Board games may seem old fashioned in this digital day and age. After all, millions of people turn first to their electronic devices when it comes to playing with friends or family. But there’s nothing quite like sitting down at a table and enjoying a group activity in person. And as it turns out, there are so many fun, hilarious, and challenging new board games hitting the shelves each and every year. If you’re in search of something new to try rather than the obligatory classics, StudyFinds set out to find the best board games these days, according to the experts.
Speaking of those obligatory classics, there’s perhaps good reason to stay away from them. One recent study actually finds that one of the best board games of all time may wind up causing more problems than fun. Yep, a survey shows that Monopoly leads to so much arguing and aggravation, that many people have banned it from their game night selection! Typical antics include someone quitting because they’re losing (46%), someone accusing another player of cheating (44%), and two or more players getting into an argument (44%).
That said, there are also great benefits to playing board games, research shows. A 2019 study reports that playing board and card games regularly may help your mental performance in the real game of life as you grow older. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say that participants who reported routinely playing non-digital games performed better on thinking and memory tests in their 70s.
To add to that study, a report from the American Academy of Neurology concludes that older adults who regularly participate in card or board games may reduce the risk of dementia. Scientists conclude that such brain-stimulating activities can actually prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as five years.
Similarly, a game night can make for a great date night for couples. Another study finds that people experience a high from the so-called “love hormone” oxytocin when enjoying a game with their partner.
So all that said, which are the best board games available right now? StudyFinds visited 12 “expert” websites to see which games were most recommended. Here are the seven games we found to be the most popular according to the experts.
The List: Best Board Games, According To Experts
1. Pandemic Legacy
The name sounds like the last thing many of us would associate with fun. After all, aren’t we all trying to get past the pandemic finally? Well, as it turns out, Pandemic Legacy is one game that was on nearly every list we came across.
“We know this one is a bit tongue-in-cheek given the global health climate, but Pandemic has always been considered one of the best board games when it comes to applying strategy to an imagined scenario,” writes TechRadar.
So what makes this game so fun?
“Each player takes on a specific role to limit the spread of four viruses across the globe and research a cure. But then things … change. As you play more games in the season, the viruses mutate, rules change, cities rise and fall, and new character options and abilities (and penalties) come into play,” explains New York Times’ Wirecutter. “Each session is different from the one before because game modifications are permanent and carry over between sessions. The continuous gameplay creates the feeling of a coherent, evolving story, and we were always curious (and terrified) to find out what would happen next.”
Adds Gamespot: “Pandemic Legacy is one of the best legacy games you can buy, and it currently has three seasons available, including a recent prequel set during the Cold War, Pandemic Legacy Season 0. Each game functions as a standalone campaign, so there’s no need to have played the others first, though we recommend starting with Season 1.”
Gloomhaven is one of the most popular board games in the world, ranking number one overall by Board Game Geek, and for good reason.
“The current king of the board gaming pile got that way through an ingenious bit of genre-blending. If you like old-fashioned dungeon crawls with a strong narrative, well, the 95-scenario campaign of fantasy adventure has you covered. If you’re a sucker for tactical combat then its cunning, card-driven face-offs against a staggering variety of foes will thrill you,” says IGN.
The game will be especially appealing to people who like fantasy games or long-winded adventures with no shortage of outcomes, twists, and turns.
“You’ll take on the role of an ambitious adventurer, journeying across the titular city of Gloomhaven and its surrounding fantastical land, with a party of fellow players,” explains Wargamer. “Cleave your way through dank dungeons, dense with bandits, monsters, and other horrors, while you journey through the game’s branching narrative campaign. The world is flavorsome and persistent, allowing you and your buddies to lose yourselves in its adventure.”
Need a great choice for game night with a group of friends? Codenames will surely be a hit if you’ve got at least four people in the room.
“Contact your team’s agents only by their codenames before the other team does, all while avoiding the assassins. Spymasters are the only ones who know which cards are part of their teams, so they give their team members one-word clues that point to several codenames on the table. Then, the team members guess the correct cards before the other team figures them out,” writes Refinery29.
“Codenames is super easy to learn, and the variety of codename combinations available keeps each round interesting,” says GameSpot.
Don’t worry, it may sound somewhat complex, but there are lots of laughs to be had here. Adds Wargamer: “Its scope for silliness quickly spirals, as you overreach your clue-making in daring plays that might result in catastrophe – or sheer brilliance. Test how nebulous you can be, and just what ingenious linkages you might be able to draw.
4. Betrayal At House On The Hill
Just because it’s not Halloween doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy have a regular taste of haunted house spookiness. Betrayal At House On The Hill will likely be a blast for anyone who finds fright simply fabulous.
“Fans of horror stories will adore Betrayal at House on the Hill, where three to six players explore a haunted mansion, uncovering its secrets and hidden rooms. At first they’ll work together, but midway through the game, someone will reveal themselves as a – gasp! – traitor! The turncoat will join the dark side while the rest of the team has to figure out how to beat their former ally,” explains Engadget.
Boasts Wirecutter: “Betrayal at House on the Hill is what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft wrote a Scooby-Doo episode and turned it into a party game. Each player is assigned a character with different traits, including sanity, knowledge, might, and speed. As they explore a spooky mansion, they collect items and experience wacky, atmospheric events, from running into spiders to playing games with a creepy child who gets aggressive with his toys.”
“Every game has a completely different setup, so you never play the same scenario twice,” notes Refinery29.
If fantasy isn’t in the cards for you, how about the outdoors? For the more realistic game-players, Wingspan proves to be a highly embraced board game for reviewers.
“Perhaps you have a loved one who wouldn’t mind playing tabletop games, but isn’t into nerdy themes like fighting monsters or defeating zombies? Or maybe he or she is simply a fan of nature? Then Wingspan could very well be the gateway board game for them,” says Engadget.
Birds may not sound like the most exciting of premises for game night, but reviewers insist this game is both fun and challenging.
“In Wingspan, you play as bird-watchers looking to bring the best birds to your different habitats. To add a bird card to one of your four habitats, you have to pay various costs, but it pays off–the more birds you add to a certain habitat, the more powerful your actions will become. You’ll also get special abilities and perks from the birds you have in play, which adds to the fun problems that test your problem-solving skills,” explains Gamespot.
“While the number of pieces and amount of rules may seem a bit daunting for some, Wingspan has become immensely popular, even among beginner gamers. There are several expansions to add more variety and complexity, too,” adds Insider.
If you’re looking for a game that won’t take too long to teach and won’t lead to the level of agitation that Monopoly might, Azul could be the game for your family or group of friends.
“Lightly competitive and easy to learn, this pretty game is great if you like to have conversations while playing. You line up tiles in rows on your personal board, gaining points based on how many other tiles they’re touching. But you only want to grab the correct amount of tiles from the shared piles in the center of the table, or you’ll lose points,” explains Insider. “There’s strategy involved, but Azul is a quick and fun game without a lot of stress. It’s also a great option for two players, and you can play a game in around 30 minutes.”
“Azul is a great game to keep around for chill game nights. This tile-laying game brings the history of decor to life,” writes Polygon. “Azul’s simple rules, straightforward turns, and endless strategy make it a fan favorite. Players of all ages enjoy the pattern building, plus it’s easy to hold a conversation and keep the game going.”
Sorry youngsters, but reviewers say Scythe is best suited for teens and adults due to its complexity. That said, it ranked highly across many of the reviewers we checked out.
“Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor,” says Board Game Geek. “In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction’s stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.
Though Wirecutter reviewers say it took them six hours to figure out the game on their first try, they say each game tended to last about 90 minutes to two hours afterward. And the patience from their first attempt at it was well worth it. “Scythe has taken over weekly game nights and inspired a dedicated group chat for discussing strategies, making and sharing memes, and planning impromptu sessions,” their review notes.
Adds Polygon: “While the art and world-building are incredible, the gameplay itself is nearly flawless. Players will slowly upgrade their empire in subtle, asymmetrical ways that will set them apart from the competition. Rarely is force required to win the game, as Scythe’s finely wrought gears can be turned from just about any direction.”
- Ark Nova
- Sushi Go
- Digital Trends
- Tech Radar
- Board Game Geek
- Good Housekeeping
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.