27 August 2021

10 (+2) Board Games that Counsellors Should Have

It amazes me as I meet with different counsellors that our board game, or card game selection in our offices are rather standard: Connect four, Trouble, Jenga, a deck of cards, and similar 15-minute games.

I won't bash these games, they have value in helping create safety and familiarity in a strangers counselling office. Plus most of those games children and youth already know how to play, so it is easy to bring the game off the shelf and play.

As an example of how useful those games can be in a therapeutic setting, Jenga. While not clinical, Jenga is a great game to experience how a child or youth experience and handle anxiety, fear, and stress.

However, I think it's worthwhile looking at games (some pinterest finds), that can further create opportunities to build relationships, explore feelings, understand body language, be insightful, and create safety in a counselling setting.

So, let's get down to business.


Emojito is a great game for reflecting and interpreting facial expressions. The cards have fantastic art work of different animals and objects expressing ranges of emotions. A player needs to recreate the facial expression on the card, and then the other player (or players) need to guess from a selection of seven cards which was the original card.

This game has value to me as I begin to learn what individuals emphasize more when communicating emotion, say eye brows, and what they pay attention to more when interpreting emotions, example the mouth. Such observations can be insightful for me as a counsellor, and for the client. It can be insight into blind spots, or validating for the client.

You can check out a full review of the game at Nerdy Parenting.


Cubeez is a fun game where players need to match their cubes to the facial card, it uses dexterity and builds facial recognition. Albeit, the faces that players need to make using two cube, and one rectangle piece is pretty random. That being said, it can be a great game for creating stories behind the faces.

The Mind

It's a unique game because there is no verbal communication. Working together, players need to play cards in order from lowest to highest, without talking! I find that this is a great game to help build body cue, or body language, skills. While at the same time paying attention to your own internal clock for the appropriate time to play cards.

Inside Out & Emoji's

While not an official board game, it is an excellent make at home game that I found on Pinterest. After compiling the different cutout pieces, players match the various emojis to the Inside Out characters. I have found while playing this game, that there are certain emojis that can be more than one character which has led to a discussion on the complexity of emotions, and that they are not one dimensional.

Candy Land

Candy Land itself is a great game to build game playing skills, such as taking turns and navigating luck. What makes it a recommendation as a game for counsellors is making the colours (that you spin to, or pick the card of) an emotion that you need to tell the story of that particular emotion. The key is that you as a counsellor participate a use vulnerability tactfully as you share emotions you have experienced genuinely.

The Brain Architecture Game

This is a great group game or activity. Together participants need to build a brain out of pipe cleaners, straws, and weights. During this game players learn the randomness that young brains experience in their lives and can observe how that impacts brain growth and structure. I often use this game in parenting groups.

This game is pretty pricy. I would recommend paying for the basics (the game log and cards) and find your own straws, pipe cleaners, and weights.

The Game of Life

It's a classic. It's a great game to discuss issues that come up across the human life span. And also to highlight how particular choices impact the game, while also honouring the random events that can happen and impact someone's life.

There is a way to play this game in real life, making the game human sized and going through and having discussions along the way.

*This video doesn't represent the game, but is just fun to watch at the midway point*

Living with a Dragon

Full disclosure, I do not use this game at all as intended. The art work is playful, especially on the coping cards. I use just the coping cards and have clients pick three cards, and then choose one of those three for us to practice a coping skill. How the game is supposed to be played is to combat the emotion fire cards with the coping cards. This provides a safe and playful way to show how the regular practice of coping skills can manage the dragon.

Beasts of Balance

Think of jenga, but in reverse. Players "scan" animals that they place on a balance plinth and then that animal appears on the accompanying ipad app. The goal is to be able to stack as many items as possible while maintaining the balance. It's such a good ice breaker game, while also interesting to see how players navigate their anxiety as their world starts to wobble. 

Stuff Happens

I don't recommend comparing negative life events as they are so personal and complex. This game serves as a friendly reminder of how impactful some negative events can be. With some serious, and many goofy and unrealistic negative experiences, players guess how impactful the negative experience would be on daily functioning compared to the events they have been handed. Some cards provide opportunities for discussion, especially when there are micro expression reactions to the cards being played. There is an adult version of this game, Sh!t Happens.

Bonus Games

Of course there are more games that could be beneficial in session as well. Here are few games I haven't played but I am interested in adding to my practice.

Critical Core

My Feelings