If you’re new to the board game scene, it can be a little daunting to look through all the popular titles out there. There are literally thousands of wonderful board games to try, but you might be thinking, “Which of these are the best board games for beginners?”
Imagine opening up a box for the first time ever and seeing an array of meeples, tokens, and a whole rule book you have to study. You’re going to think, “What did I just get myself into?” Yikes.
To help you narrow down your search, here’s a list of essential board games to try out when you or someone in your group is new to the hobby. These are great gateway games, guaranteed to get you hooked and scheduling your next game night!
Table of Contents
Beginner Board Game Criteria
My qualifications for introducing people to board games for the first time are pretty simple:
- The game needs to play in less than an hour. A half hour is preferable. Think lunchbreak length.
- The game should not be a party game. That means no Cards Against Humanity.
- The game should be best suited for 3-4 people. More than that and playtimes go up, it’s hard to teach everyone, etc.
- The games should be rather compact — no bulky boxes, giant boards or complicated setups.
- Keep the rules simple. If you have to constantly reference the rule book or you have to juggle multiple stats, it’s probably not a good choice. (Checking the book for score-keeping is a different matter entirely.)
- Make sure it’s a board game you’re familiar and comfortable with, or one you can at least learn the rules for quickly.
So which board games are essential for beginners? Here’s our top recommendations for your next game night.
Top 5 Essential Board Games for Beginners
|Editor's Choice||Product Name||Rating|
|Top Pick||Sushi Go Party!||4.8|
|Best Quick Option||Zombie Dice||4.8|
|Best Classic Game||Carcassonne||4.8|
|Best Strategy||7 Wonders||4.8|
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and are subject to change
1. Top Pick – Sushi Go Party
I love Sushi Go! I really, really do. It is fun and cute, and quick to play. I’ve had success introducing non-gamer friends to gaming with it. There’s zero set-up beyond dealing the cards, and you can keep score on your phone or on a scrap of paper, depending on what’s available.
Sushi Go! is a card-passing game where you’re collecting different types of sushi (and sushi-related menu items). It’s almost like a conveyor belt of dishes sliding past your table where you grab whatever you want.
The game plays in three rounds, with most of the points tallied at the end of the round (there’s one card you collect that is only tallied after all 3 rounds).
Since it plays quickly and it’s food themed, I think Sushi Go! is the perfect lunchtime game. In my experience the hardest part will be getting people to understand the scoring, but usually after 1 round of play they get how the game works.
Tsuro almost didn’t make the cut because 1. It works for up to 8 players, and 2. It has a decent-sized board. But despite that, it plays super quick and the setup is almost nonexistent. The board will fit on all but the smallest of tables.
The premise of the board game is shockingly simple: Everyone is a dragon, who must follow a path determined by the tiles you lay down. Your goal is to be the last one left on the board.
Every turn you lay a tile and progress further. Just make sure you don’t accidentally run yourself off the board or run into another player.
Not only is this an easy, fun board game for beginners, but it’s great in situations where there are a lot of distractions (like small children, or other people popping in and out, or loud noises).
Bonus: Require all players to make “nyooooooom” sounds on their turn.
3. Best Quick Option: Zombie Dice
Zombie Dice is so simple I barely consider it a board game. It’s low-investment and plays as many people as you want. I almost want to classify it as a party game — but unlike a lot of party games, which often just go until you all get bored, there’s a very clear end to Zombie Dice. I think it’s a good way to catch the attention of some of your bored coworkers or break the ice at a social gathering.
In Zombie Dice, you and your fellow players are the zombies. Your objective is to get brains, while avoiding shotgun blasts. And so, on your turn, you roll 3 dice. The dice might reveal brains (yay! nom!), footprints (your target got away, boo!), or shotgun blasts (ow!). Each time you’ll roll 3 dice (re-rolling any footprints as necessary and drawing new dice from the cup). It’s very much a board game of “press your luck” — stop before you hit 3 shotgun blasts and you get to keep any brains you collect. Get hit 3 times and you lose any brains collected on that turn — and then you have to start all over.
Rolling dice frequently can be a bit noisy. A dice mat will reduce the noise —- or just play in an environment that already has some ambient noise going on. This is the perfect game to play at the table in a restaurant, while you’re waiting for your meal, or waiting for the check.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’re probably tired of hearing about Carcassonne! But it is a really good board game for beginners. It’s far less intensive than Catan, and while you do need a decent amount of table space to play, it’s a fairly compact box (especially if you opt for the travel edition).
Your goal is to lay down tiles and claim cities, pastures, roads, and cloisters for your own. All of these will give you points, but beware another player hijacking what you’ve built! You also only have a limited number of Meeple you can use to stake your claim, so you need to manage your resources effectively.
There’s a lot of variations of this medieval-inspired game now, including a kid-friendly My First Carcassonne, Carcassonne: South Seas, Carcassonne: Winter Edition, and the expansions: Inns & Cathedrals, and Traders & Builders.
7 Wonders is not a game that you want to play at the office unless you have some colleagues who already grasp gaming. Like Sushi Go!, it’s something that new players are going to likely have trouble understanding until they’ve completed a round or two. It also isn’t the most portable board game out there. You need table space (and a LOT of it), and it will be to your advantage to keep all the pieces neatly stored and organized.
But if you’re at home or somewhere else with at least a moderately sized table, this is a really good starter game. It goes quickly, everyone makes their decisions at the same time, and the rules are relatively easy to grasp (and forgiving if you forget a couple now and then).
The goal is pretty simple: Be the person with the most victory points at the end of the game. The theme is historical — set in the ancient world, at the site of each of the 7 wonders (the Pyramids at Giza, the Library at Alexandria, the Colossus at Rhodes, etc.) Each turn, you’ll pick a card from your hand and play it to help build up an important aspect of your civilization. Gather natural resources to construct your wonder. Build up military power, or focus on trade, the sciences, or guilds. Every player can choose a different strategy, but you need to keep an eye on what the players around you are doing, for trade or military purposes.
I’m relaxing my criteria here to include this board game, but that’s because it’s one of my favorites and it’s easy to learn. And once you have gotten the hang of it, you can add the expansions to make the game even more interesting.
How to Introduce Your Friends to Gaming
Trying to convert some of your colleagues, non-gaming friends, and people you’ve just met into gaming fans can seem like a daunting challenge. Trust me, I know.
The good news is that if you’re already friendly with them, they’re probably willing to give gaming a shot! All you have to do is ask. Maybe let them see you playing a game with someone else. (This is why I like travel-sized games.)
Where to Find Other Tabletop Gamers
There are many places to meet gamers, but the most obvious place to find potential tabletop players is your place of work. You see them regularly and you probably have some sort of friendship with at least one of them. However, you don’t have to limit yourself to only where you work. You can also try the following:
- Internet Forums (BoardGameGeek is an easy starter)
- Get-togethers with other friends
- Local Book Clubs
- University Clubs
- Your Friendly Local Board Game Store
- Board Game Bars
Where to Play Board Games
So you’ve found some people who might want to play tabletop games with you! Now it’s time to decide where (and when) to meet up.
- Lunch breaks are a great opportunity to play games, especially if you have a decent-sized breakroom and some coworkers you hang out with regularly. You might even find that your job schedules some events where people are free to relax or celebrate a special occasion — happy hours, holidays, potlucks, etc. These are also wonderful chances to make friends and get some gaming in without creating any sort of pressure.
- If gaming on the job isn’t an option, you can still get together with some of your coworkers (or other acquaintances to play games. Try a coffee shop (my favorite shop has a back room with larger tables that are great for gaming, and occasionally has late-night hours) or even a local game shop (my favorite game shop has an entire room just filled with tables and chairs and has open gaming nights). This takes off some of the pressure for everyone because you’re meeting in neutral territory.
- If you’re like me and the idea of hosting events actually makes you excited, go for it! Invite a couple of coworkers over to your place to play some board games. Break out the drinks and snacks, maybe some mood music.
Game Night Organizing Tips
Some other things to bear in mind:
- Keep the gathering small. Parties are great if you’ve got several people who know how to play games and don’t mind breaking off into different groups. 4-5 people total is a good number and will give you a wide variety of games to choose from, and it won’t be too overwhelming new players.
- Alcohol and gaming go together pretty well. And alcohol is an excellent social lubricant. So if you’re hosting game night, be sure to provide something to drink, or encourage your colleagues to bring something. And don’t forget some snacks!
- Have patience. Be willing to help your new friends understand a game and make the best move for them. They’ll feel far more welcome and involved than if you leave them to fend for themselves.
- Have fun! Seriously, this is the most important part. Make sure everyone is having a good time.
Finding new people to play board games with doesn’t have to be difficult! The odds are really good that the people you already know might be willing to give board games a try. Whether you invite your coworkers to play a game with you at lunch time, visit the game room at a local convention, or meet up with people you met online, there’s plenty of new gaming friends to be made!
How have you introduced people to gaming before? Which games are your favorites to play work or on the go?
Additional Beginner Board Games to Consider
Family Board Games
Bang! the Dice Game
Bang! is still one of the all-time best games, but that may be because it was one of my first. Bang! The Dice Game carries on the spirit of the original, but it plays much faster.
One player is the sheriff, and everyone else is either a deputy, an outlaw, or the renegade. Each player has their own agenda — for the Sheriff, it’s to stay alive, and for the Renegade, it’s to be the last man standing.
The outlaws just want to kill the Sheriff, and the deputies need to keep the Sheriff alive (and preferably not get killed in the process).
Instead of drawing and playing cards, you roll a set of dice to determine what actions you can take. It’s not just adapting the game for a new format, either — the dice variant also introduces a new gameplay mechanism with its Indian tokens.
As an alternative, you can try Bang! Samurai Sword, which does away with player elimination and also speeds up gameplay.
Ticket To Ride – Play With Alexa
Ticket to Ride features North America at the turn of the 21st century, where you, the players, must race to establish train routes all across the continent. If it sounds like a tall order, I assure you that it’s actually pretty easy.
To win, all you have to do is to connect destinations with your trains. The longer your train, the better!
You can learn to play this game in 5 to 15 minutes and have hours of entertainment. For this reason, I’d say Ticket to Ride is one of the best board games for beginners, and should you pick it up, let me say in advance… Welcome to the world of tabletop gaming!
Sometimes the “big bad” isn’t a person – it’s a disease. And your job as part of the CDC is to stop it.
Pandemic allows you and your fellow players to become specialists in the field of medicine. To stop multiple plagues in their tracks, you and your party must work together, using your unique abilities to travel across the globe, treat existing patients, build research facilities, and discover the cure. Sounds like an action movie, doesn’t it? And to up the ante, the disease won’t allow itself to be eradicated that easily!
I used to be in the medical field, so in all honesty, Pandemic has sentimental value to me. Remember – not all superheroes wear capes, and if you’ve ever wanted to save the world, try it with this game… one pandemic at a time.
King of Tokyo
We’ve had films like Pacific Rim sweep the box office, where heroes square off against terrifying beasts large enough to decimate an entire city. However, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be the rampaging monster? Wonder no more as King of Tokyo is here!
In King of Tokyo, players can choose to be gigantic aliens, robots, or beasts, all dead set on claiming Tokyo for themselves. The cartoony, colorful illustrations make this game look like comic book art – all the better to make you feel like the star in your favorite childhood comics.
On your turn, you can attack, restore health, gain energy, or accumulate victory points. You secure your win by being the last monster standing or by reaching 20 victory points before your opponents.
King of Tokyo may sound straightforward, but don’t let it fool you; it’s got enough strategy to make playing – and winning – very satisfying.
Settlers of Catan
This is the gateway board game. It’s what got me started, and I know I share this experience with many. In fact, a Catan tournament was what led me to attend my first ever board game convention. (I lost, but it was worth it… though the pressure of the tournament made all my strategies fly out the window.)
Settlers of Catan, or simply Catan, is a race to 10 victory points, acquired through building settlements and cities. Obviously it takes resources to build anything, and dice rolls determine which resources you’ll gain based on where your settlements are positioned.
Sounds easy so far, but you’ll need a little bit of luck – hopefully the dice give you the numbers you need, and consequently the resources you require. A good bit of strategy is advised in laying down your settlements so that you can harvest all the resources they stand on.
Building settlements and cities isn’t the only way to go about it, though – if you’re looking to secure your win through another route, you can always build the longest road, gather the largest army, or draw some victory points through development cards. Catan gives you options, and that’s what makes it so fun; there are many ways to get one over on your opponent!
When I think of merchants in games, I usually envision someone who sells basic goods such as food, tools, etc. However, in Splendor, you get to cater to the nobility this time, and the gemsare the currency!
Splendor is played by using gems and occasional gold to buy development cards. Your collection is then used to impress the nobles. Both development cards and nobles will grant you prestige points, which are the key to victory in this game. The player who acquires 15 prestige points first wins!
I would say that Splendor is one of the best board games for new players because it gives them a glimpse of what it’s like to strategize and to build the best collection of resources. In my opinion, these are some of the most engaging game board mechanics.
Dungeon crawls are popular for a reason – it’s exhilarating to plough enemies to get that sweet, shiny loot. The best part of it is defeating the final boss and claiming the hidden treasure, right? Well, Boss Monster is about to turn that idea on its head!
Boss Monster gives you a taste of what it’s like to be the final boss… or, even higher up, the fabled Dungeon Master. This tabletop game will have players choosing their final bosses and building a dungeon to protect them.
Pesky heroes don’t ever mind their own business, so of course, your dungeon will inevitably lure them in. This is both good and bad, because should your dungeon wipe out a hero, you can claim their soul; however, if they manage to stay alive ‘til the end, they’ll wound your final boss. Collect 10 souls first and you’re the winner, but sustain 5 wounds and you’re down for the count.
Boss Monster is an exciting game that lets you experience what it’s like to pull the strings behind the stage. Careful, though – playing god can be addictive!
Strategy Board Games
Dominion: 2nd Edition
I love strategy and resource management games, and Dominion is one that does it so well. You’ll stretch your brain cells trying to get the most out of your hand. There’s only so much you can do with the cards given to you.
This game starts with a given amount of copper and estates. You can use your copper to buy treasure, victory points (in the form of estates, duchies, or provinces), or special action cards. These special action cards grant you game-changing benefits, like even more money, extra actions, or attacks against your opponents. But they don’t always come cheap, so it’s all about knowing when to spend your precious copper.
In the end, it’s all about the victory points/estates, duchies, and provinces that you are able to amass. How will you establish your domain? Grab a box and find out!
Stonemaier Games Viticulture
There’s something quaint and charming about owning your own little vineyard, where you are tasked with managing your workers and producing rustic, quality wine for your region. That’s the experience that Viticulture has to offer.
Viticulture takes place in Tuscany, where players take on the role of vineyard owners. It’s a classic worker placement game where you allocate your workers all around your vineyard to get things done. There are a variety of things they can do per turn, and each turn is based on the seasons.
For example, in summer, workers can plant vines; and during the winter, they can harvest the grapes. The goal of the game is to win victory points by completing wine orders and by impressing visitors. It sounds easy, but the game is rich in detail and offers many options for you to earn and expand your vineyard.
Worker placement games can be tricky to learn at first, but for those who want to give it a try and are looking for easy tabletop games that use this mechanic, give Viticulture a try!
Asmodee – Small World
When we think of fantasy worlds, such as Middle Earth or Eberron, we picture them as vast, sprawling realms with much to discover. After all, there are many fantastical races, and the world they live in must fit them all. Right? Well, Small World is what would happen if all these fantasy races started jostling for more elbow room.
Small World is a conquest game where races (controlled by the players) must establish and defend their territories. There are 14 available races and 20 unique abilities that can be assigned to a race, and this spread of options makes for interesting and powerful combinations!
However, it’s possible to expand beyond one’s means, and if that happens, a player’s race must go into decline, and the player must pick another race as their active race. Victory is achieved by the player who has the most victory points at the end of the game, symbolized by coins that are earned through territories and special abilities.
If you’re a fantasy fan like myself but are new to board games, try Small World; it’s one of the easiest board games to learn and, with a little roleplay, is guaranteed to satisfy your fantasy craving!
Castles of Burgundy
People think that the life of royalty is a life of luxury, but Castles of Burgundy will make you realize that it’s no bed of roses.
In this challenging game, players get a feel for what it’s like to run their own princedom. In doing so, they’ll have to keep an eye on goods, workers, buildings, and much more.
During a turn, players can do 2 of 4 actions. They can: take a settlement from the game board based on their dice roll, move a settlement into their region, sell goods, and/or use workers to change their dice roll.
Each settlement or building has its own benefits, as does each unique type of good. Ultimately the object of the game is to win the most victory points, which can be attained by having the most useful settlements, selling the most goods, and reaping the most benefits from each particular rule or ability in play.
Castles of Burgundy is a meaty game where each piece of the game has different abilities and each rule can be used in different ways to gain victory points. It’s a game I would recommend for experienced players who are looking for something they can sink their teeth into. So if you’re breaking out this board game, get yourself a cup of coff
Deck Building: The Deck Building Game
Deck Building: The Deck Building Game is a 2-player game only. It’s also incredibly meta (in case you didn’t get that from the title). I didn’t think I’d enjoy it when I first heard of it, and so I put off playing the game for a while.
I should have known better — it’s designed by Greater Than Games, the same people who made Sentinels of the Multiverse (also an incredible game, but not something I recommend as a gateway game), and they are generally pretty awesome.
The whole premise is that you’re in suburbia, so naturally you want to build the best deck in the neighborhood. So you’ll collect the best materials, stain your deck, and build railings. It seems innocuous, but throw in the fact that you can build onto your neighbor’s deck using rotten timbers (and stain them, to prevent your neighbor from building over them) and you can inflict lots of pain upon the other player.
Deck Building is very simple to learn and it plays quickly. This particular genre of games tends to be pretty complex, so this is a great primer before you move onto other games like Tanto Cuore or Dominion.
Party Board Games
Timeline is a great little card game to carry around with you. It’s small and it plays quickly. It can also accommodate anywhere from just 2 players to 8. But it’s not really a party game because it will definitely end at some point.
I also like that there are so many variants of it. You can really tailor the game to your interests, whether you’re good with a wide range of topics, American pop culture, or movies and music.
The whole idea is to get rid of your cards by laying them out in the correct order in a communal timeline. Any time you make a mistake, you replace a card in your hand. The first person to run out of cards wins.
I love how portable Timeline is. You need some sort of space to lay the cards, but the cards themselves are fairly tiny (I’ve played it at small restaurant booths before with no problem).
How well do you know your friends and family? Well, this game will let you know if you and your team are on the same frequency!
Codenames divides the group into two teams, and two spymasters (one for each team) will guide their respective teams in finding fellow spies. How?
To put it simply, a grid consisting of one-word codes are placed on the table. Each word may represent a spy on the same team, a spy on the opposite team, an innocent bystander, or even an assassin.
The spymaster of your team will give a one-word clue that can help you find the spies on your side. However, time is of the essence, and the more spies you can find with just one clue, the better – and that’s where you’ll see if you and your spymaster speak the same language. When I played Codenames, it gave me a thrill when my teammates and I instantly understood one another with just one word.
This game is perfect for parties because it’s sure to get the crowd hyped. It’s one of the easiest board games to learn, yet one of the most exciting – so give it a try during your next get-together!
The Resistance: Avalon
I’m a huge fan of games like mafia and werewolf; but I have to admit, I’m tired of playing the same roles again and again. That’s why when I tried The Resistance: Avalon for the first time, I was immediately blown away by the new characters and their unique abilities. The cherry on top was the setting – I felt like a member of King Arthur’s court the moment the game started.
The Resistance: Avalon breathes new life into bluffing games. King Arthur and his loyal subjects must battle the forces of evil, epitomized by Mordred and his minions.
All have vital roles in the quest – will you be Merlin, who must hide his identity while pointing out the traitors? Or perhaps Percival, the only ally who knows of Merlin’s identity? Or will you be part of the growing darkness as Morgana, who masquerades as Merlin?
Think you know who’s on your side? This game will let you know how well you can suss out the truth… or hide it!
Board games need not only be fun – they can also be beautiful and whimsical, and Dixit is the perfect example of that. Each card in the deck looks like it belongs in a museum, and when I played it for the first time, my friends and I spent a good amount of time simply admiring the stunning artwork.
The game starts with a storyteller. They must look at their hand, select a card, and create a sentence to describe it. The other players look at their cards and choose which one best suits the given sentence. The storyteller gathers these cards, shuffles them, then lays them out.
The group must then choose which of the cards they believe was the storyteller’s. Those who guess correctly gain points, along with the storyteller. However, there’s a twist – if everyone or no one gets it right, then everyone but the storyteller gets points.
When my friends and I played Dixit, we surprised even ourselves with what we could come up with. We were all writers and artists, and I’m telling you – this game really got our creative juices flowing! If you’re looking for easy tabletop games that can add color to your life, Dixit is a sure bet.
Sheriff of Nottingham
Would you believe that black pepper is contraband in some places? Where, you might ask. The answer is… in Nottingham!
Sheriff of Nottingham is a lively bluffing game for beginners and experienced players alike, though I’d say it’s one of the best board games for new players because it’s easy to learn, but challenging to play, depending on how well you can lie through your teeth!
Everyone takes turns playing either merchants or the sheriff himself. Merchants are able to draw cards from the goods deck, and they can choose which of these goods they’ll be bringing past the checkpoint… legal or contraband!
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s job is to keep merchants from smuggling illegal goods. However, he can’t just inspect everyone’s cargo willy-nilly – if he opens up cargo that has no contraband, he has to pay a fee. On the other hand, if he does find some banned items, then the merchant has to pay a fine that goes directly into the sheriff’s pockets.
The fun of this game is in convincing the sheriff that you’re just an innocent merchant making a clean living… or are you? And when it’s your turn to be the sheriff, will you accept bribes? Or do you have a nose like a bloodhound that can sniff out contraband? Ultimately, all I’ll say is this… a little money goes a long way in sweetening the deal.
Cash n Guns
“Stick ‘em up!” This is something you’d likely hear at a Cash n Guns game, complete with the mobster drawl and a finger on the trigger.
Cash n Guns allows players to be a part of the mob. It’s time to split the loot, and it ain’t lookin’ good. Each round assigns a Don, who oversees the proceedings.
The remaining players can then deal with their fellow gang members by pointing their foam guns at them and deciding whether to shoot (“Bang!”) or to bluff (“Click!”). Each player has 3 Bang!s and 5 Click!s, so choosing who to actually shoot or who to simply scare off is crucial.
Players on the receiving end must choose to either get down on the ground or to stay standing. In doing the former they risk getting a penalty by avoiding the bullet, and in doing the latter, they risk getting shot and eliminated. Finally, those who make it past this skirmish get to choose their loot, and the mobster with the most gains at the end wins!
Cash n Guns is one of the best board games for beginners because it’s easy to pick up and promises a ton of fun. Fair warning – it’s bound to get noisy and chaotic because players all point and shoot at the same time. This makes it perfect for a party, and hey, if foam guns aren’t your speed, you can always substitute bananas for extra hilarity!
Thematic Board Games
Betrayal At House On The Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of my all-time favorites, because let’s face it – who hasn’t entertained the idea of exploring a haunted house?
This game is divided into two phases: the Exploration phase and the Haunt. In the Exploration phase, characters navigate through the fog of war and map out the eerie mansion they’ve found themselves in. (The amazingly atmospheric art on the tiles makes this exploration even tenser.) This is an opportune time to build alliances and to find supplies needed to survive the next phase.
In the Haunt, one of the players is discovered to be a traitor. (The scary part? The traitor is determined at random!) Suddenly, everyone is hurled face first into impending danger! Will the rest of the party survive? Or was the traitor able to play them for fools?
Grab your popcorn, put on some creepy music, turn down the lights – you’re in for a wild ride.
Flash Point Fire Rescue
One of the hardest professions to get into is firefighting. Firefighters risk their lives to save others on a daily basis, and that’s why Flash Point is a game that definitely tugs on the heartstrings.
In Flash Point: Fire Rescue, your team of firefighters are trying to put out an inferno before the building collapses. Your team is comprised of specialists with unique abilities.
During each turn, a player can extinguish fires, move, carry casualties out of the building, or use their special abilities. Strategize wisely and get those people, cats, and dogs out before it’s too late!
Flash Point: Fire Rescue can make you feel like a hero if your party secures a win. In the case of failure, the disappointment is real. One can’t help but think – if I moved faster, or planned better, could I have saved those poor victims? So let’s give it up for firefighters, and thankfully we can understand even a tiny bit of their job through Flash Point: Fire Rescue.