I hope you all had a great holiday season. There’s something special about winter; it’s such a social season. In summer we usually try to get the most out of our time by focusing outward, looking for the best beaches, tiki bars or parties, in winter we gather around our families and friends and just make the best out of what we have with them. It’s a primal instinct of getting together when faced with adverse conditions outside.
Your mileage may vary of course if you live south of the equator. But up here in the northern hemisphere, family, and friends are the main sources of entertainment during the winter and the holidays are just a convenient pretext to get together with those that matter the most in your life and enjoy the warmth, both figuratively and literally.
This is however hard in a world where we are encouraged to communicate and express ourselves trough electronic means. You always feel a bit weird migrating from experiencing life online to real life. In real life there is no swipe, there is no distant and standard “like” or “emoji.” It’s intimidating especially after 4 months of office work where you relate with your peers through a fixed script. This is why I think board games complement the world of Web 2.0 so well. They gamify our social life and smooth out the transition between digital and real life. Here are the best board games to help you do just that.
Table Of Contents
Best Board Games Reviews
CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY
When it comes to games for non-gamers, this game takes the cake. Cards Against Humanity is a card game where you associate over 440 sentences with slightly naughty 90 nouns. The end result is almost always hilarious. The sense of humor is a must, and sobriety is optional. So this is by far the best board game to play when tracking points and resources become too “tedious.”
The winner is nominated by a “judge”, so there is no fixed point rating system which makes improvisation not only an option but a preferable option to set the pace regarding how raunchy you can get and how points get scored. Funny doesn’t always get the points in this game.
Because the game is basically a deck of cards, the setup is non-existent, and the barrier of entry is minimal. After seeing 2-3 rounds, any newbie can jump in. And that’s what usually happens. You’re playing with 3-4 people and the laughter just draws in everyone else. And this game scales great. The more people you get playing, the better the odds of something hilarious turning up every round. It’s really a beautiful thing what a set of cards with basically prepackaged jokes can create.
RISK: GLOBAL DOMINATION
The second game on my list is a more classical board game, as in it comes with an actual board you play on. Risk is the best board game on this list and a classic that comes in many variations.
The game is basically about territorial conquest. You move a continuous supply of soldiers from your base across the map. Battles are won by a mix of troops and a dice roll. The stochastic element is just enough that gives new players a chance but allows strategic play to dominate and be the preferred approach to combat.
Global domination is the version I have and tested over the winter break. It’s easy to learn and easy to master making it a great equalizer between the more experienced role player and the new player. As an added bonus it makes geopolitics more fun and can serve as a fun teaching tool for kids. If you are the type of uncle/grandpa/cousin that likes to teach the kids, Risk is the best board game to do that in a fun and entertaining way.
TWILIGHT STRUGGLE: DELUXE EDITION
Keeping with the world conquest theme but stepping it up a bit in terms of theme and strategic depth, we have the Cold war simulator that is Twilight Struggle. Regions come with a more important strategic advantage and penalty, and the gameplay is moved along by event cards more than in Risk increasing the stochastic element.
Because of this stochastic development, the game has amazing replayability and is entertaining even for players that aren’t really familiar with the cold war.
But the events themselves make this the best board game on this list for the history buff. While the fast pace makes it less of a dedicated hours-long engagement. But this is an innate balance any game needs to hit. The more immersive and engaging, the longer and complicated the game. This is where Twilight struggle really hits a very nice balance.
The theme and historical accuracy also make it an interesting option for the brainy non-gamer. Which is always a huge plus? That’s the best victory when you get to entertain and bring into the board game world someone that doesn’t play board games.
Keeping with the military theme, this game is an upgrade to the pen and paper game we all played in school. Players set up their ships and then call out coordinates they want to hit. First one to sink all of his opponents ships wins. But this time you play on a 10×10 grid and use pins instead of X’s to mark your hits and misses.
The simple gameplay and portability makes it a great option for kids and is probably the best board game regarding accessibility. Anyone can get set up with this game and compete. The strategy element is minimal so that it will be engaging and challenging for players of all age levels and skill.
Unlike previous games, Pandemic is a player vs. game experience. The players are faced with a common adversary that tries to conquer the map as the game progresses, and they need to work as a team to stop the Pandemic. Players have different skills and abilities and figuring out the best combo of abilities for any given situation might take some time. But that analytical description really doesn’t do this game any justice.
The actual game experience is like non-other. You instantly feel like an intern that stepped for the first time in the ICU. From the very first decision you make you feel the gravity and consequences of that decision. You are constantly put in a position to work with your team and improvise solutions to the continuously expanding plagues. And speaking of plagues, the game mechanic is ruthless. The outbreak mechanic punishes negligence and bad luck, and you will soon find you and your party standing up at each and every card draw waiting for the inevitable domino effect of your next outbreak.
Pandemic, one of the best board game I’ve played, will be an experience unlike any other. Especially for new players as long as there is at least one experienced player that knows certain combos and roles to help lead the team to victory.
Terra Mystica is a close cousin to Pandemic; the theme is less apocalyptic, but it preserves the traits that make Pandemic one of the best board games you can buy right now.
You are still faced with a common threat that you and the rest of the players need to face. It also has the same multiple ways to lose and only one way to win, a mechanic that keeps you on your toes. This time is time as the game tiles that make up the playing surface sink over time instead of a visual that you get to push back. So you can’t really fight the game, you just need to rush towards the objective as fast as possible before it becomes impossible to win. These features make Terra Mystica one of the best board games to play with friends.
The objective is deceptively easy. You move across the game tiles and collect the sacred items. So it’s easier to understand for the new player. But again, behind that simple mechanic lies the excellent way these games are paced. You, very soon feel the pressure of time and bad luck and understand that the environment has no mercy and every decision counts. Again, this is one of the best board games you can get right now, and because the game surface is made of tiles, it has a lot of replayability as well.
This is a genius concept for any couples party. Ever played charades, hangman or Pictionary, but one of your party was not really comfortable acting or had any skill at wordplays or drawing?
Well, it happens to me a lot. I am terrible at Pictionary but a natural trivia player. Brains are different, and it’s hard to find a common platform we can all enjoy. Cranium tackles that and makes the crossword geek go head-to-head with the bombastic actors and the trivia nerd. It combines all those different challenges into a simple move around the board dynamic with your figurine and does a challenge of your preferred type when you land on a brain.
The challenges vary from easy to difficult and are separated into 4 categories: trivia, acting out, crosswords and scratching. The really brilliant side comes with the team vs. team mechanic, which makes for some excellent and dynamic gameplay with each and every challenge. With this, nobody gets to be singled out, and everyone can feel useful to the collective effort.
Another brain teaser is Blokus. The premise is deceptively easy, you have a board, and you need to put some Tetris shaped tiles all over it. First, one to place all of their tiles wins. It’s probably the simplest board game on the list. But in practice, you need to measure your moves carefully. One mistake will make you lose the game really fast. Mess up a move, and you won’t be able to recover.
Theoretically, it’s more of a kids game, but adults find it way more challenging and the fast pace game makes it seem like the fast way to settle disagreements. It’s impressive how much fun you can get out of such a simple design. Keep in mind however that the Tetris blocks are quite small so there is a choking hazard for smaller children.
THE GAME OF LIFE
Stepping up from the abstract into something much more themed. The game of life is a career simulator. It looks like a kid’s game and kids would enjoy playing this a lot. It also may serve as a passive teaching tool of basic home economics as you move your token trough paydays, expenses like houses and children and investment opportunities. And at the end of the day, you get to see how all these affect your end of life balance sheet which also gets you the victory at the end of the game.
But beyond that, it’s also a cathartic good time for adults. As you simulate different career paths, the gravity of personal finance gets elevated, and you get to have a laugh at the issues you might be facing in the real world. It’s quite a hybrid in that sense because it creates a different playing experience depending on the stage of life you are at. Regarding versatility very few games manage that, and that’s why this is the best board game for the entire family on this list.
MONOPOLY: THE CLASSIC EDITION
When talking about life simulators you have to mention Monopoly. The gameplay is a classic, you go around the board, and you trigger events. Some good, some bad. And over the course of the game, you can buy spaces and invest in them to cause the players that land on those spaces increasingly higher financial cost. Players play until there is only one solvent player left.
But besides that, where monopoly truly shines is the playing experience. The fact that a player’s challenges are directly caused by his opponent’s skill and decisions makes it very competitive and engages you in a very raw way. It’s really a unique experience; that may be close to the engagement achieved by Pandemic, but with less of a time constraint. The challenging and stochastic nature of the game also make clawing back into the game immensely satisfying, something newer, easier games never allow you the opportunity to feel.
Now, the gameplay may be a bit stale, and you might be tempted to get a more themed set, but I personally feel like the mechanics create a massive dissonance when playing on a very colorful board. So that’s why The Classic Edition is the best board game with a monopoly theme you can get in my view.
Speaking of classics, Stratego is a board game classic. With simple and accessible rules and mechanics, it’s always a favorite. Especially for those that aren’t the traditional role playing type.
You move your figures towards one another in chess like the style and when 2 figurines collide they fight. The figure with the highest point or the right special ability wins and the loser’s figurine gets removed from the board. A simple concept that anyone can understand immediately but opens up the player to a lot of strategic opportunities that will get you more involved than you might expect.
The gameplay is slow as you learn to play and become increasingly better at it and when you engage with another skilled, the experience is like no other. That’s why I was going to say the Stratego is the best board game for competitive players, but then it was brought to my attention that an old favorite got an update. If the next game doesn’t seem like something you might enjoy, get the strategy, it’s a great competitive game.
MAGNETIC GO SET
This is not for everybody. But recently I’ve been reminded just how good Magnetic Go is a game. My nephew got a magnetic Go set this Christmas, and It was the game I played the most over the Christmas break. Now my family is also really into old school games, and I mean really old school like checkers, chess, and backgammon. So it’s not really fair to compare it with other board games, as always the game that you and your friends enjoy is always the best game for you.
But before I get too much into the particulars let me explain what go is. It’s checkers times chess. It has the simple elements of checkers, but this time you put pieces on the board instead of moving them but with the depth and the variability you get from a chess game.
For this reason, I think Magnectic Go is a beautiful game, and I think everyone should learn and try it out. But that simple, beautiful design and hidden debt also make this game not everyone will be drawn to or want to play. So it’s players choice, no judgment for someone that things are putting black and white beads on a grid is a way to abstract to be engaging. But if you do decide to get a Go board, do yourself a favor and get a magnetic one, because countless games have been ruined when I was in college just by having someone nudge the board or the table where we had the board, by accident.