The 5 Best Cooperative Board Games for 3-Year-Olds
Cooperative board games are something of a staple here on Dad Suggests, and there is a very good reason for that. We very deliberately want to focus on the fun of playing games with the family - not the competition. Not yet anyway. We probably play three times as many cooperative games as competitive games at this point. Family game night is a different experience entirely if we’re all working together towards the same goal - including our 3-year-old daughter.
Last year we published an article titled The 5 Best Cooperative Board Games for 5-Year-Olds in honor of our son’s favorite board games. We had fun picking out the games we all loved to play together, and he ranked them all by himself. This year we’re giving the same treatment to our daughter’s favorite cooperative games. We placed our cooperative games on the table for our daughter and she very excitedly picked her favorites one by one.
Our 3-year-old is very opinionated about the games she loves and grabs from the shelf to play with us. Not only is it an immense pleasure to see her excited about choosing the games we play, but the rest of us legitimately have fun with them too. And that’s certainly a testament to the high quality of games these amazing publishers are putting out for families.
There are certainly some cooperative games on our shelf that our daughter just can’t realistically join in on yet - including most of the games from her brother’s list. But the great thing about cooperative games is that we can still technically play those more challenging games with our daughter as a teammate. On the other hand, if the older people are making all of the decisions all the time - there isn’t really much cooperation going on.
So, other than being one of our very favorite family board games, the defining characteristic of the games on this list is that our 3-year-old can fully take part. That means she can completely manage her own turns and truly feel like a real part of the team. At the end of the day, that’s what cooperative games are all about!
I hope the games on this list help you find a good entry point for the littlest member of your family to fully join in on family game night. Before you know it they’ll be picking up the finer points of rolling dice, taking turns, and making decisions. And they’ll even start to absorb your logic and strategy as you talk about those decisions. After all, there are many great things about cooperative games, but the best part is sharing the ups and downs together.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. These links will take you to view the items’ listings on Amazon.com.
Published by HABA
HABA has a wonderful line of games for very little ones in the My Very First Games series, and Little Garden is one of our favorites. As you can always anticipate with HABA, the wooden components are just incredible. In this particular game, you actually receive a plethora of awesome wooden pieces that aren’t technically part of the gameplay at all. I think that’s just fantastic - and it really helps us use our imagination while we’re tending to our garden. And, honestly, it’s always a possibility to skip the game and just play with the pieces as toys.
Like many of the games on this list, a beginner gamer will learn the basics of rolling a die and taking turns from Little Garden. If you land on a blank square, you have an opportunity to tend to your carrots, your strawberries or your flowers. Each crop has three stages. During every turn, our little one likes to take great care, using the wooden wheelbarrow and the watering can, to make sure her crops are very healthy. That’s what the extra wooden pieces are there for, and I love that she gets into it like that.
But you might also land on Molly Mole and she’ll get a little closer to your crops. If you finish growing all three of your crops before Molly Mole arrives, then everybody wins. We might be the unluckiest farmers ever because Molly beats us all the time, but that certainly doesn’t stop our daughter from asking to play again.
Published by Fireside Games
Castle Panic is one of my very favorite board games - and I was elated when I found out Fireside Games was releasing a junior version. We even dedicated an entire article to how much we love it. The best part about this game for me is definitely the theme. It’s a tower-defense game, and you’re trying to keep goblins away from your castle. Each turn they creep closer to your castle wall. In order to attack the goblins, players must match the colors and shapes on their cards to the colors and shapes the goblins are standing on.
Not only can our daughter completely join in on this game with us, but it’s deserving of the distinct honor of being the game on this list that’s the most fun for the rest of the family too. It’s one of those games that will have a lot of staying power in our family game night rotation, because our 6-year-old legitimately loves it just as much as our 3-year-old. I’ll never forget the moment our daughter played a card to rebuild our castle wall. The look of pride and joy on her face when she realized she had helped the team was so heartwarming. She was over-the-moon - and that’s what it’s all about.
Published by Peaceable Kingdom
A board game that primarily teaches kindness and empathy? Somebody pinch me. Peaceable Kingdom has always been a family favorite publisher - we even wrote an entire article about why they are the kings of cooperative games - and focusing on empathy just makes us love them even more.
Friends & Neighbors is a luck-of-the-draw game and a matching game. It’s not complex, but our daughter picked it as #3 because she really loves it - and I love its message. So even though there are no decisions to be made, I think this game is fantastic for the little ones.
Players take turns drawing tokens out of a bag - and trying to match them onto the game board. On these tokens are various items - an umbrella, a band aid, a teddy bear, etc. What you are doing is matching these items to the friend on the game board that needs them. And each time you make a match you’re treated to a short rhyme:
She wants the bear… he’s willing to share.
A cat with a frown… needs help getting down.
Our daughter gets really invested with helping her friends with what they need - which is awesome and adorable.
Published by HABA
We’ve written about First Orchard quite a few times on Dad Suggests at this point, even dedicating a full article to this brilliant first introduction to gaming. First Orchard does a fantastic job at teaching the basics of playing games - rolling the dice, moving pieces, taking turns, and even a slight introduction to strategy. But the highlight in this case is absolutely the amazing wooden game pieces that can be used for playing make believe just as easily as actually playing the game.
The point of the game is to harvest all of the fruit in your orchard before the raven gets there first. After rolling the die, you match the color on the die to the color of the fruit you are going to harvest. Like My First Castle Panic and Little Garden, this is another game on this list that gives your little one a chance to practice their colors. My personal fondest memory of this game will always be my daughter intentionally trying to roll the raven because she felt sorry for him and thought he was hungry.
Published by Peaceable Kingdom
Our daughter did not hesitate in choosing Pick Me Up Piggy! as her favorite cooperative game, and I think she chose well. This new game from Peaceable Kingdom is really spectacular. It’s a very creative memory game, and, just like with Friends and Neighbors, there’s a fantastic emphasis on helping others. There are also terrific components inside, and it’s always a great opportunity to use our imaginations and play around with the board and characters.
You start out by driving around town in your awesome wooden car and dropping off your four animal friends in four different buildings around town. As you drop them off, you have a chance to make up a short story about why they’re going there - like “Mrs. Mouse is going to the dentist to have her teeth replaced by gumdrops” or “Mr. Horse is going to the pizza place to buy 2,000 pizzas and hand them out to strangers.” And after everyone is dropped off you begin drawing cards.
Sometimes the cards send you to various places around town and you lose a little gas, and sometimes you’ll get a chance to go back to the gas station and fill up. But when you draw a card with one of your friends on it - you have to remember which building you took them to so you can go pick them up. If you manage to pick up all of your friends before you run out of gas, everybody wins the game.
Our daughter lunged for this game quite quickly when asked which cooperative game was her favorite, and I have no hesitation in dubbing it the best cooperative board game for 3-year-olds.
If you enjoyed this article, we think you might also enjoy:
The Best Board Games for 2-Year-Olds
The Importance of Reading and Playing With Your Kids
Do you have a little one taking part in your family game nights? What’s your favorite family’s favorite game for 3-year-olds? Tell us in the comments!