Cooperative board games for kids
© 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
In cooperative board games, players take turns, but everyone is on the same team, working together toward the same goal.
Do cooperative board games teach kids to behave more...cooperatively?
That’s hard to say. There is ample evidence that classrooms characterized by a cooperative atmosphere produce better students. But it’s not clear that cooperative games make kids any more cooperative.
One study of preschoolers found that kids assigned to play Max and other cooperative games tended to show less aggression and more cooperation compared with kids assigned to play competitive games (Bay-Hinitz 1994). But another study found that playing competitive board games had no negative effects on kids--not if kids attended schools where teachers encourage kids to cooperate and resolve their own peer conflicts (Zan and Hildebrandt 2005).
Still, Max and The Secret Door are excellent games that I highly recommend.
The cooperative element is helpful for very young children who might have trouble coping with the pressure of competition or the disappointment of losing.
And the games encourage players to talk together and evaluate different tactics--
steps which may help kids sharpen their analytical skills.
Here are the details.
Max: A cooperative game of consultation, decision-making, and natural selection (Family pastime games)
Ages 3 to 7. Excellent entry-level game; no reading or advanced counting skills required. Game pieces made from thin card stock.
In this cooperative board game, players work together against a common foe.
The enemy is Max, a cat who longs to catch three creatures living in his backyard: A bird, a squirrel, and a chipmunk. During the course of the game, all four characters move along the winding game board. If Max lands on the same space as one of the prey animals, that animal is removed from the game.
The object of the game is to get as many of the prey animals to safety as possible. Players take turns rolling the dice, which are especially designed for the game. There is only one dot—either black or green—on each side, so there are only three possible rolls:
• Two black dots (meaning Max advances two spaces)
• One black dot and one green dot (meaning Max advances one space and a prey animal gets to advance one space)
• Two green dots (meaning that one prey animal gets to advance two spaces OR two prey animals get to advance one space each)
Why I like this game
Players get to make meaningful decisions. With every turn, players discuss their preferences and decide together which prey animal(s) to move. In addition, players can choose to take shortcuts (which may backfire if Max follows). And players can invoke a special handicap--sending Max back to the beginning of the game--up to four times during play.
The Secret Door (Family Pastime games)
Ages 3 to 8. A cooperative game that provokes conversation about memory strategies and simple deductions. No counting or reading required. Game pieces made from thin card stock.
The Secret Door combines elements of two other good games: Memory (in which players turn over cards one at a time and try to find pictures that match) and Clue (in which players ask questions and make deductions to determine the identity of several hidden cards).
The game includes a board (depicting the interior of a multi-roomed house) and a set of small cards (depicting various treasures). Each card has an exact match--another card with the same picture on it. The cards are distributed face down on the board, and players work as a team to find as many matches as possible.
But there’s a twist: Before the game begins, three cards are randomly selected and hidden behind the Secret Door. When time runs out, players must guess what those cards are.
Why I like this game
The game is cooperative, so younger kids don’t feel pressured. Team play also offers older players with the opportunity to share mnemonic strategies with younger kids. And, at the end of the game, everybody gets to discuss their guesses and explain why their guess is likely to be correct.