My Absolutely, Positively Most Favorite Counseling Game of All Time Throughout Eternity (So Far)

Did you get the idea from the title of this post that I might be talking about a game I kind of like?

I have a good collection of board games and card games in my office, but my hands down favorite — and the kids’ favorite too – is Max. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the most beloved game on my shelf! You should get it! Seriously! You can get it for less than $12 (at Funagain Games, or for a little more at Amazon), which is a rarity for any game, much less a game that is so applicable to the work that we do with kids. Here’s the spiel that I give to kids before they play the first time:

“Max is a cat. He’s not a bad cat, he just does what cats do — he tries to catch little animals. We have to work together to get the mouse, chipmunk, and bird to their safe places in the tree before Max catches them.”

Max is the best counseling game ever!

    • it helps kids learn basic social skills like cooperating, taking turns, passing the dice, and only touching the pieces when it’s their turn
    • kids get immediate feedback if they are too impulsive
    • kids have to slow down and pay attention, or Max will catch an animal
    • players have to work together to be successful
    • players have to consider and weigh risks
    • it involves constant discussion about safety
    • kids practice  encouraging others, accepting differing choices, and withholding blame when others make mistakes
    • kids practice handling their disappointment with themselves when their inattentiveness or impulsivity causes an animal’s demise
    • it encourages empathy and helping others who need our help
    • Max is kind of a bully, and the kids get to be the bystanders who make sure that the bullying stops

Max has been at the center of some really profound sessions I have had with kids who feel out of control and unsafe. Often these kids will want to take the side of Max and kill off the animals. That’s pretty easy to do if you don’t use the treats to call him back, so the game ends quickly, which allows another round to be played. If an animal is in any danger when it’s my turn, I always call Max back saying, “I’m going to call Max back so the Chipmunk (or whoever) will be safe.” When the kid decides to risk an animal’s safety I say, “Are you sure? Max might eat him,” and then simply “Okay,” without other comment. I have never had a kid who goes after the animals more than twice. Actually, I can’t remember any situation when somebody did this more than once, but there must have been! Once is generally enough, though, even with the characters who are most likely to enjoy a little board game carnage. I’m not sure why this is, but I think it has something to do with the power of having control of their “own” safety. Kids don’t usually notice right away, because the pictures are small, but in the animals’ safe places in the tree are their babies. The kids are always surprised – the mouse, chipmunk, and bird are cute, and it’s easy to assume that they are young. When they realize that, in fact, the animals have others who are depending on them, their commitment to keeping them safe deepens. They go from identifying with the predator and/or taking dangerous risks to keeping “themselves” safe, to ensuring their own safety so that others will be okay.

Max works well in small groups, even when lunch trays are in the mix, and in individual counseling sessions. I regularly play it with first grade and up (although not during lunch with first graders), and it’s fine for some kindergartners. Here’s a video about how to play Max. The reviewer is a parent, so he doesn’t speak to how well this games works in a counseling setting, but you will get a good look at the game itself and how it works.

Max is one of a number of cooperative games created by Jim Deacove of Family Pastimes. I have a number of them, and they’re all really good. I don’t know or have any connection to Jim or this company, but I think his work is simply amazing. I am sure I will share more about these games (and others) in future posts.

What are some of your favorite games to use in counseling?


  1. I bet I could adapt this for my middle schoolers! I love to use Ungame, Jenga, and the Bully Free card game (similar to Uno).

  2. This is my first time hearing about Max. It sounds like a great game. I will definitely have to add this to my list of back-to-school purchases. You have me convinced, Rebecca… I must have this game! :)

  3. Good post, Rebecca! Max may have been the very first game I got as a counselor— 20 years ago. Still have it. This is such a simple game. The kids love it. They often request to play it. Really good for cooperative learning, cultivating empathy, group building, game playing, and on and on…..

  4. Sounds like a fun game! My go-to games have been Chutes and Ladders (perfect for good choices/bad choices discussion), Friendship Island, The Ungame, Jenga (of course!) and Maxwell’s Manor. I will definitely look for this one to add to our arsenal.

  5. I love The Secret Door like you seem to love Max. I use Max with younger kids and The Secret Door with grades 2-8. It accomplishes many of the same things and students love it.

    • Hi Gabe,
      Oh I love the Secret Door too – as do the kids! It’s wonderful for working on attention, impulse control, and cooperation. Last spring I stayed in an inn built in 1699, where our room had an actual secret door to a secret passage! The kids were beside themselves when I told them about it and showed them the pictures. Alas, there were no treasures, but we did survive beyond midnight!

  6. I love Friendship Connection, it is fabulous for girls groups grades 2-6.

    • Where do you find the “Friendship Connection” game? I appreciate all these great suggestions!



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