The Very Best Board Games for Groups, Families, and Couples — According to Experts Who Know

updated Dec 17, 2019
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Playing games is more than just — wait for it — fun and games. That’s part of why board games and puzzles are experiencing a renaissance. They invite creative and strategic thinking, teamwork and cooperation, and of course, an opportunity to sit down and connect with other people — a welcome break from the usual Netflix/Hulu circuit. 

The hard part is actually picking out a game among a seemingly endless sea of options. 

Whether you’re planning a get-together in your home or you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, look no further than these expert-picked favorites, curated by category to simplify the process. 

Popular Board Games

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Catan

How to play: In a competition for Victory Points, players control their own civilization and try to spread across a modular hex board as they gain and trade natural resources like wheat, bricks, sheep, ore, and lumber. But watch out: Another player might cut off your road, and you never know when the robber might steal some of your gains.

Says an expert: “Settlers of Catan, now simply called Catan, is a great family game, and it offers a wide range of expansions and spin-offs,” says Greg May, the owner and founder of The Uncommons, Manhattan’s first board game cafe. “Few games offer the same range of strategies and require the level of player-to-player trading.”

Buy: Catan, $25 at Walmart

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Ticket to Ride

How to play: Ticket To Ride challenges players to build railroad routes across a map (America or Europe traditionally, though others are available) as they collect train cards and routes. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins! While the object is to earn as many points as possible by completing the longest routes, additional points come to those who fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities and to the player who builds the longest continuous railroad.

Says an expert: “Ticket to Ride is also a great family game,” says May. “It takes less than an hour, and everyone will want to play again.

Buy: Ticket to Ride, $27 at Walmart

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Carcassonne

How to play: Inspired by the French medieval fortress of the same name, Carcassonne is a tile-laying game where players fill in the countryside around the fortified city. Players choose from tiles that depict cities, roads, monasteries, and fields, and each new tile creates an ever-expanding board on which players can add their followers, scoring points by having followers on features as they’re completed. Make the most strategic placements of tiles and followers, and you’ll win the game!

Says an expert: “Carcassonne helped reinvigorate the “tile laying game,” taking some of the concepts of dominoes but allowing players to build a city,” says May. “Everyone is engaged at all times, and every game is quick (45 minutes or so) and different.

Buy: Carcassonne, $28

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Taboo

How to play: The object of Taboo, a fast-paced race against the timer, is simple. Get your team to say the “guess” word without using any of the Taboo words for clues. To add to the fun (and keep you honest), an opponent watches over your shoulder and will buzz you if you slip up.

Says an expert: Laura Schocker, Apartment Therapy’s Editor-in-Chief and board game enthusiast, has loved this one since college. “Taboo is my jam — it’s a fun party game and ice breaker,” she says.

Buy: Taboo, $11

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Trivial Pursuit

How to play: In Trivial Pursuit, players move around the game board as they answer questions from six categories: geography, history, art and literature, science and nature, and sports and leisure. When you land on a “category headquarters” space, your correct answer will earn you a colored wedge. The first one to collect six different wedges wins — only, of course, after correctly answering one final question!

Says an expert: Even if you’re not a huge fan of trivia, you’ll get a kick out of this timeless party favorite. “I’m not really a trivia buff, and yet I love playing Trivial Pursuit — it’s so classic and satisfying,” says Schocker. 

Buy: Trivial Pursuit, $12

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Monopoly

How to play: Another one of Schocker’s all-time favorites. To get “rich” and bankrupt your opponents, collect property colors sets to build houses and, if you’re lucky, even upgrade to a hotel. The more properties you own, the more rent you can charge other players who land there!

Says an expert: “People love to hate on Monopoly for being an endless game of chance, but I think it can have some real strategy, particularly if you throw some house rules in,” says Schocker. “I used to play to-be-continued games with my grandfather and my sister for days as a kid, and there’s nothing that stirs up nostalgia faster than grabbing the dog token.”

Buy: Monopoly, $12 $8.99

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Azul

How to play: An award-winning tile-placement game in which players compete for the highest score by claiming and arranging tiles on their board, Azul is equal parts competitive and aesthetically pleasing. Take turns making your board beautiful and your opponents despair!

Says an expert: “Surprisingly brutal for an abstract strategy game with no combat, this gem won awards for a reason,” says Jordan Nelsen, librarian at Kingmakers Board Game Parlour in Columbus, Ohio.

Buy: Azul, $27

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Villainous

How to play: Become your favorite Disney villain and plan schemes methodically to rid the land of Disney protagonists before other players. Once you choose your villain, you’ll play within your own story, but you’ll also interact with other players (and thwart your opponents from reaching their own objectives!).

Says an expert: “Villainous is a very thematic, mean, and fun game, though it’s more complex than most think when they first discover it,” says Nelsen.

Buy: Villainous, $27

Quick and Simple Board Games

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Ghost Blitz

How to play: In Ghost Blitz, players compete to grab items off the table: a white ghost, a green bottle, a gray mouse, a blue book, and a red chair. Each card in the deck shows pictures of two objects, with one or both objects colored the wrong way. With all players playing at the same time, someone reveals a card, then players try to grab the right object. If one object is colored correctly — say, a green bottle and a red mouse — then players need to grab that correctly colored object. If both objects are colored incorrectly, then players look for the object and color not represented. The first player to grab the correct object keeps the card, and whoever collects the most cards wins.

Says an expert: “A speed puzzle game that can be learned in less than a minute, Ghost Blitz can be played as long as you want,” says Nelsen.

Buy: Ghost Blitz, $15

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Skull

How to play: In this surprisingly gorgeous bluffing game, players hold three rose cards and one skull, then add a card to the pile in front of them and announce a challenge and declare how many cards they will flip. Cards that show a rose are safe, but if you expose your opponent’s hidden skull, you lose one of your own cards. Any player who wins two “bets” wins the game!

Says an expert: Nelsen loves game for the high stakes: “Saturated with bluffing and bidding, you’ll test your tolerance for risk every round,” he says. “Win or lose, it’s such fun to watch the tension and drama play out in this quick-to-learn game.”

Buy: Skull, $20

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Jenga

How to play: Jenga is about as simple (and adrenaline-inducing!) as it gets: Remove a block from the tower without toppling the whole thing over. The plain blocks are great for writing messages, too: Schocker used hers as a “guest book” at her wedding for people to sign.

Says an expert: “And when I find a marked-up set in a bar I always try to add a feminist message to the mix for the next person to find (like “Ask for a raise on Monday!”)” she says. 

Buy: Jenga, $7 at Walmart

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Tenzi

How to play: The basic object of Tenzi is to roll your 10 dice as quickly as you can to get them all to land on the same number. If you’re looking for a new spin on the easy-to-learn game, try it with the “77 Ways to Play Tenzi” expansion pack, where you flip a card that adds a twist to each round, like making a funny sound after every roll.

Says an expert: The game is recommended for ages seven and up, but if you’re over 21, Schocker says it’s even better with an over-21 beverage.

Buy: Tenzi, $25

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Sushi Go

How to play: For a fast-paced, competitive game, try a “pick and pass” card game like Sushi Go, which May says can be played in around 15 minutes. The goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes as they pass by, scoring points for making the most maki rolls or for collecting a full set of sashimi — but be sure to leave room for dessert, or you’ll end up losing points!

Says an expert: While the game is fun for anyone, May says the approachable, appealing artwork makes Sushi Go a great pick for beginners.

Buy: Sushi Go, $7

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Spot It

How to play: The premise of Spot It is pretty basic: Each card features a number of symbols, and each card has exactly one symbol in common with every other card in the deck. If you spot the common symbol first, you win the round. The game lasts about 15 minutes, but each round can be different if you play one of the five mini-games within the set.

Says an expert: Dexterity card games like Spot It don’t just challenge your reflexes; May likes them because they’re also portable and inexpensive, making them great for travel or gifting. Plus, the game is based on visual perception, so no language skills are needed!

Buy: Spot It, $7

2-Player Board Games

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Patchwork

How to play: In this abstract strategy game, players use buttons as currency to purchase patches as they compete to create the best, most beautiful, and high-scoring patchwork quilt on a personal game board.

Says an expert: More than 500 Amazon reviewers give Patchwork close to a five-star rating — and if you like puzzle games like Tetris or have a thing for quilting, Nelsen says you’ll probably enjoy this thoughtful and fun two-player game, too.

Buy: Patchwork, $24

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Santorini

How to play:The first player to build a three-story structure wins Santorini, a strategy and building game ideal for both kids and adults. To start, players use their blocks and builder pieces to move into neighboring spaces on the board. But there’s a twist: Santorini requires increases in difficulty with the addition of extra powers via “god” cards.

Says an expert: With thousands of possibilities and unlimited replay value, each round of Santorini brings a new challenge, which is one of the reasons Nelsen is a fan. “Santorini is a quick-to-learn strategy game that can be played over and over again,” says Nelsen. “Think tic-tac-toe, but actually interesting, fun, and deep, combined with Greek legends.”

Buy: Santorini, $15

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Scrabble

How to play: Scrabble, the classic crossword game, challenges opponents to use their letters to form high-point words on the board. To load up on even more points, place letters on high-scoring premium squares. The key is to know the rules and a few tricks for gaining more points — and, of course, keep a dictionary on hand for disputed words. At the end of the game, the player with the highest score wins.

Says an expert: “Of course, Scrabble is a classic, but it’s one of my favorite date nights: at home on a stormy weekend or even out at a bar (I’m so much fun!),” says Schocker. 

Buy: Scrabble, $13 at Walmart

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Connect 4

How to play: Sure, it’s a great family game, but Connect 4 isn’t just for kids! Taking Tic Tac Toe to the next level, Connect 4 challenges players to be the first to get “four in a row” by dropping colored disks into the grid. Things heat up when you block your opponent if they get too close to a Connect 4!

Says an expert: “This game is total mindless fun,” says Schocker. “Every time I think I nail a good strategy, the next round ends in a stalemate!”

Buy: Connect 4, $6

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Jaipur

How to play: In Jaipur, players take on the roles of two of the city’s most powerful traders seeking to earn their invitation to the maharaja’s court. A blend of strategy and luck, Jaipur is a fast-paced card game that’s equally deep and easy to learn.

Says an expert: May says he often recommends the brand new edition of Jaipur to couples on dates or pals looking for a friendly spar!

Buy: Jaipur, $22

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Quoridor

How to play: Quoridor may look fancy, but the goal of the game, which May says he recommends frequently, is simple: try to reach your opponent’s side of the board with your pawn. On your turn, you either can move your pawn or place a wall to slow down your opponent. Quoridor is similar to chess since players move pawn-shaped pieces across the board, but the wooden fences spice things up, forcing players to think strategically.

Buy: Quoridor, $34

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Hive

How to play: The object of Hive is to totally surround your opponent’s Queen Bee  with insect-themed pieces (which May says move differently, depending on the insect!) while at the same time trying to stop your opponent from doing the same to you. The first player to surround their opponent’s Queen Bee wins! Since Hive is an abstract game that doesn’t have a board, you can take it anywhere.

Buy: Hive, $24

Cult-Favorite Board Games for Adults

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Lords of Waterdeep

How to play: As one of the mask Lords of Waterdeep, the secret rules of the city, players recruit adventurers to go on quests that can earn rewards and increase their influence over the city. The goal is to expand the city by purchasing new buildings that open up new actions on the board, and either hinder or help the other lords by playing Intrigue cards.

Says an expert: “Fans of D&D will recognize the setting and appreciate the theme woven into the game, but any gamer looking for a mid-level strategy game will have a blast with this gem,” says Nelsen.

Buy: Lords of Waterdeep, $33

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Small World

How to play: Small World is a “social war game” in which players vie for conquest and control of a board that’s too small to accommodate everyone. As they pick the right combination of fantasy races and special powers, players must rush to expand their empires at the expense of their opponents. The game requires more than just strategy: Players must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory. 

Says an expert: “Small World is what Risk should have been. It’s all the fun of combat and control without being completely at the mercy of Lady Luck,” says Nelsen. 

Buy: Small World, $35 at Walmart

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Spirit Island

How to play: In this complex, cooperate game, players use their unique spiritual powers to defend their island home from colonizing invaders. Win the game after you work together with other players to destroy all the settlements and cities on the board! 

Says an expert: The cooperative element is part of what makes this game so appealing, says Nelsen: “This game necessitates communication, as it was designed to prevent one player from ‘quarterbacking’ the game and telling everyone what to do,” he says. “Each player has unique abilities and challenges, and you must trust one another to do their part to succeed.”

Buy: Spirit Island, $54 at Walmart

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Biblios

How to play: The point of this game is to take on the role of abbott in a medieval monastery and create the most impressive library collection through two phases: an acquisition round and an auction round.

Says an expert: Schocker is a big fan because it can be played just as easily with two players as four. It’s also fast — average play time is around 30 minutes — which is conducive to multiple games!

Buy: Biblios, $20

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Clans of Caledonia

How to play: Clans of Caledonia is an economic market game set in 19th-century Scotland. Every player becomes a clan at the outset of the game, which sets them up with certain advantages throughout the five rounds of play. If you can maximize your advantages, you get more points (and hopefully win). This game started out as a 2017 kickstarter, and was funded within three hours.

Says an expert: “It’s a little complicated to learn the rules, but once you master them, it’s a fun Settlers alternative,” says Schocker. 

Buy: Clans of Caledonia, $44

Board Games for Kids and Families

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Celestia

How to play: In Celestia, two to four players board an aircraft with a team of adventurers to perform many trips through the cities of Celestia, attempting to be the richest adventurer by collecting the most precious treasures. At the beginning of each round, the trip captain rolls dice to discover challenges and must then play the appropriate cards to continue on the journey and reach the next city. As soon as a player earns treasure worth at least fifty points, the game ends and this player wins.

Says an expert: “A beautiful, light bit of fun with something for everyone: The push-your-luck elements can excite the casual gamer, the more strategically-minded can enjoy playing the odds, and the social gamers get to play games of trust and betrayal,” says Nelsen.

Buy: Celestia, $21

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Dixit

How to play: An imaginative storytelling game, Dixit challenges players to use the images on their cards to bluff their opponents and guess which image matches the story. Every turn, the storyteller calls out a short phrase or word to match their card. Each player will choose the card that most closely matches that phrase, and then everyone must guess which card the storyteller saw when he invented his brief tale. Correctly guess the storyteller’s card, and you’ll move ahead. The greatest total wins the game!

Says an expert: “Each card a work of art, this game mixes beauty with casual competition in an amazing way,” says Nelsen. “Easy and accessible, but still a battle of wits, it’s the perfect mix of styles to fit the whole family.”

Buy: Dixit, $26

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Sorry!

How to play: In this classic family game of strategy and chance, each player gets four pawns to move around the gameboard. Players need to pick a 1 or a 2 card to get a pawn out of the starting area, and then challenge opponents in this classic game of sweet revenge!  Be the first player to get all four pawns to home base to win. 

Says an expert: “I used to play Sorry! with my dad growing up, and sometimes I’ll still grab it from the stack out of nostalgia,” Schocker says. “We used to make up ridiculous song/sayings to go with all of the commands that I can still remember when I’m playing.”

Buy: Sorry!, $7.50

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Scattergories

How to play: If you can think fast under pressure, you’ll love Scattergories, where each player tries to complete a list of prompts (like “things found in the kitchen”) based on a specific letter rolled during the round (L is for “lettuce.”)

Says an expert: “I’m not very good at Scattergories and yet I still love it,” says Schocker. “It’s great for a group because you don’t have to all fit around a table to play.”

Buy: Scattergories, $15

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Apples to Apples

How to play: In Apples to Apples, each player gets seven “Things” cards to pair up with the Judge’s “Description” card. In each round, the judge reads the description — say it’s “Evil” — and every player lays down the card from their hand that matches that description. The judge chooses their favorite “thing” card, and at the end, the player who won the most rounds wins!

Says an expert: Apples to Apples can be silly, but Schocker says it’s especially fun because it’s a great test of how well you can read people. Will the judge choose something funny? Weird? On the nose? “Apples to Apples is one of my favorite family (as long as everyone is over the age of, say, 13) or party games,” she says.

Buy: Apples to Apples, $12

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Experts Pick the Very Best Board Games for Families, Adults, Couples, or Anyone!