A rising focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has put games such as Minecraft in the spotlight. If you had a nerdy side growing up, you likely wonder why it’s taken everyone else so long to catch up. Because, as it turns out, innovation, creative thinking, and open-ended play has engaged curious kids for generations.

For decades now, brilliant games have springboarded learning and inspiration. We’ve gathered a list of favorites that have not only stood the test of time, but in many ways feel fresher than ever. Whether you’re looking to up the nostalgia factor or are interested in finding new (old) ways to indulge your gloriously geeky offspring, these games are not to be overlooked:

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Dungeons & Dragons

Established: 1974

 

dungeons and dragons

What is it: D&D is the original fantasy role-playing game, or RPG. Guided by a “Dungeon Master” (or DM), players create characters and are led on an imaginary journey, where conflicts are resolved and outcomes determined by the roll of a die.

Key characters: The hated Rust Monster, which destroys weapons, armor, and any other metal objects, and Drizzt Do’Urgen, the main character in a series of Dungeons & Dragons novels.

Why kids love it: In its purest form, a D&D game is pure, unadulterated storytelling. While each “campaign” is guided by a narrative that describes the setting, the experience is largely shaped by the DM’s storytelling and interpretation. Game play does not involve any game board, cards, or figurines, so imagination and language provide the entire gameplay environment.

Children who enjoy the adventure and art of D&D will no doubt find similar thrills in any number of fantasy novels and may have an interest in writing stories of their own.

To learn more: “Being a Dungeon Master for Kids” | Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons & Dragons

 

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Magic: The Gathering

Established: 1993

Magic the gathering

What is it: A trading card game based in the world of wizards, spells, and magic.

Key characters: The “Planeswalkers”, powerful sorcerers who can travel from one world to another.

Why kids love it: Magic is a complex game that immerses its players in an intricate, highly developed world. Children who enjoy richly detailed stories or seek mastery of complex systems may find the complexity of Magic satisfying.

Those who enjoy the strategic thinking required to master the game may also be well suited to plan tasks with the same zeal they plan a Magic campaign – whether it’s a family trip, a run for student body president, or mastering a new skill.

To learn more: Paper Champion’s Parents Guide to Magic: The Gathering | “Magic Cards Simplified” (book)

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Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because they know creative thinking is key to a vibrant future.

 Settlers of catan logo

Settlers of Catan

Established: 1995

 

settlers of catan

 

What is it: Catan is a German board game in which players build “settlements” and collect resources. The Wall Street Journal called it “the board game of our time,” noting that the interconnected fates of the players make it a game that “teaches new ways of thinking and presents a different notion of winning: by a nose instead of by a mile.”

Key characters: The Robber, a game piece that can “steal” resources from other players.

Why kids love it: It’s a social game that requires players to interact with each other because the dice affect everyone, not just the player rolling. Plus, the game’s distinctive combination of luck, skill, and variability (the game board is built by the players as the game progresses) make it fun for new players as well as experienced ones: “easy to learn, but difficult to master” as one player described it.

In a 2016 article, Reuters noted that Catan offers the opportunity for parents to impart financial wisdom to children, such as the value of mutually beneficial exchanges and the wisdom of patience in achieving a goal.

To learn more: Families.com review | Catan Game Assistant (app)

pokemon

Pokémon

Established: 1996

Pokemon

 

What is it: A series of video games and a trading card game in which players “catch” creatures known as Pokemon and battle them against other Pokemon.

Key characters: Pikachu (a yellow, electric mouse) is the iconic symbol of the game.

Why kids love it: Younger children can enjoy the cute characters and their whimsical, onomatopoetic names. Older children may delight in rattling off the names of the 802 current “species” of Pokemon or memorizing the attributes of different “types” of Pokemon.

Since the focus of the game is on these imaginary animals and their characteristics, parents can use it as a platform to interest kids in the genetic or physiological attributes animals exhibit in the real world.

To learn more: Official Pokemon Parents’ Guide | Parent Info guide to Pokemon Go | CNN’s Pokemon Go advice for parents

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Minecraft

Established: 2011

Minecraft

What is it: The official Minecraft site describes the video game as “a game about placing blocks and going on adventures.”

Key characters: Peaceful animals, such as pigs, and creepy evildoers, such as zombies and “creepers.”

Why kids love it: Minecraft is a “sandbox” game, which means players can interact freely with an almost infinite world rather than being guided by missions or set tasks. The game rewards patience, curiosity, and creativity.

Kids who love Minecraft may also enjoy building toys or games that take planning and focus to assemble. Older Minecraft fans interested in game “mods,” or modifications, may enjoy learning coding skills.

To learn more: MineMum (“Minecraft help for desperate parents”) | The Minecraft Guide for Parents (free eBook) | HowTo Geek’s Parents’ Guide to Minecraft

NEKOATSUME, KITTY COLLECTOR logo

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector

Established: 2014

What is it: A Japanese video game for mobile devices in which you…collect kitties. The player cultivates a virtual garden decorated with objects designed to lure or please a variety of cats who can visit the garden. If the kitties are pleased, they will leave the player a fish, which is sort of like a currency. You can use it to buy more stuff.

Key characters: “Rare” cats such as Frosty, Bengal Jack, and Whiteshadow.

Why kids love it: Much of the game’s charm is visual. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mention of Neko Atsume that doesn’t include the words “cute” or “adorable.” Like Pokemon, the game encourages players to “collect” a range of characters. While players can (and do) get verrrry into spending “fish” on decorating their garden and getting it just so, at its core, this is a “game” in only the loosest of terms. As the official Neko Atsume website explains, “You only need to stare at the screen to enjoy this game.”

Kids who enjoy the soothing harmony of Neko Atsume may enjoy arranging or decorating an actual garden – even if no adorable cats happen by.

To learn more: Common Sense Media review | Kotaku review

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Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because they know creative thinking is key to a vibrant future.