15 of the best board games for adults and families
There's no reason to play Monopoly these days. These are the best board games (and card games) you should play instead
We cannot stress this enough: never, never play Monopoly. We're in something of a golden age for board games, so there's just no reason to suffer through it ever again. To help you get started, we've compiled this guide to the best board games (and card games) around, starting with the quickest and easiest and ending with more complex efforts for experienced and serious board game enthusiasts.
You are a penguin and the aim is to catch as many fish as possible. Each turn, you move in a line across hexagon-shaped tiles – whichever tile you leave, you can collect it thus collecting the number of fish on it, and preventing other players from moving into that space. When a penguin can no longer move, they are out. The player with the most fish at the end wins. It’s a game of strategy, and things can get pretty competitive.
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Players: 2 to 6 | Playing Time: 15 mins | Difficulty: Easy
Here's one for the poker fans out there. In Coup, you're dealt two face-down character cards, whose abilities you must use to eliminate other players. Alternatively, you can lie about what characters you possess and hope no one notices, which is tricky given there are only so many characters to begin with. It's a card game of bluffs and double bluffs that will reveal everyone's deceitful side. It's best played with four or five players because it's a little too easy to bluff with fewer.
Players: 2 | Playing Time: 15 to 30 mins | Difficulty: Easy
In Patchwork, two players have an array of patches between them which they use in competition to create the most beautiful (and points-scoring) patchwork quilt. Pay in buttons to get the patches you want and earn buttons by getting better patches. Any gaps in your quilt equal minus points. The player with the most points when their quilt is completed is the winner.
A good game for larger groups, Codenames pits two teams against each other to find secret agents from a grid of 25 cards with single word clues on them. Each team's spymaster knows where all the agents are and must guide their team to the right cards while avoiding the opposing team's. It's a clever twist on the classic word game formula that will test your deduction skills (and your friendships).
Players: 2 to 4 | Playing Time: 30 to 45 mins | Difficulty: Easy
Flamme Rouge is basically Tour de France: The Board Game – a cycling racing game where you manage a team of riders in a race to the finish. It's a cinch to pick-up and play, but the simple rules hide a neatly balanced tactical game full of nuance. You must decide how to position your two riders by drawing cards from a deck, taking advantage of slipstreams to stay in touch and timing your sprint perfectly. Reading the board and managing your hand is vital and the modular board means you can up the complexity by adding hills and cobbled streets. It's simple enough to play with families, but complex enough to keep people interested.
Players: 2 to 4 | Playing Time: 60 to 120 mins | Difficulty: Easy
Also known as Settlers of Catan, the now ubiquitous game has spawned numerous versions, including licensed editions based on Game of Thrones and Star Trek. In Catan, up to four players compete to dominate an island by building roads, cities and an army. It works so well because beginners and veterans can enjoy it together, making it a great way to convert newcomers to the hobby.
Ticket to Ride sits in a similar class to Catan – a fun, accessible game that novices and experienced players can enjoy. No wonder, like Catan, it's found everywhere (hello, John Lewis gift section) and has numerous expansions and themed versions. Here the goal is to build more and longer rail routes than your rivals, balancing the need to draw more cards against the danger of losing key routes when you do.
Players: 2 to 4 | Playing Time: 60 mins | Difficulty: Medium
Imagine Ice Road Truckers and Elite combined into a board game and you've got a rough idea of Galaxy Trucker. The aim is to finish the game with the most credits, which can be earned by delivering goods, fighting pirates and travelling further than your rivals. Along the way you'll have to contend with meteor showers and numerous other dangers to your ship, but this is only half the game. Before all this you have to build your ship under a time limit using the communal tiles available. Finding the right balance between weapons, engines and power is crucial, but make a mistake and you could end up with flawed and vulnerable hull. This helps make Galaxy Trucker a replayable joy, as each game is a little different as you learn from your mistakes.
Players: 2 to 5 | Playing Time: 45 mins | Difficulty: Medium
The popular Pandemic series, a co-op game where you work together to prevent a deadly global outbreak, has numerous offshoots – including an outstanding episodic Legacy version featured later in this list. The base game is worth seeking out too, but Iberia is one of the best twists on the formula. Set in the 19th century, it couples real diseases (cholera, yellow fever, malaria, and typhus), and mechanics (building railways and purifying water) to create a realistic and satisfying challenge. One for a very specific mood in 2020.
Proof you can make a compelling game about almost anything, Wingspan has you running wildlife preserves attempting to attract the rarest and most accomplished birds. This conceit makes it an enjoyably educational game as there are hundreds of birds, split into wetland, grassland and forest varieties, to collect and each card has a memorable fact about the breed. It's not as quick to pick-up as Flamme Rouge, but it's still appropriate for families with a 10+ age rating.
Players: 3 to 5 | Playing Time: 60 to 120 mins| Difficulty: Medium
Cosmic Encounter's huge selection of playable alien races, each with their own clever special abilities and win conditions, turns a simple space combat game into an infinitely varied treat. The aim is to capture alien worlds and protect your own, with each combat encounter an opportunity for alliances, bluffs, duplicity and cunning. The variety of alien races ensures no single game is the same and the more you play, the more your knowledge of the alien races and deck adds depth to the intrigue.
Players: 2 to 6 | Playing Time: 60 to 180 mins | Difficulty: Hard
Based on the novel of the same name, Dune is an infamously tough, complicated but utterly brilliant game. Originally produced in 1979, it was hard to acquire until a recent reproduction – with a much-improved board – was released. You play as one of six factions grappling for control of the planet Dune, each with their own special abilities and specific win conditions. Alliances can be made (and broken) and every phase of the game is packed with intrigue and suspicion. It's not for the casual player – a single session can last for two hours or more – but after Dune you may find other games seem trivial and shallow in comparison. One to keep you going until the Villeneuve film hits big or small screens.
Pandemic is a hugely popular co-op game where you play as a team of disease fighting specialists trying to quell the spread of a global pandemic. Yep. The Legacy edition turns it into an engrossing story campaign comprising 12 to 24 60-minute sessions – closer to 12 provided you don't lose too often. Every session will introduce new rules and complications as you unravel a conspiracy and fight to overcome it. Much-loved characters will be lost, cities will riot and scars will be inflicted. Be warned: it's an emotional rollercoaster full of tension and agonising decisions. It's best played with four players and moderately experienced (and committed) players are needed. Once you're done, you can play Season 2 (£69); season three was due to be released in 2020 but was postponed for fairly obvious reasons.
Players: 2 to 4 | Playing Time: 60 to 120 mins | Difficulty: Hard
Brass: Birmingham builds on the strong foundations of the original, now known as Brass: Lancashire, to create one of the best economic strategy games around. Set in Birmingham during the industrial revolution (that's 1770 to 1870 btw), you're competing entrepreneurs looking to build an empire through buying and selling goods, and building a network of canals and rail lines. It's a beautifully designed game that will really stretch your strategic muscles.
Players: 1 to 4 | Playing Time: 60 to 120 mins | Difficulty: Hard
Frequently considered one of the best board games ever made, Gloomhaven can be played in a single session, but is best enjoyed as an episodic campaign as the story and world evolves and changes across multiple sessions. It's a dungeon crawler at its core as you play as a co-operative team to tackle monsters, though each player character has its own traits and their own motivations which adds colour and meaningful consequences to your choices. This is a big game, though, so it's best tackled by experienced players. If you've never played a campaign game before, Pandemic Legacy is an easier place to start.