I was raised in a board game-playing family, so playing games with my own kids comes naturally. There are many good skills to be had by adding board games to your family culture, from improving math skills to the opportunity to point out character issues such as poor sportsmanship, jealousy, and mean-spiritedness.
Conversely, board games often give me the opportunity to praise a child for reaching outside of themselves and helping a younger sibling or cheering another player on even while they themselves are losing.
We are very fond of the Trans Europa and Trans America games. The object is to build tracks along the cities you've been assigned and be the one to finish your track first. Cities are discussed (I get to say, "I've been there!" more often than my kids) and routes are carefully chosen. This one spans from about age 8 on up in our home.
Out of the Box
Blink is billed as "The World's Fastest Card Game", and I believe that's true. Match shapes, colors, and amounts, but do it quick!
My Word! challenges players to make words from letters that are thrown down fast and furiously. Great for kids- there's something educational going on here and they don't even know it ;)
Another quick challenge, Qwitch players have to find the sequence in either letters or numbers, and they have to do it fast!
Prospect and collect gold in Gold Digger, but do it with strategy or find yourself the guy who goes home without the claim!
I'm particularly fond of word games, but I come by that a little naturally. I doubt I ever beat my mom at Boggle once while growing up. She's the queen. Upwords is one of our favorites, for sure, but we also love (and I mean grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings-all-in-on-the-action love) Pick Two. I'm told it's a lot like Bananagrams, but you can pay a little less and skip the banana pouch if you decide on Pick Two.
My kids are big fans of Pictureka, but probably because they tend to whollop me every time. What is it about kids and memories? Oh, that's right. It's because I've donated my brain cells to all 8 of them.
It's true that board games can be an investment. We gave a stack of them as a group gift for all the kids one year at Christmas, and it was a great investment. Check garage sales and thrift stores, but save yourself frustration and remember to make sure that all the pieces are included!