The 10 best board games to buy for Christmas this year
We debated this year’s game of the year.
by Jason Bailey and Sarah Pulliam Bailey
We had a little debate over our game of the year. Sarah loves party games (think six-plus people), so she picked Secret Hitler. Jason prefers strategy games (think two to four people), so he picked Kingdomino. Either way, you can’t go wrong giving either game as a gift.
Do you have someone in your life who loves board games but you’re not sure what to get? Or perhaps you want to build a board game library to host game nights in the future? Make sure your shelves hold options for a variety of social situations, players and skill. Trying several kinds of games will introduce you to a wide variety of mechanics and designers.
Building our game library has been a labor of love, and we can help you with some shortcuts. On a game night, we love to pick the right game for the right moment. A good library has a solid foundation of modern classics like Ticket to Ride, Pandemic and Dominion. For party games, please do not force your friends to play Apples to Apples when Codenames exists.
All of those are great gifts for someone new to the gaming world, as are the Game of the Year winners below. With so many games on the market right now, it can be difficult to navigate the best ones. Here are the top 10 recent games that have our seal of approval.
Game of the Year
Kingdomino: Brisk gameplay and the sense of satisfaction you get from weaving together a grid of domino-like tiles means you will want to play Kingdomino multiple times in a row. Thoughtful planning is rewarded by an elegant scoring system, and there is a compelling tension between taking a valuable tile and setting up for future turns. The winner of the Spiel des Jahres, the top award in gaming, Kingdomino is appropriate for all ages and features whimsical graphic design.
$20, 2–4 players, 20 minutes, ages 6+
Codenames, 2016: Devise clues to connect words in a shrewd party game.
Colt Express, 2015: Assign actions to rob a train, and expect it to go haywire.
7 Wonders, 2013: Select cards that will escalate in power as your city grows.
Secret Hitler: It’s amazing how some randomness enlivens the social deduction genre. While trying to elect a government, try defending yourself as a liberal when you enacted a fascist policy because you literally had no choice. This is similar to Avalon, which we have enjoyed, and the added chaos (you can even assassinate players) has made it popular with large groups.
$35, 5–10 players, 45 minutes, ages 14+
Monster Factory: The gameplay is simple: Pick a random tile and add it to any player’s monster. The scoring is smooth: One point for each tile of your first completed monster, and one point for each eyeball on extra minions. And even adults will laugh at the goofy creations that emerge.
$25, 2–6 players, 20 minutes, ages 5+
Trambahn: Each card can be used in multiple ways — to fill shared stations, build personal tram lines, or spend as cash — producing a similar vibe to Lost Cities. Timing the scoring rounds wisely is crucial, as is piggybacking off your opponent’s work while limiting their options.
$20, 2 players, 30–45 minutes, ages 8+
Strategy Games (from easiest to hardest)
Go Nuts for Donuts: A delectable prisoner’s dilemma. When multiple people try to claim the same doughnut, it is discarded rather than consumed. The art is reminiscent of Sushi Go, but cards are face-up on the table and collected through blind bidding instead of drafting.
$15, 2–6 players, 20 minutes, ages 8+
New York Slice: In this basic set collection game, deciding how to split slices — the player who divides the pizza gets their portion last — requires thoughtfulness but is never overwhelming. And the culinary theme drips off the box, rules, and scoresheets like the grease off a perfect pie.
$30, 2–6 players, 30 minutes, ages 8+
Unearth: Dice are wisely used in this gorgeous set collection game. Having four-, six- and eight-sided dice creates choices, and two important mechanisms prevent bad luck. Rolling a low number also helps you score points, and failing to collect a card lets you modify future die rolls.
$35, 2–4 players, 30–60 minutes, ages 8+
Bunny Kingdom: Select cards to expand your property or increase your production in a novel combination of drafting and area control. The game rewards both tactical decision-making and long-term planning, so make sure to take cards that would overwhelmingly benefit an opponent.
$40, 2–4 players, 40–60 minutes, ages 12+
First Class: You can travel down multiple paths in this open-information drafting game, but optimizing your choices proves challenging because opponents can strategically shrink the available pool of cards. Some routes are straightforward, while others have a chain of combos.
$50, 1–4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10+
Classic Game (at least 10 years old)
Modern Art: This reprint of a 1992 game highlights several types of auctions, from onetime blind bids to the familiar refrains of “going once, going twice.” The fluid marketplace means the value of an artist’s work is not inherent, but determined by its rarity and the previous interest of buyers.
$30, 3–5 players, 45 minutes, ages 10+