When the nights are dark, and cold winds are pushing you inside, I’ve found that the best way to survive the January evenings is with a good board game – or seven. They’re also handy when you want some tech-free fun where you can put your phone aside, turn off the TV, and take a break from the constant glare of screens.
This is part of a series of articles exploring all the ways we're using tech to thrive in 2024. Read them all here.
So here I’ve compiled a list of my favorites, with suggestions for all sorts of group sizes, playstyles, and skill levels. Whether you’re a board game aficionado searching for something new, or a board game novice looking to entertain a large group with a simple yet fun challenge I have you covered.
There are more than simply seven great board games out there though. If you’re looking for more suggestions check out the best board games list over on our sister site TRG.
1. Railroad Ink
If I could only play one board game for the rest of my life I’d pick Railroad Ink. It offers the perfect blend of luck and tactics, it’s affordable (you can buy a set and a few expansions for the price of a base box of many other board games out there), and it’s very easy to wrap your head around.
Every turn one player rolls four dice which have different shapes and designs of roads and railway tracks on them. Then, all the players draw these dice on their board with dry-erase markers to try and create the best possible interconnected route of roads and railways – a Railroad if you would. After seven turns you score everyone’s drawings and declare a winner.
Despite everyone working with identical pieces the game always ends with the players having drawn wildly different designs, and the games are a good length too – long enough to feel like you’ve sunk your teeth into the experience, but short enough for you to be able to play a few rounds in one evening if you want. And once you’ve played a few times you can start adding in bonus dice – every base game comes with two unique pairs – to mix things up.
The four different base game versions are all excellent places to start, though I’d recommend buying the Deep Blue or Blazing Red editions first because they have enough boards and pens for six players while Yellow and Green only support four. As for expansions, picking up one (or all) of the other colors isn’t a bad idea, but my personal favorite is the Underground expansion pack – although it adds some complexity that not everyone will vibe with.
This classic board game appears on a lot of best board game lists, and there’s a reason for that – it’s just so good.
At its core Catan is simply a better Monopoly. Trading and development are intrinsic aspects of Catan, just as they are with Monopoly, but it’s not so luck-heavy. In Monopoly, if you have a few unlucky turns and if other players roll really well your game is over and you’re just waiting to go bankrupt. In Catan, you might end up behind but you’re always still playing, and the advantages earned by pulling ahead aren’t so dramatic – so there’s a good chance you can catch up and maybe even win. While some matches are won decisively, most games I’ve played end very closely – with a couple of other players within reach of victory when someone gets 10 points.
Sticking with the Monopoly comparisons, I’d say Catan is just as easy to understand, and the games are generally a lot shorter than a full round of Monopoly. The only downside is the player count – Catan is designed to be played in groups of three or four without picking up an expansion or different versions which can be awkward. It’s also a little pricey, but if you can reliably get a group together to play it’s more than worth the cost of entry.
3. Muffin Time
If Catan is too serious for you this next one certainly won’t be. Muffin Time – inspired by the iconic internet classic asdfmovie – is a delightfully chaotic card game that’s my go-to for large groups with different levels of board game experience (or at varying states of inebriation).
On the surface, Muffin Time doesn’t sound too wild. It’s sort of reverse Uno - your goal is to end your turn with exactly 10 cards in your hand by using a mixture of Actions, Traps, and Counters. Where things get weird is that every card effect is unique, and while some effects are pretty standard others most definitely aren’t.
At any moment you could be forced to discard your hand, swap with another player, enter a thumb war, be punished for checking your phone, need to ask where your lemons are, or restart the whole game because someone decided that was the best card to play.
My only advice is to get some card sleeves. In my experience games can get a little rowdy with drinks being spilled or cards falling in snack bowls. The plastic sleeves have helped keep them safe for use in future games.
Another superb game to play in a larger group is Codenames – it’s great for parties and family game nights alike.
The game is played in two teams. Every player can see 25 word tiles arranged in a five-by-five grid but only one player from each team – the Spymasters – can see a grid that assigns colors to these words. Using single-word clues and a number, the Spymasters take turns to help their team guess which words are theirs before the other team can find their words – while avoiding the black card (the assassin).
Codenames is super simple, games are fairly quick, and there are loads of expansions to expand your word pool – you can even add your own words if you have scraps of paper and a pen.
Best of all you can play Codenames online for free. The physical board game is better if you’re playing in person, but if you’re looking to try it out before you buy it – or are hosting a virtual gathering – this is an excellent tool.
Earlier I said if I could only choose one board game to play forever it would be Railroad Ink. My number two pick would be Hellapagos – a cooperative game… until the food runs out.
Your group (of between three and twelve people) has been stranded on a desert island and you must work together to stay alive. But when things go wrong and you don’t have enough food, water, or rafts to escape the storm you’ll have to choose people to sacrifice. With the situation always on the brink of chaos do you want to help the group or look after yourself and find supplies for your secret stash – which might include snacks, helpful tools, or a gun and bullets to fend off your fellow islanders when they turn on you.
What I love about Hellapagos is it’s designed for people to be selfish – something most cooperative board games don’t allow for. If you want to play for the group, great, but you can also just do your own thing which makes it feel like you have a lot more agency in your actions. Plus with games never lasting too long you’ll be able to explore a few different tactics in one evening, and you might even be able to have one game where everyone successfully escapes.
6. Betrayal at House on the Hill
Another semi-cooperative game; Betrayal at House on the Hill puts you and your friends in the shoes of wannabe paranormal investigators exploring an old abandoned house. But watch out. There’s a force trying to corrupt you as you wander the halls, and eventually someone in your group will become the monster haunting you.
At this point their objective is to trap the other player in the haunted house forever, while the good guys must stop their evil scheme and escape.
If you grew up watching Scooby-Doo, then you’ll love the vibe of this spooky board game adventure, and with the colorful cast of characters you’ll be playing, there’s room to role-play if you want to – but equally, there’s no need to be anyone but yourself.
There’s also a Scooby-Doo and a Baldur’s Gate version of the game if you want to try those instead of the generic haunted house settings offered by the core experience.
7. Mini Rogue
Last but not least is Mini Rogue, a board game dungeon crawler for one or two players.
This randomly generated adventure is a rogue-like video game given physical form – complete with traps, treasures, and a troop of monsters standing in your way. Playing as one of four possible characters (eight with expansions) you’ll delve deep underground to recover the mysterious Og’s Blood ruby armed with only your unique skill, some adventuring gear, and dice that determine the outcome of your adventures.
Playing a board game on your own sounds weird but I’ve fallen in love with going on solo Mini Rogue adventures. I’ve found it’s the perfect tech detox for those evenings when I want to get away from the screens and just be with my thoughts.
The game is just as fun with a friend, and equally difficult. Don’t expect to succeed on every Mini Rogue adventure – I’ve failed my fair few expeditions, but those defeats only make your successes taste sweeter.
You might also likelo
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.