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Cool garden games
Indoor games like Jenga, chess, twister and dominoes come with a long list of benefits. They’re not just fantastic boredom cures, they’re also a great way to train our brains. Even simple activities like Connect Four have a strategy and, to emerge victorious, players must scheme, plot and plan. For this reason, board games and other indoor challenges are ideal for families. The only downside is you have to play indoors. Or do you?
Over the last decade, the market has been awash with supersized outdoor versions of traditional family games. Just like badminton and swing ball, all your favourite competitions can now be played outside in the garden on hot summer afternoons. As big fans of outdoor events and social gatherings – we really love a family cookout – we were very excited to explore some of these ‘giant’ garden games.
For this list of the coolest garden games, we tried to stick with fairly classic and traditional choices. Some of them you’ll be more used to playing indoors (like dominoes). Others were made for use outside (like boules), but you may never have tried them before. Hopefully, it’ll include some activities which are completely new to you and perfect for your backyard.
You need a reasonably large yard to play badminton because it’s a bat and ball game. It is ironic you can’t play it inside because professional badminton matches are never played outdoors. The shuttlecock is so light even a small gust of wind can blow it off course. Sunny days without a breeze provide the ideal playing conditions.
Like tennis, badminton can be played with two or four (two to a team) players. The objectives are to score points by batting the shuttlecock into your opponent’s half and prevent your opponent from scoring by returning their attempts. The rules are so simple even young children can play though it may take time to develop their batting skills.
Backyard badminton kits come with two or four bats. We recommend a four-player kit; the more players, the more fun you’ll have. You’ll get several shuttlecocks (believe us, they’re easy to lose), two poles and a net. Push the poles into the grass and stretch the mesh net between them to create your playing area.
Garden skittles has to be one of our favourite games because it takes the thrill of indoor bowling outside into the backyard. Who doesn’t love lining the ball up, adopting an ambitious stance and celebrating wildly when they get a strike? Just us? As far as garden games go, this one was made for summer days. It takes mere minutes to set up (and clear away), you don’t need a huge amount of space and everybody understands the rules.
There are all kinds of outdoor bowling kits available on the market. Some are quite sophisticated with sleek wooden pins and balls; these are best for adult players. For children and families, we recommend one of the enlarged sets. The pins are bigger than normal so you can set it up in a large space and give little ones a shot at a strike.
Croquet is a very old activity and one of the few games on our list specifically invented for socialites to play in their gardens. It’s one of those games with rules which seem familiar even if you’ve never played before. While professional croquet is a little more complicated, yard games are played by hitting balls through small hoops on the ground.
Points are scored when a player successfully hits their ball through a hoop. However, they can also prevent opponents from scoring by using their turn to strike at other people’s balls and knock them off course. This is why croquet is such fun; just make sure you play with people who don’t mind a healthy dose of competition!
Archery is so much more than a backyard game. For children who take a shine to it and demonstrate natural aptitude, it can turn into a very rewarding hobby. That’s why there are both playful, vibrantly coloured archery kits on the market and more advanced sets. We encourage families to double-check they’re buying the right type of product for their yard.
The fun, casual archery sets come with sucker tipped arrows as opposed to sharp-pointed ones. These are much safer; even the poorest shots will bounce off a spectator without causing any harm. These backyard games come with a bow, multiple arrows, a quiver for storing arrows and a height-adjustable target board. If you want to play as a family, pick a slightly taller board that can be adjusted to fit all your competitors.
5. Giant Jenga
Does this game need introductions? If you’ve heard of Jenga, you already know how to conquer giant outdoor Jenga. The game is played in exactly the same way as classic Jenga except for the fact its pieces are supersized. It can be taken out into the backyard and played on soft grass. The only downside we can see to buying a giant Jenga set is the fact it uses more storage space than normal.
Although, if you buy a set that comes with a high-quality storage bag, it’s not much of a problem. Keep the bag away from moisture in a garden shed and it’ll always be in good condition. You’d think making the pieces bigger would result in an easier game of Jenga, but you might be in for a surprise. Don’t forget to jump out of the way when those bricks come tumbling down or you may end up buried under them.
6. Garden Dominoes
Just like giant Jenga, garden dominoes are a supersized version of the classic game we all know and love. The rules don’t change. The playing pieces are just bigger. They’re better suited to backyard tournaments because they’re harder to lose (try missing one of these in long grass), they can be used on uneven ground and it’s easier to get multiple competitors gathered around without knocking the tower over.
These giant Jenga sets come in one of two forms. You can get giant foam pieces or pieces made from wood. Both types play just as efficiently but wooden pieces are probably going to last longer and sustain less damage over the years. If you’ve ever owned a foam game set, you’ll know gouges and tears are a possibility.
Boules is another old fashioned game that goes by several names. If you see the words ‘petanque’ or ‘French boules,’ you’re still looking at a classic boules kit or set. They’re all the same thing. Backyard boules is played by (underarm) throwing wooden or metal balls at a target. The objective is to be the player who throws their ball closest to this target.
Each player has multiple balls to throw during a round. They may use any of their turns to throw directly at an opponent’s ball and knock it off course much like in games of croquet. Again, there are lots of different boules sets on the market. Some sets are of a professional quality with polished chrome balls. Others are more family-oriented; we’re particularly fond of the lightweight plastic balls you can fill with water.
Technically, frisbee isn’t a game. However, since it’s perfect for backyard use, we couldn’t miss it off our list of the coolest yard games. Plus, there is a growing appreciation for what’s known as ‘ultimate frisbee,’ a more competitive version of the activity. If you want to play ultimate, you need two teams and a fairly large garden (and one frisbee, of course).
The teams need one (or several) offense and defence players who start each game at opposite ends of the space. Offense players are not allowed to cross into the opposite endzone and vice versa. It means players should be in an endzone with opponents. The objective to make as many passes to your teammates as possible and prevent your opponent’s passes by intercepting them.
Quoits is one of those rare yard games that anybody can learn how to play in minutes. It’s very self-explanatory and needs little instruction. Whether you’ll be any good at playing the game is a different question entirely. It’s not as easy as it looks. Quoits sets come with a wooden cross with numbers on the spokes. There are five tall poles which get inserted into the spokes (and one in the middle).
So, you end up with a game which looks similar to a classic hoopla only with more than one target. The gameplay is as simple as the set-up. Like a ring toss or hoopla, players throw stiffened rope rings at the targets. Scores are determined according to the number on the ‘captured’ spoke. The player with the highest score at the end wins the game.
10. Giant Four in a Row
You may know this game a little better as ‘Connect Four’ because the rules and pieces are the same only supersized. The gameplay isn’t any different. With these giant backyard sets, you get a sizeable - often three or four foot tall – slot board and large round counters for making winning connections.
It works much like a massive game of tic tac toe. The first player to insert four coloured counters into the slots in a straight undisturbed line (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) wins the round and the points. Players must work fast and keep one eye on their opponent to thwart attempts to occupy winning slots.
Giant Four in a Row is another example of a perfect backyard game for families and young children in particular. The rules are so simple anybody can play. As the pieces are very large, taking turns doesn’t require much dexterity or skill. In fact, just handling the pieces and inserting the counters into the slots can be a form of movement-based learning for toddlers.
11. Yard Twister
It’s not accurate to say there’s a difference between classic twister and ‘yard’ twister. You could very easily take the regular version outdoors. What you can purchase is a noticeably larger version of the game which may be better suited to garden use. If you’ve never played twister before, the rules are easy to follow.
The game board is neatly divided into quarters. Each quarter depicts a body part and four different colours. The referee (who doesn’t play) spins an arrow and players must attempt to follow the instructions according to the body part and colour it lands on. For example, ‘right hand, red’ sees all players attempting to put this hand on a red circle on the mat. Things get tough quickly as the player’s body positions become increasingly ‘twisty.’
We love it when garden games require minimal preparation. Generally speaking, the best games for fun and frolics in the sun are ones you can set up quickly. Limbo is one of these games. We all recognise its name. Many of us have played it once or twice. It’s very easy to set up. In fact, most limbo sets come with just three pieces if you don’t include the feet.
You get two vertical poles and a limbo stick for balancing horizontally across them. The objective is simple; pass beneath the limbo stick without touching it. Players must face forwards and stay on their feet. Kneeling and crawling are forbidden. After each round, the limbo stick is lowered slightly to make the game tougher.
In our experience, rounders can be a love or hate game. It is similar to cricket which can discourage people because let’s face it, cricket is often a long, long, long process. Luckily, a game of rounders is like a faster, more dynamic version. Garden rounders, in particular, is designed to keep things moving with simpler rules.
On their turn, each batter strikes a fast bowled ball. They must then run as far as possible around four posts to complete a ‘rounder’ before the ball is captured and used to ‘tag’ them out. Ultimately, a batter is only safe when stood touching a post. They can be eliminated at any time while they are running between posts, so this is a game for the speedsters.
14. Treasure Hunt
There are lots of different treasure hunt style games available. Some have a game board. Others come with a bag which players reach inside to pick their coveted item. Some versions distribute scavenger style checklists for players to record their progress. Whatever style of game you choose, this type of activity can be very beneficial for younger children. Many primary schools encourage their pupils to ‘scavenger hunt’ because it gets them asking questions about the world.
Our favourite version requires the game supervisors (parents) to hide plastic tokens or coins around the backyard and house. There is a treasure map which corresponds with the locations; children can work individually or alone to find them. We definitely recommend purchasing a game which can be played more than once. Some maps have stick on components which can be rearranged and reused.
15. Giant Noughts and Crosses
Time for another supersized backyard game. The giant version of noughts and crosses is played exactly as you’d expect but the board and pieces are bigger. You can get some yard sets which include a flexible rope board. It’s similar to a rope ladder only in a square shape with nine sections. We prefer foam alternatives in this case because they feel weightier and more substantial. We also like to have a game board with a rigid back. ``
It’s really just personal preference as both versions are played in the same way. You perhaps need a slightly flatter surface for a game board with a rigid back. As for the rules, well, you probably know them already. As with tic tac toe and Connect Four, the objective is to be the first player to create a straight uninterrupted line with your counters.
16. Giant Chess
We love chess and think everybody, young or old, should get an opportunity to enjoy it. With a giant garden set, you can play outdoors in the sun anytime you want. While the rules of chess are relatively convoluted, half the pleasure of playing is teaching other people to love the game. So, you need somebody who knows what they’re doing. Get the kids to ask their grandparents for some pointers.
Supersizing the chessboard can make it easier for new players to learn. They can physically move around the board, weave in and out of the pieces and put themselves in the place of a rook, bishop or pawn. It brings a whole new perspective to a very old activity and it’s one of our favourite items on this list.
17. Swing Ball
Swing ball used to be one of the most popular yard games. In recent years, it has fallen out of fashion slightly and we think it’s time for a revival. Some benefits of the game are its simple set up, basic rules and fast-paced play. Okay, so the gameplay is very fast. Some children (overly competitive siblings, let’s say) might need supervision or just a stern warning not to deliberately swing the ball at their opponent’s face.
If you purchase a freestanding swing ball set, there’s no set up required. Place the swing ‘tower’ on a flat surface in an open area. Providing the product is of a high quality, the base should be weighted to prevent it from toppling over. Players must use plastic bats to hit a tennis ball on a wire and send it careering towards their opponent who must hit it back.
To end our compilation of the coolest yard games, we want to talk about a product which is both scourge and delight for parents. If we’re being honest, trampolines are just about the most fun a child can have in their back yard. However, they can also be very dangerous if used improperly. So, you should only buy a trampoline for your garden if you are confident everybody who has access to it will bounce responsibly.
Garden trampolines come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Most include a safety net which hangs around the perimeter to prevent jumpers from bouncing off the sides. These mesh nets are said to reduce trampoline injuries by as much as 50%. Therefore, it is worth paying more for one and spending the extra time to install it.
Thank you for reading our article on cool garden games. If you did not find what you were looking for why not check out GardenGames.com here.
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Paul Nicolaides is a Landscape architect and garden builder with over 30 years experience in designing, building and maintaining gardens. Contemplating just how important garden space is for nature and recreation he created 'Cool Garden Gadgets' to explore the best gadgets for enhancing outside spaces. From outdoor dining ideas to the latest garden technology we break it down for you here.