We are living in the golden age of board games. From million-dollar Kickstarters to luxury big-box titles, board games have become the gaming industry's solution for analog fun. And while there are now hundreds — maybe thousands — of games worth your time and attention, we've done our best to cut through the noise and single out just a few of the games you might want to explore.
While this list should offer a wide variety of themes and mechanics, we have tried to err on the side of accessible titles. Most people searching for board game recommendations outside of established board game communities such as BoardGameGeek and Reddit are probably not quite ready to tackle a game of "Twilight Imperium" or "Brass: Birmingham." Therefore, with the rare exception, we have focused on a game with a "Medium" BoardGameGeek difficulty rating or lower.
Oh, and one last warning before we begin: Treat this list as a personal starting point for your own collection. As you play new games and explore new mechanics, you will respond to some systems better than others. Half the fun of playing board games is learning which types of games are best suited to your game nights, inevitably leading you to add more games with those mechanics to your personal collection.
And on that note, it's time to run down the 20 best board games available at a friendly local game shop near you.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 2
Reddit Community Ranking: 2
Legacy games are the long tracking shots of the board game world: You might find them everywhere these days, but the truly exceptional ones still stand out. There will always be something fun about making permanent changes to a board game. Even after a half-dozen play sessions, the decision to tear up cards or open sealed boxes can still feel like an act of cardboard revolution. That makes "Pandemic Legacy: Season 1" a force to be reckoned with for any group of players.
Building on the cooperative mechanics of the base game, "Pandemic Legacy: Season 1" presents you with a series of global pathogens threatening to lay waste to entire cities. Over the course of 12 months, your team must complete campaigns and adjust to an ever-evolving board and ruleset. Failed scenarios may not hold you back forever, but be careful: Disease and even character death lurk around every corner.
Those looking for even more "Pandemic Legacy" can also seek out the game's two sequels, each of which put a unique spin on the events of the first. In "Pandemic Legacy: Season 2," you and your ragtag group of survivors are looking to rebuild a broken civilization. In "Pandemic Legacy: Season 0," you trade hot zones for spycraft and investigate the Cold War-era medical research program that may have led to the events of "Season 1."
The Crew: The Quest For Planet Nine
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 41
Reddit Community Ranking: 22
Difficulty: Medium Light
Despite their popularity within the board game community, it takes a lot for me to fall in love with a trick-taking game. Too often, these games offer an unwieldy combination of theme and mechanics, resulting in a Hearts-like experience at 10 times the cost. What makes "The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine" so special, then, is not just the simple mechanics or the progressively complex missions. It's also how theme and design add to the experience of playing the game.
In "The Crew," you and a group of fellow astronauts take turns drawing task cards. Each card represents a card you need to collect throughout the round. From there, your team will play cards and collect tricks, using its limited communication options to convey to the other players when to be aggressive and when to let you make your move. Be warned, though: If even one player cannot complete a task, the mission is failed, and you begin again.
As the missions evolved and our pleading eyes went unheeded, my group quickly learned that "The Crew" packs a surprisingly complex punch for such a familiar concept. We also grew to love the bright, simple artwork of Marco Armbruster, which added a layer of retrofuturism to our space disasters. Sometimes, you have to credit a game for being the best possible version of what it is.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 33
Reddit Community Ranking: 62
Looking back, I think buying a copy of "Blood Rage" was the beginning of the end of my collection. Sure, I added a game to my shelf that was an instant hit with several friends, and the ensuing battles for blood and glory remain a highlight years later. But for all the happiness "Blood Rage" has created, it was also the game that lured me into the world of beefy miniatures. Once you've become addicted to high-quality pieces of plastic, no Kickstarter project seems entirely out of reach.
In "Blood Rage," you and your armies compete to control the provinces around Yggdrasil, the tree of life. Players must learn to manage their in-game currency — rage, natch — to spawn troops, upgrade resources, and even introduce game-breaking monsters to the board. Creatures like the Fire Giant or the Sea Serpent can swing the tide of battle and bring glory to your clan, but manage your resources poorly and you may die without glory when Ragnarok arrives.
As the first game in designer Eric Lang's mythic trilogy of games — which also includes "Rising Sun" and "Ankh: Gods of Egypt," both titles in the BoardGameGeek Top 500 — "Blood Rage" is an excellent introduction to modern game mechanics. And the various paths to victory also reward a variety of play styles, even (or especially) if your "play style" is just to collect the biggest and baddest miniatures on the board.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 132
Reddit Community Ranking: 96
Difficulty: Medium Light
Few games can match "Twilight Struggle" for pure two-player conflict. That game, which allows players to replay the Cold War between the United States and Russia, builds a diverse set of rules around historical events and evolves over several stages throughout the game. But while "Twilight Struggle" might be universally beloved, it also requires a tremendous amount of effort on the part of each player. Like most games, whichever player understands the rules best has a natural advantage over their opponent.
Thankfully, "Watergate" offers players a similar experience at a considerably lower barrier to entry. In "Watergate," players take either side of the famous presidential scandal — reporters on one, the Nixon administration on the other — and compete to unveil or cover up a scandal of presidential proportions. Unapologetically asymmetrical, the game is also steeped in theme, providing the same kind of history-as-theater elements that worked so well for "Twilight Struggle," too.
Will the editorial team fail to connect the Nixon administration back to the Watergate scandal? Will Nixon's attempts to cover up his own misconduct be thwarted by the power of journalism? "Watergate" gives you every chance to bend history to your will, nestling America's most infamous scandal in a kind of uncanny valley of historical politics. But at half the difficulty and a third the playtime, "Watergate" is not so much a "Twilight Struggle" replacement as it is a welcome alternative to the industry's reigning wargame champion.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 100
Reddit Community Ranking: 54
In 2018, data scientist Dinesh Vatvani discovered a clear correlation between the weight of a game and its overall score on BoardGameGeek. Simply, people give higher ratings to more complicated games. To compensate for this bias, Vatvani applied a regression model to the list and shared his findings on his personal website. Lo and behold, the new ranking named "Codenames," the popular social deduction party game, as the second-best board game of all time.
In "Codenames," you and your friends break into teams of spymasters and field operatives. From there, you build a 5x5 grid of words and use a key to identify which words each team must guess. Each spymaster then shares a one-word clue and a number to indicate the hidden word(s) on the board for their operatives. Once a team has correctly guessed their words or accidentally uncovered the assassin card, the game ends.
Winner of the 2016 Spiel des Jahres award, "Codenames" has earned its spot in the tabletop pantheon by offering a consistently fun experience for groups of all sizes. If you grew up playing games of "Taboo" in your household and wish you could take that gameplay experience to the next level, then "Codenames" may be a perfect addition to your board game collection. At the cost of a movie ticket, it honestly might be the most bang you'll ever get for your board game buck.
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 35
Reddit Community Ranking: 79
From movie theaters to video games, our media is awash in superhero stories. But for those raised on a healthy diet of comic books, the ability to create your own tales, to wage wars in your head, and to argue power rankings with friends and family was always part of the fun. And that's what makes "Marvel Champions: The Card Game" so appealing: We get to retake control of our friendly neighborhood crime-fighters.
In "Marvel Champions," players will take on the roles of their favorite superheroes and use a combination of powers and allies to defeat their enemies. The cards you select and the order they are shuffled into your hand will determine your success in advancing through the game. But unlike "Arkham Horror: The Card Game" and other deck-building games, the complexity has been pared down for less experienced audiences. The result is a game that offers variable gameplay without unnecessary confusion.
Like other Living Cards Games (LCGs), "Marvel Champions" does away with the randomness of booster packs and introduces new heroes and villains through a series of scheduled expansions. The core game lets you choose between Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and She-Hulk, but new add-ons will let you play as everyone from Doctor Strange to Drax the Destroyer. This makes "Marvel Champions" a strong choice for the blossoming board gamer or Marvel fan in your household.
Raiders Of The North Sea
- BoardGameGeek Ranking: 92
- Reddit Community Rating: N/A
- Difficulty: Medium
I can't say with any degree of certainty that I've ever won a worker placement game. Sure, I've moved my fair share of meeples over the past decade, and the ongoing boom of app store board games has made it easier than ever to try a little bit of everything. But when push comes to shove, I will always be more interested in building the most satisfying little economic engine than doing the necessary things to score victory points.
So if I'm going to lose, I want to lose in style. "Raiders of the North Sea," a Viking-themed worker placement game, offers people like me an alluring balance of theme and choices. Players take turns selecting actions and launching raids on neighboring settlements; as the game unfolds, the raid requirements become increasingly complex, requiring players to make essential tradeoffs in the management of the resources. Three separate end-game triggers also mean players have a welcome degree of control over when to start wrapping things up on their boards.
Colorful designs and the fun feeling of worker placement "combat" combine to make "Raiders of the North Sea" an enormously engaging game and the relative simplicity of the rulebook – seven pages! – only adds to that appeal. Plus, "Raiders of the North Sea" translates particularly well to platforms like Tabletopia, making it easy to play board games online with friends from far away. Losing has never felt this good.
Mansions Of Madness (Second Edition)
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 39
Reddit Community Rating: N/A
When it comes to serial board game content, nobody holds a candle to Fantasy Flight Games. The publishing giant owns the rights to several major film and book properties, including an embarrassment of riches in both the Marvel and Star Wars universes. But even with its murders' row of intellectual properties, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired games remain the company's creative bread and butter.
If you have played any version of the Arkham Horror Files — a collection of Lovecraft-themed board games that includes titles like "Arkham Horror" and "Elder Sign" — then you are already familiar with the basics. Players take on the role of private investigators, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and potential for madness. As you and your allies work to solve the mystery, you will find yourself confronted by all kinds of horrible creations from beyond the void.
One of the most significant updates to this game is the addition of app-assisted gameplay. Fantasy Flight is no stranger to app-based content — "Descent: Legends of the Dark" recently ditched its DM-like overlord role in favor of a virtual moderator — and this change allows players to focus on the fun stuff, aka investigating rooms and fleeing from monsters. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Arkham Horror universe and just want to get your elder gods on, this remains one of the best introductions to the property.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 4
Reddit Community Ranking: 18
Confession time: I own "Terraforming Mars." I've had a copy in my collection for the past four years. And yet, in all that time, I've never quite managed to get my butt to mars. When you are responsible for organizing your board game nights, there are always games that are easier to teach and faster to play. So, while I will continue to page through the rulebook and tinker with the app version of the game, I feel like I have yet to truly experience one of the best board games of all time.
In "Terraforming Mars," players take on the role of corporations racing to bring a dead planet to life. Over several generations, you will work to complete projects, improve the global parameters — temperature, oxygen, and ocean — and ultimately stake your claim as the financial power behind the future of Mars. While player interactions may be more limited than in some of the other titles on this list, the details inherent in building the perfect little economic engine provide endless complexity and variety.
For those looking for a more contemporary version of "Terraforming Mars," the "Ares Expansion" was released in 2021 and offers players a standalone, card-based variation on the original game. This makes it a strong alternative for newer players, especially given the original game's reputation as being mechanically perfect but aesthetically, uh, a little rough around the edges.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 22
Reddit Community Ranking: 57
Difficulty: Medium Light
Over the past two decades, gamers have lumped most titles into one of two broad categories. On the one hand, you have American-style board games that heavily favor the theme and often introduce an element of luck to much of their decision-making. On the other hand, there are Eurogames, board games that abstract out their subject matter in favor of precise, predictable mechanics. Each has its place, and the best games — in my opinion, anyways — find a fascinating balance between the two sides.
Given that most Eurogames are inherently a bit more complex than their American counterparts, it's rare for one of those titles to become a board game superstar. But Elizabeth Hargrave's "Wingspan," a light Eurogame that pays homage to the designer's love of birdwatching, is the exception that may have just shattered the rule. "Wingspan" is everywhere, selling over a million copies and appearing on even the most casual best board games lists online.
In "Wingspan," players take turns building their aviary by balancing the birds, food, and eggs on their player boards. Managing resources is critical — each type of bird requires a slightly different diet, and balancing your resources ensures that you can keep one foot (bird?) ahead of your neighbors. With dynamic artwork and a little real-world knowledge on each card, you may find that "Wingspan" is a gateway game into birdwatching proper, too.
Race For The Galaxy
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 68
Reddit Community Ranking: 37
The current generation of deck-building games can sometimes feel a little off the mark for those raised on customizable card games like "Star Wars" or "Magic: The Gathering." Sure, there is no shortage of games that replicate the experience of drawing power-ups and battling enemies, but part of the fun of CCGs was also the experience of building the perfect little economic engine. Thankfully, "Race for the Galaxy" exists for those who want a little Euro flair in their deck-building experiences.
In "Race for the Galaxy," two players take on the roles of competing civilizations. Each turn, you and your opponent will complete a series of actions, expanding your intergalactic presence or adding new technologies to your empire. Whether your civilization is peaceful or warlike is up to you, but like any good engine-building game, how you respond to an evolving collection of resources will determine the odds of your success.
If all of this seems just a touch too complicated — or if you prefer your tabletop experiences to come with a healthy side of dice — then you might also want to check out "Roll for the Galaxy," an alternate version of the game that runs on a six-sided mechanic system. But whichever version you pick it up, it is a testament to Thomas Lehmann's design that a game released in 2007, an eternity ago in board game years, can still compete with the big boys a decade-plus later.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 57
Reddit Community Ranking: 43
Difficulty: Medium Light
Since 1978, the most significant honor for board game designers has been the Spiel des Jahres. This annual award, handed out by a panel of German board game critics, is the industry's equivalent of an Academy Award. A win can often boost sales of a game from tens of thousands to millions of copies worldwide. But unlike the Academy Awards, where success and relevance rarely go hand-in-hand, games that win the Spiel des Jahres often remain an essential part of the gaming lexicon for years to come.
In "Azul," you and other artists have been summoned to the Royal Palace of Evora to add decorative tiles to the home of the king. Players will take turns selecting tiles from the Factory displays — the shared pool of tiles in the middle of the table — and place those tiles on their individual player boards. The goal is to fill up your pattern lines with similar sets of colors, allowing you to move them over to the wall and score permanent points for your evolving decorations.
If the mechanics feel something like an 8-bit puzzle game, well, that's all part of the appeal. There may come a day when a game designer creates a better version of "Azul" — like many games, its transformation of a single mechanic leaves it open to evolution somewhere down the line — but for now, "Azul" remains one of the gold standards of gateway games.
Star Wars: Rebellion
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 8
Reddit Community Ranking: 19
Difficulty: Medium Heavy
Recently, I learned that two of my friends had banned asymmetrical games in their household. While this couple maintains a steady diet of two-player games, years of marriage had taught them that games with divergent skill sets and starting conditions only led to real-world grudges. So naturally, as an empathetic and supportive person, my goal is now to get them to play "Star Wars: Rebellion" against each other and enjoy the violence that spills over from the tabletop.
"Star Wars: Rebellion" is arguably the most ambitious "Star Wars" game from Fantasy Flight, the publishing powerhouse that manages everything from the "Descent" series to the "Arkham Horror" titles. In "Rebellion," your group of players splits into two sides: One team plays the Rebel Alliance while the other team plays the Empire. The Empire spends its turns scouring the galaxy for the Rebels' hidden base; meanwhile, the Rebels engage in card-based guerilla warfare, doing their best to stay alive until the turn counter begins to work in their favor.
Birthed from the mind of designer Corey Konieczka, whose "Twilight Imperium" remains the gold standard of 4X games, "Rebellion" should be an appealing title to anyone who likes wargames almost as much as they enjoy the "Star Wars" movies. Just be warned: A game of "Star Wars: Rebellion" will run you a minimum of three or four hours, making this a sizable time commitment for you and your soon-to-be-unloved one(s).
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 93
Reddit Community Ranking: 59
Difficulty: Medium Light
Part of what makes board games so much fun is the variety of themes available to players. Want to be the ruler of an intergalactic empire and spend hours bringing your enemies to their knees through a lethal combination of violence and diplomacy? You can do that. Want to ... collect buttons and make a quilt? You can do that too — and when journalists and designers list their favorite games, no one will be surprised to see the quilt game and the space game ranked equally high.
So, whether you need a gateway game or a simple change of pace, "Patchwork" is a game that deserves your attention. In this two-player game, you and your opponent will take turns pulling fabric swatches to complete your quilt. To succeed, you must balance the game's two currencies — time and buttons — and be ready to block your opponent from getting the perfect piece, even if it means your quilt will be a little threadbare for the next few turns.
And if you read the above description and wanted even more coziness from "Patchwork," you're in luck. With special Christmas- and Halloween-themed editions of the game, "Patchwork" offers a mixture of seasonal aesthetics that make it the perfect cold-weather play for you and a friend. Plus, the new "Americana Edition" released in 2020 can be found for under $20 from most online retailers, making it a no-risk addition to any board game collection.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 24
Reddit Community Ranking: N/A
Has a movie release ever resulted in this many good board game adaptations? Over the past year, three new games — "Dune: Imperium," Gale Force Nine's "Dune," and the "Dune: Adventures in the Imperium" role-playing game — have been released to strong reviews that praise both their themes and mechanics. And while both "Dune" and "Dune: Adventures in the Imperium" promise intense dives into the series' mythology, it is "Dune: Imperium" that might have the most significant impact on your board game group.
In "Dune: Imperium," players take on the various factions from Frank Herbert's book. With a wealth of actions available to you — but a limited number of agents with which to perform them — you will spend most of the game attempting to squeeze every drop of influence and intrigue from your hand of cards. Helping or hurting you along the way is the combat phase, which sees you vie for additional resources by carving a path straight through your opponent(s).
While "Dune: Imperium" may not have the polish of other titles on this list, the unique combination of two popular game mechanics — worker placement and deck-building — allows the whole to be better than the sum of the parts. This might be a game to replace "Game of Thrones" or "Lords of Waterdeep" in your collection, if only because "Dune: Imperium" is easier to teach and has a variety of different mechanics anchored to a world your group already knows and loves.
Gloomhaven: Jaws Of The Lion
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 101
Reddit Community Ranking: 79
Difficulty: Medium Heavy
While this list focuses on titles with more accessible gameplay, I'd be foolish not to make space for some version of "Gloomhaven." My group has already put about 40 hours into the primary campaign, and each session leaves me ready for countless more. But with a 20-pound box and a campaign that runs for upwards of 200 hours, it is a challenging game to recommend to anyone, let alone less-experienced players.
So, let's compromise. "Gloomahven: Jaws of the Lion" is a streamlined, standalone version of "Gloomhaven" that captures many of the game's best mechanics without the hours of set-up. In "Jaws of the Lion," you and your party will explore the streets of the title city, delving deep into dungeons and fighting monsters through the game's signature card-based combat system. The inventive dual use of the campaign guide — each page of the booklet doubles as the scenario map — takes the sting out of the scenario set-up.
If "Gloomhaven" is an RPG in a box, then "Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion" is an RPG-in-a-box in a box. This game evokes the sensation of sandbox dungeon crawling with reasonable bumpers in place. And while the original "Gloomhaven" may cost you upwards of $120 to bring to the table, "Jaws of the Lion" can be found for $40 at any Target near you. It might still be the most complicated game on this list, but at that price point, it's absolutely worth the risk.
7 Wonders Duel
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 16
Reddit Community Ranking: 28
Difficulty: Medium Light
Like many tabletop fans, "7 Wonders" was one of the first grown-up board games I ever played. I had just moved to a new city and was looking for a way to meet new people; before long, I found myself at a weekly neighborhood meet-up immersed in games of "Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game" and "7 Wonders." But what works best as a multiplayer game has been pared down to two-player elegance with "7 Wonders Duel," a modified (and improved) version of the original title.
In "7 Wonders Duel," two civilizations clash for cultural supremacy. Players take turns adding buildings to their empire, each of which adds some combination of resources or victory conditions to their realm. While most games can and will be won by accumulating victory points, "Duel" also features two instant-win conditions. If a player ever achieves military or scientific domination over their opponent, the game ends instantly. This means that players must balance the success of their own civilization engine against the needs of their enemy.
Like most resource management games, "Duel" certainly benefits from multiple playthroughs; the better you and your opponent know the most beneficial patterns and combinations of buildings, the sooner you can get to the real meat of strategy and gamesmanship. But even on the first or second time out, "Duel" offers enough variety to keep even the most inexperienced player on the hook.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 154
Reddit Community Ranking: 98
Bluffing in board games will never get old. Whether you're manipulating a hidden player board or just lying about the cards you have in your hand, the opportunity to look your loved one in the eye and lie with all your heart is part of what makes the tabletop experience great. And few games have managed to tap into the rush of betrayal quite as well as "Cosmic Encounter," a multiplayer scrum of space domination.
In "Cosmic Encounter," each player assumes the role of an alien civilization. Each turn, a player will identify an opposing colony and expand their presence aggressively throughout the galaxy using a combination of cards and unique player powers. With players drawing from the same deck of resource cards, battle outcomes are often just the right balance of posturing and chance.
While "Cosmic Encounter" may not have the sharpest mechanics or the most satisfying minis, it has endless opportunities for interpersonal conflict. This is the perfect zero-sum outcome game; every move you make against an opponent means more space for you and less room for them. Therefore, when (and where) you choose to partner with your opponents makes a massive difference in the game's outcome. Plus, with an endgame that allows for multiple winners, the grievances you carry from a game of "Cosmic Encounter" are sure to last a very, very long time.
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 101
Reddit Community Ranking: 79
Difficulty: Medium Light
Suppose you have even a passing knowledge of the board game industry. In that case, you probably know that "Codenames" is a titan of crowd-pleasing party games. But what you might not know is that "Codenames" does not currently hold the top spot in that category on BoardGameGeek. Instead, that honor now belongs to "Decrypto," a rules-light title that pits two teams against each other in code-based social deduction.
"Decrypto" begins with each group randomly choosing four keyword cards. These words are the key to passing a message to the rest of your team; once a turn, players will draw code cards with digits that match the slots on the keyword reader. To get your own team to guess the sequence, you will write clues on a piece of paper, but if your clues are too easy to decipher, the opposing team will hone in on the concept behind each keyword, making it easier for them to crack your code.
Like "Codenames" or "Taboo," "Decrypto" is a game of balancing information with clues. The game mechanics walk a fine line between saying too much and saying too little, allowing teams to rely upon verbal prowess — and, let's be honest, a healthy dose of private jokes — to secure victory. That makes "Decrypto" a celebration of the subjective nature of language and the kind of game you can break out with any large gathering of friends and family.
The Resistance: Avalon
BoardGameGeek Ranking: 146
Reddit Community Ranking: 99
Difficulty: Medium Light
Raise your hand if you learned the power of bluffing from "The Resistance." Like many other board game players, the original "Resistance" — a hidden-role game set in a dystopian future — was my introduction to the mechanic of productive lies. But it is that game's Arthurian cousin that offers the most longevity in terms of social deduction and outright hostility among large groups of friends.
Much like the original "Resistance," "The Resistance: Avalon" operates through deception and democracy. Arthur and his knights need to complete quests to win the game, but the minions of Mordred are working to infiltrate the ranks of our heroes. While players will have the opportunity to vote on those who participate in these quests, even one failed quest vote can cause calamity. Plus, with the advanced character roles and their extraordinary powers, games of "Avalon" take on an extra degree of strategy.
Is "The Resistance: Avalon" still the best use of hidden roles in a social deduction game? Maybe not. But is it still the gold standard of light, teachable games that encourage people to engage with board games beyond their standard misconceptions of the industry? You better believe it. If werewolves or Hitlers is not your jam, or if you want a degree of character customization that those other games do not provide, then "The Resistance: Avalon" is the game for you.
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