From Dobble to Pandemic: 23 family-friendly board games to play at home

With more closures arising due to the coronavirus outbreak, why not pick up a board game?

May 24, 2013, Dubai, UAE:
The Tea House Junction, a cafe in Oud Metha, is home to the city's better teas and also to its gamers. Not video gamers but board gamers. 

Seen here is one of the cafe's Scrabble boards.

Lee Hoagland/The National
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Many people are finding themselves with more time to spend at home amid the Covid-19 outbreak, as entertainment destinations and public places close their doors. Rather than streaming a film or television show, or staring at your phone, why not go back to the golden days when board games were the popular form of entertainment?

Vote in our poll at the end of the story for which game is your favourite

From classics such as chess or Monopoly, to the perhaps ­lesser-known new additions such as Wingspan and Cat Lady, here's a look at our favourite family-friendly games worth working your way through over the next few weeks


Be prepared to get competitive, as this fast-talking, quick-thinking description board game requires players to attempt to describe as many card entries as possible within 30 seconds, without using any of the words on the card (so a bit like Taboo). I’ve had plenty of nights in with friends that have gotten extremely loud and lairy as we argue (in a friendly manner) about what clues should and shouldn’t be allowed (rhyming and acting it out are clear no-nos). Between four and 20 players can get involved, but, naturally, in the current climate, less is more.

Katy Gillett, Weekend editor


I have fond memories of playing this game with my family as a child. It's for two to six players and you earn points by naming objects with a certain initial letter in a set of categories within a time limit. So, for instance, vegetables beginning with "C". It gets harder and far more competitive than you think. I've found it's best to relax on the rules and enjoy getting creative.

Katy Gillett, Weekend editor


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andy Drysdale/Shutterstock (1548089p)
Risk board game of global domination, warfare and strategy
Various - 2012
The combination of strategy, cunningness and endurance needed to play Risk is addictive.

This is the ultimate game if you have endless time and a secret desire for world domination. Up to six players compete for territory on a world map, building armies and alliances with the opportunity to face-off in "battles" using the dice. It can take hours and even days to conclude with a single player left astride the world. Beware, friendships have been known to end over the game, but the combination of strategy, cunningness and endurance needed to play it is addictive.  

Mustafa Alrawi, assistant editor-in-chief 

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Being something of a horror movie buff, I was intrigued when I came across this multiplayer board game, where players choose characters and use a deck of room tiles to create and explore a haunted house. Along the way, they encounter spooks and scares by picking up different cards, and have to work ­together, or against one "traitor" (who will be revealed later) to get out alive. One of the pros of the Betrayal at House on the Hill is that no two games are ever the same, thanks to the number of different haunting scenarios. A con, though, is that it's a bit complicated.  

Janice Rodrigues, lifestyle writer 


Visually beautiful, Wingspan took the board game world by storm when it was released last year, selling out almost ­everywhere. Between myself and friends, I tried to buy it in four different countries, before finally getting my hands on a copy in Abu Dhabi. It was worth the wait. It's complex and takes a few rounds to master all of the rules, but the basic premise is that you have to collect different species of birds across three habitats, with certain factors such as wingspan contributing to how many points you can accumulate by the end of a round.

Louise Burke, homepage editor


CANADA - FEBRUARY 12: Pictionary; a team game that involves sketched clues; should reach sales of one million this year. (Photo by Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Pictionary is a team game that involves sketched clues. Getty Images

This is a charades-­inspired guessing game that also challenges your artistic side. A game can turn into a riot of laughter when team members can barely draw a straight line. Players must guess the word from a drawing and it’s great fun for all age groups.   

Mary Gayen, sub-editor


There's nothing like playing a game – with no more than three people and accusing them of having nothing better to do than memorising the dictionary to make you feel inadequate, while watching the board take the shape of a crossword grid. Part of the fun of Scrabble comes from envying whoever has the high-­value letters – "X", "H", "C" or "V" – and makes a killer long word that catapults that person into winning territory. It beats a game on your phone every time.

Nivriti Butalia, assistant comment editor


A picture is worth a thousand words. When you're playing the award-winning illustrated board game, you will select cards that match a title ­suggested by the storyteller who will give you as much or as little detail as they choose. All players will put out their cards face down and then attempt to guess which card belongs to the story­teller. The first player to reach 30 points wins. Use your imagination to create magical worlds with your loved ones. It's a very simple game to play, and lots of fun for children and adults.

Jason Von Berg, head of social media


This card-based board game is easy to play and deeply ­strategic. In short, you assume the role of a Renaissance ­jewellery merchant who acquires ­prestige with nobility. The design of the game is great, too – it's striking, colourful and lovely.

Jason Von Berg, head of social media


GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 25:  (EDITORS NOTE: This images was created using digital filter)  A boy plays cluedo following Christmas dinner on December 25, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Millions of people across the UK spend time with family and loved ones on Christmas day, traditionally exchanging gifts and eating and drinking, whilst many also attend special church services.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Cluedo is a classic murder-mystery game. Getty Images

We've been playing a lot of the murder-mystery, whodunnit game at my house in the past 10 days. It was first created in the 1940s and is fun for all ages because anyone can win depending on how they play the game and the luck they encounter along the way. My children love finding out who the murderer is, and trying to sneakily check what cards the others have. It's been jazzed up a bit since I first played as a child, with better characters and cards – and if I'm honest, I win the least among my family of four. 

Alice Haine, personal finance editor


Having first tried it out under duress at a friend's house one night, I was pretty judgmental of anyone who would want to spend their time on a multiplayer board game that relies on strategy, with ­players attempting to settle cities and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Oh, how wrong I was. I was soon collecting hay and ore with the best of them, ­building roads and cutting off the settlements of my ­competitors like I was born to. It's actually less skill-and-strategy focused than it sounds, and almost like a better version of Risk. I'm ashamed to say that now I'm the one pushing it on my friends, and am insanely competitive come game time. Actually, it's probably best if we don't play this together: I'm not sure anyone needs to see this side of me. 

Ashleigh Stewart, culture editor


May 24, 2013, Dubai, UAE:
The Tea House Junction, a cafe in Oud Metha, is home to the city's better teas and also to its gamers. Not video gamers but board gamers. 

Seen here is a deck of Uno cards.

Lee Hoagland/The National
Uno is a good portable and small option for trips. Lee Hoagland / The National

An oldie but a goodie, Uno may be a fairly simple card game but it's one I thoroughly enjoy. The premise is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards. Uno has provided hours of entertainment on many road trips and weekend getaways. It's also easy to carry, and there's nothing quite like a last-­minute "Draw 4" card that tests relationships.

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor

Trivial Pursuit 2000s

This isn't just a game for ­millennials and Gen Z-ers, it's for anyone who, like me, has ever been stuck playing the original Trivial Pursuit game for more than a couple of hours (I think my record was about five hours before we gave up). Basically, this version has made the rules slightly easier (so you get a pie for ­questions you get right rather than landing on a specific area, for example), and questions relate to events that took place after the year 2000, which means it's more suitable for families and groups with people of varying ages. It's also great if you have friends of different nationalities, as this is the era of ­globalisation and questions aren't as western-centric.

Katy Gillett, Weekend editor

Cat Lady

One of my friends got this for me as a birthday gift – probably because I match the title. The purpose of the game is to be the player who finishes with the most number of points. Players are "cat ladies" who can collect felines, each of which are worth various points. Players can also rack up their scores through other cards with cat-­related actions and items on them – such as tuna, milk and catnip. The game is great because it involves ­strategy-building, but also, in the real world, which cat lady wouldn't love collecting a bunch of cute kitties?  

Evelyn Lau, assistant features editor


One of my all-time favourites, this card game is best played between teams of at least two each, where a person has to explain a keyword on a card, without using any of the closely related words ­mentioned under it. I love how people go completely off ­tangent, often resorting to personal jokes and anecdotes to get their teammates or partner to guess correctly.  

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor


LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Dobble, award-winning visual perception card game by Asmodee on display during the Toy Fair at Olympia London on January 21, 2020 in London, England. The Toy Fair is the UK’s largest dedicated toy, game and hobby trade show welcoming more than 270 companies exhibiting thousands of products. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Dobble is an elaborate version of snap. Getty Images

Fast-paced and furious (well, you might be when you lose), Dobble is an elaborate version of the card game snap. The small round tin the cards are contained in elicits shouts of excitement among our ­friendship group as the perfect antidote to boredom. Try to match strange tiny symbols – including a ghost bearing a ball and chain, paint splatters and the character of Dobble himself. There are a few ways to play, but one of the fastest is to be the person who has the most pairs of matched cards at the end.

Taylor Heyman, assistant foreign editor 


What more could you need right now than a board game about a rag-tag band of health experts (you and your friends) working together to save the world from the spread of deadly diseases. You battle across continents to contain outbreaks before they become pandemics as your scientists work ­furiously to find a cure. The game is great, but ­ridiculously hard (our family are yet to conclusively win a single round) but what’s better is that rather than rivalry, it’s about working as a cohesive team, discussing every move you make as a unit and tackling the outbreaks together. After all, there’s no room for regrades when you’re saving the world.

James Young, foreign editor 


People move game pieces on the board game Monopoly, manufactured by Hasbro Inc., at the New York University Real Estate Institute Monopoly event on Tuesday, November 14, 2006. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg News.
Monopoly - love it or hate it? Michael Nagle / Bloomberg News.

This is usually a ­controversial one in our home. We try to bring it out as rarely as possible, since playing the strategic game often ends up in massive fights and ­sometimes tears (mostly mine), but it is, without a doubt, one of the most fun and long-drawn-out games. We once brought out the board before dinner, and didn't put it away until after breakfast.

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor


The name says it all – you want to smash the game to pieces at times, but overall, this is a fun encounter that can be played by all ages. You have a dice and four little (alien-like) plastic men, and it’s a race to get them around the board and back home. The frustrating aspect is that if another player lands on the peg where yours is, you get sent back to the hutch. The leader can very quickly end up a loser and it’s simple, albeit frustrating, fun.

Ian Oxborrow, homepage editor 


This game is a whole new animal. Individuals or teams use cards to place markers on a corresponding space on the board. Each player or team tries to score the required number of five-card sequences before their opponent. I love all the fun, interaction and scheming that goes into it. It's wonderful because the time spent playing it is as rewarding as actually winning.

Talib Jariwala, designer


DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 02:  A detail of the chess board before the start of the Men's and Women's Rapid Chess Individual during the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006 at the Khalifa Tennis & Squash Complex on December 2, 2006 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for DAGOC)
Chess is a classic, deeply engrossing and educational game that can be a bonding experience from parent to child. Getty Images

The two-player game utilises 16 pieces of six types for each player. The goal is to ­checkmate (threaten with inescapable capture) the opponent's king. Sadly, having not played since I was a child, I am a little rusty on what is arguably the best board game ever ­invented. My ­father taught me to play chess when I was about 8 years old and I vividly remember learning to think strategically. This is a classic, deeply engrossing and educational game that can be a bonding ­experience from parent to child. 

Emma Tracey, deputy creative director

Not board games, but worthy of mention... 


All you need is the ability to download the game ($9.99, Dh36.70), cast it on to your TV and use mobile phones as consoles. Fibbage is made up of a series of real questions, and players need to create believable lies as the answers. Players then choose which answer they believe is the truth (one is always the real deal), and those who have created lies get points for every person they fool. It’s a seriously addictive game of bluffing (but watch out for your spelling; typos are a sure-fire giveaway of a fib).

Emma Day, deputy features editor

Heads Up

For hilarious hours of fun that need no additional physical apparatus, Heads Up can simply be downloaded on to your mobile phone and is available in the App Store and through Google Play. Click on the app and choose from the many categories available – Friends trivia, animals, ­accents, ­celebrities, blockbuster movies and even a version of dumb charades – and place your device on your forehead. Your team will then give you clues while you try to guess the answer – all while your phone camera records videos of your friends' crazy clues or ­impressions. Each round is only 30 seconds long, and honestly, sometimes I enjoy the hilarious videos more than the guessing game itself.

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor