Listen, we get it. You’re going home for the holidays and you want to socialize. You could break out the video games, but there’s always that weird part of the family that still thinks the Nine-tendo rots your brain. Board games are an easy solution! However, the scope of board games have gotten messy over the years. You could get your Parker Brother and Mattel classic board games like Monopoly, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit, but not only are those classics getting more expensive, they’ve famously frustrated players for decades. Not to mention their build quality has turned poor over time.
You could venture into the cool modernized releases lik Scythe or Gloomhaven, but you’re bound to alienate family members with too many rules and pieces. However, the horizons are broad and accessibility is better than ever! Feel free to consult this list anytime of year when you want a fun, simple, easy to learn but also innovative board game to bring home to family and friends. They’re all easy to pick up and play, and we’re 99% sure they’re less likely to result in screaming matches like Monopoly does!
We do highly recommend that, when picking up items like this, you take a few minutes to go out of your way to grab these selections from your nearby local game store. They tend to have easy pickup systems online or over the phone in the last decade to make the process even easier. Of course there’s no stopping you from ordering them on Amazon or Target, but with the holidays coming up, save your local post man a trip and maybe support a small business or two. Boardgaming.com has an easy store locator that can help you find one.
DC Deck-Building Game
Unlike a traditional TCG, the fun of games like the DC Deck-Building Game isn’t in going head to head with an opponent. Instead, the fun comes from the actual act of deck building to take on a shared threat. Taking on the role of one of the classic Justice League members (or others, with expansions), you will assemble a deck of various comic references and abilities to take down villains from across the DC pantheon. Taking down these enemies net a lot of points at the end, but most of the game is centered around the art of deck construction. Being strategic and managing your resources well will be the key to winning here, rather than just trying to claim powerful cards. Combined with art from various periods of the DC Comics publishing history and familiar character references, DC Deck-Building Game is an inviting introduction to things like deck drafting and card games beyond Uno for even the least experienced card shark in your family. [Travis Hymas]
One of the most awarded and influential games in the history of the genre, 7 Wonders is a deck-building card game where players take charge of an ancient civilization with the goal of creating their unique wonder – creations ranging from the Pyramids and the Colossus of Rhodes to the Hanging Gardens – and compete against each other by scoring points for a breadth of strategies like having the strongest military, the most culture or the furthest advanced science. The depth of play is remarkable and the paths to victory are numerous. I’ve played with people who dedicated exclusively to their military in a way that seemed comically foolish at the start yet paid off in unimaginable ways by the time of the final scoring. Every game will look different than the last depending on how the cards are dealt out, with each game separated into 3 ages that build off each other through increasingly intricate combinations.
Play moves swiftly, as each player is allowed to play their cards concurrently, and after playing one game you should be able to go back at any time with a good understanding of how everything comes together, 7 Wonders is expertly balanced to the point that it should always feel like you are engaged and have a chance to win. If you could only pick one game to get people excited to see how far modern board-games have come, you can’t do much better than this one. [Guest Contributor, Quinn Parulis]
The most popular entry in recent years and the one that helped kick off the current board game renaissance, Wingspan puts you in charge of a wildlife reserve with the goal of creating a balanced and thriving ecosystem to attract the biggest variety of avian residents out of all your competitors. Created with clear passion by avid nature loving bird-watchers and designed to be as equally laid-back as it is competitive, the game is masterfully balanced and clearly learned the best lessons from its predecessors in the card based engine-building genre, leading to gameplay that flows easily flows with constant engagement from all players.
Inspired by the human desire for collecting beautiful things, one of the biggest draws to the game is its production design, from the cardboard birdhouse used to roll the dice to the colorful little eggs used to mark points and claim spots on your personal board, everything in the box being clearly thought out to maximize visual and tactile appeal, and that doesn’t even touch on the cards that depict each bird made in stunning art loaded with fine details and fun facts that you might walk away actually learning a thing or two about each species. [Guest Contributor, Quinn Parulis]
I know it seems outrageous to say, but getting people to sit down and play a game with a physical board on a table can be occasionally challenging these days, so Pictionary isn’t quite as popular with the illustrative inclined friends and family as it once was. On the other hand, there’s digital drawing party games like Drawlful on the Jackbox Party Pack, but it’s not quite so simple to get a game running if someone doesn’t have it on a compatible game console or a PC that can link to a TV. Telestrations is the genius middle ground. It’s a bad game of telephone, but you’re drawing on a spiral notebook of dry-erase cards and doodling with markers. The results are hilarious if you’re with a group of people who couldn’t care less about winning or losing. This especially might be a hit if you have millennials and zoomers around who are intimately aware with the chaotic nature of Gartic Phone trending in the last year or so, which has a game mode that is effectively a digital copy of this modern classic board game. [Evan Griffin]
Do you want a bit of a team game mixed in with some competition? Then try Codenames! Codenames is all about working in pairs and giving clues to have your partner match the cards. No yelling, fights, or underhanded schemes are needed to win–communication is your best friend! No one can blame you for getting the clue wrong; it’s how you interrupt the clue that brings all the fun. Plus, there’s a lot of great replayability with Codenames because the new cards selected each game that could lead to many different results. [Justin Carreiro]
One of the staples of modern board-gaming, Carcassonne is a competitive tile laying game in which players take turns building a map of the countryside surrounding its eponymous medieval French town by placing additions of roads, farms, castles and more, eventually creating a sprawling landscape unique to each play session. With a ruleset that is both easy to pick up and play while still loaded with depth if you want to get strategic – have fun driving your opponents crazy by making the castle they’ve spent turns building unfinishable. The game has long been considered a gateway introduction to people who don’t usually play board games due to its fast play, lack of elimination, and airtight design that leaves how competitive the match goes up to how aggressive you’re feeling. Featuring beautiful art on tiles that pop with vibrant color and armed with a multitude of expansions that add things ranging from dragons and sheep to rivers and bridges, Carcassonne is a foundational game to have on hand for any gathering where you don’t want to have to try too hard convincing people to join in the fun. [Guest Contributor, Quinn Parulis]
For a quick and casual card game that goes beyond just far enough past the conceits of the usual staples, it is hard to find a game as approachably deep as Sushi Go!. With adorable art depicting anthropomorphic images of tuna rolls, ginger slices, pieces of tempura and more, the game plays like a beefed up version of Uno, with enough similarities that anyone who has played even the most basic card games in the past should be able to pick up and play without difficulty. Players build their hands by drafting in turn rather than just drawing from a central pile, arming them with the knowledge of what cards each opponent has to create a game that requires a bit more mental flexing and in the moment decision making than you would expect at first glance.
The game works best when moving a quick as possible – think of those conveyor belt sushi restaurants – with each turn being a question of risk vs. rewards that can lead to some insane card combinations that will have you wanting to jump right back into the next game, something more realistically doable than others on this list with most matches lasting only 15 to 20 minutes. A party staple designed to be engaged with as wide an audience as possible, Sushi Go! is a must have for any party game fan trying to get groups that might not be as inclined to sit and listen to listen to a jumble of rules ready to play over and over again. [Guest Contributor, Quinn Parulis]
Quacks of Quedlinburg
Teaching a new board game can be a daunting task. Quacks of Quedlinburg is about as straightforward as “designer” board games get. The central mechanic is a classic push-your-luck mechanic where every turn you’re trying to move as far as you can around your board. Each round you also get a taste of a classic deck building game as you spend points adding ingredients to your potion bag that you hope will propel you farther in the next round.
Quacks plays fast, and there’s very little down time. If you have a bad round or two there are mechanics that keep the leading players from running away with the game so you never feel completely out of contention. The beauty of the central mechanic means that if you fail spectacularly there’s really no one to blame but yourself and it’s only more incentive to run it back one more time! [Jose Cordova]
Let the hunt for resources be what brings your family together this Thanksgiving! Catan is a resource-management game that has won over families and game nights since 1995. It’s a favorite for playing between friends, families, or an easy one to introduce to new players. There are very few opportunities where you’ll need to turn on each other; the dice will mostly decide if you’re picking up things like wheat or bricks. But brace yourself when you decide to block a road or steal a resource from an overly competitive sibling. Catan can be fun and petty instead of antagonistic. [Justin Carreiro]
An easy way to avoid any fights is playing a co-op board game instead. Enter Mysterium, a supernatural team game where the goal is to work together as psychic investigators to solve the murder. One player is the ghost giving the clues while everyone else is piecing them together. Mysterium is a fun way to get players to talk and strategize because the group can share their interruptions of the cards and help someone out when they’re stuck. You either win as a team or you lose as a team. Come on, flex those psychic abilities and communicate! [Justin Carreiro]