For those who may be new to Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs, allow me to quickly run down the premise of our reviews! Many games are great for kids, but don’t hold up for adult-only play. Many games are great for adults, but are not appropriate for children. Our goal is to find games that can be enjoyed by little hands and minds, and still provide a satisfying experience for us big kids! If a game gets two little thumbs up AND two big thumbs up, we can highly recommend it for exploration with your own game collection.
Also worth noting, the little thumbs I’m referring to belong to my preschool age daughters (ages 2 and 4), meaning that many of the games we explore wind up being somewhat simplified to maintain their attention and enjoyment (both in free play and structured game scenarios). Our choices for this list are based on a combination of how frequently they are requested by the littles, how engaged they remain over several plays, and how willing I am to introduce the games to my adult gaming friends.
Over the last decade, thousands of children’s games have been released. We certainly haven’t played them all, we probably play a more diverse assortment of these games than the average family. Based on our experiences, here are our Top Ten Games of the 2010s, filtered through the Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs lens!
10. ECHIDNA SHUFFLE (Wattsalpoag, 2018)
20-30 minutes, 2 to 6 players, Ages 6+
We’ve just begun introducing Echidna Shuffle to our beans, but the toy factor has already won them over in a big way! As a game for adults, the crowded board offers some hilarious opportunities for nasty tactics, which is always delightful to find in a children’s game. I’m a big fan of Pick-up-and-Deliver games, and this one manages to distill the basics of that experience into something easy to grasp (collecting bugs!) and fun to explore. Look for a full review of this one in the coming weeks!
9. TAIGA (Foxmind, 2010)
15-20 minutes, 2 to 6 players, Ages 5+
I was first introduced to Taiga while working at Toronto’s Snakes & Lattes game cafe, and it was an instant hit with almost any group we introduced it to. Nearly a decade later, it’s been a treat to see my Big Bean exploring this delightful memory game, and watch Little Bean handle the chunky wooden discs. Even with just adults at the table, it makes for an engaging appetizer of a game before we bring out something longer and heftier. More than my words, the real testament to this game’s staying power is the fact that it’s still in print nearly a decade after it first arrived!
8. MONSTER TRAP (Kosmos, 2011)
30 minutes, 2 to 4 players, Ages 6+
Many games have attempted to capture the simple delights of playing Pac-Man in tabletop form, including several licensed games, but none have captured the analog experience the way that Monster Trap does. Released in 2011, I had no idea that Monster Trap existed before parenthood, and my hunt for child-friendly games began. Better late than never, I’m very thankful that this colourful game has found a home on our shelf, as it has been an absolute hit with my adult gaming friends! My beans are still learning how to navigate the monsters around the board, which involves a lot more focus and advance planning than I expected, but it’s on the short list of games that they ask to hit the table unprompted.
7. UNICORN GLITTERLUCK (HABA, 2014)
20 minutes, 2 to 4 players, Ages 3+
Behold, the power of pink! Much like Taiga, the joys of Unicorn Glitterluck showered its way into my life while working at a board game cafe – this time The Board Room Game Cafe in Halifax. The pink box is always one of the first to draw the attention of my beans (and cafe customers!), but the dice chucking, gem clutching, and unicorn cloud racing keeps their attention. A simple roll and move game of this sort shouldn’t have any right to hold the attention of discerning adults, but there’s an ironic enjoyment here that allows Unicorn Glitterluck to defy the odds.
6. HARRY HOPPER (2015, Kosmos)
20 minutes, 2 to 4 players, Ages 6+
Dexterity games are often an easy hit with my Beans, as it’s literally an interactive toy, with the gaming feeling more like play than any kind of thought puzzle. Harry Hopper is more akin to bowling than any other experience, with the one who knocks down the most pins (blades of grass) being the winner. Of course, there’s the poisoned red blade that could end the game in an instant, adding an explosive element of defeat to consider! The rulebook even suggests creating multi-leveled obstacle courses, which is hilarious to watch play out. Tremendous fun, and almost a crime that this simple game isn’t on mass market shelves everywhere.
5. DOODLE QUEST (2014, Blue Orange)
20 minutes, 1 to 4 players, Ages 6+
Just a few sentences ago, I mentioned my local game cafe, The Board Room, which is where I take my beans for regular game dates. Doodle Quest is always, ALWAYS the first game they pull off of the shelf, to the point that I never felt to add this game to our personal collection. They don’t even attempt to play by the rules – for Big Bean, it’s a tracing game, where she can feel accomplished and artistic. For Little Bean, it’s adjacent play with her big sister that involves lots of scribbling, erasing, and then another round of scribbling. Drawing games were a big part of my childhood gaming memories, before hobby games lured me toward the joys of strategic play. Doodle Quest is a fantastic modern take on those drawing games of old, and once our Beans are a bit older, we’ll definitely be tracking down a copy for home.
(2013, Mayday Games)
Aside from the inevitable mess that winds up on the floor after playing with the kids, Coconuts is a game that offers so many satisfying tactile elements for little hands and brains. Free play can involve just a single monkey with a few coconuts, or a three-point shootout style setup, or the delightful chaos of hurling the rubber balls back and forth at each other! In addition, the actual game has structure that keeps adults at the table for competitive play that often elicits celebratory cheers and gasps. Let’s be honest, though … does anyone play this game and NOT think about flinging monkey poop around?
(2019, Scorpion Masque)
Zombie Game. Kids Game. Legacy Game. Brilliant!
Not long after we reviewed this amazing game, Zombie Kidz Evolution skyrocketed to become one of the highest ranked children’s games on all of BoardGameGeek! It’s a well-deserved accolade, and a satisfying tactical puzzle for both children and adults to solve, with all sorts of incentives to keep coming back to this one. Stickers, secret envelopes, and special powers evolving over the course of many, many plays.
2. BANANA MATCHO
(2012, Zoch Verlag)
Frantic dice chucking races and a squeaky banana! Long before I had children and became passionate about children’s games, there was my original children’s game obsession, Banana Matcho. Many friends still refer to the fever I had for “JPs Banana Monkey Game”, and there was definitely an emotional experience in seeing my Big Bean get excited to play it for the first time this year. Banana Matcho is no longer in print, but we’re not far off from its 10th anniversary, and we know how cool anniversary editions of great games can be … so how about it, Zoch?
(2017, University Games)
No game hits our table more often than I Spy: Dig In. The joyous simplicity of the experience – digging hands into a bowl of plastic pieces to find the ones matching your card – is delightfully fun, and holds the attention of my Beans unlike any other game. It’s the same focused experience of a Where’s Waldo book, but with a wonderful tactile element thrown in. Adult gamers often scoff at this one at first glance, but it doesn’t take long for everyone to get wound up by the spirit of the game, as everyone races to find that last treasure from the bowl. The I Spy brand is well-established, but this game stands out as something special, not only within their line of quality products, but within our personal landscape of children’s games!
So there you have it! Not a definitive list of the greatest children’s games ever made in the 2010s, but OUR list of favourite games from this decade. Most of the games on this list are still available in stores, so make sure to grab one or more to add to your children’s game collection, and let us know how it scores on your own Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs scale!