Here are our picks for top 50 board games and card games of all time.
Humans have been playing games for all of recorded history, and some evidence indicates games predate recorded history. Indeed some of the most ancient games ever invented still have variations that are played today. In addition to ancient games, humanity is always coming up with new games, especially card and board games.
Board and card gaming is big business. The four major brands of TCGs, three of which made our list grossed $800 Million in 2008 and the industry has continued to experience growth. Just last year the board game industry as a whole grossed $754 Million according to Bloomberg News. Board gaming has experienced increases overall for the past several years, leading to many manufacturers and commentators to talk about the Board Game Renaissance. This list features the best of the old and the new in board and card gaming. These games are popular, influential, and loads of fun.
The goal of Operation is to remove various ailments from the patient without letting your tweezers touch body of that patient. If your tweezers touch the edge of the cavity. Should players accidently touch the edge, a buzzer goes off, the patient’s nose flashes red, and the player must pass the turn. The goal is to remove the most money’s worth of ailments from the patient. The value of ailments ranges from $100-$1,000, prices are based on the difficult of the procedure. The game is a fun activity for children that also happens to aid in the development of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. As the game is skill based, it can be played by as few as one players, with no upward limit. 2-6 players is probably the ideal range. Chances are growing you owned this game or a friend did, the individual Operation franchise has been immensely popular since its release in the 1960s and that’s why it makes our list.
#49. Gin Rummy
Gin Rummy is a two player card game played with a standard deck of cards. The objective is simple, to reach 100 points. Points are scored when players shape their hands into melds. Melds consist of groupings of three or more cards of the same rank, or in sequence sharing a suit. In other words, three or four Jacks count as a grouping, as does the Eight, Nine, Ten, etc. of Spades (or any other suit). Players don’t play cards until their entire hand of seven is made up of some combination of groupings. The game is one of the most popular two player card games ever, and has made multiple appearances in television and movies. There are many variations of rules and many play with house rules simplifying the more complex official rules. For the sake of clarity we have included a list to the game’s official rules.
#48. Mouse Trap
This is a game designed for 2-4 players and it was first published in 1963 by Ideal. This game is a blast and like many games, has educational value. The mousetrap for which the game is named is a rather complex device that takes almost as long to set up as it does to play the actual game. This game has introduced countless children to the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine. Players cooperate during the setup phase, building the machine, but once the game gets going, they are set against each other in a quest to trap the opposing players mice in the machine. While the game can be played with two players, more players means added layers of complexity and more fun. The game is a lot of fun, and a children’s classic, which is why we chose to enshrine the game in our top 50 of all time.
Mancala is an ancient game. Archeologists have found evidence of the game being played back to 700 AD in Africa. Throughout history the game has spread across the world and versions of it are played in most cultures. There are over 800 different names for Mancala and over 200 known variations of the game. Mancala is called the sowing game and was traditionally played with seeds, though modern versions often use stones are glass beads. The objective is to capture stones. The player that captures the most stones wins. The mechanics of the game, particularly turn construction and capturing rules vary greatly between versions. Various versions also use different sized boards and different numbers of beads. The game has been standardized in the west and uses a basic two row board with which most of our readers will be familiar. As an ancient, influential, and massively popular game, Mancala certainly deserves a slot in our top 50.
This game is one of a few popular games based on rail systems. In this case the objective is to create long rail routes connecting the trains (placed on the edge of the board) by placing tiles. When a tile placement connects a train to a station, the player scores one point per tile in the route and a train is removed from the board. The goal is to have earned the most points before the game ends, which happens when all trains have connections. The gameplay is fast and simple, keeping players interested and active over the course of the game. The game has a short learning curve, so players can become competitive after playing only a round or two. This game has simple rules that allow for a good depth of play. It’s also a blast and that’s why it’s on our list of top fifty board and card games.
Battleship is one of the best known and well loved guessing games. Designed for two players, each player arranges their ships on a grid, then tries to pinpoint the location of their opponents’ ships through strategic guessing. The game first surfaced during World War I as a pencil and paper game, and was even originally published as a pencil and paper game in the 1930s. The plastic many grew up with was first published in the 1960s. The game has undergone several cosmetic changes, including the release of electronic versions of the game but at its core Battleship has remained the same game millions fell in love with. Granted it’s mostly viewed as a children’s game, but it’s one of the most popular children’s games of all time, and that’s why it made this list.
Parcheesi is based on an Indian game that dates back as far as 500 AD that was adapted for American audiences by Parker Brothers. According to Wikipedia the original Indian version is called Pachisi and it is known as the Royal Gamer of India, perhaps because long ago the royalty would play on huge outdoor game boards using actual servants as pieces. The goal of the game is to move your own pieces from your nest to the center home zone of the board. This is done by rolling dice and moving pieces. One piece can move either the sum total of numbers on both dice, or two pieces can be moved each a number of spaces corresponding directly to the number of one of the dice. Pieces can be sent back to their nest if an opposing piece lands directly one another player’s piece and that piece is not on a safe space. Two of a player’s pieces can occupy the same space and if they do, they form a blockade and no other piece can land on that space. This ancient ancient game is loads of fun and plays well with anywhere from 2-4 players.
While it’s more of a dice game, Yahtzee! does also qualify as a board game and is an absolute classic. The premise of Yahtzee! bears much similarity to many different dice games, and most closely resembles a game named Yacht, though it may also remind some of Poker Dice among others. The goal of the game is to get various combinations of dice, with greater scores awarded the lower the probability of rolling that combination is. The game quickly increased in popularity after it was first published in the late 1950s. The game has kept its sales at 50+ million sets per year, and was even transformed into a television game show in the late 1980s.
Carcassonne is a game designed for 2-5 players and is a tile placing game. Players build the landscape of the medieval castle town Carcassonne in the south of france as the game progresses. As players place terrain tiles they can choose to place followers on those tiles and those followers take on different roles that provide resources based on what tiles they’re placed on. For instance a piece placed on a road is a highwayman. The devoted fan base has discovered ways to up the ante of the game, including versions for more players that use multiple boards together. The fan community has also developed several independent expansions for the game. One of the largest and most active online fan communities can be found through the link below. Any game that engenders such passion among its followers is certainly worthy for consideration as one of the top games of all time and Carcassonne made our list.
Uno is a classic card game that uses a non-standard deck of cards. In addition to numbers players will find cards that allow them to take certain actions throughout the course of the game, like skipping other players turns, or forcing opponents to draw more cards. The goal of the game is to play all your cards. At the beginning of the game each player is dealt seven cards. Then, one card is flipped off the top of the 108 card deck to begin the discard pile. Players may only discard a card if it shares a color, or number, or type with the top card of the discard pile, unless their card is a wild. The goal is to be the first to play all your cards, and players that cannot play a card on their turn are penalized by being forced to draw a card, which they are allowed to play instantly if it is playable. If a player reaches one card they must say “Uno” to let the group know they have only one card left. If the player fails to say uno before another player says it then they must draw a card. The game is simple, immensely popular, and lots of fun. Uno can be played with 2-10 players making it a great choice for many occasions.
Sorry! like its sister game Parcheesi, is another game adapted from the Indian game Pachisi. The game, however, is distinct as it makes use of a 45 card deck rather than dice, and the cards to quite a number of different things. Though based on Pachisi, this game is even more different than that original game than other adaptations. This makes Sorry! a unique experience that has been delighting and frustrating players since its release in the mid-1930s. The game is suitable for children 6+ (small pieces might be considered a choking hazard for younger children) and encourages the intuitive development of basic tactical and probability thinking.
Yu-Gi-Oh is a Trading Card Game (TCG). TCGs are a development of the 1990s and have grown in popularity since then. Players buy “booster packs” which contain cards of varying rarity. Each card has unique abilities that serve a purpose within the game’s rules structure. In Yu-Gi-Oh! two players face of in a duel where the goal is to reduce the opponent’s life total from 8,000 to 0 and win the game. TCGs regularly release expansions with new sets of cards, and the most popular TCGs have tournament structures, from local tournaments held at game stores, to regional, national, and world championship affairs. Yu-Gi-Oh!, like many games in the genre, has a large fanbase featuring a local competitive scene. Some people enjoy TCGs just to collect all the different cards which are prized for rarity and artwork, while others love the thrill of competitive play.
Pictionary can be played by large teams of people, while technically playable with just three people, the game becomes much more fun with 4+ people, at least two on each team. The goal of the game is for a team member to draw a picture with the goal of getting people from his or her team to guess what word the picture or pictures represent. The game was first published in 1985 and has undergone many incarnations, though the core tenets remain the same. Because of the large number of people that can play at once, Pictionary is a very popular party game and has been one of the most prominent and successful boardgames since its first publication.
#37. Chinese Checkers
Ironically, Chinese Checkers is not a variation of checkers and did not originate in China, or indeed anywhere in asia. It was actually invented in late 19th century Germany. However inaccurate its name, the game itself has been a standout board game since it was bestowed with its inaccurate name in 1928 as part of a marketing scheme. Once the game went into mass production, it garnered a wide audience. The game can be played by up to six players and its objective is to get all of your pieces from your corner of the star, to the opposing corner of the star. You can move pieces either by moving one step at a time, or by jumping both your own, and opposing pieces. There is no capturing in Chinese Checkers so even if you have hopped over your opponent’s piece, it stays in that same place.
Whist is one of the oldest and simplest trump based card games. The purpose of the game is to take more tricks than your opponents. Whist is a partner game, with players partnering the person sitting across from them. In the first hand the player that goes first is determined at random, and each hand after that the player to their left leads. Each suit is named trump in sequence hand by hand. The player to the left of the dealer leads each hand. Whist was played casually and for money from the early 18th century. The game replaced the main popular card game Trumps in popularity among high society not long after. Edmund Hoyle, for whom the famous card brand is likely named was part of a group that pioneered thought in the scientific play of Whist, seeking to determine perfect strategy. He wrote pamphlets on the subject which circulated among high society and helped the game become even more popular in high society. The game eventually was adapted into a new game called Bridge, another of the most popular card games in history. So while Whist may not be as well known today as other games, it still takes a spot on this list because of its incredibly influence on the world of card games.
Cards Against Humanity is a party game for 4+ players and intended for audiences 17+. The game markets itself as “a party game for horrible people” and indeed, its satirical content lives up to this tag line. The game is similar to another popular game Apples to Apples. Each round features a judge who flips over a card from the deck. This card will have a fill in the blank sentence on it, the players will have cards in their hand with words or sentence fragments of the cards and will use the cards to complete the sentence on the deck card. These are submitted anonymously, and the judge for the round then judges which card best completes the sentence based on entirely subjective criteria. The person whose card is chosen gets the deck card as a trophy. The first player to ten (or any arbitrarily assigned number) cards wins. The difference is that this game is intended to encourage humorous but rather misanthropic answers. Thus it caters to a very particular sort of audience, but among that audience it is considered one of the best games ever conceived. It’s not a game for the easily offended.
Pandemic is a true cooperative game designed for 2 to 4 players. The players are all scientists specializing in various fields of study, and each must play to his or her strengths while working with the other scientists to beat back the tides of disease. In Pandemic, everybody wins, or everybody loses. Fun isn’t the only thing this game brings to the table, it also has accurate lessons to teach about public health. The CDC’s educational arm was consulted by the developers, and a CDC employee reviewed the game on the center’s blog, linked below. The game was released in 2008, making it one of the most recently developed games on our list and we consider it to be a modern classic. The most recent version of the game was released in 2013 and it is consistently updated with new roles and features to change things up and keep players on their toes.
#33. Blackjack (21)
Blackjack is a casino card game where players play against the house. It’s the most widely played such game in the world. Also known as 21, the goal of Blackjack is simple, the dealer deals each player, including himself, two cards. In Blackjack an Ace can be worth either 1, or 11, 2-10 are worth their number value, and face cards are all worth 10. The player can ask to be “hit” and the dealer will deal another card. The goals is to get to 21, or as close to it as possible, without going over. Getting closer than the dealer means a player wins. Dealers win in a tie, which gives the house a slight advantage over a player playing perfect strategy, but not card counting.
Cribbage is most often played with two players but can be played with up to four. In Cribbage the goal is to achieve certain groupings of cards which gain the player points which are recorded on the distinctive Cribbage scoreboard, called the crib. There are many different variations players can throw into the mix, so don’t be surprised if the version of Cribbage you learned first, isn’t the one used by another when you sit down to play with them for the first time. The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach a score of 121. Cribbage is a popular game, and features deep and complex play, its iconic scoreboard makes it even more recognizable, and that’s why it scored a place in our top 50 board and card games list.
#31. Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders, originally a British game, was rebranded for American audiences as Chutes and Ladders because makers feared that snakes might be off-putting to American children. The game made its way to the U.K. from India during the 19th century, and had been popular in India since the 16th century. The game, from the beginning, communicated certain Hindu principles of Karma and Kama and though much of the Indian symbolism has been removed in modern variants, some of the morality remains intact. Snakes and Ladders has become a childhood staple and has inspired such sayings as “back to square one” and been featured in an episode of The Simpsons.
Another childhood staple, you would be hard pressed to find a single child in suburban America between 1950 and 2000 that didn’t play this game. Just because the digital age has resulted in less exposure of young children to the wonders of board games doesn’t mean Candyland became obscure. It has been referenced in popular culture for decades, including recent references in viral video Charlie the Unicorn. Recent references in media include one in Katy Perry’s California Gurls, and hit T.V. shows How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory. Candyland went from a staple childhood experience, to one of the most commonly referenced board games in the 2,000s and it is still a blast to play.
Spades is a classic card game developed in the 1930s. It’s one of many descendents of Whist, referenced earlier in this list, which was the first trick taking card game to be analyzed to determine scientific methods of play. Spades brings a new mechanic to the table over Whist, bidding. While in Whist the goal was simply to take the most tricks, in Spades players bid the number of tricks they think they can take, and try to take more. Spades has both single player and partner versions. Trump, instead of constantly changing like in Whist, or being named by the winning bidder like in other trump taking games, is simply always Spades, hence the name. There are many variations on the bidding process, meaning of bids, and point values associated with them. Spades is an intricate game and its multiple rulesets and the ability to play either partner or single player games means it stays interesting, is versatile, and features some level of customization allowing players to adopt different rulesets and play the version they like most, all of which have contributed to the game’s immense popularity.
The Pokemon Trading Card Game was the second trading card game (TCG) to rock the world, the first is listed below. The Pokemon franchise started as a video game for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld gaming system. It soon became incredibly popular so Gamefreak, the company that made the video game, produced a the TCG through a company named Media Factory. Then a television show was also introduced. The Pokemon TCG was distributed in the United States by renowned TCG developer Wizards of the Coast. The video game, TCG and television show all hit the United States in one well timed storm of hype. The late 1990s were awash in Pokemon everything and it was one of the most popular franchises in gaming history. To this day new video games are released, new TV series to go along with them, and TCG expansions to introduce new pokemon, and new versions of previous pokemon. Keeping things fresh is the franchise’s key to success. Pokemon is still one of the most popular, widely played TCGs to this day, and that’s why it’s on our list. Below we include a link to the Pokemon TCG website which features news, articles, information, and an online forum fan community.
Tile placing games are sort of a mixture of card and board games, and indeed may predate most of those kinds of games. The earliest mentions of Dominoes is from the Song Dynasty, which existed in the 10th-13th century. There are many variations of the game that have developed over the many years of its existence. There is also a difference between Chinese/Asian style dominoes and European dominoes. The tiles were originally meant to represent the results of throwing two D6 die, each half representing the result from one of the two die. Variant games such as Mexican Train dominoes have surfaced, further building new games on top of the original dominoes game. The game in all its forms is beloved worldwide, and enjoyed by millions, perhaps billions of people, and that’s why it’s in our top 50 list.
#26. Dutch Blitz
This game was developed in Germany and enjoys immense popularity among Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities. The popularity of the game has spread throughout North America and while it’s not necessarily one of the best known or popular games out there, it is loads of fun and shouldn’t be ignored. The game can be played by 2-4 people, doesn’t take long to set up, and concludes within 5-10 minutes per round. The frenetic action of the game combined with encourage shouting makes it a great game for energetic children. This list isn’t just about the most popular games, though popularity is certainly taken into consideration, it’s about the best games, the most fun games. Dutch Blitz is a blast, and on top of that it’s pretty unique too, and that’s why it’s on our list.
#25. The Game of Life
The Game of Life was originally released in the 1860s as The Checkered Game of Life. The game has been popular since the very beginning, selling over 45,000 copies in the first year of production according to Wikipedia. The main game has been updated with new versions in the ‘60s, ‘70s/’80s, 90s and 2005 versions. The updates allow the game to stay current and reflect aspects of modern life for the players. The game has also seen numerous other versions in video games and branded edition such as a Sailor Moon edition released in Japan, Monster’s Inc. version and dozens more. The objective of the game is to progress on the board, which symbolizes your character’s life. You go through trials, setbacks, happy events and successes and hope to come out the other side with the best life among all the other players.
Hearts is another development of trick taking card games. In Hearts the goal is to avoid taking certain cards in tricks, or in many cases, just to avoid taking tricks all together. It’s as difficult to avoid all tricks, however, as it is to take all tricks so the key with Hearts is to avoid taking any of the penalty cards, and to make sure to take the bonus cards in order to offset your penalties. The game was developed as a variation on the Whist family of card games and shares similarities to both Whist and Spades, though it is quite different in its objectives. Hearts is a popular card game and many people know how to play just because Microsoft has for a long time included a Hearts computer game with its Windows software. Hearts has become one of the most popular and influential card games in the world and that’s why it makes our list.
#23. Connect Four
Connect Four is the logical game to move to once you’ve “figured out” Tic-Tac-Toe and it no longer holds your interest. Connect Four is a simple game that serves as an introduction to strategy for many children. The goal? Get four of your disks in a row. Sounds easy but with an opponent also trying to do the same thing, and prevent you from accomplishing this task, it gets interesting. You also can’t just go anywhere at any time. You have to drop your disk down into the slots, which means you have to build your foundation, create a plan, and counter your opponent on the fly. This game is one of those games that kids just seem to have, or grandparents have around the house. It’s also one of the games that’s simple enough to be played by children at a fairly young age and serves as a great introduction to board games.
#22. Trivial Pursuit
This is one of the ultimate party games. While it can be played with two people, the more the merrier. In Trivial Pursuit the player’s progress is determined by their ability to answer questions on pop culture and general knowledge trivia. If you’re one of the few people that’s never played this game, imagine mixing Parcheesi with Jeopardy and you’ve got the general idea. Answering questions allows the player to make his or her way around the board and eventually towards the center for the win. Trivial Pursuit may not have made this list if not for the fact that it has become a cultural force, with branded versions of the game for popular intellectual property domains like Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Saturday Night Live versions and more. The game’s popularity, customization potential, and cultural relevance make it one of the top games of all time.
A strategy game developed in the 1950s, Diplomacy is one of the most unique games on our list. The setting is 1914 Europe, with parts of the Middle East and North Africa included. The goal of the game is to gain dominance over 18 Supply Centers (which is more than have of the Supply Centers) which are spread out over the 56 land and 19 sea regions. One of the most unique aspects of the game is that turns are taken simultaneously. Players negotiate with each other in secret, make deals, and then write down their moves on a piece of paper. All moves are revealed at the same time. This structure means players find ample room for treachery and all the other fun parts of geopolitics. Games can take a long time, indeed the box says 4-12 hours. Because of the nature of the game it’s possible to play by mail and indeed Diplomacy was one of the first games to be played by mail with the exception of Chess and Go. The game unique in the strategy gaming genre, few other games leave room for diplomatic play and so Diplomacy scores a slot on our top 50 list.
This dedicated deck card game is a hilarious take on the concept of “munchkins” in role playing games, and a fantastic game in its own right. In pen and paper role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, a munchkin is an immature player that ignores the role playing aspects in favor of “winning” the cooperative game by creating the most powerful character possible. These players are seen as somewhat annoying in the community and the game Munchkin plays with the problem to hilarious effect. The game has seen widespread success and over the years has become one of the most popular games in geek culture. Munchkin won the Origins 2001 Best Original Card Game award and since then has released 17 expansions, and been translated into 15 languages. Part and parcel of Munchkin’s success is that the game is a blast, and hilarious, regardless of whether or not the players are in on the inside joke or not.
In the game of Taboo players have to explain the word their card assigns them to their teamates, and their teammates have to guess what word they were assigned. The catch is that the card also lists five or six words commonly associated with the guess word that the player cannot say, all the words listed on the card are “taboo”. The game is best played with 4 or more players. Taboo has enjoyed popularity as a party game since it was first published in 1989. There have been multiple editions of the game including a Jewish Edition, Platinum Edition, Junior, and Kids editions of the game. Overall just shy of 20 editions have been released and each has enjoyed popularity. Taboo is a unique party game and loads of fun, and was also a pioneer of the party game genre and thus scores a place on our list.
#18. Axis and Allies
Axis and Allies is a WWII strategy board game for 2-5 players. The board is big and can get pretty complex, games can last anywhere between 2-10 hours. Of the multiple variants of the games the classic is by far the most successful of the series. Though the classic is the most successful version, the other versions, which include: A&A Pacific, D-Day, Europe 1940 and seven other versions of the game have experienced similar levels of popularity throughout the years. The core of the series remains the Classic version. Axis and Allies is often compared to Risk, and both games are fantastic and among the best strategy board games you will find. Risk is perhaps more iconic in some ways, but that doesn’t mean Axis and Allies doesn’t deserve a prominent place on this list.
#17. Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is the iconic train building game. Players start the game with certain objectives which are optional, but reward points if completed, and subtract points if not completed by the end of the game. The longer the line, and more connections on the objective, the higher the point reward. The game is for 2-5 players and normally takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete. The game was published in 2004 and became an instant classic, winning several awards in its first year of production, and selling over 750,000 copies in its first four years of production, the following six years saw more than 3 million copies sold according to wikipedia.
Canasta is a Rummy-like game that is played with two standard 52 card decks and their Joker cards, 108 cards in total. As with Rummy players seek to meld cards by building hands of matching cards, or suited runs. Different card types have different values. Canasta is one of the most popular card games and there are many national variations including: Cuban, British, Brazilian, Italian, Chilean, and Bolivian. Canasta is well known for having as many rulesets as players, with many growing up learning their own house ruled version of the game. This has lead to the creation of Boat Canasta and other attempts to unify the game. Time will tell if any of these are successful, until then we recommend that when playing this popular game with a new face, go over the rules ahead of time.
This strategy game is for two players and is played on a 10×10 board. Games can be expected to last between 30 minutes and two hours. Each player is trying to locate and capture the other’s flag, moving their pieces on the board, but unable to see the ranks of each other’s pieces. Pieces have various ranks and functions. In addition to their ranked pieces, players also have access to bombs, and specialty pieces like the Spy (which can defeat the Marshal if the Spy makes the attack) and the Sapper (which can defuse bombs). Stratego is a deep strategy game that has been enjoyed by millions around the globe. The franchise has had many successful licensed versions of the game including Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Transformers, Marvel, Chronicles of Narnia, and Pirates of the Caribbean versions which have all met with success.
Mahjong is a game with a long, rich history. The legend of its creation asserts that the game was created by Confucius in 500 B.C. and whether or not this is true, the three dragon symbols in the game represent the three cardinal Confucian virtues: benevolence, sincerity, and filial piety, according to wikipedia. Other theories of the game’s creation aren’t as colorful, but what is colorful is the game’s history. Mahjong has been a popular Chinese pastime for at least two centuries. Originally, like many games, used for gambling, the game was banned during the cultural revolution, though shortly after, non-gambling versions began to surface, the ban was finally lifted in 1985 and the game has regained its popularity. Mahjong was brought to the United States in the early 20th century. Mahjong uses Dominoes-like tiles, and the game’s scoring is sometimes similar to Rummy, making it difficult to classify. The actual play of the game is complex and there are many rules variants, the basic objective is to score points by matching tiles in certain orders.
Clue is the ultimate murder mystery board game. Since its launch in 1949 Clue, or as it was known in Britain, Cluedo, has been one of the most popular, and famous board games in history. The game is constantly referenced in television, movies, books, and pretty much all forms of media. Clue also bears the distinction of what is likely the most successful adaptation of a board game to a movie, the 1985 cult classic Clue. There have been multiple spinoff board games, card games, VCR and DVD games, however none of those have managed to garner the fanfare of the original board game. Clue is certainly one of the top board games ever conceived.
This word-game phenomenon is one of the most beloved board games of all time. The game is designed for two to four players. The objective is to score the most points by playing words on the board from your hand of seven tiles. Each word except the first word must be connected to other words. Each tile bears a letter, which is assigned a point value. The point value of letters can be enhanced by board conditions, allowing players to maximize their points. Scrabble is a simple game on the surface, but boasts a deceptive amount of depth, from word placement, to which word to spell when. Scrabble is one of few branded board games to be played professionally. Competitive play in North America is governed by the North American Scrabble Players Association. The game was created in 1938 and was rejected by quite a few board game manufacturers at the time. Still, the game went on to become one of the most popular board games in history, a popularity which transcends the culture’s transition into the digital age as Scrabble now has popular web and facebook app versions.
#11. Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples is an incredibly fun party game that can be played with four to ten players. Each round one of the players takes a turn as a judge. The game features two decks, the green deck, and the red deck. Cards from the red deck are dealt to players, each having a hand of seven. The goal is to match a red card to a green card in a way that will cause the judge to pick your card and award you the green card as a point. Apples to Apples is a fun, light hearted game that has spawned several expansions and versions including: Junior, Jewish, Bible, and Disney editions, as well as versions for multiple various languages.
#10. Settlers of Cataan
Settlers of Cataan is one of those games that comes along every now and again that captures the imagination of a generation. In Settlers the board is made of tiles which can be randomized every game to create a new experience. There are multiple variations that can be played even just with the original game. The game has spawned numerous expansions, many of which are just as popular as the main game. Settlers has, over its nearly 20 year history, inspired a massive fan base that not only play the game, but create custom versions of the game to showcase at conventions. Settlers has won eight major awards over the years. Settlers is another game with high level competitive play, the World Championship Tournament, first held in 2002, is held every two years.
Excavations in Iran and Egypt have shown predecessors to the game of Backgammon (race games using dice) dating back to 3500 BC according to Wikipedia. Such games have maintained popularity throughout the millennia in the Middle Eastern countries, but spread throughout the years to the Mediterranean states, Europe, and China. Backgammon and its predecessors are likely the oldest board games to be played between two people. The basic concepts of a board, pieces, and dice have had untold influence on the development of board gaming. The goal of each player is to move their pieces from their starting position, to the opponent’s starting position in the most efficient way possible, beating the opponent when all pieces have been moved successfully to the other side of the board first.
Magic: The Gathering (MTG, or Magic) is the original Trading Card Game. The first, and most popular of the genre to this day. Designed by Richard Garfield during his college days, the game was first published in 1993. The game premiered at Gencon, a convention devoted to geek culture, a perfect place to create buzz with the game’s high fantasy themes. They sold out within days and the phenomenon began. The game boasts over 12 million active players worldwide, and over six million of them compete at various levels. The game’s competitive scene can be enjoyed at local game stores which often provide regular Friday night tournaments known as Friday Night Magic. There is also a pro tour featuring three professional tournaments which have prize pools each totaling over $250,000 and the World Magic Cup. Between the Friday Night Magic and Professional levels there are Pro Tour Qualifiers which are tournaments that allow amateur players to qualify for professional play, and pro-am style tournaments known as Grand Prix, which have a prize pool of several thousand dollars and the top four of which qualify for the pro tour. Magic is played everywhere from the kitchen table, to massive convention centers around the world. It pioneered one of the most popular genres of card game, and is still one of the most popular and successful games today.
Throughout the past couple centuries the Poker family has been one of the most ubiquitous gambling card games. From guys night poker games, World Series of Poker tournaments with millions of dollars in prizes, Poker is more popular than it ever has been, which is saying something as it is certainly one of the most popular, if not the single most popular card games in history. The goal of Poker is to beat your opponents through various strategies, the primary strategy of which is to have a better hand. Hand values are weighted by the probability of compiling that hand, and by the value of the cards in that hand. So three Jacks against three Deuces may be the same probability, but Jacks are worth more so the Jacks would win. The goal is to win money by betting in turn, keeping your opponent interested when you think you have a better hand, and either folding or representing a better hand (bluffing) if you think your opponent has you beat. There have been dozens, maybe hundreds of variations of the game throughout history.
Risk is an incredible strategy board game. While the game is designed for 2-6 players, 3+ seems to be the best number as this allows for more competing strategies and eliminates the need for a “neutral” player. This game isn’t as complex with its resource system as its sister game Axis and Allies, yet the combat is more nuanced and probability reliant than Diplomacy. The beautiful thing about Risk is balance. The game is popular and has enjoyed multiple popular variants including a very popular Lord of the Rings variant set in Middle Earth. The game has seen some tweaks over the years to help balance out certain strategies that were previously considered too powerful. The game can take anywhere from 1-8 hours after the initial setup time which can take as much as fifteen or twenty minutes depending on the number of players. The objective is simple, achieve total world domination by occupying every territory on the map.
It’s difficult to think of many games more universally present than Checkers. It was certainly the one game I could count on finding at any house I went into as a child. Also known as Draughts in British English, Checkers is played on a 10×10 board by two players. The goal is to capture all your opponents pieces. The pieces are set up on the dark squares of the board and move only diagonally. They can also jump over opponents pieces, and when they do, that piece is captured. Initially pieces are called Men, and they can only move and capture in the forward direction. However if one of the Men reaches the opponent’s furthest line, it becomes crowned and can move and capture in any direction. There are over a dozen variations of Checkers spanning multiple cultures and countries. Checkers is another of the games vying for possible oldest game, as boards resembling Checkers boards have been found in Ur dating back to roughly 3,000 BC and evidence has been found that the game or something similar was played in ancient Egypt.
Bridge is the most popular derivation of Whist. The full name of the game is Contract Bridge. The game has four phases: dealing, bidding, playing, scoring. The point is to take tricks and fulfill your contract. The rules seem fairly complex at first and the best way to learn the game is by playing. There are many variations but the competitive variation is governed and defined by the World Bridge Federation, the governing body of international bridge competition. According to Wikipedia Bridge is the English pronunciation of the Russian Biritch. Originally Bridge was known as Russian Whist. Bridge was probably the most popular trick taking card game during the mid-20th century and still enjoys immense popularity and a robust competitive community today.
Monopoly must be the most iconic branded board game in existence. Since it was published in 1936 Monopoly has been one of the foundational board games in the United States and beyond. The game has enjoyed huge popularity and its success has extended to its multiple versions including several high profile licensed versions of the game. There have been card games, computer games, and multiple variants of the game. There is both a U.S. National Championship tournament, and a World Championship Tournament for Monopoly. The world championship was held every year for the first few years in the 1970s but graduate moved to two year, then three year, and finally four year intervals. Monopoly still sets the standard as far as branded board games are concerned, and while some have risen to rival the game, it’s still on top for now.
Chess is probably the best known board game in the world. From Chess Club in grade schools, to the highest levels of professional play, Chess is enjoyed by millions. Chess has existed in its current form with few changes, since roughly 1475. The form of International Chess was finalized in the early 19th century when the rules about Stalemate were codified. This paved the way for the game’s evolution from the important and respected board game that it was, to the international professional sport it has become. Throughout the ages learning Chess has been a requirement of the ruling elite, and anybody that wanted to be considered a gentleman. Strong players garnered respect. Our culture currently values Chess less than past cultures, but the game is still one of the most respected, best known board games in the world, and that’s why it takes our #2 spot.
Go is a game that has existed for so long in the memory of the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures that the advent of its invention has been codified in myth. In myth the game was handed down to humans from the very gods themselves. The game has its origins in China around 1000 BC. during the Zhou Dynasty according to the most accurate available findings, though legend puts the time at 2200 BC. Around the 5th century the game spread to Korea and Japan. In Japan, Go was considered for a long time so essential to personal development that it was considered one of the high arts, necessary for every man of noble birth to understand. The game has been played professionally longer than most other games have existed. The earliest recorded game of Go was dated to 250 AD. The game has a long tradition of keeping game records between high ranking players dating back as far as memory, and there is ample evidence that there were masters of the game paid specifically to help students develop their skill. Eventually, in Japan, Go Houses formed, each with their own style and huge reputations, and would compete with each other for prominence. The game is played by placing stones on a 19×19 grid. The rules are deceptively simple, which allows for great variation in gameplay. There are two ways to score points. Players secure territory by surrounding areas of the grid with their stones and making it impossible for their opponent to gain a foothold. A stone, or group of stones can also be captured by cutting off all blank cross sections of the grid around the stones, known as “liberties”. Players earn one point for each blank space in their territory, and one point for each piece captured. In high level Go games it’s common to see entire games play out with no more than a few stones captured by each player. Mathematicians have calculated there to be in excess of 10761 possible games, a number which dwarfs the 10120 possible games of Chess. All these reasons are why, though Go may be less familiar to Western audiences than some other games, it takes the top slot on this list.