Best Board Games for Adults
When you hear ‘board games’, there’s no denying that many people will assume that children are involved in some way. And why not? They make fantastic family pastimes that bring kids and adults together to spend some quality time in our digitized and atomized age. But classifying them like that ignores the fact that the majority of board games are deep, demanding, and definitely designed for adults. So whether you like 2-player board games, parlor games, or even single-player games, here are our picks for the best titles to stretch your brainpower and spark some interesting discussions.
There’s no better place to start this list than with one of the most popular and engaging games of recent years. Wingspan is often sold as a family game, but in truth, it’s a bit too complex and challenging for kids. It’s perfect for adults, though, with a perfect weave of tactics and strategy as well as a winning theme when trying to lure birds to a nature reserve. Different birds need different foods and habitats, but they will contribute to the growth of your ecosystem which becomes a kind of engine, generating resources for you to play with bigger and more beautiful birds.
A lot of cooperative board games are very family friendly, but Spirit Island is different. It’s deep and demanding, on the one hand, with a commensurate sense of strategic satisfaction when your party scores a victory. On the other hand, it features a challenging theme of anti-colonialism, with players taking on the role of elemental gods working together to repel a colonizing invader. Winning means using a combination of your loyal natives and special elemental powers to plan a way to predict the path of the invasion and drive them back into the sea.
The titular Brian was a famous king of medieval Ireland, whose campaign of military, social and economic might to unify the island is replicated in this fascinating game of tricks. After drafting their cards, players compete in rounds to take control of towns on a map of Ireland, but losing cards generates critical resources to use in marriage, supporting the church, or fending off the Viking invaders. Failing to balance all of these can cost you the game, while other players will compete to steal your towers or usurp you on one of the game’s support lanes. Check out our Brian Boru review for more details on this topic.
Dune was one of the cinematic events of 2021 and it happens to be very well supported with board game spinoffs. Among them is Dune: Imperium, where players are the nobles of the Dune universe, each building their own deck of cards representing their resources, influence, and personnel. These can then be played to onboard spaces to intrigue with other factions or fight on the surface of the planet, or kept for added effect during a “reveal” turn. It’s a potent and spicy mix, forcing players to tweak their deck builds and strategies as the drama unfolds. Check out our Dune: Imperium review for more.
Topping many players’ and critics’ “best of lists”, Gloomhaven is an extraordinary cooperative marriage of story and strategy. You’ll lead an ever-evolving cast of characters through an expansive narrative campaign, equipping and perfecting them as they experience events and encounters. Exploration and combat unfold via a tough and tight tactical engine driven by multi-purpose maps where failure and death are constant threats to the unwary. If the length and price of the original put you off, you can still make the most of the scaled-down prequel Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.
If none of the other games on this list appeal to you, then Terraforming Mars’ cross-genre mix might be what you need. In your quest to civilize Mars before your competitors, you’ll have to juggle hand management, resource gathering, and positional play on the planet’s surface, all rolled into one neat package. Best of all, for a game of this style, they also help evoke a genuine sense of humanity colonizing the Red Planet, dusty inch by inch. The company’s various powers and card offerings make every game feel new and prevent it from being a guaranteed path to victory.
From the box artwork, you might assume this is a children’s game about adorable woodland animals. In fact, it’s a fascinating, multilayered exploration of what power means to different groups in society. There are four factions in the game: The Traditional Birds, The Industrialized Cats, The Downtrodden Woodland Peoples, and The Lone Wanderer. Everyone has their own set of rules and goals to bring to this highly asymmetrical game where you’ll gather troops and cards to accumulate resources, fight, and advance your goals. And if the layered strategic puzzle isn’t thought through enough, you can discuss the political and philosophical ramifications of the game’s model afterwards.
You may never have heard of the psychic spy comic book series this is based on, but that won’t stop you from enjoying its sublime blend of strategy and surrealism. One player, the recruiter, moves secretly around a hidden map, trying to visit enough recruiting locations to win. The other players work as a team, using a limited pool of actions to try and get clues about the recruiter’s movements and objectives so they can pin them down and capture them. A fun new puzzle of bluffing and deduction with every game, Mind MGMT is brilliantly brought to life by a series of closed boxes containing additional game elements that you can open and add as you wish. See our full Mind MGMT review for more information.
Worker placement, where you have a limited number of pieces to assign to actions on the board, is a common mechanic in medium and heavyweight games. Anachrony takes it to the next level by allowing you to “borrow” workers and resources from your future towers as part of its time travel theme. Failure to repay your loans when this change occurs has predictably disastrous consequences. On top of the usual activity of juggling the resources you need to climb one of the game’s paths, this makes it fresh, complex, and challenging while evoking a classic sci-fi theme.