Looking for the perfect gift for a child in your life this holiday season? Want to foster their love for and attention to the natural world, even on the bleakest of inside-only days? Then friends, look no further. Orion is here with ten family-friendly game recommendations for the youngins, and young-at-heart, in your life.
Observational, artful, compiling
Here is a game where the winner is crowned not by their accumulated wealth, destructive prowess, or ability to capture the opposition, but by their skill in nature observation. Players saunter through beautiful (hand-painted! watercolor!) landscapes illustrated by Karolina Kijak and Katarzyna Fiebiger, spurred by the spirit of quiet discovery, collecting (180!) unique flora and fauna cards. (Okay, so there is some accumulation as everyone tries to build the most beautiful collection of plant and animal life.) It’s not too easy, or too complicated, and you can play it alone or with up to three friends. Sounds pretty good, eh?
Interactive, educational, funny
Introduce and endear players to the amazing and weird behaviors of 40 different animals in this roaring, dancing, wiggling interactive game for the whole family. Crack shells on your belly like a sea otter. Roll into a ball like a startled pangolin. Wave your frilled gills like an axolotl. Tap on trees like an aye-aye. Take a break and lie face down on the floor like a sunflower starfish. Written by Orion digital editor Kathleen Yale and illustrated by Katy Tanis, Guess My Animal! is one for those younger kids (and adults) who are obsessed with animals and can’t sit still. (Great for elementary school classrooms, too!) Comes with a deck of 40 oversized cards, accompanied by instructions for beginner, middle-level, and advanced players, a poster showing all of the featured animals, and a booklet with more interesting information about each animal.
Strategic, compact, tactile
Grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, and ants shuffle and swarm, each moving in their own particular way in this strategic game. Their mission is twofold: defend their queen bee and surround the opposing queen. With 22 sturdy, tactile tiles in a compact pouch and no actual board, it’s the perfect game for camping or traveling.
Ornithological, world-building, lovely
Bird nerds can survey habitats, eat snacks, and lay eggs in this gorgeous offering designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and featuring over 180 birds illustrated by Beth Sobel, Natalia Rojas, and Ana Maria Martinez, AND a 3D birdhouse. Part of this game’s appeal comes from its simple, meditative actions. On any given turn a player can: play a new bird, gain food, lay eggs, or draw new bird cards. These actions mirror the natural processes of birds and within this calming gameplay, Wingspan finds its charm. Endless combinations allow the game to feel both familiar and novel even after several rounds.
Silly, matching, bootylicious
Memory games never get old and there are many stellar options out there. But I ask you, what child doesn’t like butts? In Find My Behind players reunite animal fronts with their backs, or get creative and make their own oddball hybrids. (Peng-ypus, anyone?) If for some reason you don’t like butts, Natural Science and Memory Matching Game is a classy alternative. Better yet, get both.
Cheeky, cute, easy-peasy
Younger children will love embodying the perpetually hungry, forever feisty eponymous squirrel as they pick, steal, and lose acorns to the wind in this charming game. Replete with colorful acorn tokens, personal storage logs, a rainbow spinner, and the cutest set of squirrel tongs you ever did see. See also: rabbits, otters, pugs.
Classic, aquatic, fishy
Want to skip learning new game instructions and zone out with a gorgeous take on an old classic? And maybe you also have a thing for giant squid, dugongs, and sea cucumbers beautifully rendered by artist Holly Exley? Try Ocean Bingo. And if your child is more inclined to trees, birds, bugs, dogs, or . . . poop, don’t worry, Laurence King Publishing has your back.
Balancing, wooden, chickens
What happens when you stack a bunch of chickens, haybales, and wagon wheels on a teeter-tottering barn roof? The sounds of delighted kids squealing, mainly! Littles can work on hand-eye coordination while flexing their balancing skills in this simple and adorable wooden game.
Matching, visual, cooperative
How is a prickly pear like a footprint? Or a fiddlehead like a chameleon’s tail? This intuitive, noncompetitive game asks players to use shapes, colors, or patterns to find connections in visual images in nature. If your child often says, “This reminds me of that,” this is for them. Can be played alone or in company.
Mellow, focused, mushroomy
Shaggymane, shiitake, puffball, and poison pie . . . mushrooms are all the rage these days. Gather around a table away from any housecats and get familiar with fascinating fungi in every shape and hue as you piece together this eyepopping puzzle. Illustrator Kelsey Oseid’s other puzzles Rainbow World and the smaller 100-piece Beautiful World are equally lovely and informative.
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