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What do you pull out when you want to play school rather than actually teach? Why, one of these games, of course! The games in this list offer you much more than Monopoly or Connect Four; in fact, you can substitute any one of these for a subject lesson once in a while with no regrets.

From electrical circuits to business conglomerates and from food chains to famous battles, these games cover math, science, social studies, and language arts in the finest tradition of play. Although playing these games may take longer than it would to present a ten-to-twenty-minute lesson in whatever, there’s something to be said for variety in the home schoolroom. Some of them can even be played solo, an unusual boon for games.

You should be able to find all (or most) of these games at your local specialty game retailer. If your city manages to exist without a game store, you can usually order directly from the manufacturer from the website listed with each game, or try the following websites:


This is not your family Monopoly game. Invented by Ralph Auspach, a retired economics professor, you start the game as a monopolist or small business. You get two parallel sets of rules and two ways to play the game; it’s designed to show the difference between how a large corporation works and how a small business functions. Will you be a monopolist or a free market competitor? This is a game we pull down for high-school economics class; it is an update to the Landlord’s Game invented by Elizabeth Magie on her dining room table. For two to eight players; ages 8 and up; from University Games—if you lose your instructions, you can download more here. You can purchase from AreYouGame.

Anti-Monopoly board game Courtesy University Games website

Anti-Monopoly is from University Games.


In Evolution you create, evolve, and sustain your species. Applying trait cards to a base species allows it to adapt to the ever-changing climate of the table. This game requires a unique strategy not found in many other games, and you can upgrade it with its expansion, Flight. If you love this, you might also like Evolution: Climate, a stand-alone game (not an expansion to the original game). Recommended for ages 12 and older; for two to six players; North Star Games.

Forbidden Island/Desert

Forbidden Island and its kin: Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, are cooperative games that pit you against the board. You need to work together as a team or you will lose. Forbidden Island, the first of the series, traps you on an island that slowly sinks into the sea. You need to collect four treasures and escape before the water engulfs you. Each game in the series presents different challenges and contains slightly different rules. If you absolutely love this series, you may also want to look for Pandemic, a more complicated game by the same designer. For 2–4 players; ages 10 and up; Game Wright.

The Garden Game

What do you get when you cross seeds, pollinators, predators, and the weather? Well, if you do it outside, you may get a garden out of it. If you do it inside, you’ll probably find yourself in the middle of The Garden Game.

Your goal is to plant and pollinate your seeds before the predators or nasty weather gets the better of you. At the same time, you move around the board through the seasons. This game includes a nice, multipage discussion on plant pollination and gardening, and it definitely fits within an upper elementary or middle-school science curriculum. (My garden lover, however, loved playing this from age 5.) For two to six players, ages 8 and up; Ampersand Press.

How Do You See the World?

Ths card game comes closer to traditionally educational than anything else in this chapter. Choose one of 100 cards, roll the die, and answer the open-ended question. Categories include reflections, relationships, aspirations, life’s purpose, and beliefs. Typical questions for the game: How much do you want to work in a week? What is one meaningless activity you engage in? How does your past influence your future?

If you want your kids to reflect and communicate about all kinds of issues and thoughts, this may be a game for you. How Do You See The World? would also make a great downtime game, whether you use it after dinner, while you travel, or at a family gathering between activities. For one to however-many players; ages 12 and up; Authentic Agility Games.

Into the Forest

This card game explores the food chains of the forest. From the animal and plant cards in your hand, you pit one portion of the food chain against another, much like the game of war. So if you lay down a Grass card, and your opponent places Millipedes on the table, your opponent gets your Grass card because Millipedes eat decaying grass.

Rather than win by point accumulation, players compete against a timer to simulate the never-ending cycle of life in the forest. List this game under science. (If your students really enjoy the game and its concepts, this company also produces the game Onto the Desert, which focuses on survival in the desert climate.) For two to six players, ages 7 and up; Ampersand Press.


Krypto is one of those classic card games that people muse over. “Oh yes, I remember Krypto . . . ” and they lapse into silence, wondering if it’s still available. Although kind of difficult to locate, the game is still around.

Each player gets five numerical cards, ranging anywhere from 1 to 25. Then a target card is turned face up; this is your goal card. Using all five cards, you need to somehow equal the target number through addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

Krypto also comes in a fractions supplement (fraction cards that you add to the regular Krypto game). Kryto accommodates one to ten players of any age. You can also find this game on


Genius Games is known for its real science games, by real scientists. Periodic is no exception. In this game you create compounds by visiting each of their elements on the periodic table. Once you gather all needed ingredients, the compound becomes yours and it marches you toward victory.

This is a great game for learning about elements and compounds, not to mention memorizing the periodic table. In the box you’ll find the game instructions, but you’ll also see a booklet that discusses the science behind the game. Other games by Genius include: Ion, Covalence, Cytosis, and Tesla vs. Edison. For two to five players; ages 10 and up; Genius Games.

Spell Smashers

In Spell Smashers you play as a rugged adventurer, descending into dungeons and defeating monsters. You use gold that you gain through your exploits to purchase upgrades that make you a better adventurer. And oh yes, this is a game about making words. You draw letters as you go into battle and use them to construct words. Just for fun, each monster that you encounter marches onto the board with an adjective card. A nasty elemental, you say? A tiny minotaur? The adjective cards modify the monsters, and each monster carries a letter that you can use in words after you defeat it.

This game makes spelling and word construction fun. Because of its fantasy wrapper, this is more appealing to kids than “Hey guys, wanna spell some words?” For one to five players; ages 12 and up; Renegade Game Studios.


This is visually a beautiful game. You are a bird enthusiast: a bird watcher, ornithologist, or researcher. Your goal is to discover and assemble birds according to their habitat, and to do this you need to feed your birds, gather eggs (which allow you to access upgrades that help you gather more birds), and build your habitat.

This is an engine-building game. You have a certain set of cards, these cards all have certain abilities, and those abilities work together like a machine to help you win the game. Engine building is a particular genre of game; if you love this game, you may like Gizmos (less involved than Wingspan), or Terraforming Mars (more involved than Wingspan). For one to five players; ages 10 and up; Stonemaier Games.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jennifer Kaufeld has nearly three decades of homeschooling experience. She is a regular speaker at state and regional homeschooling and education conferences, and frequently contributes expert advice to several communities on Facebook and elsewhere online.

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