Looking for the best board games to play with family and friends? Board games have come a long way and there are some seriously impressive options out there, from murder-mystery and zombie apocalypses, to quick-thinking and numerical games that keep you on your feet.
Many of the games in this list can be enjoyed time and time again, with expansion packs to continue the fun or extended narratives that will take you more than just a few sittings to complete – so if you really want to invest some time in a good storyline, then make sure you check out our top picks below.
In this list, you’ll also find a variety of games for different numbers of players, from the best two-player board games, to games that can be played by all the family, as well as the best board games for kids.
In this guide to the best board games, we break down how each game works so you can decide if it’s your kind of thing, and whether it’s worth your time and investment. Board games can actually be pretty pricey so if you do have a lower budget, then check out our guide to the best cheap board games. Other detailed guides we have include the best Disney board games as these are surprisingly popular amongst children and adults alike.
Best board games 2023 ranking
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Best board games for families
Take your place as Mother Nature, competing with other players to plant trees of your colour in the best spots in the forest, where they'll absorb the most light. Not only does the arboreal theme make this game look absolutely beautiful – the 3D trees will sucker anyone into playing, and the fact that each player's trees are a different shape as well as colour helps colour-blind players – it works logically with the rules, making learning to play so much easier.
At the start of the game, you'll place two small trees in spaces near the edge of the hexagonal board, and you'll have a bank of more small trees, medium trees and large trees ready for later in the game. You'll also place the huge sun token along two sides of the board. The sun's light beams in straight lines across the board from the token, and if your trees get touched by it, you get light points, which you can spent to plant more trees, or grow your existing ones.
The problem? If your tree is behind someone else's, the sun won't reach it, so you'll get less light points that turn. The bigger the tree, the longer the shadow it casts. But the good news is that the sun moves partially around the board every turn, so suddenly your shaded trees are in the sun, and others are in the dark. When the sun has gone all the way around the board three times, the game ends – 18 rounds in total.
At first, you can only plant seeds of new trees near your existing trees, but as your trees get bigger, you can spread out more broadly, and that's where things get crunchy. You're all competing for the same prime spaces, but your trees take several turns to grow, so are you able to predict what will be in light and what will be in shadow in three turns time? And should you keep a big tree around to cast shadows and cause your opponents problems, or trade it in for the points you need to win the game (leaving a new gap for your opponents to use in the process)?
It's a game that offers lots of strategy and a feeling of deep competition, but it's not one where you really come out thinking someone treated you cruelly or anything like that, because it takes any plan takes several turns to pull off, so you could change your strategy and avoid the problem. And you can't help but love the pretty forest you build while playing, as our full Photosynthesis review attests.
Ticket to Ride is a series of games in which you collect coloured cards, use those cards to connect different locations on a board, and get points for doing it. Simple! There are bigger versions of the game that cost more and play over a longer time, but we love this miniaturised version, which gives you all the tactics of the full game, but in a short, sharp, concentrated burst.
On your turn you'll mainly do one of two things: pick up two cards from the available pool of five to add to your hand; or take cards from your hand matching the colour of spaces on the board, and put your little taxi pieces down to 'claim' that route as your own. You need to claim routes because you each have secret cards that tell you two places on the board, with a points value, and if you can connect them using continuous routes you've claimed, then you'll get the points. If you don't connect them, then you lose that many points.
You also get points simply for claiming routes, and also for linking tourist spots on the board regardless of whether they're on your secret cards. It's a really basic setup, but the key thing is how small the board is, and how few routes there are, and how quickly the game ends… you need to get in fast, because with four players, the routes are taken so much more quickly than you think, and the path you want to take might be totally cut off. Play moves fast, as people rapidly take new cards, or claim routes, so you can pile through a game in under half an hour, then immediately line up to play again if things don't go your way. We're huge fans, as our full Ticket to Ride New York review explains.
This is part of a genre of modern board games called 'deck-building games', in which each player starts with an identical small deck of cards to everyone else, and during the course of the game you'll expand your deck with new cards that you choose, so by the end everyone is competing with wildly different, wildly personal decks. You'll play through your own deck over and over, reusing its cards when you reach the end of the deck, clapping yourself on the back for all the great new cards you added to it as they combine in powerful ways.
The brilliant thing this game does is pair that clever basis with a race through a jungle landscape to be the first adventurer to reach the lost city of gold, El Dorado. Your ability to get there faster than everyone else depends on what abilities you stuff your deck with during the game.
The land is made of up big boards with lots of hexagonal spaces on, and different hexagon colours denote different terrain types, such as villages, jungle, water and impassable mountains. Each turn, you draw a small hand of cards from your deck, and certain cards enable you to cross certain types of terrain. It means that each turn is like a mini personal puzzle as you eye up possible routes on the board to work out which takes you furthest. "If I hack through this bit of jungle, then I can head up the river here, and then pass through that village."
However, that does mean you have to draw the right cards – if all that's in front of you is water and you draw no cards suitable for that, you can't move. But you can do something else instead: buy new cards to add to your deck! These can add powerful new abilities, or can just help you move more easily. The game comes with loads of card types, but only six are available to buy at any one time (which helps to avoid the choice being overwhelming), and when a card type runs out, a player gets to choose what replaces it in the list of six, which adds a really interesting edge to your tactics – you're steering the decisions of other people as well as yourself.
The game lets you approach it in different ways then: you can choose to spend early turns buying new cards, which will mean you fall behind others in the race initially, but you get a more powerful deck for surging forward later on; you can choose to always focus on movement, edging steadily towards the goal by always picking smart routes, but will another player catch up thanks to that plane they bought?
As you buy more cards, your deck also gets bigger, which means your best cards come up less often. There are places where you can remove cards from your deck, making it more efficient… but do you waste too much travel time if you go there? Oh, and did we mention that you can't move through spaces with other players in, so you can block off players if you're feeling punchy.
There's loads going on in the game, yet the rules are simple: draw cards; match symbols on cards with spaces on boards to move your piece, or buy new cards instead. And because the board is modular, you never need to race the same setup twice.
There’s almost no better way to introduce someone to modern board games than this. Adorable wooden whales! 3D scenery! Dump your friends in the water, then eat them with sharks!
The idea of the game is that you all control a group of inhabitants of the island of Atlantis, which is in the process of sinking in the water. You need to get your people from the central island, made up of hexagonal tiles, over to the safe islands in the corners of the board. You can’t move your people very quickly, though, unless you can get them into boats, which are much more efficient.
The key twist is that not only do you get to move your people, but you also control the various sea creatures patrolling the oceans, which are capable of destroying boats, eating people who have fallen in the ocean, or both.
And then as a bonus way to mess with your friends, the players are also the ones who decide how the island of Atlantis collapses: you’ll choose a tile to remove every turn, potentially dumping your opponents’ little plastic people into the water where they can become shark bait. Every tile also does something when you flip it – some bring more sea monsters onto the board, some give you a power-up to use later in the game, some are whirlpools that immediately destroy everything within a certain area… and one is a volcano that immediately ends the game.
It’s so simple to play, but there’s a beautifully cutthroat undercurrent to these ocean adventures. It will feel a little different to play every time, because you never know when and where new sea creatures will pop up, or how your other players will choose to use them. And it's a game where it's okay to be mean – it's built right into the game!
The one possible downside is that it's possible for one player to feel like they have no chance, either through the luck of where sea creatures appear, or actions by other players, or both. But it's such a fast, breezy game that you'll be done quickly even if this happens, ready to try again.
Here's how you learn the tiny rules of Tiny Towns. On your turn, you choose a resource such as brick or glass. Everyone gets one unit of that resource and places it on their four-by-four grid board. If you've got a pattern of the right resources in the right shape, you get to replace them with one nice wooden building piece. Buildings score points based on their position relative to other buildings. That's it!
Except it isn't, of course. This basic formula is a gentle roll down the ramp into a sea of decisions, which may or may not come back to haunt you. Your first builds are easy, but a mere sixteen squares is not much space at all. Soon, you'll be cursing your earlier cavalier attitude to placement as existing buildings cramp your space to make new ones. Half-made patterns you'll never finish will litter your mat. Players will start making cheeky hate-picks of resources, forcing others to take something useless that will clog up their board.
If that's not enough, there's a random selection of building types in use every game. so there's huge replay value, with no two setups needing the same strategy. It's good that there are only tiny rules for Tiny Towns, but it's even better that the game inside is very big indeed.
Combining lovely art with some novel mechanics, Momiji tasks you with collecting autumnal leaves in a Japanese garden. As you might guess that’s cover for quite an abstract game with a surprising amount of challenge. Cards of each colour must be laid in order and you’ll get bonuses if you can play multiple colours on your turn, but this is balanced by a tight hand limit, leaving you juggling picking up and playing. In a clever quirk, you can earn extra points from objectives, but these must be purchased and risk being fulfilled by other players if you take your eye off the ball. With some novel twists to the tired set collection formula, Momiji makes leaf acquisition a lot more fun, and just as pretty, as it sounds.
Read our full review of Momiji for more information!
Best board games for adults
We like to say that Cosmic Encounter is the board game equivalent of Mario Kart – practice will make you better at it, but just enough wild stuff happens in each game that a beginner always has a chance of winning, which makes it great for both first-time players and veterans.
The basic rules are pretty simple: every turn, a player is randomly matched with another player (an ‘encounter’), and the two must either fight (using numbered cards from their hands) or negotiate. They can invite other players to ally with them in the fight, in exchange for rewards. The idea is to be the first to have five colonies on other players’ planets, either by winning battles or negotiating well. It’s a very easy set of rules to learn.
The wrinkle is that every player has a unique alien power that totally breaks those rules. One alien actually wins battles if it loses them. One alien gets to take other players’ discarded battle cards, becoming more powerful the more others use their best cards. One can just invite itself into others’ encounters as an ally even if they don’t want it, raking up the rewards. Another actually wins the whole game if it loses all of its ships, meaning no one can tell whether you're going to try to win or intentionally lose any given battle.
Added to this are extra one-use cards you can have in your hand that break the rules even more, plus the way the game encourages you to form alliances to stop players who are doing too well (and then potentially screw over your allies if you want). It’s a game that’s guaranteed to get you laughing when everyone’s best laid plans crumble.
With 50 alien powers in the base game (and dozens and dozens more available in expansions, along with other new optional ways to play that add even more craziness), the sheer scale of what can happen in Cosmic Encounter is why we love it so much. It’s impossible to get bored of, yet is surprisingly easy to learn. Our Cosmic Encounter review talks even more about why we love this game.
Though its name may be needlessly complex, Quacks (as we've taken to calling it) is easy to teach and simple to play: most of the game involves reaching into a bag of tokens and then revelling in the agony or the ecstasy of what you’ve drawn. Especially since it was you who decided what tokens went in there.
The idea is that you’re all fraudulent potion makers, making a brew using the ingredients found in your bag. You reach in, grab a token, pull it out and place it in your ‘pot’, which is actually a score track. Pull out higher-quality ingredients and you’ll get along the track more quickly, giving you more points at the end of round. You're all doing this together, eyeing up each other's success as you go.
But you’re always riding your luck. In among your actually good tokens are ‘cherry bombs’, which are what give your fake potion its lovely convincing bubbles… but if you draw too many cherry bombs, the pot explodes, and you’ll suffer a penalty.
So you’ll inevitably find yourself playing Russian Roulette with your bag. You’ve drawn lots of cherry bombs, and if you draw the one left in your bag you’ll explode. But you can feel that there are four other tokens in your bag too. You’ll get a nice bonus if you can go just a little further up the track, and there's only a 20% chance of doom. Do you feel lucky, punk?
You play nine rounds of filling the pot, and between rounds you get to buy new tokens to go into your bag, ready for drawing next time. The tokens have different powers (and can be varied every time you play), which can result in some combinations that propel you up the board at speed… if the drawing luck is in your favour.
There’s a nice system whereby people behind the leader in overall points get a head start in each round, stuffing their pots with rat tails so they start further up the track, making it easier to get a good points total that round. It’s already an ideal family game thanks to its silly fantasy theme, as our Quacks of Quedlinburg review says, and this booster can help kids stay competitive even if they’re not as good at the token-buying strategy as adults.
Some people won’t like how luck-based it is, and you can definitely have a few rotten rounds in which you draw all your cherry bombs right away, with no way to do anything about that… but it’s not common, and riding your luck (and knowing when to tactically stop drawing tokens) is a huge part of the game’s appeal, as is laughing at your friends' hubris when they think they can draw just… one… more…
Roll and write games, where players get to mark off actions on a card based on the roll of some dice, are easy to design and fast to play and have become the junk food of the board gaming world. As we say in our Long Shot: The Dice Game review, though, this is a much more nutritious and filling entry to the genre. Players strive to make money buy buying and betting on horses as they thunder round a racetrack. But with plenty of sneaky ways to give your favoured horse a nudge, or trip those of your competitors, it’s a thrilling tactical dash to the finish line. Trying to juggle the odds to get yourself an edge as your rivals also home in on the same likely winning horses horses is a statistical delight.
Building on the previous entries in the popular and accessible Azul series of abstract games, Queen’s Garden marries the depth of classic abstracts to the series’ hallmark of bright, tactile tile-laying. Now you’re not just laying tiles for points, there’s an economic aspect too where you have to pay for what you put down with other tiles you’ve collected from the draft. With points between rounds as well at game end you’ll need to balance tactics with strategy and patterns with points as you seek to build the most attractive garden in a Portugese palace. Read our full review of Azul Queen's Garden to find out more.
Wingspan perfected a simple formula that helped it soar over the competition. Players are building a nature reserve for different species of bird cards from their hand. Attracting a bird means spending food and eggs, and you get more food, eggs and cards the more birds are already in your habitat. It's a neat, devilish, circular puzzle that few other games have managed better.
As you play, this loop draws you into the game, tighter and tighter. You'll be planning turns in advance, thinking about playing that bird to gain this food which in turn lets you play another bird and so on. It's so satisfying watching your little avian empire grow and thrive, and the strategy is in fine-tuning the system so it gives you exactly the resources you need exactly when you need them.
With 170 different birds, needing different mixtures of the five types of food, though, that's a lot harder than it sounds. Most birds also have a special ability related to their species. The real-life Inca Dove, for instance, builds and lays in multiple nests, so its in-game equivalent nets you extra eggs. These powers create constant, erm, chicken and egg problems to solve, as you often have to juggle priorities to get the best use out of them.
That's not the whole secret to Wingspan's success, though. The components, from the lush bird art to the smooth resin eggs, are fantastic. There's even a cardboard dice tower in the shape of a bird-feeder, and the thoroughly pleasant theme of building an aviary has very wide appeal. That, together with its relative simplicity for such a deep game, makes it great for family play with older kids. The suggested 10+ age on the box is maybe a bit optimistic, though – as ever, it will depend on the kid, but we certainly wouldn’t call this a starter game for kids that age.
Players get points for the birds in their reserve, with harder-to-play cards worth more. There are also secret and public goals, such as having the most eggs in a certain type of nest, for bonus points. With just enough randomness to how games will play out and a good level of interaction to keep things exciting and social, Wingspan has the plumage to pull anyone deeper into its engrossing nest of strategies, as our full Wingspan review explains.
For a small and light board game that contains enough strategy to play over and over, while also not being intimidating to new players, Splendor is the ideal option. It's a game of buying cards by paying a cost in gems of different colours, and every card you buy gives you more gems you can use to buy cards more easily, so everything snowballs satisfyingly as you play – the only way to buy the higher-value cards is to have a great suite of other cards in front of you.
Some cards have points values on, too (usually only the more expensive ones), and when someone reaches 15 points, the game ends that round, though other players have a chance to buy one last card which could net them even more points. Adding an extra strategic option to this is the selection of ’Nobles’ available in every game – you get the points shown on these cards automatically if you buy specific card combinations, and only one person can get each Noble.
On your turn, you can do one of three things: take up to three gems from the central pool (these are in the form of poker-style chips, and are deeply pleasing to play with) which you'll use to buy cards later; buy a card using gems you already have; or reserve a card, which you can then buy and use it later, but that no one else can grab it in the mean time.
Everyone is buying cards from the same market in the middle, and any that are bought are immediately replaced, so even if you're not keen on the cards available, new ones appear as other people play. But this also means you might all be planning the same strategy, and you may find someone grabs the card you want from under you, or takes the last gem you need from the pot.
In play, it isn’t a game that leaves you feeling like there’s so much you can do that you’re not sure what to try next – it’s easy to see what you need and take steps towards it, but still satisfying when you're grabbing cards left and right because your of your brilliantly-built gem tableau. But equally, it doesn’t require your focus the whole time to be successful, so it’s ideal if you want to chat while playing. Our full Splendor review talks more about why this is such a great entry-level game.
Azul is a game of building a patterned wall using beautiful plastic tiles, and is surprisingly straightforward to play each round. First, tiles are drawn from a bag and placed in piles on several ‘Factory Tokens’. Then, you get to choose tiles from the Factory Tokens and move them to your ‘Pattern Lines’, which is effectively a stockpile ready for building onto your Wall. Finally, you can place a tile on the Wall. Easy! Well, except that every part of that is full of twists that bring scope for strategic thinking and interesting decisions.
When you take tiles, you can only take one colour of tile from one Factory Token (though you can take all tiles of that colour). Any tiles left over on the Factory Token go into the middle – and this repeats as other players take their turns. But you can also take tiles from the middle, so if you’re later in the turn order, you'll probably be able to take a whole handful! Except if you do this, you’ll take a point penalty, and you’ll have to go first next time. Everything you do comes with a sacrifice – you can take absolutely any colour you like, but you’ll be leaving juicy options for other players.
Then there’s the Pattern Lines. Each line must be filled with tiles of the same colour, and when filled, you can put exactly one of those tiles into the Wall (the rest are recycled to be used in future turns). But if you pick up too many tiles and have more than your current Pattern Line needs, you’ll wind up with the wrong colours in the wrong places, or even losing points. But maybe those sacrifices are worth it to get something in the perfect place on the Wall…
When putting your tiles on the Wall, you get points for how orderly they are, basically, and it’s deeply satisfying to have a game that rewards you specifically for making things look pretty. But where you can place tiles is limited by what you did with your Pattern Lines, so you can wind up wondering what you-from-three-turns-ago was thinking, or praising your earlier self for your visionary genius.
When your best laid plans (and tiles) work perfectly, playing Azul is akin to the feeling of suddenly sweeping through the last few words of a crossword you’ve been struggling with – everything slots neatly into place. Crucially, even when that's not how it goes, it's still a lot of fun, and fiddling with its chunky plastic tiles is reason enough to buy it, to be honest.
It’s a good blend of long-term strategy and the need to think fast when someone takes the tiles you want, and though you don't interact with other players too much as part of the game itself, that makes it another game that's great for snacking and chatting while playing. And, as our full Azul review says, it's also so good-looking it's hard to resist.
Best board games for two players
Jaipur is made only for two players, and it pits you against each other perfectly by creating an almost Prisoner’s Dilemma-like system where you have to decide whether to go for speed or quality. It’s a trading game: there are cards in the middle of the table you can pick up, and if you collect enough matching-colour cards, you can trade them for tokens with points values on.
But how many matching cards should you collect before trading? Whoever trades a colour first gets higher-value tokens. But if you trade a larger number of cards in one go, you get special bonus tokens with big points of their own, on top of the regular tokens. So, can you afford to spend one more turn collecting another couple of cards and going for the big payout? Or will your opponent nip in first and leave you with just the leftovers?
Some colours’ tokens are worth much more than others too (and there are fewer of them), so do you both compete for the same high-value stuff or do you aim to collect the lower-value cards your opponent is ignoring, but more of them?
Even seemingly easy wins can be tight decisions: there are only five cards in the middle of the table to take from at any time, and if three greens come out, you might think that’s a great bonus for you… but those three will be replaced with something as soon as you take them, and what if it’s something more valuable that you leave open to the other player?
It’s beautifully designed and printed, and the box has a really pleasing custom inlay that keeps everything arranged perfectly. And it’s real cheap. Our full Jaipur review talks more about why this is such a gem.
In Unmatched, you'll choose and famous character and will face off against your opponent, using a deck of cards unique to that character. The cards enables you to move and take actions, so the game feels totally different depending on which character you choose to play as.
You play on aboard with limited spaces for movement, but what space there is makes all the difference, because some characters can control multiple spaces, some like to be a distance away, some like to be up close… they all feel like a new challenge to play as, but one that always uses the same easy to learn core rules.
In this great starter pack, you get King Arthur, Alice from Wonderland, Sinbad and Medusa to play as – but there are tons of packs adding more characters from pop culture, mythology and classics.
Have a look at our review of Unmatched: Battle of Legends for more information!
In this game, you're battling to win nine poker hands at once against your opponent, and whoever actually comes out on top in the majority of them is the victor. You'll each have cards with numbers in different coloured suits in your hand, and each turn you'll lay a card on one of the nine 'battles'.
You win each battle by creating a better poker hand than your opponent, with very similar hands: you can build straights or flushes or pairs or triples. But because you're building these hands in the open, card by card, your opponent can see what you might go for, and can try to beat you with something better, or could abandon that battle to you… except maybe you didn't even have the cards to create the flush it looked you were building to, and you end up taking it with just a pair. With no gambling, that's the equivalent of a bluff. Or maybe you really are trying to get that flush to win the final hand, and you're sweating, waiting to see if the card you need will come…
Read our full review to find out more!
In this game, you need to build a tableau of cards that represents the rise of a people. Different cards represent different directions your little world can evolve into, from scientific advances to military might to cultural cache – collecting sets of the same type will make you a superpower in that area, but focus too much and you'll be weak in other areas, and your opponent can reap the rewards.
Where do you get these cards? From a pyramid in the centre, with cards further up only revealed when you taken the ones below, so there's a fascinating game of trying to get what you want while also denying your opponent a way to easily get what they need (ideally). When these combine, it makes each turn a little puzzle: what card would be most lucrative now; what would be most lucrative in the future; and what would hamper your opposition?
War games with a shouty infantry man on the cover can make a game seem like it's going to be very dry, but don't let Undaunted pass you by, because it's a brilliant battler built around one core truth: you can't win every fight.
Undaunted brings the derring-do heroism of WW2 films to life by creating scenarios where each side has clear objectives and advantages over each other. But within that scenario is scope for one soldier to hold a position against an onslaught, or for clever play to turn a tough situation on its head.
The other clever part is that anything you want to do requires you to have a card in your hand to make it possible, and these cards only apply to particular squads. Your deck of cards represents the fog of war, as if command just doesn't understand the situation on the ground, but you can make the best of it with smart decisions.
But the cards also represent the attrition of the fight: when a squad takes damage, cards connected to that squad are permanently removed from your deck, as the casualties of war. Recklessly push a squad onto a machine gun emplacement and they're never coming back. But is it worth it if you can take the gun, clearing a route… well, that's the question of this game. This attrition means that you can never comfortably hold all the objective squares available, but can you hold enough?
Best of all, the game has a clever of making itself easy to learn: you can play through a campaign. The first battle has only a few types of soldier that are easy to understand. The next adds some more complex options, and so on – by the end, you'll be coordinated whole battalions strategically.
Best board games for parties
Party games are often more social than strategic, since that tends to better accommodate having lots of people, and usually means there are fewer rules to learn. As a result, they're often about reading between the lines, and that's never been truer than in Wavelength, both literally and figuratively.
One player – the "psychic" – draws a card that will have two opposites written on it: for example, "soft" and "hard". They then spin a pleasingly chunky dial that only they can see, and a lined scoring zone will end up somewhere on the semi-circle, looking like a slightly vague speedometer. Finally, they then cover the dial so no one else can see it, and then offer a clue for their teammates to try to guess where that scoring zone is on the dial. So if it was all the way to the "hard" end of the dial, they might say "diamond". Or maybe "fur" for all the way to the “soft” end. The fun starts when, as is usually the case, the dial is somewhere between the two.
The brilliance of Wavelength is that it takes an everyday activity and turns it into an enchanting game. After all, who hasn't tried rating things as an idle conversation starter? The concept is instantly familiar yet the secrecy and vagueness of where that dial might be make it very hard to give and guess good clues. Winning does feel like it requires a near-psychic connection to think the way your friends are thinking – after all, you know where you you would put "biscuit" on the spectrum between "soft" and "hard", but where would they?
The guessers will turn a needle on the dial to show where they think the scoring zone is, and then you remove the dial's cover theatrically to see how close they are! Bang on gets you the most points, but getting close gets you some points too, so it never feels impossible.
You might think that the focus on one team at a time makes it boring for the other team. But guessing is so funny, and the big reveal of the dial at the end so exciting, that it keeps everyone at the table entertained. Plus, the opposing team does actually get involved by placing a marker as to whether they think the real answer is to the left or right of the guess. They win a bonus point if they get it right.
Wavelength works best as a party game with two teams (and while the game suggests up to six on each side, there's nothing really stopping you playing more), but there's a cooperative mode that allows smaller player numbers to enjoy the game. In this, you work together through a deck of seven clue cards to see how high you can score. This is great for families since it means no hurt feelings. And it's a simple game that kids far younger than the 14+ age suggested on the box can pick up.
With its mix of novelty, laughter and deduction, everyone can get on this game’s wavelength, as our full Wavelength review goes into. And, honestly, you can just ignore the scoring completely if you want and simply play through cards – it's still a really fun time.
Spyfall is brilliantly simple to play, because all you do is ask questions to each other. Except choosing which questions to ask and how to answer is not simple at all. The setup here is that one player is secretly a (seemingly terrible) spy, who doesn't know what location they're in (from a big list provided in the box). Everyone else does know the location, and they need to figure out who the spy is, at which point they can accuse someone, and everyone votes. The spy wins if they successfully guess the location, or if someone else is wrongfully voted as being the spy. You have 10 minutes to ask each other questions. Go!
The conundrum is immediate: players who aren't spies need to ask questions that are hard for the spy to answer without giving away that they don't know the location, and they need to answer each other's question in a way that indicates that they know what the location is; but the questions and an also can't be too specific, or the spy will be able to guess! And the spy's problem is that they have to ask questions too, which have to sound like you're also trying to catch someone out, even though you have no idea what's going on.
So, if you play a round where the location is a submarine, someone might ask "Did you see anything nice out of the window this morning?", hoping the spy will say "Yes, a beautiful sunrise" and you'll all accuse them. But maybe the spy says "Well, in the job I have here, I don't really go anywhere near windows in the mornings". A totally generic statement that could apply to all kinds of thing, and that might throw them off your scent.
It's so funny to see people twisting themselves in knots trying to ask/answer in a way that's both vague and specific at the same time. The only awkward thing is that people need access to the list of possible locations – the instructions has one that you can lay in the middle of the table, but people who've played the game a lot might have an advantage over newbies by being able to bluff more smoothly. But for an occasional game, everyone will be on the same level.
Sushi Go Party is a card drafting game, which means that everyone starts out with a big hand of cards, and you'll select one to keep in front of you. Then everyone passes the rest of their hand to the person next to them. And repeat, until you run out of cards to pass, at which point the round ends.
The aim is to collect matching sets of very cute sushi dishes (try not to think about the sushi dishes have faces too hard), and different sushi gets you points in different ways. Some get you points if you have the most of that type at the end of the round, some types just give you more points if you collect lots of the same, some combine as multipliers. It's a set collection game, really, like Rummy.
The game here is that when you draft cards, you're betting on whether you'll be able to keep getting more of that kind, because that's the only way to get big points. And remember, you know what's in all the hands, because they keep getting passed to you! But can you remember? And even if you know something you need is coming, will someone else take it first?
It's inexpensive, it's easy to learn, and it comes with more sushi types than you'll use at ones, so you can vary different sushi combinations, changing things a little every time.
In Don't Get Got, everyone is given a little wallet of challenges, and the winner is whoever completes the most of them. The problem is that they pretty much all involve tricking someone else into doing something without them realising that's what you're doing, because if they realise what's happening and accuse you of it being part of the game, you fail the challenge completely.
Challenges include persuading someone to compliment your hair, or to make up a word and get someone else to ask you what it means. The crucial part is that they're things you can just be doing while having a great evening with friends or family – this game works in the background of an event, rather than becoming the event.
When you successfully get someone to do what you want, you can triumphantly brandish your card and give yourself a success token. What could be better in life?
In this game, a card comes out asking an opinion-based question, and everyone writes down their answers. But you don't write down your answer, you want to write down what you think the majority will say. When all is revealed, if you're part of the majority, you get a cow token. First to 8 wins!
Questions include stuff like "What's the best pizza topping?" and "Would you rather have robot arms or robot legs?" So you're trying not to predict what your friends actually think, necessarily, but what they'll think that everyone else will think… if you see what we mean.
Best cooperative board games
This game has been in this list since way before the current situation, but it's only become more appropriate. Pandemic is a game of trying to stop diseases outbreaking all over the Earth, working together with everyone else. On your turn, you need to use your actions to move around locations treating diseases, building research stations, and finding the cures that will win you the game. But with only four actions per turn, you won’t be able to do very much of it on your own, and after each player's turn more disease appears on the board – if too much appears on one city, it outbreaks to everywhere nearby, and you can only take so many outbreaks before you lose the game.
So, you and the other players have to work together to plan ahead, triaging where the danger is now, and analysing what’s vulnerable in the future. Who can get to Beijing the fastest to treat the situation there? Madrid's at risk of an outbreak next turn, but focusing on that would delay your ability to cure one of the diseases by a whole round, so what do you focus on? Each player also a has an extra power that makes them good at specific tasks, so you need to make you’re using them effectively – don't have your Researcher treating disease cubes when they're the best at finding the cures… unless you really need them to.
A clever tension is added by the card system at the heart of the game: to cure diseases for good, you need to collect sets of matching-colour cards. Except that these cards are also the fastest way to move around the board, and if you use them to travel, you can't then use them to cure, so again you're working out whether you need to spend a valuable card zipping across the board to prevent an outbreak, or whether you can risk leaving it to someone else… but you know that more disease will come out in the mean time.
And we haven't even mentioned the Epidemic cards! Sprinkled throughout the deck your draw from, these instantly step up the danger, not only spreading disease to a new location, but also guaranteeing that every location that currently has disease will get more of it. Cleverly, you can make the game harder or easier by adjusting how many Epidemic cards you include.
Pandemic is wildly popular, and that for good reason: it's a compelling and dynamic experience that gives you lots of opportunities to feel triumphant even before the game is won – the right move at the right time to help you avoid defeat feels like a win in itself. Being cooperative, kids can play along with adults without any penalty to their inexperience, since you can talk strategy together. And there are three expansions to add even more to the mix. We recommend "On The Brink", which adds three variations on the game, plus new roles for players to be – and you can combine the variations in different ways, if you want to make it really interesting.
In this light game (but that has a lot of pieces to spread out), one player is a ghost, and the other players are mediums investigating their murder. The ghost player has to communicate with the mediums via dreams, pointing them towards what really happened.
What this means in practice is that each medium needs to guess a correct combination of person, location and weapon (very Cluedo) from a selection in the middle of the table. But the ghost can't talk or gesture at all to guide them.
Instead, the ghost has a big deck of cards, each of which has unique surreal art on it. Every turn, the ghost draws a limited number of these cards, then has to use them to (try to) point the mediums in the right directions.
This requires some major creativity: if a dream card has a soldier on it and the weapon was a sword, that's a safe bet… right? But if there's nothing that's such a good fit, can you give them a a dream with a key in and hope them assume that metal means sword? But maybe you didn't notice there were mushrooms in the background, and one of the other possible weapons was poison, and now that medium is convinced in the wrong direction.
On future turns, you can give more dreams to the mediums, hopefully helping to narrow things down (but sometimes making confusion worse). However, you only have seven turns to solve the whole murder, so don't get too comfortable.
The sense of deep satisfaction you get from Mysterium is unrivalled, both as a ghost player or the medium – much like charades, when a set of clues is perfectly interpreted right from the off, it feels great. And sometimes great minds simply do not think alike.
But whether you're successful at solving the murder in time or not, you'll still want to go again straight away with someone else in the ghostly hot seat, and all new murders and dream combinations to unpack.
The zombie apocalypse has happened. You and your friends play as survivors, holed up in a makeshift colony, working together to complete a goal that will guarantee your safety and win the game. Every turn, you’ll need to meet a small objective that’s usually got to do with having enough supplies, while also working towards your big overall objective… and all before you’re overrun by zombies or run out of food. Oh, and one of you might be a secret traitor who actually wants the whole group to fail.
During your turn, you’ll be able to do a bunch of stuff – go searching for supplies at different exterior locations, barricade doors, kill zombies… – that will help the colony. The traitor won’t want to be given away, so that player will be putting on a show of helping at least, but any supplies (which can be fuel, food, weapons and other treats) you find are secret information that only you know, so when everyone’s desperate for food, you can claim to be unable to help despite sitting on a Sainsburys’ worth of ready meals. Withholding supplies might not be as effective as you wanted, though, so maybe you'll resort to actual sabotage, but then everyone will know there's a traitor, even if they don't know who. (You can choose to play with no traitor at all if you prefer, and it's still a very fun cooperative game that way.)
Adding to the confusion around the traitor is that every player has a secret personal objective they must complete by the end of the game on top of the main objective, and they personally only win if they achieve both. So there will be people who are hoarding fuel even though the colony needs it, and even though they’re not the traitor… and this will make them seem real suspicious if it gets noticed.
Happily, you can do something about the dirty traitor: hold a vote and exile them from the colony, where they’ll continue playing, but with a new secret goal that you won’t know about, but will make you nervous as you see them moving from location to location. Of course, you might end up accusing someone innocent of being the traitor, in which case exactly the same thing happens to them, but now you’re down one true ally. The innocent exile might not even be unhappy about this – if it looks like the colony is going to fail, they’ve still got a chance to win on their own.
All of these ingredients mixing together makes every game a cocktail of stories about how you narrowly escaped zombie hordes at the old school, only to find yourself betrayed back at the base, before wrestling the colony back back to safety and kicking out the traitor just in time to escape to safety… or any other mix of stuff.
But there’s a final garnish that really cements Dead of Winter’s place in this list: Crossroads cards. During your turn, a player will draw one of these cards and read it to you, and it will contain a small piece of narrative fiction, and often a moral quandary. Maybe you find a small group of survivors, who you can leave at the mercy of zombies and steal weapons from, or you can rescue… but then the colony will need more food.
It all makes Dead of Winter a game that can take most of an afternoon to play, but you’ll come out of with so many memories and cool stories that you’ll be ready jump straight back in.
In this game, various items from the Back to the Future films have been scattered across times and locations from the films, and each player is a different version of Marty and Doc, trying to get things back to their correct places.
You'll move around the board to complete events from the films, which will mean you get to receive an item, which you then return to its correct time and location. Easy! If only. Every turn, more paradoxes are created in the timeline, nudging you towards the collapse of the universe. Which is bad.
In order to do anything in this game, you'll need the right symbols on your dice. At the start of each round, everyone rolls their dice together, and you see what you all got. Symbols can be used to move across Hill Valley, shift backwards and forwards in time, and some can be used to complete tasks.
Dice are cruel, and sometimes you don't roll anything that's especially useful, but it's possible for players to leave a dice in a location to be used by another player. Here's where it gets clever: your Delorean and someone else's can't be in the same location at the same time without causing yet more paradoxes… but you can actually leave a dice in a location in the past, and someone who's in that location in the future can make use of it.
When this all comes together with the theme, it's absolutely thrilling: I time travel to 1955, I drive to the clock tower, I use a tool left for me in 1885 to complete Doc's lightning conductor, which means I can grab Biff's sports almanac, ready to return to 2015 next turn.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion turns you all into dungeon-delving fantasy adventurers. You each have your own plastic fighter, with a unique deck of cards and abilities, and you'll work together to overcome beasties and play through a complete campaign (totalling 25 adventures, though how you go through the story may change exactly what you see).
To make it easy to play, the maps for these adventures are printed in a book, with descriptions and information written around them – you don't have the fiddly setting up of a map that similar games (including the big, full-fat version of Gloomhaven) have. This makes it much easier to get to the table and start playing than those games.
Playing is this great balance of decision making and random chance: you'll use cards from your unique hand to take actions, and each card has two different actions on – one top, one bottom. If you use the top action on your first card, you must use the bottom action on your second – this gives you flexibility, but potentially exactly enough flexibility to hoist yourself by your own petard.
The campaign you'll play through actually teaches you how to play, so it's much smoother to start with than similar games. But you'll still want to get the same group together for each new play, so it'll be less ideal for some because of that. And by the end, if you love it, you can move up to the much more expensive, much more expansive, regular version of Gloomhaven.
How to choose the best board games for you
Picking the best board game to start your collection (or for adding to it with a new option) is all about what kind of game you want to play.
As we mentioned before, this is partly down to choosing something that fits well with the people you’ll play with, but there’s also just what kind of thing you think you’ll have fun with – you can always find a group of like-minded friends to play something that sounds right up your alley.
Here are some of the things you could consider – they might sound like a lot, but you know your family and friends, so it’s easy to trust your gut and pick something they’ll enjoy:
- Cooperative vs competitive – some games have everyone working together towards a common goal, while others are all about beating the opposition. Both are tons of fun, but some people like to work together more than they like a competitive atmosphere, so it’s just about reading the room.
- Direct vs indirect competition – If you do choose a competitive game, there’s also often a difference between games where you’re all competing indirectly (a bit like poker) compared to when you’re directly attacking each other (like chess). Some people find the former less interesting, some people don’t like the aggressiveness of the latter.
- Simple vs complex – Some people love the idea of a game that’s all about building up complex economic strategies that take a whole afternoon to pull off, while some much prefer a punchy experience that’s over in 30 minutes or an hour. And, of course, younger kids may find simpler games easier to join in with.
- Theme vs mechanics – Some people enjoy games more when there’s a strong theme that helps them grasp the mechanics (or just that adds atmosphere), while some will only want to focus on the mechanics and will be happy with ‘abstract’ games that are all about the rules, really.
- Building up a collection – if you’ve already got a few games, we recommend trying to buy new games that play very differently to what you have so far, rather than doubling up on games that play in similar ways (unless you just love that kind of game – you do you!). We’ve kept our selection quite broad here for this very reason.