Personally I think games are an easy way for our learners to make connections while learning. I like to use them to introduce a topic or as review of previously learned material. There is no way I could have homeschooled the elementary years without an arsenal of games.
Many of our games are store bought but I used an equal number of games that we created ourselves. My kids' favorite games are the ones where I took a traditional game (think Monopoly, Password, cards, etc.) and revised it to include whatever topic we are studying. They also loved when I would create games using a game show type format (Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, etc.).
As you already know, one of the risks of using games is lost game pieces. I discovered that if I kept all of our pieces from "ruined" games in one jar or box my kids would then mix and match the pieces to create their own games. This was particularly popular when the kids were between 4 and 9 years old.
The following list are games that my family, or our friends, have truly enjoyed playing. Over the years we have learned that many educational games can be truly boring; while others are true gems. Click on the links to see what the game looks like and to read the Amazon description.
Art Shark : This game was a real hit with our co-op's game days, esp. amongst the adults, although the kids enjoyed it too. A great addition for anyone doing picture study or
Ancient Board Games by Irving Finkel: I love using this book of games when studying the ancients. Features games from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. My family played these games for years and they were pretty popular in my ancient history class.
Sea Splash Groovy Tube Book & Game: This game was quite popular with my girls when we did a summer long oceanography unit. This brand now has several topics of Groovy Tube Books but many of them are simply not as good as this particular version.
Upwords: This is the modern version of Scrabble. My kids absolutely love this game! Before my son was comfortable writing we used the tiles for spelling lessons. My family ended up getting a used second game just so we would have more tiles; both for playing the game and for fun spelling lessons and made-up games.
Liebrary: This game is similar in style to Balderdash, where you make up an answer and try to convince the other players that yours is the correct answer, only this game uses books as the topic rather than words. This is an adult game but I must admit that my 9 yo does better in the classics category than anyone else in the family! (Yep, that's my CM girl.)
Professor Noggin: My kids tired of the actual games fairly quickly but we found they are *great* for making up our own trivia games or just quizzing each other over the dinner table. These games have been in the house over 5 years now and we are still using them! One of my kids likes to mix and match topics which makes for some interesting games.
Ticket to Ride Europe: This is a really fun strategy game that will NOT teach your kids any useful geography but is still a high quality game. The original Ticket to Ride features the US and is equally fun. I will say that playing this game has sparked some questions about European geography, languages and history from my youngest. We have played it every day since getting it!
Bananagrams: This is actually a good game but is overpriced for what you get. You can achieve the same/similar game just by buying used Scrabble tiles. I was rather disappointed by how few tiles were included in our Bananagrams, which is probably why they now have a jumbo version of the game.