Retire the classics for these innovative board games.
We live in a Board game golden age, but sometimes it’s hard to take a chance and dedicate the time to learning a new one when there are so many classics that have remained popular for many decades. Given the sheer number of Board Games available today, the endless options often lead us back to a familiar game of Monopoly, Clue, Battleship or any number of staples in our storage closets. Maybe this is the year to break that pattern.
Rather than playing the same board games over and over again, here are 12 great contemporary board games to add to the mix.
1. Codenames (2-8 Players)
Codenames is Available on Amazon
From Czech Games Edition, Codenames is a party game for up to eight players (it works best with at least four). You’ll spread 25 codename cards (out of 200) in a five-by-five grid, each displaying one word. Each team designates a Spymaster to give clues. Using a Battleship-esque grid card that shows the location of the cards for each team, the Spymasters give one-word clues that relate to one or more of their spy locations. For instance, if the Spymaster wants their teammate to choose “Lemon,” they could say, “Sour.” Codenames is particularly exciting because of the chance that, instead of uncovering their own spies, a teammate may misinterpret a clue and uncover one of the other team’s spies. There are also innocent-bystander spaces that automatically end a team’s turn when uncovered, and a hidden assassin that, if guessed, results in defeat at any point in the game. Codenames is easy to learn and combines elements of charades, Pictionary and Battleship to create a wordplay game fit for family get-togethers.
2. Forged in Steel (2-4 Players)
Available at Knight Works Games
Forged in Steel, which received $20k in crowdfunding via Kickstarter, is a card-battling building simulator that tasks up to four players with building a thriving city in early 20th-century Colorado. Each player represents a prominent family trying to build houses and commercial units across five neighborhoods around town. Forged in Steel thrives because of the intricate directions on drawn cards which can either lead to direct properties or inflict status effects, such as increased votes for the upcoming mayoral election. Yep, along with building properties, players compete in electoral races and bring in new immigrants to settle on their properties. The game is decided by points awarded at the end of each round. It takes a few goes to fully understand the keys to success, but Forged in Steel has consummate and rewarding depth for attentive city builders.
3. The Blood of an Englishman (2 Players)
The Blood of an Englishman is Available on Amazon
Inspired by the classic story “Jack and the Beanstalk,” The Blood of an Englishman pits two players against one another, each racing for a different goal to ultimately achieve victory. One player is designated the Giant while the other plays as Jack. The Giant must sort through Fee Fi Fo Fum cards. Meanwhile, Jack is on a mission to sprout three beanstalks in order to steal the Golden Goose, the Singing Harp and a heaping pot of gold. The Blood of an Englishman is one of the best two-person board games on the market, thanks to its straightforward nature and deceptive depth found in the arrangement of cards.
4. Pandemic Legacy (2-4 Players)
Pandemic Legacy is Available on Amazon
A long-form cooperative campaign game, Pandemic Legacy is meant to be played over up to two dozen sessions. The basic premise of Pandemic is that you and your teammates (up to four players) are on a mission to eradicate the four plagues around the world before they spread into a full-fledged pandemic. Each turn, players can take one of four actions. They may travel, build medical and research facilities, treat diseases, trade cards with another player or dedicate time to finding a cure for one of the diseases. Two new cards are added to each player’s hand after a turn, and they can produce either positive or negative effects. Pandemic Legacy is broken down into months, each with specific objectives to complete before moving on. Pandemic Legacy stands out because the entire fabric of the game can change as it carries on. You may find yourself writing on cards or even physically tearing them apart. Players gain new abilities, both good and bad, throughout — and, yes, you can also succumb to the pandemic.
5. Ticket to Ride (2-5 Players)
Ticket to Ride is Available on Amazon
Extremely simplistic but incredibly fun, Ticket to Ride is all about expanding your railway routes across North America. Players take turns picking up cards that represent different train cards that gain more precious railroad track ownership. The added Destination Ticket cards introduce goals like connecting cities and bonus points provided for lengthiest routes. The game board is beautiful, and the little multicolored train car pieces make the game tactically engaging for kids as young as eight. Ticket to Ride is a perfect game for the whole family.
6. Mole Rats in Space (2-4 Players)
Mole Rats in Space is Available on Amazon
A spin on Chutes and Ladders, Mole Rats in Space is a cooperative game in which players take the roles of mole rats on a desperate race to exit a research station before it’s too late. See, snakes have invaded the station and mole rats want nothing to do with those slithering creatures. Each turn, players draw a card and follow the instructions, whether to move, move a snake or add another snake to the game board. If you land on a ladder, you advance one step closer to your escape pod, but if you land on a chute, you slide down and lose progress. An added level of depth comes with rules for handling snakes. If you land on one, you must go back to the beginning of the game. If you land on a snake twice, that second snakebite kills your little mole rat permanently. There’s also a risk that you land on a chute that sends you barreling out of the space station, causing an automatic loss. It’s a step up in complexity from Chutes and Ladders, with the added benefit of letting kids practice their reading while drawing cards.
7. Scythe (1-5 Players)
Scythe is Available on Amazon
Described as an engine-building game set in an alternate history following the first great war in 1920s Europa, Scythe puts players in the role of faction leader in pursuit of conquering and expanding territories. In Scythe, players are tasked with adding new troops, bringing in villages, erecting buildings and acquiring resources. Each player starts at a different spot on the board with an assortment of resources and a goal only they know. The most intriguing part about Scythe is that, unlike many board games, it revolves almost solely around skill, besides encounter cards that dictate your interactions when meeting a new set of citizens. You can battle opponents with your own resources and technology, but no player is ever eliminated. On top of that, Scythe is a constantly moving experience that limits downtime thanks to its bevy of available actions and plotting for each player. As you progress, if you play intelligently, you will continue to be more efficient in your engine-building and expansion efforts, which ramps up the fun and suspense as the experience goes on.
8. Captain Sonar (2-8 Players)
Captain Sonar is Available on Amazon
An amplified Battleship, Captain Sonar pits two teams against one another in a race to destroy the other’s submarine. Each submarine has four specific jobs, but if you have fewer than eight players, one player or more can double up on jobs during a single game. Captain Sonar uses only dry-erase markers and large sheets of included diagrams to write and mark moves. In this devilishly complex game, players are trying to figure out where the enemy’s submarine is located by hearing the captain’s commands. Players use a process of elimination to deduce where an opponent’s submarine could be. While Captain Sonar can be played in a standard turn-based format, it’s at its best when played in real time. It’s chaotic and fun and requires smart teamwork.
9. Star Wars: Rebellion (2-4 Players)
Star Wars Rebellion is Available on Amazon
If you have Star Wars fever, Star Wars: Rebellion is the game for you. The Galactic Empire squares off against the Rebel Alliance in a game that includes 150+ miniature troops and vehicles to command across two spacious game boards. Since one team plays as the Rebels and the other as the Empire, their objectives are different. Empire players need to find the Rebels’ base and destroy it, while the Rebels need to persuade citizens across the Galaxy to join their cause to take down the Empire. All sorts of microwars evolve throughout the game, giving players secondary objectives to handle while en route to winning the global battle. Star Wars: Rebellion is fittingly epic in scale and presentation and comes in as the Star Wars franchise’s best board game.
10. Quadropolis (2-4 Players)
Quadropolis is Available on Amazon
Another city-building game, Quadropolis pits players against one another in a race to see who can build the grandest metropolis in four rounds. Players compete for parks, shops and other public buildings. At the start of each round, players must first lay out tiles on a five-by-five grid, their quantity depending on the round. Using a separate city board grid, players match up the number of spaces based on the chosen placement of the tiles. After a tile is claimed, it’s replaced by a figure that equates to a certain score. Your goal is to maximize your score throughout the four rounds by moving figures to create larger buildings, shopping centers, factories and more. Quadropolis works so well because it’s easy to grasp on the surface, but when you really get into it, building a thriving metropolis takes the upmost strategy.
11. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (2-4 Players)
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is Available on Amazon
This cooperative deck-building game set in J.K. Rowling’s majestic world of Harry Potter asks players to ward off evil once again lurking at Hogwarts. The game is best played with four people, because each one takes the role of a prominent Harry Potter hero — Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville. Each character has their own deck of cards, which in turn builds up resources to eliminate incoming threats. Cards can add health, teach spells and give heroes magical items to benefit them in their journey. Our heroes must work together by building decks that complement the rest of the team’s in order to rid Hogwarts of nefarious beings. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is the most impressive of the many board games based on Rowling’s magical phenomenon.
12. Terraforming Mars (1-5 Players)
Terraforming Mars is Available on Amazon
Terraforming Mars, a sci-fi epic board game set in the 2400s, has players engage in a simultaneously cooperative and competitive battle to make Mars habitable. Each player takes on the role of a corporation tasked with completing projects that lead to stabilizing temperature, oxygen and ocean levels. Once these conditions are met, the game ends. But the process for getting there is complex and riddled with many big decisions. Players collect cards by buying them with their net Terraform Rating, which also serves as currency. Each card details a project that costs a certain number of credits to complete. The game is split into generational time gaps (terraforming takes time), and rounds are split into four unique categories that force players to take different actions en route to their end goal. Players must strategize to decide which projects are worth their time and currency. Terraforming Mars is one of the best sci-fi board games available due to its beautiful presentation and sizable depth.
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