How Old Does a Kid Need To Be To Understand Board Games?

At what age do kids start to “get” the ideas behind boardgames?

I imagine this may differ according to the game, of course.

My kid understands taking turns to place X’s and O’s on a tic-tac-toe board, but the idea of trying to get three in a row is as far as I can tell utterly beyond his capabilities. (Not just that he can’t figure out how to get three in a row, but rather, the very idea “three in a row” is not something he can comprehend–as far as I can tell.) When do you suppose he’ll start to “get it?”

How about Checkers?

How about Chess?

How about Go?

Any hard stats or good studies would be welcome. Anecdotes get in too but have to get their hands stamped.


I think I remember playing snakes and ladders at 6 years old, so I would bet it depended on the intuitiveness of the game.


I’ve started to play Othello occasionally with my three and a half year old. She’s not all that good at it, obviously, but she gets the concept of taking turns, and mostly puts her pieces in an allowable spot when it’s her go. Can’t see diagonals yet, though.

I’ll have a Daffy Duck thanks.

I know I was playing El Asalto and checkers semi-proficiently by age 6 - that’s when Dad made his ill-fated attempt at teaching me chess (which I might have liked if I’d had a different teacher). Parcheesi, even earlier - does dominoes count? Apparently there had been a sort of all-together-now assault on Abuelita from her children to make sure that she slowed down when playing with the grandkids… she was more dangerous with a parcheesi board than a school of piranha to a bleeding cow. I’ve seen that woman eat five other pieces in a single move; she considered eating four as “routine”.

I know that there are instances of extremely young professional Go players; Honinbo Dosaku, who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest Go players in history, started studying when he was seven. One of his best pupils, Honinbo Doteki, was rated a 6th dan when he was 13. I seem to recall seeing games played by several 9-10 year old professionals as well. However, unless your kid really has an interest in the game I think it might best wait until age 10-13. Go takes a really sensational amount of patience, so most little kids don’t particularly enjoy lengthy play.

I don’t have a survey for you, but certainly it’s possible to start chess by 6 years old.

There is a British under-8 Championship for example. (Personally I think that’s a bit young, but it shows that it’s perfectly possible to be experienced at the game by then.)

I taught myself chess out of a book at 6 years old.
The rules are simple, but the game is deep!

Just a clarification question:

Are we talking more “adult” games (checkers, chess, backgammon, and so on) or are we including games like Candy Land and Hi Ho Cherry-O?

Checkers was the most popular past-time in my first grade class at 6 years old. Many of us learned it at 4 or 5. Many of these kids weren’t super-geniuses either. Most are rednecks these days. We would argue the finer points of the rules with the teacher so we certainly got it. I learned to play chess at 6 from a babysitter one afternoon. I understood the mechanics just fine after that plus some basic strategy.

Young kids can learn complex things pretty easilly. I posted a few days ago about teaching my daughter computer basics at age 3 beacuse I read it was quite possible. I was prepared to be proud of her if she learned to use a mouse after a few hours. Instead it was like that scene in the movie Aiplane where Ted and Elaine are missionairies. They decide to introduce basketball to the native population and within minutes the natives are slam dunking, shooting 90% from the floor and spinning the ball on their fingers. Teaching my daughter computers was like that and more spooky than anything. I hear that isn’t unique.n I plan to teach her chess some when she is 5 because she expressed an interest.

My daughter was playing games like Candy Land, Hi Ho Cherry-O, and Chutes and Ladders probably before she was four.

She’ll be seven next month. The games she plays include Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Uno, War with regular playing cards, Cootie, Mouse Trap, Ants in the Pants, Life (The SpongeBob version), a Wizard of Oz trivia Game, Cadoo, and several other.

I was playing all of the kiddie board games, as well as checkers and connect-4, by the time I was four years old.

I’m now 26 and I still haven’t figured out chess :stuck_out_tongue:

My oldest daughter learned to play Candy Land at 3, and figured out how to stack the deck so she would win by the fourth game or so. She was even devious enough to put the Queen Frostine card on her third pick so it wouldn’t be too suspicious.

Professional opinion is that to reach the highest level at Go you need to have learnt the rules by age 10 at the latest.

I (amateur 3 dan) was comprehensively slaughtered at a Go tournament some years ago by a 6 year old Chinese Go prodigy. I don’t know how old he was when he learnt, though.

It depends on the both the child and the game obviously. A game like Candyland is basically just played against the board - the only skill involved is following the procedures of the game - so it’s an easy game for very young children to learn. These games teach children about order.

Most card games are played against unknown elements - they require children to learn to make reasonable guesses about things they can’t see. These games teach children about probability.

Games like Chess, Go, or Tic-Tac-Toe are played against opponents - they require children to think about a situation from somebody else’s point of view so they can anticipate what moves their opponent will make. These games teach children about empathy.

Little Nemo has a good explanation. Simple board games teach a lot of skills: taking turns, the idea of traveling across a board or getting to a goal, and other basic ideas that we take for granted. So you want to start with those, and most kids can do it sometime when they’re 3 or so.

My 4-yo has been playing Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Uncle Wiggily for a long time, but I haven’t taught her War yet. If she can’t handle it now, she’ll be able to soon–I should try it out. War is great for beginning math skills.

My three-year-old is insanely into board games. We tend to play very simplistic games (Candy Land, Orchard, Sequence, etc.), and those are games she can play correctly. She can play other, somewhat more complicated games with help. For instance, she can’t add two dice together, and she has trouble counting the squares off if she gets more than a three or a four. Needless to say, actual strategizing, let alone caring about winning, is beyond her. That puts most games out of reach, though she’s willing to try more or less anything.

For most competitive games, you do need some basic skills: counting, reading, planning, and these develop incrementally beyond the age of three, usually. But the basic idea of games – taking turns, the progression of play – are grasped pretty early.

Gah, yes, the little kids are terrifying. I’m an amateur 6th dan, and it’s all I can do to get the odd victory against the young 1st dan pros when they give me a 3 stone handicap. >_<

I think one reason for the supposed age limit, though, is just the memorization thing: last I heard a pro needed to know an insane number of joseki… something like 14,000 sequences, as I recall.

Pardon me for being frank, but do you have any factual basis for saying this? Kids can certainly learn problem-solving skills from games, if they put their mind to it, but little kids in particular are just as likely to solve games with trial and error as they are to put this degree of thought into it… there’s no way your average five year old is going to magically pick up abstract concepts just like that.

My nephew is 20mo and has been coming up with “turns” games for months. If you want him to do anything he doesn’t want to do, make it into a turn-based game!

Yeah, I didn’t mention this in my OP, but my kid (two years and two months) loves to go grab the go board, put it on the table, place the bowls just so, open the lids, take a black stone, place it on the board, look up at me, and say “Play go!” Then we take turns putting stones on the board, with no rhyme or reason at all. It’s cute. And you’re right, he totally gets turn taking, procedure, and so on.


Go to the game section of the toy store and look at the boxes: most of them are going to have recommended age ranges on them. Of course, this is definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of thing, but it may be the closest to a factual GQ answer there is to this question.