Skilling up through games and puzzles

I often get asked what’s the best game for kids and there are a range of answers depending on what you’re looking for. If you’d like to give me a call or drop an email or chat I’d love to talk about this stuff. 

On the other hand, if you’re just looking to read, here are some thoughts.  I have a lot of thoughts so you might like to get a cup of tea or coffee before you start! 

We have a lot of games in our house and I’m always looking for new options.  Some of the games I mention here may not be part of our present stock because I haven’t yet managed to source them or because they’re widely available.  That’s not going to stop me from talking about them!  I believe in being honest and want to provide my genuine thoughts on the topic.

The way I see it is that everything is a learning opportunity and the games that we choose for our children are a great chance to encourage and build on their skills. Like all organs the brain needs exercise.

Games can be a great way to engage with your children and even encourage solo play.  There are so many games and challenges that we really don’t have to get stuck playing the tedious ones.  In my experience kids want to play games that challenge them and stretch them as well as being fun of course.

Here are some skills (in alphabetical order) that can be developed through enjoyable games and puzzles:


In so many logic games the player is required to initially setup the game board following diagrammatic instructions.  These need to be translated from a 2D image into 3D space.  We found with our children that at the start we setup the puzzle for them but as they became more skilled they were able to both setup and solve them.

Communication and Teamwork

Cooperative games are a wonderful way to build communication and teamwork.  In these games each player has access to different skills which they need to combine to achieve an outcome.  For example Race to the Treasure, Pandemic, Bridge (you use bidding rules to communicate with your partner), Magic Maze (really hectic but tests this skill), as a family we love to sit down at the dining table and do a jigsaw puzzle together. 

A terrific thing about cooperative games is that if the player is too young to play alone you have every option to work with them.

Even working through a single player puzzle with someone can be a good way to increase communication and teamwork. 

Coping with failure

Like it or not losing is part of life.  Learning to be able to lose and take it gracefully is an important life skill.  With younger children I prefer a game where I can control who wins or loses but, as they mature, a game with more reliance on chance can be very valuable for learning the ‘losing skill’ because the loss is due to luck not ability.  Of course there’s also the opposing learning to win gracefully skill which equally important.


Careful manipulation of game pieces and handling of cards can trigger a different part of your mind than strategy and pure solving.  A classic was setting up Mouse Trap – how often did you knock something over before you’ve even started?  The Smart Games product Cube Puzzler Pro is a more recent example of where you need to hold the pieces in place while you put together what is initially often an unstable puzzle.  A ball bearing maze is also a great one for dexterity.

Maths and understanding chance

In so many games scoring is required and directly shows the value of good numeracy skills eg Ticket to Ride.  So many other maths concepts are tucked away in the guise of a game.  Classics like Yahtzee require an understanding of chance as does the more a contemporary game of Dragonwood.  Maths is everywhere! 


Recalling what and where something is when it is not visible.  Without meaning to seem naff the game Memory is a classic example.  Memory ties into planning as well as without being able to recall the steps to be done you’re stuck.  Enchanted Forest, Cluedo, Go Fish (who asked for 6s?).

Path finding

This is a combination of strategy and spatial awareness.  Being able to visualise how you are going to get to where you need to be and how you’re going to get there.  A classic example is chess and the current logic game Jump ‘In also requires these skills. In Ticket to Ride you need to join up different locations on a board so being able to visualise the shortest path using the resources you have is key.


Nearly all games with any strategy require planning.  What is my goal and what needs to be done to get there?  Is it sorting the edge pieces for a puzzle?  Is it identifying the piece that’s blocking me in a logic puzzle? Or finding the pieces that can move?  Chess is a good example, any game that isn’t pure luck has an element of planning. Planning can be as simple as working out how to resolve a ball bearing maze to as complicated as being able to think 10 moves ahead in chess. 

Spatial awareness

There are a lot of games that require you to think about how a shape might fit, be turned to fit into a space.  As more pieces are added this task becomes more challenging.  Puzzles such as IQ Fit and IQ Twist are variants on this theme.

Story telling/imagination 

I tend towards logic, problem solving, spatial games and sought out a game to help with my children’s more creative side.  Games like Dixit are great where the players need to think outside the box using words to describe things.


This is about identifying strategies through finding combinations that play well together and often arises in more complex games.  For in the card drafting game Dominion some things naturally go well together. Logic puzzles often have some pieces that fit easily and others that are more difficult and the strategy of placing the tricky ones first is a winner.

Working under pressure

Some games have a timing element which forces players to work under pressure.  Games like Dobble and Set have players racing to find things.  In Magic Maze and Pictionary players work together under a countdown sand timer.  Its all about making decisions quickly.


I’d love to build this resource for people looking for advice on games.  Are there specific skills that you’d add?

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