So we recently had a baby. Going into this new phase of our lives, we knew it would impact many aspects of our day to day activities and we had a feeling that board games would be one of our hardest hit hobbies. That assumption was correct.
While our child has been nothing short of amazing with sleep schedules and what not, that still doesn’t leave a lot of time for board games when you need to do laundry, make bottles, feed yourselves, exercise, sleep, go to work, etc. But…you need to treat yourself and board games are the way that we do that so we made sure to make time for them.
Making the time to play the games is difficult enough but what games are easiest* to play with an infant around?
I say easiest* because everyone is different and every baby is different and most importantly, I’ve only played so many games. While our collection is vast (and played through), I’m certain there are many games out there that would find a welcome home to my list if only I have played them. Maybe one day. Anyways…
Games you know well
This might seem like a cop-out but knowledge and familiarity make a huge difference. My SO and I can power through a two-player game of Azul in under ten minutes and Castles of Burgundy, with set-up and tear down, can clock in under twenty-eight minutes for us. These are easily two of our most played games so it makes sense that we have them down to a science so that helps when playing and this will be unique to you.
Before I get into the specific games we found that worked for us, I do want to mention some criteria we had in selecting which games we’ve attempted to play.
- No deck building or games where you had to have a hand of cards. This eliminates some favorite games of ours (namely Terraforming Mars and Clank!) but you need your hands free in the event the baby wakes from their nap and needs to be held in your hands. This allows you to keep playing while not worrying about juggling too many items or losing your train of thought as yo put your cards down.
- Light weight or a game with clear phases. Light games are easy to remember and typically play quickly. You don’t have to worry about losing your concentration or forgetting where you left off. Games with clear phases, like the Viticulture expansion Tuscany, is a clear example of this where you could play a season or a year and take a break before coming back to the game.
- No dexterity games. This is tough as we love dexterity games but the reality is that they’re too loud and too finicky for an infant to be around. I’m not going to try and build a large tower in Junk Art just to have my baby nudge the table and send the structure in free fall.
- Limit the dice. Dice make a lot of noise and while I’m not saying your home needs to be one of silence, games like Zombicide or Warhammer 40k should be placed in reserve. Dropping a ton of dice on the table constantly is only going to aggravate everyone. A dice tray will help keep things quieter and more uniform but not everyone has access to one.
Now, on to the games:
This is the best game to play with an infant around, in my opinion. Your hand management is only ever one tile, your set-up is the game play, and it’s fairly lightweight and speedy to play. Even better is that there are so many expansions available that once you think Carcassonne has run its course, you can add another dimension to the game to liven the experience up.
This is a quick-playing matching game that doesn’t require any verbal communication if you need to be extra quiet. You can play fast and multiple times in the span of ten minutes or so.
Similar to Loonacy, this is another game that can be played quietly.
Roll and Write Games
I’m lumping all of these into one category even though there are vastly different kinds of roll and writes out there. However, most seem to be quick to learn and play and have little set-up and clean up involved. I would tend to side more with games that use pen and/or pencil as opposed to dry erase markers, as smudging can become an issue while holding an infant. Think more Welcome to Dino World than Railroad Ink.
Twilight Imperium 4th Edition
Okay, one of these is not like the others but here me out. TI4 is a long, epic game that has clearly defined phases and some downtime between turns. It was very easy for me to take care of the child during this game without adding much, if any, time to the turns. It also helped that we’ve played this game enough times to know the general way around the phases too.
I’ve written about Hive before and how accessible and easy to play it is and besides Carcassonne, it might be the best game to play with an infant around. You can play multiple times while mixing and matching expansions.
Besides set-up, there isn’t much bookkeeping between turns for Codenames Duet. It’s almost entirely verbal and a great game to play as you bounce a little one on your knee. It’s also interesting to see how your mind reacts to simple clues when you’re sleep deprived.
I’m speaking specifically about Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective but others should work as well (such as Chronicles of Crime). These are games that are 75% (or more) narrative-based that have players reading clues out loud to one another. It’s pretty easy to read out loud while feeding a baby or bounce them on your leg as you dictate your theories to your partner(s). Designate one person as the note-taker and you’re well on your way to being the parental version of Watson and Holmes.