The best board games can bring you together with your family and friends. Video games are a fine way to pass the time, especially if they have multiplayer options, but there’s nothing quite like sitting around a table, unloading a bunch of pieces, setting up an intricate board and learning a new set of rules. The best board games are interactive and either cooperative or competitive in ways that video games often aren’t.
Thanks to specialty retailers and online live-plays, board games have had something of a resurgence over the past few years. There are lots of new options, particularly for strategically minded players, but some of the old classics have held up remarkably well over the years. Whether you’re looking to gather your whole family together in front of something other than the TV, or learn a little more about a significant other without sounding like a job interviewer, here are the best board games you can play right now.
In case you don’t have anyone at home to play with, many of these games have digital versions with online play, and they’re almost always cheaper than buying a physical game. Simply convince a few friends to each buy a copy, and you can play board games together, regardless of distance.
Most board game fans have probably sat down and played a hardcore, tactical space game at some point, where the rulebook is thicker than an actual rocketship blueprint, and one false move means you may as well have not played. Space Base is not one of those games. You and up to four other players each take command of a fleet of spaceships, outfitting them with various engine parts that can help you explore the stars and establish colonies as you go. The rules are surprisingly intuitive, and while matches can last a few hours, a satisfying mix of luck and strategy keeps them unpredictable until the end. — Marshall Honorof
Ticket to Ride
All aboard this railway-themed board game that’s suitable for the whole family! There are many versions of Ticket to Ride, but the original remains a favorite among diehard players. The players (two to five) collect different colored train cards to build on railway routes in North America. They get points by completing Destination Cards, and by building the longest continuous routes. The gameplay gets dramatic as players complete to fulfill routes, all while the train cards start running out. And the best thing about Ticket to Ride is that if you get a little bored of the North American scenery, you can ride the rails in Europe or the Nordic Countries. — Kelly Woo
Betrayal at House on the Hill
If you’ve ever fantasized about the thrill of exploring a haunted house with your friends, but were put off by the likelihood of death and the lack of available haunted houses to snoop, Betrayal at House on the Hill is the board game for you. In this creepy affair, up to six players explore a decrepit mansion teeming with secrets, starting in the foyer and uncovering new areas of the house by drawing room cards at random. At this point in the game, there’s no conflict, until one player triggers the “haunt” — a game-changing event that pits one of the squad against the rest. There are 50 different haunt scenarios that can unfold, so chances are good that the experience will be different each time you play. In my first Betrayal game, I ended up being a producer for a morbid reality TV show, in which I had to use the house to kill my former friends; in the second, my friend drew the haunt, and became a malevolent tree. You never know how the haunt’s gonna go down. — Adam Ismail
Lords of Waterdeep
Dungeons & Dragons isn’t really a board game, so we couldn’t justify including it in this list. But if you long for the setting and aesthetics of D&D without the extensive multi-week commitment, Lords of Waterdeep is a great halfway point. In this competitive city-building game, you and up to four friends each control a Lord (or Lady) of the fantastical city of Waterdeep. In order to exert their influence over the city, the Lords collect resources, contract adventurers and employ Intrigue cards, which can change social dynamics and, consequently, the flow of the game. It’s complex and mysterious, and since every Lord has different victory conditions, it’s anyone’s game. — Marshall Honorof
Fog of Love
If you’ve ever watched a romantic comedy movie and thought, “I’d handle that situation a lot better,” Fog of Love lets you put your theory to the test. This two-player game casts the players as a guy and a girl (or two guys, or two girls; any setup works) who fall for each other after a meet-cute worthy of a Jennifer Aniston flick. Each player collects cards and positions them on a board to determine his or her personality traits, as well as the incidents that advance the overall story. Will you find true love, or will your courtship end in hilarious disaster? Play this one with a romantic partner, and you’ll learn all sorts of things about one another. — Marshall Honorof
Settlers of Catan
This highly addictive strategy game turns you and up to three other players into hard-nosed settlers, competing to conquer an island. To do so, you have to collect resource cards (brick, lumber, stone, straw and sheep) that allow you to build roads, villages and cities. But acquiring those resources isn’t easy. It’s a mix of luck-based dice rolls and trading with the other players, who also need those same cards (plus, there’s a resource-stealing robber in the game). Points are earned by building settlements and by achieving certain benchmarks, like building the longest road or the biggest army. There are endless permutations to the game, so you can apply different strategies every time you play. And for the truly obsessed, Catan has several expansions — such as Seafarers, or Knights and Cities — that put new spins on the game. — Kelly Woo
You’re probably thinking that the last thing you want to do is play through a pandemic while you’re living through one. But the game Pandemic is truly one of the best cooperative games on the market. Plus, it will give you the immense satisfaction of working with others to defeat a worldwide scourge. Two to four players become members of the CDC’s disease-fighting team. Each player has a role: One might be a researcher; one might be a medic. The key is to use your specialized skills in conjunction as you combat outbreaks in various cities around the world. It’s perfect if some people in your household are a bit too (ahem) competitive, since you must work together to eradicate the disease and win. — Kelly Woo
Sort of “Taboo meets the Cold War,” Codenames is one of the most compulsively playable board games I’ve ever experienced. You and up to seven other players divide into two teams, then arrange 25 cards with random words printed on them into a square pattern. Certain words hide “spies” from each time, while others hide only innocent bystanders. It’s up to one player on each team, the Spymaster, to coax his or her teammates into saying certain words by association. But a Spymaster can only say a single word per round — and if his players guess wrong, they could wind up scoring points for the other team. Codenames is easy to learn, and no two games are ever alike. — Marshall Honorof
There’s more to Scrabble than having a tremendous vocabulary. Among all the best board games, Scrabble’s roots in strategy make it almost as timeless as chess. Scrabble doesn’t just challenge players to make words from a random assortment of letter tiles — it poses logical problems when you take spatial planning and point accumulation into account. This requires thinking several moves ahead, and navigating the board in your favor. Getting to a triple word score square before an opponent does can decide who wins the game. And if you’re more right-brained, it’s amusing to stretch the limits of the dictionary with creative letter combinations. You might even learn some new words along the way. — Kate Kozuch
Deducing how Mr. Body (whose surname predicted his own fate) died is a time-honored tradition among those looking to test the sleuthing skills of those around them. Make sure you take good notes as your fellow color-coded game players — never trust Col. Mustard — explore in the house and guess at the murderer’s identity. Maybe it’s a simpler version of other deduction games, but Clue’s simple rules make it easy for any and all guests to understand. Plus, you get to accuse your friends and family of murder, which is always fun. After a few rounds, turn on the film of the same name, to see Tim Curry’s hilarious performance as the butler Wadsworth, and enjoy Martin Mull and Christopher Lloyd’s turns as Col. Mustard and Prof. Plum, respectively. — Henry T. Casey
The actual fortified French city gives this tile-laying game its name. Two to five players build the landscape around the city. During your turn, you draw and place a tile, then put a meeple on it that becomes a knight, farmer, monk or thief. The roles score differently depending on the tile, which can be a road, field, monastery or city. Every time a landscape feature is completed, the meeples earn you points. As you attempt to finish roads or cities, other players will compete against you. Building the map requires good strategic thinking. And as a bonus, it is a pleasure to watch the landscape come together. Carcassonne also has several expansions, like Inns & Cathedrals, which add new tiles and features to the game. — Kelly Woo
The Game of Life
Not many games can keep things fresh for 160 years, but the makers of The Game of Life have made constant tweaks and revisions to the board game Milton Bradley himself whipped up in 1860. The current version of Life features a lot more audience participation than I remember from the edition I played in the 1970s — the game’s Action cards have you telling jokes, beating out rhythms and breaking out dance moves. But the same concept of risk and reward is there as you wind your way from school days to retirement. It’s a great game to play with the entire family, especially if you find yourselves all under one roof at this time. — Philip Michaels
Cross Pictionary with a game of Telephone, and you have a pretty good sense of what playing Telestrations is like. You and a group of friends and family — the more, the merrier, though you probably don’t want to have more than eight — each have a sketchbook, and you pick cards to see what each of you draws. When you’re done, you hand that sketchbook to the person next to you, who then writes down their guess on the next page, before handing off the book again to another person. That person then draws whatever that guess is, as your sketchbook makes its way around the circle back to you. If the subsequent drawings and guesses bear any similarities to your original sketch, you travel in more artistic circles than I do. The fun with Telestrations comes from seeing how one simple drawing can get misinterpreted and reimagined in just a little bit of time. — Philip Michaels