aloud): What?! No, a tiger doesn’t fly! What the heck?! Who’s been teaching you all these years?
At this point, if you have your kid in daycare or public school, you consider pulling them out and staying home with them, effective immediately (school is a lot of work for parents anyway). If you stay home with your kids and/or homeschool them, you consider enrolling them in daycare or public school ASAP in hopes that you haven’t already screwed up their educational development too badly.
Bonus! They make a Disney version of this game too, so at least your dose of educational alarm can be sprinkled with a little Disney Magic (but I don’t think it’s in production anymore, so… $$$. We found ours at our local used bookstore for cheap!)
Update: since publishing this initially, I’ve seen the game pop up on Amazon again for relatively cheap. I don’t know if it’s temporary or what, but here’s a link to a very reasonable one.
Board Game: Goblet Gobbler
Best for: A unique twist on a classic game. Minimal jokes here, I just really like this game and hardly anyone knows about it.
I had never heard of this game until my grandmother gave it to my oldest for his fourth birthday a few years ago. It has remained a favorite in our house ever since.
It’s like tic-tac-toe, but the twist is that the game pieces are goblet-shaped monsters, and, besides placing your monster pieces on the empty tic-tac-toe spaces, you can also use your pieces to “gobble” other game pieces and put them into occupied spaces.
It introduces a level of strategy and challenge to what would otherwise be a very simple game. Because of this, you can get a lot of mileage out of this game (especially if you buy the one with wooden pieces rather than plastic ones). As your kids get older, you simply up your strategy.
When I played this game with my four year old (and three year old), we treated it like regular tic-tac-toe. By ages five and six, we started really incorporating the “gobbling” and strategy aspects.The one drawback to this game is that it has sixteen pieces. If your house looks anything like mine (i.e. Toys R Us crossed with A&E’s Hoarders), keeping track of those may be a challenge.
Miraculously, we still have all the pieces, although a few of them have taken extended vacations under the couch or in the bottom of the toy bin.
Board Game: Operation
Best for: Tapping into that last little bit of sanity a parent has — and then extinguishing it once and for all. I debated whether this game really belongs on a list of the best games for 4 year olds. My kids love it, including the 4 year old, but there are definitely some *ahem* challenges…
The tweezers are too big, the holes are too small, the game pieces are nearly impossible to grab, and the annoying shak
ing buzzer noise is enough to really push you over the edge.
If, for some reason, you’re a super zen parent and none of that does you in, the sound of the screaming, crying, and whining with frustration from your children will take care of that for you.
This is a game best saved for your mortal enemies, or at least a sitter you are paying. Let her play this board game with your 4 year old and earn her keep.
As the parent, no one is paying you to endure this hardship and so you should skip it. If nothing else, send this particular sanity-buster board game to live at the grandparents’ house.
Board games make great gifts for 4 year olds, but remember, those games can be a gift or a curse for parents.
Until kids hit their teenage I-don’t-want-to-hang-out-with-my-parents stage, the parents will be playing those board games with the kids (or at least, observing from a relatively close distance). If you’re buying board games for kids of your own, keep this in mind and choose wisely.
Thinking about buying a board game for someone else’s 4 year old? Use your relationship with their parents to make your decision. Good friends? Goblet Gobbler. Frenemies? Send them a box of Operation. Mortal enemies? Skip the board games altogether and buy their kid a musical instrument.
Best Board Games for 4 Year Olds Update:
Since publishing this post, I’ve received a ton of comments on the blog, on Facebook, and via email. Apparently, parents feel strongly about board games (and with good reason). Courtesy of crowd-sourcing, here are some additional recommendations (and heck-nos) for your shopping lists:
Your 4 Year Old Will Also Love These Board Games:
Buy That Board Game for My 4 Year Old and We Are No Longer Friends:
(Please be advised: a lot of grandparents are purchasing these for their grandchildren as pay-back for the suffering they endured at the hands of these games years ago. You’ve been warned).