There’s nothing quite like sitting at a table with friends or family to play a new board game, and these days, there are so many fantastic board games out there that offer complex and interesting gameplay to engross you. Gone are the days when Monopoly and Scrabble were the main options; now, we’ve got huge legacy games like Gloomhaven and Pandemic that span multiple sessions, asymmetrical war games like Root that require mastery of multiple factions, and Kickstarter campaigns that spawn truly unique tabletop experiences like Fog of Love, a romantic comedy in board game form. Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering are still massively popular as well, with new books, card sets, and other products released regularly.
If you’re shopping for a board game fan this holiday season, you might not know where to start when it comes to modern tabletop gaming, but fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the best board games, card games, and accessories to gift to someone who can’t get enough of tabletop gaming. Most of these games feature in our guide to the best board games we’ve played, so give that a look for more info on specific games.
Gloomhaven released to widespread acclaim in 2017, and it still maintains the No. 1 spot on BoardGameGeek, the top online community for board gamers. A co-op game for one to four players, Gloomhaven is a fantasy dungeon-crawler where you navigate your unit across a tile-based map, defeating enemies and picking up loot. The cards in your hand at any given time determine what actions you can take, including attacking, moving, and healing, and you draw a modifier card while attacking to determine damage. As someone who finds tabletop RPGs like D&D and Pathfinder a bit overwhelming, I’ve greatly enjoyed Gloomhaven and find its overall gameplay much easier to digest. It’s critically acclaimed for a reason, and for someone who’s into tactical combat and light role-playing, Gloomhaven will be a wonderful surprise to unwrap this Christmas.
This may seem like a morbid addition to the list in light of COVID-19, but Pandemic has been a favorite in the board game community for years, currently sitting at No. 2 (right behind Gloomhaven) on BoardGameGeek. This co-op board game casts you and other players as scientists working to discover cures to several diseases that have broken out across the world. Each player has a unique role, such as researcher or medic, and special abilities that will be key to strategically moving around the world and preventing outbreaks. The legacy version of Pandemic is the one to get, which simply means it’s designed to be played over many sessions, with an overarching storyline and permanent changes to the game occurring as you play.
Perfect for someone obsessed with kaiju films, King of Tokyo lets you play as one of six giant monsters: Alienoid, Space Penguin, Giga Zaur, Cyber Kitty, Mega Dragon, and The King. The goal: Become the one and only King of Tokyo by either being the first to destroy the city or the only surviving monster. King of Tokyo is easy to learn and a great game for the entire family.
Azul is a tile-drafting game that tasks you with embellishing the walls of a king’s palace using ornate tiles known as azulejos. You draw colored tiles and score points based on how you’ve placed them to decorate the palace, earning extra points for collecting sets or creating certain patterns. As in other games where drafting plays a central role, the tiles you pick in Azul will directly affect what other players can take, which adds to the game’s strategy and competition.
This stunning game about being a bird enthusiast was an instant hit when it released in 2019, selling out fast when it first launched. Published by Stonemaier Games, the same team behind Scythe, Wingspan is an engine-building game about attracting the best birds to your wildlife preserves. Adding a new bird has costs, but the more birds you add, the more powerful your actions will become, and specific birds also grant unique abilities and perks. Your goal is to earn the most points through completing end-of-round goals, playing bird cards, accumulating eggs, and more. Wingspan is also known for its gorgeous art style and the fun facts about each bird species at the bottom of cards, adding a nice educational aspect if you’re buying for the family. The board game became so popular that a digital edition has already been released on Steam and is planned for Nintendo Switch as well, but if they’re new to Wingspan, the physical board game makes a fantastic gift.
Tetris fans will find a lot to love about Patchwork, a game about creating a beautiful quilt by strategically drawing and placing tiles that will earn you the most points. You’ll purchase tiles using buttons, the currency of the game, and players’ progress is kept track of on a separate time board, which nets you more buttons and tiles as you progress. By the end of the game, you score based on how many buttons you have left and subtract points for empty tiles on your board, making placement of the Tetris-like tiles a strategic matter. Patchwork is a fun, simple, and relaxing board game that many puzzle game fans would enjoy, and it’s great for someone who lives with just one other person, as it’s made for two players.
The most annoying thing about loving board games is that you generally need other people to play with–and that’s not always easy to organize. Scythe is a board game that can be played completely alone (or with up to five players) and has a highly developed solo system with well-designed AI opponents. Set in an alternate version of the 1920s, Scythe is an engine-building game about conquering territory, enlisting recruits, gathering resources, and growing the overall strength of your faction.
Perfect for fans of horror and suspense, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a game for three to six players that follows a group of characters as they enter a creepy mansion and begin exploring its rooms. Everyone is on the same team–at first. Eventually, an event will be triggered that causes one player to betray the others, and the game becomes a race against the clock as the remaining players and the betrayer each hatch a plan to achieve their win conditions first. For the base game, 50 possible scenarios are possible, and the expansion, Widow’s Walk, adds 50 more scenarios (along with new rooms, items, and more). With its thrilling storylines and high level of replayability, Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of the best board games you could pick up as a gift–and that’s coming from someone who was personally gifted Betrayal for Christmas and subsequently spent the entire holiday playing it over and over.
Fog of Love is a two-player board game that’s like starring in a romantic comedy. Each player creates their own unique character (some role-playing is involved), and over the course of the game, the two characters will meet, fall in love, and face obstacles as their relationship develops. Based on the story you choose and the characters’ respective traits and longterm goals, the game can end any number ways–and that ending isn’t always happy. Funded entirely on Kickstarter, Fog of Love is a unique and entertaining game, especially for couples looking for something to do on an indoor date night.
There’s nothing like a simple card game for passing the time, and Sushi Go has to be the most adorable set of cards ever made. In this charming party game, the goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes to have the highest score by the end of the game. From maki rolls and egg nigiri to dumplings and tempura, each card has its own points requirements, meaning you’re constantly looking at your hand to see what card would be the best fit as well as keeping your eye on opponents’ cards to anticipate what card they might grab next. This fast-paced game can get surprisingly competitive, but it’s easy to learn and always a blast to play, making it great for kids, too.
Root is an asymmetric board game set in a forest kingdom occupied by four factions: Marquise de Cat, the Eyrie Dynasties, the Woodland Alliance, and the Vagabond. Each faction has its own strategy, abilities, and win condition, but all four groups are ultimately fighting for control of the wilderness. Root is a slightly more complicated game with a steeper learning curve, but its adorable art makes it easy to draw players in.
Kodama is a cozy little game for two to five players where you build out the branches on a tree and try to have the highest score based on the combination of caterpillars, flowers, fireflies, mushrooms, and other small features on it. Taking place over the course of three seasons, your tree will expand as you strategically place down branch cards, and at the end of each season, a kodama (forest spirit) will award you extra points based on how well you’ve suited its needs. This is a chill game for a chill group of people, and with its gorgeous artwork, it’s also a treat to look at as you play.
Other versions of Kodama have been released as well. Kodama Duo is the best option for two players, while Kodama 3D involves actually building a 3D tree (and takes up less table space).
Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s novel At The Mountains of Madness, this three- to five-player game has you working together with your team to slowly scale the mountain and reach the peak with your sanity intact. The cooperative gameplay grows increasingly harder as you and your companions pick up madness cards, which will hinder communication significantly. There are three levels of madness cards, and their requirements involve anything from speaking in an accent to having to say numbers as addition problems (“three plus two” instead of “five”). Mountains of Madness isn’t the easiest board game to win and will test your group’s ability to communicate under pressure, but it’s incredibly fun with people who aren’t afraid to get outside their comfort zone.
Even if your loved one isn’t a board gamer, they’ll probably like Codenames. Codenames is a spy-themed word game with two competing groups of players and two spymasters, one for each team. Looking down at a 5×5 grid of cards (each one representing a secret agent), each team is competing to guess which cards belong to their team based on one-word clues from the spymaster while also avoiding cards from the opposite team and the solo assassin card. Codenames is ideal for about four players, but you can play with anywhere from two to eight people (or even more). This party game is perfect for both adults and kids of all reading ages who love solving puzzles and word games.
Inspired by the video game series, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic, co-op board game for one to four players where you begin as survivors on the edge of an unfamiliar world. Throughout the game, you’ll explore the map, fight enemies, deepen your survivor’s skills, and complete various quests while ensuring none of the feuding factions within the game become too powerful. This is a lengthier board game that’ll take you two to three hours for a single playthrough, but it’s the perfect gift for the die-hard Fallout gamer or for anyone who likes role-playing adventure games.
Tsuro is an easy but highly replayable board game where you put down tiles with various intertwining roads on them and slowly slide your piece across the board to follow the path, which twists and turns as you and other players place more tiles. The catch: You die if your piece goes off the board or runs into another player, so you want to have the last piece standing. At the board game nights I attend, we begin every session with Tsuro as it takes about 30 seconds to explain and start playing, but it always ends in laughter and hijinks as friends plot each others’ demise (and sometimes unknowingly send themselves off the board).
The Resistance is a great game for larger groups, anywhere from five to 10 players. In this game, there are two sides: the Resistance, an underground group of fighters fighting against an oppressive leadership, and the government spies who have infiltrated their group. The goal of the Resistance is to successfully complete a certain number of missions, while the spies will win if they ensure a certain number of missions fail. The catch is that while the spies know each others’ identities, the Resistance only knows the number of spies among their group, meaning those players must choose carefully when deciding who goes on each mission. The Resistance is similar to Mafia or Werewolf in that players must debate and figure out the identities of the spies based on people’s actions and behaviors. From bluffing your way through as a Resistance member to throwing false accusations at other players, there are plenty of things you can do as a spy to throw other players off track, and it’s incredibly fun.
The Red Dragon Inn 5: The Character Trove is a fast-paced card game for two to four players. The premise is that you and your party of companions have returned to town after a day of killing monsters and clearing dungeons to celebrate and have a mighty good time at the Red Dragon Inn. The game is all about drinking, gambling, and roughhousing with friends while making sure you don’t run out of gold or get too drunk or beaten up (your friends will loot your body, of course). The Red Dragon Inn 5 makes a great gift because it comes with an extra-large box and various storage items designed to hold all the characters from previous expansions so you don’t have to store them in separate boxes.
This three-book set is the ultimate gift for someone who’s new to Dungeons & Dragons and interested in being a Dungeon Master. The set contains the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual as well as a Dungeon Master’s screen, and each of the books have reflective foil covers only available in this special set.
Releasing November 17, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is a new rules expansion for Dungeons & Dragons and adds expanded subclasses, new character features and feats, group patrons, new spells, and much more. The book also introduces new rules for sidekicks, supernatural environments, natural hazards, and more. While Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything isn’t releasing until November, it does follow in the footsteps of Xanthar’s Guide to Everything, which is a great expansion to the core Player’s Handbook. So it should make a neat gift for any D&D player this holiday season.
If you know you’re shopping for someone who’s a Dungeon Master, the new D&D adventure book Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden offers “a tale of dark terror” set in the frozen North and includes rules for DMs running adventures in the wintery climate. The latest D&D adventure is perfect for long-time players looking to start a brand-new campaign with newly-created characters.
One of the best gifts for board game lovers is a place for them to hold all their dice. This bag contains 140 polyhedral dice and 20 complete sets of varying gorgeous colors and designs. The perfect gift for a Dungeon Master or someone who wants to be ready for any dice game, the Bag of Devouring can also fit over 200 dice if needed.
If they have plenty of dice but could use an easier way to organize and transport them, this huge dice bag would be a much-appreciated gift. With seven stitched compartments, this faux suede bag can hold over 150 dice, and it includes a built-in drawstring to close the bag securely.
Rolling dice on a crowded table quickly gets annoying (not to mention loud), and heavier dice can even damage your table. That’s why most fans of tabletop RPGs appreciate having a good dice tray for a safe and enclosed area to roll their dice in. While designed for a game like D&D, you can use this tray for any game involving dice, making it a multipurpose accessory they’ll get plenty of use out of.
A dice tower is another dice-rolling option that some may prefer to a dice tray. This particular dice tower made of laser-cut plywood and thick clear acrylic that allows you to see the dice as it tumbles through. It also comes with a wooden tray, but you can actually remove the tower and use it with another tray of your choice, such as the dapper octopus one above. For taking on the go, the tower can be folded into the base tray and even hold your dice while you’re carrying it, which also makes it a neat stocking stuffer.
A battle mat is another great accessory for Dungeon Masters, allowing them to visualize the map for players. This particular map is covered with a high-gloss, waterproof laminate so you can use dry-erase markers without leaving any stains. It also comes with a set of multi-color markers, an eraser, and an empty spray bottle for easy cleaning.