The Board Games Every Gamer Should Own

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scythe
Image: Kotaku

There has never been a better time to get into board games. The range and quality of what is currently available is astounding. More and more we find ourselves excited about punching out new cardboard tokens and neatly arranging card decks.

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the board game pool, or maybe you want to start wading into the deep end, we’ve put together a few of our favourite titles that deserve to be part of any collection. You’ll spend a couple hours playing through a full game, and a couple days to complete a whole campaign.

We know that not everyone digs the same type of game, so we’ve put together a range of genres and play styles — from creating a civilisation from scratch to backstabbing your friends to become the ruler of Westeros, adventuring through a fantasy hellscape and seizing the means of production in an alternate-1920s Europe.

They’re also a great option for post-isolation celebration. They’re also the perfect way to catch up with friends after spending such a long time apart. Up until they screw up your meticulously crafted strategy, and you spend the remaining game silently resenting them, that is.


Betrayal At House on the Hill

Image: boardgamegeek

Team up with your friends to solve a mysterious haunting.

Betrayal At House on the Hill has two phases – the first is the “Exploration” phase, where the players build a mansion room by room. Eventually, you’ll trigger the second phase, the “Haunt”, and that’s where the fun starts as you’re beset by supernatural monsters. To make things even more interesting, one of the players is secretly a traitor who takes the side of the monsters and uses the “Exploration” phase to assist their undead master.

With the mansion being procedurally generated, there’s a ton of replay value. Unlike the rotting corpses hidden beneath the mansion’s floorboards, every game feels fresh. The variation in monsters is also fun, ranging from ghosts to vampires to dragons. If you’re new to the game (or these types of board games in general) it does come across as a bit overwhelming to master, but it’s surprisingly easy to learn.

Buy Betrayal on House Hill from Amazon here.


A Game of Thrones: The Board Game

game of thrones
Image: Amazon

While the TV show squandered our collective goodwill over those final seasons, A Game of Thrones has remained a consistent go-to with my friends. Choose your House, start manoeuvring your armies to secure as much of the Seven Kingdoms as you can, and finally claim your spot on the Iron Throne. (If you want to play as House Targaryen, you’ll have to grab an expansion pack.)

A Game of Thrones is an all-around solid strategy game, the real charm comes from the table politics and scheming. Making deals to crush a specific opponent, only to turn around and stab your ally in the back isn’t just a fun thing to do, it’s an essential tactic.

For the A Song of Ice and Fire purists, the game is directly inspired by the books, with this second edition being released the same year the HBO adaptation aired. You can also try to create your own (and much better?) ending to the series. Rob Stark teams up with Stannis Baratheon, sieges Casterly Rock and decimate the Lannisters? Sure, why not.

Buy A Game of Thrones from Amazon here.


Gloomhaven

gloomhaven
Image: Amazon

Gloomhaven is only a few years old, but it’s quickly become one of my favourite board games. A campaign-driven dungeon crawler where you play a mercenary trying to get paid while surviving the dangerous world surrounding Gloomhaven. It plays like a mix of eurogames and Dungeons & Dragons, with a lot of different dungeons to explore and an emphasis on tactical decisions.

There are almost 100 unique scenarios you can play through, where your every action will determine what happens next. Considering each scenario can take anywhere between one to two hours to complete, you’ve got plenty of game ahead of yourself. There is so much packed into Gloomhaven that I feel like I’ve barely even scratched the surface of my own campaign.

Just put aside some time to set it up and clear some space on your shelf, because this thing is a beast. It comes with 1,500 cards and the whole bundle weighs around 10kg.

Buy Gloomhaven from Amazon here.


The Lord of The Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth

The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth does what it says on the box. You, and up to four other friends, play as one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic heroes while questing your way across the realm of Middle-earth, from Gondor to the Grey Mountains.

While most of the games on this list are more tactically focused, Journeys in Middle-earth places its focus squarely on the adventuring. As you progress you’re able to customise your skills and items, giving you just enough RPG elements that. Despite playing pre-set characters, you can give them your own spin.

The game requires a companion app that takes the role of game master while also tracking your progress and dish out scenarios that play into the greater campaign. The app also keeps track of your character’s items, which helps alleviate the usually frustrating mess of flipping through a stack of cards to find that one specific piece of equipment.

Buy The Lord of The Rings – Journeys in Middle-earth from Amazon here.


Scythe

Image: Kotaku

Scythe is set in a dieselpunk reimagining of 1920s Europe where you play as one of five nations currently vying for control in a power vacuum created by the closure of The Factory, a capitalistic city-state that previously ruled the region.

At first, Scythe does feel a bit complex but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be playing one of the best engine-building games of the last decade. Farm some resources, conquer new territories, recruit new followers and activate up some chunky-looking mechs to keep your domain protected. It isn’t particularly combat-heavy and the skirmishes that do occur play through fairly fast.

Scythe also has one of the most unique aesthetics of any board game I’ve played and some gorgeous game art by Jakub Rozalski. When I first opened up my copy I spent my time looking through each individual card, completely ignoring the rulebook.

Buy Scythe from Amazon here.


The Settlers of Catan

catan board game
Image: Amazon

I’m a firm believer that every household should own a copy of Catan. It is one of the all-time classic board games — endlessly replayable and a great place to start for those new to strategy games.

The gameplay is pretty straight forward. You’re plopped onto the randomly generated isle Catan and need to collect as many different types of resources as possible. From there, you’ll combine those resources to build new settlements, upgrade existing ones and increase your domain by laying down some roads. It’s simple to play, but the strategic trading element keeps it consistently interesting. One turn you’ll be rolling in wheat, and the next you’ll be trading all of your wood to get a single piece.

Buy The Settlers of Catan from Amazon here.


Star Wars Rebellion

star wars rebellion board game
Image: Amazon

The set up for Star Wars Rebellion is pretty simple: It is a period of civil war, so pick a side.

The game is built around a series of skirmishes and missions that are all led by classic Star Wars heroes and villains. If you’re playing as the Empire, your goal is to sniff out the Rebel Alliance’s base and wipe it from existence. As the Rebels, your goal is to raise your reputation throughout the galaxy, drawing as many planets to your side as possible and strategically striking the Empire’s resources.

You also get a lot of great minis, ranging from Stormtroopers to X-Wings to Star Destroyers. You even get a Death Star, which, if you’re a Rebel, is a looming menace. The game does take a couple hours to play, so clear your afternoon schedule.

Buy Star Wars Rebellion from Amazon here.


Tapestry

tapestry board game
Image: Stonemaier Games

If you’re a fan of Sid Meier’s Civilization series, Tapestry is right up your alley. Starting from the dawn of mankind, it’s up to you to build your own civilisation from nothing and help it grow throughout the following millennia. The type of civilisation you want to build is up to you and is influenced by which of the four skills — science, technology, exploration, and military — you want to invest your points into.

The variation that comes from those is what keeps me coming back to Tapestry. I don’t think I’ve built the same civilisation twice, and even when I’ve tried to repeat previous tactics, my strategy inevitability changes depending on what the other players are doing.

Buy Tapestry from Amazon here.


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Comments

  • I haven’t played all of these but I have played Game of Thrones and it’s a boring, messy slog of a game that I don’t recommend to anyone. Maybe I was just playing with a bad group, but it took all day and nobody had a good time.

    • I was given it as a gift a few years back. Was super excited to play it. I’ve had three attempts, but it’s such a slog to even figure out how to play the damn thing, I’ve never even got into a proper game before everyone got bored and elected to play something else. Too dense for me and my friends I think.

  • Not Game of Thrones. It’s a good game. But everyone? Firstly, it’s long. It’s not a fair game. It’s very dependant on which clan you pick. The starks are VERY boring to play you just marching from the North the whole game. Also you can be obliterated by one betrayal and thats the game. You a fan? Then you’ll like it.

    Scythe is better. Get that.

  • Dunno if I’d recommend Gloomhaven to everyone personally. It’s a fantastic game but unless you have a solid group to play with on a semi-regular basis, campaign/legacy games like that just seem a waste to me.

    On the other hand I did finally just pick up Star Wars: Rebellion recently and absolutely love it. Not a perfect game (and not really suited to anything over 3 players – 2 is best) but I have heard the expansion fixes some of the flaws with it, although I haven’t tried that yet. Also one of the few games I’d strongly suggest people look into storage solutions for, the packaging is awful haha.

    I’d also add to this list Ticket to Ride (preferably the Europe version as it has a lot of minor improvements). Just like Catan, it’s a classic.

    • Maybe Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion then? Its a smaller, cheaper, version of Gloomhaven with 25 scenarios rather than almost 100.

  • If fond of cooperative games, I’d add both Pandemic’s various iterations and the Thunderbirds board game to the list.

  • I’ve played Scythe a few times and it seems like the mechs aren’t even needed. I won the last game without building any. Just optimising your build order. It was boring. Everyone is too worried about losing reputation to attack.

    • That’s the joy of it – you can win however you want. I’ve won the same way as you, and (with a good faction/ability combination) it’s perfectly possible. But I’ve also seen people win with 0 rep and a giant army rampaging across the map. It’s pretty well-balanced most of the time.

  • I’m a video gamer who has fallen deep into the boardgame hobby.

    First thing I’ll say about this list. It’s not a bad list. Second thing I’ll say, it omits (crucially) the play length for these games. And while they’re good games, nothing can kill someone new to the hobby easier than a really long game.

    So here are my counter recommendations to those the writer listed;

    Betrayal at House of the Hill?

    If you want more of the mystery;
    Chronicles of Crime – If you want a mystery ‘whodunit’, look no further. You were a fan of Carmen Sandiago? This is the game for you. Co-op, fun, and a good use of tech to hand out clues and make the most of the physical components.

    If you want more of the teaming up against monsters and rolling dice craziness;
    Zombicide – I think this is a perfect video gamer to boardgamer type of game. Cool art and theme (even if Zombies are done to death), upgrading your kit, taking out bad dudes in a combined effort to complete one of many objectives.

    Game of Thrones?
    Others have pointed it out. This game is long. Stupidly long. I’m talking 5+ hours long. I hate it. It’ll start off all well and good, then it’ll get to a point where an individual turn and battles see you without play for 15 mins. That’s shit.

    I don’t have a direct comparison for you here. Game of Thrones has a lot of elements that make it a game others like (did I mention how much I hated it?) such as allegiances, area control and card combat. So if I was to focus on one element (area control), here are my picks.

    Both are light-mid weight games, and play under an hour. They’re a good start. Not AGoT… it’s a horrible start into the hobby.

    Smallworld – A straightforward game of area control and scoring points for those areas over multiple rounds. The interesting part of this game is you have a bunch of races each with their own unique train, that get mashed with a whole bunch of races. Tonnes of variability and replayability. They’re also coming out with a variant soon called ‘Smallworld of Warcraft’… perfect for this core audience.

    Rise of Tribes – A bit less chaotic than Smallworld. Take your tribe, conquer the land, generate resources to unlock abilities, complete objectives and basically race to hit 20 points. Fun.

    Gloomhaven?
    I love Gloomhaven… but it’s a beast. Not only is it expensive, it’ll take you 5 hours just to sort the damn thing and partially comprehend the rulebook.

    Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion – This has only just come out and gives you the feel of Gloomhaven (a tactical combat game… think Final Fantasy tactics) but without all the off-putting set up and complication.

    Scythe?
    Scythe is fantastic… but it’s not what you think. Looks like the kind of game where combat is king, right? Wrong. Combat isn’t king, it’s costly, and if you think you’re just going to wage war all the time, you’ll lose horribly. Scythe is about area control, resource generation and turn efficiency. Doesn’t sound like war, right?

    Blood Rage – I’m biased… it’s my favourite game, but Blood Rage does one thing really well and that’s combat. Start with a Norse clan, draft some unique abilities, combat cards and objectives, and get to kicking butt. There’s monsters, tricksters and all manner of good things. CHECK.IT.OUT.

    Catan?
    Nothing to say here. It’s a good pick for a starter and is the intro game for modern boardgames (even if it is getting a little old by modern board game standards).

    If you want something with a bit more theme, get the Game of Thrones edition. It’s good. Includes the standard game, or you can add the GoT ‘variant’ which has you fending off the wildlings at the wall.

    Tapestry?
    Now this is an odd choice. Not because the game is bad (I actually think it is quite good and has a lot to offer, especially to newbies), but as a Civ game it fails spectacularly. If you love Sid Meiers Civilization (like I do), but want a quick version in physical form, look no further than;

    Civilization: A New Dawn – This is the one to get. Gives you all the feels of Civ but keeps it to a very acceptable 1.5 hours. Yes, there are other Civ boardgames out there that give you deeper strategy and a better Civ experience… but they also go on for HOURS. Don’t do it to yourself until you know this is for you. A New Dawn is the perfect way to try this stuff out.

    I’ve ranted enough.

    • I think I was having an aneurysm when I wrote the Smallworld bit. It should read;

      Smallworld – A straightforward game of area control, and scoring points for those areas, over multiple rounds. The interesting part of this game is you have a bunch of races each with their own unique trait, that get mashed with a whole bunch of abilities.

  • I believe all “lists” like this are purely subjective and can’t possibly be wrong….. but this list is wrong. I mean GoT is appealing to such a small number of people, I dare say most who bought it only ever play it once. Don’t even get me started on the lord of the rings game….
    Just a few legit must owns: bloodrage, pandemic legacy, cosmic encounter.
    You’ll thank me later.

  • Always interesting seeing how these articles often boil down to “Catan + whatever I think is really cool” which promptly gets chewed out in the comments because yes a lot of them a overly heavy in terms of cost/rules/time/etc.

    I always think it’s a shame there wasn’t more love for Nexus Ops – such a streamlined little ‘dudes on a map’ with an easy Risk-styled combat system, some basic Catan-styled map resource control, and some cards to swing a couple of victory points back and forth. It’s unfortunate the FF edition looks so dull though compared to the retro-futuristic neon colourscape of the old Avalon Hill release.

    I also reckon everyone needs some sort of card drafting engine builder for their collection – be it Splendor for the neutral theme, Ascension for a more chill MTG alternative (Star Realms for a sci-fi experience), or Machi Koro for more casual family plays.

    • Yeah, but to be fair, most of these games are not “games everyone must own”. Catan is possibly the only one that should potentially be in that category… and I’m saying that as someone who DOESN’T own that but does own some of the others.

  • I’d love the suggestion of Gloomhaven, but jeez, I’d love it a whole lot more if the header picture for Gloomhaven didn’t spoil on of the secretive unlockable classes players have to work to unlock in the game.

  • I’m thinking much lighter games. Things like:

    1. Catan – Yeah sure. Everyone likes Catan, but it does have a boredom trap if you accidentally get slammed on dice rolls or geography. But it definitely kicked off the current boardgaming renaissance.
    2. Valeria: Card Kingdoms – It has that nice resource collection feeling of Catan but without the board and (crucially) you can’t go multiple turns without gaining anything. Scoring at the end feels intimidating and is admitedly a bit fiddly at first, but it’s easy once you click with it.
    3. Dominion – The best deckbuilder ever made. Hands down. A clockwork masterpiece of infinite variation and complexity that you can teach in ten minutes.
    4. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy – Still one of the best co-op experiences around and the Legacy version adds a surprising amount of depth to an otherwise fantastic game.
    5. Splendor – A nicely themed, gorgeous, easy to understand engine builder that doesn’t take too long to play.
    6. Sushi GO! – Quick and easy palette cleanser that’s silly and fun. Great for a match between heavier games.
    7. Sequence – This is the closest to the old Parker Brothers “traditional” boardgame that I ever play. It’s cheap as hell to buy, takes 20 minutes to play, any age can play, surprisingly strategic for a chance based game. Super fun.
    8. Werewolf – It’s super easy to play, scales to any sized large group, and you only need one person to know the rules for everyone to have a great time.
    9. Azul – A beautiful game with great theming and a surprisingly easy to learn ruleset. After one game everyone just “gets it”. It also has a surprisingly high skill ceiling and scales well from 2 to 5(?) players.
    10. Bananagrams – It’s like Scrabble but with no board, no scoring and no waiting for someone to stare at their tiles. Basically Scrabble with all the boring parts removed. You get tiles, you make words in your own area and everyone else does the same. You can break up and remake your word sets anytime you want. You just race everyone else to be the first to use all of your letters as real words. Not good for kids or ESL people, but that’s the same as Scrabble.

    • Probably a better list than the article, even though I’m not a fan of some of the things you’ve picked. That said, I would absolutely pick Avalon or One Night Werewolf/Vampire over classic Werewolf. I love me some Werewolf, but the player elimination means that you end up with a bunch of people doing nothing while the rest of the people go through the remainder of the game.
      Avalon gets the same long form game going with the capacity for long play deception, and One Night games allow people to get their fill of different roles in quick succession.

  • You talk about people “dipping their toes” into boardgames and then list a ton of heavyweight games with a high price point, and high rules barrier. Apart from Catan, these are pretty much boardgames for boardgames enthusiasts. That doesn’t mean they’re bad games, but most of these are bigger commitments that really shouldn’t be recommended to get people into the hobby.

    If you’re going for newer gamers, in addition to Catan, add:
    Sushi GO! (Party), Sheriff of Nottingham, Tsuro, Splendor, Coup, Avalon, Pandemic, Smallworld, Dominion, Lords of Waterdeep.

    All these are far simpler than the alternatives, and introduce players to key concepts that will place them in a good position to progress to more advanced and weighty boardgames. And some are just plain fun.

    Once people have more interest in games, I’d put in:
    Ticket to Ride, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Power Grid, Blood Rage, Citadels, Alhambra, Cosmic Encounter, 7 Wonders

    If you really want to hook people on Gloomhaven, get people to try to get their hands on a copy of Jaws of the Lion. It is a much lower price point, and from all accounts a much more accessible experience than the full game. The first two scenarios of original Gloomhaven, particularly scenario 1, are a brutally rough introduction to the game that could easily convince someone that they’ve just thrown well over $100 down the drain.

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