We are living in a Golden Age of board gaming. Exciting indie Kickstarter projects bring innovative new concepts to the market. Big publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games successfully produce new high quality games every year. Board games come in all kinds of wonderful shapes and flavors, from deck-building card games to miniature wargames, and I truly believe there’s a great game out there for everyone.
Of course if you haven’t played a game since getting your ass kicked by dad in Monopoly all those years ago, you may not be aware of all these great games. Or worse, you may be intimidated by hefty rulebooks and boxes filled with dozens of pieces. Thankfully the industry is full of “gateway games” that are intuitively designed to ease you into this wonderfully social hobby. Here is a list of some of the best board games to get you started.
10. ’7 WONDERS’
In this brilliant card-drafting game players each select a card from their hand, then pass the cards to other players around the table, building a resource-generating empire over several rounds. Once you play a few games everything clicks into place. Since everyone drafts their cards simultaneously the game plays extremely fast no matter the player count. Scoring can get a bit tricky at the end of the game, but there’s an app for that.
For fans of: Card drafting; economy-building; ancient history
Also play: Fairy Tale
Rio Grande Games (2000)
In Carcassonne everyone takes turns placing randomly drawn tiles onto the table, forming a unique land of farms and castles that’s different with every game. Choosing where and when to place your limited workers is the crux of the strategy—try to score points with a potentially huge castle, or build along a newly claimed road? With more players the evolving map gets more chaotic.
For fans of: Making maps; Little wooden meeples; French countrysides
Also play: Any or all of the many, many Carcassonne expansions; Tsuro
8. ‘SETTLERS OF CATAN’
Rio Grande Games (1995)
Most modern board gaming fans can trace their beloved hobby back to Settlers of Catan. Catan features lots of fun elements and mechanics that have since trickled into every facet of gaming—dice rolling, card set collection, trading, and building all on an island map that changes each time you play. It’s a brilliant example of modern board game design, and intuitive enough that it’s often the first game to be recommended for newcomers.
For fans of: Go Fish; Monopoly
Also play: Catan expansions; Puerto Rico
Rio Grande Games (2008)
Dominion’s unique deck-building system set off an exciting chain reaction in the board gaming industry. All players begin with the same basic deck, then buy cards from a shared stash that changes every time you play. New cards give you more money, more chances to buy new cards, and, most importantly, victory points. Dozens of games have built upon this concept using various themes, but Dominion is still a great game with many available expansions.
For fans of: Card games; deck building
Also play: Ascension; Star Realms; Thunderstone
6. ‘FORBIDDEN ISLAND’
A growing subset of board games are co-operative, meaning that players actually work together to try and beat the game itself. In Forbidden Island, players must utilize the unique abilities of their explorers to gain and draw cards in the hopes of acquiring four relics. Meanwhile the tiled island is sinking below your feet, creating a fun race-against-the-clock scenario that very often ends in thrilling defeat.
For fans of: Cooperation; friendship; repeated failure
Also play: Forbidden Desert; Pandemic
5. ‘KING OF TOKYO’
Designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame, King of Tokyo puts players in the fun role of giant monsters set on destroying Tokyo—as giant monsters often do. Players do this by rolling dice Yahtzee-style and using the results to attack their foes, gain victory points, and acquire new powers. Player elimination is a constant threat, and the game plays fast enough that nobody feels left out for very long.
For fans of: Yahtzee; fighting games; Kaiju monster movies
Also play: King of New York
4. ‘LORDS OF WATERDEEP’
Wizards of the Coast (2012)
Like Carcassonne, Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game, draped in an effective Dungeons & Dragons theme. But even if you know nothing about D&D and prefer to call Fighters “the orange guys,” Lords of Waterdeep provides a fun and strategic experience. Serving a randomly drawn lord, players fight over the limited spaces to collect more adventurers to complete their quests. It’s the rare game that scales equally well for both competitive two-player games and a full table of friends.
For fans of: Dungeons & Dragons; fantasy; worker placement
Also play: Agricola; Stone Age
3. ‘SMALL WORLD’
Days of Wonder (2009)
Fans of strategy games will be right at home with this light-hearted fantasy mash-up of conquest. Players select from a bevy of randomly mixed fantasy races to conquer a map that just isn’t big enough for everyone. When your forces are spread too thin, you can select a new race on the following turn and beginning your conquests anew.
For fans of: Risk; fantasy; backstabbing your friends
Also play: Small World: Underground; Five Tribes
2. ‘SMASH UP’
Alderac Entertainment Group (2012)
Smash Up takes one of the basic concepts of collectible card games—battling opponents with exotic creatures—and leverages the popularity of cool factions like pirates, ninjas, robots, and dinosaurs with mounted laser canons. Eight factions are included in the base game with their own unique themes and mechanics. Players select two and “smash” them together to create their deck, then battle over control of various bases. Go Robot-Pirates!
For fans of: Card games; everything awesome ever
Also play: Magic: The Gathering; Munchkin; Smash Up expansions
1. ‘TICKET TO RIDE’
Days of Wonder (2004)
Ticket To Ride is a collection card game using a beautiful map of the United States. Players draw cards in order to collect sets of matching colors, and use them to place trains along various colored routes on the board. The game is incredibly easy to play, with a nice balance of light confrontation as you block each other’s routes. Turns move swiftly and it scales well from two to five players.
For fans of: Rummy; collection card games; America
Also play: Alhambra; Splendor; Ticket to Ride: Europe
Eric Watson is a freelance writer who enjoys talking about video games, movies, books and Dallas-based sports teams. Every week he watches a random film from his collection of several hundred DVDs and live tweets about it @RogueWatson. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas with his wife and daughter, two dogs, two cats, two fish tanks, some hermit crabs and a bookshelf full of Transformers.
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