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Best classic board games - revisit some old favorites in 2021

Included in this guide:

best classic board games
(Image credit: Catan Studio)

You can't beat the all-time greats, and the best classic board games have more than earned their place in any hall of fame. In fact, some have become a cultural phenomenon; they've taken on a life of their own and show no signs of slowing down. How many versions of Monopoly are there now, for instance? We've long since lost count.

That's why we've rounded up some of our favorites here. Want a quick hit of nostalgia? Nothing does the trick better than the best classic board games. Although we didn't have space to include everything, what follows is a whistle-stop tour of beloved games from yesteryear. That includes Risk, Catan, and… well, you'll see. Despite being many decades old, these recommendations still manage to impress today.

This page also features the lowest prices wherever possible. Our bargain-hunting software is always on the lookout for new discounts and reductions, so be sure to check in every now and then if you want money off the best classic board games.

Best classic board games - top 10

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Catan

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

1. Catan

The best classic board game overall

Specifications
Players: 3 - 4
Ages: 10+
Difficulty: Hard
Lasts: 90 mins
Reasons to buy
+Strategic+Trading and deals+Unusual mechanics
Reasons to avoid
-Some rules can be frustrating

In the grand scheme of things, Catan is a fresh-faced addition to the best classic board games - it was first published in 1995. However, it deserves to lead the pack. This is comfortably one of the best board games overall.

An exercise in resource management where you're tasked with constructing your own civilization, it sees players trading and building to get the upper hand. That may sound simple, but you'll need a dash of cunning if you want to achieve victory; you'll never have all the resources that are necessary to create settlements and earn points, so bartering becomes essential. This results in a compelling balancing act. Swapping stone, clay, and the rest may help you in the short-term, yet it also brings your opponents one step closer to victory. 

Because the board is randomised and subject to probability-based dice rolls, clever placement is crucial as well; set yourself up carefully and you can get a head-start on your foes. That complexity is why the game continues to go from strength to strength, as evidenced by the recent 25th Anniversary Edition and numerous expansions.

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(Image credit: Hasbro)
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(Image credit: Hasbro)

2. Clue / Cluedo

The best classic mystery board game

Specifications
Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Easy
Lasts: 45 mins
Reasons to buy
+Satisfying process of elimination+Straightforward+Great in a large group
Reasons to avoid
-Simplistic

If you like to think of yourself as an armchair detective, Clue - or Cluedo, if you're from the UK - puts those skills to the test. Indeed, it's one of the best murder mystery board games for adults out there despite having been around since 1943.

It's certainly got a good elevator pitch; trapped inside a stately manor that's hiding secrets of its own, players have to uncover the truth and catch a killer. Who murdered the victim, where did they do the deed, and which weapon was used? This classic board game is a race against time to gather evidence before everyone else does. Such methodical gameplay helps you feel like an investigator worthy of Poirot, especially due to its focus on the process of elimination (no pun intended). 

Being able to play mind-games with your opponents raises the stakes, too. Seeing which clues they're prioritising lets you connect the dots yourself, and that gives cunning sleuths an advantage. Well, sometimes. This can also be used against players if their foes possess a good poker face. It's endearingly devious.

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(Image credit: Hasbro)
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3. Monopoly

The best classic board game for families

Specifications
Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Moderate
Lasts: 90 mins
Reasons to buy
+Accessible+Moreish+Loads of different versions
Reasons to avoid
-Games can last too long

There's no way we could have a list of the best classic board games without mentioning Monopoly. It's one of the most enduring board games for families ever made, having thrived through numerous updates, revisions, adaptations, and spin-offs since its inception in the early 1900s. And frankly, there's no stopping it - Monopoly has a special edition for almost every pop-culture hit we can think of. Friends? Check. The Avengers? Absolutely. Fortnite? You betcha. There's even a version featuring Super Mario and co, complete with a mystery block that promises to shake up the formula.

No matter which version you get, Monopoly's gameplay remains the same. You know the drill - it's all about buying property and building houses or hotels that you can then charge rent on whenever anyone else lands there. It's brilliantly straightforward, and the game has lasted for well over a century because it's so easy to learn. Even though newer alternatives shake things up, the game never loses that sense of accessibility.

There's a certain collectomania to it as well. Managing to gather and then build on a complete set of locations is satisfying, as is amassing wads of toy money. It's all about scheming your way to the top, and we've got to respect the hustle.

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(Image credit: Hasbro)
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4. Trivial Pursuit

The best classic trivia board game

Specifications
Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 16+
Difficulty: Hard
Lasts: 60 mins
Reasons to buy
+Everyone can get involved+Broad range of categories+Universal appeal
Reasons to avoid
-Some questions are too hard

For people that love quizzes and tests of knowledge, it doesn't get any better than Trivial Pursuit. This is undoubtedly one of the best classic board games for exercising your gray matter, and it's every bit as good now as it was when it first appeared in the 1980s. Throw in a wealth of licensed updates ranging from Harry Potter to Star Wars and you've got a winner on your hands.

The original version listed here plays host to six major categories: Entertainment, Sports and Leisure, Geography, Arts and Literature, Science and Nature, and History. It's a well-rounded line-up that everyone can get involved in, making Trivial Pursuit ideal for parties or larger family gatherings. A focus on general knowledge instead of niche topics means no-one will feel left behind, either. 

You don't even need to worry about the questions being out of date; thanks to the game's age, it's been tweaked with more contemporary material. That secures it as one of the best party board games despite having more than a few decades under its belt.

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(Image credit: Hasbro)
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5. Risk

The best classic strategy board game

Specifications
Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 10+
Difficulty: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins
Reasons to buy
+Tactical+Dice rolls level the playing field+Lots of licensed versions
Reasons to avoid
-Dice mechanics can be arbitrary

Much like Monopoly, Risk is a classic board game that's been through countless iterations, spin-offs, and updates since it launched in 1957. However, it's still the excellent strategy epic it was way back then no matter whether you're sticking with the standard version or branching out with the fantasy-themed The Lord of the Rings Risk.

A game focused on conquering regions around the world to create an empire, it revolves around armies and dice rolls that simulate combat. As the name would suggest, you won't get anywhere by being a pacifist; the winners will be those who go out on a limb to snatch territory from their opponents. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward (see what they did there?).

While it doesn't rank amongst the best cooperative board games, this leads to political tussling with alliances and betrayals all the same. It's also a grand stage for wins snatched from the jaws of defeat. Rolling dice in battle may not seem exciting, but when your lone unit has managed to hold off an overwhelming army multiple turns in a row, it's one of the most satisfying feelings you can get at the table.

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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)

6. Carcassonne

The best classic board game for city-building

Specifications
Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Medium
Lasts: 40 mins
Reasons to buy
+Always different thanks to random tiles+Room for long-term strategy+Satisfying
Reasons to avoid
-The tiles you get are down to chance

The most recent classic board game on this list is also one of the best. Despite only coming into being in 2000, Carcassonne has built up a dedicated cult following since then. It's also received numerous expansions and is now available in digital form pretty much everywhere.

Named after the French city of the same name thanks to the latter's impressive medieval walls, its board is created as you go; players put down tiles to create towns, cities, monasteries, and farms. You get points for completing any of these, but only so long as you control them by having meeple - little wooden people - on those tiles. This leads to a competitive tug of war where you're trying to one-up your foes and keep them away from your investments. 

Yes, there's an element of chance at play because tiles are drawn blindly. But nothing can beat the satisfaction of planning ahead and stealing a portion of the board from under your opponent's nose - particularly if you're in a head-to-head match by using Carcassonne as a board game for 2 players.

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7. Boggle

The best classic word board game

Specifications
Players: 1+
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Medium
Lasts: 3+ mins
Reasons to buy
+Quick+Affordable+Portable
Reasons to avoid
-Timer adds anxiety

Word games are a much-loved tabletop staple, and it doesn't get any better than Boggle. It's actually proven to be so popular since its 1972 debut that Junior, super-sized, and Folio versions have since been introduced.

The beauty of this classic board game is that it's so simple. Players have to make up as many words as they can from a four-by-four tray of 16 letters, and to up the ante, they only have three minutes in which to complete their search. This adds a much-needed element of pressure to get the heart racing, especially because words featuring the most letters pay out more points. 

Oh, and if anyone puts down the same word? It's discredited straight away (bummer). This forces players to think outside the box and stretch themselves. Other word games like Upwords and Bananagrams are excellent, but for our money, Boggle is the winner.

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8. Battleship

The best classic board game for kids

Specifications
Players: 2
Ages: 7+
Difficulty: Easy
Lasts: 15 mins
Reasons to buy
+Tense+Methodical+Relies on intuition
Reasons to avoid
-A lot of guesswork to begin with

Much like Monopoly or Clue, you can't have a list of the best classic board games without featuring Battleship. It's existed in one form or another since the 1930s, and it went on to worldwide success after being brought to the tabletop in 1967. There's even an underwhelming movie adaptation featuring the U.S. Navy vs aliens.

Pitched as the 'ultimate battle of wits', players start by secretly placing their battleships on a grid that's hidden from their rival. They then take it in turns to choose coordinates, fire a missile, and see if it hits anything. This makes it a game of elimination in both senses of the word; you systematically hunt down your opponent's craft before they get yours.

Battleship stays fresh no matter how many times you play as a result. Your opponent's fleet will always end up in a different place, meaning you can't ever rest on your laurels. Dogged persistence and a stroke of luck are the only things you can count on, and that's true no matter which version you try. While there are fully-voiced electronic kits, digital equivalents, travel sets, and beyond, they all rank amongst the best board games for kids thanks to ageless mechanics underpinning them all.

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(Image credit: Gibsons)
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(Image credit: Gibsons)
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(Image credit: Gibsons)

9. 221B Baker Street

The best classic board game with a story

Specifications
Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 10+
Difficulty: Medium
Lasts: 60 mins
Reasons to buy
+Each case has a unique written story+75 cases overall+A more advanced Clue / Cluedo
Reasons to avoid
-Some clues haven't aged well

Designed in 1975 and based on the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street is best described as a souped-up version of Clue. Its mechanics work in much the same way, but everything is tied up in a shiny wrapper of story. 

Players work their way through 75 unique cases of murder, and each one begins with a detailed narrative to set the scene (as you might expect from a game that's decades old, there's an expansion pack of 50 new cases to keep you busy as well). You'll then have to figure out who the killer is, their motive, what weapon they used, and more by hitting the streets of Victorian London. Each location on the board could harbour a clue, but you'll have to work for them; players must solve riddles, word-games, or read between the lines to blow this case wide open.

So, how do you win? By rushing back to 221B Baker Street and smugly reading out your theory like Mr. Holmes himself. Because everyone's conducting their investigation in secret, it's a race to the finish-line with a side of deceit. You see, there's a chance for underhand trickery here; everyone can 'lock' a location and hide whatever clue is inside, but doing so draws attention. 221B then becomes a game of bluffing. Is the hidden info useful, or are your rivals sending you on a wild goose chase? 

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(Image credit: Hasbro)
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10. Scrabble

The best classic board game for relaxing

Specifications
Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Medium
Lasts: 45 mins
Reasons to buy
+Chilled out+Exercises your brain+Can make you feel very smug
Reasons to avoid
-Possibility to get a set of rubbish letters

Scrabble has been around for over 80 years, and it isn't difficult to see why. A chilled-out word game that's perfect for whiling away a lazy afternoon, it's meditative and relaxing. What's more, it gives your brain a fair workout.

You know how it works: Scrabble tasks you with making words from the random letters in your possession. Certain combinations - and specific tiles - offer more points, but you can only add to words that already exist on the board. It's a blissfully uncomplicated concept, but still requires flexibility and skill. 

Better still, it's different every single time. Because you never know what combination of letters you'll end up with, you'll always need to think on your feet. It's truly one of the best classic board games out there, and perfect for a Sunday afternoon at home.

More board game guides

For more board game suggestions - including modern favorites that you won't be able to put down - don't forget to check out our other guides. There are plenty of fantastic games to choose from that will keep everyone entertained for weeks to come, and they're all available at the lowest prices. 

And if you want something a bit more adventurous? Be sure to visit the best tabletop RPGs or learn how to play D&D online.

Benjamin Abbott

As one of the site's Hardware Editors, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I've been writing about games in one form or another for almost a decade (with bylines ranging from Metro.co.uk and PC Gamer to TechRadar), and have worked at GamesRadar+ since 2018. I can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.