There are plenty of good board games. These are the best board games. Specifically, this is our list of the best board games catered towards the kinds of games we especially like as PC gamers. They’re the cream of the crop in nerdy modern tabletop, cleverly designed strategic board games, and delightful miniatures.
The board game business is booming, which means there are tons of great games out there. But it also means it isn’t easy to navigate the dense thicket of hype surrounding modern board games and whatever’s shiny and new. This list combines some of the most exciting new games with some essentials that hold up to years of play.
When we’re looking at these games we’re considering not only that they’re great—smartly designed, possible to learn without an encyclopedia but deep enough to play again and again—but that they’re great with friends.
Board games are a fundamentally multiplayer experience, and though many have fun solo rules, we’ll focus on the multiplayer aspect for our best-of list. We also take into account the quality of the components, the visual design, and whether or not they take up as much physical space as they’re truly worth. (We’re looking at you, Gloomhaven.)
You might also be interested in the best way to get into Warhammer 40,000 via starter sets.
Addictive and tough in equal measure, Pandemic deserves the enduring success that makes it a co-op classic. You take command of experts trying to contain a slew of diseases ravaging the world, but players will need to use their character’s unique abilities in tandem to stave off the apocalypse. Lone wolves won’t last long here; only a team that communicates will survive.
You’ll need to be decisive, too. The goal is to cure those diseases before you run out of time, but it’s an uphill (if fun) battle. Each turn brings more infections with it, and these can quickly spread from city to city in a devastating domino effect. In the meantime, epidemics (where new and previously infected cities are hit even harder) remain hidden within your deck of cards so there’s always the threat of a fresh outbreak looming.
Of all the games we’ve played recently, Betrayal at House on the Hill is the one we keep coming back to. Players take on one of many horror tropes before exploring an eerie mansion room by randomly-selected room. This means you’ll rarely get the same layout twice. That sense of uncertainty is also true of your objectives; Betrayal features 50 varied scenarios to play through.
The way these are selected is brilliantly organic. As you pick your way through abandoned ballrooms and libraries, you’ll uncover events, items, and ‘Omens’ that will eventually lead to staggeringly varied scenarios (known here as ‘Haunts’). The mission you get given will be then decided by how many Omens are in play and where you found them, so you never really know what’s coming next. That’s where the game truly begins; you may be fighting to escape the house as it floods, or perhaps a traitor walks among you. Both sets (survivors and traitors) then have their own secret rules to follow. This results in a tense race to the finish as you work to undermine each other and, hopefully, survive.
Cosmic Encounter is a gold standard for direct-conflict games in any group, simply because you don’t get to pick who you attack. The wormhole opens up each round and you just get thrown at an enemy you didn’t pick, so no purposeful picking on the leader or the weakest link. Each player is an alien race with one of a dizzying array of weird powers, all trying to take over a world in another player’s system. First to take over five foreign worlds wins. Lots and lots of bickering and diplomacy and tense reveals ensue.
The weird alien powers are what really make Cosmic Encounter fun. Every player gets a power that breaks the rules of the game in some strange way. Maybe you can trade your hand of cards with an opponent’s. Maybe you can add ships to a fight after it has already begun. Maybe you can see what your opponent is going to do before they do it. Maybe you win the game under completely different conditions than everyone else. Even with the same players, no two games are ever the same.
An absolute beast of a European-style strategy game, Coimbra has players drafting sets of unique, colored dice and collecting power cards in order to fulfill a variety of conditions. It sounds like a lot of other relatively abstract strategy games, no? The brilliance is in how the moving parts all interact with each other. Cards have powers that activate based on what color dice you choose in a round. Dice then have effects based on what color they are but can cost more based on the number that was rolled.
They also let you pick more cards based on where on the board these dice are placed. Combined with a cute little minigame that sees players traveling around Portugal, there’s so much going on in the game that simply choosing which dice you want to buy each round becomes an agonizing strategic puzzle (in a good way).
Nominally set during 16th Century Portugal, Coimbra’s theme is not nearly as important as its mechanics and its lovely looks. Beautiful graphic design and charming art round out a game that would probably be fun even if it were drab. It’s among the best strategy games to be released in the last few years.
Veteran designer Martin Wallace’s newest is a departure from the norm for him: a strategy game focused on miniatures battles rather than an in-depth economic management game. But Wildlands really typified his less-is-more design philosophy. Unlike a lot of miniatures games, Wildlands eschews dice and randomization in favor of deep tactical strategy and reliable effects.
While it’s a pretty familiar fantasy theme, that familiarity is welcome because Wildlands plays like nothing else. Namely, this game uses faction-specific cards and powers instead of stats. Knowing how and why to play what card is an art in and of itself—launch too many attacks and you’ll be vulnerable on defense, defend too much and you’ll cede the battle’s momentum to your eager opponent.
Wildlands is a very intuitive game, is easy to teach, and contains several unique factions within the box, so you’ll get a lot of variety right away.
The 4th edition of Twilight Imperium is the product of improving and refining what is easily one of the most epic board games ever produced. A massive space opera of conquest, diplomacy, and trade, Twilight Imperium is nothing short of your favorite 4X PC game made manifest. Three to six players command a plethora of unique races, each with their own backstory and perks in an effort to usurp the throne of the known galaxy. A literal armada of detailed plastic miniatures are commanded around a vivid, hex-based galaxy map and evocative art and fiction give Twilight Imperium a truly unique theme.
A word of caution: the size of the box alone may be enough to send some running for the nearest exit, and the amount of time you need to devote to this game is beyond substantial. If you’re playing a 4-player game, it will take all day. If you somehow get the maximum 6 players together, you’ll want them to pack their PJs. Drawing from the best tropes of every corner of science fiction, this expensive and expansive board game is an experience like no other.
Don’t be fooled; the cutesy woodland facade conceals an interesting and deep asymmetrical strategy game. Each player controls a tribe of beasts and fights others for dominance by controlling strategic clearings. One player, the ‘Marquise de Cat’, needs to expand their dominion over the forest by moving troops and quashing rebellion. The Eyrie, an alliance of feudal birds, plans out elaborate machinations to marshal their limited troops and retake the woods. Under their noses snoop the Woodland Alliance, a growing insurgency of mice and hedgehogs ready to overthrow their oppressors.
Finally, the vagabondish adventurer raccoon (a player who’s basically flying solo to accomplish their own objectives) skirts around the edges. It’s a pretty hardcore strategy game with a unique theme and great design that always leaves you wanting to play again.
Better still, Root encourages you to think outside the box. Each time you play will differ greatly from the ones before it based on the weird new strategies players are sure to dream up. However, getting the most out of it requires understanding the radically different ways factions play—it’s only really worth it if you can get people together to play more than once.
On Mars is a daunting game for a daunting challenge, with players cooperatively building a Mars colony while trying to end the game as the planet’s most notable founder. Gotta get all those Martian streets and cities and regions and avenues named after you if you want to win.
Each player is the chief of a private company, so while they contribute to the entire colony by assisting with overall mission goals they also have private agendas. Building up the colony from an Earth-dependent outpost to a self-sustaining enterprise is the most satisfying experience on a tabletop in 2020.
The only downside is this is a deeply strategic and complex game not well-suited to skeptical beginners or groups with wild skill disparity. It’s for people who like the kind of economic and resource-based strategy that is the hallmark of many modern board games. Those caveats aside, I’ve found that even players who lose are proud of what they built—just be wary that the ultra-competitive might find the lack of direct conflict frustrating.
Gloomhaven is a sprawling co-op dungeon crawler with an elaborate, non-liner campaign mechanic. Taking on the role of fantasy heroes, players work their way through hordes of automated monsters in a series of choose-your-own-adventure-style scenarios. Players’ decisions during and after each session influence what will happen next, forever locking away some game scenarios and opening up others.
As you play you also advance your character, making some neat choices and often permanently altering your statistics and equipment. These kinds of long-term narrative arcs make Gloomhaven perfect for those who have a consistent group to play with, though solo play is entirely possible. It also has a box larger than many small children and doesn’t fit on a single shelf in my house.
Basically, it’s a fantastic game for RPG fanatics and tactical gamers everywhere. For all its complexity, it has an impressively functional and simple manual that doesn’t take hours to parse and rarely needs to be consulted during play.
A fantastic and relatively simple wargame with plenty to offer, 878: Vikings—Invasions of England uses Academy Games’ refined card-driven engine to deliver a reliable, consistent, and satisfying head-to-head wargame that still has the ups and downs provided by surprise upsets and dice combat. It’s a simple setup and you don’t need to know anything about history to enjoy: one player (or a team) takes on the role of the divided Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The others control successive waves of invading Vikings. The players that control the most cities at the end of the game win.
The neatest thing about this game is that it draws on real historical events to function. The cards you play to maneuver troops are based on either actual tactics, historical events, or real people. Despite this (and as mentioned above), it still has swingy dice combat that lead to the kind of surprising turns and victories gamers tell stories about for years.
What if you could play a hypothetical XCOM horde mode? That’s Project: ELITE, a flashy miniatures-heavy game about shooting alien invaders before they shoot you. Its big trick is that Project: ELITE is a real-time game where you rapidly and speedily roll dice in two-minute bursts to blow up aliens on the squad’s turn, then play out the aliens’ turn. If that sounds repulsive move on, but if you’re at all intrigued then it’s something you’ll surely enjoy. The combination of tactical combat choices with fast and frenzied real-time gameplay is satisfying in a big way. If you’ve never played a real-time board game, this is an excellent and explosive way to dive in.
This is actually the second edition of Project: ELITE, and it’s much-improved and expanded over the original. The new art, miniatures, and characters make the game more playable and enjoyable, with small rules tweaks providing a lot of fixes. It does well with a range of different types of people, from tactical quarterbacks to people who are just along for the social experience: A wild ride of making gunshot noises while moving minis and yelling at the person who just keeps dropping dice on the floor.
The mechs-and-pastoralia art of Jakub Roszalski really captures the imagination, and Scythe makes the most of it. In fact, its world of 1920s misery proved so captivating that it actually got a PC RTS called Iron Harvest. Just a brief perusal of Scythe will show you why. The cards have fascinating scenes of agrarian life juxtaposed with smoking dieselpunk mechs and war machines. Cows walk alongside four-legged spider bots that guard the peasantry. Hulking metal giants stalk the misty distance as troops cross a plain.
Scythe’s appeal as a game, though, is more than the (lovingly painted) board or the mech miniatures—it’s the fully integrated strategy between different styles of play. Much like a good game of Civilization, it’s about expanding and building as much as it is about combat, and there are plenty of ways to win that don’t involve firing a single shot. See, hidden within what looks like a bland wargame is a complex strategic-economic game about consolidating territory and bluffing opponents with shows of force and grabs for uninhabited land.
If our bodies didn’t require sleep and our loved ones didn’t require love, I’d have room in my life for lifestyle-level tabletop games like Warhammer 40,000. For those of us who are subject to reality, X-Wing is an amazing alternative that preserves everything that’s good about miniatures while mercifully compressing the time it takes to finish a battle.
Scalability is a huge asset to X-Wing. Like 40K, every ship, pilot, and upgrade has a point value associated with it, so you can knock out a four-ship skirmish in half an hour or settle in for a massive, multi-part campaign with capital ships like the Tantive IV and assign squadrons to four or five different players. What makes X-Wing work most, though, is its FlightPath™ system.
Pioneered by WWI flight sim Wings of Glory, players commit movement orders in secret, then reveal them all simultaneously. Is your opponent’s TIE Bomber going to sprint right at you, or barrel-roll behind an asteroid? Trying to out-guess and out-maneuver your opponent takes real strategic thinking, but doesn’t burden X-Wing with a billion rules.