When it comes to board games, we’re pretty spoilt for choice. It feels like there’s a brand new board game or expansion set to pick up almost every week. Walk into any game store and you’ll come face-to-face with a wall of chunky games boxes, each overflowing with maps, dice, card decks and cardboard tokens.
While the range and quality of board games are pretty astounding, trying to figure out what title you want to play can feel a bit daunting. More so if you’re someone who is fairly new to the board game, uh, game.
To help you out, we’ve put together a few of our favourite titles that deserve to be part of any collection, from beginner to expert. At the very least, they’re worth one play through with your mates. Christmas is right around the corner and any one of these titles would make a great gift for your board game-loving friends (or for yourself).
For the sake of variety, we’ve put together a list of titles across a range of genres and play styles. From all-time strategy classics to epic fantasy quests and titles based on popular movie and TV show franchises, these are just a few board games that deserve a spot on your game shelf (if you can fit them, that is).
This article has been updated since its original publication.
After years of being out of print, the Dune board game is finally available again and the world is a better place for it. Originally published in 1979 and based on Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi epic, Dune has a reputation of being one of the board games around. The good news is that it absolutely lives up to the hype.
The board game draws a healthy amount of the original novel, putting you in control of one of six factions – House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, the Emperor and the Fremen – as you strategise, fight and scheme your way to controlling the planet Arrakis and its spice melange. Dune is great to play with friends but, much like in the novel, a huge part of the game involves diplomacy, secret alliances and inevitable betrayals. There’s nothing like a fun afternoon of friendly back-stabbing.
Dune has mostly aged well, although much like the deserts of Arrakis, there’s a degree of random cruelness that you can’t fully prepare for. Just remember that he who controls the spice controls the universe.
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.
If you’re a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, there’s an alternate version of Betrayal At House on the Hill that’s themed around the popular tabletop RPG and set in Baldur’s Gate.
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 the game master while also tracking your progress and dishing 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.
I’m a firm believer that every household should own a copy of this. Catan 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 straightforward. 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.
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.
If you’re interested in Gloomhaven, but maybe aren’t keen on the commitment required for both time and physical space, there is an alternative option. Jaws of the Lion is a prequel game that gives you the Gloomhaven experience but with a fraction of the quests. It’s a less intensive way to learn the game and will let you slip straight into Gloomhaven proper once you’re done with it.
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.
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.
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 of hours to play, so clear your afternoon schedule.
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.