If you’re looking for a slightly different board game to play, here are 24 terrific ones we recommend, that are a little off the usual track.
This time last year, I recommended 37 board and card games – and you can find them all here – that play well with one or two players, sometimes three at a push. That’s the kind of year we were having. This year, hopefully, plenty of recommendations for three, four and even more players are in season.
What follows are a number of accessible and fun board games that work well, and sometimes especially well (I’ll tell you when!) with slightly bigger groups. Some of the ‘original 37’ in last year’s list will work brilliantly too so be sure to also check that list and see what might take your fancy.
A tried-and-tested card game of blossoming galactic civilisations, now well-loved for almost 15 years. You can actually play this game with just two but I think it only really comes alive when you have three or four players.
Some consider Race hard to learn, and if you read the confusing rule book it probably is. Thankfully, there are plenty of videos online that do a better job of setting out the game’s rules. In short, you’re discarding some cards in order to keep your hands on other cards which will later score points for you, sometimes in combination with one another. The crux of the game’s cleverness is the myriad ways it uses its cards.
The original ‘deck building’ game, famously taking ideas from Magic: The Gathering and making them far more accessible, not least in financial terms. In Dominion, players each start with their own small deck of cards that they draw from and play over and over, using them to buy more cards to add to their deck, creating an ever-deeper supply of cards at their personal disposal. These cards have all kinds of powers, many of which really shine through in games with three or four players.
Dominion is massively expandable with literally hundreds of different card types to mix in and play with, though some expansion sets are better value than others. I especially like Dominion: Empires, which adds in a risky debt mechanism, and Dominion: Prosperity, which unlocks a lot of potential for flashier play.
Dominion is simpler than it might appear from the outside, and almost all of its rules are on the cards themselves. A near-perfect introduction to deck building.
A small-scale card game with just 16 cards, or 21 in its fairly pointless new, expanded edition, and in which players hold a hand of just one card. It’s an elegant game with super-simple rules and quick turnaround time, but it can also feel genuinely exciting and full of intrigue.
If you’re averse to courtly romance, there are several re-themed editions out there, substituting Batman, Hobbits or incomprehensible, continuum-warping delegates of interdimensional evil in place of the Les Liaisons Dangereuses stuff. Honestly, though, just get the original. A tiny gem.
You may be familiar with city building and tile laying mechanisms from the solid gold classic Carcassonne, but the particular twist in Between Two Cities is genuinely brilliant. Each player at the table is building two cities – one in collaboration with the player on their left, the other with the player on their right. Your final score is the tally racked up by your least successful city, whether that’s the one sitting to your left or right.
It’s a fantastic combination of collaboration and competition, and digs deeply into both. You can only win by lifting up the efforts of your collaborators but also excelling through your own choices – that is to say, you not only need to be in the winning team, you want to be the better player in it.
You can play Between Two Cities with anything from three to seven players and I’d recommend four or more, but especially five or six. Do you have a table big enough? Time to crack out the spare chairs.
A gently-themed, beautiful game about developing a successful vineyard in rural Tuscany. The basic game play ideas in Viticulture show up in ‘worker placement’ and ‘action drafting’ games like Caylus, Stone Age and Keydom, but everything feels polished and streamlined here, while also substantial.
Player interaction can be quite subtle so a two player game often feels like the two players are playing alone, which might suit thinkier types especially. By the time you get to four bodies at the table, however, the push-and-pull between different players is meaningful without becoming obtrusive.
Most bluffing games are designed to need, or at least work best, with a higher player count. A great example is Sheriff of Nottingham, a game in which you are asked to stare your friends in the eye and lie through your teeth. “Am I smuggling contraband in Sherwood Forest? At this time of night? With my reputation? Surely not!”
This game gives you something fun to do with your brilliant poker face if you don’t want to remember all of the complex rules of actual poker. It works great at four and five players, and is just about okay with three – especially if all three of you are two-faced, deceitful sneaks.
Two Rooms and Boom
Two Rooms can be played with anything from six to 30 players, and really kicks into gear around 10. The premise is simple but there are several ways to make it incrementally more complex with added rules and optional player roles. In short, though, players move between two rooms, and are all secretly on either the red or blue team. To win, teammates will have to find one another, and try to ensure the ‘bomber’ player and ‘president’ player are either in the same room (red team!) or opposite rooms (blue team!).
Best played if you actually do have two big rooms next to one another where everybody can mill about, but using opposite ends of the same giant living room will work too.
The most active game on this list, Happy Salmon plays like an unholy mix between Snap! and The Hokey Cokey. In some ways it’s less a game than a way to let off a lot of steam and shout at your friends and family. It’s a race game in which players turn over cards and try to match them with others by doing frantic hand gestures, yelling for attention and running around.
Genuinely suitable for both five-year-olds and inebriated ‘party aunties’ alike, perhaps the best idea in all of Happy Salmon is that two differently coloured versions are available – with one pack, you can play with three to six players, with both of the differently coloured packs in hand, you can play with up to 12. I recommend a minimum of four, and a room with absolutely no trip hazards or sharp edges to slip and fall onto.
Fancy a quiet game instead of all that havoc? Magic Maze bans table talk for most of its play time, meaning that players have to collaborate silently, watching carefully to see when they can make a contribution to the team effort.
Each player has different actions to contribute, and collectively, the whole play group must guide a trio of characters through a labyrinth in order loot it of its treasure. But when you’re all ad-libbing a plan together and can’t discuss it, either verbally or in any other respect, some surprising detours are inevitable.
With more players there’s more scope for the collaboration to get bent into odd banana shapes, and there’s loads of fun in that, so I’d recommend Magic Maze for anything from two to eight players, especially if you know each other well.
My favourite game by the prolific party game publishers Big Potato, this ‘secret word’ game is every bit as clever as its players can make it. In short, every player knows a secret but one, and you’re all trying to work out who is bluffing, while simultaneously convincing everybody else that you’re totally on the level. The box recommends 3-8 players but I’d recommend an absolute minimum of four.
A bit like Chameleon but dressed up as a spy game, Spyfall is once again about trying to pretend you know what you’re talking about when you don’t, or trying to sniff out who the lying cheats actually are.
There are several sequels and themed editions available, including one tied into DC Comics.
One of the most elegant, graceful ideas in gaming, Dixit sees players putting names to dreamlike images, or images to dreamlike names, and trying to read one another’s minds and creative impulses as to who originally created which title for which image. I think pretty much every home should have a copy of this masterpiece, and if you’ve got a big group and the space to get together, the 12-player Dixit Odyssey is definitely the way to go.
While you can play Dixit with three, it feels really good with five or more.
A monster of a game, Gloomhaven packs a huge swords and sorcery campaign into a similarly vast box. More rigidly structured than an RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, and ultimately more focused on combat and tests, this is nevertheless a rich experience with a whole lot of ‘world’ packed in and some interesting character dynamics to enjoy.
Somewhat too straightforward with its fantasy tropes to really surprise on a story level, Gloomhaven catches fire because it’s simply good fun to play, and especially so with three or four players who really, really like spending time together. If you’re prepared to make an enormous commitment, especially in terms of playtime, and you’re into dungeon raids and monster-bashing, then Gloomhaven will probably reward you handsomely.
Famous for its beautiful aesthetic and thematic rigour, Wingspan is the game of nature reserves and gorgeous birds. Genuinely strategic but also totally graspable, there’s a lot of replay value in simply wanting to get better at it, and in learning how to pull off pleasing combos. The lavish presentation has bumped the price tag up a little, but Wingspan has a considerable lifespan, and I think you’ll likely come back to it many times over the years to come.
This ‘Living Card Game’ has been expanded literally dozens of times with multiple campaigns, extra scenarios and new player cards that add more and more characters and playable stories to the mix. As a result, it has become something of a lifestyle choice – something you need to get into and make into your hobby. I went all-in because it’s honestly my favourite card game, bar none.
Arkham offers a massively thematic, narrative experience that plays something like a tabletop version of an ongoing TV series. Set in the 1930s, the stories take the Cthulhu Mythos, all filled with ancient elder things and cosmic horror, then injects a healthy dose of Indiana Jones adenture and Nancy Drew sleuthing.
A spin-off from the classic Arkham Horror board game, just exponentially more sophisticated, engrossing and story-packed – at least if you can afford to keep up with all the expansions. For the dedicated gamer.
One of the cheaper ‘legacy style’ board games, My City gives players a finite number of gameplay sessions to build an ever-developing city on their board, ending each game by adding permanent stickers, cards and tokens that change the rules for the next time you play.
There is an infinitely replayable variant included, but the real attraction in My City is seeing how a simple tile-laying game (something like the aforementioned Carcassonne and Between Two Cities, but this time with a Tetris-ish tetronimo twist) grows more and more interesting and personalised as you play through more and more sessions.
You can play with just two, but I recommend playing with the full complement of four if possible, to minimise the sense that you’re actually playing separate games. The more of you that play, the more there’s a sense of interaction.
A cuter, cartoonier version of fantasy worlds than the one seen in Gloom haven, Clank! adds a push-your-luck board game to the principles of Dominion-like deck building. Players risk everything on expeditions deeper and deeper into a dragon’s lair, trying to net the best treasure before they make too much noise – Clank! – and wake the fierce beast.
A lot of this game boils down to risk management, but it’s brilliantly interwoven and, with three or four players, feels really alive and increasingly exciting as its turns go by.
In another lifetime, Codenames might have been a very successful TV show instead of a board game. The spy theming is generally irrelevant – what the game actually boils down to is clever clue-giving. You can play with anything from four players upwards, and I think that something interesting happens when teams get sufficiently large to start second-guessing themselves. If you have a dozen or more people to play to with, Codenames is likely to be one of the most accessible options, but also one of the best ways to make use of having a big play group rather than struggle against it. It’s certainly a nicely priced game too.
Essentially The Walking Dead in a box, Dead of Winter goes a long way by giving the players largely overlapping but slightly contradictory objectives. The players take on the roles of survivors in a zombie apocalypse who each need to maintain the integrity of the colony if they want to stay alive, but also each ensure they’re taking care of their secret, personal needs – even when those clash with what the rest of the colony might be hoping for.
Slightly dated now, not least thanks to the extremely tired zombie theme, I think Winter is actually the most cogent, streamlined version of its particular ideas. Getting a group of four players genuinely pays dividends – five players might slow things down a little too much and three won’t quite hit the sweet spot.
An ironically very affordable auction game that rests on clever mathematical design, while hiding the crunchy numbers and preventing them from getting in the way of fun. Like most auction games, tension is increased by adding another player to the mix.
A win will require you to strike a balance between buying the best status symbols for the best price but also retaining some liquid assets for the crucial finale – somewhat satirically, the poorest player at the end of the the game is disqualified outright.
The 2018 edition from Osprey Games has very attractive graphic design and illustrations that just brings the theme home.
The ‘reverse auction’ game No Thanks is one of the most played games in my entire collection and is a sure-fire hit every time I introduce it to new players. You can play with three to seven players, but the closer you get to exactly five, the better the balance of fast-moving rounds and tension.
Each turn sees players accepting a card worth negative points, or throwing in a chip to deny it. Eventually, the pile of chips will be worth the hit, and a player will swoop up the chips and card as one. The genius wrinkle that makes it all work is that consecutive runs of numbered cards cancel one another out, so certain players will actually be keen to take certain cards, no matter the cost they’d incur for others.
Devilish, moreish and easy to fit in a pocket. I can’t recommend No Thanks enough.
A sprawling, lavish production that looks like it costs just as much as it actually does, Scythe is a one-time flavour of the month that actually took root as a dependable classic. I’ve often called it a ‘Cold War Game’ as it looks like, and in many respects feels like, a hex-based war game but actually revolves around building up resources and defenses to avoid combat and conflict rather more than it does going head-to-head on the battlefield.
The brilliant world-building and steampunk-ish design was inspired by the art of Jakub Różalski, and his mech designs translate into some very appealing, tactile miniatures. The standout components, however, are the action selection ‘consoles’ used by the players – they’re cunningly designed with indented sections to help keep track of the state of play.
Hard to explain but easy to grasp in practice, Scythe is surprisingly accessible and brilliantly durable. I especially enjoy it with three or four players: two and five do work but don’t quite hit the right amount of ‘war zone claustrophobia’, bringing either none or too much.
A game of trust and deception with an arbitrarily Arthurian theme, this is one of the stone-cold classics of the ‘social deduction’ genre. For my money, Avalon plays far better than the infamous Werewolf and Mafia because the players get slightly better evidence on which to base their suspicions, and also because no players are eliminated, so everybody plays all of the way through.
Each turn sees the players selecting which members of their whole group will be sent on a mission, then those selected players will secretly attempt to either help or hinder that mission, depending on their allegiance to either Camelot or the forces of darkness. One team wins by scuppering the plan, the other wins by helping Arthur’s squad to success. It’s simple, but the potential for trickery and manipulation is delicious.
You need at least five players for a game of Avalon, and that works pretty well, though I would recommend getting as close to the maximum ten as you possibly can to unleash all of its potential.
I’m on my fourth or fifth copy of Skull now because I keep letting friends who have never played it before but who instantly fall in love with it, keep it.
Somewhere between a game of chicken and the classic TV game show Name That Tune, with a tense echo of Russian Roulette, Skull is all about balancing your sense of risk against your sense of how the other players think. Each round sees players playing face-down cards that are quite like beer mats, hiding some that show skulls among others with flowers, until the players then bid on who can flip over the most flower cards without hitting a skull.
It takes a minute or two to learn how to play Skull by actually playing. I recommend anybody gives it a go – especially if you’ve got a few family members or friends you like to bait, cheat and mess with.
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