Here’s an excellent way to have fun: Unwrap a new board game. The crisp paper sound of a rulebook opening for the first time. The soft pops of cardboard tokens getting punched out. The glorious, juddering, fart-like noise of an overfull box being opened.
These are wonderful things, but first, you have to choose a board game. Not just any board game, but one from this list of the best board games that you can play. (No, not board games on your PC, that’s a different list.)
As always, this living list balances what we think will most appeal to you with what’s best in board games from the past few years (and what’s still in print), and what we think PC gamers in particular will love. We’re focusing on games that are worth your money right now, and that you can play over and over and still have new, interesting experiences each time. The goal here is to recommend game worthwhile for your collection, not simply games you’ll play a few times and then shelve forever.
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The cutesy woodland facade conceals an interesting, deep asymmetrical strategy game. Each player takes on the role of a tribe of beasts and fights the others for dominance of the forest through control of strategic clearings. It’s a game that has a huge possible decision space, and each play differs greatly from ones before it based on what weird new strategy each player tries each time. It’s also truly asymmetric, and requires understanding the radically different ways the other factions play—so it’s only really worth it if you can get people together to play it more than once.
One player, the Marquise de Cat, needs to expand their dominion over the woods in order to solidify their hold—moving troops, quashing rebellion, and ending others’ dominance. The Eyrie, an alliance of feudal birds, plans out elaborate machinations in order to marshal their limited troops to retake the woods from the cats. Under their noses snoops the Woodland Alliance, a growing insurgency of mice and hedgehogs ready to overthrow their oppressors. Finally, around the edges skirts the vagabondish adventurer raccoon, a player who’s basically flying solo to accomplish their own objectives. It’s a pretty hardcore strategy game with a unique theme and some great design that always leaves you wanting to play again and try something new.
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Veteran designer Martin Wallace’s newest is a departure from the norm for him, a strategy game focused on miniatures battles rather than an in-depth economic management game. We spoke with him about it earlier this year, and getting our hands on Wildlands really typified his less-is-more design philosophy. Unlike a lot of miniatures games Wildlands eschews dice and randomization in favor of deep tactical strategy and reliable effects. While it’s a pretty familiar fantasy theme, that familiarity is nice, because Wildlands plays like nothing else.
Wildlands uses faction-specific cards and powers instead of stats. It’s all about knowing how and when to play the cards that activate your units’ powers instead of saving cards for defense. Knowing how and why to play what card is an art in and of itself—launch too many attacks and you’ll be vulnerable on defense, defend too much and you’ll cede the battle’s momentum to your eager opponent. It’s a very intuitive game, and easy to teach, so with several unique factions in just the base set you can get a lot of variety from just this single box.
Plan B Games
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An absolute beast of an European-style strategy game, Coimbra has players drafting sets of unique, colored dice and collecting power cards in order to fulfill a variety of conditions and score points on tracks. It sounds like a lot of other relatively abstract strategy games, no? The brilliance is in how the moving parts all interact with each other. Cards have powers that activate based on what color dice you choose in a round. Dice have effects based on what color they are, but can cost more based on what was rolled on them… and let you pick more cards based on where on the board they’re placed. Combined with a cute little minigame that sees players traveling around Portugal, there’s so much going on in the game that simply choosing which dice you want to buy each round becomes an agonising strategic puzzle. (In a good way.)
Nominally set during 16th Century Portugal, Coimbra’s theme is not nearly as important as its mechanics and its lovely looks. Beautiful graphic design and charming art round out a game that would probably be fun even if it were drab. It’s probably the best strategy game released in the last few years.
Renegade Game Studios
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Have you ever wanted to be a Fantasy Librarian? Fulfill that dream in Ex Libris, a game of book collecting. Players compete to have the best collection of thematic, fantastical books, all while avoiding those books proscribed by the local authorities. It’s a lovely game full of fantastic art, clever comedy, and the incredibly engaging puzzle of organizing your bookshelves. No, I’m not joking—getting your shelves in order is the mechanic at the heart of this game.
Well, that’s not fair. The core mechanic is sending out your library assistants, some of whom are special creatures like witches and gelatinous cubes, to gather books around the town. Assistants go to places like book swaps, estate sales, and auctions in order to get the books you want before your opponents can get them. Those books then move into your library, where you begin a puzzle of balancing keeping your shelves well supported and making sure they’re in alphabetical order. At the end of the game, the official library inspector comes around (with an incredible included dry-erase scoreboard) to see who’s the top book jockey in town. It’s a page-turner of a game that I can’t put down.
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The gorilla in the room of 2017’s board games, Gloomhaven is a sprawling co-op dungeon crawler with an elaborate, non-liner campaign mechanic. Taking on the role of fantasy heroes, players work their way through hordes of automated monsters in a series of choose-your-own-adventure-style scenarios. Players’ decisions during and after each play session influence what will happen next, forever locking away some game scenarios and opening up others.
As you play you also advance your character, making some neat choices and often permanently altering your statistics and equipment. These kinds of long term narrative arcs make Gloomhaven perfect for those who have a consistent group to play with—though solo play is entirely possible. It’s a fantastic game for RPG fanatics and tactical gamers everywhere.
Crucially, for all its complexity, it has a fantastically functional and simple manual that doesn’t take hours to parse and rarely needs to be consulted during play.
What I like most about Gloomhaven is that it does away with much of the swingy, boring dice chucking common in dungeon crawlers in favor of solid, reliable cards. Your actions are chosen from a hand of cards and affected by a deck of random effects. So, sure, you might miss sometimes—but you’re very unlikely to have the kind of string of bad dice luck that can ruin dungeon crawlers like Descent.
Gloomhaven will take hundreds of hours to finish, though you probably don’t need to do that to have fun with it. It’s an absolute beast of a game. It has a box larger than many small children. It doesn’t fit on a single shelf in my house. It’s also having trouble printing enough copies to meet demand, so you might not be able to grab it immediately upon deciding you must have it. Be patient and watch the Cephalofair Games website.
878: Vikings—Invasions of England
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A fantastic and relatively simple wargame with a lot to offer, 878: Vikings—Invasions of England uses Academy Games’ refined card-driven engine to deliver a reliable, consistent, and satisfying head-to-head wargame that still has the ups and downs provided by surprise upsets and dice combat. It’s a simple setup you don’t need to know anything about history to enjoy: one player or team takes on the role of the divided Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, starting the game controlling the entirety of England. The others control successive waves of invading Vikings. The players with the most cities controlled at the end of the game win.
A huge plus is that it plays well with its recommended two or four players, meaning it hits the table more often than it might otherwise for a wargame of its hour or two length.
The neatest thing about this game, and there are others in this vein, is that it draws on real historical events to function. The cards you play to maneuver troops are based on either actual tactics, historical events, or real people. Despite this, it still has sometimes-swingy dice combat that leads to the kind of surprising turns and come from behind victories gamers tell stories about for years.
Century: Spice Road
Plan B Games
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It wouldn’t be a board game list if we didn’t have a game about collecting points, and 2017’s best point collecting game was by far Century: Spice Road. Casting you as a merchant building a trade route from East to West in antiquity, this is an economic strategy game about managing and deploying your hand of cards to get the spices you need to fulfill trade contracts. That means picking up wooden cubes, then spending those cubes to get—you guessed it—more cubes.
Century: Spice Road is a quite good, very strategic game. People who like to solve a brain burning optimization puzzle or build up an economic engine will love the rhythm of Century: SR—like players who enjoy Age of Empires or Farm Manager. Frankly, I’d rank it with games like Jaipur and Splendor, but unlike those it's at its best not as a head-to-head game, but as a three-to-five player free-for-all. It also plays in a solid 30 to 45 minutes—even with five people vying for spicy fortune.
If you haven’t played economic strategy board games before, you could definitely do worse than a game like Century. It’s well produced, with useful components like little bowls, and doesn’t ask you to understand any complex subsystems. You only take a single turn each time you come up, so you’re consistently moving between players’ turns—which gives you time to understand what your next move should be. It’s about setting up combos, but those combos are spread out across turns and don’t require you to understand the game’s entire structure before you can successfully implement them.
Wasteland Express Delivery Service
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mad Max delivered packages? Well, have I got the game for you. Wasteland Express Delivery Service is a game that casts you as drivers for the last delivery company on Earth. It’s a mad storm of dice rolling and zooming across a post apocalyptic landscape in your truck-cum-tank-cum-bulldozer to complete missions and deliver packages. With a little planning and a lot of luck, you might even live through the experience.
It’s well produced, with a lot of little fiddly miniature vehicles. Wasteland Express Delivery service is a light blend of economic strategy with a heavy hammer of market forces and lucky dice rolls. Perhaps best is its length: for a big game that can take two hours to complete, it also has a nice ending mechanism and rarely overstays its welcome or asks you to keep playing once a winner is all but decided. That said, it still has its share of bloat and weak mechanics—it’s pretty much a pick up and deliver game at heart, subject to the whims of random chance and bad card draws, but the lack of variety in those card draws and events can lead to games feeling like a repeat performance after more than a handful of plays.
Fantasy Flight Games
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This one might seem obvious, but I include it here not because it’s Fallout, but because it’s actually pretty good at delivering an interesting Fallout experience. As each game starts players are presented with a huge, unexplored post-apocalyptic wasteland and a single objective. As you explore, you encounter factions of civilization, fight monsters, do odd jobs, and explore ruins. It also has a semi-cooperative element: players pursuing their quests often empower factions, but pushing a single faction over others can lead to the downfall of everyone. That said, it does have some odd ending triggers and a weird scoring system that doesn’t quite add up—that’s until you realize it’s stronger as a story engine than a really competitive game.
Each game has a winner, but sometimes you’ll get knocked out of contention by random happenstance. For the Fallout fans out there, that probably won’t matter too much. It’s well designed enough that you can find the fun, and the miniatures and components are top notch post-nuclear America. Generalized apocalypse fanatics might be better served by Wasteland Express Delivery Service, just above.
Mechs vs. Minions
$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.
1-5 Players, 7 with expansion
$140 from Amazon
The mechs-and-pastoralia 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 .
Just a 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.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Fantasy Flight Games
$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 . 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.
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, 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 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
Whether you want to be an or a , 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
$100 from Amazon
A big box, straight-up wargame of galactic conflict, 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.
XCOM: The Board Game
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.
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
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
$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.
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
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.
$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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