Houkago Saikoro Club started airing and it looks like peeps are interested in board gaming so I thought I’d make a list of beginner friendly games. Simple rules and on the cheaper end of the spectrum (generally $10-$25). I think the problem with too many of these lists is they tend to recommend “gateway” games that people are supposed to use as a jumping-off point and get bored of once they start getting into “real” games so they sort of end up recommending a lot of bad games, without a sense of real curation (if they aren’t outright shills or Amazon affiliate link farms). They’re part of a board gaming culture where people regularly have monstrous collections of hundreds of games, that on average end up getting played like once or twice, if at all. I think that mindset kinda sucks so all the games that I’m recommending here are ones that I think have strong replayability so you can get your money’s worth out of them.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Look up reviews and discussions/comments about these games (BoardGameGeek is a good source) and read the rules for yourself to see if it’s something that you’d enjoy (I understand this might be hard to gauge for newbies but it is a good habit to form if you decide to continue playing board games). Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a board game group, cafe, or even a public library that stocks board games, so you can try before you buy anything. Also consider buying from a local game store or a specialized online retailer (like Miniature Market or Coolstuffinc) instead of just buying from Amazon or Target.
Light strategy game where you take turns moving a dude and building a floor of a tower. Get one of your dudes on top of a 3-story building to win, but your opponent can mess with your plans by finishing the building with a roof so that you can’t stand on it. Made for 2 players but works really well with 3-4. The game can be spiced up by giving each player a unique power card, which the game includes an entire deck’s worth of. I love the way the 4-player team game makes use of these powers since you and your teammate can control your team’s pieces but only you can use your power, leading to all kinds of interesting scenarios.
A Minesweeper-style word game for 4+ players. Players split into two teams, each with a leader that takes turns giving their team clues on which words belong to their team, while the rest of their team tries to figure out what those words are. Uncover all your team’s words and you win, but if you mess up you could end up uncovering the other team’s words for them or hit the Assassin, which causes your team to instantly lose. It’s a pretty flexible game that works with any number of players (except 1), and people can freely jump in and out in the middle of the game. There’s even a co-op mode if you don’t have 4 players. There’s also a version where the words are replaced with pictures and a dedicated cooperative version which is actually pretty hard. Don’t bother with any of the themed versions (Marvel, Harry Potter, etc) or the 18+ version.
A cooperative word game for 3-8 and the 2019 Spiel des Jahres (German Board Game of the Year) winner. Players take turns being the guesser, where they’re assigned a word that they don’t know but everyone else does. The other players secretly write a one word clue that the guesser uses to figure out their word but if any of the clue-givers write the same thing, their clues get canceled out and the guesser has fewer clues to work with. A few times of this happening and people start writing less and less obvious clues until they start getting way too obtuse and start writing galaxy-brained shit like “bullwhip” to get the you to guess “California” (because Indiana is also a state) and realize they have to dial it back a little. It’s pretty funny.
A note on cooperative games in general: since they generally don’t benefit from human input providing additional layers of challenge (since all the players are playing against the game), they tend to have a much shorter lifespan than competitive games, especially when playing with the same group. In the case of Just One, you can increase the challenge by sourcing other word lists that aren’t specifically curated for this game (including from Codenames, above). If you want to go really difficult, you can fire up Wikipedia and start hitting the Random Article button to generate words. All this to say that this game breaks my rule about games on my list all having legs.
The Resistance: Avalon
Light Mafia-style game for 5-10 but with less random flailing than Mafia. It’s a take on the classic “there are more good guys than bad guys but only the bad guys know who the other bad guys are so they can work together while the good guys scream at each other” social deduction formula but it gives players a few markers of concrete information they can anchor their thoughts to, and only takes like 15 minutes to play and doesn’t have any lynch mechanics so players don’t randomly find themselves sitting out while everyone else has fun. There’s also a vanilla “The Resistance” which is just slightly easier to grasp but ultimately doesn’t have the legs that Avalon does. Also consider Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and Secret Hitler, which are similar (and arguably better) games, though do note that they cost like twice as much.
Another Mafia-style social deduction game but even lighter. Each game takes like five minutes. The bad guys want to shoot the VIP while the good guys want to protect the VIP by shooting the bad guys. The game ends with a bang, with all players pointing finger guns at each other. The game has a bunch of characters you can mix and match to create various setups once you get bored of the vanilla setup. Also includes the Sniper play mode where one player has all the guns and everyone else is trying to convince the Sniper (who is only interested in protecting the VIP) who they should shoot. Cool thing about this game is that there aren’t a lot of components (one card per player) so you don’t even need a table to play it.
Yet another Mafia-style social deduction game but crossed with 20 Questions. One player, the Mayor, knows the Magic Word, and everyone else is asking yes or no questions to figure out what the word is, but also there are Werewolves, who also know the word and are deliberately asking misleading questions to throw off the scent, but the Seer, who also knows the word, is there trying to guide the townies to the correct word. The trick is that finding the word ultimately may not matter because when the word is guessed correctly, the Werewolves have a chance to win by finding the Seer. Likewise, when the word isn’t guessed, the townies have a chance to win by sussing out one of the Werewolves. The real game basically takes place on both these layers leading to a surprising amount of depth.
Simple cooperative card game for 2-4. All you’re doing is playing your cards in order from lowest to highest. The catch is that you don’t know what’s in the other players’ hands and you aren’t allowed to communicate with each other about what you’ve got. If you play a card out of order (because you didn’t realize another player had a lower card in their hand) you all lose a life. Get to the end of the game without running out of lives to win. It’s a pretty amazing game. Most of the time you’re sort of gesturing at each other to figure out who should play a card next, but sometimes you get into The Zone, where you and the other players have figured each other out and are laying down cards rapid-fire. This game is definitely not for everyone though, and it being a true cooperative game means that there’s a lot of pressure for everyone to perform well, which unfortunately some people have a tough time with. Also, my note on cooperative games above also applies here.
These games are generally in the $30+ range. This is also where the games get a bit more complex, but are still generally manageable for newbies.
A Tetris-esque game, where each player has their own board and, each round, simultaneously places a cube onto an empty space on their board, with players taking turns declaring which color cube everyone places. When these cubes are placed in specific formations, they can be combined onto one space to form a building, which grants special powers or provide victory points but if you mess up, your board can get filled with useless cubes that also prevent you from placing other cubes. Can get kinda mean when people start calling colors other players can’t use but there’s a less interactive variant where the color of the cube they place is determined by a deck that you flip cards from, which gives it more of a chill Bingo vibe. The game also comes with a deck of cards that change what the buildings do so there are all kinds of configurations to play around with.
A deck-building game (NOT a trading card game), the first of its kind, and the best of its kind. You start with a small deck of piddly cards, and use those to buy better cards, which you use to buy even better cards, and so on. You win by accruing victory points, which also come in the form of cards that you buy, except they do nothing but clog up your deck. The central angst of the game is figuring out when to stop buying better cards and just start buying points. Get them too early and your engine screeches to a halt; go for them too late, and the game ends before you have enough to overtake your opponent. One of the notable things about Dominion is that it has a bunch of expansions that increase the combinatorial complexity of the game, enabling all kinds of weird card combos, so you can pick these expansions up as needed to keep the game fresh. It’s a game that grows with you as time goes on.
Some other great games in this genre to consider: Heart of Crown, a similar game that puts more emphasis on tactical play and rewards going with the flow and being opportunistic, instead of just long-term decision-making. Also has anime art for weebs. Trains (aka Dominion with a board), has players building tracks around a board and building a rail network, replacing Dominion’s “buy point cards” means of victory. The Quest for El Dorado does away with points altogether and has players weighing their options between using their cards as money to buy better cards or using them to move along a race track to get closer to reaching the goal.
Exceed Fighting System
A crossover fighting game played with each player controlling a character and that character’s deck of cards that they use to move around and fight and stuff. Players take turns performing various actions like moving and Striking, along with various ancillary actions that support the card game aspect of the game. When you Strike, you lay a card face-down, and your opponent lays a card down of their own. Attacking in this game isn’t free and there’s always a chance that you can get blown out by an opponent’s attack that counters yours, so you play an attack that counters that, but then they might play a thing that counters that, and so on.
It’s a pretty rich game with a bonkers amount of content. It has a bunch of characters from all kinds of crossover stuff like Street Fighter, and they’re always making more. This game is starting to be one of my favorites right now, and it takes me back to when I used to play TCGs (but without the TCG expenses ofc). I’m not even into fighting games so I was surprised by how much I liked this. Downside is that it’s a fair bit more complex than the other games on this list and can get fairly expensive since it has so many expansions (you don’t need all of it to play it though).
Some other games that I think are good and replayable but aren’t as cheap or easy to start playing without some hand-holding: Tigris & Euphrates, Five Tribes, Twilight Struggle, Millennium Blades, and Battlecon.
Also want to mention extended playing card decks like the Octo Deck, Rainbow Deck, or Banjo Deck. They’re basically like a standard Poker deck but with more ranks and/or suits (and sometimes other stuff like die faces). There are a bunch of games that you could play with a poker deck if you just had more cards. Lost Cities for example would be perfectly playable with a standard poker deck if a standard poker deck had 5 suits instead of 4. There are all kinds of resources that list these games along with what cards you need, so you can pull them out of your Octo Deck or whatever, find the rules to the game online, and just start playing. Basically one of these decks gives you access to an instant game collection. It will almost always be an inferior experience compared to having the actual game (Lost Cities for example has a completely unnecessary board that is nonetheless helpful for organizing the game) but imo not that big a deal compared to how much money/space you’d be spending otherwise.