Where do you begin when it comes to the best board games? Tabletop gaming is more popular than ever, so it can be a little overwhelming at first. That's where we come in. Our team's been busy trying and mastering every game they can lay their hands on, all to give a better idea of what will suit you. Regardless of whether you're hunting down strategy epics, something for a party, or quieter alternatives you can play as a couple, you'll find it here. To help save you money along the way, we've also thrown in a few discounts where possible.
It's worth keeping an eye on this page, too. There are plenty of contenders for the the best board games list in 2020, as demonstrated when we went hands on with our Divinity: Original Sin board game preview. Old favorites are also staging a comeback via sequels over the next year or so, including Gloomhaven follow-up Frosthaven. Basically, drop in every now and then to find a new obsession.
For more tabletop shenanigans, don't forget to check out our guide to the best card games.
Best board games at a glance
- 1. Pandemic
- 2. Ticket to Ride
- 3. Betrayal at House on the Hill
- 4. Articulate!
- 5. Blockbuster: The Game
- 6. Jaws: The Game
- 7. Carcassonne
- 8. Villainous
- 9. Pinch 'N' Pass
- 10. Gloomhaven
Best board games: 1-10
The best overall board game
Players: 2-4 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30-60 minutes | Age: 10+
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. That makes it one of the best cooperative board games around.
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.
2. Ticket to Ride
The best all-ages board game
Players: 2-5 | Difficulty: Easy | Time to set-up: 5 mins | Time to play: 60 mins | Age: 8+
Ticket to Ride is one of the most accessible board games you can buy. However, that doesn’t make it easy or repetitive. The basic idea is that you score points by creating train routes across the country, and the winner is the person who finishes the game with the highest score. You get extra points for fulfilling specific routes, which you draw cards for at the start of the game, and for having the longest continual route at the end of play. And while Ticket to Ride is a calm, family-friendly game, there’s a deep undercurrent of strategy: do you try to claim a route for yourself or block one for an opponent? How do you best use your trains? Do you aim for your longest routes first and risk not completing them, or try to get a bunch of shorter ones to score fast points? There’s plenty to think about.
While the train pieces are quite basic little plastic counters, the rest of the game is delightfully made, with the board itself a particular highlight. You can choose from a large number of variants, depending on what country you want to play in, so while the main edition is North America, there’s a popular European version too. If you’re looking for a game simple enough to play with family, which also offers satisfying tactical depth and a minor lesson in geography too, Ticket to Ride is essential. It's a great choice as a board game for 2 players as well.
3. Betrayal at House on the Hill
The most replayable board game
Players: 3-6 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60 minutes | Age: 12+
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. It's the perfect board game for adults.
The best board game for lots of players
Players: 4-20+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 30-60 minutes | Age: 12+
If you have a lot of family or friends popping over, Articulate! is the board game you want to break out - having appeared on store shelves since 1992, this is a trivia classic. Unlike so many tabletop 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). Essentially, it's a must-have.
5. 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+
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.
Read more: Why you should play... Blockbuster: The Game
6. Jaws: The Game
The best co-op board game
Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 2 - 5 minutes | Time to play: 40 - 60 minutes | Age: 10+
The Jaws board game turns you into a cold-blooded monster - a "perfect engine and eating machine", in fact. But you know what? When it's this fun, we're not complaining. Based on the 1975 movie, this adaptation casts you as the film's heroes or its peckish great white. And as you'll soon find out, teamwork is essential if you want to make it out alive.
The tabletop version of Jaws has two phases that can be played together or separately. The first takes place on Amity Island, and it's a white-knuckle game of cat and mouse. The shark wants to chow down on as many swimmers as possible, while the heroes are tasked with stopping it. As a way of increasing tension, event cards will help or hinder the team and the shark's movements are kept secret from everyone but the person controlling it. This results in an intense but fun chase. However, there's a twist; whoever wins has an advantage in the second round, a battle to the death aboard the good ship Orca.
Besides these anxiety-laden mechanics and theming that make it look like something from the 1970s, Jaws excels because of its flexibility. You can play as a group or with just two people, and the game loses none of its bite either way.
Read more: Jaws board game review
The best classic board game
Players: 2-5 | Difficulty: Medium | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 40 minutes | Age: 8+
Carcassonne is regarded as one of the best classic board games 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. Seriously, you can't beat the feeling of dropping a tile in exactly the right place to complete a city and earn points.
Created in 2000 and named after a walled medieval town on the continent, the board is created as you play. While everyone fills out a section of Southern France using tiles drawn at random, cleverly placing meeples - little wooden people - earns you points for each completed city, road and connected field (so long as your piece controls that section, anyway). The challenge? Having a strategy in mind while placing your pieces. While we'll admit that there is luck of the draw in the tiles you choose, placing a piece to steal control of a settlement from under an opponent's nose requires long-term tactical thinking. As a result, Carcassonne is one of those rare games that’s easy to pick up but genuinely tough to master. If you've not given it a go yet, we'd suggest remedying that as soon as possible.
1500s France not your bag? You can also pick up versions of Carcassonne set all over the world. There are alternatives focusing on the Amazon, the Wild West Gold Rush, and even a safari - and that's to say nothing of the game's nine expansions.
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+
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 - a handful of Disney Villainous expansions add more beloved characters to the fun, ranging from Scar to Hades.
9. 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+
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.
The best roleplaying board game
Players: 1—4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 60—120+ minutes | Age: 12+
Gloomhaven is where it's at if you want a deep, engrossing 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 and the best tabletop RPGs. Each character is also sealed away in a handsome monochrome box, so unless you peek, the adventurer you end up with should be a surprise.
Once you've chosen a wandering mercenary, your team will brave dark depths in search of loot while battling monsters via turn-based combat. Leaving it there would be doing the game a disservice, though. The box is jam-packed with content, models, and wonderfully nerdy features like a fold-out map that you can stick completed missions and achievement stickers on. What's more, each choice you make along the way builds upon your group's story. Much like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, the experience will be different for everyone. There are over 50 missions to run through as well, making Gloomhaven a great choice if you value replayability.
The only downside is the price - it's eye-watering. However, Gloomhaven will keep you going for months on end. As such, we would argue that it's a worthwhile investment. If you're still undecided, a stripped-down, streamlined version at half the price is coming in Q3 2020 and promises to reduce the barrier to entry as much as possible. Magic.
Best board games: 11-20
The best strategy board game
Players: 2 - 4 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 60 - 90 minutes | Age: 10+
Looks can be deceiving, and nowhere is that clearer than in Root. In spite of the cute and inviting art-style, this is a hardcore asymmetric strategy game that was one of the most talked-about releases of 2018. It's still worth your time now despite that high price tag, too.
Much like the Redwall novels, each player commands a tribe of animals and must fight for their place in the clearings of a forest. The base game gives you control of four factions, including the 'Marquise de Cat' that must cement their rule by putting down rebellion, feudal birds who operate via espionage, and the Woodland Alliance, an insurgency of 'peasant' animals (mice and hedgehogs) that are trying to win their freedom. There's even an adventuring racoon who sneaks around the board attempting to complete their own objective. It's earnest and entirely adorable.
There may something of a learning curve with this one, yes. But Root encourages you to think creatively, dream up wild strategies, and master one of its unique races. It gives you an awful lot of value for your money as a result.
The best solo board game
Players: 1-4 | Complexity: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 120 minutes | Age: 14+
War never changes, but Fallout: The Board Game does. With a variety of quests on tap, multiple factions to join, and four wastelands you can explore alone or with friends, few sessions of this RPG are the same. Based on the post-apocalyptic video game franchise, it distils everything that makes the series special into tabletop form - and it does so with style to spare.
At its heart, this is a game about going on an adventure. Players will set off into the burnt husk of America (including regions like the Commonwealth from Fallout 4), beat the snot out of monsters they find along the way, and complete quests to get even more loot while they're at it. It's a satisfying loop, even if the game itself is overwhelming at first thanks to its overflowing rulebook. The fact that your actions have consequences is equally neat; the wasteland's fate will be decided by the group you ally yourself with, and that raises the stakes even more.
If you're a Fallout fan, this game's artwork will also win you over. The theming on show here is superb, as if it's been pulled right from the screen to your table. As an example, your abilities are represented by the iconic 'S.P.E.C.I.A.L' stats on a cardboard Pip Boy computer, and money comes in the form of thick Nuka Cola caps. Its models are of an equally high quality, and that only adds to the immersion.
13. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
The best quick board game
Players: 3 - 10 | Difficulty: Medium | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 10 minutes | Age: 8+
This bite-size game practically makes wink murder a competitive sport. Things start out innocently enough; each player is cast as one of a motley collection of villagers. However, all is not as it seems. Blood-thirsty werewolves may be hidden among their ranks, eager to consume these unsuspecting residents as soon as they get the chance. Over the course of an in-game night (in which everyone secretly plays their moves), players will need to work out who the villain is or risk becoming their next snack. Which isn't as easy as it sounds, by the way. Many roles allow for subterfuge, so you can never be sure who's telling the truth.
As with all games like this, the fun lies in making accurate deductions based on fact or gut feeling. Well, that and successfully throwing others under the bus (you rascal). This kind of backstabbing is the only way to survive at times; over the course of each ten-minute game, suspicion runs rampant. Because there's always the chance that there are no werewolves in any given match, innocent players will also have to talk their way out of a death sentence.
As icing on the cake, this game's free accompanying app 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.
14. King of Tokyo
The best family-friendly board game
Players: 2-6 | Time to set up: Five minutes | Time to play: 30 minutes | Complexity: Easy | Age: 8+
If you've ever daydreamed about going on a rampage as a giant monster, King of Tokyo isn't a board game you should miss. It allows you to control one of several tongue-in-cheek super-beasts crashing through the city. There are analogues for Godzilla and King Kong, of course, but let's not forget about Space Penguin who can freeze enemies with his ice-ray. Or the giant 'Cyber Kitty' robot, which is essentially a giant, pink Power Ranger mech. I'm not making any of these up, by the way; that knowing silliness is charming and just one reason why this game is such a hoot, making it one of the better board games for kids.
Another reason is its easy-to-understand gameplay that's suitable for all ages. 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? 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 in King of Tokyo, too; you can conspire with rivals to topple whoever's stomping through the city, allowing you to engage in lighthearted backstabbing. No matter what you choose, all this gets resolved via a Yahtzee-style mechanic you can explain to anyone in seconds.
The best icebreaker board game
Players: 2-8 | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 15 minutes | Complexity: Easy | Age: 10+
Most party games rely on silliness or trivia to function. Codenames is a clever alternative that throws strategy into the mix like a grenade. One player invents single-word clues that guide their team-mates toward particular cards laid out in a grid, and this clue can be anything (it might rhyme with the target, make a compound word, or be a synonym). However, no hints are allowed to be given beyond that. Basically, get ready to go crazy watching your team talk their way out of the right answers. It's both hilarious and infuriating.
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 true 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).
Finally, there are plenty of alternatives if the spy theme isn't doing it for you - you can pick up versions based on Marvel, Disney, and more.
16. X-Wing Miniatures Game
The best skirmish board game
Players: 2+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 30 - 45 minutes | Age: 12+
Starfighters darting through space in a dogfight to the death are some of the best bits in any Star Wars movie, and this game lets you take the flightstick yourself. As Han Solo so eloquently put it, "yeeee-hooo - you're all clear, kid. Now let's blow this thing and go home".
There are different versions of the X-Wing game set throughout Star Wars history, but the core set goes back to basics - the original trilogy, more specifically. And although it'll be familiar to fans of Games Workshop because each ship has a 'points' value, X-Wing's novel FlightPath system helps it stand out; players make their moves in secret, then reveal them all at once. This means you'll have to plan ahead, second-guess what your opponents are going to do, and react accordingly. It's relatively quick as well, making X-Wing a great alternative to tabletop wargames like Warhammer 40K if you're wary of the time commitment they demand.
That's largely because you can scale any conflict up or down to suit you. Want a small skirmish you can finish in less than half-an-hour? That's no problem. Would you prefer a massive pitched battle between cruisers and Star Destroyers? X-Wing can handle that, too.
The best mystery board game
Players: 2-7 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 5 minutes | Time to play: 30-45 minutes
Fans of Clue, assemble - this is a cool alternative to get your teeth into. Mysterium is a classic whodunnit set in an old mansion from days gone by, but don't think that makes it predictable. You see, one of the players is dead… and they're trying to solve their own murder. The plot, as they say, thickens.
There are two roles up for grabs here; you can either be the ghost or one of six psychics who are trying to solve the case. Unfortunately, the dearly departed can only communicate via 'visions'. These take the form of cards with surreal, eerie artwork that's deliberately vague outside of context. As you may have guessed, the psychics must then interpret those messages to find the murderer. Oh, and they've got a time-limit. Take too long and the ghost will fade back into nothingness. It's a 'killer' set-up (I'm so sorry) that seizes your attention and refuses to let go. Well, if the game's paintings don't distract you first - they're downright beautiful.
Mysterium isn't alone, either. There are a couple of expansions floating around the ether if the base game loses its shine, and their prices are pretty reasonable.
The best word game
Players: 1-8 | Time to set up: Under 2 minutes | Time to play: 10-20 minutes | Complexity: Hard | Age: 7+
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.
The best economy-based board game
Players: 1 - 5 | Difficulty: Moderate | Time to set up: 10 minutes | Time to play: 120 minutes | Age: 14+
The mashup of mechs-and-farming in Jakub Roszalski's art fires up the imagination in a big way, and it's now spilled out onto the tabletop. Set on an alternate 1920s Earth, Scythe is a place where farm-animals and peasants coexist with hulking dieselpunk mechs. Well, we say coexist; everyone in this world is jostling for power, so you'll need to keep your wits about you.
Scythe takes a leaf from Civilisation's book; it's every bit as interested in building and expanding your economy as robot battles. Indeed, you can win the game without ever firing a shot. At the other end of the scale, you can blow your foes to smithereens, bluff, or snatch up uninhabited land while no-one's looking. This kind of sandbox gameplay makes it all the more appealing.
As we mentioned before, the game's visuals are also stunning. Artwork depicting the juxtaposition of rural life vs oily, smoking war-bots are breathtaking, and the models are similarly impressive. A lot of love has clearly gone into Scythe's design.
20. Cosmic Encounter
The best negotiation board game
Players: 3 - 5 | Difficulty: Hard | Time to play: 60 - 120 minutes | Age: 12+
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 takes the reigns of a unique alien race, and the aim is to establish colonies on rivals' planets. Of course, it's as straightforward as that. For each encounter, the players involved negotiate with everyone else for temporary alliances. The fallout of this ensures that no two games are ever 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 '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 as well.