Now more than ever, our yards (or whatever outdoor areas we consider yards) have to be do-it-all spaces: places to get some much-needed fresh air, places to hang out, and places to entertain ourselves (and maybe a guest or two). When it comes to entertainment, tanning, sipping wine, and getting lost in a good book can only keep you occupied for so long — which is why anyone looking for ways to pass the days outdoors should consider investing in a lawn game to help make those days more enjoyable. To find the best lawn games, we consulted seven experts — including event planners and camp counselors — for their recommendations. Read on for their picks (which we’ve supplemented with some Strategist-approved lawn games from our archives) to find a range of outdoor entertainment, from a Finnish favorite, to supersize versions of classic board games, to twists on team sports you maybe can’t play (yet) while practicing social distancing.
Best overall outdoor lawn game
Perhaps not surprisingly, cornhole was the most recommended game among the people we consulted, with six of the seven folks we spoke to singing its praises. To the uninitiated, the game (which can be played one-on-one or in teams of two), requires players or teams to take alternating turns throwing their four bean bags at their opponent’s boards. Each round ends once all bags have been thrown; every bag that makes it onto a board earns one point, while any bags that are thrown (or pushed) into the hole earn three points. The first to 21 points wins. Event planner Justine Broughal says it’s “an intergenerational game that provides low-stress backyard entertainment,” while event planner Lauren Schaefer simply calls cornhole her “favorite outdoor game” because “it provides a healthy dose of competition and takes no time to set up.” Liam Macleod, the director and head camper at Camp No Counselors, adds that cornhole is “the No. 1 favorite” of both his campers and staffers. “It’s social, simple to learn, and the best part is, it’s easy for anyone to play,” he explains. Ellen Hockley Harrison, the founder of Greater Good Events, notes that cornhole is also “super-mobile,” making it easy to bring to a friend’s yard or the beach. And if you’re playing with adults only, event planner Jordan A. Maney says that you can even “add in a drinking element to keep the game interesting.”
Best overall (and nicest-looking) outdoor lawn game
While many cornhole sets (like the one above) are simple and straightforward, if you want something a bit more elevated, Strategist contributors Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur suggest this “showstopper” of a set. Wolfum founder Annabel Inganni constructs each one in her Pasadena woodshop. While expensive, Cerulo and Mazure promise that “this fancy cornhole set is the sort of item that earns a grin” from anyone who sees it.
Best lawn game that is also a board game
Five of our cool people say this supersize, outdoor version of the classic game-night staple is just as fun as the real thing. Macleod notes that it’s as fun for a few as it is for many: “Giant Jenga is inclusive of everyone — you can play with two or 20 people.” Harrison says it is “super-popular,” and Steve Hozan of Arcade Specialities adds that the “classic game of block-stacking, balancing, and tumbling, is simple and nostalgic.” Broughal agrees, calling it “low-key fun.” An easy way to customize the game, according to Maney, is to write questions on each block that encourage conversation.
Best lawn game (for kids) that is also a board game
Another supersize blast from the past, this large take on Connect 4 is a favorite of both Harrison and Hozan, who say it would make a great choice for anyone spending their outdoor time with little ones. “Everyone knows how to play this classic: Insert red or black chips with the end goal of connecting four of your chips in a series before your opponent,” explains Hozan. The hyperenthusiastic reviewers of Amazon agree, with one saying this set is “almost too nice to have outside” and another adding that it has “good-quality workmanship.”
Best old-fashioned lawn game
By far the oldest lawn game on this list, croquet has such an appeal partly due to the simple fact that people have played it for centuries — and still do. “Dating back to the 1800s, it’s not as common anymore, but figuring out how to play the game is half the fun,” says Schaefer. The main objective of the game (which is best for between three and six players) is to hit your balls through a course of hoops that you design, scoring points along the way as you hit the balls through them in the right order. Schaefer’s favorite croquet set, from L.L. Bean, comes with attractive painted-wood mallets and balls and a durable cotton canvas carrying case (but it’s back-ordered through August 17, according to the brand). This set that we found includes similar-looking mallets and balls and also comes with a carrying case.
Best strategic lawn game
Strategist managing editor Maxine Builder discovered this game while on a trip to Paris a few summers back. She describes it as “a cross between bowling, billiards, and blackjack, with a mix of strategy, skill, and luck.” To play, you first arrange the numbered pins on the ground in a diamond shape. “Then, from about ten feet away, you take the throwing skittle (yes, that is the technical term for the round, wooden peg without a number) and toss it underhand, toward the diamond,” explains Builder. You can score points in one of two ways: If you knock down a single numbered pin, you get points equal to the number displayed on it; if you knock down several pins at once, you get one point for each you knock down. In other words, “to earn five points, either you knock down five pins in one toss, or you take out the one pin with the number five etched on top,” says Builder. To win, a player must score 50 points — if you accidentally take down too many pins, your score goes back down to 25 and gameplay resumes. If the game sounds a little boring to you, Builder notes there’s one more caveat: like billiards, you start the next player’s turn “by standing the numbered pins upright, exactly where they landed,” making each round more challenging than the last.
Best team-based lawn game for basketball fans
While all of the games above can be played with as few as three people (or one-on-one), our experts also recommended a few that are better played in teams, like Kan Jam, which Macleod says is a favorite of campers summer after summer. Four players split up into two teams of two, and teammates work together to throw and direct a Frisbee toward their opponent’s can to earn points. A direct hit to the can earns two points, an assisted hit to the can earns one point, and a slam dunk into the top of the can earns three points. The first team to 21 points wins — except when any person throwing the Frisbee manages to get it straight into a slot cut into the front of their opponent’s can, which automatically makes that team the winner. “You and your partner could be losing to another team in points, but all it takes is one well-placed disc throw for an instant win,” Macleod says of the game’s underdog appeal.
Best team-based lawn game for ultimate-Frisbee fans
Drew Griswold, the director of adult summer camp Camp Halcyon, says that Beersbee (a.k.a., Bottle Bash or Beer Frisbee) has given his staff and campers “countless hours of hilarious memories.” The game, he explains, “requires coordination, skill, a little danger, and a lot of teamwork.” Best played with at least two teams of two, players take turns throwing the Frisbee at their opponent’s pole (which has a bottle on top of it) to earn points, while the defending team works to catch the frisbee and the bottle before they fall and hit the ground. If you fail to catch one or the other, the opposing team is awarded points. The other catch: You can only use one hand for the entirety of the game. Traditionally, the first team that scores either 15 (for shorter games) or 21 points (for longer games) while holding at least a two-point lead wins. The game can be played on a 20-, 30-, or 40-foot court depending on the players’ skill level.
Best team-based lawn game for volleyball fans
Spikeball took the top spot in our list of the best beach games, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it on a lawn (or in any other open outdoor space) as well. Kate Salop, a co-owner of Tisbury Toy Box in Martha’s Vineyard, told us that the game has “quickly turned into a summertime staple.” In terms of gameplay, Spikeball is similar to volleyball, except the net is on the ground instead of in the air. Two teams of two face off with the primary objective being to bounce the ball onto the net in such a way that their opponents cannot hit it back into the net. Like volleyball, a team is allowed three touches before it must be returned. If the ball isn’t returned, the opposing team scores one point. The game is over once a team scores the designated number of points, typically 15 or 20 — but, again, they must be ahead by a margin of at least two. Otherwise, the game continues until a two-point lead is achieved.