Board games have long been a part of family fun by bringing every member of the family into an entertaining but challenging contest. The various types of board games vary greatly, which can be exciting if you like to experiment with different kinds of strategy. However, if you prefer a certain type of board game and are not interested in trying something different, then you can also seek out board games in that same category.
The best board games for you, your family, and your friends are ones that encourage fun, competition, teamwork and that also pose a challenge. Keep in mind, though, that everyone will have their own board game preferences, so what is challenging to one person may not be to another person. Be sure to choose the best board game for the entire group, so everyone is in on the enjoyment. Take a look below at some of the best board games on the market in a variety of categories to find one that will make your game night a success.
- BEST OVERALL: Pandemic
- BEST ABSTRACT: Classic Game Collection Metal Chess Set
- BEST AREA CONTROL: Ares Games War of The Ring 2nd Edition
- BEST CAMPAIGN/LEGACY: Risk Legacy Game
- BEST ENGINE-BUILDER: Catan The Board Game
- BEST HIDDEN TRAITOR: Bezier Games One Night Ultimate Werewolf
- BEST ROLL-AND-WRITE: Stronghold Games That’s Pretty Clever
- BEST ROLL-AND-MOVE: The Game of Life Board Game
- BEST STORYTELLING: Atlas Once Upon A Time 3rd Ed
- BEST WAR GAME: Days of Wonder Memoir ’44
Popular Types of Board Games
Board games are available in a wide variety of types, including abstract, area control, campaign/legacy, engine-builder, hidden traitor, roll-and-move, roll-and-write, storytelling, and wargame.
Abstract board games involve straightforward gameplay and are typically player versus player. These games rely on skill over luck, meaning you can’t win the game with a lucky dice roll. Chess and checkers both fall into this category of board game that forces each player to make a move according to the rules, with nothing but strategy and skill.
This type of board game does not usually have a theme. Instead, abstract board games have a simple set of rules which direct players to compete in an increasingly complex challenge against each other. Go and Connect Four are two more examples of this game genre.
Area control board games can fall into several other categories, including campaign/legacy, engine-builder, and war. In this type of board game, the objective is to strategically use your resources to take over portions of the game board, with the end goal very often being complete dominion over the entire board.
These board games will often take more time to play than the average board game because each player must build up resources and battle to a singular conclusion. There is also the option to extend gameplay if more players are added to the game. Examples of area control board games include Risk, War of the Ring, and Tikal.
Campaign/legacy board games are a relatively new type of board game that allows you to continue playing through a changing and adapting campaign. This style of board game can fall into almost any game genre, with the only real requirement being that the game must feature permanent changes between play.
For example, in Risk Legacy—the game that is known to have sparked the campaign/legacy genre—you and your fellow gamers play a Risk campaign to its end, and the victor receives bonus upgrades the next time you all play. Once you play the game for a longer period of time, it naturally introduces full world scenarios that can increase or decrease the difficulty, depending on how successful you have been in previous campaigns. Pandemic Legacy is another popular option in this genre.
An engine-builder board game is typified by a slow build-up of a system or engine to generate resources, money, or points for the purpose of growing an empire, colony, or some other form of collective civilization. The goal of these board games is to have the most successful colony, which is measured in a variety of ways, including overall strength or power at the end of the game, elimination, or possibly a race to a designated point level. Like area control board games, engine-builder board games take time, so expect to spend at least an hour or two playing this type of game. Examples of engine-builder board games include Settlers of Catan, Suburbia, and Terraforming Mars.
Hidden traitor board games are a popular option for large groups of people because you can usually expand or shrink the number of players very easily just by adding or subtracting necessary character roles. The premise behind hidden traitor games is that the majority of the group is working together against a small group of players, or even against just one player, except that the good guys don’t know who the bad guys are.
These board games are typically very fast-paced and have a high level of replayability; however, they may create conflicts with more competitive players who get hung up on the lies and subterfuge instead of having fun. Examples of hidden traitor board games include The Resistance, Saboteur, and Werewolf.
Roll-and-move board games have been a regular part of game night for a long time. This style of game includes one or more dice that a player rolls during his or her turn. The roll then directs the movement of the piece or pieces depending on the game.
This style of game often earns a bad reputation because the gameplay can feel limited when you have to follow the results from a random roll of the dice. However, some roll-and-move games give you the option to choose which piece moves and can contain some degree of strategy. For example, Monopoly is a roll-and-move game that has a straightforward mechanic: Roll the dice and move the indicated space. On the other hand, Backgammon is a roll-and-move game that lets you combine the dice to move one piece or split the dice to move multiple pieces a shorter distance than the combined roll.
Roll-and-write board games are another style of game that has been around for quite some time. For instance, Yahtzee is a roll-and write-game that was first created in 1956. The basic qualifications for a game to be in the roll-and-write category are that you roll one or more dice during your turn and then record the results.
In Yahtzee, you roll the dice and place the resulting numbers into scoring brackets. Similarly, in That’s Pretty Clever, you roll the dice and choose from the results to create a high scoring pattern; however, any smaller dice that you do not use can be used by the other competitors, making it equally difficult to choose which dice you want to keep and which dice you want to leave for everyone else. This style of game goes relatively quickly, with most games played within an hour or less.
Storytelling board games are less focused on a typical winner and more focused on telling a compelling story. These games are heavy on creativity and player involvement, so if you have a less outgoing crowd, it may be difficult to move the game along.
The average storytelling game is filled with problem-solving challenges to help engage the players in the fictional world in which they are ‘living,’ and these games tend to take a few hours to play or even multiple gaming sessions if the story is long and detailed enough. Examples of popular storytelling board games include Once Upon A Time, Above and Below, and Gloom.
War board games are exactly as they sound: Board games with a war theme. These games can exist in just about any board game genre as long as the basic theme of the game is based on war. This concept can range from Viking clans in Blood Rage to Jedis in Star Wars Rebellion, though one of the most popular war games ever is Risk.
Typical war board games will fall into engine-builder, campaign/legacy, and area control categories, where the theme of war is readily available to explain why you are fighting for resources or territories against other players. These games can last a very long time, depending on the game and the players involved.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Board Game
Before choosing the best board game for game night, take a few minutes to educate yourself on the most important shopping considerations to keep in mind.
Number of Players
If you are looking to pick up a new board game for you and your partner, then find a game you can play with just two people so you don’t have to find another player to join you every time you want to play. On the other hand, if you are part of a family with children or you frequently host games nights at your home, seek out games that many people can play at once.
Check the board game instructions and suggestions to learn both the minimum required number of players and the maximum allowed number of players. Board games can range from one to 10 in the number of players, so look for a game that suits the number of players you have, so that no one is left out, and you can play the game correctly.
Cooperative vs. Competitive
Depending on the type of game, you may be cooperating with other players to reach a shared goal or to overcome a shared obstacle, or you may be competing against other players. A third option is the hidden traitor game, where the majority of the group is working together against the remaining group members, making it both a cooperative and a competitive game style. Within these games, there is also a distinction between direct competition and indirect competition.
- Direct competition occurs when players compete directly against each other. For instance, in chess, you use game pieces to attempt to take the opponent’s king, while in the game Risk, you use your army to attack, destroy, and invade territories owned by other players.
- Indirect competition occurs when players work towards a task or a goal, either individually or cooperatively. In this style of competition, players do not actively attack each other, but they do compete for other items, like real estate (Monopoly), resources (Settlers of Catan), and railroad routes (Ticket to Ride).
Before buying a new game, consider the players who you have in mind to play it with you. Some players are less interested in complex games that involve economic strategies, complicated checks and balances, or incredibly challenging problems, while others live for these games. Children and some adults may prefer a game with very simple instructions—even if the gameplay can become complex—like board games typically found in the abstract category. Keep in mind that as the complexity of the game increases, the time it takes to play will also increase.
When playing a board game, you may need to add your own ideas to the game to make it more personal and replayable. Games like this are typically in the storytelling and hidden traitor genres, but some board games from other genres can also include elements of personal creativity.
As with most board game decisions, you need to consider the kind of players you will have playing a game when it comes to creativity as well. Some people prefer to let the game do all the work, following a set list of rules to an expected—yet competitive—outcome, while others are excited to add their own creative spin to a collaborative adventure.
The rules of a game are necessary to understand how to play the game, and they are a big factor in determining whether or not you will ultimately enjoy a board game. Simple, straightforward rules are easy to read, understand, and communicate. They are also much easier to refer back to if someone forgets them. The only downside to simple rules is if they are too simple for the players, it can cause the game to quickly become boring.
However, overly complicated rules are rarely appreciated by anyone. They tend to take a lot of time for even one person to read and understand, sometimes even taking longer than playing the game. After one person has fully understood the rules, they then need to teach them to everyone else, which can become so time-consuming that players end up frustrated rather than enjoying the game.
Unless you know your game night group really enjoys overly simple or overly complicated board games, avoid these ends of the spectrum and settle on a game with understandable yet challenging rules.
Many people would say that every board game has some type of strategy, and that may be true to some extent. Even a roll-and-write game like Yahtzee requires you to make some strategic decisions about what to do with your dice, or a roll-and-move game like Sorry gives you the option of which piece to move.
However, strategy in board games should be viewed on a scale. Some board games require very little strategy—relying primarily on luck—like those typically seen in the roll-and-write and roll-and-move genres. Games that are high on strategy will force players to direct the course of action in the game, such as in chess, where no chance in the form of dice or drawn cards is involved. Other games may incorporate a moderate level of strategy but also use drawn cards to introduce an element of luck.
Themes are a great way to engage people in a board game, and many games use a theme as an attractive backdrop to a relatively straightforward game mechanic. For instance, Monopoly uses the theme of property ownership to create an indirect competition between players to amass enough property to eliminate (bankrupt) everyone else.
Abstract board games don’t use themes, instead relying on engaging strategy and gameplay to attract prospective players, while other genres would not be able to exist without revolving around a theme, like war, storytelling, and hidden traitor board games. In general, it is easier to be interested in a game that has a theme, even if the theme eventually becomes less important to the game the longer you play. For this reason, games with themes are recommended for children and adults who may struggle to feel excited about cut and dry rules.
Playing time for a board game can range from ten minutes to more than a day, which gives you a lot of options to choose a game with an average playing time that works for you and the other players. Short games that last less than thirty minutes are a great way to pass the time without having to commit a table or other flat surface to a playing board for several hours or longer. These games usually have high replayability, meaning you can play them more than once in quick succession and still have fun.
Long board games have the benefit of forcing you to take a break from everything else in life. When you know you’ll be playing a board game for a longer period of time, it’s easier to commit your full attention to the game. This longer gameplay is imperative for storytelling games during which you need the extra time to come up with creative twists.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated picks below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best board game for your game night.
Pandemic is an exciting board game to align your entire game night group on the same side as it works against the clock, multiple encroaching diseases, and the global changes in the economy, diplomacy, and travel that are caused by a worldwide pandemic. The cooperative nature of the game is especially important if you have one very competitive player who tends to create uncomfortable situations in head-to-head board games.
In this game, two to four players take on specific roles that come with individual bonuses. For example, the Scientist role can cure diseases faster than any other role, while the Operation Specialist can build research stations that are necessary for finding cures. It takes about 45 minutes to play one round, and if it becomes too simple, then you can easily adapt the game with additional epidemic cards to increase the difficulty.
Chess is easily one of the most popular, versatile, and challenging board games in the abstract game genre. The simple instructions, straightforward piece movements, and easy-to-follow rules allow just about anyone, even young children, to pick up this game without a lot of difficulty. However, the increasing complexity of chess can quickly separate beginners from experts, as demonstrated by the fact that there is even a global ranking system for true geniuses of the game.
Depending on the skill level of the players and the strategies they employ, a game of chess can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, though most games take about 30 to 60 minutes. Chess is played with just two players at a time, though there are variations of the game that can involve more players. This chess set includes a crafted wooden playing board and intricate metal chess pieces that you can store inside the game board when you aren’t playing.
In War of the Ring, two or four players separate into the Free Peoples of Middle Earth and the Shadow Forces with the goal being to take over control of Middle Earth from the opposing players. The Free Peoples can win by either amassing four victory points through battles and conquest or by moving the Fellowship across the board so the Ring can be destroyed. The Shadow Forces must earn ten victory points or fully corrupt the Ring Bearer.
It sounds simple enough, but with five combat dice, 16 action dice, 76 counters, 110 event and character cards, and 204 plastic figures, this game is anything but straightforward. The instructions are not the most complicated for an area control game, but they aren’t easy to understand either. Expect to spend some time reading and bringing all players to the same—or a similar—level of understanding before diving in for a two-hour round.
The classic game of Risk has had several new variations over the years, but the success of Risk Legacy remains unmatched since it launched the campaign/legacy board game genre in 2011. In Risk Legacy, the basic fight mechanics of Risk remain the same with players using two sets of dice to battle for territories. However, after players complete the first round, the game includes instructions for permanent changes—positive or negative—that must take place and remain in effect until otherwise noted.
Risk Legacy allows for three to five players to take control of one of five factions that each have their own bonuses. Winning the game comes with some nice benefits that are revealed as you play, but one interesting addition is earning the chance to name a continent or found a major city. Just be certain of your choices before making them: A decision in the first game could come back to haunt you in the tenth game.
Engine-builder board games focus on creating a system or an engine to produce resources for building a civilization or building up the group you control, and Catan is one of the most well-liked engine-builder games on the market. The game is also known as Settlers of Catan and has multiple expansion options, allowing you to increase the maximum number of players from four to six and include additional tiles and events to increase the difficulty of the game.
Catan is a relatively easy game to learn and takes about an hour to play with three to four players indirectly competing for victory points by acquiring resources, including grain, wool, ore, brick, and lumber. These resources can then be used for building roads, settlements, cities, or for buying development cards. However, there is a Robber who can steal your resources and change the course of the game, ensuring that all players have a chance to win.
Deceive your friends and family or hunt them down with this hidden traitor board game that is played with a minimum of three players to a maximum of 10 players and takes just 10 minutes to complete a round. The instructions are very easy to learn, and a portion of the gameplay is automated through a free smartphone app that allows each player to have a different private experience about which no other player knows during the night phase of the game.
The game assigns a role to each player that is only known to him or her, such as being on the Villager team as a Seer, Troublemaker, or Robber. However, you might also find yourself on the Werewolf team as a Werewolf, Minion, or Tanner. During the night phase, you witness events and are able to use special role-specific powers to help or hinder their progress. When morning dawns, the group discusses the events, choosing whether to be honest or to lie, before voting on the identity of the Werewolf. The goal for the Villagers is to find the Werewolf, while the Werewolf team wants to keep the Villagers from finding the Werewolf, even if that means the Minion or Tanner is chosen.
Roll-and-write board games like That’s Pretty Clever combine skillful decision-making with the luck of the dice. The goal of the game is to score more points than the other players, but how you achieve this goal can seem complicated at first. The game includes six dice, including a white dice that is considered wild. One player will roll the dice and select a single dice to record on his or her score sheet. Once this player has selected the first dice, the other players can choose one dice from the remaining dice as long as it is lower in value than the dice selected by the first roller.
After every player has selected a dice to increase his or her score, the first player can then roll any dice that have not been selected, repeating the process to a maximum of three rolls. Keep in mind that if the first player chooses the lowest value dice with which to score, no other dice from the roll can be used by the other players, but the first player then has to settle for a low score. Just one person can play this game to achieve a high score, or up to four players can compete against each other. Either way, it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete a game.
The Game of Life doesn’t use dice like a traditional roll-and-move board game, instead, trading them out for a numbered spinner that indicates how many spaces through life you will advance on your turn. Between two and four players hop in a car and proceed through all the important moments in life, including finding a job, going to (or skipping) college, buying insurance, buying a house, getting married, and having children.
The goal of the game is to amass more collective wealth than the other players by the time everyone reaches retirement. Players can reach this goal through wise investments or choosing a beneficial career, but sometimes it is simply the luck of the roll of the dice. The Game of Life is easy to learn and simple to play, making it a great option for family game nights that may include younger children.
Storytelling board games have a tendency to either fall flat if they are not engaging or entertaining enough or wildly succeed at drawing players into an immersive web that they spin, like Once Upon A Time. This storytelling game is intended for two to six people and takes about 15 minutes to play one game.
Creativity is the key to winning this game, though enjoying the crazy story you and your group create together tends to be the main goal. Each player receives several Story cards and a single Ending card, and one player is designated as the Storyteller. The Storyteller begins the story with the goal of using all his or her Story cards; however, the other players can jump in at appropriate moments to steal the role of Storyteller and begin telling their own tale using their cards. The first player to successfully use all his or her Story cards and Ending card is the winner.
This two-player war game brings some of the reality of war to life with 17 historical battle scenarios directly from WWII that mimic the exact terrain, troop placement, and objectives that each military power faced in battle. The goal of the game is to lead your army in successfully winning the battle against the opposing player, taking advantage of power-specific bonuses, and overcoming power-specific shortcomings to emerge victoriously.
Memoir ’44 is both a war and a strategic area control board game with dice-rolling mechanics for waging battles and Command cards for unique tactics and troop movements. The game takes between 30 to 60 minutes to play, but every round is a new head-to-head challenge that is both enjoyable and at least starts as historically accurate before you manage to win a war that was historically lost. This game isn’t as complicated as some war/area control games, but it will still take some time for both players to read and understand the rules before proceeding to gameplay.
FAQs About Board Games
Before investing in a new board game, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.
Q. Is it OK to change the rules of a board game?
It depends on who you ask and with whom you are playing. In general, the board game is yours, so you can play the game however you choose, but many people would rather quit the game or not play to begin with than agree to changing the rules. If you decide to change the rules, just be sure other players are okay with the rule changes, otherwise, it will likely cause tension at your game night.
Q. What do you do if you lose board game pieces?
Many board game manufacturers sell extra pieces that you can purchase to ensure you can keep playing the game properly. Alternately, if you don’t want to spend more money, you may be able to make substitute pieces, though these would certainly look different from the rest of the game.
Q. Can you expand/add to a board game?
It depends on the board game, but, yes, many board games do allow you to expand or add on to the original. Just be sure to check that you can expand a game before you buy it so you don’t end up with two incompatible—or exact same—board games.