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These board games may help improve executive functioning skills

Work on time management, focus, and memory while having fun

Two inset images: A parent and child play a game of chess and an assortment of children's board games and toys. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / nd3000 / malerapaso / djmilic / Amazon

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Executive functioning skills are those that enable children to plan, focus, remember instructions, and handle multiple tasks simultaneously. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, if children do not develop these skills they may struggle with academic skills, may have trouble making good decisions, lack flexibility, and be unable to regulate their emotions.

Some children learn these skills naturally through experience and observing those around them. Other kids, such as those with learning disabilities, may need some more reinforcement. Fortunately, there are many games that can help kids develop these skills without it feeling like work.

Here are our recommendations for 16 games that reinforce executive functioning skills but are so much fun they will be enjoyed by any child—or grown-up—who enjoys a good challenge!

1. Forbidden Island

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Go on a treasure hunt with Forbidden Island.

Best for ages: 10+

A diver, navigator, pilot, engineer, explorer and messenger are stuck on a forbidden island and players need to complete tasks and get off the island before it floods. This cooperative game for two or more players requires planning and organization in order to capture four different treasures, trade cards with each other, maximize the special abilities of each role within the game, and ensure they can still get the helicopter to get off the island before it floods.

Start off easy and make a few adjustments to make this game more complex as executive function skills increase over time.

Get Forbidden Island on Amazon for $20

2. Shooting Stars

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Imagine Tetris but 3-D.

Best for ages: 6+

If Tetris were 3-D it would be a lot like Shooting Stars. This logic puzzle has only four pieces but thanks to stars that change color when players move the pieces, solving the 60 included puzzles requires some careful planning.

Shooting Stars helps with spatial relationships, and challenges range in complexity from beginner to expert. This game can be played solo or solved with a partner.

Get Shooting Stars on Amazon for $20

3. Dog Crimes

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Solve a canine mystery with Dog Crimes.

Best for ages: 8+

There are six dogs and one of them has committed a crime! To play Dog Crimes choose an increasingly difficult challenge and use deductive reasoning to figure out which pup has been a very bad boy. Clues are given about the offending dog, the crime committed, and their place at the table until the crime is solved. Players must think through each clue step-by-step so that they do not frame an innocent canine for shredding the pillow or eating their owner’s homework.

Cat lovers can check out Cat Crimes with a similar concept but different crimes to solve.

Get Dog Crimes on Amazon for $15

4. 3-D Mazes

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Expand their problem-solving skills with Laser Maze.

Best for ages: 6+

Try a Laser Maze or Gravity Maze to really engage kids in an important executive functioning skill set: problem-solving. Both mazes have a variety of puzzles from beginner to expert. Choose a challenge card and get to work figuring out where to place the pieces to win.

Laser maze uses a series of mirrors to bounce the laser from place to place. Gravity Maze uses towers in different sizes that need to be placed and stacked in just the right position to guide the marble to where it needs to go. Careful planning is required to solve each maze. Challenges can be completed on your own or in a group.

Get Laser Maze on Amazon for $36 Get Gravity Maze on Amazon for $30

5. Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Transport Minecraft from the screen to real life.

Best for ages: 8+

The Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle comes with a spiral bound book with challenges in a variety of levels and nine Minecraft-themed magnets that have to be placed on the board by solving a series of logic clues that increase in complexity. It’s a great way to get reluctant kids off screens and learning without them realizing they are developing skills in patience and perseverance.

Get Minecraft Magnetic Travel Puzzle on Amazon for $15

6. Squadro

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Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

You better pay attention while playing Squadro.

Best for ages: 8+

This game has simple rules, but following them requires careful planning to get your pieces to the other side and back—all while trying to send your opponent to their starting position. Squadro requires players to pay attention in order to plan several steps ahead, making it a great game to strengthen executive functioning skills.

Every round of Squadro will be different so this game also promotes mental flexibility because no one can expect the same outcome twice.

Get Squadro on Amazon for $35

7. Sliding Puzzles

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Can you escape the traffic jam?

Best for ages: 8+

These puzzles require thought and planning to escape a mess. In Asteroid Escape a space shuttle must land safely after being caught in a meteor shower. In Rush Hour the red car needs to escape a traffic jam. In both games the player places the pieces on the grid according to the challenge selected then slides the pieces around until the space shuttle or car can safely slide off the board to victory.

Both puzzles require logic, emotional control, and planning. Rush Hour also has a junior version with simpler challenges that’s ideal for young children.

Get Asteroid Escape on Amazon for $17 Get Rush Hour on Amazon for $22

8. Color Code

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Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

There's 100 puzzles to solve with Color Code.

Best for ages: 5+

Color Code has 100 puzzles that players solve using tiles that have different shapes and colors. This game is a great choice to develop planning and logic skills as kids choose which tiles are likely to work and then must figure out which to eliminate and which order to stack them in to match the picture in the challenge.

Puzzles can be solved alone or with a partner.

Get Color code on Amazon for $25

9. Quixo

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Quixo mimics tic-tac-toe with more X's and O's.

Best for ages: 8+

If tic-tac-toe were turned into a 3-D game with more Xs and Os, Quixo would be it. This simple game has both blank cubes and cubes printed with Xs and Os. Each player removes a blank cube from the board and slides the cubes with the goal of getting a row of five Xs or Os in a row.

This game is a good choice for kids who need to practice flexibility in thinking since the board changes at least slightly with each move. It also requires careful planning before making a move since players could inadvertently wind up helping their opponent if they do not think their moves through ahead of time.

Get Quixo Classic on Amazon for $38

10. Three Little Piggies

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Introduce your little one to logic games early with The Three Little Piggies.

Best for ages: 3+

This logic game for preschoolers includes a storybook to draw kids in. After setting up the board in any of the included configurations, kids plan where the remaining houses should go. There are different challenges, some of which involve the wolf and some of which do not.

This is a great introduction to flexibility and logic for the youngest players. Start off solving puzzles collaboratively then ask kids to try to solve the puzzles on their own. Three Little Piggies will instantly draw kids in with the familiar story.

Get Three Little Piggies on Amazon for $27

11. Ticket to Ride

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Can you reach your destination?

Best for ages: 8+

Just like real life, Ticket to Ride requires careful planning to get from one part of the country to another. Players choose cards that determine which route they need to claim. Claiming routes requires developing a strategy over several turns. The longer the route the more points each player earns.

Many kids are drawn to the game’s train theme and this game can be played with two or more players. A new feature also allows solo players to play against Alexa.

There is a junior version, Ticket to Ride First Journey and variants for Europe, India and other destinations.

Get Ticket to Ride on Amazon for $29

12. Dimension

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Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Add a new dimension to friendly competition.

Best for ages: 8+

If you are looking for a game that can be played endlessly, look no farther. Dimension is a colorful 3-D puzzle game where players build individual sculptures according to the challenge on the card selected. This game promotes quick strategic thinking and has a fun element of friendly competition.

Get Dimension on Amazon for $40

13. Stratego

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Protect the queen bee at all costs.

Best for ages: 8+

Stratego has been a popular strategy game for over 50 years—for good reason. This classic battlefield game pits two armies against each other until one side wins the battle by capturing the other team’s flag. Players need to plan their strategy carefully to defeat the opposing army and think at least a few moves ahead.

Get Stratego on Amazon for $48

14. Hive

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Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Protect the queen bee at all costs.

Best for ages: 9+

Hive is a board game with an interesting twist. Players build the board as they go along by trying to surround their opponent’s queen bee while protecting their own queen. Each player gets tiles with five different insects, each of which can move in particular ways, much like chess.

Hive requires strategic thinking similar to chess, but the rules are simpler and game time is faster making it a great choice for kids who may not be able to focus for longer periods of time.

Get Hive on Amazon for $28

15. Katamino

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Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

This puzzle game is a work of art.

Best for ages: 6+

This puzzle game, made from solid wood, is also a work of art. This makes it a good choice to leave out for kids to discover and use to improve their executive functioning skills using special planning.

Katamino consists of several pieces in different shapes and colors. Using the included guide, players put a few pieces in designated places on the board then get to work trying to place the rest of the pieces. Altogether there are over 500 puzzles with thousands of solutions meaning Katamino never has to end.

This game is a great choice because it can grow with kids from age three through tween because it can be played in so many ways with different levels of complexity.

Get Katamino on Amazon for $37

16. Monster Factory

Multiple images of a board game against a green background.
Credit: Amazon / Reviewed

Monster Factory produces a lot of laughs

Best for ages: 5+

Monster Factory is a game with a lot of laughs. In this tile-laying game players compete against one another to build the biggest monster, but in order to win players must utilize their time management skills to build their monster as quickly as possible. Players select a new face-down tile each turn, which helps promote flexible thinking since most pieces can be placed in different Monster configurations.

Get Monster Factory on Amazon for $26

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