Right now we’re all sheltering in place. Or had better be. A good way to stay mentally engaged and have fun is to play board games! Once the lockdowns get lifted, well, it’s still fun.
Choosing a Board Game
As serious gamers, here are some of our recommendations on how to find good board games.
- Decide what type of game you want to play. Are there kids involved? Are people going to rage quit, and why? How long do you want to play? How important is replay value? What balance of luck vs. strategy are you interested in? Do you want the game to be competitive or cooperative? How much space do you have?
- Check out Board Game Geek for recommendations on the best board games, as ranked by players. They will describe game play and give you information on if this game is what you’re looking for. That link also goes to their list of top-ranked games of all time which is pretty useful!
- Check out recommendations online by Googling “Games like [game you already like].” There are tons of helpful lists out there brought to you by nerds like us.
- Buy board games on clearance if you’re looking for a cheap buy. We found some really great games on clearance. Some places to buy board games include Amazon, Miniature Market, Kickstarter, and the maker’s website. Use https://www.boardgameprices.com/ to compare prices.
- Consider playing board games online. Our recommendations are Board Game Arena for multiplayer games with people around the world and Dominion (just one game, but a very good game with tons of expansions). Tabletopia also has some games that Board Game Arena doesn’t. Other options here: https://mykindofmeeple.com/play-modern-board-games-online/.
- Secret Hitler. It’s the best mafia-style game, period. If not, Avalon is okay.
- Wits & Wagers. You try to guess the answers to questions you are not expected to know (like when did an obscure technology get invented) and place bets on whose answer is right. It comes with poker-style chips and is a lot of fun.
- Coup. You have two cards and announce what you’re doing. Everyone else has to guess whether you have the card that allows it, and if not, do they want to risk calling you on it. Last one standing wins.
- My Word. Deal cards onto the table. The cards have letters, grab them when you spot a word.
- Boggle. You know Boggle. A 4×4 grid of cubes with letters on them, you shuffle them and the winner is whoever finds the most/longest words.
- Set. Each card has a number of shapes with a color and a shading. A set is any three cards where each attribute is either all the same or one of each. Often used by college math clubs in place of name tags to force the kind of people who go to math clubs to talk to each other.
- Scotland Yard. All players vs. one player. Those playing Scotland Yard narrow down the location of “Mr. X” on a map of London using their limited supply of Metro, Bus, and Taxi tokens.
- Codenames. The board is a spread of words, mostly random nouns. Each team has one “spymaster,” and the spymasters have a key representing which word belongs to which team. They state one-word clues that hint at as many of their words as possible while avoiding the other team’s words, random red herrings, and the one instant loss word.
- Zendo. Played with a set of plastic pyramids. One player invents a rule. (“No larger pyramid is stacked on top of a smaller one.” “At least one blue pyramid is sideways.” “All pieces form a contiguous shape.”) Others set up their own examples, receive yes and no answers, and try to guess the rule. If you wanted to you could play this with whatever you have lying around (“an odd number of spoons are facing down”).
Things Serious Gamers Consider Party Games (basically Less Complex Games)
- Small World. Start with Risk but without the dice. You are playing as a fantasy race, limited mostly by population numbers. You conquer and hold what you can, and eventually your race goes into decline. Replace it with the next race.
- Hanabi (cooperative). You see everyone’s cards except your own. The goal is to play all the cards (green one, yellow three, etc.) in order from one to five. The main limited resource is what information you can tell other players.
- Fuse (cooperative). Roll a lot of dice, and everyone grabs at the ones they need. Cards say things like “any four dice, in increasing order” or “two fives.” Each player has two cards at a time, and the goal is to get through a fixed number in ten minutes.
- 7 Wonders. Whatever resource cards your civilization plays are available to you and, if they want to pay you money, players beside you. Use them for buildings, technology, stages of your Wonder, and a military if you’re shortsighted.
- Lords of Waterdeep. Players alternate placing minions on the board. Everyone is choosing from the same available spaces, but the space that rewards you with one white cube may be better or worse than the one that earns you two orange, depending on what goal cards you’re working toward.
- Clank!. You are adventurers trying to burgle a dragon hoard. Everyone starts with the same movement, burglary, and Clank! cards. Anything that gives you a Clank! (exclamation point not optional) adds one of your cubes to the who-does-the-dragon-attack-next bag. Those get drawn at random.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill (mostly cooperative). Players investigate the spooky house, flipping over tiles representing rooms. Spookiness occurs. Eventually one player becomes/gets controlled by/is revealed to have always been the thing haunting the house. They look up their new win condition and others look up how to fight it.
- Love Letter (and expansions and variants). You have one card. Each will do different things, like force an opponent to discard, lose the game if you ever discard it, or allow you to guess an opponent’s card. On your turn you draw a second and play one. Winner is the last one standing or whoever has the highest card at the end.
- Dominion. The base game is solid and about fair deck building with a predetermined set of cards. During COVID lockdowns, the website has free expansion packs as well. After you play it enough, it becomes more reflex than game.
More Complex Cooperative Games
- Pandemic. If you really want to stay on-theme. You are the CDC trying to cure diseases without letting them spread out of control.
- Spirit Island. Conquistadors are colonizing your island. You are the godlike spirits they probably don’t believe in, trying to kill them or scare them off. It’s both a deck-building and piece placement game.
- Flatline. Sequel to Fuse. Unlike Fuse, everyone has their own dice but the goal cards are shared. A goal card might need a blue and an orange from two different people, or just one of anything from each player.
- Zombicide. Move through a post-apocalypse one room at a time. Zombies are predictable but outnumber you. Comes with cool miniatures.
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (and sequels). You are the Baker Street Irregulars. Instead of a board, there’s a street map of London and a case booklet of what the witness at each address tells you. Solve ten fair play mysteries from information in the day’s case or earlier ones.
- Albion’s Legacy. Explore Albion by flipping random hex tiles, looking for the parts you need for your quest. Comes with cool art, and the game is impressively well researched. Everything from the characters’ personal storylines to the names of the locations is from Arthurian legends.
- Sentinels of the Multiverse. Deck-building game where you play as superheroes. Gameplay is pretty forced; you usually don’t have many choices that could go either way. But the best part is the contextless quotes from the (nonexistent) comic books about each character.
More Complex Competitive Games
- Feast for Odin. Another civilization-building game. The main gameplay element is piece placement like Waterdeep, but the game is bigger than that. You have to balance scoring points by exploring, building, or plundering against having enough food for the feast.
- Hyperborea. Each civilization has a different overarching strategy—military might, exploration speed, population numbers, science. Any two games can be very different depending on who’s playing what, but it’s well balanced enough to stay even.
- Through the Ages. Reminiscent of Sid Meier’s Civilization in board game form. Complicated enough that the rule book has a rule book.
- War of the Ring. Two players, one for each “side” of the Lord of the Rings. It’s supposed to be very well researched, so that each game is an alternate history of how the War of the Ring could have gone.
- Sidereal Confluence. Distribute resource cubes wherever you think is the best investment. Cards you play give you more options. Use someone else’s card for a price.
Long Campaign Games (especially good for quarantine): these are meant to be played as a story-line over several sessions.
- Gloomhaven. Hands down the best game to play while curve-flattening. Cooperative and gloriously complicated.
- Pandemic Legacy One & Two. This is a very on-theme game about stopping a global pandemic. Season One starts like the normal Pandemic board game, then the disasters start. What you do affects what happens the next in-game month. Try to do better than the U.S. government. Season two is…well, spoilers.
- The 7th Continent. Choose-your-own-adventure as a board game. You are 19th-century explorer types trying to stop being cursed.
- Dungeons & Dragons. It’s D&D.
- Betrayal Legacy. Betrayal at House on the Hill, but instead of playing an investigator you play as the latest in one of the family lines. You are likely to run into the ghosts of whoever lost earlier games.