The Best Family Games to Encourage Storytelling
Sharing the gift of storytelling with your children is one of the best things we can do as parents - for a multitude of reasons. The most obvious benefit is the huge academic head start kids get by constantly being exposed to new ideas and new vocabulary. But the positive effect that stories have on the imagination can’t be understated. I certainly value the accelerated growth in creativity and imagination just as much as anything else - if not more.
I often say that nurturing our children’s imaginations and their passions is my most important and noble job as a dad. I want to expose them to as much magic in the world as possible and set them up for a life of excitement and happiness. And there is certainly plenty of magic to be found in stories.
That’s a big part of the reason that we read to our 6-year-old and our 3-year-old every single night. Sharing books with kids is one of the main pillars of Dad Suggests - and the other is playing games with kids. Both reading and playing are incredibly effective at sparking the imagination - and they’re both great bonding activities as well.
But far too often these two main pillars of Dad Suggests stay in their separate corners. We recommend books for reading time, and we recommend board games for family game night. But, every once in a while, we’re able to combine the two - like with books that you play like games. Or today’s list - family games that celebrate storytelling. It’s always a very good day indeed when we’re able to combine our two favorite things into the same article.
On this list of family games you’ll find board games, dice games, and card games that all celebrate the art of storytelling. And they really do so in a wide variety of ways. Some of these games can be played in mere minutes, while some can easily take the entire afternoon if you want them to. Some of the games have stories that change based on how you play, while other games’ entire point of existence is for you to tell your own stories.
But, most important of all, these are all family games that spark our imaginations. These are games that provide that literary magic, and they do so in a very engaging way - really asking kids to get involved. They ask us all to let go of our inhibitions and get creative. They are true champions of the art of storytelling, and they are very welcome additions to any family game night in our house.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links that will lead you to view the games’ listings on Amazon.com.
Designed by Kim Vandenbroucke and Published by Peaceable Kingdom
This one is for the younger kids and it’s one of our 3-year-old’s very favorite games. The funny thing about its inclusion on this list is that storytelling isn’t exactly a big part of the game’s mechanics, but it’s still a highlight of the game for us anyway.
Pick Me Up, Piggy! is made by one of our very favorite publishers - Peaceable Kingdom and their parent company MindWare. And it’s actually a memory game. You have to cooperate to remember where you dropped off all of your animal friends. The horse is at the pizza place, the mouse is at the paint store, etc. But one of our very favorite parts of the game is telling the story of why they are visiting that place.
In the beginning, you’re supposed to tell each other a brief story when you drop off your animal friends to make it easier to remember where everybody is. Perhaps the mouse is visiting the dentist because he accidentally mistook a rock for a block of cheese. Maybe the cow is going to the paint store because he told his boss he has chicken pox and now he has to paint red dots all over his body. This part of the game is as good as you want to make it and we all really get a kick out of it.
Designed by Jerry Hawthorne and Published by Plaid Hat Games
Stuffed Fables is a true celebration of storytelling. The entire game actually takes place inside a storybook - which also functions as your game board and your rule book.
And the story is really fantastic in this one. A team of stuffed animals sets off on an adventure to save the girl they love from an evil presence. And the atmosphere is certainly a bit scary. But that doesn’t faze our 6-year-old one bit. The spookiness is actually a big plus for us.
Stuffed Fables is an RPG with a big focus on storytelling and adventure. Games like this with an emphasis on story and role playing are an ideal way to build up and nurture the imagination in kids. And the way the story adapts and changes based on your actions and decisions really makes you feel like a part of the tale.
Designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, & James Wallis and Published by Atlas Games
Once Upon a Time is a card game that is technically a competition to be the first one to finish your story. But, honestly, it’s best for us just to think of it more like a cooperative game where we are trying to tell the best story we can together. And whoever wins by getting rid of their cards first is more of an afterthought.
Everyone has a set of cards in their hands with a wide variety of places and characters and other prompts that they are supposed to use to continue the story however they wish. Whatever is on the card simply has to fit into the story somehow. If you play the game competitively there are rules for when you can interrupt others, because you want to be the first one to get rid of all of your story cards and wrap the story up with your own ending.
But with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old in the house - we certainly find it much more enjoyable to work together to tell the most elaborate and entertaining story we can as a team. You certainly get out of this game what you’re willing to put in, and I’ve always found it a fantastic exercise for the imagination.
Designed by Jean-Louis Roubira and Published by Asmodee
Dixit is a former Game of the Year winner with a strong emphasis on storytelling and imagination. When it’s your turn, it’s your job to describe one of the illustrated cards in your hand with a single sentence - like one single piece of a story. That card gets mixed up with other cards, and everyone tries to guess which card was yours. But you can’t make your story too obvious, because you don’t actually want everyone to guess right.
First of all, the cards are absolutely beautiful and dreamlike. They truly make it easy to fire up your imagination and start telling a story. And actually playing the game reminds me of a book called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - a book of mysterious, spooky images and a single sentence story prompt by Chris Van Allsburg. The gameplay in Dixit is fantastic, but you also can’t underestimate the benefits kids reap by crafting creative sentences about these pictures.
Designed by Don Ullman and Published by Peaceable Kingdom
We’re big fans of the publisher Peaceable Kingdom because of their focus on skills like cooperation on empathy. And if anyone deserves two games on a list about getting kids to use their imaginations and tell stories together, it’s them.
The Memory Palace is a fantastic game for the little ones that both our 3-year-old and 6-year-old love playing. Players take turns placing animals into 1 of 16 different rooms in a palace - and telling creative stories for each and every character along the way. Both of our kids get really into it and it’s so exciting as a parent to hear them make up their tales.
This game is also a brilliant test of memory as well - because after all the tokens are placed you have to remember as many stories as possible and point out which animals is where. But if you pick one of the monster tokens instead of one of the animals, the game is over.
Designed by John Fiore & Rory O’Connor and Published by Creativity Hub
Untold: Adventures Await is a cooperative storytelling game powered by Rory’s Story Cubes. Basically, during each session you are going to be crafting an episode of your own television show. The game is organized into five scenes with character development, plot twists, and a big climactic finale.
One really great feature of this game is that you don’t have to abandon your characters and stories after one play. You can keep all of your notes and characters and write more episodes in the same series - or you could start from scratch with a whole new story and genre every single time if you like.
When we first played Untold, our 6-year-old was actually hesitant to even name and describe his own character. But once he realized that this was a game of pure imagination, and there’s no possible way to be wrong, he dove right in and we had a fantastic time. Now he often begs to play this one. Untold really organizes the creative process in a way that makes it all flow very easily - and it keeps things unpredictable as well. Crafting these stories together with friends and family is a very special experience.
Designed by Prospero Hall and Published by Z-Man Games
I have previously written about House of Danger in a featured article, and there’s a good reason for that. It captured our imagination in a way very few games do. When my son was 5 years old, we played through every single chapter in this game in a single afternoon - a total of about 5 hours of straight playing and storytelling. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a strong endorsement.
Z-Man Games has also recently put out a sequel to this game - War with the Evil Power Master. Both are based on the classic Choose Your Own Adventure book series founded by R. A. Montgomery, and I sincerely hope that Z-Man Games keeps this partnership going for a long time.
Just like in the books, there are choices to be made that have a tremendous impact on your story. I’ll read the cards to my son just like we’re reading a book, and then we’ll make the choices together and progress through the game. There is a wide variety of endings to discover based upon the items you find and the decisions you make - which means there’s incredible replay value for us as well. I simply can’t think of a more engaging, literary game that stimulates our imaginations as much as this one.
Designed by Rory O’Connor and Published by Zygomatic
The undisputed king of storytelling games as far as I’m concerned. There’s simply no denying the magic of Rory’s Story Cubes. You roll a set of 9 dice with all sorts of images on every side and simply string the images together to tell a story for everybody. It’s simple and elegant and remarkably entertaining. And, since it’s just a single box or bag of 9 dice, it’s very easy to travel with and play anywhere too.
There are multiple different themed sets and expansions for Rory’s Story Cubes available to spice up your storytelling, and they’re all fantastic. Two of our personal favorites are definitely the Adventure Time set and the Fantasia set - probably because our stories tend to drift towards a fantasy setting.
I simply can’t stress enough how amazing it is to play this game with little ones. I’ve written down several stories told by our 3-year-old and 6-year-old that were inspired by Story Cubes. Every single story they create is solid, pure, child’s-imagination gold.
Our 3-year-old strings together way more thoughts during this game, and with so much more enthusiasm, than any other time or activity. And when our 6-year-old rolls his dice and tells a story, he never wants it to end. He always rolls again, and again, and wants to keep crafting his tale as long as possible. Rory’s Story Cubes are magic in a box and I can’t recommend them enough.
Have you played any of the games on our list? Do you have a favorite family board game that celebrates storytelling? Let us know in the comments!