The current range and quality of board games available is pretty astounding. Unfortunately, being spoilt for choice is both a blessing and a curse. With so many options available, trying to figure out what title you want to play can feel a bit daunting. Especially if you’re someone who is fairly new to the board game, uh, game.
To help you out, we’ve chosen a few of our favourite titles that deserve to be part of any collection, from beginner to expert. From all-time strategy classics to epic fantasy quests and titles based on popular movies and TV shows, these are just a few board games that deserve a spot on your shelf (if you can fit them, that is).
This article has been updated since its original publication.
Betrayal At House on the Hill
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.
Where you can buy Betrayal At House on the Hill:
In Cosmic Encounter, you play as the leader of an alien race, and intergalactic conquest is the name of the game. Your aim is to spread your influence throughout the galaxy, establishing colonies in the planetary systems of the other players.
This board game has been around since 1977, and it’s easy to understand why it has been beloved for so long. The strategy is both fun and fulfilling, with the different gameplay cards available allowing for an enjoyable variation of tactics.
One of the biggest draws of Cosmic Encounter is the table politics. The gameplay requires you to form alliances and negotiate deals with other players to help screw over the other players — while also potentially setting up your “ally” for a masterful double-cross.
Where you can buy Cosmic Encounter:
Dune: The Board Game
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 for being one of the best board games around. The good news is that it absolutely lives up to the hype, as we learned when we reviewed it:
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed, gasped and cursed like I did playing Dune. The way alliances can be made but then broken, the elastic nature of the basic victory conditions and the treachery lurking behind every decision made it feel like every player was always one step away from victory but at the same time one battle away from utter ruin.”
The board game draws a healthy amount from 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 backstabbing.
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.
Where you can buy Dune:
Fallout: The Board Game
Based on the video game series, Fallout: The Board Game is a pretty faithful adaption. Start by choosing a scenario and then set off to explore the wasteland, complete quests and fight the various monsters, mutants and marauders that come across their path.
If you’re a fan of Bethesda’s Fallout games, this thing is great. It keeps the RPG elements of the source material, by allowing you to spend points to increase your character’s ability skills and customise your equipment loadout. It even manages to keep the VAT system, with dice that let you target specific body parts of your enemies. It does a good job of ticking the boxes of what we like about Fallout:
“As a board game, Fallout is great. It combines a genuine sense of exploration with some fantastic story-telling to create an experience that sits neatly between a solo and multiplayer adventure. As an adaptation of the Fallout video games, though, it’s almost perfect.”
There’s also an expansion set, New California, which adds two scenarios, along with a bunch of new quests, companions and items.
If we have one big criticism of Fallout, it’s that the game moves much slower when playing with four people. There’s a delicate balancing act because more players help increase the fun but the threat of gaming fatigue is real.
Where you can buy Fallout: The Board Game:
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game
While the TV show squandered our collective goodwill over those final seasons, A Game of Thrones has remained a consistent go-to with 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 decimates the Lannisters? Sure, why not?
Where you can buy A Game of Thrones:
Gloomhaven is only a few years old, but it’s quickly become one of our 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 dungeon crawlers like HeroQuest, 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 it can feel like you’ve barely even scratched the surface of your 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.
Where you can buy Gloomhaven:
Speaking of “dungeon crawlers like HeroQuest“, why not check out HeroQuest proper? It’s an incredibly straightforward and easy-to-pick-up game, which plays like a streamlined tabletop RPG, like Dungeons & Dragons, and is less of a time investment than something like Gloomhaven.
HeroQuest is played with up to five players, with four taking on the dungeon explorers while one acts as the game master, Zargon, the evil sorcerer. You don’t even need four players – you can split out the characters with whoever is available to play, even if that means one person playing as the whole party.
With 14 premade quests, the four characters will need to make their way through the dungeons while Zargon is tasked with introducing various traps and creatures for them to fight. Once you finish one of the quests, you’re able to spend whatever gold and treasure you’ve accumulated to upgrade your character’s gear, before delving into another dungeon. Or, it can just be a satisfying done-in-one campaign that you and your mates roll through when it’s your turn to pick something for games night.
Where you can buy HeroQuest:
King of Tokyo
Kings of Tokyo is a very easy-to-pick-up board game that is a lot of fun to play. You pick one of six giant monsters to play as, and your aim is to become the King of Tokyo by battling it out with your opponents. That’s it, that’s the game.
It’s a king of the hill game that uses a combination of dice rolls and strategising with the power-up cards in your hands to stake your claim on the Japanese capital. The goal is to be the first to 20 victory points or be the last monster standing.
If you really enjoy this game, there’s a heap of different King of Tokyo expansion packs currently available. They’ll give you new monsters and power cards to battle with, so there’s an option to add even more content to this game to keep it fresh.
Where you can buy King of Tokyo:
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 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 still 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.
Where you can buy LOTR: Journeys in Middle-Earth:
Lords of Waterdeep
If you dig the world of Dungeons & Dragons, but want something that’s less of a commitment than a long RPG campaign, try Lord of Waterdeep. It’s a game where you play as one of the titular Lords of Waterdeep and attempt to gain the most influence over the City of Splendours.
The game works by placing your faction’s agents at various locations that will help you gain resources, like gold or various types of adventurers, and then sending those resources to complete quests. The goal is to collect the most victory points from the various quests you complete over the game’s eight rounds. Throw in some intrigue cards that can give you a much-needed hand (usually at the expense of your opponents), and you’ve got a great strategy game.
If you’ve never played D&D before, don’t worry. Lord of Waterdeep requires no pre-existing knowledge of the franchise. And if you’re a long-time fan, you’ll appreciate the familiar faces.
Where you can buy Lords of Waterdeep:
Mansions Of Madness (Second Edition)
Mansions Of Madness is a cooperative board game inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In it, you play as investigators who are tasked with exploring a cursed mansion to solve the mystery of a chosen scenario. This edition of the game uses a companion app that tracks your progress and also takes care of randomly spawning monsters, triggering events and randomising the layout of the mansion.
It’s very easy to immerse yourself into Mansions Of Madness‘ spooky atmosphere, and we’ve had a lot of fun investigating and trying to solve the puzzles of the scenarios that we’ve played. If you’re someone who loves a good game piece, Mansions Of Madness‘ monster figures are fantastic. Being able to throw down a giant Cthulhu figure onto the board really helps to sell the enormity of the threat.
A single game will eat up a couple of hours, so make sure you’ve set enough time to adequately lose your mind to an eldritch horror. The app lets you save your progress, so you can easily jump back into a game you couldn’t finish.
When we reviewed Mansions Of Madness, on top of enjoying the “mythical romp” of fighting Cthulhu, we were impressed by how little effort it took to set up and play. You can read Kotaku Australia’s review of Mansions Of Madness here.
Where you can buy Mansions Of Madness:
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 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.
When we reviewed the game, we were impressed by how all of these gameplay elements combined:
“Its blend of resource gathering, exploration, turn management and combat results in a conflict that’s entirely unpredictable. Because the game isn’t just about fighting, or just about farming, there are multiple approaches to confronting your opponents and winning the game, which makes for a fascinating struggle, and a game that plays out differently every time you get it out.”
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 we first opened up our copy we spent plenty of time looking through each individual card, completely ignoring the rulebook.
Where you can buy Scythe:
The Settlers of Catan
I’m a firm believer that every household should own a copy of this. Settlers of 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 of 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.
Where you can buy The Settlers of Catan:
Star Wars Rebellion
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.
While this might sound a bit unbalanced towards the Empire, the game does a good job of keeping the two factions fair:
“This isn’t a game where one side will slowly overrun another until victory becomes inevitable. It’s a game where even if the Rebels are getting their arse kicked from one end of the galaxy to another, they’re still very much in contention so long as their base is secret and their best heroes are in play, since the game runs on a timer which essentially grants victory to the Alliance if they survive long enough.”
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.
Where you can buy Star Wars Rebellion:
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. We don’t think we’ve built the same civilisation twice, and even when we’ve tried to repeat previous tactics, our strategy inevitability changes depending on what the other players are doing.
Where you can buy Tapestry:
This resource management game does exactly what it says on the box. In Terraforming Mars, each player takes on the role of a different corporation and is tasked with making the red planet habitable for humankind. While you work together on the terraforming process as a whole, the aim is to see which player has the most contributions.
You build various projects, gaining income and resources that you can spend on further productions. Once Mars has the appropriate temperature, oxygen levels and quantity of oceans, the game is over.
Terraforming Mars is very card-heavy, and you really need to keep track of what you’re holding during any given round. It’s also one of the more aggressive resource management games we’ve played, as there are a lot of cards you can play that directly target your opponent. Overall, it’s an experience that we really enjoyed while playing through it:
“The game absolutely nails its theme and its blend of cooperative outlook and competitive urges means its a tight, tense experience the whole way through.”
Where you can buy Terraforming Mars:
Ticket To Ride
If you enjoy the Euro-style gameplay of something like Settlers of Catan and want to pick up something similar, then you might get some miles out of Ticket To Ride. The aim of the game is to be the player who can build the longest continuous train, claiming routes and connecting cities.
Ticket To Ride is an incredibly easy game to pick (especially compared to some of the other titles on this list) and isn’t too intensive when it comes to strategising. Each player is randomly assigned Destination Tickets at the start of each match, giving you set goal cities that you need to reach.
There’s an economy of knowing which cards you need to play or stockpile, as you need these specific cards to claim certain routes. The last thing you want to do is lose out on the route that will connect your assigned destinations.
Where you can buy Ticket To Ride:
We cannot stress how much we enjoy Wingspan. Released back in 2019, this engine-building card game is all about building the best wildlife preserve by strategically assigning birds to certain habitats. It’s a simple premise (especially when compared to some of the other games on this list), but nevertheless engaging as hell.
The rules are pretty easy to pick up, and the game only runs for four rounds, so you’ll be done in about an hour. Thankfully, the 170 bird cards, each with its own set of effects, give the game plenty of variety and replayability. If the look of a board game is particularly important to you, Wingspan also features some of the most beautifully illustrated cards of any board game that we’ve ever played.
If you decide to pick up bird watching as a new hobby after playing this, we don’t blame you. If you’re a fan of digital board games, the digital edition of Wingspan is also worth your time.
Where you can buy Wingspan:
If none of the above sounds like your thing, the good news is that there are still plenty of solid board game options out there, and you better believe Kotaku Australia has opinions about them.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
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