You’ve probably noticed this already, but board games for adults are a thing now. Whether you and your pals like puzzles, party games, or strategy battles, there’s plenty of deep, challenging, and creative board games for adults to dive into. This guide profiles the very best our experts have tried.
We’ll guide you through some of the best board games for adults, explaining the different genres, mechanics, and styles of play you can expect. Some are hard-nosed strategy board games; others sneaky social deduction games – but each would make a splendid contribution to any tabletop, even if you’ve not picked up dice since you were eight. So, clear the table and grab some friends, because…
The best board games for adults in 2023 are:
- Isle of Skye – a Scottish-flavor game of land grabs and whisky
- Mysterium – a cooperative mystery game about ghostly messages
- Love Letter – the perfect quick, simple, addictive card game
- Men at Work – a hectic tower stacking game for adults
- Unexploded Cow – a tactical card game with Monty Python vibes
- Azul – a beautiful, fiendish game of colorful tiles
- Root – a hardcore, competitive wargame with cute animals in it
- Codenames – the ultimate spy themed social deduction game
- Tiny Towns – a small but mighty game of sneaky village building
- Wingspan – a gorgeous engine building game about birdwatching
- Gloomhaven – a revolutionary fantasy dungeon crawling epic
Isle of Skye
A Scottish themed game of land grab and whisky riches
Take your place as a Scottish chieftain, grabbing land and expanding your clan to become King of the Isle of Skye. A trading game at heart, Isle of Skye’s brilliance comes from its assortment of mechanics. You’ll be assigning prices to territory, buying tiles from other players, eyeing up resources, and matching tiles to streamline production.
It all compiles into tidy turn-taking, with a novel territory distribution system that will have you shrewdly assessing your opponent’s coffers, while pushing the boundaries of your own stinginess. Players secretly assign prices on tiles, which then go up for auction.
If another player wants it, they’ll purchase it at your asking price, but if no one is keen, you’ll be forced to pay instead. It makes for some fraught deduction. Will you lowball in the hopes of grabbing the tile for a bargain, or price high to put off your competition at the expense of your wallet?
The game’s Scottish theme makes for a lovely change of pace (hilariously, accumulating barrels of scotch whisky earns you money) and the depth of strategy is sure to be a winner. It’s one of the best board games for adults and its randomised scoring mechanics will keep you returning again and again.
A cooperative mystery game about ghostly messages
If you’re looking to indulge in a good-natured, yet dynamic and investigative ghost story, then look no further than Mysterium. One player takes the role of a troubled ghost trying to communicate their secrets across the veil – while the others play as expert mediums attempting to commune with the unfortunate, undead victim. The mediums must solve the ghost’s murder – who did it, how did they do it, and where did the gruesome killing take place?
There’s a catch, though. The ghost can’t spell out the whole story and may only provide vestigial clues through psychic visions – shown to the players by means of gorgeously illustrated cards, selected by the ‘ghost’ player to convey their message. If the mediums can make sense of enough clues and piece together the story of the ghost’s demise, they’ll solve the mystery and free the ghost from its purgatorial nightmare.
The cards’ surreal illustrations are beautiful, but ripe for miscommunication. You’ll be racking your brain to interpret the ghost’s hints, and with a limited hand of cards available, the ghost will face a hard task of choosing how best to communicate their intent. It makes for hilarious mishaps as well as a good test of your relationships – how well can you guess the thoughts of the player sitting opposite?
Mysterium’s inventive blend of intuitive communication via symbolism, a welcoming, surreal yet relatively spook-free setting, and the shared pondering of some genuinely lovely card art all combine to make it super-accessible, and easily one of our favourite board games for adults.
The perfect quick, simple, addictive card game
No other game is as simple, yet engaging, as Love Letter. For those looking for a card game that’s easy to understand, quick to teach, and flows much like any game played with an ordinary pack of cards, we can’t recommend Love Letter enough. It’s a great choice for any adult’s first foray into modern board and tabletop games.
With a deck of only 16 cards, Love Letter is remarkably simple in operation – in fact, you’ll only ever be holding a maximum of two cards at any one time. Players start with one card, draw a second at the start of their turn, decide which of their hand of two to play, and then follow its powerful effect.
You might swap cards with another player, nab a look at someone else’s, or try to discard their hand. The goal is to be the last player standing – thematically, so you can deliver your love letter to Princess Annette and stave off competing suitors.
Rounds can be over in as little as two minutes, and play is quick but not overbearing. You’ll get to grips with the rules in no time. A competitive game that doesn’t rely on players’ previous experience with the game, Love Letter is the best board game for adults that can be played in a jiffy.
Men at Work
A hectic tower stacking game for adults
This may be a list of the best adult board games, but that doesn’t mean every game must rely on dynamic cognition. Jenga’s block-building, tower-falling fun is a blast for kids, and Men at Work builds on that premise for a rip-roaring game of precarious placements.
Things kick off with some amiable tower-building – placing girders and supports to build a central structure. But things kick up a notch when Boss Rita appears and the ‘Employee of the Month’ awards are up for grabs. Increase the total height of the tower on your turn and you’ll earn one of these much-coveted tokens, but should you bungle and cause any part of the structure to topple, you’ll be kicked off site.
The tower will look more and more like a hodgepodge as it rises up – squiffy beams and diagonal girders teetering on collapse. Geometrically pernickety ‘worker’ models will also need to be put down, and slippery bricks and beams balanced on their shoulders.
Men at Work creates all the nail-biting tension needed for one evening, and its acutely physical gameplay makes it one of the most engaging board games for adults. You’ll be screaming in terror as your glorious, if structurally unsophisticated, tower crumbles to the tabletop.
A tactical card game with Monty Python vibes
Few adult board games are as darkly silly as Unexploded Cow. You see, France has a problem with bombs, left over from the Great War. They litter the countryside, threatening its bucolic peace. The solution is obvious – import a herd of mad cows from England, march them through the gallic fields, and watch the explosions. You might earn a buck or two along the way.
The game’s ballistic bovine premise is hilarious enough, and its card art – from tuxedo-wearing ‘Spy’ cows to ‘Troubled Cows’ eating beef burgers – adds a cartoonish charm. But behind this lies a tactical card game of sufficient depth to engross you, but enough luck to create hair-pulling moments of distress.
Selecting militant cows to add to their army, and combining powerful special effects, players try to increase the probability that a die-roll will land in their favour. You’ll be toeing a fine line, spending money to make money and remaining careful not to overplay your hand.
But you’ll also be looking to disrupt your opponents through stealing cows, switching cards, and infiltrating enemy ranks. The game operates through usual card mechanics – drawing, playing, searching through discard piles – but its quick tempo and abundant player interaction makes Unexploded Cow one of the most chaotic and genuinely hilarious board games for adults around.
A beautiful, fiendish game of colorful tiles
The work of an interior decorator may not strike you as the most exciting premise for a board game, but Azul makes for a soothing puzzle experience, as you arrange colourful tiles into pretty mosaics. Taking turns to draw from a pool, players form tiles into shapes and patterns for points. If you complete specific patterns or whole sets, you’ll get bigger rewards. Don’t take more tiles than you need, however, as any wasted supplies will cost you.
Each player is assigned their own board, so you’ll be out of each other’s way and can feed in as much or as little competition as you feel comfortable with. Take it at a relaxed pace and concentrate on making your own beautiful mosaci, and this is a peaceful pastime for grown-ups in need of relaxation, but – as our Azul review finds – there’s a merciless challenge in here for anyone who wants to go deep into the game’s tactics and focus on picking tiles that will hose your opponenets.
A hardcore, competitive wargame with cute animals in it
From a quick glance at its woodland-themed board, you might take Leder Games’ bestseller Root to be a happy-go-lucky strategy game following the pesky exploits of friendly forest folk. But make no mistake, total war is afoot. An anthropomorphic animal cast of axe-wielding foxes, avian aristocrats, and vagabond raccoons are ready to fight tooth and nail for dominance of the forest floor – at your command.
At heart, Root plays as a game of area control, with players commanding troops and constructing buildings to entrench themselves across its map. But its genius comes from its asymmetry. None of the four factions plays the same and each has a unique ruleset, operation, and starting conditions, ensuring every player will be waging a very different war.
Some factions will rush the enemy, others swarm the board but leave themselves thin and vulnerable, while others must carefully assess and exploit enemy weaknesses from within. Its depth makes Root the perfect strategy board game for adults.
While its rules may look intimidating, it offers a rewarding experience for anyone willing to put in some reading time. Its charming illustrations may also appeal to anyone interested in strategy board games but not keen on typical military themes. There’s also a pretty well-done PC adaptation available, which you can read more about in our Root: Digital Edition review.
The ultimate spy themed social deduction game
Want to test your mental synergy? Codenames is the name of the game. A word-association puzzler, Codenames splits players into two teams who must locate a cadre of secret agents hiding in a grid of 25 cards, each coded with a single word clue. Each team’s ‘Spymaster’ has the answers and must guide their team to select the correct cards.
But doing so isn’t simple. In typical laconic spy fashion, Spymasters may only provide one single-word clue each round, hinting at a card without directly mentioning it. Tune your mind to the same wavelength as your partner’s and guess which word – or multiple words – they’re referring to before the enemy team beats you to the punch.
Codenames forces you to walk a fine line between specificity and ambiguity. A straightforward clue may progress your team’s objectives, but this slow pace will guarantee enemy success before you’ve discovered the location of even half your agents.
Equally, go too vague by trying to hint at too many cards at once, and you risk your comrades misunderstanding. If your teammates misinterpret your clue and pick the wrong cards, they might reveal enemy agents or even the dreaded assassin, losing the game instantly.
A simple premise that builds on the word-association concept of classic games like Articulate!, Codenames offers bounds of hilarious mishaps while putting your psychic communication to the test. It’s certainly earned its popular status as one of the premier board games for adults.
A small but mighty game of sneaky village building
Tiny Towns whisks you away to a burgeoning medieval settlement. Unlike its real-world counterparts, though, this settlement isn’t built of wattle and daub by the hard graft of oppressed serfs, but by you – using colourful wooden cubes.
Each turn, one player picks a resource cube that is distributed to every player at the table. Players then choose where to place the cube on their personal four-by-four grid boards. Arrange the cubes in the correct colour patterns on your board and they’ll transform into a point-scoring building. You’ll rack up even more points if you construct relevant buildings adjacent to each other.
Built on amazingly simple mechanics, the real challenge of Tiny Towns comes from efficiently (and often hopelessly) planning your constructions. Each new building will eat up space on your board, narrowing future building opportunities, and you’ll quickly be left with cubes that seemed like a great pick at the time, but now no longer fit into your construction plans anywhere. If you’re feeling really spiteful, you can even pick resources that you know will be of no use to other players, handing them pointless resources that will fill up their board and block construction.
Building types are randomised each game, providing massive replay value and ensuring you can’t follow a perfect solution of resource gathering. Tiny Towns is indeed a tiny game but offers big satisfaction. A fine board game for adults.
A gorgeous engine building game about birdwatching
While bird-watching might not sound like your cup of tea, Wingspan is a board game that may make you change your mind about your feather-spotting friends. In this engine-building card game, you and your friends compete to attract the best and brightest birds to your wildlife reserve. Use food, eggs, and different bird cards to create powerful combinations that help you peck up the points.
Wingspan is packed with flocks of gorgeously-illustrated birds – the base game has 170 unique birds with different powers to strategise with, and Wingspan’s expansion bring more birds from across the globe to your board. Considering its gameplay gets compared to large strategy games like Terraforming Mars, Wingspan’s design adds a sense of peaceful simplicity and natural beauty to strategy board games.
If you’d like to get a more in-depth look at this game, check out our Wingspan review.
A revolutionary fantasy dungeon crawling epic
So far you’ve seen a range of lightweight board games and party board games, with a few more intense strategy games mixed in – but now it’s time for the big guns. Introducing the behemoth of board games, and arguably one of the best board games out there right now, Gloomhaven.
Gloomhaven is big, and we’re not just talking about popularity (though it has won numerous awards). Inside the absolutely enormous, 20-pound box is a sprawling co-op dungeon-crawler that has you battling, looting, and making crucial decisions as the running campaign progresses. This game has a huge amount of content hidden inside.
Gameplay focuses on playing cards from your hand. You select an ability from the top of one card and the bottom of a second, and this creates your movement and combat actions from the turn (as well as decides where in the initiative order you’ll sit).
Beware a few things in Gloomhaven, though – if you run out of health or cards at any point, you’re out. You’ll also need to communicate carefully with your team. This is a co-op game, but one where everyone has hidden agendas and may abandon you to grab some extra gold at any time.
Our own Mollie Russell found that Gloomhaven absolutely lives up to the hype – even if it’s no longer number one on BGG – in her Gloomhaven review. A couple of years on from its original release and it still stands tall: we’ve got a handy Gloomhaven board game beginner’s guide to help you get started.
You can pick up more approachable versions of the game, which Russell recommends as a better way to get started these days, particularly if you don’t have the space in your house or time in your day. There’s a high-quality digital version of Gloomhaven, and Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion condenses the game’s greatest parts into a smaller box.