Board games are a fantastic way to spend an evening with family and friends. Modern games can be expensive, though. That’s why we’ve rounded up some you’ve probably never heard of—and they’re all $25 or less.
How to Choose the Right Board Game
When it comes to board games, most people immediately think of things like Scrabble, Monopoly, or Clue. The titles we chose are a bit more recent and advanced. Modern board games include features you don’t ordinarily find in the classics, such as more intricate storylines, unique components (like meeples instead of pawns), and building the board as you play.
Board games vary when it comes to rules, style of play, and difficulty. Here are a few things to look into before you purchase a game:
- Style of play: Board games generally come in one of three flavors: competitive, cooperative, or semi-cooperative. Competitive means everyone is for themselves, and the game ends with one winner. In a cooperative game, everyone is on the same team and playing against the board game (spoiler alert: the board game usually wins). Semi-cooperative means for most of the game, everyone works together, but someone can emerge as the overall winner title.
- Number of players: You want to make sure the board game accommodates the right number of people. If you typically only play with your spouse or friend, check out some two-player options. If you have a regular board-game night with a group of friends, you’ll want to check out games that can handle four or more players.
- Learning curve: The nice thing about Scrabble is pretty much everyone knows how to play. With modern board games, the rules might be very different, and you might have to read the instructions. It’s easiest to learn the game if someone present has played it before and can guide you.
- Length of play: Most board games inform you on the box or instructions about how long it takes to play an average game. Some, you can play in half an hour or less, while others can take hours, and that time only increases the more players there are. Make sure you choose a game that fits the timeframe you normally have available.
Family-Friendly Board Games
When it’s family game night, it’s helpful to have a few options that even your younger children can play. We’ve picked some options that are generally easy enough for everyone to keep up, without being a bore (at least for the first play or two).
Telestrations is an artistic spin on the telephone game. Everyone opens a drawing board, and, based on a die roll, you look at a word and have to draw it. You pass it to the next person, and she writes what she thinks you drew. The next person then has to draw whatever she wrote.
This goes on for several rounds, and, somehow, a squirrel will become a motorcycle (yes, that’s a real example). But unlike the telephone game, you can see where the changes occurred, which is the fun of the game. The biggest laughs will come when you see that Grandma thought your drawing of a building was a calculator.
Telestrations is short, sweet, and will give you belly laughs.
USAOPOLY Telestrations Original 6 Player | Family Board Game | A Fun Family Game for Kids and Adults | Family Game Night Just Got Better | The Telephone Game Sketched Out
This is the telephone game with art---and it's hilarious! Your kids can play, and the game doesn't overstay its welcome.
Indigo’s premise is fairly simple. The center and edges of the board contain gems, and you need to claim them to win. You gain gems by moving them to your edge of the board, but that’s where things get tricky.
To move gems, you lay down tiles that draw a path for the piece to follow. However, the tile contains other paths that other players can use. They can change your plan when it’s their move, or use the extra paths you created to steal other gems.
It’s a bit like Chutes and Ladders, in which you build the board as you go. If you’re familiar with Tsuro, it’s a fairly similar concept. The game is beautiful, and children old enough to be trusted with small game pieces can follow along, as well.
Ravensburger Indigo for Ages 8 & Up - Strategic Family Game of Tile and Gem Placement
With hints of Tsuro and Chutes and Ladders, this board game is easy enough for even your younger children to play. Lay down tiles and build a path to lead gems to your side. Be careful, though---other players might use your path against you.
Cooperative Board Games
In some ways, cooperative board games are among the easiest to learn. The rules can still be complicated, but in a co-op game, it’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other learn and master the rules.
Co-op games typically share a few similarities, like each player having unique powers. The basic premise is you work with the other players to defeat the board game. There are usually a few “win,” and three or more “fail” scenarios.
Expect to lose at least some of the time, but even failing is more fun when you do it together.
In Flash Point, you and the other players are firefighters. A building is on fire, and people are trapped. It’s your job to get in, find the people, and get them out safely.
After each round, the fire spreads and might kill the trapped victims. Worse yet, the fire can cause explosions that damage the building even further. If too many people die, you fail. If the fire damages the building too much, it collapses, and you fail.
The game features beginner and advanced modes, and you can play with unique powers (such as using the firetruck’s hose to blast the fire). It’s the safest fun you’ll ever have with fire!
Indie Boards and Cards Flash Point Fire Rescue 2nd Edition
Players are a group of firefighters trying to rescue people trapped in a burning building. You need to get in, find the people, and drag them out---without dying in countless ways.
Your helicopter crash-landed in the Forbidden Desert. Now, you must excavate an ancient city to find parts, build a solar-powered flying machine, and escape.
Like other co-op games, each player gets a set of special powers (such as holds more water, moves through sand more efficiently, and so on). In Forbidden Desert, you’re forced to contend with thirst and sand and to dig for clues.
If you take a drink and run out of water, everyone dies. If you have to add sand to the board, but you’re out of markers, everyone dies. If the countdown meter reaches the end, everyone dies. Only by working together will you find the pieces, assemble them, and fly out of there.
Gamewright Forbidden Desert – The Cooperative Strategy Survival Desert Board Game Multi-colored, 5"
After crash-landing in a desert, you and your friends have only a few supplies and a glimmer of hope. You must find and excavate the parts of a solar flying machine before you're all either buried in sand or run out of water.
Strategic Board Games
The best strategy games force you to think three or four moves ahead. You have to pick a goal, figure out the necessary steps to achieve it, and then do your best to hide what you’re doing from the other players.
Along the way, you’ll also want to deduce your opponent’s goals and block them, if possible—all while preventing them from blocking your goal.
Reef is a beautiful game in which you work to build coral reefs. The rounds are simple at face value. When it’s your turn, you either pick up or place a card. To play a card, you pick up the pieces that match the pictures on the top half of your card and create a pattern with them. If you match the bottom pattern on your card, you score. Simple, right?
Well, it gets complicated quickly because the pieces you gain from the top of the card rarely match the patterns on the bottom of the card, so you have to think a few moves ahead. You play a card to collect pieces, so you can take a card later and have a match in place. With enough effort, you might create a chain, so that every card you play includes a match.
However, the more obvious your moves, the more likely an opponent will try to stop you and make your pieces worthless.
Reef takes about 10 minutes to learn but quickly evolves into a complicated game of deduction and strategy.
Pick a card or play a card. Sounds simple, right? But when you play a card, you score only if you have the right pieces in place. You get pieces by playing cards, so now you have to think ahead just to score. This twist is what makes Reef so much fun!
Tiny Epic Galaxies
Tiny Epic Galaxies is another game that’s deceptively simple to start but quickly takes a turn for the incredibly complicated.
Each player controls a galactic empire, and, like all galactic empires, everyone wants to expand and rule even more territory. To take your turn, you roll the dice, and they provide you with possible actions. You can take any of the actions you want (expend energy, take political steps, and so on), but you have to be careful. Other players can copy your actions by expending resources.
This means even when it’s not your turn, you can still take action as though it is. Someone else’s choices might perfectly suit your goals, but he won’t know until it’s too late.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
You control a galaxy, but that's not enough! You can expend resources to take actions and grow, but be careful---your opponents can copy your actions.
Two-Player Board Games
Plenty of board games list two players as an option, but they’re often much more fun with three or more players. Sometimes, the rules just don’t work as well with only two players, either.
If you primarily play board games with your spouse or a friend, you’ve probably run into these problems. Thankfully, a few board game companies have stepped up to the plate and designed some games specifically for two players.
If you’re a fan of Ticket to Ride, you’ll probably like Kahuna. Your goal is to claim more islands than your opponent by connecting bridges to them. You lay down an island-matching card to place a bridge, and once you have control, its score counts toward you.
Be careful, though—your opponent can spend two matching cards to remove one of your bridges and eventually take control of your island.
The game lasts only three rounds, so you have to make quick decisions about what to claim and block.
Kahuna Board Game | 2 Player Kosmos Game | Area Control Strategy | 30 Min
You're an island ruler who wants to expand. The only way to do that is to add bridges. Build enough, and you own an island. But your opponent is building bridges, too---and she might be planning to remove yours.
7 Wonders: Duel
Based on the original 7 Wonders game, 7 Wonders: Duel makes a few changes to better accommodate two players. You and your opponent raise a civilization and take it through three ages. As your civilization grows, you can focus on buying buildings, building Wonders, or selling buildings for money. To do this, you remove cards from a stacked pile and uncover the next card in the stack (potentially, for your opponent).
The game has several win scenarios, and the first player to hit one of them wins. You can win if you gain enough science or military points from the buildings you purchase. If no one wins after three rounds, you each count up your victory points, and the player with the highest total wins.
Asmodee 7 Wonders - Duel, Multi-colored
Raise a civilization through the ages and teach them warfare or science. You can build wonders to gain powers, and stack the deck in your favor. But be careful---when you draw a card, you might give your opponent just what they need.
Easy to Learn
Some board games come with instruction manuals the size of small novels. It can take an hour or so to learn the basic steps before you can even start playing. While some of those games can be gratifying to play, it’s nice to be able to jump into a game quickly.
Thankfully, some games are easy to learn and set up. You’ll likely be playing either of our picks in less than half an hour.
Sushi Go! is an adorable game with a sushi restaurant theme (it even comes in a bento box). Playing is incredibly simple.
Everyone picks a card from his hand and lays it face down. All players then reveal their facedown cards simultaneously, and pass their hands to the left (or right, depending on the round). Then, you repeat the process until you’ve used all the cards.
You score points by building matches (like two Tempura cards for five points). Some matches require more cards, and some less. With some, you only score if you have the most copies of that card.
The trick is in how well you can hide what you’re doing so the player on your right can’t deny you the cards you need before you get them. Setup is quick, and gameplay is fast, but figuring out your best strategy is harder than you might think.
Sushi Go! - The Pick and Pass Card Game
Take a card, lay it down, pass your hand---so easy! But you have to match the cards you lay down, and if you're too obvious about your choices, the person on your right can deny you the cards you need.
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a tricky game to play. Each round, you lay down a lake tile, which features four groups of colored lanterns arranged to point at the other players sitting around the game. You lay down the tile next to an adjacent tile—the colors of the lanterns that touch must match.
Every player then gets a lantern card that’s the same color as the tile that points at them. After you collect a pattern (four of a kind in red, one of every color, and so on), you trade your lantern cards in for a scoring card.
However, each time that happens, the next person who completes the set (such as four of a kind), scores fewer points. So, you want to complete sets quickly. You have to choose carefully when to lay down tiles because you’re handing colored lanterns to your opponents, too. Your attempt to win could hand the victory to one of your opponents.
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, Fast Paced Card Game Set, 2-4 Players, 30 Min Playing Time, Place Tiles to Adorn the Palace Lake with Floating Lanterns, Earn the Most Honor Before the Festival Begins
Lay a tile, take some lantern cards, trade them in to score. Sounds easy to learn and play, right? Be careful, though---each time you lay a tile, your opponents gain lantern cards. Your attempt to win can lead to your ultimate defeat.