Apple is promoting “Pay Once and Play” games as part of the company’s regular refresh of featured App Store titles. “Enjoy hours of uninterrupted fun with complete experiences spanning the App Store’s most beloved genres,” says the blurb for the new collection. “Packed with thrills and unforgettable moments, these powerhouse games belong in every collection.”
It’s tempting to say that the promotion shows that Apple prefers pay-once titles to freemium ones, but really, this is just one of the many angles that the company has taken with its App Store collections. It doesn’t really say anything about Apple’s wider motivation.
It really pains me to see that adults not only "play" less and less — play is just as important as work if you’re looking for a balanced life — but that their idea of board games stop at Monopoly and Risk. True, you can play video games, mobile games, crosswords, etc, but me, I prefer board games because it gets me away from a screen.
Plus, it makes for a social situation. If you play with friends there is no such thing as a bad game. The worst case scenario is you laugh at how bad the game is.
In this post, I will share just 20 of my favorite board games, what’s inside and why I enjoy playing it. From simple card games like "Set" to strategy board games like "Galaxy Trucker" there’s bound to be at least one from this list which will make you look at board games differently.
If I had to take everything into consideration, 7 Wonders is the best game I own. It is a deep strategy game but is simple to play and a round doesn’t take more than 30 minutes. Gameplay is extremely simple, but the rules of building can be a bit confusing. However, as soon as you play it, the rules are clear after 10 minutes. It’s just one of those games.
In 7 Wonders, each game consists of 3 "ages". In each age, each player gets 7 cards. Players take turns picking a card to build in each turn. Once a card has been picked, you pass your hand to the next player — yes, you know what choices the next player will have in the next round. This adds a layer of strategy — but without complicating gameplay at all.
7 Wonders is a beautifully made game which can be enjoyed by 7 players, or 8 if you buy the expansion. It’s a rare gem which is equally fun for 2 players, adding another layer of tactics. You can buy 7 Wonders from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store. Be sure to take a look at the Cities expansion for 8-player action.
A simple but fun bluffing game, Coyote can be played by 6 people in under 10 minutes per round. Everyone has a number on their head; the only number you don’t see is thus your own. You then take turns declaring numbers.
If the next person suspects that the number you just declared is higher than the sum of the numbers in play, he may call your bluff. The game has a number of special cards like negatives, multipliers, zeroers and so on which adds a bit of depth to it. The game ends with a showdown between the last 2 players which frequently results in lots of laughs.
Battlestar Galactica (BSG) is complex compared to most board games you know, but once you play a round or two, it’s really not that difficult. The board game captures the essence of the series well. It’s a cooperative game at heart, but one or two people are not on your side. Who they are is a mystery (until they reveal themselves) and there is always suspicion in the air.
The goal of the game for human players is to escape from Cylons by jumping a set number of times. The goal for Cylons is to defeat humans. Humans can only win one way while Cylons can win by depleting 1 of 3 resources, damaging the ship too much and boarding the ship.
The game is for 3 – 7 players and is best played with at least 4. Various expansions add extra features. I recommend buying the Exodus expansion at least because it adds better Cylon handling to the game. We usually play 2 – 2.5 hr rounds but the occasional 6 hr round has happened, so prepare yourself. You can purchase BSG on Amazon or from your local board game store.
Balderdash has almost the same rules as Dixit – a game featured in our Gifts For Paperphiles article – except it is played with obscure words. The idea is that one person reads a single word from a card, like “onomatopoeia”, then everyone proceeds to write a mock definition for this word. The person who read the original word reads all the definitions aloud, including the correct one.
Everyone votes on which he/she thinks is the correct definition. You get points for voting correctly, or if someone votes on your definition. We’ve had some of the best laughs especially when people write outrageous definitions — which turn out to be the correct ones!
Non-English language speakers are probably better off because they can play the game without having to use a dictionary for foreign words. We have this where I live, it isn’t a dictionary per se, it’s a list of words which have foreign origins, so you are less likely to know what they mean.
You can buy Balderdash from Amazon, Walmart, or you can just use a dictionary and keep score on paper.
Smallworld is like "Risk" with less chance, more tactics. If you have more units, you win, it’s as simple as that. Your aim is to collect the most gold by taking over and controlling areas on the board. Taking over areas is done by using a larger number of people than your opponent has. This takes almost all risk out of the game.
There are 2 features which make Smallworld replay-able. The race you are with grants you special abilities. These abilities come from 2 sources. The race itself has a special ability (eg: Humans gain an extra gold for farmlands they control) and you also receive a special power token (eg: Commando allows you to conquer any area with one less unit).
Special abilities and races are shuffled and paired togetherr. In one game, you may choose Commando Humans, in another you may get Merchant Humans. This changes the way you play, so you can’t use the same tactics over and over.
The other feature which adds a lot of depth is how you can make races decline. If you’ve spread your forces thin, you can choose to decline your race and choose a new one. This has benefits and drawbacks, choosing the right time to decline could win you the game (each player usually declines 1-3 times).
Smallworld is for 2-5 players. It’s a rare game which is actually pretty good for 2 players, it has a dedicated boards for different player counts. Playing time is about 80 minutes for 4 people and rarely gets boring.
A number of expansions and different versions are available, Smallworld is so popular it even has an iOS app. You can buy Smallworld from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store. I strongly recommend your board game store for this one as it has a lot of expansions and versions like Smallworld Underground.
Dominion is a straight up card game but doesn’t have the complexity and in-depth game world of its big brothers like Android Netrunner and other deck building games.
You start the game with some coins and some kingdom cards. The goal is to amass as many kingdom cards as possible. To do this you’ll have to buy a bunch of other cards along the way to ensure the efficient path to victory.
Dominion comes with 500 cards out of the box, split into 25 types, only a subset of which you use per game. This gives each round a unique twist, you can’t use the same tactics all the time.
In the same style as 7 Wonders, Dominion can be a quick game, although it does depend on your opponents. A quick round can take as little as 20-25 minutes, making it a good time-filler if you have limited time. You can get Dominion from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store.
Agricola is a very popular strategy game with a middle-age agriculture feel. You own a house and some land and you’ll need to make decisions on what to grow, which resources to amass and you’ll need to make enough food to feed your ever-growing family.
The gameplay is a shrewd mix of shared resource selection. There is a set amount of stuff up for grabs each turn. Players take turns snatching them. If you don’t plan ahead the resource you need may be taken by others.
Once you get the rules, the game isn’t difficult to play but learning it can take some time. It takes a lot less time to master than Battlestar Galactica, but isn’t nearly as simple as Dixit or Balderdash.
Agricola is beautifully detailed with so many wooden pieces and elements, you’ll need a sizeable table to fit everything. As with other well-balanced games, Agricola rewards variety, not the amassing of one particular resource. You’ll need to have a bit of everything in order to win, not an easy task at all. In my experience, Agricola gets more difficult as the number of players increases to a maximum of 5.
Agricola also has an equally beautiful iOS app and numerous expansions and extensions. A separate game called Caverna is also available which is basically the same jut bigger and newer, also a great choice! You can buy Agricola from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store.
Atlantis is a 2-4 player hand management type strategy game where the goal is to get your peeps off the sinking island of Atlantis.
I love the board of Atlantis because you can set it anyway you’d like. You need to follow a pattern when placing the tiles but you can orient them anyway you like. This allows for curvy, jagged, circular and other imaginative playing layouts.
You start the game with a number of cards you can use to jump your peeps to specific tiles on the game board. Wherever you jump, you pick up the tile behind the destination which counts as points.
You’ll need to get three Atlanteans across the dangerous terrain. If you get an Atlantean onto land, you get a bonus, so it seems that getting one across as fast as possible would be the best course of action. On the other hand that leaves your other guys further behind which could cost you.
What I really like about this game is how it mimics the story with gameplay. As your Atlanteans jump around tiles are taken from behind them, eventually leaving water. As time passes more and more water shows up – this is the island sinking. It’s rare that a games mechanics makes so much sense in its cause and effect, kudos to the developers!
Buy Atlantis from Amazon or your local board game store
Discworld – Ankh-Morpork
My love of Terry Pratchett was the main driver behind the purchase of Discworld and luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. This is a superbly balanced strategy game which isn’t too complicated either. The board and the cards a brilliantly designed, fans of the Discworld series will spend more time picking out little details than actually playing.
The board consists of 12 areas which you can occupy and control. Depending on your character, your aims and actions will differ as well. You may want to simply be present on a number of areas, control a number of areas or work towards other goals.
Gameplay consists of playing cards from your hand. Cards allow you to place your minions, remove other minions, build buildings and other special actions. This simple mechanic gives rise to interesting rounds of play every time.
What makes Discworld special is the constant attention you have to pay to everyone. If you suspect that an opponent is close to winning you might want to gang up on him. Then again, you can’t go around thwarting other players all the time, you need to advance your own agenda as well.
Up to 4 players can take part, games span 1-2 hours, we usually finish in about 90 minutes. You can buy Discworld from the Discworld Store, Amazon or your local board game store.
The Golden City
The Golden City is a great strategy/adventure game for 3-4 players. You start our as settlers who’ve come to an island with a golden city at the center. The goal is to establish yourself as a trader and get access to the coveted golden city itself.
During the game, you’ll settle on specific areas on the game board which will grant you resources and points. Each round has a sub-goal which – when met – will award the player additional points. To expand, you’ll need to use your auctioning skills to grab the best tiles (for yourself) and use them to settle on specific areas.
Eventually you’ll have amassed enough resources to get a key to the city at which point you may establish yourself inside. At the end of the game, the player with the most points (the most powerful trader) wins.
The Golden City is a good choice if you’d like a game where you’re pitted against one another, but not directly. Other players can annoy you by taking good spaced but there is no combat and no head-to-head competition. The variation due to how the game is played provides plenty of fun for a solid replay value. You can buy it from Amazon or your local board game store.
This unassuming little box holds one of the best little puzzle games ever. The rules are dead simple and yet mind bogglingly impossible to play, at the very least you’ll need practice. The name of the game is pattern recognition.
All you need to do is find sets of 3 cards (from 9) where the symbols are either all the same or all different (based on shape, color and shading). It’s difficult to explain why this game can get so infuriating.
Sometimes you will the sets to reveal themselves but nothing happens. Sometimes you just glance at the 9 cards and find one. Practice means you get better but it makes your opponent better as well!
This cheap little deck of cards can be played by any amount of players, a round takes about 15 – 30 minutes depending on how quickly you find sets. Grab the game directly from the author’s website, setgame.com and check out the iPad app as well. It’s about the same as the real thing.
Ticket To Ride
You may be familiar with this game due to the huge popularity of iOS game. The board game precedes the release of the iPad app by around 8 years, and what a great game it is.The idea is to build railroads from point A to point B. The rules can be learned in under 15 minutes, yet the game poses some strategic challenges which take some gray matter to solve.
According to the author: “The tension comes from being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor.” A pretty good overview indeed.
Due to it’s popularity, ‘Ticket to Ride’ has been published in a number of country/continent specific formats. There are also a number of expansions available.
You can buy ‘Ticket To Ride’ almost anywhere, including Amazon, Walmart and your local board game store. Check out the 10th Anniversary Edition (which contains some expansions) for more bang for your buck .
Here’s a more obscure game just to show you the wealth of options out there. This little game is a strategic nightmare (in a good way).Boomerang has extremely simple rules and will challenge your strategy and phsychological skills.
You play as hunters vying for the same animals on the hunting ground. You use your boomerangs to buy your way into hunting first. By hunting first, you get to choose the type of hunting ground you grab animals from.
If you hunt first, chances are you get more animals but you’ll have less boomerangs to work with in the next turn. In addition, hunting in second place may yield the same results (depending on which animals you need).
You’ll be thinking about what your opponent is thinking and why he’s thinking it. Does he want to be first this turn? Is he willing to spend enough boomerangs? Should I drop out and collect the boomerangs on the table?
Grabbing Boomerang (or Bumerang as it is titled mostly) may be a bit difficult. As far as I can tell it is only published in Europe. We have the version published by Granna but Lui-meme are also listed on BoardGameGeek. You should check your local board game shop for more info.
Do you think all the great unique board games were made recently? Think again, Acquire is 51 years old, made originally in 1964 by Sid Jackson.
On the surface, the board looks pretty boring with the board resembling a bingo ticket. The play area actually represents companies growing over time, signified by placing tiles on the appropriate squares.
Acquire is all about investing in companies and maximizing your profit at the right time. You can get your money’s worth when businesses start to merge and then reinvest your earnings in new companies. Unsurprisingly, the goal is to amass the largest fortune.
You can grab Acquire from Amazon, you can even get a vintage 1968 version which is pretty cool.
Due to it’s 15 year highly successful career, Carcassonne is now considered a classic. You actually build the board with your opponents as you play, which was jaw-dropping to me as a board game newcomer at the time.
The goal of the game is to build castles, roads, have the largest pastures and other similar constructs. You use your little minions to control various bits of tiles and then continue placing tiles to grow your controlled areas.
By now, Carcassonne has a kajillion expansions which add extra depth to the game. From dragons to wizards, towers and catapults you can add more and more if you like the game. As your collection increases, you’ll need to buy a larger table as the play area can get pretty big.
Carcassonne is a great introduction to the board game world because it has a completely unique play style compared with standard board games but the rules are easy to understand. The play time is around 45 minutes, for 3-4 people – not too long at all.
It’s no surprise that Carcassonne’s popularity has spurred an iOS App which is pretty good! You can buy Carcassonne everywhere including Amazon, Walmart and your local board game store.
Galaxy Trucker is one of the heaviest games we own and definitely one of the most unique. It has so many little parts it’s just a joy to play (but not to put away).
The aim is to build a ship out of a number of parts. It’s completely up to you, you’re only confined by a few rules. You then race across the galaxy with your ship, encountering and (hopefully) completing hardships along the way.
You’ll need to have enough engines to stay fast, enough guns to stay safe, enough shields for protecting yourself, enough energy cells to power everything and more! To add a bit of extra difficulty, the pieces you build must interlock correctly making it part puzzle game as well.
The game features a wonderfully quirky art style which is most apparent in the manual (look for the cute reference to the Alien movies). My one beef with the game is that it can get a bit repetitive due to the lack of variety in the race stage. That being said there is plenty of replay-ability, especially if you shelve it for a few weeks (after binge playing it) in favour of other games in this article.
An extremely well-made iOS game is available which mirrors the style (visually as well as gameplay-wise) and has rave reviews.
Alhambra is a city building game where you get to build an Alhambra (no surprise there) which is a palace and fortress complex. You have a set of colored cards and you can decide which piece of land (out of the available 4) you’d like to buy. If you purchase land for exactly as much as it is worth, you get another turn. If you over-pay, you only get to buy once.
This gives rise to some difficult choices. Do you spend more but grab something now, or pass in the hopes you can pay exactly next turn and risk someone else snatching the tile you need?
Once you buy a tile, you can build it into your Alhambra. Scoring happens three times in the game split somewhat equally time-wise. Points are awarded for having the most of each colored tile and for the longest continuous wall you have.
While I do like this game, it can get a little slow when the money cards are stuck in a rut. Sometimes, the proper colors don’t appear at all and 5-6 turns are spent just coasting along. You can buy Alhambra from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store.
Bang is essentially a party game where you try and kill each other, Wild West style. You assume a role and choose a character and duel it out with your friends.
Bang is best with at least 5 players (7 max with the basic game), you’ll be either sheriff, a deputy, a bandit or a renegade. Depending on who you are, you’ll need to kill different people but you don’t know who they are at the start of the game. Each player also has a unique ability which allows them to shoot better, heal better, draw cards better and so on.
You take turns shooting at each other or wreaking miscellaneous havoc via the cards in your hand. You’ll sometimes want to upgrade your gun, grab a horse to be faster (makes shooting at you more difficult), play a scope (makes shooting at others easier) and use other items to increase your chances of surviving. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that beer is what makes the World go round as it can be used to gain a life.
Bang can be great fun for a group of people who don’t want to get into big strategic games but still want to play something unique. You can find Bang on Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store. There’s a cool Bang! The Bullet! edition which is packaged as a bullet but is a nightmare to put away for the night.
Pandemic is a completely cooperative game which is great for the less competitive ones among us. You live together, you die together!
The goal in pandemic is to fight off a deadly virus which is spreading fast. You’ll band together to travel to population centers, treat the infected, discover a cure and build research stations. In addition, each player has a unique ability which should be utilized to stave off the virus which is no easy task.
The cool thing in Pandemic is that talking things out and planning actually works. Everyone has a particular specialty which can be used effectively in conjunction with actions others can take. Pandemic seems a bit complex at first and I didn’t really take to the game but I was pleasantly surprised after our first round and we proceeded to play a couple more neck to neck.
You can get Pandemic from Amazon, Walmart or your local board game store. There’s also an iOS app available, which I haven’t tried personally, but has excellent ratings.
Hanabi is a card game based on an awesome idea and simple rules. The game mechanics are as simple as it gets yet mastering it takes quite a bit of time and brain power. The goal is to create the perfect “fireworks” by placing cards on the table in the correct order. The only problem is that you hold your cards facing away from you so you don’t see your cards.
Hanabi is played cooperatively, you’ll need to work together to get a high score. You’ll need to give hints to other players, so that they have a vague idea of what’s in their hands. Don’t forget to keep other players’ hints to you in mind as well!
A round takes only 25 minutes but can sometimes be frustrating when you have no idea what’s in your hand and you have no idea how to help others. Keep at it and you’ll figure it out, it just takes some getting used to. You can grab this award winning game from Amazon or your local board game store.
Support Your Local Board Game Store
I just wanted to say that our local board game store has helped us a lot over the past years. These stores frequently allow you to rent a game for 10% of the price, which is great for trying out games before you buy them.
If you have such a store near you, I strongly urge you to buy your games from them as opposed to Walmart or Amazon .These small stores will help you make sense of the World of board games and are usually small businesses with nice people – help them out!
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