Best Tabletop Games for the Library

A game-loving librarian's suggestions to raise the level of your collection. With recommended games for elementary, tweens, and teens, from Candy Land, Uno and Oregon Trail, to Exploding Kittens and Sushi Go.

Tabletop games are more popular than ever. At the White Oak Library District, in Illinois, we love finding the perfect games for our patrons. Here are some of my personal picks of great games that can be used in programming or for kids and families just hanging out.

Younger children and teens might need help learning the rules of each game, but after they know the rules they will be excited to play on their own. (I like to play with my teens, because they enjoy beating me.)

A quick tip: To learn new games, look for YouTube videos that show people playing the games or a tutorial. These videos can speed up learning the games. I am a big fan of game nights because families can participate as a unit or the children can play with their friends.


The staples: Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Memory, and Uno.

Meow This bluffing game has each player draws a card that says meow or not meow. The point is to find out who is bluffing. If you successfully call not meow, and they have a not meow card, you win. If you make a mistake and call not meow and the player had a meow card you are eliminated. It works with all ages but elementary-aged children make the best meow sounds. Kids love the ease of the game and being able to lie. It is great fun!

Ticket to Ride: First Journey A younger version of extremely popular Ticket to Ride, where you are trying to connect train tracks to cross the country, this is a great game for kids who love history, adventure, and learning. This game takes less time than the original, which is helpful for those with short attention spans.

Picture Apples to Apples This younger version of the classic game Apples to Apples has players match words to a picture instead of words to a word. It can be a funny or serious match. This version works well for younger children who might not know all the words in the older editions of Apples to Apples.


The staples: Monopoly, Clue, and The Game of Life.

Sushi Go. A fun, fast card game made up of rounds, where everyone is trying to match and build their own sushi. There are different combinations with different point values, and the winner is the one with the most points once all the rounds are over. This is popular with tweens because it is fast-paced and easy to learn. Tweens also enjoy the colorful sushi images on the cards.

Oregon Trail A card game based on the classic computer game where you travel from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, players must stock up on supplies, and try to make it through the plains without running out of supplies or the pioneers might die from dysentery. Tweens love this exciting adventure game filled with death. Often no one survives. They love to turn on each other, but quickly realize that does not help them win the game.

Exploding Kittens. A fast-paced card game where players must avoid getting an exploding kitten, which causes them to lose. Tweens enjoy playing because of the funny art on the cards and the chance to make their follow players lose. Be careful you do not buy the “not safe for work” version! It is rated 18 and up!


Gloom A storytelling card game played as a family. The goal is to tell the saddest story about your family and make the other families die happily. Teens like Gloom, because it is unique and fits in with teens and their morbid sense of humor and allows them to be creative.

Villainous A new game about the classic Disney villains where the participants are villains trying to achieve their dastardly goals. Disney villains are very popular right now because Disney just released a new Colorpop makeup line and the new Maleficent movie is coming out. Teens love to play villains. It is fun to be bad for a little while.

King of Tokyo Based on classic Japanese monster movies, monsters (the players) battle to conquer Tokyo. The monster that gets 20 points first wins. This game appeals to teens because of the fighting and the artistic designs of the monsters. It feels almost like a video game.


The staples: Battleship, Connect Four, Sorry, Trouble, and Guess Who.

Tsuro Players become magical dragons and use card tiles to move across the board, but must be careful not to cross paths with another dragon or to fall off the board because your dragon will surely die. This is a game everyone I have played with loved because it is simple but competitive. Children love being able to fly, teens love crashing into each other, and parents love watching their kids have a great time.

Giant Uno The most popular game at my library, it is exactly what it sounds like—Uno with giant playing cards. Families love it because they already know the game, but get a kick out of the oversized cards and trying to hide what they have.

Smack Talk Showdown Based on the world of professional wrestling, this game recreates the moments where wrestlers talk into the microphone about their matches and opponents. Players get wrestler names then prompt cards for their speeches. This game is not for shy families—it is all about trash talking and acting. Like wrestling, it is about creating a big personality. The appeal is pretending to be wrestlers and getting to be mean to their wrestling opponent.

Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in Illinois and a blogger at Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Sam Bloom

Please don't recommend anything having to do with Oregon Trail, a game centered completely around the racist idea that it was the white European immigrants' Manifest Destiny to colonize the "unsettled" lands that were, in fact, Native land.

Posted : Aug 08, 2019 02:17

Sara Rodgers

Find a Giant Uno that isn’t $200 please

Posted : Jul 21, 2019 11:52


Thank you for this great list! My family does a weekly family game night and I am pleased to see your recommendations for some games I haven't seen before. I also want to recommend a game that kids can play in the school library -- FoxMind Games Sports Dice - Baseball. It is popular with as young as 1st graders and can be played fairly quickly - you don't have to go through all the innings! The rules of play are easy to grasp.

Posted : Jul 19, 2019 04:11



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing