The Best Board Games are not all Table Standard, but They Should Be.
If you’re a tabletop aficionado like we are, you’ve probably heard about a lot of these. Most of you have probably played one or two of them. Honestly, we’ve played so many games at this point, most of us have meeple in our wallets for luck (it’s a weird superstition, don’t ask). That being said, there are constant debates about what the best board games for a game night are. We’ve already talked about the best tabletop games to get your friends into game night. Now we’re here for you geeks who play more regularly. We have thoughts (a lot of thoughts), but when it comes down to it, these are the ten we feel should be on everyone’s shelves. We did our best to make sure we spread the love between relaxing, gripping, cooperative, and competitive, for a game night that can easily span into a game slumber party.
Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to build the best theme park in the city. It’s a race to build the biggest and best rides (based on some blueprints you gather), and make the most money to prove you are the master. Sounds simple enough, but it turns out, this is a theme park turf war — and no one plays fair.
Your opponents can pay off the safety inspector to close your rides, or pay to have your park vandalized. It all feels very unfair! Ohhh, so that’s how they chose the name. You have to balance building with stopping your opponents’ efforts to thwart you. Will you cheat your way to victory, or prove you don’t need to stoop to their Mafia style shenanigans (we really like that word) to win? The choice is up to you!
This is a relaxing game of tending bamboo. Let’s face it, we aren’t always looking to hunt monsters and fight Fascism. That’s where games like Takenoko come in. It’s a delightful game about a panda and growing bamboo. The Japanese Emperor has received an offering of peace from the Chinese Emperor, a giant panda. Now the emperor has given the task of it’s care to the imperial gardener (that’s you).
You have to grow three colors of bamboo in your plots and feed the panda as it becomes hungry. The player who completes the most goals and has grown the most bamboo by the end of the game wins. It’s simple to teach, easy to play, and a nice relaxing entry into game night (before things get heated and the table flipping starts). It also isn’t as expensive as a lot off the games on our list.
We waffled about putting this game on the list, because it’s not very PC — and then we thought, to hell with it. Let’s kill Hitler! This game is best in bigger groups, making it perfect for a larger game night. It’s a bit of a perversion of the game Werewolf in that one person is Hitler, and everyone else tries to figure out who it is before bad stuff happens. It’s a game about Hitler’s rise to power and it gives you a chance to stop him from ever getting there.
At the beginning of the game you are given your role — you can either be a Fascist or a Liberal. The Fascists know who the other Fascists are, and who Hitler is. Hitler does not know who his/her allies are, and the Liberals know nothing. The Fascists try to instill doubt and get their cruel leader elected to power, while the Liberals do what we all hope and try to stop it.
The point of the game is to kill Hitler; if you do, he (or she) doesn’t take power. If the Liberals fail, Fascism wins. But you know, no pressure.
This game is a bit more complicated and can take a while to play. It is also a bit more complex than the first three we talked about. While a brief explanation works to teach the prior games, this one commands a hefty rule book to keep you on track. Gloomhaven works like a dungeon crawler. You and your friends each pick heroes and cooperate against a game that is trying to tear you down. Each character has special abilities and tactics that can help your party move forward, so a full team is a bonus.
As you crawl through the dungeon you have cards you can play, but these will diminish over time so you must think wisely about how you use your hand. We find this game to be an exciting dash for treasure and glory through a hellish landscape. Even the “heroes” appear more like Eldritch horrors than your traditional adventuring party. We recommend this game for more advanced players, and we also recommend you keep continuity with the same group over multiple playthroughs. It makes for a fantastic time, and building your character to an unbeatable force over multiple nights is super satisfying.
If you haven’t played Pandemic yet, do yourself a favor and make it happen. Pandemic is a game about saving the world from a quickly spreading disease. Several of them actually. Each player takes up a role, and each role has a different set of unique abilities that help to stop the pathogen. You work together (we love cooperative games) to stop the spread before it wipes out the world.
Pandemic has some awesome outbreak mechanics which can sometimes make the game feel a little futile. It’s a hard one to win, but don’t let that stop you. Disease is hard to stop, but winning is soooo satisfying. It’s got quite a few rules, but once you know how to play, it’s a pretty easy game to grasp. There is an order to every turn that is easy to pick up once you’ve played a round or two. You feel like you’re on the front lines of a biological war that only you can stop!
If this isn’t enough for you, Pandemic released another version which changed the way we look at tabletop games. Pandemic Legacy is an evolving board game. No two games will ever be the same because you remove pieces with each playthough. They broke it into seasons, so each time you get to the end, you get a new season to work through. The effect is a highly addictive game that keeps you coming back for more.
The stakes are getting a little high, so let’s back off a bit and take it a little easier with a mostly non-competitive board game that feels incredibly Zen. You are a traveler on the East Sea Road, a beautiful road in Japan. Your goal is to do more and see more than any other traveler. You have the ability to buy souvenirs, visit hot springs, view vistas, and visit temples to have the most fulfilling experience on your journey. You must balance your experience with work, however, or you will not have the money to feed yourself at the end of each day and you will be forced to go hungry.
Our favorite thing about Tokaido is that the turn order is not sequential. You heard us right, a non-sequential turn order. This sounds confusing, but it’s really easy to know whose turn it is. The player at the very back goes next. Because of this, those who rush ahead get fewer turns and it encourages players to take their time and visit as many places as possible. It is a relaxing game with stunning artwork that calls us back again and again. It’s a great wind down from any high stress game.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
We love this game because it’s got so many endings that each playthrough feels totally different. The game starts cooperatively. Your party is exploring a haunted house together and trying to puzzle out the mysteries. As you travel, you uncover bad omens, and the house begins to turn against you. Each turn, you get closer and closer to certain doom. Until it happens! One of the players (you don’t know who until you hit the turning point) betrays you.
The game changes dramatically at this point. Sometimes monsters crawl out of the darkness to claw at our heroes, sometimes the house is pulled straight into hell one room at a time, sometimes the house itself tries to kill you. At this point, those who have been betrayed must fight to stop whatever calamity has befallen them before they all die. The betrayer’s job is to stop the heroes from succeeding.
It’s a longer game, and very spooky if you play this game at night. The game is like playing out your very own haunted house horror movie. We enjoy that it manages to be cooperative and competitive by having two distinct phases, and we love fighting our way out of a house that is determined to kill us. Good luck surviving.
Okay time for a reprieve from the creepy. How about an easy card game? A lot of us got really into Cards Against Humanity for a while. Really into it. That game showed up everywhere: college parties, friendly gatherings — in fact, we’ve seen it so many times we just needed a rest. While we were taking a break from the dirty stand by, we found Red Flags — and honestly, we didn’t know we could laugh this hard.
Red Flags is a game about setting up your friends on the best possible date. Pretty sweet premise, as we all want our friends to hook up with the best possible person (right?). You reveal your date to the judge, and then something devious happens. The person to your right tries to sabotage your date by giving them a negative trait– and some of them are bad.
That guy who has unlimited money and flies you anywhere you want to go at the drop of the hat? Well, he craps his pants every time he laughs. That famous chef who loves dogs? Punches every barista they see.
Then each person has to try and defend their terrible date and it’s up to the judge to bite the bullet and go out with one of these awful people. Basically, it’s Online Dating: The Card Game.
Man oh man, do we love us some good Lovecraftian horror. This is a game about just that–stopping the Ancient Ones from awakening and turning our world into the nightmarish hellscape that we know it could be. In the 1920’s in a town called Arkham, the Ancient Ones are turning over in their sleep and the gates between worlds is slowly yawning open. You cooperate with a team of investigators to stop the monsters pouring through these portals, and to close the gates before the Ancient Ones awake — or you might find yourself standing face to face with the horror and have no choice left but to fight.
This is probably the longest game on the list, and might have the most pieces of just about any game we’ve played, so get a bunch of baggies ready when you first buy this bad boy — you’re going to need them. Secondly, the rules can take a little getting used to. After a couple of rounds it makes sense, but you will be checking your book regularly the first few times you play. Get through that, and this is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. We’ve lost quite a few evenings to Arkham Horror, and we’ve thwarted more Ancient Ones than we can count on both hands. Each Ancient One has a different set of rules, so the game plays differently depending on which elder god you choose. Good luck stopping the apocalypse. It’s all down to you.
The Red Dragon Inn
After a night of stopping the end of the world, stopping Hitler, and fielding bad dates, you need a little cavorting. The Red Dragon Inn is a game about what happens after the adventure is over. You and your group of friends take up the mantle of fantasy heroes after the dungeon has been conquested, the damsels have been saved, and you have been rewarded. Which means — it’s time to party! Pick one of the heroes, each with their own special powers and abilities to help you on your way. It’s your job to come out the other side with the most coin still in hand and sober enough to remain conscious.
Staying sober at an inn is harder than it sounds when there is gambling to be done, roughhousing to get up to, and plenty of drink to spare. So keep your eye on your coin purse, and get ready for a wild night of drinking with your closest friends!