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The best board games 2019

best board games
(Image credit: Avalon Hill, Z-Man Games, Fantasy Flight)

The hardest part about creating a list of the best board games is deciding what to leave out - there's almost too much choice. This is an industry bursting with cool ideas, and anyone still under the impression that it's a stuffy hobby best saved for Christmas get-togethers is in for a treat. It took a lot of consideration and many thoughtful chin-strokes (mostly as we stared moodily into the middle distance), but we've finally narrowed down the list of our favorite board games to just 15 entries. In our opinion, these are the cream of the crop and should be on everyone's shelf. And before we go any further, it's worth noting that we haven't included traditional board games that everyone knows about. Our guide is about introducing you to something new and totally awesome that you may not have experienced before. That's why well-known classics like Monopoly, Twister, and Risk aren't here, great though they may be.

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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). 

But in that case, what qualifies as the 'best board games? Regardless of whether you're hunting down board games for adults or board games for kids, my answer is the same; an intriguing hook or theme that catches your attention is a must. Accessibility isn't far behind, and replayability is essential as well. You'll find all of the above in our picks, and they should last you for months. No matter whether you want a challenge, the best cooperative board games, smaller board games for 2 people, or something else entirely, we've got you covered.

Oh, and one last thing - our team of bargain hunters have also included a deal or two to make sure you get maximum value for money. Board games can get expensive, after all, and that extra cash is sure to come in handy when Black Friday game deals arrive.

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

The best board game

Players: 3-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60 minutes | Age: 12+

Very replayable
Vivid, changeable setting
Not all haunts are born equal
Potential for uneven games

There's nothing quite like taking part in your own horror movie. Betrayal at House on the Hill casts you as one of six tropes (creepy little girl with a doll? check) before setting everyone loose in a mansion that's revealed room by room. Unfortunately, something's waiting for you all inside. And as you've probably guessed, it's not too pleasant.

Because of this, Betrayal's gameplay is dripping with tension. Each player lays down room tiles drawn at random as they explore the house, and that results in a unique setting each time. You never know what you'll find through the next door, either - your journey triggers creepy events, calamities, and 'Omens' as you go. Find enough Omens and a full-blown horror scenario will kick in. This is where things get properly tense; one of 50 missions is chosen and the house turns on its inhabitants with swift, often-bizarre savagery. Perhaps a serial killer strides through the door, eager to hunt you one by one. Maybe a monstrous creature awakens in the basement, or the house starts sinking into a swamp. Regardless, you'll need to work as a team if you want to get out of there alive. Well, most of you will need to work as a team. You see, one player may be revealed as a traitor at this point. They have special rules of their own, and the majority of them boil down to murdering everyone else. Which is enough to get them taken off the Christmas card list, to be honest.

Anyway. Once you've gotten your head around the base game, you can shake things up with a special Legacy edition. This adds persistent consequences to each session, building a long-term story that's entirely unique.

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Pandemic

The best co-op board game

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

Perfect team strategy
It's tense
Challenging...
... but perhaps TOO challenging 

Easy to get your head around but tricky to beat, Pandemic pits you against an outbreak of coughs and sneezes across the world (and by that I mean "horrendous, life-threatening disease"). Victory hinges on your team’s ability to communicate, prioritise threats, plan ahead, and stay cool under pressure. 

Your goal is simple. Besides keeping outbreaks under control, you must develop a cure for each disease by collecting five cards of a certain color. Easy, right? Guess again. New infections drop onto the board at the end of every turn, and if more than three gather in a single location they’ll start spreading to neighboring cities. Worse still, the number of infections that are deployed goes up with each epidemic. This can result in a domino effect of disastrous, oh-god-someone-do-something proportions. Do you focus on making a cure or should you keep those disease levels down? That's just one of the many crises you’ll need to overcome, and this white-knuckle decision-making is where Pandemic shines.

Want a greater challenge? Grab Pandemic Legacy edition. The consequences of your actions carry from one game to another here, giving you a truly personalised spin on Pandemic.

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Pinch 'N' Pass

The best party board game

Players: 3-6 | Difficulty: Easy | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 10-40 minutes | Age: 12+

Fast and frantic
Easy to understand
Sense of competition
Run-time can vary

Pinch 'N' Pass may sound simple, but that’s no bad thing. In fact, it’s perfect for kicking off games night. Want to break the ice and give everyone something to focus on? This is it, chief. It's also great for people who don't like board games. There aren't any complicated rules to get your head around, it's easy to understand, and there's no waiting for your go either. Impatient players, rejoice.

At its core, Pinch 'N' Pass is about quick wits and even quicker responses - this is a naming game where anyone is able to join in. Because there are no turns, the fastest answer wins. The rules are equally simple. If you select a 'Pinch' card, you’ll be given a category like "Tom Cruise movies". Players then call out something that fits the bill (e.g. Live Die Repeat, 'cos you're woke) and take the card for themselves. Don't get comfortable yet, though. Anyone who yells another suggestion from that category is able to steal it. Whoever's left holding the card when the timer runs out gets a point. This allows them to move one space up the board. Meanwhile, 'Pass' cards have the opposite effect. It’s about getting rid of the card instead. End the round with one and you'll be forced back a space. Brutal.

Oh, and let's not forget the final twist. Pinch 'N' Pass's timer is randomised, so you can't tell how long you have left on the clock. This results in a fast and furious game that can last anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes.

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Fallout

The best solo board game

Players: 1-4 | Complexity: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 120 minutes | Age: 14+

Loads of depth
Engrossing
Perfectly recreates the games
Takes a long time

This board game adaptation translates the franchise's theme, gameplay, and art-style perfectly. Using scenarios inspired by Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, this take on the post-apocalyptic Wasteland feels one hell of a lot like playing the video game... only now your friends can come along for the ride. It's a tabletop version of Fallout 76, in other words, and one that works brilliantly even if you're playing solo. 

Fortunately for us, this board game doesn't share the teething troubles of its online counterpart. Players set off to explore what's left of America, build influence among factions, beat the snot out of monsters, and complete side-quests that'll earn them even more stuff. It's a satisfying gameplay loop. However, what's really pleasing about this game is the attention to detail. Everything feels drawn straight from the Fallout universe, right down to the card descriptions and artwork. The downside? The length of each session is a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it; games can last 2-3 hours. Still, If you're willing to invest the time and you have friends who love a bit of Fallout, you couldn't ask for anything better.

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Articulate!

The best team board game

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

Having appeared on store shelves since 1992, Articulate! is a trivia classic. Unlike so many board games, it can also be played in a massive group of 20+ people; so long as you're divided into teams of at least two per side, everyone can get involved. That makes it a real winner for parties.

Its long life isn't a mystery, either. The rules are straightforward and easy to get your head around. Taking it turns, a member of each team must describe as many words from a category as they can within 30 seconds… but they can't say what that word sounds like or rhymes with. Thanks to a broad range of subjects including Nature, World, and Action, you also don't need to be a font of obscure knowledge to win. Instead, this game hinges on your ability to verbalise something (not to mention how in sync you are with your teammates). It's a must-have.

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Villainous

The best tactical board game

Players: 2-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 2-5 minutes | Time to play: 50-60 minutes | Age: 10+

Tactical
Gorgeous artwork
Mechanics based on characters
Hard to explain

Never has a board game been more on-brand than Villainous; it delights in making you as mean as possible. It's also surprisingly tactical. There's a lot of unexpected depth here, and it takes skill to come out on top in this battle of dastardly backstabbing. Gorgeous artwork and beautiful playing pieces are the icing on this very, very appealing cake. It's a pain to explain for the first time, but trust us: you'll be hooked once you've got it.

Based on classic Disney movies both old and new (ish), Villainous casts you as a famous baddie looking to get their own way. Malificent must place a curse on each area of the board, Jafar needs to get his hands on the lamp, Ursula wants Triton's trident, and so on. But that's not the coolest part. In an inspired twist, each villain has unique abilities inspired by their personality from the films. As an example, King John's got underhand methods of sponging yet more money from his foes. These skills come in very handy when trying to undermine other players - for added spice, you're also attempting to scupper your opponents' plans while working toward your own. You can drop pesky heroes like Ariel on top of them to block some of their moves, for instance. This makes the game a whole lot more devious; good strategy is needed to do so while furthering your own goals. 

Happily, there's plenty more where that came from - Villainous has got two expansions on the horizon that add more beloved characters to the fun, ranging from Scar to Hades.

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Blockbuster: The Game

The best trivia board game

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

Its namesake may have been pushing daisies since 2013, but Blockbuster: The Game is the life of the party. This brand-new movie quiz is fast-paced and surprisingly brutal, which obviously makes it a hoot when the drinks and jokes are flowing. Its awesome VHS theming is also cool as hell.

Your goal is to team up and collect a deck of eight 'genre' cards, but each turn begins with a one-on-one round. After being handed a category (e.g. "spy movies"), both sides take it in turns to yell out a movie as quick as they can before resetting the 15-second timer. Whoever can't think of anything loses. The winner then picks 6 movie cards for the next stage of the game, 'Triple Charades Jeopardy'. Their job? To act out, quote, and describe 3 of those cards for their team (don't worry if you can't remember a real quote, by the way - you're allowed to make something up). The trouble is, you've only got 30 seconds to do it. That's why winning Round One becomes so crucial; you can keep the easy cards for yourself and saddle your opponents with the hardest ones. It’s deliciously evil, and I love it.

You don't need to be a film buff to play, either. As it says on the box, Blockbuster is a "movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie". No in-depth trivia is required, and that makes it so much more accessible.

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Bananagrams

The best word game

Players: 1-8 | Time to set up: Under 2 minutes | Time to play: 10-20 minutes | Complexity: Hard | Age: 7+

Tense and frantic
Makes you think
Very portable
Can make you feel a bit inadequate

Bananagrams may sound daft, but it's pure gold if you're into word games. As the lovechild of Scrabble, Upwords, and your average pen-and-paper puzzle, this game challenges its players to make a crossword from letter tiles. Because each word must be connected to another one and make sense (which is a right pig if you've got a handful of 'z' and 'q'), it gives your gray matter a workout. You'll need to be quick, too. Once someone's used up their pile of letters, you all take another tile… even those who haven't finished their crossword yet. This ratchets up the pressure in a big way; if you're not on your toes, you could find yourself with a mountain of letters to wade through. Don't worry about being left behind, though. Because the game keeps going until no tiles are left, there's room for underdogs to pull off a last-minute win nonetheless. That's an amazing feeling, and managing to create a long word full of awkward letters (now's the time to break out 'antidisestablishmentarianism') is just as empowering.

Thanks to Bananagram's small playing pieces and petite case, it's also ideal for gaming on the go. It can easily fit into a pocket or bag, and that means you're able to take it with you when out and about. There are plenty of alternative versions, too - you can get a Party Edition that adds amusing new rules, Double Bananagrams for larger groups, and more.

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Gloomhaven

The best roleplaying board game

Players: 1—4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—120+ minutes | Age: 12+

Insanely deep
Lasting consequences
Cool miniatures
Mad expensive

Gloomhaven is where it's at if you want a deep, engrossing fantasy RPG to lose yourself in. Along with an enormous box stuffed with miniatures and over 1,700 cards, the consequences of one game carry into the next. This provides a sprawling adventure across multiple sessions, making it a bite-size introduction to the likes of Dungeons and Dragons.

As a wandering mercenary, your team will brave dark depths in search of loot while battling monsters via turn-based combat. Meanwhile, every scenario and choice builds on your group's unique story (much like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book). It's fairly easy to get your head around, though. Despite dealing with persistent stats that evolve with your character, the manual is surprisingly straightforward. It's expensive, yes, but it's also the sort game that will keep you going for months on end.

Reluctant to shell out that much cash? We hear you, and there's a solution; Gloomhaven now has a digital adaptation on Steam.

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One Night Ultimate Werewolf

A bite-size game of suspicion and murder

Players: 3 - 10 | Difficulty: Medium | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 10 minutes | Age: 8+

Free app streamlines set-up
Lots of replayability
Devious
Speed prevents sense of paranoia

Deduction and deception go hand-in-hand for One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a game that practically makes wink murder a competitive sport. It starts out simply enough; each player is randomly cast as one of a motley collection of village residents. Yet they're not the only ones playing - hidden amongst them are werewolves who seek to prey on the unsuspecting villagers. Over the course of an in-game night (in which everyone secretly plays their moves) you must figure out who that monster is before they get you. That's not as easy as it sounds. Because many roles allow for subterfuge, you can never be absolutely sure who is telling the truth.

As with all games of this type, the fun lies both in making accurate deductions based on fact and gut feeling, and in successfully throwing others under the bus (you rascal). Over the course of each ten-minute game, suspicion runs rampant and, because there's always the chance that there are no werewolves in any given match, innocent players will have to talk their way out of a death sentence. The free accompanying app also makes set-up a breeze, especially for sessions with more players. Which is the best way to experience One Night Ultimate Werewolf, as it so happens. A bunch of hapless victims to trick and double-cross? Bring it on.

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Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game

The best board game for bluffing

Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Medium | Time to set up: 2-5 minutes | Time to play: 30-40 minutes | Age: 13+

Fast-paced
Bluffing and betrayals
Brilliant endgame phase
Rules are hard to understand

Lara Croft often works alone, and now we can see why - this game is all about screwing over other players in a scramble to victory. As you'd expect, Tomb Raider Legends: The Board Game tasks you with plundering an artefact from trap-filled dungeons… but everyone else wants to get there first. To make matters worse, replica artefacts litter the board so you can never be certain who's got their mitts on the real one. What follows is half-an-hour of bluffing, backstabbing, and theft. It's like poker mixed with dungeon-crawling, and I'm totally here for it.

Happily, each 'room' of the tomb is randomly selected. This means you can't be certain of what's coming. To increase your anxiety even more, many feature a unique challenge, enemy, or status effect that range from dinosaur lairs to deadly rapids. This threat must be defeated before anyone can progress to the next stage, so you've got to be tactical about whether you tackle the danger head-on, heal yourself, or attack your foes while they're distracted. It becomes even more strategic because players need to decide their moves well in advance - you end up trying to second-guess what everyone else is going to do. Although the rules aren't always clear, once you understand them this becomes a fast-paced game with a wicked edge. There really is no honor amongst thieves...

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Codenames

The party game with actual strategy

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

Anyone can play
Scales well for more people
Silent downtime
Occasionally arbitrary endgame

Most party games rely on silliness or trivia to function. Codenames is a clever alternative that throws strategy into the mix. One player invents single-word clues that guide their team-mates toward particular cards laid out in a grid. This clue can be anything (it might rhyme with the target, make a compound word, or be a synonym), but no hints are allowed to be given beyond that. In other words, get ready to go crazy watching your team talk their way out of right answers.

It's also harder to come up with clues than it sounds, leading to moments of quiet as players desperately think of links. While that may be too thoughtful for a knees-up, it's perfect for later in the evening when things are winding down. It's a great icebreaker, too; finding out the reasoning behind someone else's clue can teach you a lot about them (for example, they might connect the word 'blue' with 'milk' because they're a Star Wars fan).

Would you prefer a co-op version? Check out Codenames Duet.

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King of Tokyo

Smash up a city in this casual party game

Players: 2-6 | Time to set up: Five minutes | Time to play: 30 minutes | Complexity: Easy | Age: 8+

Exciting dice battles
Social elements
Fun theme with little effort
Little strategy

King of Tokyo is about being one of several tongue-in-cheek super-monsters crashing through the city. There are analogues for Godzilla and King Kong, of course, but let's not forget about Space Penguin. Or the giant 'Cyber Kitty' robot. I'm not making these up, by the way; that knowing silliness is charming and just one reason why this game is such a hoot.

Another reason is its easy-to-understand gameplay. In essence, you compete with your fellow monsters to be the one doing the smashing each turn. This earns you points, as does buying cards that represent goofy mass destruction. Want to battle players, on the other hand? Yet more cards enhance your monster with powers like extra heads, poison spit, and a spiked tail you can use to fight. There's a social element, too; you can conspire with rivals to topple whoever's stomping through the city. No matter what you choose, all this gets resolved via a Yahtzee-style mechanic you can explain to anyone in seconds.

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Carcassonne

An absolute classic

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

A bonafide classic
Strategic gameplay
Rewards thinking a few moves ahead
Counting points feels laborious

Carcassonne is regarded as a classic for good reason. Even though it's now available on a ton of digital platforms, there’s something special about playing the game in its original, physical format. You can't beat the feeling of dropping a tile in exactly the right place to complete a city and earn serious points.

The challenge is having a strategy in mind while placing your pieces. As everyone fills out a section of Southern France using tiles drawn at random, cleverly placing Meeple earns you points for each completed city, road and connected field - so long as your piece has control of that section, anyway. While there is luck of the draw in the tiles you choose, placing a piece to steal control of a city from an opponent requires long-term tactical thinking. As a result, it’s one of those rare games that’s easy to pick up but genuinely tough to master... Especially if you’re going up against Carcassonne veterans.

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Cosmic Encounter

Endless arguments about aliens

Players: 3-5 | Time to set up: Ten minutes | Time to play: 60-120 minutes | Complexity: Medium | Age: 12+

Mix of action and negotiation
Negotiation
Variety of peculiar aliens
Not like traditional games

Cosmic Encounter was first published in 1977 and has been through numerous editions since, but all of them have something in common - they're brilliant. Each player gets a unique alien power from a huge deck, and then they have to try and establish colonies on rivals' planets. Not that it's as straightforward as that. For each encounter, the players involved negotiate with everyone else for temporary alliances. This ensures that no two games are the same.

While it's pretty simple, Cosmic Encounter's got an odd setup that can seem peculiar to those familiar with traditional attack and defence games. Once you've gotten to grips with it, though, the ever-changing alien powers make every game a blast. Examples include winning encounters by losing, reversing card numbers so 17 becomes 71, or being able to resurrect lost ships. If the options in the box aren’t enough for you, there's a big selection of expansions to add.

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