The recent explosion in tabletop gaming offers a mind-boggling array of board game options to choose from. If you’re new to gaming, it can all seem overwhelming, yet even gaming veterans can feel like they’re drowning in the hundreds of new releases coming out every year. Which games are best for introducing friends to modern board gaming? Which ones are great for a night of fun and strategy? And what game should you reach for when you want something deep and challenging?
There’s a game for every skill level, and this guide will help you choose from the best.
Perfect for new players, young players, or when you just need a short, fun diversion.
Settlers of Catan, by Mayfair Games
If you’ve ever played a “eurogame,” it’s probably this one. Settlers of Catan is easy to start playing, but it takes a while to learn how to play it well, making it a great choice for beginners looking to master the basic mechanics inherent to all strategy games. In Settlers, players face off against one another to claim the largest share of a vast, undeveloped continent. Establishing cities requires managing your resources (brick, wood, wheat, wool, and ore) to trade with other players, build roads, and move armies. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can add on expansion packs that take the adventure onto the high seas and to uncharted islands.
Ticket to Ride, by Days of Wonder
Ticket to Ride is a great game for beginners because its bright colors and vivid maps are immediately appealing, and the concept of connecting train routes by playing matching sets of cards is easy to grasp. The decision-making required during a gaming session introduces players to strategic gameplay (as opposed to outcomes being determined solely by rolling dice), but there’s nothing too heavy or complex going on. Once you’ve mastered the base game, a wealth of expansions with maps from around the world are available, many of them with alternate rules that keep things feeling fresh.
Munchkin Deluxe, by Steve Jackson Games
Munchkin is a card game that plays out as a sort of parody of fantasy role-playing games: you and your friends explore a dungeon, steal whatever you find, and kill whomever you meet. It’s a race to level up your character before anyone else. But along the way, you’ll be robbing and backstabbing each other in ridiculous ways. Munchkin has a fun, goofball sense of humor (use your Boots of Butt-kicking and Staff of Napalm to defeat the Drooling Slime), helped along by illustrations by the iconic John Kovalic. The deluxe version gives you a board for card layout and tracking player stats. And of course, there are a zillion expansions.
Forbidden Island, by Gamewright
In this cooperative game, a team of adventurers must explore the ruins of an ancient civilization and recover four relics. It’s a race against time, though, because the civilization was built on islands, and the sea level is rising quickly—you have to find the relics and escape before they’re drowned in the ocean forever (it’s also bad if you or your teammates sink, too). Forbidden Island has an evocative setting with gorgeous art, and winning requires making smart strategic decisions. Because it’s cooperative, you can play with younger children or beginners, and it’s easy to adjust the difficulty level as needed. Plus, you can get in two or three games in an hour, and it works just as well with two players as it does with three or four.
King of Tokyo, by Iello Games
King of Tokyo is a delight for anyone who loves giant monsters and robots, which is everyone. It’s basically a dice game, but the colorful monster standees show off who’s “king of the hill” (that is, Tokyo) at any moment. There’s a fun element of tension every turn, as players decide what do to with each roll of the dice—you can heal, store energy, attack other players, or bank victory points. If you take over Tokyo, you’re on your way to victory, but then every other monster will be coming at you. Cards that shift the powers of the monsters keep things from becoming predictable. Like many games, it works best with three or more players.
Intrigue and strategy that won’t take all weekend to play.
Pandemic, by Z-Man Games
Cooperating with your friends to save the Earth from a horrific plague has become extremely popular in recent years. It’s also a game. I kid, but if you’ve never tried Pandemic, your board game loving friends almost certainly have a copy. Pandemic players take on different roles, each with unique special abilities, as they race around the world trying to quell outbreaks of various diseases. The mechanics of viral spread and cooperative play feel truly revolutionary the first time you experience them. Just be aware that winning can be quite difficult—you’ll fail several times as you work out the best strategies for stopping the plague.
Lord of the Rings—Quest to Mount Doom, by Games Workshop
Players scatter across Middle-earth, collecting items and searching for the One Ring while avoiding the Eye of Sauron. This take on a Lord of the Rings board game is unique in that it can accommodate up to nine
Nazgûl players. The chaotic whirl of item stealing and exploration definitely gives play sessions a “more the merrier” feel. The Ring will change hands several times as everyone competes to carry it to Mount Doom. This is a fun game, especially for younger players, and it comes with some very nice plastic miniatures of the Fellowship.
Disney Villainous, by Ravensburger
Disney fans will love this game, and not only for the top notch production values. You’ll find stunning art on every card, and brilliant, iconic miniatures for each villainous character. Each villain has their own unique victory condition, but as the players work toward accomplishing their goals, they’ll also be playing cards against each other, hindering their opponents’ progress. This type of gameplay can feel truly villainous, but be aware that it can also cause some hurt feelings among younger players.
Boss Monster, by Brotherwise Games
Boss Monster is a dungeon-building game, and admit it, you’ve always wanted to build a dungeon. Each player competes to lure heroes into their dungeon (so you need attractive dungeon rooms with lots of treasure) and then kill said heroes (so you need to fill those dungeon rooms with brutal traps and monsters). The fun of designing your own dungeon and playing weird spells to disrupt your opponents is amplified by the kitschy 8-bit art style.
More complexity, deeper strategy.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game, by Asmodee
The original Arkham Horror is a sprawling board game renowned for its rich Lovecraftian themes and for the countless bits and pieces you have to set up to play it. It’s a great game, but it can be a bit overwhelming. The card game, on the other hand, distills those same themes into a series of card-based adventures, linked together to form a campaign. Your actions and outcomes in one game can affect what happens farther along in the campaign. Arkham Horror: The Card Game uses the Living Card Game model, and numerous expansions will allow you to extend your sanity-testing adventures for years. This game is cooperative, but can even be played solitaire.
Wrath of Ashardalon: A D&D Boardgame, by Wizards of the Coast
If you’re not quite up for running an actual Dungeons & Dragons campaign but want to capture the D&D vibe for an evening of board gaming, Wrath of Ashardalon will leave you satisfied. Your party of adventurers, each taking on one of the classic D&D character classes, must cooperatively explore a dungeon that is revealed turn-by-turn as new tiles are added to the board. Along the way you’ll battle monsters and collect magic items, leading up to your final battle with the dragon Ashardalon. Dungeons? Check. Dragons? Check.
Terraforming Mars, by Stronghold Games
There is something wonderful about a brightly illustrated board, tall stacks of cards, and piles of well-made counters, tiles, and tokens. Terraforming Mars gives you all that, and it’s a fun game with enough complexity to make you really ponder your actions every turn. Players are corporations working to exploit Mars for commercial and industrial purposes. It’s semi-cooperative, but you ultimately are working solo to accrue the most victory points. At its core, this is a game of managing resources and figuring out how interlocking systems work together.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, by USAopoly
This cooperative deck-building game seems simple at first, but as you progress through the missions together, the complexity and difficulty increases. Some missions will take several attempts to defeat. Potter fans will adore the countless creatures, items, characters, and locations from the books and films that appear in this game. Each player plays one of the students, with special abilities that level up with each successful mission (Neville stans represent!). You’ll acquire items and allies to help you put together card combos and ultimately defeat the evil foes trying to take over Hogwarts.
What games would you add to our list?
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