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Board games for adults 2019

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board games for adults
(Image credit: Cephalofair Games, Leder Games, Plan B Games)

The 'top board games for adults' is a long list; don't fall into the trap of thinking that board games for kids are all that are out there. In fact, the number of tabletop games that can be enjoyed by everyone grows with every passing year. Which ones are good? Which ones are bad? Don't worry, we're on hand to help you decide. The suggestions below are some of the best board games around, and they span a breadth of genres from abstract economic strategy to hardcore dungeon-delving. Basically, this list gives you a well-rounded collection suitable for any occasion.

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(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

The best tabletop RPGs
Want to take tabletop gaming to the next level? If you're curious about role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, our guide will walk you through the best way to start (while recommending new adventures for veterans, too).

What's more, board games are a fantastic ice-breaker. Got a group visiting your house or apartment for the first time? Give guests something to focus on with the following games. Headed to college and need a way to bond with your peers? Our recommendations are the perfect solution. You'll find nothing but board games for adults here to help you make friends, then crush those friends in a desperate battle for gaming supremacy (or team up with them via the best cooperative board games, depending on how merciful you're feeling). We've even included a few board games for 2 players in case you're lacking in manpower, and these are every bit as fun of the rest. There's an awful lot to get your teeth into.

Although this guide includes some classics, some new contenders, and some surprises, all of them are the perfect way to spend an evening.

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(Image credit: Cephalofair Games)
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(Image credit: Cephalofair Games)
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(Image credit: Cephalofair Games)

1. Gloomhaven

Our favorite board game for adults

Players: 3 - 6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 40 - 90 minutes | Age: 12+

Insanely deep
Lasting consequences
Great miniatures
Expensive

One of the most talked about board games there is, Gloomhaven has snatched the top spot in board gaming 'best-ofs' over the last couple years and seems loath to give it up. At this point, it seems destined for a Titanic-the-movie-like reign over the charts. 

There's good reason for that. In Gloomhaven, players are heroes on a series of fantastical quests within the titular city. They raid tombs, plunder dungeons, and topple enemies on a branching story that adds new characters to play, locations to visit, and stories to explore over the course of many gaming sessions. Those sessions are broken up into cooperative tactical battles where players maneuver to both complete objectives and overcome enemies. Combat plays out quickly, and it doesn’t rely on frustratingly random dice rolls like most other tabletop dungeon crawlers.

Because of this, Gloomhaven is the perfect choice for those who want a tabletop role-playing experience without the time and effort you need to dedicate to something like Dungeons and Dragons. It’s an experience that exists in other board games, but not quite at this scale. Gloomhaven is a huge game, in a huge box, with a ton of components and secret things to open. 

Undecided? The truly curious can check out the digital version on Steam.

Best for... anyone that wants to go on a grand, multi-game adventure

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(Image credit: Plan B Games)
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(Image credit: Plan B Games)
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(Image credit: Plan B Games)

2. Azul

The best puzzle board game for adults

Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Easy | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30 - 40 minutes | Age: 8+

A tricky puzzle
Competitive
Absolutely gorgeous
Potential for bickering

This beautiful game about tile-laying in a Spanish palace is a delight both visually and to play. In each round, players select a pile of tiles from the center of the table and then place those tiles on their board to score points. Matching the tile patterns and completing specific sets of tiles racks up bonus points, but wasting tiles loses you points. This quickly escalates to competitive bickering and creative placement of new tiles - the competition to select your tile supplier each round gets far fiercer than you might imagine.

It’s good because it’s as much a personal puzzle as an inter-player competition - it's not quite a solitaire game, but not a head-to-head throwdown either. There’s a simple joy in manipulating your chunky tiles to their places, cleverly lining up your moves to ensure that you meet a pattern goal, or just maximizing your points based on what you could get. It’s almost like a crossword puzzle of colors, where getting the right things in the right place feels like it’s destined to be... though every game winds up looking different.

Best for... lovers of pattern-matching puzzlers

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(Image credit: Leder Games)
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(Image credit: Leder Games)

3. Root

The best strategy board game for adults

Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60 - 90 minutes | Age: 10+

Gorgeous artwork
Wide range of strategies
Great theme
Better over multiple sessions

This game of bucolic woodland conquest is a wonderfully asymmetric strategy game. Taking cues from books like Redwall or comics such as Mouse Guard, it’s a world of fighting mice, haughty bird nobles, and adventurous raccoons waging epic battles. Each player takes on a faction of the woodlands with its own mechanics, goals, and strategies for victory. It’s a game that rewards repeat playing, as each faction has their unique and powerful abilities best learned and perfected over time (it’s also really cute).

Players take control of factions like the Marquise de Cat, which needs to solidify its hold on the forest to quash rebellion. Meanwhile, the Eyrie of bird nobility must manipulate their feudal hierarchy to make elaborate plans come to fruition. Then there’s the peasants of the forest, mice and hedgehogs, rising up against oppression by the birds and cats (and don't forget the devious raccoon, who controls only a single piece on the board and has goals all their own). Root has a lot going on, yes. It's perhaps too complex or competitive for some. But all of it is a showcase of the best of what modern board games have to offer. 

Once you've gotten to grips with the main game, there’s also the Riverfolk expansion for beavers, otters, and a cult of crazy lizards.

Best for... people who love strategy as much as they love stories like Redwall

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(Image credit: Stonemaier Games)
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(Image credit: Stonemaier Games)
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(Image credit: Stonemaier Games)

4. Wingspan

The best relaxing board game for adults

Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60 - 90 minutes | Age: 10+

Simple mechanics
Easy to learn
Beautiful art
Theme may be too dry for some

A widespread favorite and winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards, Wingspan is a superb game with really lovely art of birds (it also has a great name in German that’s very fun to say: Flügelschlag). This is a game so good that scalpers were turning it around for three or four times its list price while it was out of print. 

Everyone in the game is a bird enthusiast charged with attracting the best array of birds to their preserve. To do that, you use cards to get food and lay eggs and get even more birds. It’s essentially a game about engine building, using clever combinations of cards and their abilities to get yet more cards and yet more abilities. However, the best part is that it’s really simple to learn and play. You only choose from between four actions each turn, reducing dreaded analysis paralysis, and it’s clear what each of those actions does from the get-go. New cards and powers only improve your existing actions, so they don’t make it that much harder to decide what’s going on either. And as a bonus, the game is only a brisk four rounds long.

Designer Elizabeth Hargrave really excelled with this one. It’s a superb example of what’s best in board games, and of a genre that’s truly unique. From its clever way to score points and the vast combinations of possibilities - there are 170 birds here - to the dice tower shaped like a bird house, Wingspan is a superb addition to anyone’s board game collection. 

Did I mention the dice tower shaped like a birdhouse?

Best for... animal-lovers everywhere who just want to chill out

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(Image credit: Mayfair Games)
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(Image credit: Mayfair Games)

5. Isle of Skye

The best trading board game for adults

Players: 2 - 5 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 45 - 60 minutes | Age: 14+

Plenty of strategy
Random objectives
Not necessarily the most thrilling concept

A brilliantly simple game of building a little Scottish kingdom, Isle of Skye is about hairy cows, whisky, and convenient roads. Your goal is to elevate yourself from lowly chieftain to powerful king by adding new land to your territory each turn. These territory tiles have a variety of iconic elements on them like whisky, boats, cows, forts, and lochs (which is a Scottish lake, by the way). Matching those symbols to certain goals is how you get points, and the person who gets the most becomes king (just like in real life). The twist is that these goals are random each game, so how you win varies from match to match.

The thing that makes Isle of Skye really sing is how the new tiles are distributed. Each turn you get money depending on how much whisky your clan produces. You then get some tiles to put into the game, but you set the price on those tiles using your own money. If someone else buys them to place, they pay you that amount. If nobody else buys them, you spend that amount. It’s a neat balance that sets up a tense auction each turn, but not one that has the often-annoying competitive and social aspects of a traditional bidding war.

Best for... budding Scottish chieftains who love a bit of whiskey

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(Image credit: Czech Games)
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(Image credit: Czech Games)

6. Codenames

The best party board game for adults

Players: 2 - 8 | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 15 minutes | Complexity: Easy | Age: 10+

Anyone can play
Scales well
Has moments of silent downtime
Occasional arbitrary game end

Hands down the best new party game in years, Codenames is about guessing and teamwork and wordplay. It’s extremely easy to learn and play: Give the other player on your team a one-word clue and number. They use that clue to guess at other words on the table, and the number indicates how many words on the table go with that clue. For instance, you say something like "Ocean 2" and you hope your partner picks Sea and Blue, but they guess Sea and Fish, so you only get half the progress this turn. The first team of players to guess all their list of secret words wins. 

It’s a great game because of how it teaches you to think in unison with other people. As time goes on you develop a code of communication, talking with the other players in unique ways and referencing mutually known events. It’s a great icebreaker, too, because later you learn the reasoning behind others’ choices (they associate Blue with Milk because they’re a Star Wars nerd, for instance).

Codenames is available in both competitive and cooperative versions (Codenames Duet), as well as a version with pictures instead of words. They’re all great games. Plus, they work together to expand your overall set of cards.

Best for... playing after a dinner party

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(Image credit: Z-Man Games)
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(Image credit: Z-Man Games)

7. Pandemic

The best co-op board game for adults

Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30 - 60 minutes | Age: 10+

Perfect for team strategy
Excellent sense of tension
It's challenging...
... but perhaps TOO challenging 

Pandemic is one of the best co-op games there is. Players become a team of global aid workers trying to prevent a rash of deadly super-diseases that threaten to collapse world order. 

Every one of you has a set of simple choices each turn (like treating the disease or moving around the world), along with a unique power that can turn the tide if used correctly. Each player’s turn also sees the disease intensifying, spreading, or even starting terrible new outbreaks. It’s a simple setup that leads to awesome emergent tactics as the disease spreads. 

While working with others is always fun, especially to solve a hard puzzle like this (it has multiple difficulties), what Pandemic really ends up being about is optimizing your turn’s actions to take down diseases as effectively as you can. Do you prioritize containment of all the diseases, or try to wipe them out root and stem? What do you do when one strategy fails because of the random order of disease spread? Were your plans robust enough to survive, or have you doomed billions?

For those who love a good story and have a consistent group to game with, we can’t recommend Pandemic: Legacy enough. It’s Pandemic, but with a brilliant narrative twist and persistent consequences that take place over multiple sessions.

Best for… players who enjoy teamwork

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(Image credit: Space Cowboys)
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8. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

The best mystery board game for adults

Players: 1 - 8 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 15 minutes | Time to play: 60 - 120 minutes | Age: 13+

Very cerebral
Absorbing and immersive
Detailed props
Damn hard

This is the oldest game on our list, first published in 1981 and given a spiffy 21st century edition just a few years back. Players are hurled into Victorian England and become a team of sleuths trying to crack a case faster than Sherlock Holmes can (spoiler warning, you will never beat Sherlock Holmes). It’s a wonderful game that's more about execution than fancy game mechanics - like a good escape room, this provides an experience. Other, more recent, games have really taken to the narrative style of this game, but none have really nailed it as well. It plays out like long-form interactive fiction as your team of detectives go about London looking for information. You’re trying to solve the case quickly, so economy of action is key
- should you go talk to the victim’s sibling first, or prioritize the people in the neighborhood where the murder happened? The information that’s most important is the information that lets you make the deductive leap to the solution fastest, but figuring out where that information lies is tough.

It’s a very tactile game about sharing information and clues with the other players, identifying red herrings, and making leaps of deduction. There are fake newspapers to go through, a directory of London and a sprawling map to figure out, and a big book of cases, interviews, and case files with any given edition of the game - of which there are several. 'The Thames Murders' is the updated reboxing of the original game’s excellent cases, but there are now several other boxes of modern designs for teams of enthusiastic sleuths to undertake.

Best for... those who want to get their thinking caps on

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(Image credit: Fantasy Flight)
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9. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

The best skirmish board game for adults

Players: 2+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 30 - 45 minutes | Age: 12+

Clever
Short
Star Wars, because duh
Expansions can be pricey

One of the best miniatures skirmish games ever made, X-Wing Miniatures is now on its second edition and is better than ever. It’s a game of duelling starfighters and good vs evil, where each turn you plan out your moves and then resolve them alongside your opponent’s own hidden plans. Sure, there’s dice rolling and shields to track in there too, but what the game is really about is dogfighting and outguessing your enemies. Will they barrel roll, or come straight at you? Will they bank left or right to evade? Should you speed up and hope to get out of range, or slow down and hope the enemy on your tail speeds past you?

Mercifully, especially compared to other skirmish and wargames using minis, X-Wing is really scaleable. A couple starter sets allow for some great matches, but you can toss in a few extra ships every now and then for a varied game experience. Or you can go all in, running multi-session campaigns with new ships every quarter and specialist giant capital ships on the table. 

The real win is that it’s an enjoyable game whether you’re a hardcore devotee or someone with a handful of ships to divide up between whoever’s visiting for that week’s game night.

Best for... fans of Star Wars and wargaming miniatures

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