We write these articles to promote tabletop gaming, and to inform people about all the awesome games we love. Last week we looked at some popular video games and found board games that had a similar feel. This week we’re looking at the classic board games almost all of us played as children, and find some better, modern alternatives.
All but one of the games we picked have been standards in the toy isle for at least the last sixty years, and I’d wager that most readers have played at least seven of these games, and have heard of all of them. Unfortunately 80% of the games on this list aren’t very fun.
Most adults don’t want to play a game like Clue or Monopoly more than once every few years, and when they do play it, it’s either as a lark or to introduce it to their children. Fortunately in the last twenty years a lot of new games have come out that do all the things that made us fall in love with these classics as children, but they’re also fun to play as adults.
So instead of buying another game you’ll only play with your friends once, or that will turn family game night into a chore, why not get something that you’ll enjoy playing, and that you’ll look forward to playing again.
Like last time this list isn’t ranked or put in any kind of order. It’s just 10 Better Modern Alternatives to Classic Board Games.
If You Like Clue (or Cluedo), Try One Night Ultimate Werewolf
In Clue, or Cluedo to non-Americans, you play as one of several suspects in a murder investigation. Every player is given some information about what happened, and by asking questions and using the power of deduction players try to become the first to solve the crime.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is advanced Clue. One of the players is a murderous werewolf, and the other players are different villagers, each with special powers that give them access to different information. Players have to work together to figure out who the werewolf is, and they win by killing him. The werewolf wins by tricking the players into killing someone else. The tanner, whose life is so horrible he wants to die, wins if he convinces the players he's the werewolf so they kill him instead.
Why It's Better: Both games force players to use deductive reasoning, and both games let you play at being a detective. With Clue there are a few strategies that will give you an edge over your opponents, and once everyone figures them out winning becomes a matter of rolling and guessing better than your opponents. Even if you do play better, you can still lose Clue because another player rolled better or made a lucky guess.
With One Night Ultimate Werewolf, victory comes from figuring out which of your friends are lying and which are telling the truth. Although occasionally a game is won by a lucky guess, victory usually comes down to catching other players in a lie, or lying so well everyone believes you. Most of the game has players arguing as a group, making accusations, and defending themselves, which is a lot more exciting than waiting to roll some dice and hoping you make it into a room so you can ask other players what cards they might have.
If You Like Yahtzee, Try King of Tokyo
Yahtzee is a game about rolling a bunch of dice and then picking out combinations to score points.
That's also what King of Tokyo is about. But you also draw cards for special abilities. And everyone is a giant monster fighting each other for control of Tokyo.
Why It's Better: Yahtzee and King of Tokyo are games you play when you don't want to think too hard, you just want to roll a bunch of dice. As far as rolling a bunch of dice for mindless fun goes, both games deliver. But in Yahtzee you play as a guy who rolls dice, and in King of Tokyo you play as a giant monster fighting other giant monsters. One of those things is objectively better than the other.
If You Like Monopoly, Try Chinatown
In Monopoly you're an Atlantic city real estate developer who travels across the board buying and developing properties, and then charging opponents rent to stay there. The real fun comes from the game's trading mechanic. Players are able to buy, sell, and trade properties with each other. A savvy player can get a big advantage by negotiating well and coming out ahead on their deals.
Chinatown is also a game about real estate development, but it focuses almost entirely on the negotiating, which revolves around a single rule: anything goes.
Why It's Better: Chinatown takes Monopoly's best part, the negotiating, and makes almost the entire game about that. By focusing on Monopoly's best part, Chinatown gets rid of all its worst parts. Victory is much less dependent on luck, and with no dice involved the winner is never the player who just happened to roll best. Players compete to make the most money, not to bankrupt each other, and so everyone gets to play until the end. There isn't as much of a runaway leader problem, so a player who does well early on won't necessarily dominate the late game as the other players just slog through waiting to lose. Also Chinatown takes less than an hour to play.
If You Like Rummy, Try Jaipur
Rummy is one of the world's most popular card games, and there are literally dozens of variants. In most variations the basics are the same. Players try to collect sets of cards, either multiples of the same value or straights in the same suit, and they lay them on the table either for points or to clear their hands. Although the exact mechanics depend on the variant being played, usually new cards can be drawn from the deck or from the discard.
Jaipur is played in much the same way. Goods are represented on the cards, and players are trying to acquire multiples to play on the table. Players receive points based on the type of good they played, and how many times that good has already been played on the table. Players also get bonus points for playing a lot of cards at once. New cards can be drawn from the deck, or from a pool of five faceup cards. Players can exchange any number of cards from their hand for cards from the pool. There are also camels, which have special rules about acquiring and exchanging them.
Jaipur's biggest distinguishing feature though is that on their turn players can either get new cards, or play cards from their hand, but not both.
Why It's Better: Rummy is a great card game, and it plays well with three or four players while Jaipur is strictly a two player game. Jaipur is also obviously descendent from Rummy and part of the same family of card games. However Jaipur requires a lot more decision making than Rummy, and the choices are a lot tougher to make.
Regardless of the exact variant, most of the time Rummy is played mechanically, because there's usually an obvious best move. The choices that players do make are arbitrary (do I go for meld A or meld B), or are luck based (do I take a descent card from the discard or draw a new card and hope for something better). The best variants feature better choices, like deciding if you should grab a bunch of cards for easy points but risking a big penalty if you can't play most of them, but even then those choices usually only come up a couple times in a game.
In contrast, almost every move in Jaipur requires a decision, and for players to weigh risks, and usually the best move isn't obvious. As a simple example, a player with a pair of cards can play them for maximum points per card, or they can hold out and try to get another card and a bonus for playing three cards at once. However if their opponent plays a pair of the same cards before them, their cards won't be worth as many points.
If You Like Charades, Try Dixit
In Charades you get up in front of your friends and family and make a fool of yourself. The goal is to try to act out a movie title or something and hope your teammates can guess what you mean before you embarrass yourself too much.
In Dixit players are dealt a hand of cards with a bunch of strange and detailed pictures on them. On a player's turn they pick a card from their hand and come up with a word or phrase to describe it. The other players each pick a card from their hand that they feel matches that description, and all of the cards are shuffled together and put in a lineup. Players get points for picking the correct card, and for getting other players to pick their card incorrectly. The player whose turn it is gets a lot of points if only one player guesses the correct card.
Why It's Better: Dixit is Charades for shy people. It's all about figuring things out, associating images with words, and showing everyone just how clever you can be. In other words it's all the fun stuff most people like about Charades, but you don't have to act silly and be the center of attention.
If You Like Risk, Try Small World
Risk is the classic game of world conquest. Players put pieces on the board, and then they roll dice to fight it out and see who wins. Cards let players reinforce armies and reward aggressive play. Strategy largely revolves around keeping small borders and knowing when to stretch out forces in an aggressive attack and when to play it safe and fortify. Victory usually comes down to the luck of the dice, but sometimes it's because of metagame alliances between players not to attack each other.
Small World is also a game of world conquest, but the world is much smaller. And it's full of fantasy races. And there isn't as much dice rolling. Each race comes with its own special rules, and players pick whichever one they want and expand its civilization across the board. Eventually a civilization won't be able to be expanded anymore, and the player will jump ship to a new race and start the process over again. However players still get points for their old civilizations even after moving on, so its worthwhile to try to keep them on the board as long as possible.
Why It's Better: Risk advertises itself as a game of global strategy, but victory is usually just a matter of rolling better than your opponent. Small World advertises itself as a light game with a lot of cute fantasy artwork, but victory requires a lot more strategy and a lot less luck. Plus Small World takes less than half the time to play, and there's no player elimination so everyone gets to play until the end.
If You Like Bridge, Try Tichu
Bridge, or more accurately Contract Bridge, is one of the most popular and enduring games of all time. Bridge, like Poker and Chess, is also one of a handful of games that have so much depth that serious players have to spend years learning the game to become competitive.
Tichu is a trick-taking game like Bridge. Also, like Bridge, it's played by four players in teams of two. However in Tichu players are allowed to play combinations of cards as tricks, and there are four special cards each with their own abilities. Bridge's bidding system is also replaced by players being able to declare that they'll be the first to empty their hand, which earns bonus points if successful and incurs a penalty if a player fails.
Why It's Better: In a lot of ways, Tichu isn't better. Bridge has been refined again and again over several iterations, and the final product has been analyzed in such depth and has grown such a large following of devoted players that there will never be a game good enough to replace it. However because of its depth and popularity, Bridge has developed a very complex metagame with lots of predefined strategies. For most people, playing Bridge well requires investing a lot of time into the game, both in playing it and studying how to play it better. In contrast, new players can learn Tichu well enough to play competitively after only a few games. For Bridge veterans, Tichu's combination trick mechanic and special cards bring something new into the trick-taking genre.
If You Like Taboo, Try Codenames
Taboo is a word association game. A player is given a word and they need to get their teammates to guess it. They're also given a list of obvious words to describe it that they can't say. A player tries to get their teammates to guess as many words as possible before time runs out.
Codenames is also a word association game. A bunch of words are laid out on the table. Some of those words belong to team A, some to team B, some are neutral, and one is an instant loss. The cluegiver gives a one word clue and their teammates try to pick all of the words on the table that clue might fit, without picking any of the other words.
Why It's Better: Taboo plays faster than Codenames. In Codenames it's common for a cluegiver to get stuck figuring out a clue, and the other players have to just wait for them. Other than that one thing, Codenames does word association better. Taboo is a game about shouting answers and not getting tripped up in the heat of the moment. Codenames is about carefully thought out clues and working together as a team to figure them out.
If You Like Axis & Allies, Try War of the Ring
Axis and Allies has gone through about a dozen different iterations, but the game has remained essentially the same. It's WW2. It's team vs team. You have a bunch of little pieces on the board. You can buy more pieces. And most of the game is attacking with the little pieces and then rolling dice to see who wins.
War of the Ring is kind of the same, except it also uses cards. That's selling the game a bit short. War of the Ring has a lot more little pieces, the rules are a bit more complicated, and there are some expansions available if you want to open the game up even more. The key mechanic that sells the game though is that it's actually two separate games.
There's the game of armies battling across Middle-Earth, and Sauron is positioned to win it. There's also a game of the Fellowship travelling to destroy the ring. The Fellowship will destroy the ring and win the game before Sauron's victory unless Sauron devotes resources into finding and corrupting the ring-bearer. Sauron's player has to decide how much of their resources to devote to stopping the Fellowship. Too little, and the Fellowship will destroy the ring. Too much, and the Free Nations just might win on the battlefield. The Fellowship player has to manage their resources as well, and eventually split the Fellowship to put powerful heroes into play, because their only chance of destroying the ring is by distracting Sauron with the war raging across Middle-Earth.
Why It's Better: Even with all of the additional rules (most of which have been eliminated in modern editions), Axis & Allies is just a slightly more complicated and better balanced version of Risk with predefined teams. Strategy is mostly about knowing when to stretch your forces out in an aggressive attack and when to play it safe and fortify. Unless someone is playing very poorly, victory usually comes down to the roll of the dice. War of the Ring is a little bit more complicated, but it's not that much more complicated than Axis and Allies, and it has a lot more depth and room for strategy. Plus you get to play out the War of the Ring in Middle-Earth.
If You Like The Game Of Life, Try Tales of the Arabian Nights
The Game of Life is, well, barely a game. You spin a spinner, it lands you somewhere on the board, and then you read about what just happened to you on the road of life, and very rarely is there any decision making. It's a lot like playing Candy Land, except it takes longer and requires more reading.
The Game of Life's main draw is its heavy theme. The Game of Life lets you pretend that you're doing all sorts of grown up things like getting a job, paying for car insurance, and saving for retirement. If you're an actual adult, it's a simulation of the most boring parts of your life that you spend your free time trying not to think about.
Like The Game of Life, Tales of the Arabian Nights isn't much of a game. It's more of an experience that simulates life. Instead of being a middle-class American with a spouse and kids though, you're having an adventure based on the Arabian Nights stories. Tales of the Arabian Nights works a lot like a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book. Players are given a situation and a bunch of choices, and what they choose determines the outcome. Also sometimes the outcome changes if you have certain abilities. Like the Game of Life, someone will win in the end, but also like the Game of Life there really isn't any kind of strategy to playing. The game is all about the experience and the journey.
Why It's Better: If you've played The Game of Life since becoming an adult, you probably know it's pretty boring. Tales of the Arabian Nights isn't much of a game, but it's a fun experience. Its book of adventures is also pretty thick, so there's a lot of replayability before you've seen everything. It's the choice between playing a game where you can be Aladdin or Sinbad having globe trotting adventures, or one where the biggest decision you'll make is if you want to buy car insurance or drive uninsured and hope you don't get into an accident.