The best board games for adults

No more child's play - tabletop games are for everyone: here are our picks for the absolute best board games for grown-ups

Best Board Games for Adults main image Azul

You’ve probably noticed this already, but board games aren’t just for kids. Long gone are the days when Monopoly ruled the roost and evenings at home were confined to another match of Battleship. From social party games, to strategic adventures, to cognitive puzzlers, there’s plenty of deep, challenging, creative and often downright surprising board games for adults to dive into. We’re willing to bet you’ll find them a great way to hang out with some buddies or settle a competitive rivalry, even if the last time you picked up a die was to throw it at a sibling after a particularly violent round of Chutes and Ladders, many many Christmasses ago.

But knowing which board games offer the best introduction to this sprawling hobby is a challenge. Where do you start when a cavalcade of enticing characters and alluring box art stares at you from the shelf? Our list will guide you through some of our favourite board games for adults and quickly get you on the road to enjoying some tabletop shenanigans.

You may already be somewhat familiar with the board game hobby, or are perhaps a keen bean who has yet to venture beyond your Scrabble board. Maybe you’re after a crowd pleaser to whip out when you’re hosting, or browsing for something suitable for a small group of dedicated players. In any case, our selections for the best board games for adults have broad appeal and each would make a splendid contribution to any tabletop.

So, clear the table and grab some friends, as we dive into…

The Best board games for adults

  • Isle of Skye
  • Unexploded Cow
  • Men at Work
  • Azul
  • Love Letter
  • Codenames
  • Root
  • Tiny Towns
  • Mysterium
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Isle of Skye

Publisher: Lookout Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

The game’s depth of strategy and Scottish theme make it a winner

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.

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MYSTERIUM

Publisher: Libellud
Purchase: Amazon

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.

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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.

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LOVE LETTER

Publisher: Z Man Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

A great choice for any adult’s first foray into 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.

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Men at Work

Publisher: Pretzel Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

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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.

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UNEXPLODED COW

Publisher: Cheapass Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

Steal cows, switch cards, and infiltrate enemy ranks

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.

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Azul

Publisher: Plan B Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

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Unburdened with tortuous decision making, copious analysis, or multiple strands of reasoning, Azul is the perfect tranquil board game for adults in need of relaxation. 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. Try to shame your opponent with a mesmerizing mosaic or keep to yourself and focus on the long game. Azul is as placid as you make it.

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ROOT

Publisher: Leder Games
Purchase: Amazon

From a quick glance at its woodland-themed board, you might take 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.

Its genius comes from its asymmetry; No two factions play the same

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.

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Codenames

Publisher: Czech Games
Purchase: Amazon

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.

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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.

Buy now

Tiny Towns

Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Purchase: Amazon

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.

Building types are randomised each game for massive replay value

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.

The board game world is growing at a rate not yet measurable by human technology, so there are new games coming out every day that may earn their place on this list. Rest assured, we’ll keep it updated so that the best board games for adults can always be found here.

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