The best board games for video game fans
Do you love video games? If that’s the case but you haven’t checked out board games as well, there’s a lot you’ve been missing. The analog side of the hobby is every bit as good as the digital one. In some ways, it may even be better! Hence, I’ve compiled a list of the eight games I recommend the most for video game fans who want to try the amazing world of board games.
Board games take more effort to play than video games. Most can’t be played alone, which makes player count and length more important. Hence, this is not just a list of great games. Rather, I’ve decided to focus on titles that show what analog gaming is capable of and also its most unique features.
I’ve also taken care not to include games that are too long, expensive or difficult. While I don’t question your commitment to Crusader Kings and Dark Souls, having that type of games as your only choice isn’t the best. Remember, you’ll be playing with other people! In fact, I’ve noted how many players you need for each game, so you can take it into account when you kidnap them.
Lastly, I’ve taken care to list games that are easy to find. Most of these can be found in the average hobby shop and a few are quite cheap on the secondary market.
COSMIC ENCOUNTER (4-5 Players)
Nothing represents the joys of board games better than Cosmic Encounter. It’s a deeply social experience, the kind that it’s difficult to achieve through a screen. Bluffing, banter, and negotiation are our main tools to take our alien species to the top of the galactic order. We join the likes of Loser, Pacifist and even the Sniveler, who has the power to complain about losing and make everyone else get to its level.
Cosmic is one of the best and most influential games of all time. It has been a hit whenever I’ve introduced it to people new to the hobby and remains fresh despite being released in 1977. It’s divisive amongst established hobbyists, who have a set idea of what games should be like, but that only increases its appeal for those who want to try out new types of gaming.
If you need to accommodate 6 players, Cosmic works at that count too, but you’ll need an expansion for the additional pieces.
MARCH OF THE ANTS (3,5 Players)
Most strategy video games are held back by their AI opponents. Faced with the impossibility of providing a meaningful challenge, designers feel forced to either cheat or overload the player with obscure mechanics. March of the Ants proves neither is necessary when you have a full human table and the clever mechanics required to put them against each other.
March of the Ants has the depth and elegance video games lack. It’s a fully fledged 4X in under an hour and that can be explained in less than a dozen minutes. Growing our ant colony and finding new sources of food and resources must be balanced with the need to evolve and keep our opponents in check. It has a great battle system, interesting cards and abilities and all in a package everyone can understand. It’s perfect to play with friends and skill differences won’t be an issue.
SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE (1-5 Players)
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is both the best detective game and one of the best pieces of interactive fiction. That is, it’s the board game equivalent of a text or point & click adventure, like The Secret of Monkey Island or Infocom’s Enchanter series. In fact, it predated both! And despite that, it remains outstanding in both its design and immersive qualities.
As we pore over a map of London, interview suspects or read about the murder scene from its thick clue book, we unravel a fair, traditional mystery. Best of all, we do so as a group. Consulting Detective is a cooperative game, and a difficult one too! Debating the best approach, bouncing theories and solving the crime with friends is a unique experience.
If the name rings a bell, there’s a reason for it. Consulting Detective received ports for both PC and Sega CD back in the day. Still, this one is best played with a good group and a trusty old pen to take notes with. There are several sets, too. Start with the brown box which is called The Thames Murders & other cases.
HANABI (2-5 Players)
If the long cases of Consulting Detective seem too much, try Hanabi. It’s not a murder mystery, nor any kind of immersive experience, but it’s a great game. Communicating only with logical clues, we must put together a few cards in order. Ah, but there’s a trick. We don’t see our own hands, only those of our allies! Despite its unassuming appearance, it’s a perfect choice for couples and other small groups.
BRASS: BIRMINGHAM (2-4 Players)
Economic video games are niche at best, but they are a flourishing genre in the analog realm. Brass: Birmingham puts us in the role of barons of industry; building cotton mills and investing on railroads and coal mines. More importantly, the map is shared, and we can use each other’s resources for mutual gain. Finding our role in the market is challenging, but fun.
Brass: Birmingham has a few advantages over other economic games. It’s readily available and not too expensive. It’s heavily interactive, but not as mean as Food Chain Magnate or Steam: Rails to Riches. And it plays well at any player count, which is important when you don’t have many alternatives. While also a fine game, just be careful not to confuse it with its predecessor, Brass: Lancashire.
TERRAFORMING MARS (1-4 Players)
If you like building more than competition, Terraforming Mars might fit the bill better than Brass does. It’s an “engine builder”, where we start with just a handful of resources and slowly build up a space colony. Its appeal lies in the variety of its cards. They are all unique and have a wide range of effects. We can crash comets, build cities or grow forests and there’s a myriad of ways to score points.
Terraforming Mars is a bit of a crowd pleaser. It’s not as tightly wound as other games on this list, but still enjoyable. It provides a more relaxing experience and has a fairly low barrier of entry. Note that, while it can technically be played with five, I don’t actually recommend it. Try the single player mode instead, it’s fun.
UNFATHOMABLE (5-6 Players)
A 20th century steam liner is under attack by monstrous fish-like hybrids known as the Deep Ones. But the largest threat to its survival comes from within. Amongst the passengers and crew, there are traitors who will do everything in their power to sink it. Who can you trust to take the ship to safety? And how will you make them pay when they figure out you are a traitor?
Unfathomable is a social deduction game, like Among Us or Werewolf. It has the distinction of being more serious and far more involved than it’s usual for the genre, and that creates a unique experience. Its predecessor, Battlestar Galactica, was responsible for getting many into board games and I believe the same can be true of Unfathomable, as well.
That said, Unfathomable is pricier than the other games on this list and requires 5 or 6 players. If that’s an issue, try Secrets instead. It’s a smaller game, but it has been a hit and has the distinction working well with a mere 4 players.
TIGRIS & EUPHRATES (3-4 Players)
Lastly, there is one board game that video game fans tend to be fond of and that’s Chess. Many have asked if there’s something similar to it, but that is easier to play with people of different skill levels. My pick for that would Reiner Knizia’s classic Tigris & Euphrates. Not only is it an incredible game of clashing empires and turmoil, it’s easy to learn and doesn’t need to be played one versus one.
In Tigris & Euphrates, we can extend kingdoms by playing tiles representing government, farming, religion and trade. However, we do not own them. Rather, we only control four leaders, one for each type of tile. This means players can cooperate, sharing the gains from a rich kingdom, or usurp their power from the inside. It’s truly fascinating and copies can be had for cheap in the secondary market.