Let us know if this sounds familiar. You’ve planned a game night and are excited to finally crack open that new board game you recently bought, only to realise you and your guests have no idea how to play it. What was meant to be a fun night has now become a lecture while you all attempt to figure out how this game is meant to be played.
You can easily 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 are a bunch of board games you can easily set up and play without minimal forward planning. While some of them may seem intimidating, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to learn their rules.
Here are a few of our favourite games with easy setups.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
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 are 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 has its own impact.
Ultimately, these cards can trigger an event known as a ‘haunt’ where secondary instructions (spelled out in separate 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. You can pick up a copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill the game here.
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 are a bunch of great videos 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. You can pick up a copy of the game here.
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 that 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 rapid-fire rundown before you start your journey — but skimming through the instructions may be more informative.
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.
There’s a handy little guide over on UltraBoardGames if you’d like to learn more about how to play Skull, but as always, there’s a whole bunch of helpful YouTube clips available, too.
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 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.
Trial by Trolley is available from here. This video by Geek & Sundry should help with anything else you need to get started with the game.
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.
Dixit is available here. 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.
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.
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.
You can enter the wastelands of Fallout: The Board Game here. 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.