Board games, long a part of family fun, bring every member of the family into an entertaining but challenging contest. There are many types of board games, which makes it exciting if you like to experiment with different kinds of strategies. However, if you prefer a certain type of board game and aren’t interested in trying something different, you can find board games in that same category.
The best board games for you, your family, and your friends are those that not only encourage fun, competition, and teamwork but also pose a challenge. Keep in mind, though, that everyone has their own board game preferences, so what’s challenging to one person may not be to someone else. Choose the best board game for the entire group so everyone can be in on the fun. Take a look at this list of 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: Z-Man Games Pandemic Board Game
- BEST AREA CONTROL: Ares Games War of the Ring 2nd Edition
- BEST TWO-PLAYER: Classic Game Collection Metal Chess Set
- BEST STRATEGY: Hasbro Avalon Hill Risk Legacy Game
- BEST ENGINE-BUILDER: Catan Studio Catan Board Game
- BEST FOR ADULTS: Cephalofair Games Gloomhaven
- BEST WITH CARDS: Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride Board Game
- BEST FOR FAMILIES: Hasbro The Game of Life Board Game
- BEST STORYTELLING: Atlas Once Upon a Time 3rd Ed
- BEST WAR GAME: Days of Wonder Memoir ’44
Types of Best Board Games
You can find good board games that involve different types of game play, including abstract, area control, campaign/legacy, engine builder, hidden traitor, roll and move, roll and write, storytelling, and war.
Abstract board games, which involve straightforward game play, are typically player versus player. These interesting board games rely on skill over luck, meaning the game can’t be won with a lucky dice roll. Both chess and checkers fall into this category. Players must use simple strategy and skill to make their moves.
This type of board game usually doesn’t have a theme. Instead, abstract board games have a simple set of rules that direct players to compete in an increasingly complex challenge against each other. Go and Connect Four are two examples of this game genre.
Area control board games fall into several other categories, including campaign/legacy, engine builder, and war. For critical thinkers, this genre includes many of their favorite board games. The game’s objective is to strategically use your resources to take over portions of the game board, with the end goal often comprising complete dominion over the entire board.
These board games typically take more time to play than the average board game, because each player must build up resources and battle to a singular conclusion. If more players join the game, the game play can often be extended. Examples of area control board games include Risk, War of the Ring, and Tikal.
Campaign/legacy board games, a relatively new type of board game, allow the player to continue playing through a changing and adapting campaign. Awesome board games with this style can fall into almost any game genre, and the only real requirement is that the game must feature permanent changes between play.
For example, in Risk—the game that 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 play. Once you play the game for a longer period of time, it organically introduces full world scenarios that can increase or decrease the difficulty, depending on your success in previous campaigns. Pandemic Legacy is another popular option in this trending board games genre.
An engine-builder board game is typified by a slow buildup of a system or engine to generate resources, money, or points to grow an empire, colony, or another form of collective civilization. The players’ goal for these board games is to create the most successful colony, which is measured several 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 because the number of players can be shrunk or expanded by adding or subtracting character roles. The premise behind hidden traitor games is that most of the group works together against a small group of players or even against 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, conflicts can occur when more competitive players get hung up on the lies and subterfuge instead of fun. Examples of hidden traitor board games include The Resistance, Saboteur, and Werewolf.
Roll and Move
Roll-and-move board games are some of the best family board games because of their relatively simple mechanics. This style of game includes one die or a set of dice that each player rolls during his or her turn. The roll then directs the movement of the piece or pieces.
This style of game often earns a bad reputation because the game play can feel limited when the results depend on a random roll of the dice. However, some roll-and-move games provide the option to choose which piece moves and can contain some degree of strategy. For example, Monopoly is a roll-and-move game with straightforward mechanics: roll the dice and move to the indicated space. On the other hand, Backgammon lets players 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
Roll-and-write board games have been around for quite some time. For instance, Yahtzee, which was first created in 1956, is a roll-and write-game. The basic qualifications for a game in the roll-and-write category are that one die or dice must be rolled during each turn and each result recorded.
In Yahtzee, players roll the dice and place the resulting numbers into scoring brackets. Similarly, in That’s Pretty Clever, players roll the dice and choose from the results to create a high scoring pattern. 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 for a less-outgoing crowd, moving the game along may be difficult. However, with the right combination of players, inventive and entertaining game room ideas, stories, and events can come to life.
The average storytelling game is filled with problem-solving challenges to help engage players in the fictional world in which they are “living.” These games usually take a few hours to play or, if the story is long and detailed, even multiple gaming sessions. Examples of popular storytelling board games include Once Upon a Time, Above and Below, and Gloom.
War board games are exactly what they sound like: games with a war theme. These games can fall into almost any board game genre as long as the basic theme of the game is based on war, ranging from Viking clans in Blood Rage to Jedis in Star Wars Rebellion. However, Risk is one of the most popular war games ever.
Typical war board games fall into engine-builder, campaign/legacy, and area control categories, in which the war theme explains why players 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 learn the most important shopping considerations.
Number of Players
A two-person board game is ideal for one person and a partner, while families with children or households that frequently host game nights require games that many people can play at once.
Board games are available for one to 10 players, so look for a game that suits the number of players so no one is left out and the game can be played correctly. Check the board game instructions for the minimum and maximum number of players.
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, in which most of the group works together against the remaining group members, making it both a cooperative and a competitive game style. Within these games, a distinction also exists 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 toward a task or a goal, either individually or cooperatively. In this style of competition, players don’t actively attack each other, but they compete for other items, such as real estate (Monopoly), resources (Settlers of Catan), and railroad routes (Ticket to Ride).
Before buying a new game, consider the players who likely will play with you. Board games range from simple and straightforward, like some classic wood games you can make yourself, to incredibly complex, such as tabletop war games like Warhammer. Some players are less interested in complex games that involve economic strategies, complicated checks and balances, or incredibly challenging problems, while others prefer them. Children and some adults may prefer a game with very simple instructions—even if the game play can become complex—like board games typically in the abstract category. As the complexity of the game increases, the time it takes to play also increases.
When playing a board game, you may need to add your own ideas to the game to make it more personal and replayable, like DIY backyard games. Games like this are typically in the storytelling and hidden traitor genres, but some board games from other genres also include elements of personal creativity.
As with most board game decisions, consider the players who will play the game. 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 like adding their own creative spin to a collaborative adventure.
Knowing the rules of the game is necessary to play it, and they are a big factor in determining whether you will enjoy the game. Simple, straightforward rules are easy to read, understand, and communicate. They are also much easier to refer back to if someone forgets them. However, if the rules are too simple, the players may become bored too quickly.
On the other hand, most players don’t appreciate overly complicated rules because understanding them can take too long. It can become so time-consuming that players end up frustrated rather than enjoying the game.
When shopping for a board game, most people opt for a game with understandable yet challenging rules.
Almost every board game requires players to employ some type of strategy. Even a roll-and-write game like Yahtzee requires strategic decisions as to what to do with the dice, while in a roll-and-move game like Sorry, players must determine which piece to move.
Some games require very little strategy—relying primarily on luck—like roll-and-write and roll-and-move games. Games that require a high level of strategy force players to direct the course of action in the game, such as chess. Other games may incorporate a moderate level of strategy but also use drawn cards, for example, to introduce an element of luck.
Themes help engage the players, so many games use a theme as an attractive backdrop to a relatively straightforward game mechanic. For instance, Monopoly relies on 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, they rely on engaging strategy and game play to attract prospective players, while other genres couldn’t exist without a theme, like war, storytelling, and hidden traitor games. It’s generally 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. Games with themes are recommended for children and adults who may struggle to get excited about cut-and-dried rules.
Playing time for a board game can range from 10 minutes to more than a day. Playing short games that last less than 30 minutes is an ideal way to pass the time without having to reserve a table or other flat surface for a playing board for several hours or longer. These games usually have high replayability, which means they can be played more than once in quick succession, and everyone still has fun.
Long board games have the benefit of forcing players to take a break from everything else in life. When playing a board game for a longer period of time, it’s easier to commit your full attention to the game. This longer game play is imperative for storytelling games because they require extra time to devise with creative twists.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated picks in this list were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best board game for your game night.
Pandemic from Z-Man Games is an exciting board game that aligns the entire game night group on the same side, because players must work quickly against multiple encroaching diseases as well as the global changes in the economy, diplomacy, and travel that are caused by a worldwide pandemic. The cooperative nature of the game is an asset if one extremely competitive player usually creates uncomfortable situations in head-to-head board games.
In this game, two to four players assume specific roles that come with individual bonuses. For example, the “scientist” role can cure diseases faster than any other player, while an “operation specialist” builds research stations to find cures. Each round requires about 45 minutes to play. If it becomes too simple, adapt the game with additional epidemic cards to increase the difficulty.
- Type: Cooperative campaign
- Players: 2 to 4
- Playing time: 45 minutes
- Average playing time
- High replayability
- Encourages cooperative game play
- Additional epidemic cards to adjust difficulty
Get the Z-Man Games Pandemic board game at Amazon and Target.
In Ares Games’ War of the Ring, two or four players separate into the “Free Peoples of Middle Earth” and the “Shadow Forces.” The goal is to take 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 10 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 2-hour round.
- Type: Area control
- Players: 2 to 4
- Playing time: 2 hours
- Can be played as a duel or in teams
- Long playing time encourages innovative strategies
- Unique objectives for both sides
- Visually appealing card art and figures
- Complex mechanics take time to learn and explain
- Maximum of 4 players
Get the Ares Games War of the Ring game on Amazon.
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, its increasing complexity can quickly separate beginners from experts, as demonstrated by the global ranking system for true geniuses of the game.
Depending on the skill level of the players and the strategies they employ, playing 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 variations of the game can involve more players. This chess set includes a crafted wooden playing board and intricate metal chess pieces that store inside the game board when not in use.
- Type: Abstract
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
- Easy to teach to beginners
- Endless replayability
- Built-in storage for pieces
- Enjoyable at any skill level
Get the Classic Game Collection chess set on Amazon.
The classic game of Risk has had several new variations over the years, but the success of Hasbro’s Risk Legacy remains unmatched since the company 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 three to five players to take control of one of five factions, each of which has its own bonuses. Winning the game delivers benefits that are revealed as you play, such as earning the chance to name a continent or found a major city. Just be certain of your choices: A decision in the first game could come back to haunt you in the 10th game.
- Type: Campaign/legacy
- Players: 3 to 5
- Playing time: 2 to 3 hours
- Strategies can transcend a single game
- Innovative variation on a classic game
- Easy to learn the mechanics
- Exciting reveals and events keep the game interesting
- Limited replayability because decisions make permanent changes to the board
Get the Hasbro Avalon Hill Risk Legacy board game at Amazon.
Engine-builder board games focus on creating a system or an engine to produce resources for creating a civilization or building up the group you control. Catan Studio’s Catan, one of the most well-liked engine-builder games, is also known as Settlers of Catan and has multiple expansion options, allowing the maximum number of players to increase from four to six. Additional tiles and events help increase the difficulty of the game.
Catan is a relatively easy game for teens and adults to learn, and it takes about an hour to play with three or four players competing for victory points by acquiring resources, including grain, wool, ore, brick, and lumber. These resources can be used to build roads, settlements, and cities or to buy development cards. However, the “robber” can steal your resources and change the course of the game, ensuring that all players have a chance to win.
- Type: Engine builder
- Players: 3 or 4 (5 or 6 with expansion)
- Playing time: 1 hour
- Multiple expansion options
- Large number of players can play
- Adjustable difficulty level
- Indirect competition influences trades and bartering
- May be too complex for younger players
Get the Catan Studio Catan board game on Amazon or at Target.
If DnD seems too complicated, Gloomhaven offers a similar cooperative campaign experience with less complex mechanics, making it easier to learn, understand, and enjoy. This board game is designed to be played by one to four players, with each additional player adding about 30 minutes to the expected playing time. Players can select one of 17 playable classes as they start their adventure as a mercenary on the edge of civilization.
Use the game’s card system to battle automated monsters as the party moves through a constantly evolving fantasy world that changes based on the players’ actions. The visually appealing card art and figures help immerse players in this world, but be sure to take time before beginning to carefully read and understand how the game works to avoid confusion as the game unfolds. The complexity of this game makes it ideal for adults, but most kids would struggle with the mechanics.
- Type: Cooperative campaign
- Players: 1 to 4
- Playing time: 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Immersive fantasy-themed narrative campaign
- 17 playable classes improve replayability
- Visually appealing card art and figures
- Complex, strategic game play
- Not suitable for kids
- Mechanics take time to learn and explain
Get the Cephalofair Games Gloomhaven board game on Amazon.
Not all area control games rely on aggressive battles and warlike takeovers to claim parts of the board. Days of Wonder’s Ticket to Ride encourages players to claim portions of track to complete routes between different cities and build up more points than the other players. The color-coded cards match the various track colors, prompting players to exchange red cards for red sections of track, blue cards for blue sections, and more. Wild cards can help players take over longer stretches of track without waiting to collect five or six cards of one color.
Game play is relatively simple, making this game ideal for kids and adults, but the numerous route options and intersecting stretches of track also encourage replayability. The game takes only about 30 to 60 minutes to play, and multiple expansions are available. However, the design of the board and cards is somewhat plain.
- Type: Area control
- Players: 2 to 5
- Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
- Easy-to-learn mechanics
- Multiple expansion options
- Average playing time
- Many ways to win
- Encourages strategic thinking
Get the Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride board game on Amazon or at Target.
The Game of Life doesn’t use dice like a traditional roll-and-move board game; instead, it uses a numbered spinner that indicates how many spaces through life each player advances on their turn. Two to four players proceed through all the important moments in “life,” including finding a job, going to college, buying insurance, getting married, purchasing a house, 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’s 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 include younger children.
- Type: Roll and move
- Players: 2 to 4
- Playing time: 1 hour
- Visually appealing design
- Fun spinner instead of classic dice
- Introduces real-life concepts, such as insurance
- Suitable for kids and adults
Get the Hasbro The Game of Life board game on Amazon or at Target.
Storytelling board games typically fall flat if they aren’t engaging or entertaining enough or wildly succeed at drawing players into an immersive web, such as 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 usually is the main goal. Each player receives several story cards and a single ending card, and one player is designated the “storyteller.” The storyteller begins the story and tries to use all of his or her story cards; however, the other players can jump in at appropriate moments to steal the storyteller role 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.
- Type: Storytelling
- Players: 2 to 6
- Playing time: 15 minutes
- Short playing time
- Large number of people can play
- Encourages competitive creativity
- High replayability
- Less outgoing players may not enjoy the storyteller role
Get the Atlas Games Once Upon a Time board game on Amazon.
The two-player Days of Wonder’s Memoir ’44 war game brings some of the reality of war to life with 17 historical battle scenarios taken directly from World War II 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 the victor.
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’s both enjoyable and that at least starts as historically accurate before you manage to “win” a war that was actually lost. This game isn’t as complicated as some war/area control games, but it takes some time for players to read and understand the rules.
- Type: War
- Players: 2 players
- Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes
- Historically accurate start positions
- Average play time
- 17 historical battle scenarios
- Power-specific bonuses and penalties
- Complex game mechanics
- Only 2 people can play
Get the Days of Wonder Memoir ’44 board game on Amazon or at Target.
Compete against the game mechanics in a cooperative campaign with a group of friends to save the world against deadly viruses in Z-Man Games Pandemic, or, if you prefer to compete head to head in an area control duel, Ares Games War of the Ring may be the right choice.
How We Chose the Best Board Games
Selecting the top board games isn’t as straightforward as checking out the best dart boards or trying to find the best lawn games to play with the kids, because board games come in an increasingly wide range of genres and types. Children as young as 2 can start playing simple board games, while experienced adults with decades behind them also get excited to play a new or favorite board game. With this in mind, we included a variety of different game types to properly represent board game fans, regardless of their favorite type of game play.
The type of game, number of players, playing time, and the complexity of each game were considered during the selection process. Not everyone has numerous friends who enjoy board games or large families for a game night, so we also included games for small groups. Similarly, taking several hours to play a drawn-out board game may not be a possibility for everyone, which prompted the inclusion of shorter games to balance the marathon-length board games.
This list of the best board games also includes products that require a variety of different skill levels and learning curves. For instance, chess is a relatively easy game to learn, but it can become incredibly complex, while other games, like Risk, may be too complicated for younger players to immediately grasp.
If still unsure about how to find cool board games for the family, take a look at these frequently asked questions along with their answers below.
Q: What is the number one board game for adults?
Unique board games are developed every year, so it’s difficult to state definitively which board game is the number one option for adults, but several popular options exist for the top spot based on board game recommendations and board game reviews, including Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Gloomhaven. Choosing a top game usually is more subjective because it’s based on personal enjoyment and immersion, rather than empirically measurable product specs. A mostly unheard-of game could create the same level of enjoyment in some players as some of the top-selling board games.
Q: How long should a board game last?
The average board game takes about 30 minutes to an hour to finish. However, some of the best tabletop games can take several hours to complete, while abstract games like chess may be over after just a few moves.
Q: Is it OK to change the rules of a board game?
It depends on whom you ask and with whom you’re 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 the other players are OK with the rule changes. Otherwise, it likely will cause tension during your game night.
Q: What do you do if you lose board game pieces?
Many board game manufacturers sell extra pieces to ensure you can keep playing the game properly. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend more money, you may be able to make substitute pieces.
Q: Can you expand/add to a board game?
It depends on the board game, but, yes, many board games allow expanding or adding on to the original. Before you buy it, check that the game can be expanded, so you don’t end up with two incompatible—or exactly the same—board games.