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Board games for adults 2020

Board games for adults
(Image credit: Drumond Park)

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.

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. Especially in 2020 - for example, Gloomhaven is getting a sequel called Frosthaven at some point over the next year, and our Divinity: Original Sin board game preview got us very excited for when the game launches this fall.

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: Drumond Park)
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(Image credit: Drumond Park)
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(Image credit: Drumond Park)

1. Articulate!

The best board game for adults

Players: 4 - 20+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 30-60 minutes | Age: 12+

Fast-paced and competitive
Can have 20+ players
Hundreds of cards included
Some won't like the pressure

If friends or family are descending on your home en masse, Articulate! is the perfect choice to keep them busy. A team-based trivia game with questions drawn from nature, pop-culture, and beyond, it can be played with over 20 people - or as few as four.

What's more, it's easy to pick up. Players take turns to describe words from a category, and their team has to guess as many of those words as they can within 30 seconds. This advances your marker across the board, and the first team to reach the finish line wins. Throw in wildcard rounds where anyone can answer and spaces that allow you to rush ahead (or send your opponents backward) and you'll start to understand why this game has been going strong since 1992.

Those questions aren't obscure, either. Everyone stands a chance of earning points for their team no matter who they are or what interests they've got. That makes Articulate! ideal for parties, Christmas get-togethers, and everything in-between.

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

2. 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
Challenging
Can be disheartening

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.

Read more: Why you should play... the Pandemic board game

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(Image credit: Days of Wonder)
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(Image credit: Days of Wonder)

3. Ticket to Ride

Players: 2 - 5 | Difficulty: Easy | Time to set-up: 5 mins | Time to play: 60 mins | Age: 8+

Very broad appeal
Loads of different editions
Extremely replayable
Less fun for 2 players

If you want an accessible game that doesn't take up much brain-space, Ticket to Ride is essential. That's not to say it's easy or dull, though. Scratch the surface and you'll find a deep undercurrent of strategy beneath its cheerful exterior.

Although it's a board game about trains, you don't need to be interested in the humble locomotive to have fun with Ticket to Ride. No matter whether you're playing against one or four people, your aim is to get the highest score by any means necessary. You rack up points by creating train lines between cities, finishing tricky routes, or creating the longest continuous track, but claiming victory requires thought. Should you block your opponents? Is it better to complete lots of small routes or attempt a longer one that has a bigger payout at the end? Mulling over these tactics will keep you busy between goes.

Happily, there are plenty of different versions on offer if you ever want a change of pace. The base game is set in North America, but a European edition is also available alongside sets featuring India, Asia, Africa, and beyond. There's even one that throws boats into the mix, not to mention an alternative for younger players.

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(Image credit: Big Potato Games)
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4. Blockbuster: The Game

The best trivia board game for adults

Players: 4 - 8 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: Two minutes | Time to play: 20 minutes | Age: 14+

Fast-paced
Competitive
Awesome theming
Anxiety-inducing

Even though the store is long dead, this team game isn't going anywhere. Fast-paced and straightforward, Blockbuster should be your go-to choice for parties. And don't worry, knowing loads about cinema isn't a requirement - this is basically a cross between Articulate! and charades.

What you will need are your wits. Things kick off with a head-to-head round, and two players are handed a category like "movies with a shootout". They then take it turns to yell out an example. Fail to come up with a response in 15 seconds and you'll lose.

Which is when the real game begins; the winner draws six cards and acts out, quotes, or describes three of them for their team. The remaining three cards are left for the loser, and - because everyone likes an opportunity to be mean - they'll probably wind up being the toughest ones. It’s deliciously evil, and the addition of VHS theming only makes it better.

Read more: Why you should play... Blockbuster: The Game 

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(Image credit: Catan Studio)
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(Image credit: Catan Studio)

5. Catan

The best classic board game for adults

Players: 3 - 4 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: Five minutes | Time to play: 45 - 90 minutes | Age: 10+

Tactical
Trading and deal-making
Lots of ways to win
Often frustrating

In Catan, you and up to three other players are tasked with conquering an uncharted island - and the only way to do it is through hard graft, trade, tactics, and luck. A resource management game that's been making waves since 1995, it's more than earned its place at the table.

Taking on the role of settlers, you're tasked with civilizing the frontier by building villages, cities, and roads around key resources. As you'd expect, this isn't a walk in the park; you'll need material to do all of the above, but players only have access to a few at a time. Because their rivals own the rest, sweet-talking everyone else becomes essential. Yes, Catan is reliant on dice so there's an element of chance thrown into the mix. But there's more than enough strategy to keep you invested nonetheless. This is a game about intuition and probability, leaving plenty to get your teeth into. It's not lacking in variety, either - the addition of trading ports and a robber who steals your stuff certainly helps. 

There are many alternate versions of Catan to try out (including Game of Thrones and Star Trek), so you're bound to find one that'll suit you.

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(Image credit: Big Potato Games)
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(Image credit: Big Potato Games)

6. Scrawl

The best drawing board game for adults

Players: 4 - 8 | Difficulty: Easy | Time to set up: Two minutes | Time to play: 30 minutes | Age: 17+

Hilarious
The perfect ice-breaker
Could do with a timer
Scoring system is susceptible to bias

If ever there was a board game that epitomised 'for adults', it's Scrawl. This 17+ party game is best described as a cross between Telephone and Pictionary; you get a ridiculous prompt card and have to draw what it tells you, be it "photocopying your balls" or "licking people's shoes". Your doodle then gets passed with no explanation to the person beside you, and they've got to write down what they think it is. After that, the player beside them draws whatever it is their neighbour's written, and so on. Inevitably, it won't end well. Which is good news for us, obviously - the results are hilarious.

That tells you everything you need to know about Scrawl. It's filthy-minded, funny, and the perfect ice-breaker. In fact, the game's closest relatives would be Cards Against Humanity or Joking Hazard; it thrives on the same dark humor. In other words, it's NSFW and totally hysterical.

Read more: Scrawl board game review 

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(Image credit: Czech Games)

7. Codenames

The best word 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.

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

8. Wingspan

The most 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?

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

9. 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.

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

10. 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.

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

11. Gloomhaven

The best RPG 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.

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

12. 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.

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13. 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.