Trapped indoors? Brain turning to mush? Can’t bear to watch another minute of TV? We’ve got a few suggestions: modern board games well-suited to the most common quarantine scenarios of solo play, two-person gaming, and family time. Save the meetups and conventions for when the world gets back to normal; for now, play with the ones you’re locked up with.
Board games have enjoyed a massive resurgence in the last decade, and our fellow fans no doubt have personal libraries already. But for anyone newer to the hobby, we’ve pulled together some recommendations that should keep you away from coronavirus news for an hour—while giving your brain a gentle workout.
Most of the games below are available on Amazon, but some might require a visit to your friendly local gaming store’s website—and right now is the perfect time to support a local shop, if you can!
These are not “kids’ games” but legitimately engaging titles capable of being played (and enjoyed) by whole families. Most aren’t suitable for kids under 6, but they have all been tested in our own families. Even the most complex on this list—which is ordered from easiest to most challenging—can be enjoyed by a sharp 12-year old.
3-6 players, 30 minutes, age 8+, $28 on Amazon
Dixit is in some ways a slightly more complex Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, but the cards here are all wordless pictures. In each round, one player is the “storyteller” and says a word or phrase that represents a card from their hand. All the other players try to match the idea with a card from their hands, and then all the cards are shuffled together and spread out by the storyteller. The non-storytellers then vote on what they think the storyteller’s card was. If nobody—or everybody—figures out the storyteller’s card, the storyteller gets nothing and all other players score 2 points. The storyteller must give a good clue but not make it too obvious—if they’re able to do this, both they and the correct-guessers get 3 points. Meanwhile, non-storytellers get a point for everyone who voted for their card.
The game works because there are many different elements on each (delightfully strange) card, and they’re all open to wild interpretation. We like to take things a step further by allowing clues to be anything—noises, a dance, whatever gets your point across. Dixit works wonderfully in some groups and not at all in others, and you probably know if it’s right for your group from the description. For a more “gamey” version of the same concept, check out Mysterium.
2-4 players, 15-20 minutes, age 8+, $18 on Amazon
Kingdomino is a dead-simple tile-laying game in which you try to group different areas—ocean, wheat field, mine, etc.—of your kingdom in order to score points. Some tiles have crowns on them. At the game’s end, each set of contiguous area tiles is scored by multiplying the size of that area by the number of crowns on its tiles. Simple? Sure, except that you have to keep your kingdom within a 5×5 grid, and every area tile must be placed such that it touches an existing tile of that type. To make this even trickier, new tiles come out of the box and are chosen in player turn order—but the tile you take in one round determines your player order in the next. Take the better tile now and choose last in the next round? Or grab something not quite as good that will still get you first or second pick next time?
This is a smooth, quick-playing game that has worked well with both kids and adults—even providing some surprisingly decent choices for seasoned gamers. A worthy winner of 2017’s important Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany.
2-4 players, 30 minutes, age 10+, $31 on Amazon
We’ll take any chance we can get to recommend the 2014 classic Splendor. A staple of game nights everywhere, this accessible “engine-building” game tasks players with collecting gems (represented by poker chips) to buy cards, so that they can buy cards worth points, so that they can be the first to 15. You can teach Splendor to almost anyone, and it plays in a breezy and always-escalating 30 minutes. If you already have the base game, consider picking up the expansion.
2-4 players, 30-45 minutes, age 8+, check your local store
The words “instant classic” are overused in board gaming, but if Azul doesn’t fit the bill, no game does. The title took home the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany, and it has quickly solidified its place in the “gateway” games pantheon.
Based on Islamic-inspired Portuguese tiles called azulejos, this family-weight abstract involves collecting sets of similar tiles and slotting them into rows on your personal game board. When a row is completely filled, one of its tiles is moved over into the square pattern to the right, garnering bonuses depending on placement. Turns are quick, and each set of tiles you grab creates both problems and opportunities for other players. There’s a tinge of “meanness” for players who are sensitive to that sort of thing, but it’s essential to Azul‘s wonderful interactive tension.
1-100 players, 25 minutes, age 10+, $24 on Amazon
One of the hottest trends in board games over the past few years has been the “roll and write” genre, in which players roll and draft dice, then mark the results on a scoring sheet. We’ve played a ton of these games, and the unfortunately named Welcome to… is easily one of our favorites.
The game has you and your friends building up your own little suburban neighborhoods. You don’t roll dice here, though; instead, a big deck of cards gets split into three piles, and in every round, a card from each pile is turned over. Players then pick one card to mark down on their sheets (multiple people can pick the same card). The cards each display a number and a symbol. On your player sheet are three rows of houses and a few other scoring trackers. You write the number on a house to essentially “build” it, keeping in mind that the numbers must ascend numerically from left to right in each row—which, believe me, is way harder to manage than it sounds. The symbols provide special effects—take the “fence” symbol and you can clump your houses into estates, for example, or install a pool on spaces with the pool symbol.
The game presents some surprisingly difficult decisions—I really need to pick that fence card to finish my estate, but the number on that other card is PERFECT for me—and it is easy enough to teach to even board game novices. There’s no minimum or maximum player count; anyone with a sheet can play. And with its 25-minute playtime, it’s a perfect little filler.
2-4 players, 45 minutes, age 8+, $32 at Amazon
Pure engine-building fun with chunky plastic dice. On each turn, you roll your dice, store up resources, and then purchase cards that give you special abilities or—and here’s the game’s “gimmick”—buy even better die faces. That’s right: much of the game consists of buying more powerful resources from a large tray of faces, then replacing an existing face on one of your dice. By game’s end—about 45 minutes—you’re rolling killer combos every time.
Dice Forge has one of the most gorgeous presentations I have ever seen in board gaming, the die faces come off with a satisfying “pop,” and there are more available card powers than you can use in a single game. Terrific family entertainment.