You might wonder why I’m on the hunt for the best 3 player board games. Surely any board game that can have two players or more is fine? Don’t I know that two’s company, three’s a crowd? (Ouch!)
Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of us in the same boat, so let me share: like many of us, I started playing board games with my parents. When I was a teen, my parents started playing Scrabble on the regular. I joined in, and thus formed my first board game group. I wanted to play more than just Scrabble, though, so I began to search for the best board games for 3 players.
Nowadays, I still often find myself playing in a group of three. The friend I regularly play board games with is married, and so our tabletop group consists of me, her, and her hubby. What game did we find to be the best three player board game? Our top pick is an age old classic: Settlers of Catan!
For the uninitiated, Settlers of Catan (or Catan for short) is a resource management game in which players collect resources to build settlements, cities, and roads. Resources are dispensed with the roll of the die, and players may trade with one another to get the resources they need.
What’s so special about playing board games in groups of three? Honestly, there’s some consideration that goes into finding good 3-player board games. Most tabletop games are for groups of two and above, but if you’ve played board games before, you’ll know that a lot of games have an optimal group size.
3 Player Board Game Criteria
What are the criteria that make for good 3 player games? There are two questions I ask:
- Does the game play smoothly with 3 players?
Some games just don’t translate well when you form odd-numbered groups. For example, a game like Codenames does have a 3-player variant, but after trying it out, I found it awkward – and boring – to play.
- Does the game provide sufficient competition?
Some games feel too easy when played in a group of two while others feel too crowded when played in groups of four or more. This is where Catan shines. If only two are playing, you can basically stay out of each other’s hair. However, if four are playing, your settlements and cities feel like they’re packed as tightly as sardines in a can.
The 5 Top Rated 3 Player Board Games
|Editor's Choice Summary||Product Name||Rating|
|Top Pick||Settlers of Catan Board Game||4.8|
|Best Family-Friendly Game||Qwirkle Tile Game||4.8|
|Best Horror Board Game||Betrayal at House on the Hill Board Game||4.7|
|Best Mental-Gymnastics Game||Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Game||4.6|
|Best Cooperative Board Game||Pandemic Board Game||4.8|
Top Pick: Settlers of Catan
Catan is a resource collection and management game. Players place their settlements on hex tiles that are numbered from 2 to 12. Dice are rolled and the resulting number is matched with the appropriate tile, and the resources on said tile are then given to the players.
These resources can be used to build settlements, upgrade to cities, lay down roads, and buy development cards, all with the object of attaining 10 victory points first.
Because of the element of luck in this game, it’s not always possible to have all the resources you need – and in comes in the trading aspect!
As I’d mentioned earlier, Catan is an ideal 3 player board game because you have just enough elbow room – your opponents are close enough to cut off your roads, but far enough that you’re able to expand your domain. Trading can also get boring when there are just two players and way too chaotic when there are four, so a group of three is ideal.
- Catan has good replay value because experience is needed to fine-tune your perfect strategy.
- Looking to add more to your gameplay? There are a number of expansions for Catan such as Seafarers, Cities & Knights, Traders & Barbarians, Explorers & Pirates, and more!
- For new players, it has a steep learning curve.
Best Family-Friendly Game: Qwirkle
I have a soft spot for Scrabble. However, if I’d wanted to play something similar at a younger age, I think my best bet would’ve been Qwirkle!
Qwirkle is a tile placement game in which tiles are stamped with different shapes in different colors. Players must build lines that consist of either the same shape or the same color.
Lines containing the same shape must be made of different colors, and lines consisting of only one color must be built with different shapes. Points are earned through each line a player is able to create when they position their tiles on the board.
If a player is able to form a line made up of six tiles, that is the ultimate power move – the “qwirkle”, which earns a bonus of 6 points. The player with the most points wins!
Sounds easy, right? Yes, but I assure you that this game is immensely fun for everyone. Kids can play this game while picking up the basics of strategy… by learning how to steal and block their opponents’ moves!
- Qwirkle is a great 3-player game for parents and children. It’s a game for kids aged 6 and up, so even younger members of the family can join in!
- It can be taken on the road because everything fits into a pouch.
- If playing with younger kids, tiles may get lost, so keep an eye out!
Best Horror Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill
Some people enjoy a good scare, and I’m one of them. I don’t get my fix through movies and books, though – my favorite way to freak myself out is through tabletop RPG’s, and Betrayal at House on the Hill really scratches that itch.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a game where players explore an expansive haunted house. Players must take on the roles of pre-generated characters and must move together through the fog of war to uncover new areas in the mansion. As players explore, they must draw tiles at random to build new sections of the mansion.
The game is divided into two phases: the Exploration phase and the Haunt. During the Exploration phase, party members can build alliances, find awesome items, and trigger multiple events.
The Haunt phase begins with an unlucky roll of the die, and suddenly one player will be chosen at random to be the traitor. The game is then abruptly plunged into a nightmarish race against the sudden villain!
- This game is amazingly atmospheric. Creepy characters? Check. Creepy setting? Check. Just dim the lights and add some eerie music and you’re all set!.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill has a lot of replayability. There are 50 Haunt plotlines provided with the base game alone. If you want even more, its expansion pack, Widows Walk, provides new locations, new items and events, and 50 new Haunts. If you’re a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, there’s even a D&D-themed expansion: Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate.
- It’s definitely made it to this list of best board games for 3 players because two heroes against one villain is actually the perfect balance – the game becomes appropriately difficult without having too many unnecessary variables in the mix.
- You need a huge table. I mean, huge.
Best Mental Gymnastics Game: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
“Elementary, my dear Watson.” Imagine being brilliant enough to say that to a decorated soldier and medical doctor! Many of us have put ourselves in Sherlock Holmes’ shoes, thinking that perhaps we could be as sharp as he is. Well, if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at playing detective, then Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is perfect for you.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was first published in 1981 and continues to mystify players to this day. Along with the cases, you’ve given a map of London, the equivalent of an old-timey phone book, newspapers published around the time of the crime, and a clue booklet describing what can be found at the locations you choose to visit.
Putting all of this information together, your aim is to score higher than the esteemed Detective Holmes. Once you’re satisfied with all the clues you’ve gathered, you can pick up the quiz booklet and answer the questions posited therein. You can then check your answers and tally your score accordingly.
If you’ve ever wanted to see how astute you are, give this game a try – you’ll be sure to spend hours poring over every single detail, trying to see if it all adds up!
- There are hardly any mechanics involved in this game. You can simply jump in and play!
- Yes, two heads are better than one, but in this case (no pun intended), three heads make for the best combination. You can have tiebreaker votes and case of a disagreement and can draw from a wider scope of experience. This is why Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is one of the best 3 player board games.
- If 10 cases aren’t enough for you, try the expansion packs. The game has several, including Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures and Carlton House & Queen’s Park.
- It’s on the pricier side.
Best Cooperative Board Game: Pandemic
Not all superheroes wear capes – sometimes they wear hazmat suits, scrubs, and lab coats.
In Pandemic, you and your party members take on the role of CDC specialists who are caught in a heart-stopping race to halt the spread of four diseases. Each member of the group has unique abilities and everyone must work together to try and determine the best course of action per turn. In one turn, players may travel, share location cards, treat patients, build research facilities, and finally, discover the cure. However, it’s not that simple; the disease is active too, and it spreads and grows more virulent with each turn as well!
Nowadays, people are more and more aware of the hardships that workers in the medical industry face. They are our literal superheroes, risking their lives on the front lines.
So let’s salute our medical industry heroes, and those of us who aren’t in the medical field can at least catch a small glimpse of what it’s like to flatten the curve – one turn at a time.
- This thrilling 3 player board game is great for fostering teamwork.
- Don’t feel like fighting a plague? There are a lot of versions available, such as Pandemic: Fall of Rome, Pandemic: Iberia, Pandemic: Rising Tide, and my personal favorite, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.
- It can be difficult to choose roles because all of them have cool abilities.
Why You Should Buy 3 Player Board Games
- Groups of three provide the ideal level of competition. A lot of tabletop games feel too relaxed when there are only two players; it feels much easier to secure a win, especially in Euro-style games. However, a 4-player game might like players are jostling for control at all times, making for stiff competition.
- A duel might be entertaining for a while, but it does get repetitive because you grow accustomed to your opponent’s playstyle. On the other hand, in a group of 4, it makes it harder to strategize when there are so many unpredictable variables in the game.
- Groups of three are easier to manage. Duels may get quiet and dull, whereas 4 players might be chaotic and overwhelming.
- Board games tend to progress more slowly with more members, so if you’re unable to dedicate several hours to one game, a smaller party may be better.
Important Features to Consider for 3 Player Board Games
Aside from the criteria I mentioned above, there are a couple of other things I like to consider:
- A fantastic 3 player board game is one that everyone can equally participate in.
- It feels neither clunky nor boring when played in a group of three.
- Most importantly – everyone has a good time playing it!
Frequently Asked Questions
For Settlers of Catan Board Game:
Q: We’d like to play this with our kid. Is this game suitable for children?
A: For younger children, the game may be too complex or too dull for them. Catan Junior is a better option for young children since it simplifies the rules and uses a smaller game board.
For Qwirkle Game:
Q: Is this similar to dominoes?
A: Yes, it’s a matching game. However, playstyle and scoring are more similar to Scrabble.
For Betrayal at House on the Hill Board Game:
Q: How long does gameplay usually take with 3 players?
A: Depending on when the Haunt is triggered, it takes roughly 50 minutes to 2 hours.
For Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Board Game:
Q: Since this game is very dependent on understanding the language, does it have translations?
A: Yes! The game has German, Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, Russian, and Greek translations.
For Pandemic Board Game:
Q: Why can’t we win? The game is too difficult!
You can always try playing the game in Easy Mode (with less epidemic cards). However, the game is designed to be challenging, as eradicating a disease is not easy at all!
Additional 3 Player Board Games to Consider
Looking for more options? Here are some more of the best 3 player board games:
Eye-Catching Visuals Games
Azul Board Game
Azul is a visually stunning game in which players collect decorative tiles and lay them out according to patterns on their boards.
- Vibrantly colored tiles with a hefty “clack” to them make for very satisfying gameplay.
Ex Libris Board Game
Ex Libris is a worker placement and set collection game where players deploy staff members to help them build a beautiful and well-stocked library.
- Interesting workers, locations, and books keep the game fresh and engaging.
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival Game
In this game, players strive to become the most honored artisan by dedicating their lanterns to the festival.
- The elegant art creates beautifully a lit lake glowing with multicolored floating lanterns.
Family Board Games
Sushi Go! Card Game
Enjoy conveyor belt sushi? Collect passing sushi and other food items to assemble high-scoring sets in Sushi Go!
- The game comes in a convenient tin box, which makes it excellent for travel.
Tsuro Board Game
Allow your dragon to soar freely across the sky in this fun and easy tile placement game. Careful not to bump into your fellow dragons!
- Simple gameplay with hardly any setup makes this a fitting game for those looking for a quick game.
Ramen Fury Card Game
Fancy a bowl of delicious ramen? Order your ideal ramen by creating sets of ingredients and toppings in Ramen Fury!
- Bonus points for design: this simple yet entertaining set collection game comes in a ramen noodle pack.
Takenoko Board Game
Become an imperial bamboo gardener in Takenoko! Players need to meet objectives assigned to them at random, including growing different species of bamboo and feeding a hungry panda!
- The game is simple enough that kids ages 8 and above can join in, but complex enough that parents can enjoy strategizing.
Ticket to Ride Board Game
Link destination cities across North America and build the longest trains in Ticket to Ride! It’s similar to Catan which makes it’s easy to learn.
- Different versions of the game, such as Ticket to Ride: Europe, allow for a change of setting.
Deduction Board Games
Chronicles of Crime Board Game
Chronicles of Crime is a high-tech adventure that utilizes a physical board game, a mobile app, and even VR! Players take on the role of sleuths in modern day London, solving cases given to them by the chief of police.
- You can download new cases via the mobile app to increase the replay value.
Fury of Dracula Board Game
Fury of Dracula is a deduction game that pits our heroes against the titular villain,Count Dracula. Players must move across Europe to deduce Dracula’s secret location, all while evading his powerful minions.
- Atmospheric art and miniatures increase tension as players hunt for the apex predator, Dracula.
Treasure Island Board Game
Yarr! Ready to find that booty? In Treasure Island, players must search for Long John Silver’s buried treasure. Hurry, though – don’t let him get away!
- Players get to draw their routes and search areas on the map, making this game more interactive and immersive.
Economic Board Games
Cacao Tile Game
Cacao is an economic game that allows players to grow and sell cocoa beans (once called “the fruit of the gods”).
- There’s more than one way to earn gold in Cacao, so players are able to mix and match strategies.
Splendor Tile Game
Splendor offers players the chance to become affluent jewel merchants. In this game, players must collect gems and shop improvements, all with the goal of attaining the most prestige.
- This economic game gives players the satisfaction of seeing their wealth grow – provided they have the right strategy!
Last Will Card Game
In this unique economic game, the winner is… the person with the least amount of money? Players of Last Will play as nieces and nephews of a recently deceased uncle whose last will dictates that whoever lives the most frivolous lifestyle inherits his moolah.
- Last Will’s humorous tone is sure to elicit a chuckle or two during gameplay.
Real Time Board Games
Quacks of Quedlinburg Board Game
Try your hand at brewing potions in Quacks of Quedlinburg, where players compete to be most successful chemist, or “quack”. Careful, though – make sure your cauldron doesn’t explode!
- The game has a unique mechanic: simultaneous rounds. No need for players to wait for their turn – quacks can keep brewing until they decide to stop… or accidentally blow up their concoction.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple Dice Game
Escape: The Curse of the Temple gives players 10 measly minutes to break out of an ancient temple, where they can unearth treasure, run into traps, or worse – get stuck.
- This game involves simultaneous rounds over the course of only 10 minutes, ensuring that each game is a panicked dash for the exit.
Cooperative Board Games
Forbidden Island Tile Game
Forbidden Island is a cooperative board game where players embark on a frantic race to retrieve precious artifacts before the island sinks.
- Unique roles give party members special abilities, and players must strategize how to best utilize these abilities before it’s too late.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle Board Game
In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, players take on the roles of the golden trio as they fight against evil!
- Immersive and nostalgic art allows players to enter the spellbinding Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Wordplay Board Games
Unspeakable Words Card Game
Who knew that words would be enough to drive someone insane? Question is: in Unspeakable Words,is that a good or a bad thing?
- You earn points by creating angles in each letter. The more angles, the higher the score.
Bananagrams Tile Game
In Bananagrams, players race to create a word grid without any mistakes. The winner is then crowned the top banana!
- The game comes with a banana pouch, which makes it easy to bring with you wherever you go.