Whether you’re planning an adult-only get-together, family reunion or kid birthday party, backyard games are a great way to get people to put down their phones and truly engage with each other. The health benefits of outdoor play are numerous and don’t just apply to kids. Studies have shown outdoor play is good for vision, reducing the risk of developing near-sightedness. It’s also a boost for social skills, forcing kids and adults to work on their teamwork skills. Outdoor play also increases attention span, reduces stress and increases Vitamin D levels (if your game is taking place during the day.)
We’ve gathered up a few favorite lawn games that are fun for all ages. We included a mix of classics and new games that can all be played as a team or individually depending on how many players are available. They will all test your skills and get the competitive juices flowing. Have fun!
History: While the history of this game is unclear—some say it originated with German farmers who moved to the Ohio region, it’s clear the game began to take off in Cincinnati around the middle of the 20th century, as the construction of plywood cornhole boxes became standardized and people began filling the bags with corn kernels. Now the game is a staple at barbecues, beaches, fraternity parties and bars across the U.S.
How it’s played: Standard rules dictate that a bag in the hole scores 3 points, while one on the board scores 1 point. Play continues until a team or player reaches or exceeds the score of 21.
Pros: Easy to play for anyone. No athletic abilities, aside from a good tossing arm are needed. You can also adjust the distance between the two cornhole boxes to make it easier or more difficult.
Cons: Depending on your storage space, the classic cornhole boxes made from plywood could be challenging to store. There are collapsible Cornhole sets made from synthetic materials that retail starting for $35.99.
2. Bocce Ball
History: Derived from present-day Italy, this ball sport has roots to games played in ancient Rome. A set of Bocce Balls costs about $40 depending on if you get 4 or 6 balls.
How it’s played: The object of the game is to roll your bocce balls closer to the pallino (jack) (usually the little white ball that comes with the set) ball than your opponent. This is one you’ll want to a mow the lawn really short for because it’s best played on a fairly smooth and flat surface, which can be grass or sand. If you’re getting technical, an official Bocce Court is 60 feet long by 12 feet wide, but feel free to adapt it to fit your needs. Points are given out depending on how close one’s ball comes to pallino ball vs. the competition.
Pros: Easy to play
Cons: Depending on your location, the smooth surface requirements might not work for you. Also, Bocce Balls weigh as much as bricks and easily be turned into weapons in the hands of toddlers. So, if there are preschoolers in the area, take caution.
3. KanJam Ultimate Disc Game
History: KanJam was founded in Indiana in 2006 and is still manufactured in the U.S.A., sold in over 12,000 retail locations in the U.S. and worldwide.
How it’s played: The game comes with two portable plastic “cans” that act as goals with slits in them for throwing the flying disc, similar to a Frisbee.
Pros: Easy to play, instructions say it’s suitable for ages 9 and above, but even younger kids could try this. The goals are made from polypropylene material so waterproof and perfect for taking to the beach. It’s also lightweight and compact when packed away so good for throwing in the camper to take on camping trips or picnics. There’s also a cool glow in the dark version sold on amazon for $59.99, extending the playtime part sunset.
Cons: Only up to 4 players can play at time, so if you have a large group, this would require more than one KanJam set and you don’t want people to sit around getting bored.
4. Ladder Toss Game
History: A postman from Pennsylvania patented a “ball and ladder game” in 2001, based on a game his family had played for decades.
How it’s played: Set up two game “ladders” either made of wood, PVC-type tubing 15 feet apart. Each player is given 3 bolas (which look like two golf balls connected by rope) to toss at the rungs on the ladders. The goal is to reach 21 points first. The top run is worth 3 points, the middle is 2 and the bottom one is worth 1 point. Players are encouraged to knock off their opponent’s bolas to steal points from their score.
Pros: There are many light-weight versions that can be packed away in a convenient carry bag. It’s also doesn’t require a smooth surface so could be taken to the beach or any uneven or slightly damp surface.
Cons: The Bolos, while not as heavy as Bocce balls can hurt if they make it in the hands of young children. After all, Bolos are derived from the ancient namesake weapons used by South American cowboys to hunt animals. Also, there are many knock-off versions of Ladder Toss with varying degrees of quality construction. Make sure whichever version you buy has gotten good reviews. Versions run from DIY version you can make to low-end versions for about $30 to high-end solid wood ones for close to $90.
5. Backyard Croquet
History: Croquet officially dates back to 1850s England, but elements of it go back even further.
How it’s played: Players are assigned a mallet and matching colored ball, which they hit through wickets (little wire hoops) and attempt to hit stakes set up next to the beginning stake and turnaround stake. Recommended court size is 100 feet by 50 feet, although feel free to make a giant or miniature course, as space allows. Depending on which set of rules you’re following, the objective is to move through the course first, or to have your side’s ball(s) score more wickets than your opponent.
Pros: Up to six people can play at a time, depending on the number of balls/mallets in your set. Croquet is easy to play and invites fun rivalry—as you’re allowed to knock a competitor’s ball away if your ball bumps into theirs. This game is truly embraced by all ages with easy-to-understand rules.
Cons: Croquet, like a quality Bocce Ball set, tends to be heavy and doesn’t compact well, so could pose storage issues. It also does best in low-cut lawn or at the park, so rule this one out for beach parties. While a quality set can run for over $100, you can also buy one at Walmart for about $25.
These are just a handful of the fun games available. Don’t forget the newer to the market giant outdoor board games such as Connect 4 and Jenga that involve mental prowess and all ages can enjoy.
Ultimately, whatever outdoor games you choose, make sure they have clear directions to prevent frustration and confusion among the guests. Also, on your party invite indicate that games will be the entertainment. Even so, you might have to be a bit of a cheerleader to get people out of their seats and moving. but in the end, it will be worth it.