Essential board games for adults 2024

Board games for adults - quick menu

It's been a long time since the most interesting board games for adults were Monopoly and Risk. No matter whether you want a strategy epic for games night, must-have party games your friends will love, or something you can chill out playing with family, there's more than enough choice.

That many options can be overwhelming, so we've asked our experts to give some advice on board games for adults they think should be in your collection. We've divided these options into categories so you can find what you're in the mood for with as little fuss as possible, and there's something to suit every budget as well.

Curious about how these board games for adults were chosen? Our writers test, review, and critique tabletop games every week, and these options stood out from the crowd... as well as standing the test of time. In our opinion, these are amongst the best board games overall on shelves right now. 

Written by
Benjamin Abbott, Tabletop & Merch Editor at GamesRadar
Written by
Benjamin Abbott

Benjamin's been writing about board games in a professional capacity for more than four years, and has been playing them since he was old enough to hold dice.

The quick list

Board games for adults - best overall

Betrayal at House on the Hill box, models, board tiles, and cards laid out on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
A modern classic

Specifications

Players: 3 - 6
Ages: 12+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Vivid, changeable setting
+
Creative scenarios
+
Very replayable

Reasons to avoid

-
Potential for uneven games

How long do you think you'd last in a horror movie? Betrayal at House on the Hill lets you find out. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell if you're the hero or victim of this story until it's much too late... and that makes it one of the most replayable board games for adults on this list. In fact, we still haven't seen everything after months spent braving those dusty halls.

Taking on the role of horror cliches (like the jock or creepy preteen), who have been drawn here for mysterious reasons, players explore the house turn by turn to uncover the truth. But because you'll be laying down room tiles at random, it's impossible to tell what's waiting for you on the other side of a door. All you know for certain is that a secret mission will soon begin, turning the house - or your allies - against you. Maybe a monster wakes up in the basement, eager to feast on your flesh. Perhaps a teammate tries to sacrifice you in exchange for eternal youth. Either way, your aim is simple: survive.

You need it on your shelf

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The result oozes tension, and even though there are similarities to rivals like Mansions of Madness, we'd say Betrayal at House on the Hill is more accessible on the whole. It's weirder, too; we once had to fight a ghost shark that was flooding the house room by room, for example. Sure, there are issues here and there. Yet for the most part, this game is stuffed with enough cool ideas to smooth over any cracks. 

Particularly now that the formula has been improved with an all-new version. Although 2010's Betrayal at House on the Hill 2nd edition remains an excellent way to spend an evening, this 3rd edition glow-up gives the artwork an overhaul, offers 50 new scenarios, introduces vastly improved miniatures to represent each character, and finishes with streamlined mechanics that make the whole thing easier to play. As we said in our review, it's a "fantastic update to a beloved classic". Need good Halloween board games? This one leads the pack.

Best cheap board game for adults

The Blockbuster game board with cards and the box sat on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
Frantic head-to-head fun

Specifications

Players: 4 - 8
Ages: 14+
Complexity: Low
Lasts: 20 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Fast-paced
+
Accessible and easy to explain
+
Awesome theming

Reasons to avoid

-
Anxiety-inducing

The store may be long dead, but the game it inspired isn't going anywhere. Fast-paced and straightforward, Blockbuster should be your first choice if you need decent party board games for adults. And don't worry, knowing a shed-load about cinema isn't a requirement. At its core, this has more in common with charades than a quiz.

What you will need are your wits. Things kick off with a head-to-head round where two players have to yell out an example from categories like 'superhero movies', but they've not got long - fail to come up with a response in 15 seconds and you lose. This leads to frantic yet fun chaos, and it's a surprisingly good spectator sport as well. We once witnessed a five-minute grudge match where neither side gave in, for instance, and this battle has become near-legendary amongst our friends.

As with any good party game, it's easy to explain, understand, and set up

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That's when the real game begins. The winner draws six cards and must act out, quote, or describe three of them for their team. The remaining three are left for the loser. (Naturally, these are probably the toughest ones.) Collect enough cards and victory is yours. 

It’s a wicked idea in every sense of the word, and always goes down well at get-togethers. Because everyone reacts differently to the card prompts, you won't get bored of it either; unlike a quiz, you can't 'learn' the answers.

Best co-op board game for adults

Pandemic board, cards, and tokens on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
Work together to save the world

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect team strategy
+
Incredible sense of tension
+
Challenging gameplay

Reasons to avoid

-
Occasionally unfair

Easy to get your head around but tricky to beat, Pandemic pits you against an outbreak of coughs and sneezes (by which I mean 'horrendous disease') across the world. Because victory hinges on your team’s ability to communicate, prioritize threats, and stay cool under pressure, it's amongst the best cooperative board games ever made. Actually, we've yet to find anything that can match it in all our years covering tabletop gaming.

Besides keeping illnesses under control, Pandemic challenges you to develop a cure for each one by collecting 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. This can result in a domino effect of disastrous, oh-God-someone-do-something proportions. Do you focus on making the cure or should you keep those disease levels down? This white-knuckle decision-making is where Pandemic shines, and it's just one of the many crises you’ll need to overcome in what has become a king amongst board games for adults. Other classics like Catan are great, but they can't hold a candle to this.

Like a psychological shot of espresso

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There's scope to branch out once you've mastered the original version, too. Besides increasing the level of challenge through its many expansions, you can also pivot to the (excellent) Pandemic World of Warcraft spin-off if you'd prefer something fantasy-themed. There's even a Legacy series where the consequences of your actions carry from one game to another, so this is a franchise with plenty to get your teeth into.

Best 2-player board game for adults

Disney Villainous promo shot with the box, tokens, and boards laid out on a table

(Image credit: Ravensburger)
Give the bad guys their happily ever after

Specifications

Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 10+
Complexity: High
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Tactical and deep
+
Gorgeous artwork
+
Mechanics based on characters

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard to explain

Ever wonder what would happen if the bad guys won? Disney Villainous encourages you to find out with barely-concealed glee. Your aim is to give a classic ne'er-do-well their happy ending, all while screwing over anyone that tries to stop you. 

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a board game for kids, though. Villainous is surprisingly tactical thanks to characters with their own objectives, playstyles, and cards. That gives each one a unique flavor, resulting in a complexity that's as absorbing as it is satisfying. Particularly if you start to mix in the excellent Disney Villainous expansions. These add-ons are interchangeable with the original game, so combining them leads to match-ups that encourage all-new strategies.

It has enough depth and spice to keep you playing for months

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It's a great choice if you're hunting down board games for 2 players, too. While it can accommodate up to six people, we'd argue that Villainous is better when tackled in pairs; it becomes a chess-like battle of wits rather than a scramble to make headway in full, more chaotic matches.

Best family board game for adults

Wingspan board, cards, dice, and dice tower arrayed on a wooden table

(Image credit: Stonmaier Games)

5. Wingspan

A beautiful and relaxing new favorite

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Very zen
+
Fun even if you lose
+
Beautiful artwork

Reasons to avoid

-
Tough to reverse your fortunes

Wingspan is a surprise favorite when it comes to adult board games. Besides being the winner of a well-respected Spiel des Jahres award, it's popular enough that some cheeky retailers charged triple its list price when it went out of print a few years ago. That tells you more than enough about its quality.

As you might have guessed from the name, this one puts birds front and center. Indeed, your aim is to attract the biggest variety to your preserve. You'll do this through clever engine-building mechanics that can be found in many of the top board games for adults; dice are used to get food or eggs that attract new feathered friends, and these often feature abilities which let you amass even more resources, and even more birds. It's a satisfying loop.

The artwork is just as good. With vivid washes of color and a painterly style, it's downright stunning. That's partially why Wingspan is ideal as a chill-out game. (Actually, it's our go-to if loved ones ask for recommendations.) The lack of direct competition and a focus on attracting wildlife turns it into a relaxing, zen-like experience that you'll enjoy regardless of whether you win or lose.

Best RPG board game for adults

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion box beside a lamp and hatchet

(Image credit: Cephalofair Games)

6. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Strike out on an epic fantasy adventure

Specifications

Players: 1 - 4
Ages: 14+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60+ mins

Reasons to buy

+
Ridiculously deep
+
Lasting consequences
+
Combat isn't random

Reasons to avoid

-
Overwhelming in scope

Powered by unique combat and a setting that's reminiscent of The Witcher, Gloomhaven is the fantasy adventure of your dreams. Branching storylines and a kingdom influenced by your decisions produce a quest you can lose yourself in for months.

No, really. Alongside a map you'll permanently alter with stickers earned by journeying across the land, Gloomhaven includes secret mechanics that are unlocked over time, a meaty combat system relying on strategy instead of dice rolls, alternate missions aplenty, and morally gray choices to keep you on your toes. Decisions can and will have consequences, so tread carefully.

If you're anything like me, that'll be enough to get you hyped by itself; there's a childlike sense of wonder powering Jaws of the Lion. Crammed from top to bottom with magic, it leads to watercooler stories that'll more than justify your excitement. Thanks to similarities with the best tabletop RPGs, it's also a great choice if you adore Dungeons and Dragons books.

Best classic board game for adults

A collection of Cosmic Encounter boards and tokens against a starry sci-fi background

(Image credit: Fantasy Flight)

7. Cosmic Encounter

Bargain your way to dominating the cosmos

Specifications

Players: 3 - 5
Ages: 12+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 120 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Mix of action and diplomacy
+
Easy to learn, but with lots of fun quirks
+
Variety of unique playstyles

Reasons to avoid

-
Not like traditional games

Even though Cosmic Encounter has been kicking around since the 1970s, it's lost none of its edge. This is a sci-fi classic that's charmed audiences with its unusual gameplay for decades, and there's nothing quite like it even today. If you're a fan of negotiating your way out of sticky situations in board games for adults, this will be your jam.

On the face of it, everyone's goal is the same; set up five colonies on rival planets. That's where any common ground ends, though. Players will take command of one of 50 possible alien species, and they all boast unique 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. Yet more can sneak a look at someone else's cards. In other words? Expect the unexpected - and be ready to counter it.

As with so many board games for adults, there are more than a few bonus packs you can use to expand Cosmic Encounters too. You're able to add everything from unknowable creatures to unexpected partnerships with these expansions, so it's easy enough to spice things up if it's starting to go stale.

Best strategy board game for adults

Root board, cards, and tokens on a wooden table

(Image credit: Leder Games)
Conquer the woodland

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 10+
Complexity: High
Lasts: 90 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Wide range of strategies
+
Iconic art-style
+
Encourages creative thinking

Reasons to avoid

-
Rules take some getting used to

If you loved the Redwall novels when growing up, Root should be on your radar. It's an asymmetric strategy game featuring bucolic woodland creatures eager to take over the forest, and that includes everything from mice villagers to sword-wielding raccoon adventurers. When combined with eye-catching artwork, it's a delight from the start.

You shouldn't assume it'll be a walk in the park based on those friendly designs, though; this is a layered, complex experience with plenty of depth. As an example, all factions come with their own mechanics and goals for victory. That puts Root amongst the best tactical adult board games, one which only gets better the more you play.

Gleefully cribs the best ideas from the last few decades of wargame development

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Even though it's a lot to take in (the rules need some getting used to), your patience will be rewarded. Interplay between factions provides plenty to explore, and this is a game that encourages players to think creatively. It's an example of what makes modern board gaming so special, to be honest; although it's not for everyone, Root is the poster-child of what this hobby is capable of.

Best puzzle board game for adults

Azul board game box, tokens, and bag on a black wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
The best puzzle board game for adults

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 8+
Complexity: Moderate
Setup: 5 mins
Lasts: 40 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Thoughtful
+
Calming
+
Absolutely gorgeous

Reasons to avoid

-
Potential for bickering

Azul is downright beautiful, and its mechanics are just as enchanting. For those who prefer more relaxed tabletop experiences, we'd highly recommend this one - it's amongst the best puzzle board games for adults by a long shot.

Your aim is nice and simple: place tiles on the board and score points. In fact, a good description would be 'color-based crossword'. You've still got to take care, though. While you'll get better results if you manage to complete sets in this chilled-out pastime, wasting tiles on random formations can lower your score.

Deceivingly simple, always evolving

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That leads to a lot of maneuvering and good-natured competition in an effort to outdo your opponents. Because of this, Azul is more of a personal puzzle game than a head-to-head challenge (which makes it an excellent choice if you fancy something low-key). Much like Ticket to Ride, there's a joy in lining up tiles to make patterns or completing the perfect set.

Board games for adults - FAQ

board games for adults

(Image credit: Ravensburger / Leder Games / Cephalofair Games)

What are popular board games for adults?

If you're trying to get your hands on the most popular board games for adults, it's a good idea to take a look at Amazon's best-seller list. As one of the biggest retailers in the world, it's a pretty decent metric of what's hot. 

We took a look recently, and while classics like Monopoly are pretty high up on the list, it was joined by some surprising additions. Here are the most notable ones we saw:

- Codenames
- Taco vs Burrito
- Azul
- Sequence
- Catan
- Skyjo
- Wingspan
- Ticket to Ride

So, which of these should you try and get? They all have their pros, but we'd argue that Wingspan, Codenames, Azul, and Catan are the best of the bunch. Wingspan is a smart but chilled-out family game, Codenames is perfect for parties, Azul is a puzzle masterpiece, and Catan is a long-running classic that still has the goods today.

What is the most fun board game for adults?

Finding 'the most fun board game for adults' is a difficult task; it's a very subjective question, after all. It also depends on what you're in the mood to play. For example, we'd like to think that the most fun board games for adults right now is Blockbuster. This party favorite always goes down well at get-togethers and won't lose relevance over time unlike competitors, but it isn't going to cut the mustard if you're hunting down a strategy epic.

With that in mind, the right fit will depend on what you want the board game in question to do. Narrowing that down should help you identify the most fun board game for you.

To help kick things off, we've honed in on a few categories below.

- Most fun party board game: Blockbuster (app. $20 at Amazon)
- Most fun card game for adults: Exploding Kittens (app. $20 at Amazon)
- Most fun 2-player board game: Disney Villainous (app. $40 at Amazon)
- Most fun team board game for adults: Pandemic (app. $45 at Amazon)
- Most fun strategy board game for adults: Root (app. $70 at Amazon) 

What is the number one board game for adults?

It's an entirely subjective question, but so far as we're concerned, the horror-based Betrayal at House on the Hill tops the list. It's not perfect by any means, but it does provide one of the most engrossing experiences you're likely to get in tabletop - it's memorable, tense, and incredibly moreish.

We'd also say that Pandemic comes in a close second. It's one of the most finely-tuned co-op experiences out there and is replayable enough to keep you coming back for months on end.

Gloomhaven is eternally popular despite costing anywhere up to $140

However, others are likely to have very different answers. We've heard a lot of good things about Terraforming Mars, for example. Even though it's a few years old, this game about colonizing the red planet is still topping charts all over the place. Similarly, the dungeon-crawling Gloomhaven is eternally popular despite costing anywhere up to $140. It's a fantastic fantasy adventure if you have the time and budget for it.

What is the most popular board game for adults now?

If we're talking pure sales, the gong is likely to go to something like Exploding Kittens (which is cheap and cheerful at $20) or Cards Against Humanity (it can currently be found for $25 or so). A quick browse of Amazon's top sellers' list featured the pair prominently, so it seems as if folks can't get enough of these particular board games for adults.

How does GamesRadar+ test board games?

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

Our team has been hands-on with every game on this list, so you can rest assured that we only feature recommendations that the GamesRadar+ crew truly believes in. After multiple playtests with a range of players and scenarios, we're confident that they'll hold up as the best board games for adults.

For more information, check out our guide on how we test board games and tabletop RPGs on the site.


Want more recommendations? Be sure to check out these essential Star Wars board games, or these classic board games. It's worth keeping an eye on this year's upcoming board games, too!

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to the latest Lego news. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012, and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.