1. Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal is basically every 80s B-Horror movie trope you could ever think of stuffed into one box. It’s a fairly standard tile laying game where each player controls an adventurer exploring a creepy old house (on a hill). You’ll discover new rooms, odd artifacts, and bizarre events, and every once in a while must roll dice to perform a Haunt. If the Haunt succeeds, based on the circumstances that triggered it, you’ll flip through the provided scenario booklet and find the appropriate scene that will occur. As the title suggests, someone will now become the betrayer, and from the Traitor’s Tome will look at their new, secret objective, while everyone else will read the objective of the Survivor’s Tome.
Time: 1-2 hours
2. Cash ‘n Guns
If you ever wanted to be part of an old west shootout, Cash N’ Guns is probably the closest you’ll actually get to doing it without being in any real danger of getting shot. It’s like the famous scene from The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly, or the end of Resevoir Dogs. All players will, simultaneously, take their solid foam guns and point them at another player. If you have a gun pointed at you, you have the option to back down, thereby forcing that player to also put down their gun. Everyone still pointing a gun now flips over one of the cards they randomly selected from their hand at the start of the round to reveal either a “Bang” or “Click” text, and determines which players receive wounds. Anyone who did not receive a wound now gets to select from the available loot in the center of the table.
Players: 4-8 (up to 12 with expansion)
Time: 30 minutes
Mysterium is a recent English reprint of a Polish game, but the idea and mechanics behind both are fundamentally the same. It’s as if Clue and Dixit, a popular card game in the same family as Apples to Apples, had a child. In Mysterium one player will assume the role of a spirit trapped in an old mansion. Everyone else will be investigators, attempting to make contact with the spirit and help solve the mystery of who murdered you. Each turn, as the spirit, you’ll secretly determine a set of suspects, locations, or murder weapons for each player, and then must give them clues by handing them a number of abstract and bizarre cards with no text on them that somehow relate to the clue you need them to figure out. The trick is that the spirit can never speak and or give any sort of outside help to the players. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of other people, allowing you to see just exactly how their brain works.
Time: 1-2 hours
4. 7 Wonders
7 Wonders is a fabulously simple and strategic drafting card game where each player plays a single card from their hand and then passes that hand to the next player, as they attempt to gather resources and build an empire to inspire the world. Each player is essentially trying to get he most points, but is also in direct conflict with their neighbors, as certain cards like military might will earn or lose you points based on your prowess compared to that of the player to your left and right. It’s also a bit of a brain burner, as you’ll often find yourself in situations where you have a card in your hand that you really want to play, but you also know that there’s another card that you shouldn’t pass to your opponent – which do you choose? Finding the balance here is one of the best parts of 7 Wonders.
Time: 30-45 minutes
5. Battlestar Galactica
One of the best examples of a board game adapting an IP and not being total garbage, Battlestar Galactica is one of my all-time favorite TV Shows, and coincidentally, one of my absolute favorite board games. There’s a certain level of suspicion and doubt that pervades this game that so few have managed to duplicate, with the exception of one other game on this list. In BSG, players will take on the roles of characters from the show in their efforts to reach Kobol, all the while contending with various crises that pop up, and the loss of food, fuel, morale, and population. But someone amongst them may be a Cylon, secretly sabotaging events and sewing deception amongst the group.
Time: 2-3 hours
6. Eldritch Horror
A game of otherworldly terror, Eldritch Horror puts investigators in the fight of their life as they travel the world closing portals, fighting monsters, and desperately searching for clues to prevent the Old One from being summoned. Eldritch Horror is a more refined, streamlined version of the more complex Arkham Horror, and yet at the same time feels much more urgent and important. Whereas Arkham only took place in the titular city, Eldritch spans the globe, making the threat of the Old One feel truly significant.
Time: 2-3 hours
7. Colt Express
Colt Express is a game of programmable movement and train robbery. Each player will control a specialized character, complete with different abilities, and take turns playing cards according to that round’s rules. At the end of the round, the cards will then be revealed and resolved in the order they were played, and characters will move along the train pieces or attack as defined by the cards that they played. The person with the most loot, as represented by little briefcase, moneybag, or gem icons scattered throughout the train, is the winner. But beware the Marshal, for if anyone runs into him, they immediately suffer a bullet wound and are forced to the top of the train car.
Time: 30-45 minutes
8. Cosmic Encounter
This might be cheating a little bit, because Cosmic Encounter requires at least one of the first three expansions (Incursion, Conflict, or Alliance) to be playable with more than 5 people. That being said, the game is absolutely phenomenal and each Expansion adds 20-some new races, brand new rules, and exciting new abilities into the mix, why wouldn’t you want to get at least one of them? This is one of the best games I’ve ever played befitting such a larger group. Players control various alien races, each with unique powers, and must send their UFOs out to colonize at least 5 other planets. The first player or players to reach 5 foreign planets is the winner. On their turn, a player will draw from a Destiny deck to randomly reveal who their target is, which prevents people from truly ganging up on someone. Further, after you’ve selected the planet for an encounter, players can play cards and choose to either attack or negotiate. All other players not involved in the encounter may be invited by either the attacker or defender to participate, thereby earning them rewards if they help the winning side. It’s a game of fickle alliances and cunning deceit, and I love it.
Players: 3-5 (up to 8 with expansions)
Time: 1-2 hours
9. Cutthroat Caverns
If you’re a fan of Munchkin, give Cutthroat Caverns a shot. It has a fairly similar concept in that the players are attempting to defeat monsters and may help or hinder their efforts; however, Cutthroat Caverns feels a little bit more symbiotic in that the monsters are almost impossible to kill alone. You need the help of the other players, and yet, the person who lands the killing blow is the only one who gets credit for the kill. There’s far more strategy involved than in Munchkin, and the game doesn’t feel as needlessly spiteful, nor does it have any of the forced humor of Munchkin.
Time: 1-2 hours
10. The Resistance/Avalon
The Resistance is the game I was referring to back with Battlestar Galactica, when I said that only one other game captured the same amount of suspense. Each player is randomly dealt a secret objective card, either as a member of the resistance, or a spy of the evil corporation that the resistance is trying to oppose. Every round a person will be the Team Leader, and assign a number of players to go on a mission according to the limit of that mission. Everyone will then get to vote if they approve the team composition, and if it succeeds, those players will now secretly play either a Pass or Fail card for the objective. A single Fail card tanks that whole mission, and the first team to turn three out of the five missions in their favor wins. The catch is that the spies know who they are, but the resistance members do not. Avalon is a standalone game based on the core mechanics of The Resistance, set in the time of King Arthur and his Knights. This version features the clever Merlin rule, where one player controls Merlin and knows who the spies (Minions of Mordred) are, but must try not to make himself revealed as Merlin, because if the Minions end up losing, they get one chance to guess who Merlin is, and if they are correct, they win.
Time: 15-30 minutes
In the same vein as The Resistance, Spyfall is a game of trickery and deceit, where all players will receive a card showing them a specific location that they are currently at. The Spy, on the other hand, just gets a card that says Spy. Each turn, one player will ask another a single question about their location, but must not be specific about it so that the Spy knows immediately where they are. In other words, saying “How many people have you arrested today?” is a clear indication that you are at the police station. However, if the location is outdoors, you might ask “What’s the weather like?” The player being asked must then try to be as coy with their answer so that they don’t make it too obvious. “I enjoy it,” or “It’s what I expected” might be suitable. It is the Spy’s job to either guess their location by the end of the round time limit, or let the time run out without being found out. This is a fantastic game if played with the right group of people, but if you’re the Spy and get asked a question too early into the round without having enough clues, it can be incredibly difficult to lie.
Time: 15 minutes
12. Mission: Red Planet
The recent Second Edition reprint of this classic game features components for a sixth player, which is excellent because Mission: Red Planet is a fantastic game. Each player will attempt to land their astronauts on various sections of Mars, or its moon, Phobos, and earn points based on the type of resource that can be mined there. Everyone has the same set of cards, so no one is at a clear advantage over the other, but you may play them in any order. Higher numbered cards are resolved first, but the lower-value ones typically have better results if they can be played. This reprint also features excellent components, as is typical with Fantasy Flight.
Time: 1-2 hours
Like Mission: Red Planet, Libertalia is a game where players begin with an identical hand of cards, leaving only strategy the difference between your friends. With a pirate theme, players will try to earn points by playing cards, much in the same way as Mission: Red Planet, where higher value cards are resolved first. But Libertalia features a day/night looting cycle, where some cards have prolonged or delayed effects that only become resolved in later phases of the game, making this one for those who enjoy long cons.
Time: 1-2 hours