Our favorite board games for PC gamers

Here comes a shocker. Are you ready for it? Here at PC Gamer, we don't spend all of our time playing PC games. That's right: sometimes we play board games, too. We love strategy games that work the same brain muscles as Civilization, adventure games that remind us of the D&D roots of so many RPGs, and wargames that let us outmaneuver our friends and annihilate their mini X-Wings. Basically: we love board games.

And it's a phenomenal time for board games now, too. Smart designers are pumping out new, complex games all the time, Kickstarter has led to a boom of new creators, and even licensed games are great. Doom, X-COM, and Star Wars all have fun, deep board game interpretations out there to play. Who'da thunk?

Below are our latest picks for the best board games for PC gamers. Most are full of complex, interlocking systems that are a joy to master, even if you have to go back to the manual a few times. Some are breezier and great for larger groups of friends. And yes, we'll admit it: we're total suckers for awesome miniatures.

Mechs vs. Minions

Riot Games
2-4 Players
$75 from Riot Games

Okay, look, it’d be really easy to just slap this on a list of board games for PC gamers because it’s a board game based on the most popular PC game you can play. But that is not why this is on the list. It is on the list because the people over at Riot took the time (and consulted the experts) to make sure that this is actually a good game. The proven fun of programmed gameplay and cooperative board gaming combine well with mechanics that mimic League of Legends. The coup de magie is that it uses a campaign play format that means each game you play builds on the previous ones. 

It’s hilarious to watch your ill-planned shenanigans play out, as moves you thought would be great a few turns earlier become wasteful disasters or put you directly in harm’s way. By the same measure, your careful masterstrokes are just as satisfying to pull off. It’s also pretty easy to learn for its complexity—there are great videos about how to play that anyone can watch before game night rolls around.

As an aside, it’s also an incredible value compared to other games of its size and scope. A comparable offering from most tabletop games companies would hit fifty dollars more easy. The component and miniatures quality is mind-bogglingly high. It even has a soundtrack. I guess that’s what happens when you grease the wheels of board game production with your fat stacks of video game megabucks.

Perhaps the only downside to it is that you can only buy it directly from Riot. 

Scythe

Stonemaier Games
1-5 Players, 7 with expansion
$140 from Amazon

The mechs-and-pastoralia art of Jakub Roszalski has captured the imagination of pretty much everyone I know that I’ve shown it to, and Scythe is the first manifestion of that. Its world, 1920+, is proving so captivating that it’s getting a PC RTS called Iron Harvest

Just a brief perusal of Scythe’s pieces will show you why. The cards have fascinating scenes of agrarian life juxtaposed with smoking, hulking dieselpunk mechs and war machines.  Cows walk alongside four-legged spider mechs guarding the peasantry. Hulking metal giants stalk the misty distance as troops cross a plain.

Scythe’s appeal as a game, though, is more than the (lovingly-painted) board or the (nicely designed) mech miniatures—it’s the fully integrated strategy between different styles of play. Much like a good game of Civilization, it’s about expanding and building as much as it is about combat, and there are plenty of ways to win that don’t involve firing a single shot. See, hidden within what looks like a bland board wargame is a complex strategic-economic game about consolidating territory and bluffing opponents with shows of force and grabs for uninhabited land. While most every player has the same options available to them, each of the game’s factions plays slightly differently, like one that gets an incentive to be aggressive, or another that can hyperfocus on a single strategy to the exclusion of all else.

Scythe also has an expansion that takes the player count to seven(!) and adds two new factions.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Fantasy Flight Games
1-4 players
$53 from Amazon

Arkham Horror is a fun board game that lots of people love, but at a decade old it’s getting a bit long in the tooth - the setup time alone is a bit beyond most people. Thankfully, we now have Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Using the same living card game format that has served Android: Netrunner so well, Arkham Horror takes a cooperative tact that sees multiple players as investigators each running their own decks to combat some eldritch horror from beyond our world. You move around the city of Arkham, drawing cards and getting your character equipped, but your deck also contains your character’s weaknesses - perhaps you’re paranoid, or afraid of being alone. Beyond that, there’s a sense of roleplaying as you take actions that little to do with the cards you’re holding. That sense that you’re not entirely bound up in what your cards can do lends an atmospheric, almost roleplaying aspect—something that the developers were specifically trying to evoke.

At its price it’s a good deal—the core game set plays two and is a satisfactory game in and of itself, and you can add two more with another core set. Beyond the core set you can get totally optional, but so far good, expansion packs that add more cards for deck building and enemies to face - letting you make your character more efficient at their job or more thematic to what you want them to do. Given the success of the format it’ll likely get game updates and new content for years to come.

What’s best is that it has an awesome campaign mode, letting you customize and change a single deck and character over the course of multiple linked sessions. It’s fun to do this solo, unlike a lot of solo card games. It also means you’ll crave game night—it’s addictive to discuss your group’s metagame and deck combos between chances to play.

New Bedford

Greater than Games, Dice Hate Me Games
1-4 players, 5 with expansion
$33 from Amazon

"Arkham Horror sounds nice," you might say, "but my brand of gaming is more the Cities: Skylines management sim type. Got anything for that?"

I do, but first, call me Ishmael.

Streamlined and fast-playing compared to most board games like it, New Bedford is an ambitious little game of resource management and limited action taking - what many board gamers call worker placement. Players develop the town of New Bedford during the age of whaling, launching ships to bring in the catch and become the most notable tycoon-cum-captain in town. It’s all about developing a lean and tight strategy then sticking to it or altering it as setbacks come your way - even as the whales thin out and the age of whaling comes to an end. It plays in about an hour, too, meaning that it fits around busy schedules or alongside other games during your board game meetup. 

Perhaps its most clever inclusion are several automated competitors to play against, enabling you to either play by yourself or pad out a game of less than four players with extra competition. If you like it, the game even has a great expansion that adds a fifth player, a plethora of extra possible constructions for your town, and a deck of nautical happenings for when the whales get thin in the water. 

Mage Knight & Star Trek: Frontiers

WizKids
1-4 players
$55 from Wal-mart for Mage Knight
$80 from Amazon for Star Trek: Frontiers

Whether you want to be an adventurer in a fantasy realm or a captain on the final frontier, WizKids has got you covered with two variants on the same game system. These are superb games, tightly designed and cleverly implemented, which give the feel of being an explorer in an unknown world. Mage Knight is a few years old now, Star Trek Frontiers is new this year, but both give you a crafted experience all about trying to find and overcome challenges in your path. In either one you play a hero or captain who explores a dynamic game map and finds treasures while overcoming enemies. You encounter events as you go, choosing from a variety of outcomes when dealing with the people and situations you meet—but you’re ultimately pursuing some greater objective as you do.

These are the kinds of games where even if you don’t come remotely close to winning you still feel great about having played. That’s good, because actually winning these games is really satisfyingly hard. The story that each player plays practically writes itself - triumphant events, personal growth, and shattering setbacks. The games can be played competitively, cooperatively, or solo—and every mode is fun.

Star Wars: Rebellion

Fantasy Flight Games
1-4 players
$100 from Amazon

A big box, straight-up wargame of galactic conflict, Star Wars: Rebellion allows you to tell and retell the Star Wars story to your heart’s content. It takes place on the grand stage of the galaxy, moving armies and fleets from world to world. The two sides of the game are what seals it, each playing very different from the other. Rebels have to carefully husband their forces and gather support while avoiding giant conflicts with the Empire and defending their hidden base. The Imperials must deduce the rebels’ hidden base location and exert control over as much of the Galaxy as they can, hopefully getting enough resources to build a Death Star and blow up any planet willing to support the Rebellion. 

Perhaps what actually makes Rebellion magic, though, is that it focuses on characters just as much as strategy by having them lead the charge. The characters of the Star Wars universe are your generals and admirals, so you can have Han Solo leading the rebellion fleet while Luke Skywalker trains on Dagobah to become a jedi, or Darth Vader commanding a Death Star assault on a suspected rebel homeworld—but you can just as easily have remixes like Princess Leia leading a fighter strike force to destroy the Death Star as Boba Fett tries to capture her. 

Play Xcom Board

XCOM: The Board Game

Fantasy Flight
1-4 players
$53 on Amazon

The tabletop version of XCOM models the geoscape side of an XCOM campaign—science, ground combat, dogfighting, management and economy—and distributes those tasks across four discrete roles. These roles each operate a portion of the board that they’re responsible for: the Squad Leader, for instance, plays a kind of symbol-matching game as they allocate troops to defend the XCOM HQ. As a cooperative experience, it's vaguely similar to stuff like Pandemic. XCOM is turn-based, however, and the app (which stands in a printed manual, and can also run off a browser) forces players to respond in real-time to events like base attacks and UFO arrivals. The sum is incredibly tense: you're dialed-in to the quadrant of XCOM you're responsible for, but get to feel the impact of every dice roll on your campaign at large.

Play Star Wars

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Fantasy Flight
2-X players (usually 2)
$32 on Amazon

If our bodies didn’t require sleep and our loved ones didn’t require love, I’d have room in my life for lifestyle-level tabletop games like Warhammer 40,000. For those of us who are subject to reality, X-Wing is an amazing alternative that preserves everything that’s good about miniatures while mercifully compressing the time it takes to finish a battle.

Scalability is a huge asset to X-Wing. Like 40K, every ship, pilot, and upgrade has a point value associated with it, so you can knock out a four-ship skirmish in half an hour or settle in for a massive, multi-part campaign with capital ships like the Tantive IV and assign squadrons to four or five different players.

What makes X-Wing work most, though, is its FlightPath™ system. Within this movement system, pioneered by WWI flight sim Wings of Glory, players commit movement orders in secret, then reveal them all simultaneously. Is your opponent’s TIE Bomber going to sprint right at you, or barrel-roll behind an asteroid? Trying to out-guess and out-maneuver your opponent takes real strategic thinking, but doesn’t burden X-Wing with a billion rules.

The base set is fairly cheap, but building out your fleet will mean shelling out for expansion ships, most of which hover around $25 on Amazon. At least the pre-painted models look terrific—good enough to display on a desktop. Fantasy Flight’s also made an effort to make organized, competitive X-Wing tournaments accessible worldwide, if you fancy that.

Honorable mention: Captain Sonar

Matagot
2-8 players
$70 from Amazon

But you say to me, you say: I do like these games, but I have seven friends and we all want to play a game that is good together. And I say: Okay fam. I got you.

Enter CAPTAIN SONAR. A chaotic fracas of submarine-on-submarine warfare where each player on opposite teams has a specific job to do and must do it well or they all perish. The captain must set course The radar-post must look out for the enemy. The first mate must manage systems. The engineer must fix breakdowns. All of them must work together to defeat the team across the screen from you.

And a few more good board games

DOOM, a faithful and thematic translation of the fast-paced shooter reboot for those who loved it.

Seafall, for those who liked Risk: Legacy and want the bigger, better, badder sequel.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault, a four-versus-one Star Wars dungeon crawling campaign game.

Cthulhu Wars, if you want to play a mega-brawl between lovecraftian gods and also own some pretty gorgeous miniatures.

Fief: France 1429, a heavily strategic and political board game that boils down to Crusader Kings 2 in cardboard form.

Eclipse, which is still the best space 4x board game you can play.

Islebound or Above and Below, for the text-adventure enthusiasts among you. 

Accessories

Dice from Chessex
$23 for a 1-pound bag on Amazon, price varies for individual sets

Pictured in our Risk Legacy photos, Chessex's dice are splendid—if you’ve visited a PAX you’ve already seen their massive, multicolored display. You can get a pound of their assorted multisided dice from Amazon.

Dice tower
$25 on Amazon, varies

If your tiny breakfast nook is the only surface you have to play games, consider the benefits of rolling vertically. Etsy has a selection of handmade ones, too.

Lead image via Polyhedroncollider.com

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