The Easiest Board Games To Pick Up And Play

The Easiest Board Games To Pick Up And Play
Image: The Gamesmen
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There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a good board game and realising you have no idea how to play it. You can waste hours reading through manuals, scrolling the web and watching YouTube videos before you finally understand some games, and by that stage, your perfect game night is ruined. Thankfully, there’s a bunch of games you can easily set up and play without minimal forward planning.

With some of us being forced into self-isolation or working from home thanks to the novel coronavirus epidemic, now is the perfect time to crack out those board games you’ve been hoarding for an age. While some of them may seem intimidating, you’d be surprised at how easy many of them are to learn.

Here are a few of our favourite games with easy set up.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

easiest board games to learn Image: boardgamegeek

Betrayal at House on the Hill is an RPG board game about exploring a haunted mansion, and it’ll seem fairly complicated to the uninitiated. There’s hundreds of enemy tokens, a bunch of card decks, figurines and house locations to pop out and organise — but the basic principles of the game are very easy to learn.

In Betrayal, players each take turns exploring sections of the haunted mansion by placing mansion tiles on the floor that they’re on. Exploring these rooms can reveal ‘omen’, ‘item’ or ‘event’ cards, each of which have their own impact.

Ultimately, these cards can trigger an event known as a ‘haunt’ where secondary instructions (spelled out in seperate booklets) guide players through the rest of the game.

There’s a bunch of great YouTube videos around for learning more about the game, but the best way to learn it is just to get going — the action is quickly revealed as you travel through the mansion’s haunted corridors.

Rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill can last around an hour, but they’re always great spooky fun.

Sushi Go

easiest board games to learn

Sushi Go is a competitive card game where players work against each other to snag the best sushi dishes at a restaurant.

Sushi Go has three rounds where players are dealt cards that they then build into a simple deck. Points scored are based on the sushi cards in your hand, which all have rules and points helpfully labelled at the bottom. Many of these cards have rules that double or triple final card scores.

The goal of the game is to finish with the highest score.

While card rules may seem initially complicated, there’s a bunch of great videos around explaining what each of them means, and the best tactics for winning the game.

Sushi Go is a great, rapidfire fun with friends, and usually lasts around 15 minutes.

Lord of the Rings: Journeys In Middle-Earth

easiest board games to learn

Journeys In Middle-Earth is an app-enabled adventure board game based on the Lord of the Rings novels and mythology. In it, players take on the role of roving heroes as they encounter various threats and travel through a rigidly-structured storyline.

The game is split into multiple phases including exploration, combat and enemy attack. These allow players to travel across map tiles and fight approaching hordes.

All the action plays out with the aid of a free app which determines where to place tiles, how many enemies appear and how powerful player attacks are. While players will need to know what the board game tokens do, the rest of the action is actually guided by the app, including enemy movement and behaviour.

The simplest way to get started with Journeys in Middle-Earth is to run through the manual to understand the gameplay basics and token uses, and then launch the companion app (also available on iOS and Android) for further instructions and the main plot of the game.

You can also check out videos on YouTube for a rapidfire rundown before you start your journey — but skimming through the instructions may be more informative.


easiest board games to learn

Skull is the perfect game to go with a round of drinks. In the game, players each hold tiles decorated with either skulls or roses. Everyone plays cards on their turn, and once all players have placed a tile, one player may challenge the others.

This involves a challenger identifying a set amount of cards they believe they can flip over before they encounter a ‘skull’ card that ends their challenge prematurely. They can flip over any cards until they fail the bet, in which case they forfeit one of their cards and the round continues. If the bet is won and all cards flipped over are roses, they win one round of the game, and the action continues until one player has won two rounds.

Skull Is The Perfect Pub Game

Recently, I've been having a chat with a friend about pairing two excellent things: some of Sydney's finest breweries with board games. The discussion originally cropped up over a game of Test Match -- yes, the cricket board game. But if you're going to take any board game to a brewery, or a pub, Skull is perfect for the occasion.

Read more

There’s a handy little guide over on UltraBoardGames if you’d like to learn more about how to play the game, but as always, there’s a whole bunch of helpful YouTube clips available, too.

Trial by Trolley

easiest board games to learn Image: boardgamegeek

Trial by Trolley is a card game created by Cyanide & Happiness that’s based on the moral dilemma of who to kill on duelling train tracks. In it, players attempt to sway the conductor of a train towards killing the the other player’s team by placing a variety of innocent or guilty people on two duelling train tracks.

One player takes on the role of the conductor, while the rest of the players split off into two teams and draws cards from three decks — ‘innocent’, ‘guilty’ and wild card ‘modifiers’. The teams work against each other to convince the conductor that the opposite team deserves death by placing innocent cards on their side of the train tracks, and guilty cards on their opponent’s track. Modifiers can then be played on any card to change that character in some way.

Once cards have all been placed, the conductor decides who must die. The team with the least death tokens at the end of the game wins.

This video by Geek & Sundry should help with anything else you need to get started with the game.


easiest board games to learn

Dixit is a very simple game. In it, players attempt to outrace their opponents across a board on a quest to gain 30 points. They each hold six picture cards which are used to advance their score.

Each round plays out with one ‘active player’ choosing one of their picture cards to describe. Rather than simple descriptions, these could be lyrics, feelings, songs or noises. They should not describe exactly what’s on the card — that would spoil the fun!

After this, every player chooses a card from their hand that they feel matches the active player’s description and plays it facedown. Once all players submit a card, they’re shuffled and revealed. From there, players vote on whose card they think is the active one and places a token on it.

Everyone scores points based on how accurately they guessed.

Triple S Games has a very simple and effective guide for how to play Dixit that’s only 2 minutes long, so set up should simple and quick.


easiest board games to learn Image: Board Game Geek

Azul is built on simplicity. In it, players draw tiles and attempt to place them on a board in a way that scores them the most points. The rules and tactics of the game are easy to learn.

Players win the game by completing a row of their mosaic wall. This is done by taking tiles from the central ‘display’ on the game board and placing them on the pattern lines of a player’s play board.

The more rows of the same pattern that players are able to build, the more points they’ll earn from their mosaic.

Azul is a very visual game, so it’s easiest to learn by watching or doing. Check out Teach the Table’s YouTube video for a deeper explanation.

You can check out what Kotaku Australia thought of Azul here:

When It Clicks, Azul Is Brilliant

When I haven't been playing Azul lately, I've been thinking about the next time I can play Azul.

Read more

Fallout: The Board Game

easiest board games to learn

Fallout: The Board Game is massive. It’s another giant board game RPG filled with hundreds of tokens, map pieces, cards and figures, so it would be easy to assume that it’s far too complicated to pick up fast. Luckily, that’s not the case.

As always, a quick run through the manual will help, but much of the action of Fallout: The Board Game is actually spelled out on quest cards and map tiles.

The game is determined by certain story scenarios and card-based quests, and these spell out exactly who you’re fighting, your major goals, where map tiles should be placed and any items that you’ll need to pick up along the way. After set-up, it’s a simple matter of understanding what moves you can take on your turn.

Combat and exploration are the two central skills you’ll need to take on your Fallout board game adventure. Exploration is easy — players have a set amount of moves, and when they move onto an undiscovered tile, they can flip it over and uncover that location’s secrets and enemies.

Performing an attack requires rolling several dice that determine hit and defence points.

Once you understand those two moves, you know the basics of Fallout: The Board Game, and can proceed easily. The game is compatible with one to four players, so you can go alone if you choose, or with friends.

For a quick rundown, check out Geek & Sundry’s helpful guide to the game:

Do you have any favourite, easy to learn board games? Tell us about them, and why you love them in the comments below.

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  • I find some of the card-based “engine building” games are pretty easy to pick up and play, or teach, apart from some late-game concepts (which AFAIK can be issues based on player personalities rather than the gameplay mechanics).

    Splendor is a classic I like to fall back on – plus the theme is more neutral if you’re trying to play with people who only know “family games” (Boggle/Scrabble/Rummikub/etc.)
    Ascension and Star Realms are of course the more flavourful options for folks after more exotic themes without the MTG-style metagaming.

    I also need to follow up on some solo-suitable dungeon crawlers I started reading about – interested in finding some compact exploration and combat examples that make like good mini adventure-RPGs without needing an app or too much extra bookkeeping.

  • Pandemic.

    Don’t look at me like that, you were all thinking it… And the way this article danced around even using the word pandemic, it had to be done.

    It’s both topical AND not hard to learn.

  • Looking at my board games, and as the usual rule reader and teacher of games, it’s hard for me to really think what ones work easily to just start playing because they all seem like that now.

    Carcassonne is something easy to just start playing as you dont need to set anything up. A person new to the game could easily grasp the joining and the meeple placement, however it may take a bit for them to get the tactical decisions of the game and learning ways to swoop in and claim things others worked on.

    • Yeah Carcassonne is easy to teach with the road and city scoring, but farmers and completion denials are like what I was talking about with the engine builders – like how some players don’t get in Splendor why the game doesn’t end as soon as someone hits the point cap because of everyone getting equal turns.

      That does remind me though that Tsuro would be a pretty good option – kinda like playing pool sometimes where even if you don’t get the nuance you can still have a bit of fun bouncing pieces around the table!

  • Skull is a great game. If you like bluffing, there is also Cockroach Poker (despite the name, its nothing like Poker).

    Another easy game, and something a bit different, is Illusion, takes about a minute to explain it.

    If you’re into Roll and Write, a favourite is Silver and Gold (by the amazing Phil Walker-Harding)

  • There’s nothing better than sitting down to a good board game and learning how to play it. You can enjoy hours reading through manuals, playing the game, non competitively to learn and later scrolling the web and watching YouTube videos as a group to truly understand the finer nuances of some games, and by nights end, your perfect game night is complete.

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