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The humble board game is one of the great enduring forms of social icebreaker and low-stakes party activity thanks to its ability to instantly spur our innate drive to collaborate and compete. In spite of the rise of mobile and computer gaming and every subsequent technological leap, board games continue to be a highly-valued bonding mechanism and a catalyst of group fun that historians have traced all the way back to about 3500 BC in Ancient Egypt. Whether your aim is to pass the time, stimulate your mind, get to know fellow participants better, or a little bit of all three, nothing can level the playing field and bring out peoples’ true colors face-to-face quite like a board game.
Many different products technically fall under the board game category, but for the sake of this guide, we’ll consider any tabletop game for two or more people that includes a dedicated playing surface or sets of playing cards. Since this is such a huge category with multiple variants to choose from, we’ll break down a few things to consider when you’re building your board game collection. All things considered, the board games for any household will offer years of enjoyment for your family, friends, and loved ones.
- Best for large groups: Telestrations
- Best for playing again and again: Carcassonne
- Best challenging board game: Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island
- Best for kids: CRANIUM Family Edition
- Best cooperative play: Catan The Board Game
- Best budget: The Game of Life
Things to consider when shopping for the best board games
The board game category is so wide and vast, but they all share the same basic principle of shaking up group dynamics and keeping people entertained. The way to choose the best board game for your needs will come down to the number of people you’re looking to play with, along with their ages and interests. Some players prefer a heftier challenge than others, and folks who have limited storage space should lean toward board games that offer high replay value.
How many players?
Half the reason for having a board game in your cabinet at the ready is so that you can break it out at the drop of a hat to shake up date night, or stave off boredom on weekends. Most board games can keep a range of three to five players occupied, but they can often be prohibitive in larger groups and can even make others feel excluded if the game doesn’t fit the group size.
Board games formatted for a large group tend to lean into “party” mechanics over strategy and logic, favoring quicker moves, a faster pace, and less waiting in between turns than traditional turn-based board games. Keeping players entertained is obviously a mandatory trait in a board game of any size and scale, but board games for a large group will include frequent and explosive bursts of activity that will ensure that players stay engaged, and not just entertained. There are many varieties of board game that cater to these large group settings, but not all are created equal. In our book, the best board game for a large group will seamlessly integrate into and facilitate the endurance of a lively party dynamic.
Best for large groups: Telestrations
Telestrations is designed to be an entertaining large-group icebreaker with games that last from between 30 to 60 minutes, featuring a system that’s similar to charades that leans heavily on guessing words and phrases. This version includes 1700 guess words and phrases, as well as eight dry, erase markers, sketchbooks, cleaning cloths, and one 60-second timer.
Do you plan to play it over and over?
Any board game can be enthralling and keep you entertained on the first playthrough, but it’s the second, third, and every subsequent game that will provide clear indicators of whether you’re getting value out of a board game. For an item that’s meant to bring people together and provide competitive recreation, replayability is a huge plus in determining whether a specific board game is worth the initial investment and the storage space required to keep it on hand.
Usually, a more complex strategy-style game with lots of moving parts may not be the most replayable, especially if it involves a lot of set up and explanation. Some complex games may also necessitate longer playtimes, sometimes spanning multiple days. On the other hand, a simpler game with fewer pieces and rules may be easy to explain, but too dull to warrant repeating often, especially if it’s based on competitive rounds. The most replayable board games will lie somewhere in the middle—they’ll be simple and flexible enough for anyone to play, but complex enough to hold your interest and provide a variety of different paths and outcomes.
Best for playing again and again: Carcassonne
Carcassonne is a fun and rewarding game that pits up to five players against each other to create an unending variety of dynamic boards. It’s a race to build roads, cities, monasteries, and more, with a game-time of around 30 to 45 minutes.
How complex do you want it to be?
While most people appreciate a moderate challenge at the game table, nobody wants to endure a constant and unending struggle, either. If you’re looking for a board game that provides a substantial challenge in a fair way, it’s important to pick a thoughtfully designed game that has a component of randomness—like rolling of dice or drawing of cards—and that requires players to place emphasis upon quick thinking and long-term strategy. The random events can help to even the playing field and keep things fair by ensuring that all players move according to the same act, and the long-term strategizing elements offer a challenging, yet stimulating, angle that allows players to sharpen their skills, improve over time, and compete with one another at a high level of intensity if they wish. In order for a more challenging board game of this type to keep its elevated pace and competitive energy, it should offer a number of options that allow players to build their best strategy without being so complex as to clog up the time between turns. Some harder games even take multiple days to finish, but if they’re designed well, even that can be a part of the fun.
Best challenging board game: Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island
This game is a survival strategy design that offers seven different scenarios and an entertaining story to spur players’ excitement and inspire persistence in the face of its many challenges. The set includes custom dice, wooden tokens, over 250 game cards, and four different classes of characters to choose from.
Are you playing with kiddos?
There’s a very wide spectrum here in the board game genre: a child under the age of five might not necessarily require a game be candy-themed to have fun, but they’ll probably prefer it over a game that requires players to invest in in-game real estate and pay taxes. Of course, some deal with even more intense themes that may not be appropriate for kids, from concepts like stealing and crime to simulations of warfare, so it’s extremely important to consider the manufacturers’ recommended player age as well as the personality and nature of the individual for whom the game is intended when buying a board game specifically for children to play.
While some are exclusively for kids, and others are for adults only, there’s a whole class of game that’s designed to keep but if your goal is to bring the family together, it’s essential to pick a game that’s designed to keep folks of all ages entertained. While many classic board games that have stood the test of time are designated by their manufacturers as appropriate for all ages, there are specific family board games that rely on simple rules and entertaining premises to cater to a wide range of ages and pit them against one another on an even playing field, which can result in some hilarious and memorable gameplay.
Best for kids: CRANIUM Family Edition
Cranium is a popular board game based upon unleashing a variety of cooperative and competitive activities upon players, and this all-ages version is a unique and fun way to spread that spirit to the whole family. From flipping frogs and stacking cubes to sculpting clay and answering trivia questions, this game has it all.
How about cooperative play?
Competing against your friends and family is a hallmark of board game design, and this good-natured back-and-forth does a lot to enhance your social bonds and form lasting, quality memories. Some classes of games take this effect to new heights by allowing players to create teams and collaborate with one another, which can add a significant new dimension to long-term strategies. Team play is a great alternative to the free-for-all aspect of most traditional board games because it can offset the potential stress of competition in some intense gameplay scenarios.
Beyond team play, some games offer mechanics that allow players to collaborate on a more nuanced and complex level through trading and optional sharing of resources. Games of this nature reward diplomacy and communication skills of each individual player, and allow alliances and bonds to form outside of the rigid and formal structure of an official team. This method of gameplay expands strategy beyond the game board itself and offers a way of leveling the playing field between players who are more detail-oriented or competitive and players who might opt for a friendlier or less mechanical strategy for winning.
Cooperative play is a trait to look for in a board game if players don’t know each other well or want to enjoy the experience of competing in a game without the same magnitude of adversity that a free-for-all game might deliver. Most styles do employ cooperative mechanics in some form, and if you’re looking to place emphasis on this mechanic, there are many options that encourage or even necessitate some level of collaboration and tact to secure victory. The other obvious upshot of this mechanic is that it can tame some of the more ruthless would-be competitors and encourage them to play nice.
Best cooperative play: Catan The Board Game
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Catan is a popular board game for ages 10 and up that requires players to build the most successful civilization on a semi-randomized board while coexisting and sharing space. This design relies on rolls of the dice and random encounters but requires players to collaborate for resources as well, making for a complex dynamic that players can alter at will.
Best board game brands to know
Board games are very similar to entertainment products in other industries because they’re meant to appeal to a vast range of players of different ages and different interests. Often, manufacturers specialize in specific genres of games, making it easier to pick one that appeals to your needs by looking at the manufacturer’s overall catalog. From games for kids to the best 2 player board games, for adults, and more, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for when you shop with these brands.
Portal Games is a Polish board game publishing company based in Knurów and founded in 1999. Their ethos is built around storytelling and fantasy, drawing heavy inspiration from books, movies, and RPGs. For providing games that feature a robust story component and offer players a wide range of options, Portal truly lives up to their name.
Hasbro is a multinational conglomerate based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A company with humble beginnings, Hasbro was founded in 1923 by three Polish-Jewish brothers and has since ballooned to a multibillion-dollar enterprise with assets in media, toys, and games. Over the years, Hasbro has acquired many classic game properties including Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.
USAopoly is a licensee of classic board game trademarks that focuses on specialized editions and reissues of established games. They acquired their first license for Monopoly in 1994 for the release of a San Diego edition of Monopoly. The company is currently based in Southern California and holds a portfolio of licenses that include Trivial Pursuit and Clue.
Best cheap board game: What you get for under $20
There are plenty of games available for under $20, but we found that this category consists largely of classic games. In this way, this price point can be a great way to expand your board game collection rapidly and ensure that you have some timeless party games on hand for whenever the mood strikes. The Game of Life, currently published by Hasbro, is a surefire family bet available on a budget that follows a time-tested formula for fun. Be aware that in this price range, games won’t be including high-quality wooden pieces, cards, and other materials that are easily found in other unique offerings.
A final word on shopping for the best board games
Keeping a few games on hand is a wise move if you’re looking for a way to occupy idle hours or entertain a group of family and friends to keep the spirit of a gathering alive. Since there are so many varieties that cater to different audiences and interests, focus on building a collection that’s as diverse and dynamic as the loved ones you want to play with. If you want to build a collection and you’ve found a game that you thoroughly enjoy, chances are that you’ll find another just like it by looking at the publisher’s full catalog.