Thousands of new board games are published each year, more than our guide to the best board games for beginners could possibly accommodate. Here are a few Wirecutter staff favorites that may not be as approachable for new gamers but have other traits to love.
If we left out one of your favorites, leave a comment so we can expand our collections. Why we love it: Between reading and deciphering the dense rulebook and having to correct multiple mistakes on every turn, our first playthrough of Scythe ended up taking six hours. Nonetheless, we were immediately hooked by its immense strategic depth and the beautiful steampunk-meets-pastoral-idyll worldbuilding aesthetic that Wirecutter writer Gregory Han raved about in our gift guide. Since then, our play times have fallen in line with the tominute estimate, but the game has taken over weekly game nights and inspired a dedicated group chat for discussing strategies, making and sharing memes, and planning impromptu sessions.
You might be wondering what kind of people want to invest that much time in a game and keep going back to play over and over. But once you learn the mechanics, playing Scythe will be the only thing you want to do.
Players begin with resources including power, popularity, coins, and combat cardsa different starting location, and two optional hidden objectives. Scythe is an engine-building game, so the goal is to set up systems that will continuously reap resources as the game progresses. Each turn, every player chooses one of four actions on their ased faction mat. All players have the same set of actions but receive different rewards for them, and each character has a set of unique strengths.
Other than Encounter cards, which players receive on certain newly explored territories, little luck is involved. The game ends after a player places their sixth achievement star on the Triumph Track, but whoever has the most coins wins.
It plays just as well with two people as it does with five thanks to the multiple game boards. Once a player picks their characters, they get a set of tiles representing their troops, and on their turn use them to take over land on the board. This continues for a of rounds depending on the of players, and whoever has collected the most gold earned mostly by acquiring land throughout the game wins.
Why we love it: Betrayal at House on the Hill is what would happen if H. Lovecraft wrote a Scooby-Doo episode and turned it into a party game. Each player is ased a character with different traits, including sanity, knowledge, might, and speed.
As they explore a spooky mansion, they collect items and experience wacky, atmospheric events, from running into spiders to playing games with a creepy child who gets aggressive with his toys. The strategy in Betrayal at House on the Hill is minimal, but the camp factor is high, so players can get goofy. In the rooms, players may acquire an event, item, or omen card. The players read the cards out loud—silly voices encouraged, in the spirit of telling a ghost story with a flashlight under your face around a campfire.
For event cards, players may face a dice challenge based on their traits. Players can also acquire magical items around the house to help them later on, but discovering omen cards has a chance of triggering the second phase of the game. In the second phase, called the Haunt, one player turns traitor and is ased one of more than a hundred unique scenarios.
The traitor faces off against the remaining players in a dramatic final battle until one side emerges victorious. Mysterium requires you to find the subtle connections between cards and consider how each person is most likely to read them. The remaining players are psychics who must solve the murder case using the vision cards to pick out the correct person, place, and thing cards—each psychic must solve a different facet of the case to advance.
A common color, shape, or theme might be the only connection between a set of vision cards and a person card. The psychics bet on who they think placed a correct guess each round, and whoever wins the most bets has the greatest advantage during the final round. In the last round, the ghost gives the psychics one final vision, and any psychic who guesses correctly wins.
Why we love it: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is an amazing step up for people who love classic Pandemic but want more of a plot and more of a challenge. Every session adds new elements. But then things … change. As you play more games in the season, the viruses mutate, rules change, cities rise and fall, and new character options and abilities and penalties come into play.
Each session is different from the one before because game modifications are permanent and carry over between sessions. The continuous gameplay creates the feeling of a coherent, evolving story, and we were always curious and terrified to find out what would happen next.
Each has special skills that benefit different styles of play. The goal of the game is to gain Fame points, which you can earn in a variety of ways: collecting bounties, delivering illegal cargo, and more. As you make money from these jobs, you can upgrade your gear, and even replace your starter ship with the famous Millennium Falcon, Slave Iand others.
During each turn, a player can choose to move their ship between planets, purchase upgrades, and then do jobs, collect bounties, and so on. Although the game can run long in its standard first-topoints mode especially with four playerswe found that it can be equally fun with a set time limit. In that case, the winner is the person with the highest Fame when time expires. Why we love it: As a commitment-phobe when it comes to games, I like that Cathedral is easy to learn and fast-paced—a game usually runs about 20 minutes.
Two players compete to outmaneuver each other on the board, and much of the strategy comes from staying several moves ahead of your opponent. After one player places the cathedral, the players take turns placing their variously shaped pieces to capture territory and prevent their opponent from doing the same. The first person to place all their pieces on the board wins. If neither player can place all their pieces, the person whose remaining pieces take up less space is the winner.
Why we love it: Many competitive board games encourage cutthroat tactics, but the beautiful art, peaceful atmosphere, and simple concept of Tokaido make for a wholly pleasant group activity. The base game is straightforward and easy to learn, so you can play it with groups of all skill levels, from your board-game group to your extended family. After everyone reaches the end of the board, whoever has had the most rewarding journey—and has accumulated the most points as a result—wins the game. The expansions Crossro and Matsuri add some strategic depth by offering even more ways to relax and to attend exciting festivals.
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Why we love it: The gorgeous patterned board, vibrantly colored dice, and quality pieces of Sagrada drew me in, and its theme of building artisanal stained glass windows offers a break from so many other games that focus on collecting resources or land. The rules are simple to understand so you can dive right into playing.
And with a quick turnaround time of about 30 minutes, you can play multiple rounds on game night. Although the strategy is fairly light, each round challenges your pattern-recognition skills because the boards and objective cards change. Everyone starts with a color-coded panel with different restrictions and chooses secret objective cards that only they can see. Public objectives are also laid out, and vary by game—everyone can see these and gain points by arranging their dice according to the stipulations of the cards.
The player with the most points wins the game.
Why we love it : I played Wingspan with eight different people while testing the game, from first-time gamers to folks who will spend 12 hours straight playing Twilight Imperium, and each declared that they wanted to play it again afterwards. Unfortunately, Wingspan seems to frequently sell out, although you can pre-order it or reserve it from other retailers if there's no stock available.
That may be because this unique bird-themed engine builder is simply delightful to play.
Thoughtful de touches make Wingspan a work of art. They're gorgeous enough to hang on the wall, and you can, in fact, purchase prints.
It has enough different bird cards and varying strategies to make replaying it worthwhile. Plus, each bird card is stamped with facts about the species, so that you can learn more every time you play.
To start the game, players get an action mat, five bird cards, two bonus cards, and five food tokens. Over four rounds, they can choose to play a bird card, gain food, or lay eggs to unlock other actions for each corresponding section to their mat. The player with the most points after four rounds wins.
Strategies to test your skills. Expansive, continuous adventures. Beautifully deed and fun to play. Photo: Sarah Kobos. About your guide Wirecutter Staff.