Best board games for special needs kids

I have worked with lots of special needs kids and adults. Without being condescending the adults often require similar limitations/boundaries to the kids. Of course everyone with special needs have different needs. This isn’t a great example but given my mental/emotional illnesses I do much better with solo board games, because I struggle with anxiety and I just do better in general when I’m alone. But solo games are generally really complicated and in my experience it is the rare exception that a person with special needs would want to do almost any recreational activity alone, usually we are trying to help them be social because that’s what they expressly want. But most special needs persons require certain “boundaries” to have fun. Boundaries and limitations are a good thing. They actually help us make choices. A world without boundaries or limits is chaos and chaos (anarchy) takes away our freedom.

For board games (card, dice games etc) the boundaries are things like no secret information. So no secret identity games and no traitor games. But like I’ve said several times already this will depend on the person, but in my experience anything like hand management or decisions making that is done totally individually will be virtually unplayable.

Years ago I was playing battleship with a “consumer” (in home supportive services consumption, that is I helped this person live their life independently) and suddenly realized that the person had no clue what was happening. Without going into detail the person simply could not follow the coordinate system. I tried to explain it but it just wasn’t working.

Regardless the person was having fun. But I think respect and dignity are a lot more important than having fun. And allowing someone to flounder around in a game I believe shows disrespect on my part and removes their dignity. That being said if this person liked playing a game they had no idea how to play and really could not learn it but for whatever reason they just loved it…I would play it with them. Because that would be their decision. And even though it seems like a small thing respecting someone’s autonomy is the most divine aspect of humanity. This is after all what God spends most of his time doing: respecting our autonomy (often by aiding us, even in things He thinks are wrong).

But I think it’s clearly a better thing to help somehow participate in something they can truly participate in. So generally dice games are the safest bet because unless it’s Liar’s dice (which I actually have successfully played with many special needs kids) dice rolls are public information. But basically you need to be able to assist them making choices. Both physically and mentally. Hand management assistance either physically or mentally usually will detract from the gaminess of the game, for everyone involved.

1. Max

This is in a category all on its own. This is the most perfect game for special needs kids. I have had so much success playing this game with kids in general.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4637/max

2. Monster factory 

Basically Carcassone for kids. Fun, quick, and very easy to teach and assist with the playing.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/112598/monster-factory

3. Loopin Louie or Loopin Chewie 

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/327/loopin-louie

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/173341/loopin-chewie

4. Zombie dice or Dino Dice, physical or iOS versions

I have literally played these games on many occasions with tables of 6+ downs & artistic kids who were laughing and screaming the whole time. For whatever reason they really seem to like pushing their luck…and losing! The excitement of rolling these dice and seeing that you got stomped by dinosaurs or shot gunned just gives them so much pleasure. I can’t stop smiling while writing this because of 2 kids I worked with in particular. One was an autistic downs boy and he really couldn’t interact with anybody, most of the time he hid under a table in the classroom. Whenever I subbed there I pulled out zombie dice and he always crawled out and played. He loved zombies. He would always pull these gross zombie dvds out of his back pack to show me. This game gave him a connection to others. The other kid was also downs and a bit of a trouble maker. She was always poking and pulling the other little girls. But when I pulled out Dino dice she got this goofy grin on her face and all she wanted to do was roll till a Dino stomped her out. I made them roll in a box and she would cover her eyes and then I would hold the box up to her face and she’d slowly pull her fingers back and then laugh & laugh if she had lost. 🙂

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/62871/zombie-dice

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/125368/dino-hunt-dice

Haven’t played this version yet but I’m sure I will love it:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/204175/batman-animated-series-dice-game

5. Star Wars box busters 

Remember you aren’t really playing these games for you, you’re playing them for someone else, someone who needs some support in life. These are small toy games, there’s not much here except a die roll. But almost everyone likes Star Wars (especially special needs boys) and this game is fun. It’s very simple but it’s fun. It’s perfect to play at a restaurant. I played 4 rounds of this while waiting for Peruvian food one time with a consumer. It looks exciting because of the toy aspect.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamefamily/28440/star-wars-box-busters

6. Star Wars: Rebel Missions Game

Very simple and stressful co op game. It’s also very fun. Batteries required unfortunately.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/169157/star-wars-rebel-missions-game

7. Dune Express

Print and play and cheap to make. This is sorta like what Risk Express should’ve been (Risk Express is currently in print as Age of War [https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/155695/age-war] which is a fun game but feels nothing like Risk…which is a game I hate so I like that…) and it’s got a fun theme. It’s a fun dice fest with a lot of “take that” joy imbued. 

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/42617/dune-express

8. Zombie Kidz

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147009/zombie-kidz

9. Rory’s Story Cubes

They all work pretty well but Batman is my favorite 

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/182541/rorys-story-cubes-batman

10. Qwixx
This is a great game. It really should replace Yahtzee. It almost won the spiel des jahres. That’s pretty amazing for a tiny cheap dice game. Go buy it. It’s low on this list because despite its simplicity the decision making can have brutal consequences.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/131260/qwixx

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2 thoughts on “Best board games for special needs kids

  1. Thank you for your suggestions. Some I was aware of and some I will need to look into!

    I am a support for learning teacher who uses a lot of board games, mainly as social scaffolding for children on the autistic spectrum, so it’s nice to see what is being used elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thanks for the comment.

      Social scaffolding is a great way to use these games! That’s often what I try to do as well. I think the best company to watch is always Gamewright. I think I only included one game by them but most of their stuff is accessible, cheap, and often available at Target or Wal mart. Forbidden Island would be the best next step game after you’ve played the coop games on this list. And Sushi Go is amazing, it can be hard to teach special needs people but the drafting mechanic means that you can actually gauge how well everyone understands the game as you are playing. Gamewright is probably my favorite board game company period.

      And the company that publishes Max has loads of cheap simple coop games. Those are almost impossible to find outside of Amazon. Max is remarkably simple but I’ve probably had more “stand and roll” moments with that game than I have any other. With kids or people with special needs that game can turn into something just as dramatic as Ghost Stories (which in my opinion is probably the best coop game period, even though my favorite is Defenders of the Realm).

      The roll for it games also could’ve been on here. And if you like those games Mayfair published a Star Trek game that essentially takes the core mechanic and turns it into a cooperative Star Trek game. It’s called 5 year mission. I’ve had success with those as well.

      Coop games are so good because you all win or lose together and you can basically create an experience for others who normally wouldn’t be able to enjoy a game with that level of complexity. It’s similar to being a DM for a role playing game.

      Sorry if I just told you a bunch of stuff you already know. I just love this stuff so much. Keep up the good work. You’ve chosen a tough calling! Tough, but good and rewarding.

      Like

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