As the holidays approach, I’ve been asked to provide some board game recommendations. For the last 5 years, my wife and I have played over 47,000 minutes of games together, spread out across 187 different games. We keep track of every time we play, along with the final score and how many minutes we played.
When it comes to board games, it’s not about the “best game.” While some games are objectively better than others, it’s more about finding the best game for the personality, preferences and mood of the group you’re playing with. So I’m going to offer up a few lists to help you find a great new game for whatever group you find yourself in over the holidays.
2-player games for couples
- Fox in the Forest – Two player euchre-like game. Aim to win either most or none of the tricks, but not all of them!
- Fox in the Forest Duet – A cooperative version of the previous game. Try to collect all the treasure from the forest by winning the right tricks at the right times.
- Hive – Chess with bugs. Surround the other players queen bee while protective your own.
- Jaipur – Set collecting game with camels to carry all your goods.
- Call To Adventure – My wife likes the character building aspect of the game. Take your hero on adventures to train their skills and gain rewards.
- Dice Throne – Battle yahtzee. Use your dice to activate special abilities to smash the other player. The original game had 6 different characters in one box, but now you have to buy them in pairs.
- Carcassonne: The Castle – One of the first games we got as a married couple. Compete to see who can profit more from the construction of various districts of the castle.
4-player games for casual gamers
- The Crew – Cooperative trick-taking game that gives you missions to complete as a team. This is the game we played the most in 2022. It got played 44 hours with 22 different people. My grandpa likes it. My dad likes it. My brother likes it. My sister likes it. My brother-in-law likes it. My sister-in-law likes it. You get the picture. It’s ridiculously cheap for a game that provides this much enjoyment.
- Wingspan – Lay eggs. Gather food. Collect birds. Beautiful artwork. Surprisingly educational too.
- Splendor – Buy mines to get gems to buy mines to get gems. Simple and straightforward.
- Azul and Sagrada – These games feel very similar to me. You’re drafting tiles or dice to place on your board to score points. My wife likes these better than I do. All together, we’ve played over 20 hours of these games.
- Cryptid – Logic puzzle. Everyone has a clue, which together points to a specific location on the board where the mythical creature is hiding. But because we all want to be the first to make the discovery, we have to deduce what everyone else’s clues are, and combine them with our own to guess at the correct spot. One of my all-time favorite games, but it can be a lot to keep track of in your head.
- Magic Maze – You’ve got just a few minutes to escape the magic mall. Players can move any piece, but only in the way that’s on their player card. No one player moves pieces north, another south, another player can use escalators, and another player operates the portals.
- Photosynthesis – A relaxing game about growing trees in the forest. Or is it? Maybe it’s a cutthroat battle to claim as mush sunlight as you can while you watch your opponents trees wither in the lethal shade? Depends on the mood you’re in when you play, I guess.
- Red7 – This is a very quick card game that makes you put your thinking cap on. Compete in an ever-changing competition for the best tableau. If you can’t be on top by the end of your turn, you’re out.
- Sonora – this game is currently dominating the flick-and-write board game genre. (Actually, I can’t think of any other games in that category.) Flick your discs onto the board, and use its placement to fill in the right spots on your board to achieve satisfying chain-reactions.
- Revolution – A bidding game that I can never seem to win. Claim regions of the game board by having the most supporters in the area. Gain those supporters by buying their loyalty, blackmailing them, or using the threat of force.
- Dominion, DC DeckBuilding, Ascension and Fort – All great games that use the same mechanic. Draw cards, use them to buy more cards for your deck.
Larger games for when you have the whole afternoon
- Scythe – 2-5 players. It’s like Settlers of Catan’s big brother. My favorite part about the game is that, while there’s always the threat of a battle breaking out and someone stealing all your hard-earned resources, it rarely happens because battles are generally a lose-lose situation for both parties. The artwork is fantastic, and the expansions are super fun. This game originally intimidated me and stayed on my shelf for a year until we finally got it out. The rules are far simpler than it looks.
- Terraforming Mars – 2-5 players. Make a handsome profit while gradually make Mars a habitable place to live. I love the slow pace of this game.
- Pandemic Legacy – If you enjoy regular Pandemic, this will rock your world. We played through seasons 1, 2, and 0 over the course of a few years with some friends, and it was amazing. You get about 15 games out of each box, and it is an exciting experience. I won’t give any spoilers away, but each round you’re opening sealed envelopes, solving mysteries and uncovering quite the twisted plot.
- Honey Buzz – A worker-bee placement game about producing the best honey. Really beautiful game with awesome pieces.
- The Captain is Dead – This game always gets our group excited. You feel like you’re living out the last 5 minutes of a sci-fi tv show, the ship is falling apart and the warp core is about to explode, and the aliens are beaming aboard. It has a very pandemic-feel, in that you’re trying to accomplish the overall mission while putting out all the fires that keep popping up.
- Root – The cats have always run the forest, but now the eagles are moving into their territory. There’s a growing faction of rodents that are protesting the war, and there’s a raccoon vagabond running around mucking things up. A nice asymmetric battle for control of the forest.
Games for big groups
- Codenames and Codenames Duet – Make it your New Year’s resolution to toss the junk party games like Apples to Apples (and all their clones) and to get some actually good games for big groups. Codenames is fantastic for any size group over 6 people. And the duet version can be played with two people, which is neat.
- One Night Werewolf – It’s classic mafia, but it’s over in just one night. All the deduction and debate has to happen while a timer’s going, and after that you vote. There’s an app that narrates for you and gives you instructions on what to do, so that everyone at the table can be playing at once.
- Bang! The Dice Game – The dice version of this game is so much better than the original. It’s yahtzee cowboys and indians. The sheriff and his deputy need to find out who the outlaws are before they get shot. We’ve played this game with as many as 12 people before.
- Patchwork Doodle – A tetris-like “fit the piece in the spot” game for an unlimited amount of players.
Games for kids
- Catan Junior – Just like classic Catan, but a little softer on the disappointment.
- My Little Scythe – I still can’t believe this exists. I would have never thought when playing regular scythe that it could be a game for kids, but they do a fantastic job. It’s probably the best kids game we own. The kids travel around the board getting into pie fights, upgrading their wagons and collecting trophies.
- Race to the Treasure! and Hoot! Owl, Hoot! – Cooperative games for kids. We played these with Esther when she was 4, and it was a good introduction to winning and losing, and playing according to rigid rules.
- Tsuro – This is a great game for adults too, but it’s on this list because the rules are simple and the game is short. Place tiles, and don’t let your dragon fall off the edge of the map!
Niche games for weirdos
- Vast – Imagine a game where every player has their own very different set of rules to play by, as well as a completely different way to win. One player is playing as the dragon who wants to ascend to the surface and escape the cave. Another player is playing as the knight who wants to kill the dragon. Another player controls a horde of goblins who revere the dragon who want to tear the knight limb from limb. Another player is an immortal thief whose trying to lift a curse. And the last player is literally playing as the cave itself, trying to collapse on all the other players. Lots of pros. The cons are that the rules are hard to teach, because you’re basically teaching five different games to five different players.
- Captain Sonar – Best with 8 players. This is classic battleship with two teams of four, each piloting a submarine trying to corner and torpedo the other. The captain navigates the vessel, while the first mate operates the weapons and systems. The engineer makes sure the engine doesn’t explode, and the radio operator is listening in on the other submarine’s transmissions, trying to pinpoint it’s location. I’ve played this game 19 times, and It’s always a blast.
- KeyForge – Dueling collectable card game. Similar to other games, except instead of trading individual cards, each deck must stay together. The only reason this is on the list is that I hope someone else gets into the game and comes to play with me.
- Twilight Imperium (4th Edition) – The last game I played took 11 hours. It was glorious. Think giant space epic where alien species are battle for control of the galaxy. Lots of diplomacy and bargaining. So. much. content!
- Power Grid – Everybody’s dream as a kid was to grow up to operate an electrical grid for the continental U.S., right? This game is a neat economic adventure. Really well put together. Set up like ticket to ride, but built quite a lot deeper than that. Not everybody’s cup o’ tea, but I really like it.
- Dead of Winter – For those interested in a cooperative zombie survival game with some neat decision-making and item search mechanics. In about 40% of the games there’s a secret hidden traitor to the group. That possibility puts everyone on edge and makes it hard to fully trust anyone.
- Warp’s Edge – This game’s actually a solo board game. You’re flying this spaceship that has the ability to rewind time any time it’s destroyed, and you’re trying to figure out how to survive the fleet of enemy ships that keep attacking. My wife and I actually play this together and try to beat each level as a team.
Games not to buy this year
- Apples to Apples – It’s the worst game of all time. Don’t do it. And don’t buy any of the 872 clones of this game too. (I’m looking at you Cards Against Humanity.)
- Bgstats app – Hands down my favorite app on my phone. Keeps track of every play in a huge database that spits out beautiful charts and graphs. Because of this app, I’m more likely to remember the great games I own, and choose the right game for each occasion. Totally free, but the paid expansions are worth it. Apple and android.
- Card Sleeves – If you like a game, you should take care of it. Sleeves help cards last longer. I’ve got about a dozen of our games sleeved. Dominion, Fox in the Forest, KeyForge, DC Deckbuilding are all protected against spills and general wear and tear. Make sure you get the right size sleeve for the specific card you’re sleeving.
- BoardGameGeek – A massive database of every board game that’s ever been created, along with reviews, suggestions, rule clarifications, downloadables, photos, average playtimes… it’s got everything. This is really helpful when you’re trying to get a feel for whether a game is right for you.
As always, the best gift is to actually play with the board gamer in your life. So give me, I mean, them… a call!