How to get into board games in 2023
Board games and card games have never been more popular, and new people join the hobby daily. Maybe you want to join them. Maybe you want to get into board games in 2023 but don’t know how or where to start.
I’m here to help you get started.
There are two main things to think about when you’re getting into board games: what will I play, and who will I play with?
You’re probably excited to find out about the games, so let’s start there.
The best board games for beginners in 2023
Board games have come a long way since the games that many of us grew up with. There’s so much more than Cluedo (Clue for my American readers) and Monopoly. That’s actually a part of the problem; there’s a dizzying amount of games out there, so how are you meant to know where to begin?
If you join in with board game groups on Facebook and Reddit or follow trends on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed with designers’ names and a lot of terminology. Don’t panic! Let’s cover the basics, give you some good ideas to get started, and you can worry about things like designers later.
Carcassonne (2-5 players)
Carcassonne has been around for over 20 years now, and there are two main reasons it’s endured. Firstly, it’s easy to learn, and secondly, it’s really good. It’s a game where you take turns to lay tiles to connect roads and cities, attempting to claim the best ones to score lots of points.
Don’t be tempted to shun Carcassonne because it’s not new or hyped. Most board game fans will have a copy of it years after they start in the hobby, and I don’t know of anyone who’d refuse to play. It’s a true classic. You’ll also know if you like tile-laying games, and it’s likely to be your first introduction to the little wooden folk we all know and love – meeples.
Azul (2-4 players)
Azul is an abstract game. You and your friends claim matching groups of tiles from the middle of the table, aiming to complete rows of different lengths on your own board. It gets tactical pretty quickly, it’s very easy to learn, and it looks great.
Abstract games have a near-universal appeal, and the presentation in Azul elevates it over most other games of its type. The tiles are gorgeous and very tactile. It’s the sort of game you can teach to anybody, and they’ll usually have a great time.
There are several different versions of Azul now, but my advice is to stick with the original for now. The others are variations on a theme, but the original does it best.
Everdell (1-4 players)
Take a look at Everdell on a table and tell me you don’t just fall in love with it. This gorgeous game of woodland critters is a mixture of worker-placement and tableau-building, and it’s a very approachable introduction to both.
There’s no denying that despite its cutesy looks, Everdell ramps up the complexity compared to other games you might have played in the past. It’s got a nice, light set of rules though, and every time you play it will be a bit different to the last time, due to the sheer number of cards the game comes with.
It’s also the first game on this list which includes a solo mode. That’s right, you can play board games by yourself – who knew?! Everdell’s solo is quick and easy to run, and offers up a great way to play the game when you find yourself without other players. If you want to read more about Everdell, I wrote a full review a while back.
The Crew (2-5 players)
I’ve shortened its name here, which is the overly long The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine. The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking card game where between you, you’ll try to complete missions where you all win or lose together.
Trick-taking games are great to get older generations of players to join in, because the idea of winning a trick isn’t something new. It’s the concept at the heart of traditional card games like Whist or Euchre, so there’s a decent chance your grandparents will understand the aim of the game. What makes The Crew so much fun is the concept of minimal communication. You’re in space, after all, so the only way to communicate which cards you have in hand is with the clever use of tokens.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy the crew, and know a surprising number of people who have completed all 50 missions that come in the box.
Klask (2 players)
Dexterity games tend to come in one of two flavours: balancing and action. Klask is an action game through and through. You hold strong magnets under the raised playing field which make the striker pieces on top of the board move around. Your goal – knock the ball into the other player’s hole.
If you’ve ever played Air Hockey then you’ll know what to expect. The ball goes pinging around off the edges while you try to avoid getting the little magnetic ‘biscuits’ stuck to your piece. It’s quick, easy, and best of all, cheap. It won’t cost you anything like as much as an air hockey table, it’s extremely portable, and it’s a great laugh. I reviewed Klask a while back, so if you want to know a bit more you should probably head over and read it now.
Wingspan (1-5 players)
Wingspan is a little like Everdell in as much as it’s one of the most complicated games on this list. There’s a chance you’ve already heard of it, after all, it even made it as far as appearing on Coronation Street. Another similarity it shares with Everdell is having a powerful, yet approachable table presence. The birdhouse dice tower is lovely, and you’ll need constant reminders that the little eggs are not chocolate mini eggs.
The game itself is a mixture of engine-building and action-selection. You try to collect the right kind of food to add bird cards to your board, then get them to lay eggs in order to carry out the actions they give you. The key is in collecting birds that all complement one another abilities. It’ll definitely take you a while to get the hang of if you’ve never played anything like it before, but there’s a really nice guided introduction game included in the box, to ease you into things.
Wingspan is another game I’ve reviewed here, so pop over now and find out what it’s all about.
Just One (3-7 players)
There are so many good party games out there now. Wavelength, So Clover, Codenames, Dixit, The Resistance to name but a few. I’ve gone with Just One here because it’s incredibly portable, scales to just about any number of players if you have enough things to write on, and it’s cooperative.
The game is as simple as trying to guess a clue word after every other player’s had an opportunity to write a one-word clue on their little easel. The catch? If anyone writes the same clue as someone else, their clues aren’t revealed to the guesser. Simple, cheap, and hysterical fun when someone tries to justify a really outlandish clue. You can’t go wrong with Just One.
Ticket to Ride (2-5 players)
It’s nearly 20 years since Ticket to Ride was released, and it’s still in my list. A true modern classic, Ticket to Ride is a network-building game which has stood the test of time and still deserves a place in this list.
Collect locomotive cards of different colours and trade them in to place your trains on the routes on the board, aiming to join two destinations. There’s a lot of competition for those routes though, so planning and second-guessing what the other players are up to is key. It’s really easy to learn, and there are a ton of versions out there. I’ve gone with the original here because it’s clean, uncomplicated, and a lot of fun.
Railroad Ink (1-6 players)
I really want to include a roll-and-write game here, because it’s a sub-genre that’s booming in popularity. Strictly speaking a roll-and-write game will involve dice, but it’s a kind of catch-all term that incorporates a whole heap of verb-and-write games, such as flip-and-write.
Railroad Ink gives each player a grid of squares to draw on and a dry-wipe pen each. Someone rolls the dice, and you have to draw the various pieces of road and rail printed on the dice, on your grid. The aim is to link up as many road and rail links as you can, scoring bonuses for connecting to multiple connection points or going through the middle of the board. It’s quick, easy, and there are a load of different versions to try. Give it a go, it’s another one of those games with near-universal appeal.
Finding people to play games with
I get it. You’re fired up, you’ve found this wonderful, welcoming hobby, and you want to get stuck-in and play some of your new games. There’s just one hitch… who are you going to play them with?
If you’re lucky enough to have a group of friends who already play tabletop games, you’re lucky. If that’s the case, you probably don’t need this guide, either, as I’m sure you’ll have had plenty of recommendations. The truth, however, is that for a lot of people it’s hard to find people to play with regularly.
So let’s have a look at your options.
If you live with family, you’ve got a captive audience just waiting to experience the delights of your new cardboard hobby. Despite having a captive audience, it’s still really important to get it right when you introduce your nearest and dearest to board games.
First of all, you need to consider your audience. There’s no point trying to get your seven-year-old child to engage in a heavy Euro game or railway share game. Pick your games accordingly. If you aren’t sure what to put on the table, ask someone. Ask any number of online groups, or even just comment here or join my Discord server, where the community will be only too happy to offer suggestions.
Secondly, and most importantly, don’t try to force it! I know, I know, you’re keen, but trust me. If you try to force your family to play and the game falls flat on its face, you’ll have a hard job ever convincing them to play something else again. Be patient, choose your games wisely, and know the game well. You want to be able to explain the game and answer any questions without saying “I don’t know. Let me check the rulebook and BGG forums”. Ten minutes later and your wife’s lost to her phone, Grandpa’s snoring, and your kid is kissing the dog.
If you’re lucky, you might already have a group of friends. You might think “Perfect! Ready-to-go board game players”. Sometimes that’ll work for you, but you need to set your expectations accordingly. I’ve had the same group of friends for over 30 years now, and for the most part, they really don’t like board games. I’ve tried over the years to introduce them to different types of game, but the reality is they’re just not the people I play games with.
If you’re looking to get your existing friends into some gaming with you, and if they don’t sound excited at the prospect of this cool new game you’ve got where you get to make cathedrals in 17th Century Hamburg (you should check out Hamburgum, it’s a great game), then aim your sights lower. Start with some quick games, card games, or fun dexterity games. Games reminiscent of the games they may have played when they were younger. Nostalgia’s a powerful drug.
My main advice when it comes to playing with your friends is to tread carefully. Approach it that way, share your enthusiasm, and know when to take a loss.
Board Game Groups
Now we’re talking. If you want to play games with people, what better place than with a group of people who get together for the sole reason of playing board games? There are board game groups all over the country and the reality is that there’s likely to be one near you. It’s usually just a case of finding them, and then finding one that’s a good fit for you.
What do I mean by that?
There’s a wide range of different types of board game clubs available. Some are long-established with loads of people playing in a hired venue every week. Some are irregular meetups of a group of four or five people at someone’s home or office. It may be that you feel anxious about turning up a big group full of people playing complex games, when all you want to do is rock up with your copy of Love Letter and chill with a cup of tea at the same time.
Take the time to look around at what’s available. If you can’t find anything, ask. For those of you in the UK I suggest joining the Board Game Trading & Chat UK group and asking in there. If you still aren’t having any luck then there’s always the option which I took myself – start your own group. It’s slow-going at first, but it’s definitely both possible and plausible. If you want any advice, drop me a message and I’ll be glad to help.
As much as we all might want to get our shiny new cardboard on the table with other people, sometimes it’s just not possible. We live in a digital age though, and there are plenty of options to play some of these games online.
Take a look at websites like boardgamearena.com, yucata.de, and boiteajeux.net. You’ll find hundreds of games available to play, often for free. One of the big advantages of websites like these is having two ways to play. You can play in realtime, there and then, with friends or strangers from all around the world. The best thing about using a service like BGA, however, is asynchronous play.
That means you can take your turn, close your browser or turn off your phone for the night, and take your turns the next time you log-on. It’s a great way to play a lot of different games at the same time, but do so at your own pace. It’s also a great way to make friends too.
If you’re new to games, this might seem like a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Play a board game by yourself? How, or why, would you ever do that?
Solo board games are hugely popular, there are Facebook and Reddit groups dedicated to nothing more than playing games by yourself. The majority of big, new games tend to have a solo mode in them nowadays. Some task you with beating your own best score (Uwe Rosenberg’s games like Atiwa (review here) and Nusfjord (review here) do this), and some like Terraforming Mars set you specific challenges.
The most interesting of the bunch have AI opponents to play against, often referred to as Automa. They often use an extra deck of cards to determine what the bot does on its turns, often mimicing the behaviour of a real, live human being. Some games are built from the ground up to be enjoyed solo, such as Maquis (review here), Black Sonata (review here), and Nemo’s War (review here). I’ve written a lot of pieces here around solo gaming, so check them out.
Board gaming is still a niche hobby compared to many, but its popularity is growing rapidly. You’ve got a good idea now of how to start building your collection and who you might play your games with. Choosing a set of entry-level games is a difficult task, and no doubt if you ask someone else they might have some crossover with my list, but will probably hear other games mentioned too.
You’ll hear names like Patchwork, Barenpark, Catan, Lords of Waterdeep, Calico, Pandemic, Kingdomino, No Thanks, Skull and many others mentioned. All are great games, and all are great options to get started with. This list can only be so long before it gets overwhelming though, so I’ve tried to keep it to some of my own favourites.
Tabletop gaming is generally a warm, friendly, and welcoming hobby. There are conventions all over the world to go and meet with like-minded gamers, and I recommend going along to one if and when you have the chance. You’ll never feel so buzzed and happy to be a part of our wonderful pastime.
If you have any questions or comments, please just get in touch with me. You can use the contact form on this site, find me on Twitter, pop onto my friendly Discord server, or just drop me a line using adam at punchboard.co.uk. I’m always happy to talk about games, and I’m very keen to make newcomers feel as welcome as possible.
Wherever possible I’ve linked to my own reviews. In order to be completely transparent with you I’ve also included links to my partner store Kienda.co.uk whenever possible. If you sign up for a new account here – kienda.co.uk/punchboard – you’ll get 5% off your first order of £60 or more, and I’ll get a whole £3 to spend on more games to review. Use the links, don’t use the links, I really don’t mind, they’re there for your convenience. If Kienda doesn’t have something you want, I highly recommend finding an FLGS (friendly local games store) to spend your money at. Jeff Bezos and Amazon don’t need your money.
Thanks for reading,
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