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The best board games - find a new favorite in 2021

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Where do you begin when it comes to the best board games? The hobby is more popular now than ever, and that means we've got no shortage of choice. If you're just starting out, 'overwhelming' is an understatement.

That's where we come in. The GamesRadar+ team has spent years playing every game we can lay our collective hands on, so we've got plenty of suggestions to get you started on your quest to secure the best board games. 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 them here. 

To help save you money along the way, our price comparison charts have also dug out the cheapest deals on the internet. Why pay more when you don't have to? These offers are updated every 30 minutes, so you can be sure that you're seeing the lowest prices available right now.

Best board games - top 10

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Pandemic board game

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(Image credit: Z-Man Games)

1. Pandemic

The best board game overall

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Perfect team strategy
Tense
Challenging
Occasionally feels unfair

The odds are against you from the start in Pandemic, but that's the beauty of it. This co-op epic is never less than thrilling, and teamwork - not to mention the ability to think on your feet - is your only hope of winning. That helps it reach the top spot as one of the best board games ever made. 

Despite being difficult to master, Pandemic is very accessible too (particularly if you're trying the bite-size Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America). That's because it never feels hopeless. Although players are tasked with holding back a clutch of super-diseases from spreading across the world, they're armed with unique abilities that can help them turn the tide. 

Part of the fun is deciding what to do with those powers. Should you prioritize containing outbreaks, or is it better to root out one strain before moving on to the next? There's no definitive answer, leaving you with room to carve out your own strategies. It also encourages good communication, strengthening connections between those around your table. That's especially true with the alternate Legacy versions (Season 1, Season 2, and the Cold War-themed Season 0) where the consequences of each match carry over to the next.

Many have tried to topple Pandemic from the throne as a result, but none are able to match it just yet - it remains our go-to when we're asked about the best board games. That doesn't seem set to change any time soon, either. Thanks to numerous expansions and unique spinoffs like Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu, this franchise still has plenty of gas in the tank. 

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(Image credit: Avalon Hill)
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(Image credit: Avalon Games)

2. Betrayal at House on the Hill

The best board game for adults

Players: 3 - 6 | Ages: 12+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Vivid, changeable setting
Creative scenarios
Very replayable
Potential for uneven games

Have you ever wondered how long you'd last as a horror movie character? Betrayal at House on the Hill let's you answer that question. After casting players as one of six tropes (arrogant jock? Check. Creepy little girl with a doll? Check), it sets 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 pleasant.

Because of this, Betrayal's gameplay is drenched in 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 of these Omens and a full-blown horror scenario will kick in. 

This is where things get properly spooky. One of 50 missions is chosen based on everything you've done so far, and the house turns on its inhabitants with swift, often bizarre savagery. Perhaps a serial killer strides through the door, eager to hunt you down one by one. Maybe a monstrous creature awakens in the basement, or the house starts sinking into a swamp. No matter what happens, you'll need to work as a team if you want to get out of there alive. 

Well, most of you need to work as a team. You see, one player may be revealed as a traitor with special rules of their own. The majority of these boil down to murdering everyone else, and that makes it a superb board game for adults who want to be kept on their toes - not to mention one of the best board games overall.

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3. Villainous

The best board game for 2 players

Players: 2 - 6 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Tactical
Gorgeous artwork
Mechanics based on characters
Hard to explain

Never has a board game been more on-brand than Disney Villainous - it delights in making you as mean as possible. It's also surprisingly tactical. There's plenty of unexpected depth here, and it takes skill to come out on top in this battle of backstabbing.

Based on classic Disney movies old and new, Villainous casts you as a famous baddie looking for their happily-ever-after: Maleficent 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 money from his foes. 

For added spice, you're also attempting to scupper your opponents' plans while working toward your own. That's because you can drop pesky heroes like Ariel on top of them to block their moves, making the game a whole lot more devious. OK, so it's a pain to explain for the first time. But trust us. You'll be hooked once you've gotten the hang of it, and it really is one of the best board games out there - not to mention one of the top board games for 2 players.

Gorgeous artwork and playing pieces serve as icing on this very appealing cake, and there's plenty more where that came from. Disney Villainous expansions add other beloved characters to the fun, while Marvel Villainous gives the formula a comic book spin.

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

4. Gloomhaven

The best RPG board game

Players: 1 - 4 | Ages: 14+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 10 mins | Lasts: 60+ mins

Insanely deep
Lasting consequences
Great miniatures
Expensive

If you find a list of the best board games online, Gloomhaven will almost certainly be on it. There's good reason for that - it's superb. A deep and engrossing RPG for one to four players, it comes in a massive box stuffed with miniatures, enemy encounters, and storylines. There are over 1,700 cards, too, not to mention a map you'll edit over time with proof of your adventures. In other words? It's the tabletop fantasy experience of your dreams.

In a gritty adventure not unlike the Witcher series, players take command of adventurers questing through and around the titular city of Gloomhaven. Naturally, that involves more than a little dungeon-delving along the way. This forms the bulk of gameplay as you battle your way through a range of foes, but it's far from mindless. These scenarios rely on push-your-luck mechanics that force players to carefully weigh up their options, and because combat doesn't rely on random dice rolls, encounters feel more meaningful as well. Success isn't down to chance.

Speaking of which, a branching narrative results in consequences that carry over from one session to the next - your choices matter. As such, everyone's experience of Gloomhaven will end up being different (particularly because your characters can be used in the upcoming sequel, Frosthaven). That makes it a more manageable introduction to the kind of gameplay you'd see in the best tabletop RPGs.

Keen to try it out before taking the plunge? Be sure to check in with the cheaper and more accessible Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. It offers the same gameplay on a smaller scale.

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5. Root

The best strategy board game

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 90 mins

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

Looks can be deceiving, and Root is the perfect example of that. Despite a bright and inviting art-style that's reminiscent of the Redwall series, this is about as hardcore a strategy game as it gets. 

The action takes place in a quiet woodland realm, but all is not well beneath those trees. To be precise, the anthropomorphic animals that live there want to kick the stuffing out of each other. You command one of several factions vying for power (from the ruling Marquise de Cat to mouse villagers), and they each have unique mechanics that set them apart from one another. Although it's a lot to wrap your head around, doing so is worth the effort. This is one of the best board games for tactical thinkers.

Especially because it encourages players to think creatively. Root rewards unusual strategies, and you'll need to learn the ins and outs of a particular faction to get the most out of them. With that in mind, it's amongst the best board games for a regular gaming group.

If you fall in love with Root, you'll be pleased to note that it's not going anywhere either - if anything, it's blossoming into a franchise. In addition to the Riverfolk expansion that adds otters and a lizard cult, you can pick up a Clockwork add-on that deploys automated factions for solo, competitive, and co-op matches. There's even an Underworld pack with a subterranean mole empire or the Root tabletop RPG if you want to take your forest adventures further.

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6. Blockbuster: The Game

The best party board game

Players: 4 - 8 | Ages: 14+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 20 mins

Fast-paced
Competitive
Awesome theming
Anxiety-inducing

Its namesake may be long gone, but Blockbuster: The Game is still the life of the party. This movie quiz is fast-paced and surprisingly brutal, but it's never unfair. In fact, it's the best board game for get-togethers by quite a long way.

Its accessibility has a lot to do with that. Namely, you don't need to be a film buff to play. As it says on the (very cool) VHS box, Blockbuster is a "movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie". No in-depth knowledge is required, and that makes it so much more approachable than other trivia games. 

The gameplay is solid as a rock, too. Up to eight players are divided into teams, and each side's objective is to collect a deck of 'genre' cards. Yet this isn't a traditional quiz. It round begins with a one-on-one challenge where you're handed a category (e.g. "spy films") and must take it in turns to yell out an example as quickly you can. You then reset the 15-second timer. Whoever can't think of anything within that time loses. 

Which is important, by the way - the winner gets to pick six movie cards for 'Triple Charades Jeopardy'. This is where both players from the head-to-head act out, quote, and describe three of those cards for their team. The trouble is, they only have 30 seconds to do it. That's why winning part one is so important; you can keep the easy cards for yourself and saddle your opponents with the hardest ones. It’s deliciously evil.

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Horrified

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Horrified

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Horrified

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7. Horrified

The best co-op board game

Players: 1 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Universal Monsters
Tough choices
Memorable objectives
Complicated at first

The best board games normally have you battling it out with other players, but Horrified is different. It challenges you to team up against some of the most beloved monsters of all time instead, and the whole thing creaks beneath the weight of nostalgia as a result. It doesn't rest on its laurels, though. This is a unique, memorable adventure in its own right.

Starring old-school boogeymen from Universal Studios (ranging from the Mummy to the Wolfman), this is horror at its most classic. Every game begins with two monsters descending on a nameless village with chaos on their mind, and you're the only thing that's standing between them and innocent locals. Stop them before they can kill off too many villagers and you win.

That's where the fun begins. Each monster has a specific weakness (Dracula can only be defeated if you destroy all of his coffins before staking him in the heart, for example), but taking advantage of it means leaving villagers undefended. This leads to some brilliantly tense flashpoints where there's no right answer. Dracula may be swooping down to feast on an unfortunate someone, but the Creature from the Black Lagoon has also cornered a civilian. You can only save one, so who do you pick?

Horrified isn't stressful despite this edge, though. Coming up with desperate plans and winning against the odds is a blast, especially because you can mix things up with different monster combinations. Accordingly, it's one of our first suggestions when it comes to the best cooperative board games.

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8. Ticket to Ride

The best board game for families

Players: 2 - 5 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Very broad appeal
Loads of different editions
Extremely replayable
Theme isn't the most exciting

Ticket to Ride is one of the best board game for families on this list, and it's definitely amongst the most relaxing. Thoughtful and thoroughly chilled out, it's a delight for all ages. Sure, that railway theme may not light your world on fire. But the gameplay underneath is excellent enough to win any naysayers over.

While your task of creating train routes across the country is calming, there's an undercurrent of strategy holding everything together. Certain lines earn you more points, yet there are only a small number of tracks to build on. In other words, you'll have to race your opponents to win key routes or risk having to take the long way around. 

There are many different paths to victory as well. Is it better to focus on quicker but less valuable routes for a faster payday? Or should you make bigger connections for more points overall? As such, Ticket to Ride hits the perfect balance of being family-friendly without losing tactical depth.

Because of the game's popularity, you can also choose from a variety of editions. In addition to the base North America pack, you can opt for a European alternative, one set in New York, and a 15th Anniversary special edition coming in spring. This fresh update features new and improved artwork, unique tin boxes to hold game pieces, and original, more detailed sculpts for the trains and stations. There's even a children's version of the original game (Ticket to Ride: First Journey) on offer if you have kids that want to join in.

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Zombie Kidz Evolution

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Zombie Kidz Evolution

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Zombie Kidz Evolution

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9. Zombie Kidz Evolution

The best board game for kids overall

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 7+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 1 min | Lasts: 15 mins

Evolves over time
Emphasis on teamwork
Sticker achievements
Components may not last

Zombie Kidz Evolution has a brilliant elevator pitch - the undead have invaded class, and you've got to fight them off unless you want endless detention with a zombie teacher. It's not far off something you'd find children playing in the schoolyard (right down to them using 'weapons' like toy lightsabers or the best Nerf guns), and that makes it one of the best board games for younger gamers.

Because this is what you'd call a 'Legacy' game, Evolution changes the more you play it. Complete a set number of matches and you'll unlock new abilities for your character, zombie power-ups, and fresh challenges to overcome. This keeps you coming back time and again, especially because your progress is marked by stickers.

It's challenging enough to make those successes meaningful, too. Good teamwork is essential if you want to avoid being overwhelmed, and Zombie Kidz emphasises crowd management to great effect.

However, that doesn't mean it's scary. Zombie Kidz Evolution is family-friendly in looks and gameplay, so the only thing potential zombie-hunters need to worry about is light tension. It comes highly recommended as a result.

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10. Catan

The best classic board game

Players: 3 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 90 mins

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

Catan whisks us back in time to the age of explorers; faced with an uninhabited island, players have to settle it before their opponents do. And because everyone's fighting to civilize the same frontier, clever manoeuvring is the order of the day. That makes this 1995 favorite one of the best classic board games on offer.

Your first battleground is deciding where to put down roots. As well as the landscape varying from game to game, the resources you'll need to build with are driven by probability - each player rolls dice at the start of their turn to see who gets a payout, and some locations are more likely to yield results than others. That means you'll need to think hard about which areas you claim. Foresight and intuition are definitely rewarded.

Good communication is important too. You won't have access to everything you need right away, so trading with rivals is essential if you want to get ahead. That leaves players with a fun balancing act to navigate. Even though swapping resources gets you what you need, it also nudges opponents closer to their goals. 

That's why Catan is one of the best board games for tactical thinkers; there's loads to play with here. You can even shake things up with alternate versions or one of its many expansions, should you get bored. A Game of Thrones-themed set is now available, for example, not to mention a huge spinoff called Catan: Starfarers that includes space colonisation and the possibility of pirate attack. A handsome 25th Anniversary Edition with bonus features has just arrived, too. Basically, it's a great time to get into Catan.

Best board games - best of the rest

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Jaipur

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Jaipur

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Jaipur

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11. Jaipur

The best card game

Players: 2 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 1 min | Lasts: 30 mins

Easy to learn
Moreish gameplay
Engrossing mechanics
Only for 2 players

Jaipur is the only entry on this list where you have to decide between collecting gold or camels. Unusual, accessible, and delightfully moreish, it deserves to be in everyone's collection and on any list of the best board games.

Casting you as one of two traders in the Indian city of Jaipur, your challenge is to earn an invite to the maharaja's court by being the best businessperson in all the land. How you go about doing that is up to you, though. Is it better to buy and trade cheap items quickly, or should you collect more expensive ones for a larger payout at the end? Victory comes in many shapes and sizes, offering plenty of room to experiment.

Either way, keeping an eye on your opponent is crucial. Trading wins you chips with different point values; the ones at the top of the pile are the most valuable, while those further down earn you less. In other words, those who take too long to cash in their items could watch their efforts go to waste.

This leads to an engrossing balancing act. On the one hand, you could chase a windfall by gathering a collection of high-value cards. However, your rival may beat you to the punch by trading theirs in first. On the other, it's possible to build wealth through scooping up less expensive goods… but you won't benefit from certain bonuses. These mechanics put Jaipur amongst the best card games ever made.

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12. Articulate!

The best trivia board game

Players: 4 - 20+ | Ages: 12+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 1 min | Time to play: 30 - 60 mins

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

If friends and family are descending upon you en-masse, Articulate! is the board game you want to break out. Having appeared on shelves since 1992, this is a trivia classic that almost anyone can get involved with.

Its long life isn't a mystery; 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. This means you'll need to think on your feet.

However, thanks to a broad range of subjects including Nature, World, and Action, you don't need to be a font of obscure knowledge to win. Instead, this game hinges on your ability to verbalize something (not to mention how in sync you are with your teammates). It's a must-have that belongs in everyone's collection.

Unlike so many of the best board games, it can also be played in a massive group of 20 people or more. So long as you're divided into teams of at least two per side, there's no real limit. That makes it a real winner for parties and one of the top board games for families.

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13. One Night Ultimate Werewolf

The best social deduction board game

Players: 3 - 10 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 10 mins

Free app for setup
Loads of replayability
Devious
Needs lots of people to excel

Hunting down a whodunnit? One Night Ultimate Werewolf is perfect for would-be detectives - it practically turns wink murder into a competitive sport. Because it's also shorter and snappier than most of the games that inspired it (Mafia, say), this version of Werewolf is a sure-fire hit for parties. 

As an exercise in social deduction, your aim is to uncover the werewolf in question before it's too late. Everyone has a role to play; if you're not secretly a monster, you'll fill the shoes of villagers and would-be victims. Either way, time is against you. Although the werewolf feeds on another player at the end of each round, they've also got to avoid raising suspicion. This injects a sense of paranoia into the game, and you're frequently unsure of who's telling the truth.

Especially when you take other roles into account. While most are designed to help the villagers in some way (be it seers who investigate suspects or healers that protect their allies), some stir the pot by protecting any werewolves in play. Which there might not be, as it so happens - there's always the possibility that no monsters are present at all, leaving villagers to tear themselves apart with suspicion.

Different versions of One Night Ultimate Werewolf exist to shake things up, too. Besides the more in-depth Ultimate Werewolf, One Night Ultimate Vampire has each victim joining the monster's team. There's even a 'One Night Ultimate Alien' where extra-terrestrials are trying to cause as much trouble as possible. There's an argument to made for each one being on our list of the best board games.

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14. Mysterium

The best mystery board game

Players: 2 - 7 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Setup: 10 mins | Lasts: 45 mins

Quirky idea
Gorgeous artwork
Surprisingly funny
May be too weird for some

If you want to level up from Clue, this is one of the best board games out there. A murder mystery where you've got to solve the crime before dawn, it has all the trappings of a classic; the 1920's setting, a creaky old mansion, and some Sherlock Holmes-style deduction. It's anything but predictable, though. You see, one of the players in Mysterium is dead… and they're trying to solve their own death. The plot, as they say, thickens.

The trouble is, our unfortunate ghost can't communicate through words. Instead, they have to talk with their teammates through surreal 'visions'. These take the form of cards with eerie, deliberately vague artwork everyone else has to interpret.

As with all good mysteries, the clock is also ticking. Players must figure out who did the deed, where it happened, and what the killer used before this helpful ghost disappears at dawn. Because everyone is investigating different leads to whittle down their suspect list, the pressure is well and truly on.

As with so many modern board games, you can add to Mysterium with expansion packs once the novelty has worn off - Hidden Signs provides bonus cards, while Secrets & Lies adds extra storylines. There's a more accessible two-player alternative called 'Mysterium Park' too, and that one's set in a spooky carnival.

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15. Jaws: The Game

The best board game based on a movie

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Setup: 5 mins | Time to play: 60 mins

White-knuckle tension
Evenly balanced
Old-school design
Initially overwhelming

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. This is a tense and often brutal co-op experience that nails its inspiration's atmosphere. 

That's partially because 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 by any means necessary. However, they'll need to find it first; as a way of raising stakes, the shark's movements are kept secret from everyone but the person controlling it. This results in an intense but fun chase, and 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 design themes 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. It's easily one of the best board games inspired by a movie.

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Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

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Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

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Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

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16. Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

The best dice-based board game

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Intelligent time travel
Great co-op experience
Just the right amount of complexity
Harder than you might expect

We finally have an explanation for why 2020 was so rubbish - it's all Biff Tannen's fault. After making off with Back to the Future's time-traveling DeLorean, he dropped items across time and space in an outrageous display of littering that seems to have broken history (we've all been there). Now reality is doomed if we don't get them back where they belong. Heavy, right?

Drawing inspiration from the entire trilogy, Back to the Future: Dice Through Time puts every scrap of material to good use; unlike some tie-ins, its mechanics are hinged on ideas that feel true to the franchise but would also be fun in their own right without any branding. For example, the board isn't linear. It's split into four eras instead, and everything Biff stole is scattered between them. You've got to overcome iconic moments - such as Marty's skateboard chase - to free those treasures, all while fixing paradoxes that could end your mission early.

In addition, "you're gonna see some serious sh**" when using the game's time travel mechanics. For starters, you can 'ripple' dice through time to help out your allies when they're in a different time-stream. This might give them the tools they need to solve a problem, but it may leave you shorthanded. Secondly, there are dire consequences if you land in the same space as someone else. You must never, ever meet your past or future self, after all.

This winds up as one of the best board games from the last year or so as a result. Even if you're not a Back to the Future fan, it's a smart and engrossing co-op adventure you need to try.

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The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet

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The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet

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The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet

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17. The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet

The best tower-defence board game

Players: 2 - 7 | Ages: 14+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 60 - 90 mins

Loads of depth
A tense balancing act
Genuinely challenging
A steep learning curve

Redshirts are doomed in Star Trek, but they're your only hope when it comes to The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet. As the name would suggest, your team's commanding officer has bitten the dust, so you'll need to get your hands dirty with push-your-luck tower defence if you want to complete their mission. A horde of flesh-eating bugs is also on the way, so you'd better be ready by the time they arrive.

As the third installment of a long-running franchise, Dangerous Planet builds on the formula in smart, compelling ways. Rather than just fending off enemies, you'll need to explore the bugs' nest of tunnels as well to gather alien artefacts - they're this game's version of points. To raise the stakes, you'll need to venture deeper into enemy territory as well with every passing turn.

Thanks to in-depth mechanics that'll take a while to master, Dangerous Planet is perfect for veteran players who've exhausted many of the best board games already. And because its gameplay feels like a blend between Pandemic and Betrayal at House on the Hill, there's enough complexity here to keep you going for months (at which point you can always try the original Captain is Dead or The Captain is Dead: Lockdown).

The game's quirky art-style and its frequent nods to The Next Generation add icing to this cake; it's an unabashed love-letter to science fiction TV shows, and that makes it a highly recommended purchase.

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18. Codenames

The best word-based board game

Players: 2 - 8 | Age: 10+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 15 mins

Anyone can play
Scales well for more people
Good icebreaker
Occasionally arbitrary endgame

While most party games are built around trivia, Codenames opts for something different - getting to know other players better. A word-based puzzler relying on association, it's one of the best board games if you're looking for an icebreaker.

Splitting players into two sides with a spymaster overseeing each one, the aim is to make contact with your team's secret agents first… all while avoiding an assassin hiding amongst them. At its most basic, the result is a breadcrumb trail: someone makes single-word clues that guide their teammates toward particular cards on a grid. These hints can range from rhymes to synonyms, but you're only allowed to use one word and aren't able to help in any other way. That means the spymaster will have to watch in despair as their team talks itself out of the right answers. It's a hilarious experience that'll get everyone chatting in no time.

This game tells you a lot about your friends, too; discovering why someone chose the clue they did gives you a better idea of who they are as a person. Namely, anyone associating the word 'blue' with 'milk' is probably a Star Wars fan. That makes Codenames great as a warm-up or with a new group.

There are plenty of alternate versions out there as well, be it from Disney or Harry Potter. You can even get a cooperative 'Codenames Duet' if you want a more collaborative experience.

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

19. Scythe

The best engine-building board game

Players: 1 - 5 | Age: 14+ | Difficulty: Moderate | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 120 mins

Incredible artwork
Blends wargaming and economics
Sandbox gameplay
Complex

Mechs and farming make surprisingly good partners, and Scythe proves it. Based on Jakub Roszalski's artwork, this board game takes place in a parallel 1920s Earth where peasants work under the gaze of enormous dieselpunk robots. It's a brutal world where everyone is competing for power, and only the strong survive.

Not that it's chaotic a free-for-all. Much like the Civilisation video game series, Scythe is just as interested in building an economy as it is battling for territory. Indeed, players can spend time shoring up trade and resources, blowing everyone else to smithereens, and everything in-between. This sort of sandbox freedom means you can go about winning in your own way. It's possible to claim victory without firing a single shot, for instance. 

Something else that makes Scythe one of the best board games is the fact that it doesn't rely on luck. More specifically, the only randomised elements at play are encounter and combat cards which offer a boost during conflict. You can otherwise rest assured that you've won through skill alone.

The game's stunning artwork is also worth the price of admission. It revels in the contrast of rural life and hulking, oil-stained war machines that loom over farmers toiling in the fields. Scythe's miniatures are equally impressive; they possess a degree of detail you might not expect and are a solid conversation starter.

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(Image credit: Fantasy Flight)
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(Image credit: Fantasy Flight)

20. Fallout

The best board game for solo play

Players: 1 - 4 | Ages: 14+ | Complexity: Moderate | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 120 mins

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

War never changes, but Fallout: The Board Game does. With a wide variety of quests, factions, and areas to explore by yourself or in a group, no two sessions of this RPG are the same. And because you can play solo, it's perfect for those who don't have a large gaming group to hand.

More importantly, it's able to distill what makes the video game franchise special with style to spare. At its heart, this is a game about going on an adventure; players 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 for loot that'll let them take on even more dangerous missions. 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. To be precise, the wasteland's fate will be decided by the group you ally yourself with during your travels. Besides giving life to a game otherwise concerned with stats and item management, that raises the stakes in a way that's true to Fallout.

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, card-based Nuka Cola caps. Its models are of a similarly high quality, and that only adds to the immersion. If you want the ultimate solo role-playing experience, this is one of the best board games out there.

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(Image credit: Fantasy Flight)
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21. Cosmic Encounter

The best board game for negotiators

Players: 3 - 5 | Ages: 12+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 120 mins

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

Despite having been around since 1977, Cosmic Encounter has lost none of its edge. This operatic sci-fi game is a much-loved classic, and its unusual gameplay is rarely matched. If you love to haggle or negotiate, it's amongst the best board games by a long way.

Everyone's goal is the same; set up five colonies on rival planets. However, that's where any similarities end. Each player takes the reigns of a different alien race (one of 50 possible species), and these have unique special abilities that upend the rules in creative ways. Some can only win battles if they lose the fight first, others are able to reverse card numbers so 17 becomes 71, and more can sneak a look at someone else's cards. This means you've always got to expect the unexpected - and be ready to counter it.

It's the same story with turns. After being matched with an opponent picked at random, players must fight or enter into diplomacy with each other. They can even invite allies to join them for rewards, so Cosmic Encounter's gameplay is satisfyingly fluid. If you're a fan of sandbox mechanics, this will definitely be your jam.

As with so many of the best board games, Cosmic Encounters can also be expanded through various add-on packs. That includes Cosmic Incursion, Cosmic Conflict, Cosmic Dominion, Cosmic Storm, Cosmic Eons, and Cosmic Alliance. Suffice to say, it's the sort of pastime that'll keep you busy for years to come.

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Spot It!

(Image credit: Zygomatic)
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(Image credit: Asmodee)
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22. Spot It! (Dobble)

The best board game for younger children

Players: 2 - 8 | Ages: 6+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 1 min | Lasts: 15 mins

Suitable for all ages
Fast-paced
Short
Can become repetitive

You can usually tell how good a board game is when it's got lots of special editions, and Spot It! (or 'Dobble', if you're UK-based) passes that test with flying colors. As well as a classic version, alternatives featuring everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars are available. And because all of them can be completed within 15 minutes, they're an essential purchase if you have children.

No matter which one you choose, Spot It! is a more involved version of Snap; you've got to match pictures on a card before your opponents do. The goal is to collect cards or get rid of your current hand, and the result is a fast-paced laugh that's easy to understand. It's satisfying, too - yelling out a matching symbol milliseconds before your opponents do is something of a rush.

Due to the fact that it doesn't take up much space and can be played almost anywhere, this is also the perfect travel game - it'll provide a welcome distraction regardless of whether you're on the train or in a waiting room. The whole thing can then be put back in a bag without any fuss.

In short, Spot It! is one the top board games for children ages five and over. A family-friendly style helps, but the game's portability and straightforward - yet endlessly repeatable - mechanics seal the deal.

More board game guides

If you're hunting down something more specific when it comes to the best board games, be sure to check out our guides listed below. No matter whether you want to revisit an old favorite or are hoping to get something for the whole family, you should find a recommendation here.

Intrigued by roleplaying games, on the other hand? Don't forget to check out the best tabletop RPGs, not to mention the best Dungeons and Dragons books. You can also take the action online with our guide on how to play D&D online.

As one of our Hardware Editors, Benjamin looks after many of the tech reviews, board game features, deals, and buying guides you’ll see on GamesRadar+.