Our board game Co-Op was the most active reader poll since we asked you to name the best album. And unlike that Co-Op, when Hot Fuss was inexplicably not nominated, your choices were great this time around!
Below are the 21 top-recommended games, in order of the number of stars they received, along with what you all had to say about them. As exhaustive and rigorous as this list is, if you somehow know of another game that deserves to be here, the comment section is open.
Carcasonne!! My four-year old beat me when we played. - Fade N2 Bolivian
My favorite part about Carcasonne is that it’s relatively simple but still has the opportunity for a lot of strategic decision making. The variety of scoring mechanics can be a little intimidating for new players, but since it doesn’t rely on any secret information it’s easy to walk them through all their options. - jakeoftroy
Carcassonne is my absolute favorite game, but I agree that the fields are terrible and my boyfriend and I always play without the fields.
There’s an out-of-print two player version that lets you claim fields and you get points for however many marketplaces (which are different from cities) it has, and getting enough to justify sacfrificing a meeple to claim a field is hard to do, so we play with fields in that version only. In the regular game, we don’t play with fields whatsoever. According to our house rules, you can only claim roads and cities, and cathedrals or monasteries, or whatever else expansion you’re playing with.
Pandemic Legacy is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. It’s pretty dense so I know it’s not for everyone, but I picked it up because of the recommendation for 2 players. There are lots of games that say “2-x players” but aren’t actually much fun with fewer than 4 people. Pandemic Legacy is perfect for 2 players, is strategic but cooperative, and is unlike anything I’ve ever played. With the Legacy series, you make permanent changes to the board, the characters, and the objectives as you go on, and there is only a finite amount of times you can play until you complete or fail the mission. This makes everything feel very high stakes and adds a level of intrigue as you constantly have to keep your head in the game 2 ways - in the current round you’re playing, but also in considering the larger picture. Plus, it’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time to rip cards in half for a game you bought!
As I said, could be considered very dense, so certainly not for everyone. But once you get the hang of it, the sense of accomplishment is SO high when you overcome the odds and complete your objectives. And the element of opening packages and memos throughout the game that change the play keeps you from ever getting complacent. Rounds are typically 1-1.5 hours. One of my favorite games ever. - JosieMu
Built on a perfectly great game, the legacy component adds a ton of anticipation, surprise, and fun. If you don’t order immediately after seeing the review on Shut Up & Sit Down, I’m not sure you like boardgames. - LeBron Jeremy
Settlers of Catan. It’s fun, the games don’t last forever, and my kids stay interested (ages 8 and 10). Main game is for up to 4 people, but there’s an expansion to allow 5-6 to play. - Sea-of-Cortez-Kennedy
Catan is a great introduction into how much depth the hobby has. - Cordingly
4. 7 Wonders
7 wonders, a good mix of strategy to keep it entertaining, but enough luck to not swamp those who haven’t ever played before, overall good game. - Caedmon Burgtorf
It’s sprawling, massively complex, deep as the great blue ocean, and extremely intriguing in all the right ways. However, it’s also among the most expensive games out there at an MSRP of 140 USD, requires an aftermarket storage solution of some kind in order to not immediately turn setup into a 3 hour slog, and will demand over one hundred hours of play for completion. Even with a storage solution, setup can still easily run over half an hour, and the incredible level of things to track can leave the players feeling overwhelmed, especially if one person is in charge of managing the DM side of the game (running the monsters, reading the manual, explaining and clarifying rules, applying stickers, tracking levels and resources, and so on). I’ve only played two sessions and I’m thoroughly enamored of it, but this is not the best board game for many people, unless you’re a board game connoisseur that demands only the most exacting Euro tactical combat experience. - Travistech22
I’ll second Gloomhaven. Have been playing it for a few months now and having a blast. I agree with most of the downsides said (and add that sometimes the Scenario texts can feel a bit disjointed). Regarding the price, I agree that it is a lot to pay upfront, but for how much it offers, I find it more than fair (compared to other dungeon crawlers). All in all, the negatives I could say about this game feels more like nitpicking, honestly. If the group likes dense games and dungeon crawling, there’s none better in my opinion. - tgonzo
It’s a great party game for up to 6 players. The players start by exploring rooms of a haunted house. As they explore, someone will eventually start the “haunt” where bad stuff will happen in the house. No two games are the same, and with the new expansion (Widow’s Walk) there are 100 different scenarios. Each scenario plays out differently depending on who’s playing, how much of the house was explored, what items were found.
For people who dismiss board games because they’ve only ever played monopoly/life/clue, this is the one that draws them in and gets them wanting to play more board games, every time. - silentstone7
I absolutely love Cosmic Encounter. It’s been around for ages and is infinitely replayable with experienced and inexperienced board gamers alike. With that said, the game that I have the most fun with in any setting is Monikers. It’s simple to teach, easy to play and absolutely hilarious every single time we play it. It’s also available at Target so it’s easy to purchase as well. - GunPistolMan
Cosmic Encounter is my favorite game ever. There’s a reason it’s been around for 42 years.
It starts as a simple game were you send up to 4 space ships into a battle against one of your opponent’s planets (containing some space ships of it’s own). You each play a single card face down, which will add to your ship total. Highest total wins:
The game tells you who to attack. I’m attacking player 5.
Me: “We each have 4 ships in the encounter, and I can add 2o to my total with this card, making 24. The 20 is one of the higher cards but not the highest. Will I win?”
Player 5: “I have a 15, and 4 ships which gives me 19. Not bad. I bet I’ll win”
Then you add in alliances:
Me: “Hey Player 2, and Player 3 do you guys wanna be my allies and add your ships and cards to my total?”
Player 5: “I’ll take Player 2, Player 3, and Player 4 as my allies. Let’s beat Slamus!”
All players ally against me, giving 4 ships each to the battle.
My starting total: 4
Player 5: 16
Then you add in the best part. Alien Powers:
I’m playing as “The Loser” and I use my ability to declare that the LOWEST total shall win this encounter. I decide now to play a 1 instead of my 20.
Player 5 looks shifty and lays down his card.
We reveal cards,
I reveal a 1, bringing my total to a nice low 5,
Player 5 reveals... a Negotiate card.
if I had played one too we would both negotiate a deal, but since I didn’t they lose, as do all 3 of their allies. They’ll never trust him again.
Then the next turn starts.
Every Alien Power breaks the rules of the game significantly. The game comes with 50 and there are 6 expansions that all add 20-30 more powers.
with each alien, you add a special corresponding “Flare” card into the deck, which either powers up the alien that it goes with, or gives someone else a smaller crazy ability.
The core gameplay of Cosmic is really fun, and the alliance system keeps everyone involved. Then you add in Alien Powers and Flare cards and it gets really crazy. Every game is different, and every game is great. There’s strategy to be had, but someone can blow it up at any time so you need to have a backup strategy and a back up for that.
BUY IT - Slamus
Good mechanics, easy to teach and learn and there are a ton of different maps that shake up the game. - NoOnesPost
It depends what you like in a board game, but probably the most accessible and enjoyable to a wide range of people is Ticket to Ride. - Kovert35
I saw Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy mentioned and those are, without a doubt, amazing games. But they’re an investment in both time and money. Gloomhaven is a 100+ hour, 100+ dollar game and Pandemic Legacy will run you a minimum of 12-15 hours and $60-80. These are great games, but they’re not something I’m going to bring out at Christmas with the family.
Azul is perfect as a family game. It is complex, but not complicated. There is one mechanic (take tiles, place tiles), but the possible strategies are endless. People who don’t have a ton of modern board game experience (like my mom) can pick it up easily, but it still provides a challenge for experienced gamers. It’s one of the few games I can play with my family where I don’t expect to win every time. Part of that is luck, but part of it is because there’s no one right way to win. And even if you do have a great strategy, you can’t guarantee that the tiles will be there for you and other people can see what you’re doing and play defense to stop you.
It’s very rare for me to find a game that I enjoy and find complex but that the non-gamer members of my family enjoy and can play well, too. Azul fits that bill perfectly. And it looks beautiful, too. - tjw
I second this nomination, Azul is super fun. I’m also a more serious gamer than most of my fellow players, but we all have fun with this one. - booktart
10. King of Tokyo
The logistics of the game are very clever, and there are so many ways one can focus their strategy to win. Monster designs are classic, their skills can be continuously compounded to deadly effect, and the dice add an element of luck that can be either life saving or diabolically tragic. It’s reasonably easy to learn and repeat playability is pretty high to boot. It’s my goto game of choice. - raudikaiser
I love this game, and it seems to be the game our friends like best from our collection. It does seem complicated, but it’s actually incredibly easy to explain and get into. One of those games that needs little instruction and can be learned as the first turn starts.
I love Dominion. Each game you play with 10 kingdom card sets which all play off each other differently, and so each game is unique. There are a ridiculous quantity of expansions which add new types of game play. It is good as a 2-player game but really shines with three to four (with an expansion you can technically play up to 6 but I recommend just splitting into two groups at that point). - Bitch Please, Go Learn Math
Dominion is essentially a deck building game where you acquire money, points, and “Kingdom” cards with the ultimate goal of having the most points at the end of the game. What’s nice about Dominion is that no two games are the same and every player generally has a different idea on the best strategy to win. Each game, 10 of the 26 Kingdom cards are selected as supply piles for that specific game with the remaining 16 put back in the box. So each game is completely different and the player has to make a determination from the kingdom cards available to them as to what they believe their best strategy for winning is. This is compounded by the fact that many kingdom cards play off of one another and the fact that Dominion has numerous expansions that add additional kingdom cards to your collection. My wife and I have a number of expansions and, despite the fact we’ve played this game religiously for years, we’ve never come close to having the same game. It’s perfect for four people, but can also be played with less. We’ve also tweaked the rules a few times to play with more than four. If you like high strategy games that are never the same, this would be the game for you. - Brad Stevens
Bohnanza - easy to learn, impossible to master, and I have yet to meet somebody who hasn’t had a blast playing this (inexpensive!) card-based bean farming game. - Nixorbo
Bohnanza is one of those games that change a lot depending on who you’re playing with: it can be very friendly, or it can be sorta vicious, denying trades to screw people over and such. I love how you need to read how each one person plays for best results.
This and Gloomhaven are my favorite board games. - Hydorus
Scrabble is the ultimate for me. A game of skill from beginning to end and it requires a lot more than a good vocabulary to really know what you’re doing. I’ve played variations with friends, where we invent our own rules (no words under five letters, no nouns), and it really gets competitive. - 50ShadesOfJimGray
Can be played by all ages, available everywhere. You can handicap the game by letting younger or less experienced players get extra tiles or get extra points. Bonuses for dirty words! - VBinNV
Viticulture: a fantastic worker placement game. It is easy to get pulled into growing your vineyard and find that you have forgotten that you are trying to score points for victory. A great marriage of theme and mechanics. - RedStarLeo
Strong mix of short term gains verses long term strategy with constant pressure from opponents. Limited interaction among opponents means you have more control over how your game goes. One of the few dice-rolling games which doesn’t often end in frustration at the luck of the roll because of the several options for each die rolled each turn as well as an ability to manipulate die value. Highly re-playable due to the way you draw tiles each round and variable player mats. Great for 2, 3 or 4 players. - gravity is gone
Terraforming Mars! You, either alone or with other players, race to terraform Mars by raising its oxygen, temperature, and water levels to make it habitable to humans. Single player is a race against time while multiplayer is a race against each other.
You do so by role-playing as various private corporations with unique abilities and bonuses that invest in research projects. The game takes place over hundreds of years in “generation” segments, where cities are built and massive interstellar projects are completed.
You must spend resources that can be gathered either by mining the planet directly or are earned through production each generation. In addition to terraforming, you can also earn victory points through raising animals, producing vegetation or industrial microbes, building a fleet of space fighters, or crashing a goddamn meteor into your opponents’ farms.
Though it’s mostly a race, there’s a bit of interaction among players as well. Is your opponent raising a lot of cattle to earn victory points? Raise an army of bears and shit to eat them and take those points instead. It’s just enough player fighting to make it interesting without completely ruining friendships. - Plaatsvervangende Schaamte
In my mind this is the quintessential worker-placement game. I know it looks like a farming simulator, but it’s also a masterpiece of long-term strategic planning. There are dozens of potential paths to victory, but you have to think five steps ahead if you are going to successfully maneuver around your opponents as you compete for resources and building opportunities. It takes a certain type of brain to enjoy it, but if you have that type of brain you will quickly fall in love with this game.
Oh, and you must play with the animeeples (wooden pieces shaped like wheat and pigs and cows and stacks of wood) rather than the bland wooden discs that come with the base game. - boowax
Just bought it for the ridiculous deal you all mentioned a few weeks back and I’ve been loving it. Great party game, nice to play 2v2 or even solo. Hell, I even got my kids playing with me by just matching colors to placements. Honestly the best part is at parties. The worst thing about board games at events is that they are not fun unless you’re the few that are playing. With this, the music is going, it’s got a low barrier to entry, and literally anyone can get how to play in less than a minute. I love it. - Killing Time
19. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is my group’s favorite game. Simple to learn without sacrificing depth, challenging gameplay that’s never punishing, “fair” but never boring. The best part? Everybody is involved in every single turn, so people stay engaged the entire time. - PleasedToMeetMe
Citadels. The newest version has two expansions built in with several newly added characters. With the added characters there is a ton of replayability, which is exactly what you want in a tabletop game. - case-sensitive
Munchkin is a fun party game, with juuuuust enough D&D-esque character building to make it something more than yet another round of Sorry. It’s great for kids and adults, and there’s enough themed variants (Star Munchkin, Munchkin Fu, Munchkin Zombies, etc), that if you’ve got something in particular you’re interested in, there’s a Munchkin game for you. Add to that that each game can connect with each other (we currently run Standard+first expansion+Conan+Conan expansion+Hipster), and you’ve got the recipe for an endlessly customizable game with zero barriers to entry. - palmofnapalm