The 10 Best Board Games

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This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in June of 2015. Whether you're instigating a family competition over the holidays or hoping to occupy restless kids when it's raining outside, there's a board game for every occasion. The genre has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent times, with dozens of inventive new titles being released every year. We've included those that will appeal to various interests, with a range of difficulty levels. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Days of Wonder Ticket To Ride

2. Stonemaier Games Scythe

3. Z-Man's Pandemic

Editor's Notes

August 13, 2020:

We've tried to maintain a balanced selection of in-depth, complicated games and those that don't have too much of a learning curve, ultimately adding one kids' board game that's not too tough. This is Ravensburger Labyrinth, which might be too simple for older children, but is nevertheless appropriate for a game night that includes a young player. Days of Wonder Ticket To Ride is also fine for the younger crowd. Unlike some options for adults, like Avalon Hill Betrayal At House On The Hill, it does not have any dark or disturbing themes. Plus, it offers an enhanced experience thanks to Alexa, although this is not a requirement to play.

After some consideration, we removed A Game of Thrones, which has a relatively limited audience due not only to the content but also to its complexity. But we have opted to keep Asmodee Concept, even though it, too, is decidedly not for everyone. Those who like charades and guessing games might get into it; anyone who wants strict rules and in-depth strategy might find it frustrating and/or boring. It can definitely change up your normal game night, however, so it's one to consider if you're stuck in a rut. We also kept Cephalofair's Gloomhaven, but keep in mind that it can take some time to set up.

March 28, 2019:

Removed Scrabble, as the traditional board version is quickly becoming obsolete in a world where you can get a match at any time on your cell phone. Likewise, the Trademark Games Trio was jettisoned in favor of newer, faster-paced games, although we'll always be a sucker for a good game of backgammon or chess.

In their place are newer titles that expand on traditional ideas of what a board game should be, like Z-Man's Pandemic and Betrayal At House On The Hill. The former encourages teammates to compete against the game, reducing the likelihood that your next get-together will end up as a screaming match between over-competitive players. The latter, on the other hand, actually encourages betrayal, so be sure your friendships are on solid ground before embarking on a game (or only play it with people you don't like).

Beyond play styles, we also tried to include choices suitable for just about any occasion or number of players, so you can have fun at a party or, in the case of Cephalofair's Gloomhaven, all by yourself. While we're confident that each option has enough replay value to keep you occupied for weeks at a time, you might want to consider purchasing several, so that you'll always have the perfect game for the evening at hand.

Special Honors

Studio Anne Carlton Medieval Cathedral While it's true that you can play chess on your phone, or on that inexpensive board you probably have in a closet somewhere, aficionados are sure to appreciate the Studio Anne Carlton Medieval Cathedral. The pieces are handsome, intricately detailed, and inspired by important historical figures and structures, including King Henry IV and Edward the Black Prince. Custom Components Imaginative players who are ready to create their own games can do so with the help of Custom Components. You'll find everything from dice to spinners and beyond, along with game boards of various sizes, to help you bring your dream to life.

Pottery Barn Oversized Scrabble Wall Game As much decoration as it is playable game, the Pottery Barn Oversized Scrabble Wall Game is 60 inches wide and weighs in at a hefty 57 pounds. But if you have the space for it, you can use it to get the whole family in on the word-building fun, as it's packaged with all the important components, including 100 letter tiles and four wood racks.

4. Ravensburger Labyrinth

5. Marc Andre's Splendor

6. Cephalofair's Gloomhaven

7. Funforge Tokaido

8. Klaus Teuber's Catan

9. Avalon Hill Betrayal At House On The Hill

10. Asmodee Concept

Bonding On the Board

Whatever the precise rules and the precise pieces, a board game elevates your presence with your friends and family.

Whenever the clouds roll in on a summer's day, when the power suddenly goes out and you have nothing but candlelight to entertain you, when there's a sleepy afternoon with nothing looming and a few friends or family members together in good spirits, we inevitably reach for a board game.

The idea behind them is supremely simple. You have a surface on which representative talismans move, explore, battle, or befriend one another. Sometimes the talismans are neglected in favor of a pair of dice and a few strategically positioned tokens. Whatever the precise rules and the precise pieces, a board game elevates your presence with your friends and family.

If you look closely at board games ranging from the most mentally taxing (chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, etc.) to the simplest and least intellectually challenging (checkers, Settlers of Catan, etc.) all of them have lurking beneath the surface a structure that encourages community. There's no time limit to your turn in Monopoly, for example, so you can spend all day on a single game, chatting, cooking, and relaxing all the while with the people you love.

Catan, a much shorter game, actually encourages tremendous amounts of hilarious and, at times, cutthroat negotiations over the raw materials needed to build a farm, a town, or a city, and its gameplay times out to fit a brief escape from the day or to stretch on in a marathon session of games.

The most important thing about these games is that, unless you go and add a consequence for the loser more tragic than having to clean up once the game is done, there really aren't any stakes. You're free to compete at whatever level suits you, and those little moments when your competitive edge flourishes, or your preference to see your friends and family succeed even at a small cost to you will bring the lot of you closer together than you ever could have imagined.

Prepare For The Players

If you want to have a successful experience with a board game, one in which everyone at the table–winners and losers alike–is satisfied, you've got to know your audience. The worst thing you can do to kill a night of revelry is whip out the wrong board game and tax everyone's joy. Even if it's one that you love, you aren't going to play these things alone, so you'd better have a good collection of games at hand.

These games tend to take a lot longer, though, so if you've got kids of friends with short attention spans, you might not get to finish what you started.

One of the best things about looking through our list is that the purchase of one board game here rated does not preclude you from the purchase of another. You could get your hands on all of them and use them with different friends or family members depending on their tastes and the mood of the room.

Odds are, however, that you're going to grab one or two off of this list to start, so we've got to narrow it down, and before you even think about evaluating the personality types coming into your game space, you have to know how many personalities you're dealing with.

For example, if you've invited five people over for a game night, chess and checkers (consummate two-player games) won't exactly fit the bill. Similarly, games like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan are decidedly less fun with fewer people. Get a bead on the average size of your playing crowd to figure out the scope of the games you should pick up.

After that, it's all a question of taste. I'm a huge fan of strategy games that allow for alliances between and among players, complete with the opportunity for timely betrayals and a little bit of playacting. These games tend to take a lot longer, though, so if you've got kids of friends with short attention spans, you might not get to finish what you started.

There's a good chance that you've played a game or two already with the people who are most likely to join you on this new board, so take a moment to think about who they are, how they act, and the environment in which you can best them.

The Board Goes Way Back

A lot of board games come with very poorly written instructions, no instructions at all, or instructions so complicated and convoluted as to make the preparations to play the game outlast the game itself. But board games are older than history, which means they're older than writing. So, really, not having written instructions on how to play a game is all part of the tradition.

But board games are older than history, which means they're older than writing.

One of the earliest prehistoric games is called Senet, and evidence of it dates back to Predynastic Egypt c. 3500 BCE. Other ancient games like Mehen (also Egyptian) or Go, from China, date back a similar number of years.

Millennia later, in the United States, games based on Christian morality hit the scene with titles like The Mansion of Happiness or The Siege of the Stronghold of Satan by the Christian Army. This was back in the middle of the 19th century, when advances in agricultural technologies and techniques allowed for an increase in leisure time among the fledgling middle class.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the middle class in America exploded for the first time, and, so, too, did the board game industry, with rags-to-riches titles like The Game of the District Messenger Boy and Monopoly. The popularity of these games remained a constant hum beneath the breadth of leisure activities in the country until rather recently. Since the 1990s, in particular, the board game industry has seen unprecedented growth from exciting new titles and crowdfunded hits, and the numbers continue to rise.

Melissa Harr
Last updated by Melissa Harr

Melissa Harr is a language-obsessed writer from Chicagoland who holds both a bachelor of arts and master of arts in English. Although she began as a TEFL teacher, earning several teaching certificates and working in both Russia and Vietnam, she moved into freelance writing to satisfy her passion for the written word. She has published full-length courses and books in the realm of arts & crafts and DIY; in fact, most of her non-working time is spent knitting, cleaning, or committing acts of home improvement. Along with an extensive knowledge of tools, home goods, and crafts and organizational supplies, she has ample experience (okay, an obsession) with travel gear, luggage, and the electronics that make modern life more convenient.

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