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Best board games 2021: Our top games for families and adults

1 Dec 2021
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Fancy a change from Monopoly? Try something new with our roundup of the best games for any occasion

Tabletop games are great for passing the time and the best board games can bring your family and friends together like nothing else. Board games have seen something of a revolution in recent years. They’re more popular now than they have ever been, and with the flurry of new games hitting our living room tables over the past few years, it's not hard to see why. There's a whole world beyond Monopoly and Scrabble – board games are back and there has never been a better time to explore what's on offer.

We’ve taken our pick of the finest family-friendly and adult-oriented board games out there, covering every genre from strategy and puzzle to mystery and military. So grab your kids, friends or co-workers and prepare to spend a few hours dabbling with some social gaming fun. Build empires, flex your investigative muscles, concoct complex schemes or just have silly laughs – there’s something here for everybody.

If you're really not sure what type of board game to go for, check out our bite-sized buying guide at the end of this article, where we'll answer all the key questions you might have. Otherwise, go ahead and dive into our roundup of the best board games for all ages.

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Best board games: At a glance


The best board games to buy

1. Throw Throw Burrito: The best party game

Price: £25 | Buy now from John Lewis

From the creators of the absurdly popular Exploding Kittens comes Throw Throw Burrito, the wackiest card game on the market. It's half card game, half dodgeball, except that instead of balls you have to dodge adorable plushy burritos. The concept is as simple as the game is fast-paced. Players sit - or preferably stand - around a table and all draw cards at the same time, accumulating three-of-a-kind sets that build up their score. Most of the cards feature cutesy cartoon creatures, but whenever somebody gathers three of the same burrito card they get to declare a burrito showdown.

There are a few types of food-based warfare involved, including an all-out battle and a one-on-one duel that involves pacing, turning, and shooting. While the burrito strikes themselves aren't deadly - they're actually really soft - they do cause you to lose points. Adding to the tension, there are only two burritos on the table, so victory often comes down to who reacts first. And when the pressure is on, you'd be surprised how many people manage to miss their target at point-blank range! Best played in a spacious room that does not contain valuable glassware.

Key specs – Players: 2-6; Age range: 7+; Estimated game time: 15mins

Buy now from John Lewis


2. Pandemic: The best cooperative game (and the most relevant)

Price: £25 | Buy now from Zatu Games

Pandemic has become a modern classic, and rightly so. Inspired by the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak, it's an accessible cooperative board game in which 2-4 players work to assist one another in eliminating four new diseases. Time is of the essence as your team of experts - each with their own special abilities - travels the world, treating diseases, stamping out epidemics and developing cures. Cure all the diseases within the time limit, and the world is saved. Run out of cards in the deck, allow the virus cubes to take over the board or let too many outbreaks occur, and the human race will be overrun.

Players must share their ideas and resources as much as possible to be in with a chance of winning, and planning ahead is crucial. In a world rocked by Covid-19, it might not sound like the most relaxing game, but the cooperative nature of Pandemic can actually provide a much-needed reprieve from doom and gloom, reminding us of what is possible if we work selflessly and together towards a shared goal.

Key specs – Players: 2-4; Age range: 8+; Estimated game time: 45 mins

Buy now from Zatu Games


3. Exploding Kittens: The best casual card game

Price: £16 | Buy now from Amazon

As the most popular card game project in Kickstarter history (it closed with more than $8.7 million in pledges), Exploding Kittens really is something of a phenomenon. While the makers describe it as a game for people who like explosions, kittens and laser beams – a description that just about covers everyone – you can think of it as a strategic version of Russian roulette. Except the bullets are booby-trapped kittens.

Essentially, all players will draw from the deck until one person draws the exploding kitten. At this point, the only option for survival is to play a defuse card that allows them to place the kitten back into the deck. The strategic option? Do this just before another player draws their card and hope that your friends are the forgiving kind.

Riotously funny and beautifully designed, Exploding Kittens is an almost purr-fect card game. And, if you’re already hooked, the expansion pack Imploding Kittens is well worth getting – it forces players to don the cone of shame that makes for some great (and mildly embarrassing) photos. For adult-only laughs, you could also pick up the NSFW Edition pictured above.

Key specs – Players: 2-5 (up to 9 with a second deck); Age range: 7+ (30+ for NSFW Edition); Estimated game time: 15 mins

4. Catan: The best classic strategy game

Price: £28 | Buy now from Zatu Games

In Catan, formerly called Settlers of Catan, players must use their wits to take over the island by swapping and trading-in resources for settlements and bonus cards. Each player starts with a set of resources based on where their first settlements are placed. From then on, players must try to dominate the board in order to win the game.

The rules of Catan are quick and relatively easy to learn, making it suitable for both adults and older children. Numerous expansion packs not only allow additional players to join but keep the game fresh, with options to discover new worlds and resources. If you already enjoy board games such as Risk and Carcassonne, Catan is an ideal addition to your collection.

Key specs – Players: 3-4; Age range: 10+; Estimated game time: 1hr

Buy now from Zatu Games


5. Secret Hitler: The best hidden identity game

Price: £33 | Buy now from Zatu Games

Ever wanted to call your friends and family a bunch of fascists? When playing Secret Hitler, that's totally socially acceptable. Set in 1930s Germany, Secret Hitler is a beautifully presented hidden roles game in which fascists and liberals outvote each other to secure a majority in parliament. Failing that, they can try to kill each other off.

Relying on little more than instinct, liberals must identify their allies, then work together to root out fascists and, in particular, the secret Hitler among them. If Hitler is made chancellor or too many fascist policies are enacted then the fascists win. But if the liberals pass enough policies or assassinate Hitler, then Germany is saved from fascist rule.

Deception and misdirection are the names of the game here; the better the fascists are at lying, the better their chances of electing Hitler.

Key specs – Players: 5-10; Age range: 17+; Estimated game time: 45mins

Buy now from Zatu Games


6. Unstable Unicorns: The best competitive card game

Price: £19 | Buy now from Zatu Games

Don't be fooled by the cutesy exterior – this is one seriously mean card game. In Unstable Unicorns, each player must build and maintain a stable of unicorns and magical narwhals, with victory going to the first person to amass seven of the mythical horned beasts. On paper, it's easy to win. In practice, not so much. The rules state that it will take about 45 minutes to play a full game but, depending on how low your friends are willing to go, it could run on a while longer.

That's because Unstable Unicorns encourages as much backstabbing as possible. Game not going your way? Dedicate yourself to Machiavellian villainy, wreaking havoc on everyone else by throwing down crippling downgrades, blocking their actions with “Neigh!” cards or outright killing their precious unicorns. Beware of those who don't seem close to winning; with the right strategy and combination of cards, it's possible to pull off an instant win that no one sees coming.

Key specs – Players: 2-8; Age range: 14+; Estimated game time: 1-2hrs

Buy now from Zatu Games


7. Dobble: The best simple kids game

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

Dobble is basically a reinvention of Snap. All you must do is find the one icon that matches because there’s always a shared icon between any two cards. This simple premise forms the basis for five short minigames that play with the theme, alternately asking you to collect or discard cards as fast as possible.

The challenge comes from some clever optical illusions. Icons are jumbled up, resized and just generally hard to identify at speed on the circular cards – so you can spend ages staring at them thinking there’s no match to be seen. Then you spot it with a whoop of joy and scrabble to claim the point before anyone else.

So, yes: Dobble is basically a reinvention of Snap – but the best games are sometimes the simplest and Dobble is undoubtedly a modern classic. It doesn’t hurt that it’s small enough that you can easily take it to the pub, either.

Key specs – Players: 2-8; Age range: 6+; Estimated game time: 5-25 mins

8. Captain Sonar: The best military game

Price: £22 | Buy now from Amazon

NORTH. EAST. EAST. STOP. FIRE TORPEDO AT L12. DIRECT HIT! If Das Boot was transformed from a cinematic masterpiece into an equally masterful eight-player board game, Captain Sonar would be the result. Indeed, you can think of Captain Sonar as real-time, high-stakes Battleships.

Eight players assume the roles of captain, first mate, engineer and radio operative on two opposing teams, and under the steady leadership of your captain you will attempt to sink the opposing team’s submarine before they scupper yours, while navigating your way around the grid, surfacing to repair and deploying drones and sonar to locate the enemy sub. Fast-paced and intense, it’s a brilliant game that’s as entertaining to watch as it is to play.

Key specs – Players: 2-8 (Best with 8); Age range: 14+; Estimated game time: 30 mins

9. Telestrations: The best drawing game

Price: £17 | Buy now from Zatu Games

If you crossed Pictionary with a game of telephone, you might end up with something a lot like this. In Telestrations, each player is assigned a word which they must sketch out into a notepad before a sixty-second timer runs out.

They then have to pass that sketch on to their neighbour, who guesses the secret word based off of the drawing. This process of guessing, sketching and passing then repeats until each player's original notepad has been returned.

The results are typically hilarious, as the final drawings and guesses tend to be absurdly removed from each player's original word and sketch. Keeping score is totally optional - the main aim of the game is simply to have a laugh, so there's no pressure to achieve artistic perfection in each of your minute-long sketches.

Key specs – Players: 4-8; Age range: 12+; Estimated game time: 30mins

Buy now from Zatu Games


10. Blood Rage: The most aggressive strategy game

Price: £58 | Buy now from Zatu Games

Ragnarök is coming! The end of the world is nigh and it is your job to steer your Viking clan through battles to secure your place in eternal Valhalla. As you’d expect, there’s more than a smattering of pillaging, warfare and cunning tactics as you upgrade and develop your clan, and as the game moves through its three phases, you’ll receive help from mythical Norse creatures and fight other players for precious tokens.

You can even paint the miniatures in the game to give your set a unique look and feel. At its core, the game is all about gaining points for victories, losing warriors in glorious battles and completing quests – it’s all good, clean, violent fun. Blood Rage, as you’d probably guess from the title, is all about conflict between the rival players, and it’s immensely entertaining leading your clan to honour and acclaim in the name of Odin.

Key specs – Players: 2-4 (5 with optional expansion); Age range: 14+; Estimated game time: 1-2hrs

Buy now from Zatu Games


11. Dixit: The best storytelling game

Price: £22 | Buy now from Amazon

Weird, wonderful and irrepressibly French, Dixit involves looking at cards and inventing stories to go with them. Once you’ve told your story (which can be a word or an epic), others secretly give you a card of their own which they think matches it. You then present all cards to the group and everyone tries to guess your original inspiration.

What makes Dixit interesting is the scoring phase. If you tell a story everyone recognises, you’ll get no points – but if you tell a story nobody recognises, you’ll also get no points. In-jokes, call-backs and suggestive themes are, therefore, the order of the day if you’re playing to win – tricky when cards depict rabbits in armour, men eating rainbows and people trapped in snowglobes.

Ideally suited to family play, Dixit can be an oddly insightful experience for players of all ages.

Key specs – Players: 3-6; Age range: 8+; Estimated game time: 30 mins

12. Carcassonne: A classic German-style game

Price: £22 | Buy now from Zatu Games

Carcassonne is a tile-laying game where players must place roads, castles and rivers in order to score points and progress around the board. Once tiles are placed, players can put their Meeple followers (little wooden characters) on the piece to claim it and rack up points. Some pieces are worth more than others and lucky players can score big if they pick up the right pieces. Castles are worth more than roads and you can build some seriously big castles. Don't get too greedy, though, as other players can tag onto your creations and nab extra points for themselves.

Its design is, unsurprisingly, based on the French town of the same name, which has a number of Roman and Medieval fortifications. While the basic game is simple, fun and relatively quick to play, there are a number of expansion packs that add new, and sometimes complex, layers to the base game.

Key specs – Players: 2-5; Age range: 7+; Estimated game time: 35 mins

Buy now from Zatu Games


13. Codenames: The best word-association game

Price: £15 | Buy now from Amazon

A high-tension game that requires a careful combination of patience, instinct and creative thinking, Codenames is an absolutely perfect card game for large groups. Each team selects a spymaster and these two players are then made privy to the identities of 18 secret agents who are known only by their codenames (hey, that's the name of the game!). The rival spymasters then take turns issuing word association clues to their teammates – ideally picking words that link together multiple codenames at a time – so that the teammates can guess which agents are on their side.

Sounds easy? Far from it. Not only must the clue-giver avoid words that could be associated with the enemy team's agent codenames, but they must never say anything that could lead their teammates to select the assassin codename – if they do, it's game over. Being one of the guessers is a little easier but not much, as you never know what your spymaster is thinking. Everyone's minds work in different ways and clues that seem logical to the clue-giver might lead you in a totally different direction.

Key specs – Players: 2-8+; Age range: 10+; Estimated game time: 20-30 mins

14. Scythe: The best alternate history game

Price: £60 | Buy now from Amazon

Set in an alternate 1920s reality where giant war robots roam the fields alongside humble farming folk, Scythe pits five fallen leaders in a battle to conquer Eastern Europa. In this resource-allocation game, you will assume one of five factions, each with their own abilities and specific goal. Despite the relative complexity, the streamlined mechanics keep the game moving at a rapid tempo.

Although there are opportunities for player conflict in the game, it's not entirely necessary, and while the fantastic upgrade mechanisms enable you to build a force to conquer other players, not much is left to luck – this is a game where long-term strategy and cunning can make all the difference. Released back in 2016, Scythe is one of the more recent releases on this list, but it has already earned an enthusiastic following and rightly so.

Key specs – Players: 1-5; Age range: 14+; Estimated game time: 2-4hrs

15. A Game of Thrones The Board Game: The most epic strategy game

Price: £39 | Buy now from Amazon

Do you like your board games to be almost impossibly epic and complex? Do you like the feeling of steadily crushing your opponents into paste over the course of several hours? Do you like constant opportunities to reference the HBO TV series and epic novel collection? Then Game of Thrones is for you.

As you’d expect, the Game of Thrones board game starts by casting you as one the noble houses of Westeros, with the objective of crushing the other houses and claiming the Iron Throne. What you may not expect, though, is the massive scale of that task. Games can easily last several hours, most of which is spent walking around the gigantic board feeling like some real-life general moving troops across a map.

A Game of Thrones isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve got the endurance for it, it’s one of the best epic strategy board games available.

Key specs – Players: 3-6; Age range: 13+; Estimated game time: 2hrs+

How to choose the best board game for you

I’ve never played a board game before, are these accessible?

Absolutely! Some games can seem daunting when you unpack them, but don’t be deterred. Pretty much all games these days provide rules that are designed to be as simple as possible, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to pick up. If you are finding it difficult to wrap your head around a particular game, you’ll find plenty of help online – such as instructional videos from other players – that will help you work through the rules of gameplay.

READ NEXT: Best two-player board games

What types of board games are there?

Board games can fall into many broad categories: often a game will comfortably fit into more than one but there are a few common categories that games are divided into.

There are Eurogames, also known as German-style games, which have nearly no direct player conflict and focus instead on industry, resource acquisition and building – strategy is the focus here. Worker placement games see you place limited tokens or pieces around the board in order to take actions or acquire resources.

Player elimination games, on the other hand, are filled with conflict and competition, with the aim being to win or eliminate other players from the game. And then there are cooperative games, where you work together to accomplish goals, succeed in missions or perform tasks in order to satisfy the winning conditions of the game as a group.

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How do I know which game I'll enjoy playing most?

There’s no real way to predict whether you like a game or not until you play it. However, the recommendations above will have a player number, estimated game time and a brief description of what the game is like. So if you have a particular audience in mind, you can judge what game best suits your needs or interests. Still not sure? Have a look on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of video walkthroughs and tips for the various titles, which may give you a better idea of whether the game appeals to you.

What age range are these suitable for?

Our recommendations cover a wide range. Some of the recommendations here might not be entirely suitable for younger players as the rules are a little more complex, but we've included the age ratings for each entry to help you make an informed decision. One thing worth bearing in mind is that the age recommendations are set by the creators as a guideline, but it’s entirely up to you to decide its suitability – community opinions sometimes differ on whether games’ suggested age ranges are in the right ballpark or not.

Where can I buy these games?

We’ve included quick links to the main resellers such as Amazon above, but if you’re having trouble tracking down a particular title – or Amazon’s prices have skyrocketed due to unscrupulous marketplace sellers making the most of sold-out titles – check out Board Game Prices at boardgameprices.co.uk. Simply type in the name of the game you’re looking for and you’ll be able to find the best prices across all the main board game retailers in the UK.

 

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