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The best board games of 2021

The best board games can be a marvellous way to forget your troubles and enjoy quality time with friends and loved ones. And given that many of us have extra time on our hands right now, it's a great opportunity to do so.

But with thousands on the market, which should you choose? In this article, we list the very best board games available today. We'll start with the best board games for adults, which are all playable with two players or more, move on to the best board games for families, and round things off with the best board games for kids. Also note that a lot of the board games suggested for adults and families also have children's versions available.

For more fun ideas to fill your time, also see our best Lego sets for adults and best jigsaw puzzles or if you want to get into photography this year, then our best cameras post can get you started.   

Best board games for adults

Best board games for adults

Board game based on world map and playing cardscb badge

(Image credit: Hasbro)

01. Risk

The best strategy-based board game

Specifications
Age rating: 10+
Number of players: 2-6
Skills needed: Strategy, tactics, negotiation
Setup time: 5-15 minutes
Playing time: 1-8 hours
Reasons to buy
+Intellectually stimulating +Educational 
Reasons to avoid
-Rules a little complicated -Games can run long

Feeling impotent in the face of recent world events? Then give your ego a boost by playing the classic strategy game of Risk, in which the aim is nothing less than global domination. 

Risk is played on a map of the world, divided into 42 territories, which are in turn grouped into six continents. You get counters representing an army to place around the board, and as you take it in turns to roll the dice, you try to capture territories from other players. There’s a fair amount of luck involved then (just like life) but play also demands a high level of strategy, as you form and dissolve alliances with other players in your attempt to dominate the planet. 

Games can take several hours, so Risk is not ideal for a quick meetup or a family activity, unless your kids are remarkably patient. But if you really want to delve deep with a board game, and have lots of hours to fill, it’s highly recommended.

Birds' eye view of people playing Pandemic board gamecb badge

(Image credit: Z-Man Games)

02. Pandemic

The best board game for co-operative play

Specifications
Age rating: 10+
Number of players: 2-4
Skills needed: Tactics, cooperation, logic, logistics
Setup time: 10 minutes
Playing time: 45 minutes
Reasons to buy
+Timely  +Educational +Co-operative nature
Reasons to avoid
-Learning curve

While Pandemic was released back in 2008, it couldn’t have become more relevant in the last 12 months. But we’re not just suggesting playing it as psychotherapy: it’s actually a super-fun game. 

Pandemic is based on the idea that four diseases have broken out in the world, each threatening to wipe out a region. You play as either a dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher, operations expert, contingency planner, or quarantine specialist. Unlike the other games on this list, you don’t compete against the other players but co-operate with them, in order to fight the pandemic. In other words, either everyone wins, or everyone loses.

That might sound weird: surely you need competitive spirit for a game to be fun? The answer is, this still exists, because you’re all competing against the pandemic. And because winning is such a challenge – it's tricky, but not impossible – you’ll keep coming back to this inspired board game.

Contents of Who Wants to be a Millionaire board gamecb badge

(Image credit: Pressman Games)

03. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The best quiz-based board game

Specifications
Age rating: 12+
Number of players: 2+
Skills needed: General knowledge
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 1 hour
Reasons to buy
+Familiar format+Suits range of ages+Suits range of abilities
Reasons to avoid
-Can get repetitive

This official Who Wants to be a Millionaire? board game replicates the globally recognised TV quiz pretty much exactly, giving you the chance to discover how far you’d get if you were actually on the show. No, you don’t win an actual million... but perhaps surprisingly, that makes it no less tense or enjoyable. 

Quiz based board games can be divisive, quickly separating your friends into those who are great at general knowledge and those who aren’t. With this game, however, no one has to feel left out, because there are easy questions at the start of each round which most people can answer. And even if they can’t, there are the ‘Ask the Audience’, ‘50/50’ and ‘Phone a friend’ options to keep the momentum going. 

The best board games for families

Best board games for families

Contents of Pictionary game box

(Image credit: Milton Bradley)

04. Pictionary

The best drawing-based board game

Specifications
Age rating: 8+
Number of players: 4
Skills needed: Communication, sketching, imagination, lateral thinking, image recognition, vocabulary
Setup time: 5-10 minutes
Playing time: 30 minutes-1 hour
Reasons to buy
+Boosts communication skills +Often hilarious +Simple to play 
Reasons to avoid
-Timed element can be stressful

Pictionary is basically charades with drawing. You divide into pairs, then one player has to get the other to say a specific word by quickly sketching it out. Sounds simple, right? But given that you’re playing against the clock, it can be super-challenging. And the more hurried your sketches are, the more unrecognisable they get, which often leads to hilarity.

Already being playing Pictionary for years? Why not reinvigorate your love of the game with the new Pictionary Air, which gives it an AR (augmented reality) twist? Basically, you use a digital pen to draw in the air, and your sketches appear over on live video of yourself. That might sound like overcomplicating things, but in practice it’s brilliant fun.

Three hands holding monopoly counters

(Image credit: Monopoly)

05. Monopoly Classic board game

The best business-centred board game

Specifications
Age rating: 8+
Number of players: 2-6
Skills needed: Strategy, mathematics, financial management, resource management
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 20 minutes-3 hours
Reasons to buy
+Easy to learn +Helps you understand finance +Fun alternative editions
Reasons to avoid
-Lengthy playing time

Monopoly is a board game where you battle to become a property tycoon. At first, it seems quite simple, as you roll dice to move around a board, and use your limited funds to buy buildings and collect rent along the way. But at a certain point, this starts to morph into a battle for economic survival against your co-players, and things start getting personal as you try to force each other into bankruptcy. 

Along the way, you’ll learn more about how the real world of finance works than any number of BBC documentaries can convey. And as long as you keep your emotions in check, you’ll find it a surprisingly intense and entertaining ride.

Familiar with Monopoly and looking for a new twist? There are more than a thousand variations on the original game, from Monopoly National Parks to Monopoly Fortnite. But our current fave has to be the Monopoly Cheater’s Edition. This makes official what players have always known: that certain family members cheat when no one is looking. So in this special version, it's actually encouraged; although if you get caught, you'll end up in jail. There are even plastic handcuffs supplied for convicted fraudsters!

Contents of Tension board game

(Image credit: Cheatwell Games)

06. Tension

The best list-making board game

Specifications
Age rating: 7+
Number of players: 2+
Skills needed: Vocabulary, general knowledge, lateral thinking
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 20 minutes-1 hour
Reasons to buy
+No specialist knowledge needed +Wide age range+Good for travel 
Reasons to avoid
-Timed element can be stressful

Tension is a fun thinking game that everyone in the family can at least have a good crack at. On each round, players are given a category, such as ‘Things that are Yellow’ or ‘Famous Artists’, and have to think of as many examples as possible against the clock. There are 10 examples on the other side of each card, and you get a point for every one you match. The joy of this game is that if you do badly at one category, you’re just as likely to do well at another, so it keeps the adrenaline and competitive spirit flowing nicely.

People playing Taboo

(Image credit: Hasbro)

07. Taboo

The best word-based board game

Specifications
Age rating: 12+
Number of players: 4+
Skills needed: Vocabulary, grammar, wordplay, lateral thinking
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 30 minutes-1 hour
Reasons to buy
+Fun and challenging +Often hilarious +Good for travel
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult for younger children

In Taboo you have to describe words to other players in your pair or team without saying a series of banned words. For example, if the target word was ‘wedding’, you’d be forbidden to say ‘marriage’, ‘bride’ ‘groom’, ‘nuptials’ or ‘honeymoon’, as well as derivatives such as ‘marry’ or ‘bridal’. So it really forces you to get inventive with communication. For instance, in our example you might say: "It's somewhere that confetti gets thrown". Or you might look for more personal shortcuts (such as "Your friend Tim did this last summer"), which can be a nice family bonding experience. 

Overall, Taboo poses an enjoyable challenge that everyone can have a go at, whatever their age, because it involves no specialist knowledge; just skill and imagination. Plus calling out players when they accidentally say the banned words (which happens a lot) keeps you engaged and involved, even when it isn't your turn.

The best board games for kids

Best board games for kids

Plush dice and colourful cards

(Image credit: ThinkFun)

08. Think Fun Roll and Play

Baby's first board game

Specifications
Age rating: 18 months-5
Number of players: 2+
Skills needed: None
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 20-30 minutes
Reasons to buy
+Simple to play+Learning opportunities+Non-competitive
Reasons to avoid
-Unsuitable for older kids

Here’s something you might not have thought existed: a board game suitable for children as young as 18 months. Billed as "your child’s first board game", Think Fun Roll and Play has no real competition or winning, but it does introduce little ones to the mechanics of board games, helps them learn new things, and is a lot of fun. 

You get a big plush ‘dice’ with colours rather than numbers. Your child rolls the dice and picks up a card of the same colour. You then follow the simple instruction together, such as ‘find something blue’ or ‘bark like a dog’. 

This is a great way to engage very small kids and get them learning at the same time. And while each age group approaches it in a different way, even four- and five-year-olds will find a lot of enjoyment in this game.

Peppa Pig figures, hill and cards

(Image credit: Ravensburger)

09. Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle Game

A great introduction to competitive board games

Specifications
Age rating: 4+
Number of players: 2-4
Skills needed: Basic logic
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 15-20 minutes
Reasons to buy
+Simple to play+Teaches counting+It's Peppa!
Reasons to avoid
-Unsuitable for older kids

Every young child seems to love Peppa Pig, and this Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle game offers a nice mix of chance and skill that will keep two- to four-year-olds engaged and entertained. 

Each player has three George Pig figures that you move up the supplied hill, depending on which card you pick. That’s the chance element: the skill comes in choosing whether to advance the current player or a different one, in order to avoid falling through the holes and losing your piece. Colourful, beautifully designed and very easy to play, a typical game will take around 15-20 minutes. 

Four children playing Articulate for Kids

(Image credit: Drummond Park)

10. Articulate for Kids

The best word-based board game for kids

Specifications
Age rating: 6+
Number of players: 4+
Skills needed: Vocabulary, wordplay
Setup time: 5 minutes
Playing time: 20-40 minutes
Reasons to buy
+Educational +Wide age range +Adults will enjoy too 
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult for under-6s

Articulate is a word-based game along similar lines to Taboo, and this kids version is specially designed to be played by 6- to 12-year-olds (you can buy the original adult version here). It’s played in either teams or pairs, and players have to describe words from six different categories to their team members as quickly as possible. You're not allowed to say the word itself, or a derivative (so for 'swim', you can’t say 'swimming'). Nor can you use a word that rhymes with it, say which letter it starts with. 

This is our favourite word-based board game for kids. Because not only does it help build up their literacy and language skills, but it is genuinely fun, and strikes a good balance between being too easy (boring) and too difficult (frustrating) for the age group in question.

Plastic cups, dice and timer

(Image credit: Gutter Games)

11. Beat That! The Bonkers Battle of Wacky Challenges

The best board game to get kids moving around

Specifications
Age rating: 9+
Number of players: 2-8
Skills needed: Motor skills
Setup time: 10-15 minutes
Playing time: 1 hour
Reasons to buy
+Engages physical skills +Huge number of challenges +Little learning curve
Reasons to avoid
-Kids may get overexcited

Got restless kids and want to stretch your family physically and mentally? Beat That! features 160 cards setting fun challenges that everyone playing has to do, in just 60 seconds. Each player has to bet on their own ability to complete each task, most of which involve the supplied cups, balls, dice and chopsticks. For example, one card tells you to bounce a ball over three cups and get it to land in the fourth. 

Ultimately it’s the imaginative and varied nature of the challenges, combined with the fast turnaround, that really keeps this game flowing. People of all ages can play, and it's the kind of simple and honest fun that makes you wonder why we ever need digital devices to entertain us.

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Tom May
Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.
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