Your local Target, like many other big box retailers, is filled with classic board games. On the shelves at the back of the toy aisles you’ll find great options like Othello and Uno, as well as no less than six different versions of Monopoly. But, the world of tabletop gaming is much bigger than it used to be, and not being familiar with the rules is no longer a barrier to a fun evening shuffling cards and rolling dice.
The tabletop games industry is experiencing an unprecedented renaissance right now with literally hundreds of excellent board games and role-playing games coming out every year. Many are only available through Kickstarter campaigns, directly from their creators, from a handful of boutique publishers, or your friendly local game store. Now they’re also on the shelves at your local Target. Here are our picks for the very best.
When Polygon asked some of the hobby games industry’s most influential designers what the biggest games of the last decade were, 7 Wonders came up an awful lot. And there’s good reason. The game accommodates from one to seven players, making it great for medium-sized groups. It’s also very easy to pick up and play. If you’re a fan of card games with drafting mechanics (where you pick a card and pass a stack to the next player), you should be able to get your group rolling in no time. Or, if you’ve got no experience whatsoever, there’s a great companion app to help get you started.
A Fake Artist Goes To New York
A favorite of the Overboard team in Polygon’s New York office, A Fake Artist Goes To New York is a wonderful party game. It shares a lot in common with the classic charades game Pictionary, but adds a thoroughly modern hidden role mechanic on top of it. The box is also very small, making it extremely portable. For details, check out our let’s play embedded above and on YouTube.
One of the more attractive games on our list is called Azul. Inside the small, square box you’ll find a series of colorful tiles which you’ll use to construct a mosaic pattern on the table. It’s very easy to learn the rules, and it also travels exceedingly well.
Cards Against Humanity WWW Pack
By now everyone should have at least one copy of Cards Against Humanity, the “party game for horrible people.” But it might not be a bad idea to pick up a new one. The team behind it makes a habit of revising the cards themselves every so often, keeping the jokes fresh if not always family-friendly. Target has a big display of CAH products in their games section, which includes the base game but also a half-dozen or more add-on packs. Our recommendation is the WWW Pack, a $5 set of 30 cards written by anonymous users on Reddit. Proceeds benefit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I personally don’t like Settlers of Catan all that much. It’s a terribly social game, and one that requires a fair bit of secrecy and strategy. It all adds up to a challenging experience for newcomers. Also, I keep losing at it. So that’s why I opt to play against children instead.
All jokes aside, Catan Junior is an excellent light board game that is very easy to learn and won’t take all night to play. There’s also fewer bits to mess around with — no more lining up roads and such on the table, for instance — making it great for travel.
Another quick and easy hidden role game at Target is called Coup. Players take on the role of nobility in a science-fiction setting, and must use a combination of cash and influence to achieve their goals. But no one actually knows who has the real power until the final few rounds. The travel-sized box also makes it a great pick-up on the way to the in-laws. The game accommodates up to six players, and can actually be taught in as little as 15 minutes.
Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit
Once a timed Target exclusive, the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit is perhaps the best boxed set that D&D has produced in its entire history. True, you don’t actually need a starter kit to play D&D. You can just download the free version and get started right now. But this boxed product includes rules for just two players — a Dungeon Master and a single player character. Add in some handy item and quest cards and a decent set of dice, and you’ve got everything you need.
Furglars is a silly game that’s sure to start your evening off with a few laughs. Inside the box are a bunch of hollow black plastic dice with fuzzy green poof balls inside. Those are the Furgles, and you want as many of them as you can get.
Don’t ask why, just roll the dice. Take all the face-up Furgles you find, and pass the remaining dice to the left. The secret to the fun — other than the cuddly dice themselves — is an easy-to-learn screw-your-neighbor mechanic. It’s so easy, in fact, that it almost requires no explanation. Just put the person with the least experience at the back of the line and before the first round is over they’ll have the basics down pat.
Just be sure to count the dice when the game is over; they’re so cute that they have a knack for finding their way into people’s pockets.
The award-winning Kingdomino is a tile-laying game that emphasizes planning, pattern recognition, and geometric thinking. Players take turns choosing domino-shaped tiles from a common pool. The goal is to build out your kingdom in just the right size and shape on the table, scoring more points than your neighbors. It’s a lightning-fast take on the traditional, non-confrontational Euro-style board game, meaning you won’t be attacking neighboring kingdoms. All laid out it makes for a very approachable package, and its simplicity makes it easy to play more than once in a single evening.
Magic: The Gathering Game Night
The original collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, is a whole sub-culture. But at big box stores like Target it’s been repackaged for laypeople like you and me. Magic: The Gathering Game Night isn’t located in the toy section. Instead, you’ll need to head up front to where the trading cards live near the checkout lanes. But it’s there, in a nice portable package. Inside you’ll find everything you need for one-one-one or multiplayer games. The kit comes with five pre-built decks, d20-shaped life counters, and a handful of cardboard tokens to get you started.
Matt Leacock’s Pandemic is perhaps the single best gateway into modern tabletop gaming. It’s also on sale at Target stores nationwide. It tells the story of a group of plucky heroes trying to stop a global outbreak of a number of deadly illnesses. Only by working together can players succeed. The game does have a tendency to lead to quarterbacking — that is, when the most knowledgeable person at the table takes control and crowds out everyone else. But, if you can keep from being too overbearing, it’s wonderful for new groups.
Along the lines of Azul, mentioned above, another gorgeous board game that’s easy to teach and quick to play is called Sagrada. Players compete to construct stained glass windows. Using colorful dice and glass gems, the game moves very quickly. Like Kingdomino, you’re bound to play more than one game in a single evening. There’s also plenty of how-to-play guides online and at Target.com.
One of my favorite party games is called Telestrations. I’ve called it out in the past as a sure-fire way to save the holidays, but it’s a load of fun any time of the year. Combine Pictionary with the folk game known as Telephone and you’ve got the gist of it. Players do their best to draw a picture based off a prompt from a playing card, then pass their drawing to the next player in line. They then have to guess what the prompt was, and that guess is what the next player uses as the basis for their drawing.
Last, and definitely not least, is Disney Villainous. In this asymmetrical strategy game, everyone at the table takes on the role of a classic Disney villain — either Maleficent, Ursula, Prince John, the Queen of Hearts, or Captain Hook. Everyone has a slightly different goal, however. Ursula wants to take back king Triton’s crown trident, while Captain Hook wants to kill Peter Pan aboard the Jolly Roger. Each player gets their own sideboard with a different set of actions, but the game is much more than an elaborate version of solitaire. Thankfully it also comes with a brief strategy guide for each villain. If you’re looking for something unexpectedly meaty, Villainous will do nicely for even the experienced board gaming crowd. Also be on the lookout for its expansions, Wicked to the Core (which adds Dr. Vacilier, Hades, and the Evil Queen) and Evil Comes Prepared (Ratigan, Scar, and Yzma.)
5 Best Board Games (According To Reddit)
By Patricio Kobek
Here are five of the most mentioned board games along with some reasons why you might want to pick it up
What makes a great board game? It depends on the person, but many avid players on Reddit seem to share in many of their own qualifiers. Some love games that offer near infinite replayability and the potential for different experiences on each play. Others want games that leave them wanting more and more. Here are five of the most mentioned games along with some reasons why you might want to pick it up for your next game night with friends.
5. Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
It should come as no surprise that Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition), or TI4, was mentioned throughout the thread. This is a massive game that demands huge amounts of time compared to other games. Estimated playtime is between four to eight hours, and that's once you know what you are doing.
Once everyone is up to speed, there is often little downtown, making the game a meaningful experience. However, playing this is right up there in difficulty with having a Dungeons & Dragons party meet every week for a campaign session without anyone being busy. It isn’t impossible, but it is improbable.
Players lead a group of a merchants and four assistants through a bazaar to conduct business but must be mindful of managing their human resources in order to complete challenges. Meticulous planning is needed to ensure you are not left without an assistant, and thus unable to act, with the end goal to collect five rubies into their wheelbarrow.
This game is simple and takes only about half an hour to complete, making it unique among some of the other popular games, or behemoths like Twilight Imperium (4th Edition). The game has excellent replayability, making it perfect for quick visits with friends or in between other larger games.
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This game is thematically based on Celtic history and lore, and players emerge victorious by becoming elected King of the Island of Inis. Players fight for power and can achieve this goal by being the most capable leader, representing at least six distinct territories, or having clans represent your religion in six sanctuaries.
The name of the game is strategic drafting along with smart bluffing and recognizing what your opponents are up to. This requires a bit of time to become familiar with the cards in the game, but past this, gameplay speeds up and becomes a blast.
2. Great Western Trail
Players become ranchers and need to herd their cattle from Texas to Kansas City, earning funds and points for doing so. The idea is simple but in practice players need to consider carefully how to keep their most valuable cattle in good shape and safe. Hire cowboys to improve the heard, craftsmen to build your own buildings, and engineers for construction of the rail.
The base game is good fun, but the “Rails to the North” expansion really spice things up with new characters and strategy. Like most games, there is great value in playing the game in its base form and with an expansion, both to offer greater replayability and to force different types of strategies.
1. The Castles of Burgundy
Players take on the role of a aristocrats in High Medieval France and work to build settlements and castles, all while trading along the river, exploiting other resources, and using the strategic knowledge of travelers. The popularity of this game should come as no surprise, and has won several awards following its release in both 2011 and 2012.
Special Mention – Android Netrunner
Whether or not one considers Living Card Games to be board games may be up for debate, but the quality of Android Netrunner sure isn’t. Set in the dystopian future of the Android universe, each game packs an intense battle between megacorporation and a hacker for control of data. Along with Call of Cthulhu and other Living Card Games, the value of these games is outstanding, and like a board game, often has everything one needs right out of the box. There may be additional expansions, much like a board game, and those are often great value for the money as well.
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Read NextAbout The Author
The Fantastic, Science-Fiction, and Horror are Patricio’s go-to genres for literature, film, and gaming. Dead by Daylight is his daily bread and butter as he writes for TheGamer. He teaches Spanish at McGill by day and writes next to his Staffy x Boxer rescue from the SPCA by night. Patricio graduated from the University of Alberta in 2006, 2012, and will have one more degree in hand by 2020. Innovation in game development, the economics of making games profitable, and the downward, decadent spiral of former great gaming companies fuels his soul to write daily. Will Blizzard Entertainment do something controversial often enough to keep this reference relevant? Patrick certainly believes they will.
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The 22 best board games
Over the last two decades, board gaming has undergone a near total transformation. What was once a hobby relegated to the dusty racks at the back of friendly local game stores has gone mainstream. Even big box retailers are getting in on the action with curated selections, including exclusive titles that can’t be purchased anywhere else.
But the same churn that has brought so many extraordinary games to market has also made it very difficult to be selective. You can’t purchase every hot new title that shows up on Kickstarter, but you also don’t want to be wasting time playing the same old games that your parents and grandparents kept on that one shelf in the entryway closet. That’s where Polygon’s Essentials List can help.
Just as we have done for PC and console gaming in the past, we’ve assembled here a comprehensive list of the very best modern board games. This is not an aspirational list filled with out-of-print classics or hard-to-find crowdfunded darlings. Everything here is still in print and available for a fair price. We’ve done our best to hit all the major genres as well, from hardcore strategy games to lighter, family fare. So dive in, and let us know your thoughts — and recommendations — in the comments below.
7 Wonders shines because it’s easy to pick up and understand, especially while playing for the first time. Yet the game also has a constantly rising skill ceiling. That’s why so many of the top-tier designers named it to their list of the most influential board games of the last decade.
7 Wonders is a card game based around the seven wonders of the ancient world, each with different strengths. Those strengths take on the form of buffs or new mechanics that change how you play the game. One might give you more power to combat, while another allows you to grab cards from a discard pile. The game progresses in three thematic rounds called ages, moving from basic woodworking and trading, up through the advent of sawmills and markets, and ending with the rise of worker groups and trade guilds.
The ramp-up to each new age sets multiple strategies into motion. As the pile of communal cards runs out, players can only earn additional cards by interacting with everyone else at the table. Those final moments of an age make every card important, since you could be inadvertently giving your neighbors more victory points later in the game. Every age the game changes, forcing players to change strategies mid-game. Each time I’ve played it, 7 Wonders has been a completely different experience. —Josh Rios
Get it here: Amazon
Blood Rage is a Viking-themed area control game set during the Norse apocalypse known as Ragnarok. If you’ve played classics like Risk or Axis & Allies then you’re half-way to understanding what makes the game so appealing. It’s fun to move dudes around on a map, and Blood Rage gives you plenty of reasons to do that — and plenty of gorgeous miniatures to move. But, what makes the game so much fun is that you don’t use dice to fight battles. Instead, players depend on card drafting to build up their hands and prepare for war.
The same mechanics that make pick-up games of Magic: The Gathering so much fun to play also help to give Blood Rage its enduring appeal. —Charlie Hall
Get it here: Amazon
Sometimes the secret to having a great party is having the right kind of party game to bust out at just the right moment. One of the best is Cash’n Guns — basically the tabletop version of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, just without all the pesky kidnapping and aural mutilation.
Inside the box for Cash’n Guns you’ll find eight foam handguns and a stack of cash. The money goes in the middle of the table, with the pot slowly building each round. The guns? Those get pointed in every direction, either intimidating or wounding your competitors so that you can take all the money for yourself. It’s a game that is incredibly easy to teach, and one that rewards multiple playthroughs with the same crowd on the same night. —CH
Get it here: Amazon | Walmart
Catan is widely regarded as the first game to bring the board games industry mainstream attention. But, in my opinion, it’s not a particularly great way to welcome people into the hobby these days. Overall strategies can be a bit hard to grasp, and the game’s social aspects can be daunting — especially if you’re dealing with introverts or first-time players.
For my money, Catan Junior is a much more entertaining first-time experience. The game uses the same trading mechanics as the original, but reduces the number of resources that players have to worry about by one. Players will collect wood, goats, molasses, and cutlasses as they build hideouts and ships to expand their pirate-themed empire. The game is lightning quick at around 30 minutes, and also features a simplified mode for kids as young as six.
The low level of complexity, fast playtime, and kid-friendly design make this a modern staple that should be in everyone’s board game collection. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Codenames is a social deduction game that manages to be immensely accessible and provide a brain-teasing challenge. With its high player count and pleasing level of challenge it’s equally at home on family game night, at your local board game meetup, or even over a Zoom hang out.
Twenty five codeword cards, each with a single noun, are laid out in a five-by-five grid representing secret agents in the field. Players are divided into a red and blue team, and each team gets a leader called a spymaster. The spymaster is given a key that identifies which of the 25 codename cards on the grid represent their side’s secret agents, which team (red or blue) those agents are assigned to, and which cards represent innocent civilians. To win the game, spymasters need the rest of their team members to correctly identify their secret agents, but the only way they can communicate to them is by giving one word clues and a number indicating how many cards that clue applies to.
For example, a spymaster trying to get their team to pick the codenames NEEDLE and AMBULANCE might say “medical two.”
What makes the game tricky is that it creates a minefield of other cards that could spell disaster. The clue “medical two” might lead players astray if DOCTOR is also on the grid. Perhaps NEEDLE is a blue team card and AMBULANCE is team red, meaning both spymasters will have to come up with a specific clue that doesn’t accidentally indicate the other card.
The game also benefits from multiple expansions and reskins, which you can mix and match together when you play. —Clayton Ashley
Get Codenames here: Amazon
Expansions: Codenames: XXL, Codenames: Pictures, Codenames: Disney, Codenames: Marvel, Codenames: Harry Potter, Codenames: Deep Undercover 2.0
Good Dungeon Masters (DMs) are hard to find, and that’s part of the reason whyGloomhaven has proven to be so popular with fans of board games. Inside Gloomhaven’s nearly 20-pound box is an elaborate, branching narrative campaign set in a unique fantasy world. But the mechanics are what truly make this game spectacular.
Like Blood Rage, Gloomhaven doesn’t rely on random dice rolls for combat. Instead, players use cards to manage both attacks and movement on a tactical grid. Gloomhaven also makes use of Rob Daviau’s Legacy-style mechanics, adding new characters and locations from sealed containers inside the box to permanently alter the game world over time.
Once you make it through even a quarter of the game’s nearly 100 scenarios your version of Gloomhaven won’t look like anyone else’s. A lighter version of the game is available at retail. TitledGloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, it also functions as an expansion to the base game for those who have already finished their campaign. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Expansions: Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Hive is one of those charmingly simple board games with no set up, approachable rules, and satisfyingly hefty bits. Rules-wise, it’s somewhere between dominoes and chess and features an insect theme. Each tile represents a kind of insect (or spider) each with a distinct role. The rules are straightforward and build on each other logically, so you’ll only need a quick demonstration to learn them all.
No board and no elaborate setup means all you need to play Hive is a clear, relatively level space. On one hand, it’s a two-player game, so it’s not great for groups. On the other hand, it only needs two players, so you don’t need to find a group to enjoy it. Games only take about 20 minutes, so it’s not a big time commitment, and, for that matter, quick games mean you can play multiple times in one sitting.
Hive is one of those great “let’s play something quick” games to have around that’s also strategically challenging enough to keep you coming back again and again. —Jeffrey Parkin
Get it here: Amazon
Kingdomino is a tile-placement game for two to four players where you build a kingdom out of various terrains. You get points based on how many contiguous tiles of the same terrain you have inside your kingdom. It’s deceptively simple, with only a couple pages of rules and explanation. It doesn’t take long, though, before you’re pouring over every choice, trying to build the perfect kingdom.
Immediately after playing Kingdomino the first time, I ran out and bought my own set. Then, just a few days later, I bought a second set for a friend. It’s just so alarmingly simple and instantly gratifying that I couldn’t help but share the experience.
My favorite part of Kingdomino is that, while it’s not collaborative, it’s also not overly combative. Drawing tiles to place is a bit of a negotiation — the person taking the least valuable (the most common tiles with the lowest points potential) this round gets the first pick of tiles in the next round. Scheming to get the best choices while also planning out how to fill out your five-by-five kingdom feels like solving a jigsaw puzzle while your friends periodically steal the piece you need. —JP
Get it here: Amazon
Expansions — Queendomino, Kingdomino: Age of Giants
Dexterity games are a niche kind of board game that has been growing in popularity over the past few years, but nothing has been quite as successful asKlask.
Klask plays like a mash-up of the classic Canadian folk game Crokinole and air hockey, and thankfully it takes up far less space in your home than either one of those other games. Players sit on either side of a small wooden playing surface raised up about six or eight inches off the table. Below that raised surface they hold onto a magnet that controls a striker on the top of the board. Play starts with the youngest player kicking off, attempting to sink the marble-sized plastic puck into the opposing goal with their striker.
But there are other magnets on the board as well, called biscuits. Get too close to a biscuit and it leaps off the playing surface and gets stuck to your striker. Collect two biscuits and you’ve lost the point. Play is fast and furious, but requires a deft hand. Move too quickly and your striker will become dislodged, which will also give your opponent a point. Rounds go quickly, meaning that the game is perfect for large groups — especially in a bracketed tournament format. —CH
Get it here: Amazon | Walmart
Expansions: Klask Spare Parts version 2.0
It’s amazing what modern board games have done with the simple deck of cards. Machi Koro uses this basic building block to create entire cities on the table. It’s a quick, easy-to-teach game with loads of replayability.
You start Machi Koro with just two cards on the table — a wheat field (with a number one on it) and a bakery (sporting the numbers two and three). Then you roll a single six-sided die. On a roll of one, two, or three either your wheat field or your bakery turns a small profit, giving you more money to build out your city. Do you spread out across multiple kinds of developments — maybe a few convenience stores (labeled four) or a few cafes (labeled three) — ensuring that you’ll have a steady stream of income no matter what side of the die comes up? Or will you double down on one kind of commercial industry in the hope of a hefty payday later on? It’s a quick, fun race to the finish for two to four players ... and about a million times better than playing Monopoly. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Mansions of Madness Second Edition
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a cooperative adventure game best played with a medium-sized group that has plenty of time on their hands. Set in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe, players will work together to explore narrative scenarios and take down the agents of chaos before their minds give in to insanity.
Published by Fantasy Flight Games, the box is full to bursting with excellent miniatures, a modular game board, and handy player aids. But what pushes this game over the top is the integration of a companion app. Not only will it help you to set up quickly for each new adventure, it also includes thematic music, sound effects, and puzzles to solve. Finish the base game, and there’s even additional downloadable content for you to enjoy.
You can download the Mansions of Madness companion app for both iOS and Android. Versions are also available on Steam and through the Amazon marketplace. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Marvel Champions: The Card Game allows a team of heroes to work together against a single villain. It’s a “Living Card Game,” which means you won’t be hunting and pecking for the right cards in random booster packs. You always know exactly what you’re going to get when you make a purchase, and subsequent expansions are guaranteed to be compatible with the original base game.
Marvel Champions scales up to a full table of four, or down to a single solo player quite nicely. There’s also a steady stream of new content, including modules featuring Red Skull, Venom, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. —CH
Get it here: Amazon | Walmart
Expansions: Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull, Marvel Champions: The Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Charades is one of the oldest folk games around, but what it lacks is structure. Sure, you’ve got a nice hat or bowl full of fun phrases to pantomime in front of a small crowd, but how do you know if you’re winning? Where’s the climax of this evening spent playing a game? Where’s the denouement to go with it?
Monikers gives the structure that Charades so badly needs. Each player is dealt eight cards, then selects six to contribute to the stack of 40 to 50 that will comprise each round of play. Everyone knows they have a card or two in the deck that they’re looking forward to acting out, and that helps those who might be otherwise hesitant to participate.
Play proceeds in three rounds, with each one progressively harder than the last. In the first round you can use any words, sounds, or gestures that you like save for the word on the card itself. In round two, you’re limited to using just one word. Then, in round three, you have to resort to pantomime. With a slightly competitive — and moderately intoxicated — group of friends, you’ll get lots of fun out of this deck of 550 cards before you start wondering about an expansion. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Expansions: Monikers: More Monikers, Monikers: Serious Nonsense with Shut Up & Sit Down, Monikers: Classics
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Werewolf, also known as Mafia, is one of those modern-day folk games that has been remixed and reinvented multiple times. If you’ve lost time toAmong Us recently, then you owe this branch of tabletop gaming quite a lot. But as far as physical interpretations of the classic hidden role game go, it doesn’t get any better than One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf upends the classic game by removing player elimination and condensing the experience into a single, chaotic round. Like most hidden role games, players are trying to figure out who’s secretly on the evil team so that they can vote them out. But, unlike most hidden role games, you don’t need a narrator (sort of like a Dungeon Master) to keep everyone on the same page. Instead, a free smartphone app guides you through the brief set-up phase where players make use of their special actions.
These app-enabled actions are what make the game so chaotic, because they give players the ability to swap out their hidden roles. That means someone who starts the game as a villainous werewolf might end up as the hapless villager before play even begins. What’s wild is that they won’t know that they’ve been swapped.
The single round becomes a delicate-but-intense balancing act about deciding how much information you can share without implicating yourself. You might start out on one team before realizing you were switched to the other side, only to find out you were swapped right back by someone else. The nights may be short, but they are packed with backstabbing, dramatic reversals, and sudden revelations. Your group will quickly find themselves playing round after round after round. —CA
Get it here: Amazon | Target
Expansions: One Night Ultimate Daybreak, One Night Ultimate Vampire, One Night Ultimate Alien, One Night Ultimate Super Villains, One Night Ultimate Bonus Roles
Pandemic Legacy is a journey that starts off as tough, but manageable. The further you push at the game’s boundaries, the grimmer things get, until your group is collectively hip deep in viscera and government red tape.
Pandemic Legacy includes the basic game,Pandemic, widely regarded as the best gateway into modern board gaming. You can play the vanilla version of the original game as many times as you please, but once you start the Legacy campaign, the world you’re playing with changes forever. Players open government files, recruit new agents and develop old ones, and place stickers on the board. The titular pandemic worsens and mutates over time, and the campaign slowly feels less heroic and more like a struggle for survival. You and your friends will have an experience akin to a summer blockbuster, but broken out across at least a dozen games.
While it can be a little heavy to play a game of Pandemic Legacy in 2021, for obvious reasons, it’s still a superbly designed game and arguably the best example of a Legacy-style board game. Pandemic Legacy remains as cooperative as the original game, and grows with your gaming group over time, creating memorable moments when things fall into chaos or when you and your friends pull off a win by the skin of your teeth. —Cass Marshall
Get it here: Amazon | Walmart
Expansions: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Based on the incredible world building of Jacub Rozalski, Scythe is a strategy game that takes place during an alternate post World War I-era timeline. The game is replete with wild technology, as if Nikolai Tesla had turned his mind toward fashioning weapons of war. Players will stride across the land of Scythe with giant steam-powered mechs at their side, but the world that they pass through is strictly pastoral. It’s a dichotomy that will stick in your mind long after you’ve stood up from the table.
While the art and world building is incredible, the gameplay itself is nearly flawless. Players will slowly upgrade their empire in subtle, asymmetrical ways that will set them apart from the competition. Rarely is force required to win the game, as Scythe’s finely wrought gears can be turned from just about any direction. If your gaming group gets hooked early, consider switching over to the campaign included in the expansion,Scythe: The Rise of Fenris. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Expansions: Scythe: The Wind Gambit, Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
The Apples to Apples family tree has gotten pretty extensive. First Cards Against Humanity repurposed the game’s rotating-judge mechanics for a much more adult-oriented game. Then dozens of barely disguised rip-offs tried to eke a little profit out of CAH’s runaway success. Then came the third generation (SuperFight,Red Flags: The Game of Terrible Dates, andFunemployed) but the best of Apples to Apples’ grandchildren may be Snake Oil, which gives players the most opportunity for creativity and humor. Snake Oil isn’t just about picking the best card to impress the current judge, it’s about making creative choices, and finding creative ways to defend them.
The play mechanic goes straight back to Apples to Apples. Judge duties pass around the table, with each player in turn flipping over a customer card, so everyone knows whether they’re pitching a product to, say, an astronaut, a ghost, or Little Red Riding Hood. Everyone else at the table takes a hand of noun cards and tries to combine two of them into a worthwhile product for that client: You might end up creating a Memory Sword, a Magic Banana, or a Truth Puppet. Then everyone gets a chance to pitch their product to the customer, who picks one based on how clever or applicable it is.
Like Apples to Apples, Snake Oil is simple enough for fairly young kids to grasp, but can be as family-friendly or as raunchy as your play group wants to make it. What makes it stand out is its extreme flexibility. Most of these games reward whoever knows the judge-of-the-moment best, or happens to draw the funniest card. Snake Oil rewards whoever has the most inventive and colorful description of their made-up product. As with selling actual snake oil, it all comes down to how fast, furious, and convincing you can make your sales patter. —Tasha Robinson
Get it here: Amazon
People who’ve never played Splendor may have a little difficulty understanding why the game is so addictive. The mechanics are simple: Players take on the roles of Renaissance gem merchants trying to amass the best collection of jewels. . Each turn, you either collect gem game chips, use the chips you already have to buy gem cards, or reserve a gem card for later purchase. Over time, the gems you buy give you points and help you buy bigger and better gems, and your collection will eventually help you acquire noble patrons, which give you more points. It’s a kind of jewel-based pyramid scheme, where you’re all just trying to climb the pyramid fastest.
But while the mechanics are so simple that they take about three minutes to teach, there is depth to Splendor. Since you’re buying from a randomly generated play field, no two games will be the same. There’s a real builder’s satisfaction in laying out a purchase strategy and climbing that ladder. It tends to be a pretty quiet, contemplative game, as everyone works separately toward their goal. It’s competitive, and there’s a minor capacity for screw-your-neighbor moves, but it rarely feels particularly aggressive. The heft of the poker-chip game pieces, the sense of slowly building a functional machine, the little mental checkmarks as the stages of your plan click neatly into place ... it’s all very satisfying. —TR
Get it here: Amazon
Expansions: Cities of Splendor
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
Sometimes all you want to do is punch a starship in the mouth. But, if you’re looking for a tabletop space combat game with a more civilized edge, look no further thanStar Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games.
Now in its second edition, X-Wing is notable in that all of the miniatures come fully painted and ready to drop on the table. Players use specially designed rulers to fly their ships around on a two-dimensional battlefield, rolling custom dice once they get in range to take a shot. Games can be played as competitive, matched-play affairs using points to keep things fair. But, for my money, I prefer to play more thematic asymmetrical scenarios. With just the base game and a few additional models you can recreate the famous fights from the Star Wars movies and comics with ease.
Fans of fleet-sized engagement — like those seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — should check outStar Wars: Armada instead. —CH
Get it here: Amazon
Long considered by board game aficionados to be the best board game ever made, Twilight Struggle invites players to relive the Cold War in excruciating detail.
Twilight Struggle: Deluxe Edition
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Thousands of new board games are published each year, more than our guide to the best board games for beginners could possibly accommodate. Here are a few Wirecutter staff favorites that may not be as approachable for new gamers but have other traits to love. Whether you’re looking for high-level strategy or narrative cooperation or simply something that’s beautiful to see and touch, these are the games that have earned heavy rotation at our game nights—games that we think you’ll love too. If you don’t see one of your favorites, leave a comment so we can expand our collections.
Strategies to test your skills
Scythe ($60 at the time of publication)
Player count: 1 to 5
Duration: 90 to 115 minutes (or more)
Why we love it: Between reading and deciphering the dense rulebook and having to correct multiple mistakes on every turn, our first playthrough of Scythe ended up taking six hours. Nonetheless, we were immediately hooked by its immense strategic depth and the beautiful steampunk-meets-pastoral-idyll worldbuilding aesthetic that Wirecutter writer Gregory Han raved about in our 2016 gift guide. Since then, our play times have fallen in line with the 90-to-115-minute estimate, but Scythe has taken over weekly game nights and inspired a dedicated group chat for discussing strategies, making and sharing memes, and planning impromptu sessions.
In less than two months, we’ve already purchased the seven-player expansion and are seriously considering buying an upgraded custom box to store its many cards and pieces more elegantly. You might be wondering what kind of people want to invest that much time in a game and keep going back to play over and over. But once you learn the mechanics, playing Scythe will be the only thing you want to do.
How it’s played: In Scythe, players represent one of five factions in post–World War I Eastern Europe trying to earn their fortunes and claim land. Players begin with resources (including power, popularity, coins, and combat cards), a different starting location, and two (optional) hidden objectives. Scythe is an engine-building game, so the goal is to set up systems that will continuously reap resources as the game progresses. Each turn, every player chooses one of four actions on their assigned faction mat. All players have the same set of actions but receive different rewards for them, and each character has a set of unique strengths. Other than Encounter cards, which players receive on certain newly explored territories, little luck is involved. The game ends after a player places their sixth achievement (star) on the Triumph Track, but whoever has the most coins wins. It’s a game of capitalism in its purest form.
—Alex Arpaia, former staff writer
Small World ($50 at the time of publication)
Player count: 2 to 5
Duration: 60 to 80 minutes (or more)
Rules: website (PDF)
Why we love it: Imagine a game of Risk set in Middle-earth, that didn’t take as long to play as a full rewatch of the Lord of the Rings films. That’s pretty much the experience of Small World, an area control game filled with elves, dwarves, and halflings, among others. The game comes with multiple boards and enough small pieces that it took about 40 minutes to initially set up, but once the game starts rolling it’s an easy concept to latch onto and the various combinations of fantasy races and powers make every playthrough a little different. It plays just as well with two people as it does with five thanks to the multiple game boards. There are also now a few versions offering up slightly different art and tone, like Small World: Underground, which is a bit darker; or Small World of Warcraft, if you’d rather visit Azeroth than the Shire.
How it’s played: At the beginning of the game, each player gets to select a fantasy race to control from a shuffled stack. Each race is paired with a separately shuffled stack of powers that modify what the troops of that race can do—for instance, if you pick up Wizards with a Flying power, you get bonus gold for occupying magic spaces (the Wizard’s feature) and you can send your troops anywhere on the board (the Flying feature). Once a player picks their characters, they get a set of tiles representing their troops, and on their turn use them to take over land on the board. As players expand their empire and come into conflict with each other, they eventually run out of useful tiles, which they can then turn over (the game calls this “going into decline”) and on their next turn pick a new race/power combo to use. This continues for a number of rounds depending on the number of players, and whoever has collected the most gold (earned mostly by acquiring land) throughout the game wins.
When setting up the game, players will notice a set of tiles that start on the board but don’t act like the other playable races. These unfortunately named “Lost Tribe” tiles are meant to act as an obstacle on some spaces in the initial phase of the game, but given many societies’ historic mistreatment of native peoples it can sometimes feel uncomfortable for players (including myself). I instead use other tiles to indicate natural barriers in those spaces, which doesn’t affect the gameplay.
—James Austin, updates writer
Expansive, continuous adventures
Betrayal at House on the Hill ($50 at the time of publication)
Player count: 3 to 6
Duration: 60 minutes
Rules: website (PDF)
Why we love it: Betrayal at House on the Hill is what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft wrote a Scooby-Doo episode and turned it into a party game. Each player is assigned a character with different traits, including sanity, knowledge, might, and speed. As they explore a spooky mansion, they collect items and experience wacky, atmospheric events, from running into spiders to playing games with a creepy child who gets aggressive with his toys. The strategy in Betrayal at House on the Hill is minimal, but the camp factor is high, so players can get goofy. Because more than 100 different scenarios can ensue (all reminiscent of your favorite horror/sci-fi movies or TV shows), this game has great replay value.
How it’s played: In the first phase, players collaboratively build and explore a haunted mansion by placing room tiles. In the rooms, players may acquire an event, item, or omen card. The players read the cards out loud—silly voices encouraged, in the spirit of telling a ghost story with a flashlight under your face around a campfire. For event cards, players may face a dice challenge based on their traits. Players can also acquire magical items around the house to help them later on, but discovering omen cards has a chance of triggering the second phase of the game. In the second phase, called the Haunt, one player turns traitor and is assigned one of more than a hundred unique scenarios. The traitor faces off against the remaining players in a dramatic final battle until one side emerges victorious.
—Marni Kostman, software engineer
Mysterium ($35 at the time of publication)
Player count: 2 to 7
Duration: 60 minutes
Apps:Android (mobile game), iOS (mobile game)
Why we love it: Part Clue and part Dixit, Mysterium turns players into psychics who must work together to solve a murder case based on ambiguous, beautifully illustrated “vision” cards that are open to interpretation. While some people love the collaborative feel and mystery of the psychic role, I’m all about playing the ghost who delivers the visions. Mysterium requires you to find the subtle connections between cards and consider how each person is most likely to read them. It’s even more fun—or frustrating, depending on how far into the game you are—when people wildly misinterpret your message.
How it’s played: One player takes on the role of the ghost, who tries to convey the details of their murder via vision cards illustrated with objects, characters, and dreamlike landscapes. The remaining players are psychics who must solve the murder case using the vision cards to pick out the correct person, place, and thing cards—each psychic must solve a different facet of the case to advance. A common color, shape, or theme might be the only connection between a set of vision cards and a person card. The psychics bet on who they think placed a correct guess each round, and whoever wins the most bets has the greatest advantage during the final round. In the last round, the ghost gives the psychics one final vision, and any psychic who guesses correctly wins.
—Signe Brewster, senior staff writer
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 ($60 at the time of publication)
Player count: 2 to 4
Duration: 12 to 24 sessions, 60 to 120 minutes each
Rules: website (PDF)
Why we love it: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is an amazing step up for people who love classic Pandemic but want more of a plot and more of a challenge. You’ll need a dedicated crew of friends to play, though. The game takes place across 12 to 24 sessions, during which you’ll mark up the board, change cityscapes, and tear up and destroy rule cards. Every session adds new elements. Pandemic Legacy is also radically harder than its progenitor, with rules that dynamically increase the challenge if you’re having a victory streak. I don’t think we won a single game that wasn’t down to the wire.
How it’s played: As in the original Pandemic, each player takes on a specific role to limit the spread of four viruses across the globe and research a cure. But then things … change. As you play more games in the season, the viruses mutate, rules change, cities rise and fall, and new character options and abilities (and penalties) come into play. Each session is different from the one before because game modifications are permanent and carry over between sessions. The continuous gameplay creates the feeling of a coherent, evolving story, and we were always curious (and terrified) to find out what would happen next.
Star Wars: Outer Rim ($45 at the time of publication)
Player count: 1 to 4
Duration: 2 to 3 hours (more or less, depending how you play)
Why we love it: Set in the “original trilogy” era of Star Wars, Outer Rim lets you play as a smuggler, scoundrel, or bounty hunter, or all three, as you travel between wretched hives of scum and villainy in search of Fame. Playing as classic Star Wars characters is obviously a treat, but our favorite aspect of Outer Rim is that it doesn’t promote the cutthroat, relationship-destroying competitiveness of games like Catan or Risk. You’re all playing for Fame, but it’s not a zero-sum resource. There’s no need to attack other players. You can if you want—you are a scoundrel, after all—but there’s equal benefit to helping others. Despite its complexity, the game is also easy to pick up and exceptionally well balanced; over a few dozen games, the winners never finished more than a few Fame points higher than the “losers.”
How it’s played: Each player gets a basic starter ship and chooses one of eight characters. Options include Lando, Boba Fett, Jyn Erso, and even Doctor Aphra from the comics. Each has special skills that benefit different styles of play. (For instance, Han Solo provides a bonus to your ship’s speed, letting you complete missions faster.) The goal of the game is to gain Fame points, which you can earn in a variety of ways: collecting bounties, delivering illegal cargo, and more. As you make money from these jobs, you can upgrade your gear, and even replace your starter ship with the famous Millennium Falcon, Slave I, and others. During each turn, a player can choose to move their ship between planets, purchase upgrades, and then do jobs, collect bounties, and so on. Jobs are games-within-the-game: multistep activities like heists or the infamous Kessel Run, requiring multiple dice rolls, with wins based on your character and crew’s skills. Although the game can run long in its standard first-to-10-points mode (especially with four players), we found that it can be equally fun with a set time limit. In that case, the winner is the person with the most Fame points when time expires.
—Geoffrey Morrison, editor at large
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases ($50 at the time of publication)
Player count: 1 to 8 (we’ve found it works best up to five players, but there’s no technical limit)
Duration: 2 hours to all day
Why we love it: The Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series somehow generates the expansive open-world feeling of video games like Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption out of a small collection of paper materials and raw imagination. While it’s not as immersive an experience as some mail-order mysteries, it effectively bridges the gap between a traditional board game like Clue and that sort of role-playing detective experience. (In other words, if you like this game, you may want to consider trying out one of those, too.)
A deduction game at its core, Consulting Detective is an irresistible puzzle for mystery fans of all stripes, and one that will challenge even the most seasoned gumshoes. There are tons of potential sources, clues, and leads that you can review, following the threads of the case in a satisfyingly organic way to reach your own conclusions.
How it’s played: Each box comes with 10 cases set in Holmes’s London, arming you with a map and directory, a newspaper, a case book, and a short list of contacts to fall back on. At the back of each case book is a list of questions to be answered, some pertaining directly to the case, and others hovering around the periphery of the story or relating to strange events unfolding in the city. Depending on how many you get right and how many leads you’ve followed, you’ll get a score that tells you how well you did compared with Holmes. In each case, he dramatically reveals how he would have cracked the caper, usually using fewer leads than you and being insufferably smug about it. (The third case in the current edition of the game is available as a free sample, if you want to try out the mechanics before you pick up the box.)
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was first released in 1981, and there are four editions at this point, each with 10 unique cases. In addition to introducing new cases, each box slightly tweaks the mechanics or adds a larger serial story, so you’ll find something worthwhile in each one.
—James Austin, updates writer
Beautifully designed and fun to play
Cathedral ($50 at the time of publication)
Player count: 2
Duration: 20 minutes
Why we love it: As a commitment-phobe when it comes to games, I like that Cathedral is easy to learn and fast-paced—a game usually runs about 20 minutes. Two players compete to outmaneuver each other on the board, and much of the strategy comes from staying several moves ahead of your opponent. Best of all, it’s beautifully made: The hardwood pieces feel substantial, and the set is handsome enough to leave out on a coffee table, ready for play.
How it’s played: This two-player strategic area-control game may remind some people of Go, and it shares many aspects of play with Blokus. After one player places the cathedral, the players take turns placing their variously shaped pieces to capture territory and prevent their opponent from doing the same. The first person to place all their pieces on the board wins. (If neither player can place all their pieces, the person whose remaining pieces take up less space is the winner.)
Tokaido ($43 at the time of publication)
Why we love it: Many competitive board games encourage cutthroat tactics, but the beautiful art, peaceful atmosphere, and simple concept of Tokaido make for a wholly pleasant group activity. I love the game's minimalist design and thematic focus on appreciating the beautiful things in life, and the Collector’s Accessory Pack includes character figures, metal coins, and even a soundtrack to accompany your journey. The base game is straightforward and easy to learn, so you can play it with groups of all skill levels, from your board-game group to your extended family.
How it’s played: You and your companions journey through Japan, earning points by staying at inns, eating delicious food, taking baths, buying trinkets, admiring art, and visiting temples along the way. After everyone reaches the end of the board, whoever has had the most rewarding journey—and has accumulated the most points as a result—wins the game. The expansions (Crossroads and Matsuri) add some strategic depth by offering even more ways to relax and to attend exciting festivals.
—Kimber Streams, senior staff writer
Sagrada ($35 at the time of publication)
Player count: 1 to 4
Duration: 30 to 45 minutes
Rules: website (PDF)
Why we love it: The gorgeous patterned board, vibrantly colored dice, and quality pieces of Sagrada drew me in, and its theme of building artisanal stained glass windows offers a break from so many other games that focus on collecting resources or land. But it’s more than just a pretty game. The rules are simple to understand so you can dive right into playing. And with a quick turnaround time of about 30 minutes, you can play multiple rounds on game night. Although the strategy is fairly light, each round challenges your pattern-recognition skills because the boards and objective cards change.
How it’s played: Each player is a stained-glass artisan trying to build a window using colorful dice and gaining the most victory points. Everyone starts with a color-coded panel with different restrictions and chooses secret objective cards that only they can see. Public objectives are also laid out, and vary by game—everyone can see these and gain points by arranging their dice according to the stipulations of the cards. To maximize their points, players choose dice based on several factors: the colors or shades (values) that work within their board’s limitations and the game’s rules, their own objectives, and the public objectives. The player with the most points wins the game.
—Anna Perling, staff writer
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Wingspan ($45 at the time of publication)
Player count: 1 to 5
Duration: 40 to 70 minutes
Rules: website (PDF)
Why we love it: I played Wingspan with eight people while testing the game, from first-time gamers to folks who will spend 12 hours straight playing Twilight Imperium, and each declared that they wanted to play it again afterwards. Unfortunately, Wingspan seems to frequently sell out, although you can pre-order it or reserve it from other retailers if there's no stock available. That may be because this unique bird-themed engine builder is simply delightful to play.
Thoughtful design touches make Wingspan a work of art. The card illustrations, done by Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, rival Audubon’s. They're gorgeous enough to hang on the wall, and you can, in fact, purchase prints. The pastel egg pieces are as enticing as Jordan almonds, and even the birdhouse-shaped cardboard box in which to roll the dice is surprisingly useful to ensure the wooden cubes don’t fall off the table. Wingspan isn’t just pretty, though. It has enough different bird cards (170) and varying strategies to make replaying it worthwhile. Plus, each bird card is stamped with facts about the species, so that you can learn more every time you play. The game has been endorsed by the pros, too: Wingspan nabbed a 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres, a subcategory of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres game awards that translates to “Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year.” Get it, and get ready to audibly gasp, immediately Instagram, and wonder aloud when these cards will be available to purchase as prints.
How it’s played: Players are bird lovers (“researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors”) working to bring the most birds to their yard (or nest). To start the game, players get an action mat, five bird cards, two bonus cards, and five food tokens. Over four rounds, they can choose to play a bird card, gain food, or lay eggs to unlock other actions for each corresponding section to their mat. The player with the most points after four rounds wins.
—Anna Perling, staff writer
About your guide
The Best Beginner Board Games for Adults
by Anna Perling and James Austin
Our board game picks include great options for new gamers, more-advanced players, and those looking for party, travel, cooperative, and two-player games.
Board Games We Love for Kids
by Courtney Schley
These games can introduce kids to new genres, help them build skills, and offer provocative and age-appropriate challenges, engaging themes, and distinctive designs.
An electric shock shot through Joanna's crotch, she screamed and began to throb all over her thighs. Latex came out of the girl and pressed another button, and the strap-on began to spray the girl with a viscous bluish liquid. Joanna woke up on the toilet floor in a fetal position, feeling good and bad at the same time.
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Following her, the head of a Negroid man emerged from the hole. When he got out all the way, the pear-shaped sack of flesh almost shrank back. The woman and man were known at Lunar Prospector station as Kelly Milton and Matt Brody. They looked like real people, and their bodies were perfect, perhaps even overly perfect.