Top 100 boardgames.

This is now the ninth iteration of my own personal boardgame rankings, a list that’s now up to 100 titles, up twenty this time from last year’s list. It’s not intended to be a critic’s list or an analytical take on the games; it’s about 80% based on how much we enjoy the games, with everything else – packaging and design, simplicity of rules, and in one case, the game’s importance within its niche – making up the rest. I think I’ll probably hold the list at an even 100 going forward as it’s a monster to update each year.

I don’t mind a complex game, but I prefer games that offer more with less – there is an elegance in simple rules or mechanics that lead to a fun, competitive game. Don’t expect this to line up with the rankings at BoardGameGeek, where there’s something of a bias toward more complex games, which is fine but doesn’t line up perfectly with my own tastes.

I’ve expanded the list to include several games I have only played via iOS app implementations, rather than physical copies. As always, clicking on the game title takes you to; if I have a full review posted here or on Paste magazine’s site, the link to that will follow immediately. I’ve linked to app reviews where appropriate too. I’ve got many of these games in my aStore on amazon as well, unless they’re totally out of print.

I’ve added a few titles at the end that I own but haven’t played, or have not played enough to offer a review of them or rank them. Many of those will appear on a future list once I get to play them more.

I’ve put a complexity grade to the end of each review, low/medium/high, to make it easier for you to jump around and see what games might appeal to you. I don’t think there’s better or worse complexity, just different levels for different kinds of players. My wife prefers medium; I’m somewhere between medium and high. This isn’t like ordering a filet and asking for it well done, which I believe violates one of the Ten Commandments.

100. Twilight Struggle: I’ve only played this solo (vs the AI) on Steam, and it’s a good game, but also one of those games where you have to really know the entire deck of cards to play it well, and I’m not a huge fan of that. One player is the U.S. and one the Soviet Union in a cold-war battle (a bit reminiscent of the 1980s computer game balance of power) to gain influence around the globe while avoiding nuclear war. Players make their moves via cards, often playing cards that hurt themselves in the short term to set up a better play later on. BoardGameGeek lists a playing time of three hours for the live game, which is another serious negative for me, but I can see why it’s their #3 game as well given the readership’s favor for low-luck, heavy-strategy games. Complexity: High up to the sky.

99. Oregon: A game for two to four players that works reasonably well with any number in that range. Each player competes to place meeples and buildings on a rectangular grid by playing cards that match the row and/or column in which he’s placing the pieces. Points increase when players form larger groups of farmers on adjacent squares, place buildings next to farmers already on the board, or accumulate coal and gold tokens by building mines. It’s pretty simple and quick to play, but not that deep strategically. Currently out of print. Complexity: Low.

98. Beyond Baker Street: Full review. A deductive-reasoning co-op game with a Sherlock theme, as players can’t look at their own hands and must give clues to other players as to what cards they’re holding. It’s better Hanabi, if you’ve played that title. Complexity: Medium-low.

97. Goa. Goa had been out of print for at least five years, but there was enough of a clamor for a reprint that Z-Man Games reissued it entirely, with a small expansion included, only to have it go back out of print in 2016. It’s similar to two other games on the list, Bora Bora and Castles of Burgundy, in that players work off both a central board and individual player cards, taking resources from the central space and using them to advance tokens or development in their own play area. In Goa, the central board has a 5×5 area of tiles for players to acquire via a convoluted auction process, after which players use spices, ships, and colonists to try to build plantations and settle colonies while also increasing your production power across five separate categories on your Progress card. There are a lot of decisions and knowing the rules is key to the pace. It’s a good enough game, but copies are retailing for $90+ on amazon right now, which is outrageous. Complexity: Medium.

96. Costa Rica. Full review. A very light family-level game where players uncover the map as they go in a push-your-luck format that has very little downside – the cost of pushing your luck too far isn’t very high at all. Probably not great for adults only, but good for parents and kids to play together. Complexity: Low.

95. Arcane Academy. Full review. Like Costa Rica, not so much for the grown-ups, but good for parents to play with their kids. It’s a little smarter than Costa Rica, though. Players here collect gems and willpower points to allow them to cast spells and gather items, both represented on cards available to be ‘completed,’ which are worth victory points later in the game and may knock back your opponents. My daughter loves it. Complexity: Medium-low.

94. Evolution. Full review. I love the title and theme, as you might have guessed. The second edition cleaned up some minor rules issues, tweaked a few cards, and set it up for the Flight expansion (which I also reviewed, although we found that the Carnivore feature, which seems essential to the theme, meant a real disadvantage in game play. Since explanded by new rules and a Climate addition that is also sold as a standalone game. Complexity: Medium-low.

93. Le Havre. Full review, including app. It’s a great game, one of the most complex I’ve tried, based on Agricola and Caylus (both further up this list), but my God, the setup is a bear if you’re playing the physical game, and a full game can take a few hours. I do like the game a lot on an intellectual level, but I can fully understand anyone who looks at the size and scope and says “no way.” The app version, on the other hand, removes the biggest obstacle to the game and the AI players are solid, even able to execute some niche strategies that require knowledge of the special buildings in the deck. That said, multiple plays of this (in the app version) against the two games that inspired it have shifted my opinion, to where now Le Havre seems to trade enjoyment for complexity, not an exchange I’m usually willing to make. If you think Caylus is for kids and Agricola too airy, Le Havre is the game for you. I’ve played the related two-player game, The Inland Port, and don’t like it at all. Complexity: High.

92. Tikal. Strongly balanced game of board exploration, but the length of time between any single player’s turns, especially with three or four players, is a real drawback. Players compete to control temples and acquire treasures while building out a board representing a Central American jungle; control of those temples can change from turn to turn, and each player’s ten “actions” presents an enormous list of potential decisions to position his/her pieces for maximum points in each of the scoring rounds. That makes it interesting to play, but also leads to the long gaps between turns. Plays two to seven, but doesn’t play well with two. The app implementation helps a little, but it’s still a pretty slow game overall. Complexity: Medium.

91. Orleans. Full review. If you love games with a million pieces, here you go. Orleans is a complex game in the vein of Le Havre, with lots of workers to place, tracks to climb, and rounds to play – eighteen rounds, in fact, so grab yourself a beer or two because you’re going to be here a while. Complexity: High.

90. Tiffin. I haven’t gotten to review this in full yet, but it’s a simple worker-placement game with a novel theme: players are bicycle delivery boys in India, bringing tiffins – traditional metal containers with multiple compartments that contain hot lunches for workers – to various sites around town. There’s no map, though; players just complete route cards and score based on how many cubes they contributed. It’s simple and balanced and doesn’t take very long to play through even with 3-4 players. Complexity: Medium-low.

89. Hacienda. I’ve only played the app version (review), but it’s a solid tile-placement game with a strange scoring twist – the game comprises two phases, and the score from the short first phase is doubled and added to the score from the second phase for the final tally. Players compete to form chains of tiles on a board with various terrain hexes, racking up points for connecting to markets, creating larger herds of animals, and placing hacienda tokens on large chains. Through the Desert does this theme one better but Hacienda has more variable play as well as a huge set of user-generated maps available online. Periodically in and out of print. Complexity: Medium.

88. Navegador. Full review. I love this game’s theme and better implementation of the explore-build-trade combination than Yspahan has, but it doesn’t work well at all with two players and really needs at least four to create enough competition on the board to make it more than just a few players playing solitaire at the same table. Players begin in Portugal with two ships apiece and have to sail to South America, around Africa, and eventually to Japan, opening up new areas, establishing colonies, building factories and shipyards, and buying and selling goods from their colonies according to fluctuating market prices. With enough players, it’s tightly competitive without feeling work-like, and the replayability comes from the interactions among players, since the game has only a miniscule amount of randomness. Out of print for over a year now. Complexity: Medium.

87. Legendary Inventors. Review to come soon on Paste. Another worker-placement, card-completion title, like Tiffin, but with a few more paths to scoring so you have more strategic decisions to make early in the game. Each player gets four Inventor cards, each of which has a specific combination of abilities across the game’s four main skills, and must use them to place cubes on five to eight Invention cards in the middle of the table. Rewards for completed cards are doled out based on who put the most cubes on them. The theme is sort of goofy, as if they’re trying to make it educational, but it’s fairly well integrated with the gameplay. Releasing by the end of this year Complexity: Medium.

86. Age of War. Full review. It’s called a dice game, and it is undeniably true – there are dice here – but it’s more a game of set collection and competition. Reiner Knizia’s best games all feature solid mathematical underpinnings below elegant gameplay. This isn’t one of his very best, but it is engaging and clever and a good travel game at its normal list price of under $20. Complexity: Low.

85. Hey That’s My Fish. The rare kids’ boardgame (under $12!) that is still a fun play for adults, where players compete to score points by placing and moving their penguins across a board of hexagonal ice tiles … but the hitch is that the tile you leave then drops into the ocean, so the board changes as you go and you can even trap an opponent’s penguin if you plan it right. The app version, the only way I’ve played this game, includes some great animations, and you can unlock a number of alternate boards via achievements, most of which are low-hanging fruit. This and Blokus are the two best games specifically aimed at younger players that we’ve tried. Complexity: Low.

84. Maori: A light two- to four-player game, relatively high in the luck department for this list, with more opportunities to screw your opponent in a two player game, whereas with four players you’re focusing more on your own strategy and less on others’. In the game, players compete to fill out their own boards of 16 spaces by drawing island tiles from a central 4×4 grid, where the available selections depend on the movement of a boat token that travels around that grid’s perimeter. Players must form completed islands to receive points, and lose points for open spaces. Currently out of print, but amazon frequently has copies through marketplace sellers as does boardgamegeek. Complexity: Low.

83. Star Realms. Another deckbuilder, this one just for two players, playing very much like Dominion but with a space-exploration/combat theme. Each player starts with 50 points and must knock the other player down to zero to win. Players begin with ten cards, seven worth 1 coin each, three worth 1 combat point each, and on each turn can buy cards and/or attack at will. Scrapping cards (i.e., the Chapel strategy) is pretty easy, however, so the main twist is that players can build a wall of “bases” to protect himself – but those bases are pretty easily destroyed after the first few rounds because players can easily get to 6-8 attack points per turn. It’s a solid design but replay value was limited. The app looks great but the AI was a little light. Complexity: Medium-low.

82. 3 Wishes. Full review. It’s like Love Letter, but not quite as good. The entire game is a deck of 19 cards, and you use fewer with 3 or 4 players instead of 5. The idea is to have the best collection of three cards at game-end, but there’s one card that’s an automatic loser, two cards that double your points, and you have to have the right color combination to qualify to win at all. Games take five minutes and it costs about $10. Complexity: Low.

81. Race For The Galaxy: Full review. I’ve played this game a few more times using a freeware version I found online with very strong AI players, but that’s only served to underscore for me how much this game resembles work. It’s a deck-based game where players must know the cards in the deck well to be able to execute a strategy, and are more or less told by their initial card what strategy they must pursue. I don’t game to add to my stress levels, but this game requires such intensity of purpose that, despite a good theme and precisely designed mechanics, it feels like a responsibility rather than like fun. Android: Netrunner, a top ten overall game on BGG, suffers from a similar problem – you have to know the game intimately before you can play it well. I own Roll for the Galaxy too but it seems like more work for the same result. Complexity: High.

80. Tak. Full review. Not yet in print, although it’s supposed to be delivered to Kickstarter backers this month. This very simple, chess-like (or chess-lite) two-player game is based on a description in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles novels, but unlike those massive tomes, this game is quick to get into and to play. There’s some strategic density here below the surface despite the limited number of pieces. Each player tries to be the first to construct a path across the board (usually 5×5), but players can stack certain tiles and knock some over, and you quickly end up in a back-and-forth pattern that forms the meat of the game. Complexity: Medium-low.

79. Mission: Red Planet. Full review. Reissue of a 2005 game with some minor tweaks to the rules and a few features that are too small to be called expansions but do add a hint of extra strategy to the game. Complexity: Medium-low.

78. Barony. Full review. The designer of Splendor is also behind this simple game of area control that has plenty of depth to it – you need to be able to look forward many moves, and while that’s generally said of chess, Barony has a narrower tree of possibilities to consider. There’s no luck involved here, and the only random element involves the initial layout of the map. There’s an expansion, Sorcery, I haven’t tried yet. Complexity: Medium-low.

77. Spyrium. Full review. The steampunk theme didn’t do much for me, but there’s a decent game underneath it of very long-term planning – what you build in phase one really determines how much you’ll be able to accomplish in phase three. From the designer of Caylus (#15 this year), Spyrium requires players to collect the fictional energy-dense crystal of that name (dilithium much?) to build factories that produce more of it or convert it into cash. The real key to the game are the technologies available early in the game that can lead to lower costs later on; skip those, or buy the wrong ones, and you’re sunk. Very reasonable at about $22. Complexity: Medium-high.

76. Asara. Full review. Light strategy game that feels to us like a simpler, cleaner implementation of Alhambra’s theme and even some of its mechanics, without the elegance of the best family-strategy games like Stone Age or Small World. Players compete to build towers in five different colors, earning points for building the tallest ones or building the most, while dealing with a moderate element of randomness in acquiring tower parts. It’s also among the best-looking games we own, if that’s your thing. Just $18 as of this writing. Complexity: Low.

75. Alhambra: Full review. After playing it a few more times, I do like it more than I did the first time around, but the method used to acquire money is an awful mechanic that really screws the game up (for me) with more than two players. One of the cooler-looking games in our collection. There are many, many expansions, but I haven’t tried any. Complexity: Medium.

74. Zooloretto: Full review. A fun game, but a bit of a trifle compared to the others further up this list. You’re a zookeeper trying to fill his zoo’s three enclosures (expandable to four) with animals that arrive each turn on trucks available to all players, but each enclosure can only hold one type of animal at a time. There’s a cost to switching animals around, and there’s a penalty for picking up animals you can’t house, with points coming for filling an enclosure or filling all spots but one. I’m a little surprised this won the Spiel des Jahres, as it lacks the elegance of most winners of that award, and the two-player variant rules included in the game don’t work at all. I have played a simplified version of the game with my daughter, who loves the animal tokens and the well-drawn zoo boards. It’s a good starter game in the German-style genre, but not the best. Complexity: Low.

73. Valley of The Kings. Full review. One of many Dominion-inspired deckbuilders, VotK has a shifting central market from which players can acquire cards, where more powerful and valuable cards aren’t available till later in the game. Players acquire points by “entombing” cards, removing them from their active decks and trying to build collections of cards in certain colors for bonuses that rise exponentially. It does get that stupid Blue Murder song stuck in my head, though. Complexity: Medium-low.

72. Five Tribes. Full review. A very strong medium-strategy game from Days of Wonder, but one that hit some early backlash because of the heavy use of slaves within the game’s theme – as currency, no less. That’s been fixed in subsequent printings. The game uses an unusual mechanic where all of the meeples start the game on the board and players have to use a funky kind of move to remove as many as they can to gain additional points, goods, or powers. There’s a lot going on, but once you’ve learned everything you can do it’s not that difficult to play. Complexity: Medium.

71. Bora Bora. Bora Bora is one of the best-looking games we own and plays like a more complex version of the Castles of Burgundy. Two to four players compete to occupy territories on a central board of five islands, then using resources they acquire there to build on their individual player cards … but that’s just one of many ways to gain points in this game, where you can also hire natives to perform tasks or earn shells or status points, and you can trade in shells for jewelry worth points at game-end, and you can get bonuses for collecting certain combinations of cards, natives, or resources. It’s almost too much – you have so many options the game can slow down if players start overthinking it – but if you like Castles of Burgundy this is a good follow-up purchase. Complexity: Medium.

70. A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Full review. A very rich deckbuilder and “Living Card Game” (meaning there will be frequent expansion packs) that is extremely true to its theme, with fairly simple mechanics that lead to very intricate gameplay and maneuvering … kind of like the source material. I hated the book, but love this game. The only negative is time, as it takes well over an hour to play a full game, as much as two hours with four players if no one gets an early lead. Complexity: Medium.

69. Discoveries. A nice little gem recommended to me by someone on a boardgame forum I no longer frequent – how’s that for an explanation – with a Lewis & Clark theme of exploration where the players build up skills that allow them to undertake longer or more complicated exploration routes. I will say that I liked this game a lot more than my daughter did, even though I thought up front this would be a fast favorite for her; I think the theme didn’t grab her enough at first sight. Complexity: Medium.

68. Saloon Tycoon. Full review. A great-looking game that plays well too. Players are indeed saloon owners and must build their taverns across and up – buying cubes that allow them to add second and third floors to their establishments, adding rooms that confer different values and often work in concert with other rooms or certain cards to rack up more points. It’s fun, it’s just lightly competitive – most of what you’re doing is building your own site, but there are a couple of small chances to steal something from an opponent or hand him/her a damaging card. And if you’re comfortable with the presence of a Brothel card (it’s not explained), it’s fine for kids too. Complexity: Medium-low.

67. Acquire. Monopoly for grown-ups, and one of the oldest games on the list. Build hotel chains up from scratch, gain a majority of the shares, merge them, and try to outearn all your opponents. The game hinges heavily on its one random element – the draw of tiles from the pool each turn – but the decisions on buying stock in existing chains and how to sell them after a merger give the player far more control over his fate than he’d have in Monopoly. There’s a two-player variant that works OK, but it’s best with at least three people. The game looks a lot nicer now; I have a copy from the mid-1980s that still has the 1960s artwork and color scheme. Complexity: Low.

66. The Battle for Hill 218. A simple-not-that-simple two-player card game with a high degree of blowing-stuff-up-ness. Two players compete to take control of the hill of the game’s title by placing cards representing different military units that have specific attack and defense skills – some merely attacking an adjacent card, some able to attack deep behind enemy lines. The Kickstarter was a success, and they reprinted this game and the rethemed Battle for Sector 219, but it appears that copies aren’t easy to find. I’ve played and liked the iOS app version. Complexity: Medium-low.

65. Forbidden Desert. Full review. A medium-weight cooperative game from the designer of Pandemic (a top ten game for me, and the best coop game I’ve played), Forbidden Desert has players trying to escape a sandstorm on a board that changes every game, on which a sandstorm threatens to kill them all if dehydration doesn’t get them first. It’s more luck-driven than Pandemic, which doesn’t suit my particular tastes, but overall is a little quicker to learn. The app is great, but it’s a bastard. Complexity: Medium.

64. Xenon Profiteer. Full review. Okay, perhaps not the best name, but it’s a really good game even if you weren’t obsessed with the periodic table like I was as a kid. Players are indeed profiting off xenon – the point is that you’re “refining” your hand of cards each turn to get rid of other gases and isolate the valuable xenon, then building up your tableau of cards to let you rack up more points from it. It’s a smarter deckbuilder with room for expansions, one of which came out this year. Complexity: Medium.

63. Galaxy Trucker. Full app review. I have only played the iOS app version of the game, which is just amazing, and reviews of the physical game are all pretty strong. Players compete to build starships to handle voyages between stations, and there’s an actual race to grab components during the building phase, after which you have to face various external threats and try to grab treasures while completing missions. It’s a boardgame that has a hint of RPG territory; the app has a long narrative-centric campaign that is best of breed. Complexity: Medium-low.

62. Lords of Waterdeep. I have only reviewed the app version of this game, and it apparently hews very closely to the physical version. Despite the grafted-on Dungeons and Dragons theme, it’s just a worker-placement game where players compete across eight rounds to acquire scarce resources, build buildings worth victory points, and occasionally sabotage other players. Agricola has similar mechanics and constraints, but its greater complexity makes for a more interesting game; Lords is better if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half playing one session. Complexity: Medium.

61. Mysterium. Full review. A truly unique co-op game where one player plays the ghost of a murder victim and must communicate clues to the other players, who play mediums, using vision cards which are, by design, ambiguous. It’s a game that tests your creativity and rewards imagination, rather than piling on complexity to increase its difficulty. It’s already been expanded as well with more cards, some of which are just more suspects or weapons but most of which are new vision cards which make for an even more oneiromantic evening. Complexity: Low.

60. San Juan: Full review. The card game version of Puerto Rico, but simpler, and very portable. I like this as a light game that lets you play a half-dozen times in an evening, but all it really shares with Puerto Rico is a theme and the concept of players taking different roles in each turn. It plays well with two players but also works with three or four. I get that saying this is a better game than Race for the Galaxy (they were developed in tandem before RftG split off) is anathema to most serious boardgamers, but the fact that you can pick this game up so much more easily is a major advantage in my mind, more than enough to balance out the significant loss of complexity; after two or three plays, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to at least compete. The app version is very strong, with competent AI players and superb graphics. Complexity: Low.

59. Quadropolis. Full review. The latest title from Days of Wonder has the company’s usual set of outstanding graphics and well-written rules, but as their games go this is on the more complex end of the spectrum. You’re trying to fill out your city board with tiles representing six or seven different building types; you’ll never be able to do or get everything you want, so the game requires some early decisions and some compromises. It’s a well-designed, well-balanced game, but I have it ranked here because it’s a little workish. Building a city is supposed to be fun, isn’t it, Mr. Sim? Complexity: Medum.

58. Istanbul. Full review. Not Constantinople. Istanbul won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres, but it’s not that complex a game overall; my then eight-year-old daughter figured out a basic strategy right away (I call it the “big money” strategy) that was surprisingly robust, and the rules are not that involved or difficult. Players are merchants in a Turkish marketplace, trying to acquire the rubies needed to win the game through various independent channels. There’s a competitive element in that you don’t want to pursue the same methods everyone else is, because that just raises the costs. It’s also a very visually appealing game. Complexity: Medium.

57. Bruges. Full review. An indirect descendant of Agricola, Bruges also has players adding abilities from a giant deck, encouraging long-range planning that racks up points if you get the right cards played in the right combinations. You don’t have to feed your family here; instead you’re a noble in the beautiful Belgian town of (fookin’) Bruges, building stuff for points, because that’s how these games all work. It’s a pretty game as well, although I take a few points off for the disjointed scoring mechanisms. Possibly out of print. Complexity: Medium to medium-high.

56. Yspahan. Full review. Set in an Arabian city of four souks, players compete to place goods in those clusters of buildings on the brightly colored game board, with completed souks worth points at the end of each of the game’s three “weeks.” Players also earn points and privileges by building up to six special buildings, and can accumulate points quickly by sending goods to the caravan – or can ship other players’ goods from souks to the caravan to screw them up. I’ve played this many times online this year and have a much better feel for how it works; it actually functions better than I thought with two players, and while the caravan strategy (sending cubes to the caravan all game, gaining a card each time via a special building) is very powerful, it’s only dominant if no one else bothers. It’s a very solid, sharp game that plays fast. Complexity: Medium.

55. Ra. Full review. One of Reiner Knizia’s classics and one of the great auction games in the genre, Ra got a well-deserved reissue earlier this year from Asmodee. Players collect Egyptian artifacts in groups of tiles. On a turn, a player may bid on the group on display or choose to add another tile; most tiles are worth acquiring but the bag has a few ‘disaster’ tiles that force you to discard something of value. It’s a little long, but it’s a deep economic game with many paths to victory. Complexity: Medium-high.

54. Diplomacy. Risk for grown-ups, with absolutely zero random chance – it’s all about negotiating. I wrote about the history of Diplomacy (and seven other games) for mental_floss in 2010, concluding with: “One of a handful of games (with Risk) in both the GAMES Magazine and Origin Awards Halls of Fame, Diplomacy is an excellent choice if you enjoy knife fights with your friends and holding grudges that last well beyond the final move.” I think that sums it up perfectly. I haven’t played this in a few years, unfortunately, although that’s no one’s fault but my own. Complexity: Medium.

53. Jambo: Full review. A two-player card game where the deck is virtually everything, meaning that there’s a high element of chance based on what cards you draw; if you don’t draw enough of the cards that allow you to sell and purchase wares, it’ll be hard for you to win. Each player is an African merchant dealing in six goods and must try to buy and sell them enough times to go from 20 gold at the game’s start to 60 or more at the end. We played this wrong a few times, then played it the right way and found it a little slow, as the deck includes a lot of cards of dubious value. I’ve moved this up a few spots this year after some replays, as it’s one of the best pure two-player games out there. It’s also among my favorite themes, maybe because it makes me think of the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disneyworld. Out of print for over a year now. Complexity: Low.

52. Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Full review. A new cooperative boardgame that borrows very heavily from Pandemic but shifts to a new setting – a burning building with victims to be rescued – and includes different constraints and tools for fighting the common foe. I think Pandemic does this better, not just because Matt Leacock invented this subgenre but because the play itself, especially the way the foe (viruses) spreads across the board, so Flash Point is better if you love Pandemic and want more of the same but on a different board. A good deal right now at $23. Complexity: Medium.

51. Lost Cities: Full review. This was once our favorite two-person game, a simple title from the prolific designer Reiner Knizia, and it’s quite portable since it can be played with nothing but the game cards. We’ve since moved on to some more complex two-player games, but for simplicity (without becoming dumb) this one is still an easy recommendation for me to give folks new to the genre. The deck comprises 12 cards in each of five colors, including cards numbered 2 through 10 and three “investment” cards to double, triple, or quadruple the profit or loss the player earns in that color. Players take turns drawing from the deck but may only place cards in increasing order, so if you draw a green 5 after you played the 6, tough luck. You can knock out a game in 15 minutes or less, so it’s one to play multiple times in a sitting. The iOS app is very slick and plays really quickly – a great one for killing a minute while you’re waiting in line. There is a Lost Cities board game, but I have never played it. Complexity: Low.

50. T’zolkin. I’m cheating a little here; T’zolkin is a very highly rated game that I own but have played just once, so while I wanted it high on the list I didn’t want to stuff it in the top 20 based on one play. It’s a fairly complex worker-placement game where the board itself has six interlocked gears that move with the days of the Mayan calendar; you place a worker on one gear and he cycles through various options for moves until you choose to recall him. As with most worker-placement games, you’re collecting food, gold, wood, and stone; building stuff; and moving up some scoring tracks. The gears, though, are kind of badass. Complexity: High.

49. 7 Wonders Duel. Full review. If you want a better two-player game, though, 7WD is longer, more complex, and definitely rewards long-term planning. Borrowing its theme from one of the greatest boardgames of all time, 7W Duel strips the rules down so that each player is presented with fewer options. Hand cards become cards on the table, revealed a few at a time in a set pattern that limits player choices to one to four cards (roughly) per turn. Familiarity with the original game is helpful but by no means required. Complexity: Medium-low.

48. Coup. Full review. A great, great bluffing game if you have at least four people in your gaming group. Each player gets two cards and can use various techniques to try to take out other players. Last (wo)man standing is the winner. Guaranteed to get the f-bombs flowing. Only about $8 for the whole kit and caboodle. Complexity: Low.

47. Targi. Full review. Moderately complex two-player game with a clever mechanic for placing meeples on a grid – you don’t place meeples on the grid itself, but on the row/column headers, so you end up blocking out a whole row or column for your opponent. Players gather salt, pepper, dates, and the relatively scarce gold to enable them to buy “tribe cards” that are worth points by themselves and in combinations with other cards. Some tribe cards also confer benefits later in the game. Two-player games often tend to be too simple, or feel like weak variants of games designed for more players. Targi isn’t either of those things – it’s a smart game that feels like it was built for exactly two people. (I got it for under $20 two years ago, but as of this writing it’s selling for over $50 on amazon because it’s more or less out of print.) Complexity: Medium.

46. Tobago. Full review. Solid family-strategy game with a kid-friendly theme of island exploration, hidden treasures, and puzzle-solving, without a lot of depth but high replay value through a variable board. Players place clue cards in columns that seek to narrow the possible locations of four treasures on the island, with each player placing a card earning a shot at the coins in that treasure – but a small chance the treasure, like the frogurt, will be cursed. The deductive element might be the game’s best attribute. The theme is similar to that of Relic Runners (a Days of Wonder game from 2014 that I didn’t like) but the game plays more smoothly. A bit overpriced right now at $50, though. Complexity: Low.

45. Cacao: Full review. A simpler Carcassonne? I guess every tile-laying game gets compared to the granddaddy of them all, but Cacao certainly looks similar, and you don’t get to see very far ahead in the tile supply in Cacao, although at least here you get a hand of three tiles from which to choose. But the Cacao board ends up very different, a checkerboard pattern of alternating tiles between players’ worker tiles and the game’s neutral tiles, which can give you cacao beans, let you sell beans for 2-4 gold pieces, give you access to water, give you partial control of a temple, or just hand you points. One key mechanic: if you collect any sun tiles, you can play a new tile on top of a tile you played earlier in the game, which is a great way to make a big ten-point play to steal the win. Complexity: Low.

44. Thebes: Full review. A fun family-oriented game with an archaelogy theme and what I think of as the right amount of luck: it gives the game some balance and makes replays more interesting, but doesn’t determine the whole game. Players collect cards to run expeditions to five dig sites, then root around in the site’s bag of tokens to try to extract treasure. Back in print at the moment. Complexity: Medium-low.

43. Seasons: Full review. A hybrid game of deckbuilding and point accumulation, where the decks are very small, so understanding the available cards and the interactions between them (some of which create exponentially better effects) is key to playing the game well. Players play wizards who start the game with nine spell cards to play, divided into three groups of three, and use them to gain energy tokens and crystals that can eventually be converted into points. The seasons change according to a time wheel on the board, and each of the four energy types has a season in which it’s scarce and two in which it’s plentiful. Seasons has a very dedicated fan base and two popular expansions, and I agree with that in that once you get up the steep learning curve it’s a great game due to the number of possibilities for each move and differences from game to game. Complexity: Medium-high.

42. Machi Koro: Full review. A deckbuilder where the “deck” is actually all open, with all of a player’s cards laid out in front of him/her at all times. Each player rolls one or both dice and may collect coins depending on the result and on which cards s/he has on the table, then using coins to buy more cards and try to rack up bigger bonuses on future dice rolls. The first player to build four special buildings (requiring a lot of coins) wins the game. It might be a little too simple for adults to play alone, but we loved it as a family game where the dice keep the playing field fairly level. Complexity: Low.

41. Scotland Yard: App review. One of the few old-school games on the board, and one I’ve only played in app form. One player plays the criminal mastermind (I don’t know if he’s really a mastermind, but doesn’t he have to be for the narrative to work?) trying to escape the other players, playing detectives, by using London’s transportation network of cabs, buses, the Tube, and occasionally a boat along the Thames. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up but there’s nothing on here a clever six- or seven-year-old couldn’t handle if playing alongside an adult, and like Tobago has a strong deductive-reasoning component that makes it a little bit educational as well as fun. Complexity: Low.

40. Power Grid: Full review. This might be the Acquire for the German-style set, as the best business- or economics-oriented game I’ve found. Each player tries to build a power grid on the board, bidding on plants at auction, placing stations in cities, and buying resources to fire them. Those resources become scarce and the game’s structure puts limits on expansion in the first two “phases.” It’s not a simple game to learn and a few rules are less than intuitive, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a game that does a better job of turning resource constraints into something fun. I’d love to see this turned into an app, although the real-time auction process would make async multi-player a tough sell. Disclaimer: My wife doesn’t like this game because she says the board and cards look “depressing.” Complexity: High (or medium-high).

39. Agamemnon (Link is not to amazon): Full review. An absolute gem of an abstract two-player game, with very little luck and a lot of balancing between the good move now and holding a tile for a great move later. Players compete to control “threads of fate” – connected lines on a small hub-and-spoke board – by placing their tokens at the hubs, but there are three different types of lines and control of each is determined in its own way. The board has alternate layouts on the other side for infinite replayability, but the main board is elegant enough for many replays, because so much of the game involves outthinking your opponent. Complexity: Low.

38. Elder Sign: Full review. Another cooperative game, this one set in the Cthulhu realm of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, Elder Sign takes a different tack on teamwork by emphasizing individual actions within the larger rubric of coordinating actions to reach a common goal. Players represent detectives seeking to rid a haunted mansion of its evil spirits, room by room, earning certain rewards while incurring risks to their health and sanity, all to take out the big foozle before he returns to life and threatens to devour them all. Player actions take place via dice rolls, but players can use their unique skills as well as various cards to alter rolled dice or reroll them entirely to try to achieve the results necessary to clear a room. There’s still a heavy luck component and you’ll probably swear at some point that Cthulhu himself has possessed the dice, but that just makes killing your supernatural enemy all the more satisfying. Complexity: Medium-low.

37. Glen More: Full review. Build your Scottish settlement, grow wheat, make whiskey. Sure, you can do other stuff, like acquire special tiles (including Loch Ness!) or acquire the most chieftains or earn victory points by trading other resources, but really, whiskey, people. The tile selection mechanic is the biggest selling point, as players move on a track around the edge of the central board and may choose to skip one or more future turns by jumping further back to acquire a better tile. Out of print again. Complexity: Medium.

36. Patchwork: Full review. A really sharp two-player game that has an element of Tetris – players try to place oddly shaped bits of fabric on his/her main board, minimizing unused space and earning some small bonuses along the way. It’s from Uwe Rosenberg, better known for designing the ultra-complex games Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna. Go figure. And go get it. Complexity: Low.

35. Camel Up: Full review. Winner of the Spiel des Jahres award in 2014, Camel Up revolves around the “Camel Cup,” a race around the board involving … well, camels, yes, but camel meeples that stack, so when one lands on a space occupied by one or more camels already, they form a pile that moves as one. Players get to place little bets on each round of the race and on the ultimate winner and loser. Strategy is light, and it works for up to 8 players – the more the merrier in our experience, because it just gets sillier (in a good way). My daughter loves this; I would say I just like it, but I ranked it here because any game that she asks to play is a good one in my book. Complexity: Low.

34. Saint Petersburg. A classic Eurogame, recently reissued in German with better artwork, at which I am particularly bad for some reason. It’s all money and cards – you buy cards from the central supply, and each round has three separate scoring events, some of which provide money and some of which provide points. The unique aspect to Saint Petersburg is that you can gain discounts on future purchases by virtue of what you buy now: further copies of the same card cost one coin less for each copy you have, and some cards can be upgraded to more valuable versions, saving you the cost you paid for the card in the first place. It’s a good game, all right, and perhaps the fact that I’m so bad at it is further evidence. Out of print in English, unfortunately; I snagged one in trade, but I can’t imagine it’ll stay out of print for long now that new artwork exists. Complexity: Medium-low.

33. Morels. Full review for Paste. A 2012 release, Morels is an easy-to-learn two-player card game with plenty of decision-making and a small amount of interaction with your opponent as you try to complete and “cook” sets of various mushroom types to earn points. The artwork is impressive and the game is very balanced, reminiscent of Lost Cities but with an extra tick of difficulty because of the use of an open, rolling display of cards from which players can choose. Complexity: Low.

32. Puerto Rico: Full review. One of the highest-rated and most-acclaimed Eurogames of all time, although I think its combination of worker-placement and building has been done better by later designers. You’re attempting to populate and build your own island, bringing in colonists, raising plantations, developing your town, and shipping goods back to the mother country. Very low luck factor, and just the right amount of screw-your-neighbor (while helping yourself, the ultimate defense). Unfortunately, the corn-and-ship strategy is really tough to beat, reducing the game’s replay value for me. There’s a solid iOS app as well, improved after some major upgrades. Complexity: High.

31. Vikings: Full review. A very clever tile placement game in which players place island and ship tiles in their areas and then place vikings of six different colors on those tiles to maximize their points. Some vikings score points directly, but can’t score unless a black “warrior” viking is placed above them. Grey “boatsman” vikings are necessary to move vikings you’ve stored on to unused tiles. And if you don’t have enough blue “fisherman” vikings, you lose points at the end of the game for failing to feed everyone. Tile selection comes from a rondel that moves as tiles come off the board, with each space on the rondel assigning a monetary value to the tiles; tiles become cheaper as the number remaining decreases. You’re going to end up short somewhere, so deciding early where you’ll punt is key. Great game that still gets too little attention. Complexity: Medium.

30. Concordia: Full review . It’s a map game, set in Ancient Rome, built around trade and economics rather than conflict or claiming territories. Much better with four players than with two, where there isn’t enough interaction on the map to force players to make harder decisions. Runner-up for the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur’s game of the year) in 2015 to Istanbul. Complexity: Medium.

29. Egizia: I’m not even sure how I first heard about Egizia, a complex worker-placement game that has a great theme (ancient Egypt) and, despite some complexity in the number of options, hums along better than most games of this style. In each round, players place meeples on various spots on and along the Nile river on the board. Some give cards with resources, some give cards with bonuses, some allow you to boost the power of your construction crews, and some tracks allow you to build in the big points areas, the monuments found in one corner of the board. You also can gain a few bonus cards, specific to you and hidden from others, that give you more points for certain game-end conditions, like having the most tiles in any single row of the pyramid. Best with four players, but workable with three; with two you’re playing a fun game of solitaire. Currently out of print; I was lucky to score a copy in trade. Complexity: High.

28. Love Letter: Full review. The entire game is just sixteen cards and a few heart tokens. Each player has one card and has to play it; the last player still alive wins the round. It requires at least three players to be any good and was much better with four, with lots of laughing and silly stare-downs. It’s the less serious version of Coup, and it’s only $9. Complexity: Low.

27. Thurn und Taxis: Full review. I admit to a particularly soft spot for this game, as I love games with very simple rules that require quick thinking with a moderate amount of foresight. (I don’t care for chess, which I know is considered the intellectual’s game, because I look three or four moves ahead and see nothing but chaos.) Thurn und Taxis players try to construct routes across a map of Germany, using them to place mail stations and to try to occupy entire regions, earning points for doing so, and for constructing longer and longer routes. Just don’t do what I did and play it against an operations consultant, lest you get your clock cleaned. Back in print in November 2016. Complexity: Low.

26. Through the Desert: Full app review. Another Knizia game, this one on a large board of hexes where players place camels in chains, attempting to cordon off entire areas they can claim or to connect to specific hexes worth extra points, all while potentially blocking their opponents from building longer or more valuable chains in the same colors. Very simple to learn and to set up, and like most Knizia games, it’s balanced and the mechanics work beautifully. Out of print at the moment, although I picked up a new copy back in 2011 for $10 on amazon. I’d grab the app while we wait for the physical version to come back around. Horse with no name sold separately. Complexity: Low.

25. Baseball Highlights: 2045: Full review. I was floored at how much I enjoyed this game; it is baseball-themed, but it’s really a fast-moving deckbuilder where your deck only has 15 cards in it and you get to upgrade it constantly between “games.” The names on the player cards are all combinations of names of famous players from history – the first name from one, the last from another, like “Cy Clemens” – except for the robots. It’s not a baseball simulation game, but that might be why I liked it, because it was easier to just let the theme go and play the game for what it is. Complexity: Medium-low.

24. 7 Ronin: Full review. An asymmetrical two-player game with a Seven Samurai theme – and when I say “theme,” I mean that’s the whole story of the game. One player is the seven ronin of the title, hired to defend a village against the invading ninjas, controlled by the other player. If the ninjas don’t take the village or wipe out the ronin before eight rounds are up, the ronin player wins. But the ninja can gain a decisive advantage in the first four rounds with the right moves. It’s very clever, the art is fantastic, and the theme is completely integrated into the game itself. It also plays in about 30 minutes. Complexity: Medium-low.

23. Orient Express: An outstanding game that’s long out of print; I’m lucky enough to still have the copy my father bought for me in the 1980s, but fans have crafted their own remakes, like this one from a Boardgamegeek user. It takes those logic puzzles where you try to figure out which of five people held which job and lived on which street and had what for breakfast and turns them into a murder mystery board game with a fixed time limit. When the Orient Express reaches its destination, the game ends, so you need to move fast and follow the clues. The publishers still sell the expansions, adding up to 30 more cases for you to solve, through this site, but when I asked them about plans for a reprint they gave me the sense it’s not likely. Complexity: Low.

22. Ingenious. Full app review. I only own the app rather than the physical game. It’s another Reiner Knizia title, a two-person abstract strategy game that involves tile placement but where the final scoring compares each player’s lowest score across the six tile colors, rather than his/her highest. That alters gameplay substantially, often making the ideal play seem counterintuitive, and also requires each player to keep a more careful eye on what the other guy is doing. My daughter loves this game as well. Complexity: Low.

21. King of Tokyo. Full review. From the guy who created Magic: the Gathering comes a game that has no elfs or halflings or deckbuilding whatsoever. Players are monsters attempting to take control of Tokyo, attacking each other along the way while trying to rack up victory points and maintain control of the city space on the board. Very kid-friendly between the theme and major use of the dice (with up to two rerolls per turn), but good for the adults too; it plays two to six but I think it needs at least three to be any good. Complexity: Medium-low.

20. Battle Line: Full review. Reissued this year as Schotten Totten – same game, different theme, better art, $5 cheaper. Among the best two-player games we’ve found, designed by Reiner Knizia, who is also behind half the other games on this list. Each player tries to build formations on his/her side of the nine flags that stand in a line between him and his opponent; formations include three cards, and the various formation types resemble poker hands, with a straight flush of 10-9-8 in one color as the best formation available. Control three adjacent flags, or any five of the nine, and you win. But ten tactics cards allow you to bend the rules, by stealing a card your opponent has played, raising the bar for a specific flag from three cards to four, or playing one of two wild cards that can stand in for any card you can’t draw. There’s a fair amount of randomness involved, but playing nine formations at once with a seven-card hand allows you to diversify your risk. The iOS app is among the best as well. Complexity: Low.

19. Broom Service. Full review. The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2015, Broom Service is lighter than most games in that category, but still complex enough to be more than just a family-strategy game, although the theme appealed to my daughter and she didn’t have any trouble understanding the base game’s rules. Players take on various roles to move their witch tokens around the board, gathering potions or delivering them to various towers for points, or collecting wands and clouds to gain other bonuses. There are multiple paths to win, but they’re all fairly straightforward; the role selection process is unique and takes some getting used to for younger players. It was a well-deserving winner in our opinion. Complexity: Medium.

18. Agricola: I gained a new appreciation for this game thanks to the incredible iOS app version developed by Playdek, which made the game’s complexity less daunting and its internal sophistication more evident. You’re a farmer trying to raise enough food to feed your family, but also trying to grow your family so you have more help on the farm. The core game play isn’t that complex, but huge decks of cards offering bonuses, shortcuts, or special skills make the game much more involved, and require some knowledge of the game to play it effectively. My wife felt this game felt way too much like work; I enjoyed it more than that, but it is undeniably complex and you can easily spend the whole game freaking out about finding enough food, which about a billion or so people on the planet refer to as “life.” Mayfair reissued the game in 2016 with some improved graphics and a lower price point, although the base game now only plays 1-4. Complexity: High.

17. New Bedford. Full review. I adore this game, which is about whaling, but somehow manages to sneak worker-placement and town-building into the game too, and figures out how to reward people who do certain things early without making the game a rout. Each player gets to add buildings to the central town of New Bedford (much nicer than the actual town is today), or can use one of the central buildings; you pay to use someone else’s building, and they can be worth victory points to their owners at game-end. The real meat of the game is the whaling though – you get two ships, and the more food you stock them with, the more turns they spend out at sea, which means more turns where you might grab the mighty sperm whale token from the bag. But you have to pay the dockworkers to keep each whale and score points for it. For a game that has this much depth, it plays remarkably fast – never more than 40 minutes for us with three players. Complexity: Medium.

16. Samurai: Full review. I bought the physical game after a few months of playing the app, and it’s a great game – simple to learn, complex to play, works very well with two players, plays very differently with three or four as the board expands. Players compete to place their tiles on a map of Japan, divided into hexes, with the goal of controlling the hexes that contain buddha, farmer, or soldier tokens. Each player has hex tiles in his color, in various strengths, that exert control over the tokens they show; samurai tokens that affect all three token types; boats that sit off the shore and affect all token types; and special tokens that allow the reuse of an already-placed tile or allow the player to switch two tokens on the board. Trying to figure out where your opponent might screw you depending on what move you make is half the fun. Very high replayability too. Fantasy Flight updated the graphics, shrank the box, and reissued it in 2015. Complexity: Medium/low.

15. Caylus: Full app review. Another game I’ve only played in its app version, Caylus is among the best of the breed of highly-complex games that also includes Agricola and Le Havre, with slightly simpler rules and fewer pieces, yet the same lack of randomness and relatively deep strategy. I’ve also found the game is more resilient to early miscues than other complex strategy games, as long as you don’t screw up too badly. In Caylus, players compete for resources used to construct new buildings along one public road and used to construct parts of the main castle where players can earn points and special privileges like extra points or resources. If another player uses a building you constructed, you get a point or a resource, and in most cases only one player can build a specific building type, while each castle level has a finite number of blocks to be built. There are also high point value statues and monuments that I think are essential to winning the game, but you have to balance the need to build those against adding to the castle and earning valuable privileges. Even playing the app a dozen or more times I’ve never felt it becoming monotonous, and the app’s graphics are probably the best I’ve seen alongside those of Agricola’s. Complexity: High.

14. Takenoko.Full review. If I tell you this is the cutest game we own, would you consider that a negative? The theme and components are fantastic – there’s a panda and a gardener and these little bamboo pieces, and the panda eats the bamboo and you have to lay new tiles and make sure they have irrigation and try not to go “squeeeeee!” at how adorable it all is. There’s a very good game here too: Players draw and score “objective” cards from collecting certain combinations of bamboo, laying specific patterns of hex tiles, or building stacks of bamboo on adjacent tiles. The rules are easy enough for my daughter to learn, but gameplay is more intricate because you’re planning a few moves out and have to deal with your opponents’ moves – although there’s no incentive to screw your opponents. Just be careful – that panda is hungry. Complexity: Medium-low.

13. Small World: Full review. I think the D&D-style theme does this game a disservice – that’s all just artwork and titles, but the game itself requires some tough real-time decisions. Each player uses his chosen race to take over as many game spaces as possible, but the board is small and your supply of units runs short quickly, forcing you to consider putting your race into “decline” and choosing a new one. But when you choose a new one is affected by what you stand to lose by doing so, how well-defended your current civilization’s position is, and when your opponents are likely to go into decline. The iPad app is outstanding too. Complexity: Medium.

12. Tigris & Euphrates: Full review. The magnum opus from Herr Knizia, a two- to four-player board game where players fight for territory on a grid that includes the two rivers of the game’s title, but where the winning player is the one whose worst score (of four) is the best. Players gain points for placing tiles in each of four colors, for having their “leaders” adjacent to monuments in those colors, and for winning conflicts with other players. Each player gets points in those four colors, but the idea is to play a balanced strategy because of that highest low score rule. The rules are a little long, but the game play is very straightforward, and the number of decisions is large but manageable. Fantasy Flight also reissued this title in 2015, with a much-needed graphics update and smaller box. Complexity: Medium.

11. (The Settlers of) Catan: It’s now just called Catan, although I use the old title because I think more people know it by that name. We don’t pull this game out as much as we did a few years ago, and I’ve still got it ranked this high largely because of its value as an introduction to Eurogames, one of the best “gateway games” on the market. Without this game, we don’t have the explosion in boardgames we’ve had in the last fifteen years. We don’t have Ticket to Ride and 7 Wonders showing up in Target, a whole wall of German-style games in Barnes & Noble, or the Cones of Dunshire on network television. Only four games on this list predate Settlers, from an era where Monopoly was considered the ne plus ultra of boardgames and you couldn’t complain about how long and awful it was because you had no basis for comparison. The history of boardgames comprises two eras: Before Catan, and After Catan. We are fortunate to be in 18 A.C.

As for the game itself, in Catan three or four players compete on a variable board of hexes to acquire different resource types, build roads and cities, and reach twelve victory points before any other player. Resources are parceled out in part according to rolls of the dice, and you can lose resources if the Robber shows up on a roll of seven and you’re not prepared for it. The Seafarers expansion balances out the core game’s low value on the wool resource, but also makes the game take about 50% longer to play. It was, and is, a great starting point if you’ve never played anything on this list, and is also one of the few games here that has some traction outside of the boardgamer culture, although that’s improving as well. Complexity: Low.

10. Pandemic: Full review. The king of cooperative games. Two to four players work together to stop global outbreaks of four diseases that spread in ways that are only partly predictable, and the balance between searching for the cures to those diseases and the need to stop individual outbreaks before they spill over and end the game creates tremendous tension that usually lasts until the very end of the event deck at the heart of the game. The On The Brink expansion adds new roles and cards while upping the complexity further. The Pandemic iOS app is among the best out there and includes the expansion as an in-app purchase. If you’re looking for a cooperative game you can play with kids, try Forbidden Island, from the same developer but much easier to learn and to win.

I should mention Pandemic Legacy, one of the most critically acclaimed boardgames of all time, although I have yet to play it. Unlike the base game, Pandemic Legacy is a game with a single storyline, where the game itself – including its physical components – changes as you play it. It requires multiple plays, therefore, about 12 to 24 depending on your luck and success, to complete the story. Complexity: Medium.

9. Splendor: Full review. A Spiel des Jahres nominee in 2014, Splendor has fast become a favorite in our house for its simple rules and balanced gameplay. My daughter, now eight, loves the game and is able to play at a level pretty close to the adults. It’s a simple game where players collect tokens to purchase cards from a 4×3 grid, and where purchased cards decrease the price of other cards. Players have to think long-term without ignoring short-term opportunities, and must compare the value of going for certain in-game bonuses against just plowing ahead with purchases to get the most valuable cards. The Splendor app, made by the team at Days of Wonder, is amazing, and is available for iOS, Android, and Steam. Complexity: Low.

8. Dominion: Full review. The definitive deck-building game, with no actual board. Dominion’s base set – there are ten expansions now available, so you could spend a few hundred dollars on this – includes money cards, action cards, and victory points cards. Each player begins with seven money cards and three victory cards and, shuffling and drawing five cards from his own deck each turn, must add cards to his deck to allow him to have the most victory points when the last six-point victory card is purchased. I don’t think we have a multi-player game with a smaller learning curve, and the fact that the original set alone comes with 25 action cards but each game you play only includes 10 means it offers unparalleled replayability even before you add an expansion set. I’ll vouch for the Seaside expansion, which is excellent and really changes the way the game plays, plus a standalone expansion further up this list. I can also vouch for this as appropriate for a young player – my daughter (who started playing this at age six) understands the base game well enough to play it without me deliberately throwing the game to keep it competitive. Complexity: Low.

7. The Castles Of Burgundy: Full review. Castles of Burgundy is the rare game that works well across its range of player numbers, as it scales well from two to four players by altering the resources available on the board to suit the number of people pursuing them. Players compete to fill out their own boards of hexes with different terrain/building types (it’s like zoning) by competiting for tiles on a central board, some of which are hexes while others are goods to be stored and later shipped for bonuses. Dice determine which resources you can acquire, but you can also alter dice rolls by paying coins or using special buildings to change or ignore them. Setup is a little long, mostly because sorting cardboard tiles is annoying, but gameplay is only moderately complex – a little more than Stone Age, not close to Caylus or Agricola – and players get so many turns that it stays loose even though there’s a lot to do over the course of one game. I’ve played this online about 50 times, using all the different boards, even random setups that dramatically increase the challenge, and I’m not tired of it yet. Complexity: Medium (medium-high).

6. Jaipur: Full review. Jaipur is now our go-to two-player game, just as easy to learn but with two shades of additional complexity and a bit less randomness. In Jaipur, the two players compete to acquire collections of goods by building sets of matching cards in their hands, balancing the greater point bonuses from acquiring three to five goods at once against the benefit of taking one or two tokens to prevent the other player from getting the big bonuses. The game moves quickly due to a small number of decisions, like Lost Cities, so you can play two or three full games in an hour. It’s also incredibly portable. Complexity: Low.

5. Dominion: Intrigue: Intrigue can be combined with the base game of Dominion, but unlike other Dominion expansions (of which there are now approximately 82, with a new one released every other week, or so it seems) Intrigue is a complete game right out of the box because it includes the money and point cards. And it’s better than the original game when both are viewed without any expansions because it’s more interactive – Intrigue lives up to its name in the sense that you should spend much of your time either plotting against your neighbors or trying to defend yourself, which makes the “Big Money” strategy in the base game much less effective. The changes make the game longer, but more even, and more fun. Complexity: Medium.

4. Stone Age: Full review. Really a tremendous game, with lots of real-time decision-making but simple mechanics and goals that first-time players always seem to pick up quickly. It’s also very hard to hide your strategy, so newbies can learn through mimicry – thus forcing veteran players to change it up on the fly. Each player is trying to build a small stone-age civilization by expanding his population and gathering resources to construct buildings worth varying amounts of points, but must always ensure that he feeds all his people on each turn. We introduced my daughter to the game this year and she took to it right away, beating us on her second play. The iOS app is strong – they did a nice job reimagining the board for smaller screens, too. The base game has been out of print for over a year now. Complexity: Medium.

3. Ticket To Ride: Full review. Actually a series of games, all working on the same theme: You receive certain routes across the map on the game board – U.S. or Europe, mostly – and have to collect enough train cards in the correct colors to complete those routes. But other players may have overlapping routes and the tracks can only accommodate so many trains. Like Dominion, it’s very simple to pick up, so while it’s not my favorite game to play, it’s my favorite game to bring or bring out when we’re with people who want to try a new game but either haven’t tried anything in the genre or aren’t up for a late night. I do recommend the 1910 Expansion< to anyone who gets the base Ticket to Ride game, as it has larger, easier-to-shuffle cards and offers more routes for greater replayability. We also own the Swiss and Nordic boards, which only play two to three players and involve more blocking than the U.S. and Europe games do, so I don't recommend them. The iPad app, developed in-house, is among the best available. Complexity: Low.

2. 7 Wonders: Full review. 7 Wonders swept the major boardgame awards (yes, there are such things) in 2011 for good reason – it’s the best new game to come on the scene in a few years, combining complex decisions, fast gameplay, and an unusual mechanic around card selections where each player chooses a card from his hand and then passes the remainder to the next player. Players compete to build out their cities, each of which houses a unique wonder of the ancient world, and must balance their moves among resource production, buildings that add points, military forces, and trading. We saw no dominant strategy, several that worked well, and nothing that was so complex that we couldn’t quickly pick it up after screwing up our first game. The only negative here is the poorly written rules, but after one play it becomes far more intuitive. Plays best with three or more players, but the two-player variant works well. The standalone two-player game, 7 Wonders Duel, is further down this list; it’s good, but it’s a completely different game from this with a similar theme. Complexity: Medium.

1. Carcassonne: Full review. The best-of-breed iOS app has only increased my appreciation for Carcassonne, a game I still play regularly by myself, with my wife and daughter, and with friends here or online. It brings ease of learning, tremendous replayability (I know I use that word a lot here, but it does matter), portability (you can put all the tiles and meeples in a small bag and stuff it in a suitcase), and plenty of different strategies and room for differing styles of play. You build the board as you go: Each player draws a tile at random and must place it adjacent to at least one tile already laid in a way that lines up any roads or cities on the new tile with the edges of the existing ones. You get points for starting cities, completing cities, extending roads, or by claiming farmlands adjacent to completing cities. It’s great with two players, and it’s great with four players. You can play independently, or you can play a little offense and try to stymie an opponent. The theme makes sense. The tiles are well-done in a vaguely amateurish way – appealing for their lack of polish. And there’s a host of expansions if you want to add a twist or two. We own the Traders and Builders expansion, which I like mostly for the Builder, an extra token that allows you to take an extra turn when you add on to whatever the Builder is working on, meaning you never have to waste a turn when you draw a plain road tile if you sit your Builder on a road. We also have Inns and Cathedrals, which we’ve only used a few times; it adds some double-or-nothing tiles to roads and cities, a giant meeple that counts as two when fighting for control of a city/road/farm, as well as the added meeples needed to play with a sixth opponent. Complexity: Low/medium-low for the base game, medium with expansions.

I’ve still got a handful of games to review here, including Via Nebula, Inis, SeaFall (a new legacy game from Rob Daviau, who invented the whole Legacy concept), Grifters, and more, as well as a few older games I’ve picked up in trades along the way, like Archipelago and Notre Dame. I’m often asked about Citadels, which I haven’t played, but Asmodee should be reissuing it soon.

And, as with last year, my rankings of these games by how they play with just two players:

1. Jaipur
2. Carcassonne
3. 7 Ronin
4. Baseball Highlights: 2045
5. Stone Age
6. Ticket to Ride
7. Splendor
8. Patchwork
9. Agamemnon
10. Dominion/Intrigue
11. Small World
12. Battle Line/Schotten Totten
13. Samurai
14. 7 Wonders Duel
15. Castles of Burgundy
16. Morels
17. Ingenious
18. New Bedford
19. Cacao
20. Lost Cities
21. Pandemic
22. 7 Wonders
23. Through the Desert
24. Machi Koro
25. Targi
26. Jambo
27. San Juan
28. Thurn und Taxis
29. Orient Express
30. Tigris and Euphrates
…and keep Tak in mind for when it’s officially released.


  1. JettMartinez

    I can’t recommend Pandemic: Legacy enough. I just played through about 4 “months” during an annual get away weekend with college friends. You’ll be convinced the game designers hate you on a personal level, but the drama and thrill of winning were bigger rushes than I would ever expect from a board game.
    I also picked up SeaFall for the trip but we got too wrapped up in Pandemic to figure out the new one.

    • I think I just wasn’t open-minded enough about the Legacy concept at first. I might pick it up for my daughter to play with me – she likes Pandemic, and she likes coop games, so this might be a good dad/daughter activity for the cold winter.

    • JM (and others) – my game nights are generally just my wife and I. Does pandemic Legacy work with only 2 people? I mean work in the sense that it’s still a fun experience.

  2. Keith,
    I have to thank you – finding your list last year re-introduced my family and I into board gaming beyond a few games we had played (Agricola and Ticket to Ride). We had a blast last year and I used your list as a jumping off point for a number of the games we bought, played and have adopted into our family game nights.

    I was excited to see New Bedford so high on the list as this has quickly become a family favorite. Waiting to see your thoughts on Terraforming Mars – that is the next one I’m looking at bringing in!

  3. Keith,
    Love this list. I’m slowly building up my board game collection with this list as my main reference. I’m curious, have you ever played Betrayal at the House on the Hill? I’ve really enjoyed it over the last few years, although, it can be a bit unbalanced depending on a number of variables.

    • I’ve never played BHH. Heard it’s good, but just never got a copy or anything.

  4. There are a number of sites that facilitate online Diplomacy games, like this one:

    It’s a nice alternative, since it takes 5-10 minutes a day, as opposed to a 6-hour block all at once. Plus, you don’t have to find six other people to play with.

  5. I just wanted to say thank you for compiling, updating, and sharing. My girlfriend and I love to play board games, but often it’s just the two of us. Your suggestions have done us well for over a year now.

  6. Thanks as always for this list Klaw. It’s my favorite post of the year. Will you have a separate post up for just the app rankings?

  7. Thanks for this list, Keith.
    I have a 5 year old who loves Carcassonne and plays pretty well. Are there other board games on this list that will be playable for 5 and 6 year olds?

    • Ticket to Ride for sure. Cacao’s less complicated than Carcassonne and has a similar tile-laying focus. Games like Jaipur and Lost Cities are also simpler than Carcassonne and games are shorter.

  8. My daughter is 7… I may have to give Istanbul a try with her. She loves Takenoko, Zooloretto & Potion Explosion. My wife & I enjoy Istanbul… I wonder if she would.


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