You’ve seen our recommendations for video games and for hardware and gear, but we have definitely saved the best for last! It’s been another great year in tabletop gaming, and we’ve got some great picks for your cardboard slinging friends and family:
Light weight games
Cat in the Box
Paradoxically, you’re simultaneously good and bad at trick-taking games until you’ve been observed playing this one, with suitless cards and players vying to claim adjacent spots on the central board. This has been a favorite of ours since Gen Con.
Oink took trick-taking and rummy, threw them in a blender, and poured the result into one of their hallmark tiny boxes. Plays solid at every player count, and while the fixed hand orientation and card order can take a bit to get used to, the depth of gameplay belies the small package Scout comes in. Expect to hear about this one some more from us.
A crunchy abstract game that will not disappoint. Shobu is like Chess if you dropped all the stuffy rules and made the edge of the four separate boards lava. It’s fast, easy to learn, and offers a very satisfying two player head to head challenge where you will be immediately asking for a rematch.
Medium light games
One director sets the scene in four different apartments and the other players try to decipher the tenant and the activity through a series of obscure clues. Be careful; one apartment may contain a murder someone is trying to hide.
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Marvel Dice Throne
If you have found memories of growing up playing yahtzee and have ever wondered if the simple game could ever be more, then Marvel Dice Throne is here to make your day. Instead of scoring points for your dice rolls, they power Captain Marvel’s Cosmic Rays or Loki’s Illusions. Rolling dice to beat up your opponents and playing cards to upgrade your attacks and dice combos is familiar to the classic game but elevates it to new level of fun and snappy battle game for 2-4 players.
Unmatched: Battle of legends Vol 2
We’ve got another entry into the excellent Unmatched series, and this one’s all about sidekicks. Yennega can shunt damage off to her two-health archers, and Achilles goes berserk once his buddy Patroclus dies.
Draft biome cards to grow forests on your personal player board, with each round’s leftovers going to the compost heap, determining how each zone scores. Also, treeples.
What is Turing Machine? It is a puzzle game where players will compete against one another to find the answer code first. Players do this by asking the analog computer a series of questions which help narrow down the answer. This creatively uses different numbered punch/perforated cards and with that players lay them over one another and can see if the answer to their question is correct, or incorrect.
Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape
For the dungeon crawlers in your life! MD2 mixes up the genre with some innovative class mechanics that actually make each character and class feel different. The core box comes with a huge load of content, and there are multiple expansions for people that really get into the series. For those looking for something new in the genre that actually stands out, check this out.
Who said a silly large-group dice chucker can’t have crunch? Ryan Courtney’s (designer of Pipeline and Curious Cargo) party game takes players to Wall Street to short and sell stocks while manipulating their values with dice.
Medium weight games
1-5 dragon experts, called flamekeepers, are tasked with befriending cute little dragons and enticing them to produce marvelous wonders like… bread. The dragons of flamecraft don’t hoard gold or roast townsfolk, they bake cakes and roast kabobs. Each dragon, of which there are six types, is unique, named, and cuter than a giggling baby.
My Father’s Work
With one of the most intriguing board game themes we’ve seen in recent years, My Father’s Work puts players into the role of a mad scientist trying to follow in the footsteps of their father, and completing the questionable studies that may have led to their demise. Steeped in theme, this worker placement game takes place over multiple generations, and the accompanying mobile app sends the game’s narrative into some crazy directions depending on key decisions made by the players.
The best hidden movement game based on an indie comic EVER. One person is the “recruiter”, looking for psychics to bring into the secretive Mind MGMT organization, everyone else is a rogue agent formerly of the organization, trying to track down the recruiter before they get too far. Between the Matt Kindt art and the ingenious SHIFT system that keeps the game fresh over multiple sessions, expect to see this one on some GOTY lists.
Heavy weight games (includes medium heavy)
For a game that borrows a lot of mechanics and ideas from other games, Ark Nova surprises by not only making such disparate elements work, but making them work really well within a great theme, resulting in something that is just a heck of a lot of fun. The endgame can be a bit brutal and the art direction is uneven and at times amateurish, but there isn’t enough wrong to diminish the joy of actually playing. Expect to see this on game of the year lists in a few months.
If you like your Euros heavy, Boonlake by Alexander Pfister shouldn’t disappoint. The “settling pioneers” theme is a bit thin, but the action selection mechanics are unique and player interaction, while still mostly indirect, is higher than most Euros in this class.
Tales from the Loop: The Board Game
Tales From the Loop continues its legacy of charm, approachability, and mystery. Much like the RPG that came before it, the mechanical weight is enough to create meaningful choices, but maybe not enough to keep those choices interesting through repeat play. Its mysteries are fresh and plentiful, and a great time to play with a few friends.
Pax Pamir Second Edition
Temporary alliances and shifting loyalties are the order of the day as players vie for influence in Afghanistan during “the great game” between colonial powers Russia and Britain. Did we mention the board is cloth and the pieces look like pastel candies?
Wingspan Oceania Expansion
The Oceania expansion to Wingspan brings a lot of fun new content to the game. The addition of nectar, while complicating things slightly, overall adds flexibility to the game. Nectar also allows for the addition of nectar eaters to the new bird cards, which, along with their new powers, change the game for the better. It’s a worthwhile expansion that everyone should add to their Wingspan collection.
Outer Rim: Unfinished Business
Unfinished Business is an apt title for an expansion that turns a game that felt like it could be so much better into a game that you can now get excited about bringing to the table. Yes, it’s still something of a table hog with a brutal setup and takedown, but the Ambition cards make the theme and gameplay really sing in a way the base game didn’t.
Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders
The Expedition Leaders expansion is a must for fans of the base game. The new characters help focus a player’s strategy throughout the game. The new elements also lead to numerous avenues to replay the game. Combine different leaders, different temples, and different sides of the board for a wide variety of gameplay variants.
Blood on the Clocktower
Arguably the apotheosis of social deduction games, Blood on the Clocktower offers a rich system that makes every player role unique and special, and not only gives better management tools to the moderator, but gives them agency to influence the game towards either team. Player deaths aren’t the end (and sometimes aren’t even permanent), and their ghosts can provide information and even vote from beyond the grave.
Dream Crush guarantees laughs with no hurt feelings, and it’s easier to get on the table than freshly baked apple pie. If you are interested in sharing a good laugh with your friends, even ones who have never heard of board games before, consider Dream Crush.
Ready, Set, Bet!
Bring horse racing home, and learn to bet on your favorite horses. In an exhilarating game where every bet counts, and even the most underdog of horses can take a lead, Ready, Set Bet! Is sure to get your blood pumping, and pique your interest, whether you’re good at betting games or not, anyone can have fun placing bets on imaginary horses.
Hues & Cues
A colorful guessing game with a novel scoring mechanic. The scoring itself lends to some interesting strategy and risk taking. Hues and Cues is very simple to teach, fun to play, and a great social experience.
Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn
Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn is a must have for any Critical Role fan hoping to play in or simply learn more about Tal’Dorei. The care, thought, and thoroughness that went into this book is obvious from the high-quality paper to the robust political, religious, and socioeconomic details included for each region. While it is missing a few details which fans would like to see, it is one of the more robust source books available for 5e.
Death in Space
Death in Space takes Mork Borg’s basic engines and sensibilities into the dark of a galaxy at the end of its life.For anyone looking for something with the same weight to it who doesn’t want to learn more rules, Death in Space admirably expands the brand into the horrific wonder of the stars.
D&D Campaign Case: Creatures
The D&D Campaign Case: Creatures is an excellent pre-built box for those looking to build some encounters without taking the dive into minis and terrain. I would love to see Wizards of the Coast expand their offering of clings, especially where playable races and classes are concerned, but this is a solid starter set. The clings themselves are durable, and the monsters included in this kit are numerous and diverse enough that GMs should be able to find a facsimile of whatever monster they need, provided they’re not running a highly specific campaign.
Dungeons & Dragons Rules Expansion Gift Set
A great set with two of the best 5E books Wizard’s has published to date (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) as well as the new Monsters of the Multiverse book, which provides some much-needed updates to some monsters in previous creature compendiums and sets a better foundation for monsters as a player race option. There’s a ton of value here for D&D player and DMs that are ready to get a little deeper than the core rules in the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
YAHTZEE: Dungeons & Dragons
Wait, Yahtzee???? Yes, Yahtzee is a classic, but the real reason why most folks are going to want this set is for the D&D ampersand dice tower (which does, in fact, accommodate dice other than D6). You can even use the 5D6 colorfully painted with Owlbears, Mind Flayers and the like for your next character creation session! Also, Yahtzee is still fun, but please don’t play while your DM is asking for you to roll initiative.
Mike Dunn is the old man of Gaming Trend, having cut his teeth on Atari consoles and First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. His involvement with Gaming Trend dates back to 2003, and he’s done everything from design and code to writing and managing. Now he has come full circle, with a rekindled passion for tabletop gaming and a recent debut as Dungeon Master (nearly forty years after he purchased the original DMG).