Researchers found that encouraging children to 'count on' from the number of spaces they have moved in games such as Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders provides much greater benefit than beginning at 'one' each time.
Professor Elida Laski, of Boston College in the United States, said: "We found it is the way children count, whether the procedure forces them to attend to the numbers in the spaces of a board game, that yields real benefits in the use of numbers.
"What is most important is whether you count within a larger series of numbers, or simply start from one each time you move a piece."
The researchers tested two counting methods in a study of 40 American children who played a 100 space board game designed to mimic products such as Snakes and Ladders and Ludo that require counting out the spaces along which tokens are moved at each turn.
The first was referred to as 'count from one' where the youngsters began at one every time. In the other they would 'count on' from the actual numerical place of their latest landing spot in the game. So a child who had moved a piece 15 spaces would start at 16 during the next go.
The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, said this process allows children to develop their ability to encode the relationship between numbers and spaces.
That, in turn, improved their abilities to estimate the size of numbers on lines, identify them and to 'count on'.
Prof Laski added: "Board games help children understand the magnitude of numbers by improving their abilities to estimate, to count and to identify numbers. But the benefits depend on how children count during the game.
"By counting on, parents and their children can see some real benefits from boardgames. It is a simple way to enhance any game they have at home and still have fun playing it."