What is an essential board game? A tough question, given that there are over 100,000 games listed on BoardGameGeek with dozens of different categories and mechanics those games can be filtered by. One person’s “essential game” could be another’s “worst game ever”!
My idea of an essential board game is one with an affordable price tag, an inoffensive theme, a shallow learning curve, a reasonable play time, a significant level of player-to-player interaction, and high replayability. Once you have a solid collection of these kinds of games, you’ll have a better idea of what you like and dislike and can then branch out.
If I only had $100 to start a new board game collection from scratch, these seven games are the ones I would include.
The Resistance ($15)
Players: 5 to 10
The Resistance is the quintessential board game for social interaction. Hidden roles, imperfect information, social deduction, bluffing, leadership, accusations, laughing, crying—it has it all, and few alternatives can beat the amount of thrills and excitement that can be had in a single session of The Resistance. Eventually, you may even want to grab the Hidden Agenda expansion, which adds some notable gameplay twists.
Players: 4 to 8+
Codenames is an excellent lightweight party game that demands creative thinking. It’s played in two teams, where each team has a “codemaster” that’s trying to get their teammates to guess certain words on a shared board, without accidentally guessing words that belong to the other team—or the assassin word, which results in an instant loss!
Players: 4 to 8
Spyfall is yet another excellent party game. Like The Resistance, it involves deception and deduction, but unlike The Resistance, it’s a lot more laid back and less fiddly. Everyone in the game is made privy to a particular location, except one person who doesn’t know what the location is. Players take turns asking each other questions, trying to sniff out who the outsider is, while the outsider tries to guess what the location is before they root him out!
Bang: The Dice Game ($15)
Players: 3 to 8
Bang: The Dice Game is a chill sort of game where you can sit back and have a drink and chat with friends as it’s going on—or you can be super serious about it. It’s what you make of it. It involves hidden roles and social deduction, but actions are limited by dice rolls so it isn’t always clear who’s good and who’s bad. The BoardGameGeek forums have a few variants that make the game even more strategic and fun, so check those out as well.
Sushi Go! ($10)
Players: 2 to 5
Sushi Go! is a card drafting game where players are each dealt an initial hand. Each round, players simultaneously pick one of the cards from their hand to keep, then pass the rest of the cards clockwise. Repeat until all the cards are drafted, and the results are scored based on what cards each player collected. It’s light, it’s cute, and it’s simple enough that anyone will be able to learn it in a few minutes.
Players: 2 to 4
Kingdomino is a tile drafting game where your actions in previous rounds determine the turn order in future rounds. Drafted tiles are used to build 5×5 kingdoms, and the player with the best kingdom wins. It’s strategic, but lightweight enough that even casual players will pick it up with ease—and for times you want something deeper, you can try the 2-player 7×7 variant that’s been posted on the BoardGameGeek forums.
Hive Pocket ($20)
No other 2-player game has as shallow a learning curve as Hive while having as much strategic depth as Hive. It’s an amazingly designed game that’s beloved by many—even those who don’t typically like board games—and can be as intensely competitive as you want it to be. The pieces are durable and you can travel with it pretty much anywhere. Hive Pocket is smaller and cheaper, but even the original Hive is pretty darn portable!
Essential Board Games Collection, Grand Total: $105
OK, I came in $5 over budget. Forgive me. I could easily swap out one of the options for a slightly cheaper alternative, but trust me, it’d be way better to spend that $5 and skip tomorrow morning’s Starbucks. Every game in this collection was picked with care, and I consider each one to be a must-have.
Are there any other games I missed that you’d include? Or do you disagree with any of the choices? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think!