best board games : Pandemic

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The 40 best board games for every game night

There's a game for every player in this compendium of winning tabletop favorites.


Monica Riese

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 9, 2017   Updated on Apr 8, 2021, 7:44 am CDT

We’ve seen a huge resurgence in tabletop gaming in the last decade, fueled by quality games and generating everything from clever crowdfunding efforts to designated gaming bars in its wake. It’s gotten so serious that PAX, the convention convergence of all things gaming, is spinning off PAX Unplugged to give tabletop gaming a designated space.

But with literally thousands of choices out there for aspiring gamers—board bored kids and grown-ups alike—how do you choose? Rather than roll the dice and hope for the best, check out this guide to the best board games for every group of players, from parties to couples to families and beyond.

Best board games for families

1) Azul

In Azul, you are a tile artist, tasked with “embellish[ing] the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora.” Players take turns selecting colored tiles for placement in their wall, trying to create beautiful patterns without dropping extraneous pieces to the floor. You earn points by placing contiguous tiles, completing vertical lines, or placing a certain number of each color on your wall. Added bonus? The boards are lovely, the tiles have soothing textures and colors, and the play format is easily convertible for two to four players. It shouldn’t be surprising that a game about crafty artisans really nails the details.


Price on Amazon: $34.90

2) Takenoko

The fact that the Game of Life is a tedious and dull “adventure” motivated solely by a job and children and that sees players at the mercy of uncontrollable spins might be accurate, but it’s far from fun. So ditch the reality and go feed pandas instead.

In Takenoko, each player tries to achieve certain objective cards by growing different types of bamboo or feeding a roaming panda different varieties. You expand the territory, irrigate for farming, fertilize soil, and so forth, so there’s still a true-to-life feeling to it. Heck, there’s even a different outcome for each roll of the weather die. Younger players will love the adorable panda, and grownups will appreciate the escape from the anxiety of having to negotiate another salary.

Price on Amazon: $34.95

3) King of Tokyo

Admit it: The only fun part of Yahtzee is the loud crack of a half-dozen dice raining down on your dining room table. But wouldn’t it be better if you threw some goofy monsters into the mix too? Enter King of Tokyo.

This one’s a king-of-the-hill–style game that pits players against one another as they roll dice to dole out attacks, slowly heal, or rack up victory points. The first player to 20 victory points—or the last monster standing—wins. To keep things interesting, there’s a full deck of special ability cards that you can buy with energy tokens, and the board opens up another spot in Tokyo for groups of five or more.

Price on Amazon: $30.98

4) Quiddler

People who make a living as editors enjoy the old board game standby, but we understand how its appeal might start and stop with that particular demographic. Quiddler, played with cards instead of tiles, takes some of the struggle out of the equation by asking players to come up with words using the letters in their hand. First player who can use all of his or her letters goes out, triggering a last round for everybody else. Repeat with additional hand limits, from three all the way up to 12. (Golf rules, so you’re stuck with the points in your hand, and lowest score wins.)

Because you can divide nine cards up into three three-letter words, it’s a fine way to build kids’ vocabularies. Set a higher minimum word length for the adults to level the playing field, or just use a handful of cards to teach kids about anagrams (rats, tars, star, arts) and a different way of looking at things.

Price on Amazon: $8.83

5) Kodama 3D

Do you like My Neighbor Totoro? Then you’ll love this gorgeous card game about growing trees and making forest sprites happy. The mechanics are as simple as matching like items, but the age recommendation here is based on the relative difficulty added by the delicate nature of placing cards without overlapping with others and the strategy of fulfilling certain objective cards.

It’s all the zen of gardening with none of the mess.

Also great for: Couples

Price on Amazon: $24.45

6) Superfight

As hilarious as it is to play the NSFW party standby with your friends over a few beers, that one’s probably best left on the shelf when little kids or grandparents are involved. Its SFW predecessor, Apples to Apples, is a moderately good fun of exactly the same format, but both games can ultimately be cracked by understanding the sense of humor of your fellow players better than anyone else.

For a different sort of competitive spirit, try Superfight, which pits fictional characters against each other in battles that their human players must defend and promote with compelling rhetoric. Sure, it promotes a certain upping of the bullshit quotient, but think of it as a study in embracing creativity instead.

Also great for: Parties (supports up to 10 players)

Price on Amazon: $27.99

7) Machi Koro

Don’t be fooled by all the different types of cards you have to lay out as you’re setting up this game: The mechanics are really quite simple. Roll the die, determine which cards are “activated,” settle up debts, and wash, rinse, repeat. But don’t be tricked into thinking it’s a simple game about a cute little city wanting a cheese factory, either. This game can get pretty cutthroat quickly, and a runaway leader can take things over just as fast. Still, it’s great for the reinforcement of principles about city building strategy and basic economic principles.

Price on Amazon: $26.38

8) Ticket to Ride

If a train leaves Grand Central Station traveling west at 40 miles per hour, and another train leaves Philadelphia traveling east at 55 miles per hour, how quickly do your eyes glaze over? Reclaim the glory days of the railroad with Ticket to Ride, a game in which players race to complete routes between cities and earn points for connecting the nation (or nations, in the European variant). It’s a great primer in geography and a fun way to teach your kids about a world before self-driving cars because ugh you’re so old. As a bonus, you can take this one on the road with zero concern about losing a billion pieces in the car: The iPad app is a pretty seamless translation of the original. 

Also great for: Couples

best board games : Ticket to Ride

Price on Amazon: $39.97

9) Pandemic

If you’ve destroyed all good will with your family with crushing victories in Machi Koro or Ticket to Ride, it might be time to try something cooperative on for size. In Pandemic, players work together using individual specialties to try to rid the world of four contagious diseases. It’s a fun change of pace to teach kids about working together toward a common goal—and a timely reminder during flu season that you really gotta wash your hands more than you think is necessary.

Pandemic: Legacy is another well-respected option for more advanced players: It boasts a higher BoardGameGeek rating, at 8.6, but it takes longer to play and is recommended for ages 13 and up on account of a mechanic that requires you to permanently alter game pieces by tearing them up or writing on them, for example. Tread carefully!

Price on Amazon: $64.99

10) Hanabi

In order to put on a professional fireworks show, players work together as a team to put five color-coded sets of cards, numbered 1-5, in five stacks, organized by color and in ascending order. When you put it that way, this sounds like it should take 25 seconds, not 25 minutes, but (of course) there’s a catch: Each player holds their hand of cards facing outward, so the other players can see the cards but the player can’t. The resulting gameplay is one part cooperation, one part patience, two parts memory (which ones did they say were green again?!), and three parts trust.


Price on Amazon: $6.51

11) Fluxx: The Board Game

The only rule for this board-game variant of the popular card game is that the rules change! Ultimately each player is trying to move their tokens to stand on different combinations of icons, thereby claiming a given “goal” card. But the gameplay restrictions can change with the flip of a card—how many cards to draw, a hand limit, how many goals constitutes a win—and even the board itself is subject to shuffling. It’s a lot to keep track of, but a little pegboard helps players keep up with the latest set of rules.

Price on Amazon: $49.95

12) Chrononauts

Ever wonder how history might have changed had Hitler never come to power or JFK never been assassinated? Chrononauts takes the “butterfly effect” theory to its logical conclusion, as players watch history being written and rewritten before their eyes. Each player’s time-traveling character has a unique objective in this game, and action cards allow them to tweak reality as they try to achieve their mission. As a bonus for families, parents can use the opportunity to teach (or confuse) kids about some historical events, and maybe even learn a thing or two themselves.


Price on Amazon: $18.58

13) Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game

As board game translations of video games go, I’m making a note here: huge success. It’s hard to overstate the satisfaction you’ll feel as you accumulate pieces of cake in your journey as a test subject at Aperture Labs. But be careful: While you and your fellow test subjects can find new ways to move around the ever-changing board, you’re being pushed inexorably toward a fiery death at one end, and your cake, while not a lie, is constantly at risk of complete incineration.

Warning: Much like this review, this game will make very little sense to someone who hasn’t played Portal, so keep that in mind and aim this one at your teen who’s been glued to a screen for months.

Portal: The Board Game

We played the 'Portal' board game and it was a huge success:

Posted by The Daily Dot on Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Price on Amazon: $29.89

14) Tokaido

Much like a family vacation, Tokaido is intended to be a relaxing journey through a new and exciting land. Also much like a family vacation, this game can easily become an anxiety-filled stress nightmare if you’re in the wrong frame of mind. You can take a journey from one end of the board to the other in whatever way you please, stopping to meet fellow travelers, eat delicious food, and sightsee along the way. You have to balance your urge to race to the next incentive space with the need to slow down and take as many turns as possible. But there’s no stalling too much: Game mechanics dictate that whoever’s furthest behind goes first on the next round, thus ensuring no traveler gets left behind.

Also great for: Two-player game nights

Price on Amazon: $32.84

Best 2-player board games

15) Jaipur

At first glance, Jaipur is a deceptively simple game about commerce: buying, selling, and trading diamonds, leather, spices, gold, silver, and cloth. But its rapid-fire rounds belie the deeper strategies at play here. Do you take all the camels for later swapping power, or swap some of your commodities? Decide quickly, because the going rate for the goods at the market diminishes the more are sold.

The game’s built-in mode is a “best of three” round, but you could easily ignore the Seals of Excellence and just keep playing for hours.

Price on Amazon: $22.47

16) Paperback

Nobody likes Scrabble. I get it. But the makers of Paperback found a way to make a word-centric game fun again with the added mechanic of a deck-builder like Dominion. Earn pennies for your lexicographical creations, then use that buying power to pull a Pat Sajak and buy a vowel (or a consonant, or a two-letter combo card) for later use. With enough buying power, you can also snag one of the wild card books on offer, building your “fame points” for the ultimate victory.

As an added bonus, the game includes a half dozen variations already built into the rule book, so you can experiment to find the best fit for your players.

Price on Amazon: $32.99

17) Carcassonne

Though it supports up to five players, most people agree that Carcassonne is best as a duet, with two people duking it out to claim the most roads, cities, and farmland in an ever-expanding tile city.

Once you get the hang of it, there are plenty of expansions available to help keep things fresh, including Inns & Cathedrals, Rivers, and more. (They complicate the scoring, but the mechanics are largely the same.)

Also great for: Families

Price on Amazon: $27.79

18) Guillotine

As the box eloquently puts it, “you win by getting a head.” You play an executioner in Revolution-era France, trying to please the people by beheading the least popular nobles. But action cards keep shuffling up the front of the line, making it difficult to predict who’s next on the chopping block. While in game time, this plays out over three days, you’ll be able to knock out a round in about half an hour.

Price on Amazon: $12.01

19) Patchwork

All the relaxation of a Zen sewing hobby, none of the hazards of needles and sewing machines. Each player is trying to make the most complete 9×9 quilt using an array of Tetris-esque pieces, available for purchase with buttons that you earn over time. But the bigger the piece you play, the more quickly your token advances through the time track, effectively giving you fewer turns to pick up more patches. It’s rare to find a game that rewards the resistance to rush, and it’s fitting that a quilting game would be such an exercise.

Price on Amazon: $18.45

20) Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

Can you build the biggest farm with the most animals in eight rounds? This intentionally two-person variant of Agricola will reveal your hidden animal husbandry skills as you try to foster a variety of cows, horses, pigs, and sheep. It removes the more complicated parts of the original game, opting to focus solely on the animals instead—and includes adorable animal tokens to boot.

Only one issue: This game is currently out of print, so third-party sellers are charging between $80 and $100 for a new set. See if you can find one used at your local retailer.

Price on Amazon: $99.95

21) Hive

Hive makes almost every version of this list on the internet, thanks in no small part to its eye-catching design and elegantly simplistic rules. Like chess, it’s black vs. white in a battle of the queens, but unlike chess or its grade-school cousin checkers, Hive can be played anywhere flat. Each insect tile has a different mode of play, and you have to use some sneaky strategy to surround the other player’s queen with your tiles before they can do the same to yours. With play sessions coming in at just 20 minutes, you’ll have ample opportunity to learn from your mistakes and tighten up your strategy for the next go-round.

Price on Amazon: $25.39

22) Onitama

It’s like miniature chess! Except not at all. In Onitama, each player starts with five pawns on a five-by-five board. But the moves you can make, rather than being dictated by the type of piece, are chosen from a small set of cards in your hand. First player to take the other’s main pawn—or to reach that pawn’s starting space—wins. With randomized starting positions, the game’s replayability is almost endless, and the board games subreddit also praised Onitama’s “fantastic component quality [and] fun flavor text on the move cards.”


Price on Amazon: $24.37

23) 7 Wonders: Duel

If you’ve played the traditional 7 Wonders, you might be wondering how the passing of hands of cards would work in a two-player variant. Rest assured: That mechanic is replaced in Duel with an array of face-up and face-down cards between the players. Careful strategy with military and science cards can win you the game, as can the usual path to the most number of points. Can you reach your opponent’s capital to win the game before they achieve dominance in one of the other fields?

7 Wonders Duel
Photo via yoppy/Flickr (CC-BY)

Price on Amazon: $25.19

24) Morels

While many gamers would recommend Lost Cities, a few BoardGameGeeks users got frustrated by the amount of play that’s left to chance and pick Morels instead. This game is exactly what it sounds like: foraging, cooking, and selling mushrooms. There’s a daytime and nighttime deck, different values for different fungi, and an important strategic balance to strike. While cooking can earn you more points, selling can afford you better options for your next trip into the forest—and you have to stick to a strict hand limit all the while.

Price on Amazon: $25.19

Best board games for parties

25) Codenames

One designated player from each team acts as “spymaster,” trying to get his or her teammates to guess all the words in a five-by-five array that correspond to their color on a tiny grid only the spymasters can see. GIve the right one-word clue, and your team can unlock a handful of thematically related words at once; give the wrong one, and you might lead them to guess something for the other team—or worse, the assassin, ending the round immediately.

The bigger the group, the more second-guessing will inevitably occur, and you’ll have to watch out for those friends with a seemingly unending supply of inside jokes that will carry them to victory.

For bigger, ballsier groups, try the mildly NSFW Codenames: Deep Undercover expansion from Target. If you’re up for a challenge, take a swing at Codenames: Pictures, where each card is an image with a few different attributes, rather than a single word with a few potential meanings.

Also great for: Families

Price on Amazon: $15.37

26) Spaceteam

You didn’t misread that play time estimate. Each round of this fast-paced card game about a hapless crew trying desperately to keep their ship from falling apart goes by so quickly that you’ll want to play four or five in a row.

Adapted from a popular app by indie developer Henry Smith, this version translates many of the mechanics for introducing chaos to the gameplay into cards for players to resolve as a team before the time runs out.

Two expansions are available: the NSFS (not safe for space) edition with some exceptionally phallic tools cards, and the Triangulum expansion, which also ups the player limit but in a less risque way.

Price on Amazon: $26.95

27) Telestrations

Smush Pictionary and Telephone together to get this hilarious lost-in-translation game that’s perfect for large groups with no artistic talent whatsoever. Full disclosure: You could cobble this together with a few pads of sticky notes and an old dictionary, but the reusable dry erase boards keep everything neat and tidy if you spring for the official set.

Like any good party game, there’s a NSFW expansion set called Telestrations After Dark that lets players choose from more R-rated prompts.

Also great for: Families (if you stick to kid-friendly vocab words)

Price on Amazon: $29.97

28) Rick and Morty: Mr. Meeseeks’ Box o’ Fun Dice and Dares Game

OK, the name is a mouthful, but the game is a delight for fans of the Adult Swim cartoon. In one episode of Rick and Morty, alcoholic mad scientist Rick gives his family a Mr. Meeseeks box: Simply press the button on top to summon a gangly blue dude who literally lives to serve.

This party game plays on that mechanic, with each player drawing “request cards” that they have to fulfill with certain specific dice rolls. If you go looking for help for a Meeseeks, that could help you earn your precious victory points faster, but at what cost?

Price on Amazon: $29.99

29) Sushi Go Party

This “pick and pass” game has players select one card from a group and then passing the remaining hand on down to the next person. It’s a mechanic familiar to players of 7 Wonders (see below), but this time the keeper cards are all adorable cartoon depictions of Japanese fare like sashimi and wasabi. Make the best combination of sushi to score points.

The party pack edition includes almost two dozen different dishes that you can pick from to customize gameplay for each round. If you own Sushi Go’s original box, you’ll get a kick out of how enormous the party tin is.

Price on Amazon: $20.09

30) Cards Against Humanity

You know the drill by now: Take turns reading out fill-in-the-blank prompts from white cards for the other players to complete with the black cards in their hands. The player with the funniest/raunchiest/cleverest answer wins the round, and the game continues until folks tire of it, become too drunk to play, or get bummed out by the appearance of the “smegma” card.

There are more expansions for CAH than we can keep count of, but trust us when we say the possibilities are practically endless at this point.

Price on Amazon: $25

31) Unexploded Cow

Become a hero to French villagers when you solve their issues with unexploded land mines and mad cow disease in one fell swoop. You grow your herd by paying for proud cows, fine cows, sturdy cows, and more, and then roll the die to see who goes “boom” instead of “moo.” Be careful, though: Other players can steal your cows or cause trouble with spies.

Though five- and six-player rounds are on the outer edge of this game’s limits, they just mean faster rounds—and more potential for treachery!

Also great for: Families

Price on Amazon: $22.06

32) Five Crowns

“The game isn’t over ’til the kings go wild!” might sound like a weirdly progressive Spring Break MTV special, but this game is actually a family-friendly fave. Players take turns drawing and discarding cards to use up all of their hand in runs or sets of three or more cards. It’s a little different from your normal deck of cards, though, in that there are five suits to juggle, and the hand sizes increase each round (from three to 13), keeping players busy trying to make sure all their cards are accounted for. Beware the five round, friends.

Price on Amazon: $11.88

33) Joking Hazard

There comes a time in every friend group when you feel like you’ve played every card in the deck. Maybe you’ve been friends for decades and graduated together from Apples to Apples to Cards Against Humanity. But even with expansion after expansion of CAH, it’s easy to feel like you’ve cracked the code. Enter Joking Hazard. The creators of webcomic Cyanide & Happiness released this party game after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2006. Instead of just a white card/black card phrase duo, this game relies on images: A random card is played first, the “judge” picks a card from their hand for second, then each other player plays their selection for the third panel of this bizarre comic. With the additional cards in play, the replayability is increased exponentially, and the visual nature of the game allows for almost infinite interpretations of the scene.

board games
Photo via Amazon

Price on Amazon: $24.95

34) Bohnanza

No beans about it: This game is a little bizarre. Players are growing bean fields of various types, trying to earn a few gold coins for selling offsets of like types. But the ability to barter and trade with your fellow bean farmers—you name your price for a high-value crop, or desperately offer anything to get rid of a pesky spare instead of having to plant it—make this game potentially hilarious. Sure, it’s playable with anyone 13 and up, but we think the best version of this game would be a bunch of Wall Street stockbrokers on their off day, kicking back and bartering over beans.

Also great for: Families

best games for groups
Photo via Rio Grande Games/Amazon

Price on Amazon: $19.89

Best classic board games

35) Scrabble

There are few things more satisfying than finally besting your parents at Scrabble after enduring a decade of their relentless dominance. If you haven’t played in a while, it might be time to bust out the crossword-building game and give it another go. To sharpen your skills, try to learn the approved two-letter words and words that use the Q without a U. Finally, make sure you upgrade your set to a deluxe edition with a grid to lock the tiles in place; this ain’t the ’50s anymore.

classic board games : scrabble
Photo via David Martyn Hunt/Flickr (CC-BY)

Price on Amazon: $19.97

36) Battleship

What, you thought it was just a matter of blind guessing until you nail all your opponent’s ships? Think again. Tech consultant and gaming analyst Nick Berry painstakingly tested various strategies to make winning Battleship as efficient as possible. Read up on his research here, then challenge your big brother to the rematch of a lifetime.

Also good for: Couples

classic board games: battleship
Photo via Andrew Malone/Flickr (CC-BY)

Price on Amazon: $14.99

37) Balderdash

In the era of “fake news,” a game about bullshitting has never been more appropriate. It’s as much a test of your poker face as it is about making up convincing definitions for words. For a modern twist, check out Fibbage, part of the JackBox Games party pack.

Price on Amazon: $24.99

38) Monopoly

In junior high, my best friend Allie and I would set up Monopoly games that could last days; if there was still no winner at the end of a slumber party, we’d write down the placement of every piece and dollar, pack up the box safely away from her cats, and set it all back up again the next time we hung out.

As an adult with precious little weekend time, I now recognize the error of these ways. Fortunately, so has the rest of the world, which has come up with countless suggestions that can improve (and greatly speed up) gameplay: instituting a no-property rule on the first lap around the board, adding another die to the mix, tweaking the Chance and Community Chest decks, or actually (gasp!) playing by the written rules, most of which you’ve been unwittingly ignoring your whole life. If you fall in love and want to update your set, be sure to investigate one with some of the new crowdsourced token ideas.

Monopoly pieces

Price on Amazon: $8.99+

39) Clue

Professor Plum, in the Conservatory, with the lead pipe! The punchline of this game is a well-worn favorite, but the game itself could use a little help. With a lucky guess or two, the game can be over in an instant, making it more about luck than actual deductive ability and pushing fans more toward other deduction games like Sleuth or Mystery of the Abbey. To make things a little more thoughtful, consider a rule variation in which you ditch the dice roll and give each player a stock nine credits for each turn (one per move, three per guess) to strategically use as they will. Or you can really up the ante by transforming the game into a full-fledged RPG.

classic board game: Clue
Photo via jdog90/Flickr (CC-BY)

Price on Amazon: $7.99

40) Mastermind

Speaking of deduction games, Mastermind is a reliable old standby. Use your critical thinking skills to determine the color and order of the codemaster’s pegs. It sounds (and is) straightforward enough, but deductive reasoning isn’t always so simple. This game hasn’t changed a bit since its introduction almost half a century ago, and that’s just fine by us.

Price on Amazon: $9.11

Editor’s note: This article is a compilation of blurbs from existing lists on the Daily Dot; both instances will be updated regularly for relevance. Visit those pages for further detail about play time, game ratings, and how many players each game supports.

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*First Published: Apr 9, 2017, 6:00 am CDT