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Best classic board games - revisit some old favorites in 2021

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

What do you think should top a list of the best classic board games, though? After a lot of debate, we've pulled together a collection of what we think are the top-tier games of yesteryear. That includes Risk, Catan, and… well, you'll see. Despite being many decades old, these recommendations still manage to impress today.

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

Speaking of price cuts, you'll definitely want to come back toward the end of this month - the Prime Day board game deals are set to take place from June 21 - 22, so you should be able to grab a bargain or two then. In fact, some deals are already appearing for the best classic board games...

Best classic board games - top 10

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Catan

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

1. Catan

The best classic board game

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

Strategic
Trading and deals
Unusual mechanics
Some rules can be frustrating

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

A resource management game where you're tasked with constructing your own civilization, it sees players trading and building to get the upper hand. It may sound simple, but you'll need plenty of cunning to achieve victory. Players win points by building settlements, and you'll need a variety of resources to do that. Because the board is randomised and subject to probability-based dice rolls, this makes clever placement crucial. And while those dice introduce an element of chance, intuition is rewarded.

You'll never have all the resources you need either, so bartering becomes essential. This makes Catan an intriguing balancing act; swapping resources may help you in the short-term, yet it may also bring your opponent one step closer to victory. That complexity is why the game continues to go from strength to strength, as evidenced by the special 25th Anniversary Edition.

A good marker of Catan's popularity would be the wealth of expansions that are on offer. Game of Thrones and Star Trek-themed sets are now available, for example, followed closely by a spinoff called Catan: Starfarers that tasks you with colonising space.

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2. Clue / Cluedo

The best classic mystery board game

Players: 2 - 6 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 45 mins

Satisfying process of elimination
Straightforward
Great in a large group
Simplistic

Everyone loves being an armchair detective, and Clue - or Cluedo, if you're from the UK - puts those skills to the test. Indeed, it's one of the best murder mystery games out there despite having been around since 1943.

As you'd expect, this one's all about hunting down clues with which to catch a killer. Trapped inside a stately manor that's hiding secrets of its own, players have to uncover the truth if they want to succeed. Who murdered the victim, where did they do the deed, and which weapon was used? This leads to a race against time to gather evidence before everyone else does.

Such methodical gameplay helps you feel like an investigator worthy of Poirot, especially because of its focus on the process of elimination (no pun intended). Being able to play mind-games with your opponents raises the stakes, too. Seeing which clues they're prioritising lets you connect the dots yourself, and that gives cunning sleuths a head-start. At the same time, this can also be used against players if their foes possess a good poker face. It's endearingly devious.

Naturally, Clue is even better if you have more people to play with; you've got to be so much more alert. That makes it one of the best classic board games to use if a lot of people want to join the fun.

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3. Monopoly

The best classic board game for families

Players: 2 - 6 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 90 mins

Accessible
Moreish
Loads of different versions
Games can last too long

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

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

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

Plus, Monopoly sticks in our collective consciousness thanks to mechanics that can be oh-so punishing. Who hasn't experienced a crushing turn where they keep landing on their opponents' hotels before being sent to jail? There are just as many water-cooler stories to be had from games of Monopoly now as there were in the 1950s. That's a rare feat, and a good indication of why the game is still going strong today.

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4. Trivial Pursuit

The best classic trivia board game

Players: 2 - 6 | Ages: 16+ | Difficulty: Hard | Setup: 5 mins | Lasts: 60 mins

Everyone can get involved
Broad range of categories
Universal appeal
Some questions are too hard

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

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

How exactly does it work, though? Players answer any questions they land on while moving around the board, and they have to collect 'wedges' to fill up their wheel. Once that's done, they put it all on the line with one final question. It's reminiscent of the best quiz shows, and Trivial Pursuit is brilliant as a result.

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5. Risk

The best classic strategy board game

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

Tactical
Dice rolls level the playing field
Lots of licensed versions
Dice mechanics can be arbitrary

Much like Monopoly, Risk is a classic board game that's been through more iterations than we can count. However, it's still the excellent strategy epic it was way back when it launched in 1957.

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

This leads to plenty of political tussling with alliances, betrayals, and wins snatched from the jaws of defeat. Rolling dice in battle may not seem exciting, but when your lone unit has managed to hold off an overwhelming army for many turns in a row, it's one of the most satisfying feelings you can get at the tabletop.

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6. Carcassonne

The best classic board game for city-building

Players: 2 - 5 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 40 mins

Always different thanks to random tiles
Room for long-term strategy
Satisfying
The tiles you get are down to chance

The most recent classic board game on this list is also one of the best. Although it only came into being in 2000, Carcassonne has already built up a cult following, received numerous expansions, and is now available in digital form pretty much everywhere.

Named after the French city of the same name, its board is created as you go; players put down tiles to create towns, cities, monasteries, and farms. You get points for completing any of these, so long as you control them by having the most meeple - little wooden people - on those tiles. This leads to a competitive tug of war where you're trying to one-up your foes and keep them away from your investments. Although there's an element of chance because tiles are drawn blindly, nothing can beat the satisfaction of planning ahead and stealing a portion of the board from under your opponent's nose.

Not keen on the setting of southern France in the 1500s? No problem - there are versions of Carcassonne set all over the world, including the Amazon and North America during the Wild West Gold Rush.

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7. Boggle

The best classic word board game

Players: 1+ | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 1 min | Lasts: 3+ mins

Quick
Affordable
Portable
Timer adds anxiety

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

The beauty of this classic board game is that it's so simple. Players have to make up as many words as they can from a four-by-four tray of 16 letters… and to up the ante, you only have three minutes to complete your search. This adds a much-needed element of pressure to get the heart racing, especially because words featuring the most letters pay out more points. Oh, and if anyone puts down the same word? It's discredited straight away. Bummer.

Other word games like Scrabble, Upwords, and Bananagrams are truly excellent, but for our money? Boggle is the winner thanks to its quick, portable nature.

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8. Battleship

The best classic board game for suspense

Players: 2 | Ages: 7+ | Difficulty: Easy | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 15 mins

Tense
Methodical
Relies on intuition
A lot of guesswork to begin with

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

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

Because Battleship has been around for so long, you can also get plenty of alternative versions to spice things up. There are fully-voiced electronic ones, digital games, travel sets, and beyond.

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9. 221B Baker Street

The best classic board game with a story

Players: 2 - 6 | Ages: 10+ | Difficulty: Medium | Time to set up: 2 minutes | Time to play: 60 mins

Each case has a unique written story
75 cases overall
A more advanced Clue / Cluedo
Some clues haven't aged well

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

Players work their way through 75 unique cases of murder, and each one begins with a detailed narrative to set the scene (as you might expect from a game that's decades old, there's an expansion pack of 50 new cases to keep you busy as well). You'll then have to figure out who the killer is, their motive, what weapon they used, and more by hitting the streets of Victorian London. How do you win? By rushing back to 221B Baker Street and smugly reading out your theory like Mr. Holmes himself. And because everyone's conducting their investigation in secret, it's a race to the finish-line.

Each location on the board could harbour a vital clue, but you'll have to work for them; players must solve riddles, word-games, or read between the lines to blow this case wide open. There's even a chance for underhand trickery; Everyone can 'lock' a location and hide whatever clue is inside, but doing so draws attention. 221B then becomes a game of bluffing. Is the hidden info useful, or are your rivals sending you on a wild goose chase? 

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10. Scrabble

The best classic board game for relaxing

Players: 2 - 4 | Ages: 8+ | Difficulty: Medium | Setup: 2 mins | Lasts: 45 mins

Chilled out
Exercises your brain
Can make you feel very smug
Possibility to get a set of rubbish letters

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

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

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

More board game guides

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

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

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