Once upon a time, Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble is all you might find in the average person’s games cupboard. Maybe Trivial Pursuit if you were somewhere fancy. How things have changed. Now, we’re in a board game boom. Some even rival the playability and immersion of console games. There’s every kind of tabletop fantasy out there for you to explore – if you know where to look.
Fancy yourself as an industrialist pioneer or a master of the English language? Do you want to unearth the secrets of a haunted house, or rebuild a dystopian Europe? You can do all those things and more, with our picks of the best board games out there for every type of player.
Best for engine building: Scythe
An alternative history board game set in an imagined post-war Europe (or ‘Europa’) wouldn’t usually be top of the list for festive fun.
Once the Boxing Day blues have set in, though, Scythe has enough complexity in its dystopian mix of building, recruiting and conquering to keep you playing through ’til New Year. What’s more, with an upgrade element at its core and no player elimination, you’ll rarely be twiddling your thumbs between turns.
Best for quick-fire rounds: Bananagrams
Scrabble‘s great – but the need for a board and the length of time it takes to play means it’s not suitable for every occasion.
Bananagrams keeps the best thing about Scrabble – the opportunity to show how smart you are by being really wordy/writing a load of puerile rude words – but ditches the board and scoring system for a faster pace. Very much a ‘just one more game’ kind of vibe.
Best for long stints: Brass: Birmingham
In the economic strategy game Brass:Birmingham, you are tasked with spearheading the industrial revolution, competing with equally-minded entrepreneurs along the way. For what is, on the surface, a complex game, the rules are surprisingly easy to grasp, and the gameplay is easily up there with popular titles such as Pandemic or Ticket to Ride.
Best for quick games: Jaipur
Placing you in the bustling markets of Jaipur, players become luxury traders in this quick-to-play card game. Japiur is a game of tactics, risk and, sometimes, sheer luck, where players must collect and trade jewels, silk and camels to become the wealthiest merchant in the land. The gameplay is fast, yet leaves many options open for decision-making and tactics. A must have for any collection.
Best for wordsmiths: League of the Lexicon
Do you know what a ‘flapdoodle’ is? Can you name ten types of bed? And do you have a scholar level knowledge of linguistics? If the answer to any of those questions is ‘verily’ then League of the Lexicon is the quiz game for you. The object of the game is simple…collect five artefacts and answer a final question to win. But to get those artefacts, you’ll need to know your synonyms from your compounds and drag the waters of your mind in this game for lovers of linguistics.
Best for repeated plays: Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tile game where you build a house room by room and, eventually, must escape it. Each person plays as a character with their own unique skills, from a mad scientist to a preppy jock. Secretly, though, one person will betray you. Oh, and there’s the small fact that the house is is trying to kill you.
At a point in the game a ‘haunt’ will be initiated, which introduces one of 50 randomly generated plots to the game all based around horror tropes. There are mummies, zombies, giant bugs and summoned spirits. One haunt opens a portal to hell. While Betrayal at House on the Hill might be more suited to Halloween for, well, obvious reasons, it’s a thrilling game that can’t be played the same way twice.
Best for mid-range tabletoppers: Stardew Valley: The Board Game
Ahh, Stardew Valley. The cutesy video game that has you tending to your crops as if they were your children and toppling giant corporations by being nice to your neighbours.
The tabletop game doesn’t stray too far from this theme. Working together, players must restore the valley to its lush, former glory. You grow crops, raise cattle, befriend villagers and forage for food, all on a beautiful illustrated board that mimics the pixelated graphics of the video game.
Best for fast rollers: Cuphead
The wildly successful (and Stuff certified) video game Cuphead has you running and gunning to defeat the devil, and its board game tie-in is no different.
This frantic, fast rolling card and dice game for 1-4 players pits you against absurdist bosses in a series of 20 second rounds, mirroring the gameplay of the video game. Cuphead, the board game, also draws its art style from its counterpart, with the 1930s art style of the board and deck making it a joy to play.
Best for bird enthusiasts: Wingspan
Wingspan has you taking on the role of a bird enthusiast whose life work depends on attracting only the most beautiful birds to your network of preserves. Wingspan‘s USP, though, is in its beautiful artwork.
The deck features meticulously illustrations of all manner of bird species, from turkey vultures and jaybirds to something called a ‘Chihuahuan raven’. The board is bright and colourful, while the game itself is a great beginner title for those not exactly well-versed with tabletops.
Best for challenging roleplaying: Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game
The Dark Souls video game is known for its crippling difficulty. If you’ve been tearing your hair out trying to complete the thing to no avail, then you might have better luck with the Dark Souls Roleplaying Game. This complete tabletop adventure spans 400 pages and encompasses elements of adventure, horror, and tactical combat. Much like the game it’s based on, it’s still a difficult experience, but one that rewards the ardent players out there who are up for the challenge.
Best for pick up and play: The Mind
The Mind bills itself not as a card game, but as an experiment into the collective human psyche. Admittedly, that sounds a bit intense, but The Mind is truly a collective game.
Players are given a random selection of cards from 1-100 and, taking turns, must work together to place them face up in ascending order. The catch? You can’t speak to each other, and must rely on intuition to beat the game. Equally as rewarding as it is frustrating, The Mind is a simple yet addictive game that everyone can quickly grasp.
Best for backstabbing: Coup
Had some disagreements at the dinner table? Don’t hold it in, just bide your time and defeat them in a game of Coup.
Like the title suggests, Coup is a card game where you must dispose of your opponents and manipulate your way to ultimate power. You can work tactically by offing opponents who you think pose the biggest risk to your reign, or go rogue and power your ascension with an iron fist. It’s short, with most games lasting little over ten minutes, and is great for repeated play.
Best for online play: Square Off Pro
We’re bending the rules a little bit here with the Square Off Pro.
Sure, you can still play this chess board with a friend like you would ordinarily, but Square Off Pro is a little different. With Square Off Pro‘s online capabilities, players can compete with others across the world. It’s perfect for those who are perhaps too nervous or inexperienced to compete with players face to face, or for people who want to play online but with a physical board. It’s pricey, but for chess enthusiasts it’s worth it.
Best for solo players: Gloomhaven
Christmas is stressful. There are countless pots to wash, parents are meddling, there are drinks to constantly top up and young cousins are determined to destroy your house. Sometimes, you just need to some alone time. Gloomhaven has you covered for that.
Although Gloomhaven can accommodate up to 4 players, it is easily one of the most adaptable games for solo play. In this popular dungeon crawler, players take on the role of an adventurer who must rid Gloomhaven‘s tabletop world of evil, upgrading your skills and plundering along the way. Gloomhaven is designed for experienced players, but for one of the best single player tabletop experiences there are few options better.