The best board games are brilliant for forgetting your worries and focusing on time with family or friends. But there are mountains out there so it's hard to know which one to choose. For this reason, we've collated a list of our favourite games around. Our list has games that need strategy, logic, creativity and luck – just pick which takes your fancy.
First, the best board games for adults (which all need two players or more), then the best board games for families, and finally the best board games for kids. It's also worth remembering that many 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
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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.
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.
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
Cranium has got it all. A mix of Pictionary (the drawing-based guessing game found below), Charades and... making things out of dough, the players pair up and embark on each task depending on which square they land on. Basically, you get a clue and have to express the answer through those mediums (with some singing thrown in for good measure). Your partner has to guess the answer, too, of course. The great thing is, there's a range of skills involved so if your drawing isn't up to scratch, you can rely on your model making or singing (and vice versa).
Yes, the box says 16 and up, but we think this game could easily be played with younger kids if they played alongside an adult – and those who can read the clues themselves could play without too much help. Cranium is tremendous fun and we love it.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.