Although we’ve always factored boardgames into our homeschool life, over our three lockdown experiences, we’ve played them more than ever as a family. It’s been a great bonding experience; one of the positives of this difficult time.
I’m a big proponent of the power of card and board games in aiding children’s development in a non-stressful and relaxed way, improving their general knowledge and teaching them a whole range of skills from strategic thinking to collaborative skills. In fact, I wrote this post to discuss each of the skills taught by game-playing in more detail.
Recently, we’ve invested in a few new geography themed games, (um, I might be missing travelling just a touch… and these games are as close to exploring the world as I’m going to get right now!), which have all become firm favourites.
Seriously though, aside from being good fun, I’ve been really impressed with just how much the Beans have learned through playing these games. And as our world closes in on us as we cope with this pandemic, I think it’s really important to look outside of our little patch of England at the world as a whole. One day we’ll be allowed to explore it again.
Here are our favourite geography card and board games:
Trekking the World
A Christmas present for Bean11, our most-played game in January and her top choice on this list. In this game, players race across the world to visit bucket-list locations, such as the Taj Mahal, South Africa’s Kruger National Park or Iguazu Falls in Argentina, collecting souvenirs on their way. The quality of this product is exceptional, with beautifully illustrated pictures of each well-renowned destination along with a tantalising short description on the back – I’m keen to visit them all!
There are a variety of ways of scoring points in this game: taking tours to the stunning destinations; amassing a well-balanced collection of souvenir types from across the world; accumulating the most of one type of souvenir; and collecting the last souvenir in a continent.
It requires the children to think about many different facets at the same time, planning in their heads their strategy for collecting the maximum points possible, whilst also guessing other people’s plans and how that might impact their own. And at the same time, they’re learning more about the physical and man-made wonders of the world.
The same company created Trekking the National Parks board game (based in the US) – another one for my wish list!
Recommended by our family, this has quickly become a firm favourite in our household, particularly as each individual can play at a different difficulty level within the same game, making it a challenge for everyone.
The board consists of a world map broken up into longitudinal and latitudinal segments. Your aim is to be the first player to race around the perimeter of the board locating famous places across the world as you go, from five categories:
- guidebook (famous tourist sites such as Mount Fuji or the Pyramids of Giza)
- capital cities
- trivia (such as: Bradley Wiggins won a first grand cycling tour here)
- places (major cities and towns, e.g., Timbuktu)
- photos (images of iconic landmarks, such as Niagara Falls)
Every player has an attempt to find the location each turn (anyone who guesses correctly moves forward two places), so it’s a face-paced game. The kids can use bigger pieces which fit over four of the squares as opposed to the one covered by the smaller piece, making it a little easier for them. Also, if they have no idea, they can always piggyback on one of their opponent’s guesses or try a nearby square/set of squares.
The location questions also have two levels of difficulty, so the adults could take on the harder ones (although we’ve not yet been this brave!), and the other side of the game board is a satellite image of the world with no borders or countries marked for those feeling particularly confident!
This has been wonderful game for honing our locational geographical knowledge and it’s enjoyed by children and adults alike (sometimes MrJ and I get it out when the kids have gone to bed – we’re rock ‘n’ roll like that…).
Short of navigating a walk yourself, this game has to be the most fun way of practising your map reading skills. A recent purchase and we love it!
Players move around the board game collecting skill award cards before heading to O.S headquarters to claim victory. There are ten different categories of skills: grid references, distance, relief, land use, direction, settlement, industry, symbols, landforms and transport.
Landing on one of these skills squares allows a player to attempt a question from that category using one of four laminated sections of OS maps. For example, if you landed on a grid reference square, you’d be asked to provide the four- or six-figure grid reference for a particular sight on the map. Or for a landforms skill, you might need to name the river features found in a particular grid reference. If you get a question correct, you’re allocated that skill award card. Collect six different skills and you can hot foot it to the OS headquarters to claim a win.
Aimed at a KS3 level, with an excellent set of questions, my two would happily play this for hours and not even realise they were learning!
NB: this is the first time I’ve used Oaka Books, and I’ve been very impressed (and I haven’t been paid to say that!). The quality of the product is good, delivery quick and they offer a home ed discount too.
This is my favourite game of all time! The aim is to build multiple designated train routes across Europe – a simple goal, but more complex in reality as you have to hold several sets of plans in your head at the same time. Other players may end up blocking your route in their desire to build their own.
So, as with some of the others in this list, the game teaches you to be adaptable with your plan, formulate alternatives and be prepared to be creative! And at the same time, players familiarise themselves with the location of key cities across Europe.
There are a number of versions of this game: USA, London, Nordic Countries, Africa, Asia – the list goes on!
Another new purchase and one we need to play a few more times to really master, the aim of this game is to save an endangered species. Players become managers of a wildlife reserve under threat from poachers. As they move around the board, they make decisions about how best to spend their funding to maximise the number of animals in their reserve, by:
- investing in projects to support the local communities and get their buy in to the initiative,
- hiring vets and rangers to keep the animals healthy and safe from poachers,
- spending money on restoring habitats and putting up wildlife fences,
- building schools to teach about the importance of conservation, and
- erecting luxury lodges and backpacker hostels to generate income and raise awareness of the conservation project.
But in the background is the constant threat of poachers who try to extract bribes from the players, which speeds up their passage around the board, but results in them paying a price in the long-term.
It’s a really interesting game introducing the children to key aspects of conservation work and highlighting the complexity of the decisions to be made, the very real threat of poachers and the requirement to balance the needs of the local community with those of the endangered species. Oh and £2 of the sale price is donated to conservation charities. Highly recommended.
I had to put this game on the list as its purchase was the reason Bean10 methodically learned the flags for every single country in the world, just so he could beat his oldest cousin and Daddy at the game!
He used to ask to play with me all the time, so I too have had to learn many of the flags, although I don’t seem to have the same retention of information as he does, so I always lose, much to his delight!
Super simple set up: each player is dealt four cards which they lay face up in front of them; the remainder of the pack is split into two and placed in the middle, again face up. We’ve always played a simplified version of the rules, in which players take it turns to guess one of the cards from another player’s pile. If they guess correctly, they get the card. If not, the card is left in situ and it’s the end of their turn. Whoever has the most flags at the end wins.
We also started off by just playing a continent at a time until we’d all got a handle on those countries/flags, before adding in a new continent, which felt more manageable.
Having read the actual rules for the purpose of this blog post (who knew blogging would be so helpful!), it turns out that if they guess correctly, they can also have a go at identifying the capital. If they get this right, they receive a bonus card from the pack.
And, if they don’t guess correctly, the country is revealed to them and if they can then identify the capital, they get the card. If not, the card is returned to the bottom of the deck in the middle.
Now I’ve explained this to Bean10, I suspect there may be a period of him busily learning all the capital cities!
Originally designed as travel activities for children, these pocket-sized games are super simple, cheap and a good addition to your games’ cupboard. In this set, the aim is to identify the highlighted country from either the image behind the four little windows (to make it more difficult, you could limit the number of doors to be opened) or the scrambled letters of its name underneath. You can check your guess by sliding another small window to reveal the answer.
As soon as this game arrived, MrJ and the kids jumped on it passing it around the dinner table to guess the countries (and um possibly covering it with a lot of gravy… good job it’s wipe clean!). After dinner, I noticed Bean10 quietly sneaking off with it to go through the cards and learn all the country locations off by heart… (he does like a good fact!). Not to be outdone, Bean11 then had to get involved too!
The only downside of this game is that there’s nothing to cover the letters at the bottom allowing you to identify the country from the picture alone (a more useful skill). The kids however have taken to hiding the letters with their fingers and only taking a peek if they need a clue.
There are a whole series of these games available to learn about a variety of topics from animals to flags to road signs!
I’m ashamed to admit that our locational knowledge of UK destinations has historically been pretty poor. The Beans might be able to correctly locate Auckland or Sydney on a map with no problem, but Shrewsbury or Aberdeen, not so easy.
This game however has been a fun way to acquaint them with towns and cities across England, Scotland, Wales and the east coast of Ireland.
To play, everyone is given six secret destination cards which they must race to visit along the railway and ferry networks of Great Britain. Once a destination is reached, information about that location is read out.
Sounds simple, but it’s actually quite strategic. Players can close stations which may require you to take a diversion unless you can roll a six to reopen them, and to change onto a different railway network, you need to pick up a hazard card. This card may send you to a completely different part of the country or allow you to hinder another player (who may be close to winning) by sending them elsewhere.
Planning skills are developed as you evaluate the variety of routes open to you at any one time and select the best option. Patience and perseverance are also tested as other players cause problems for you requiring readjustment to plans and self-restraint to bide your time before affecting your long-term strategy.
Similar to dominoes, but using cards with maps of countries, players take turn laying down one of their country cards next to a bordering country already on the table. So, for example, if the Netherlands is already down, a player with Belgium could lay it alongside. The winner is the first to lay down all their cards.
Again, it sounds simple, but requires strategic thinking as those countries with lots of bordering neighbours quickly become surrounded leaving no gaps for other country cards. For example, Germany is bordered by nine countries. Only four of these can be placed around this card. If Denmark, which has no other bordering countries, is not laid down in time, there will be no place for it next to Germany. Instead, players would have to use a transit card to link Denmark to Sweden across the Baltic Sea.
It therefore really helps children build up a picture of where the countries are located across the European continent. We also have the UK version, which uses counties instead of countries.
In this game, one player takes the role of the robber (Mr X) trying to stay undercover, whilst the rest of the players take on detective roles who work together to try and locate Mr X in the maze of London streets. Mr X must show his location every five moves to give the detectives a chance to coordinate their moves by underground, bus or taxi to capture him. Success requires good collaboration and evaluation of possible routes to work out his location.
Counting this as a geography game is somewhat tenuous but the board is a map of central London showing the bends of the Thames, parks and key landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and Oval Cricket Ground. It’s such a favourite and has been played so many times, that we’ve all become better acquainted with the capital’s geography, so I thought I’d add it to the end of this list!
And that’s it for now. Hope it’s been a helpful post. If you have any other recommendations, I’d love for you to comment below.
Happy game schooling!