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The Wonderful, Strange, Undiscovered Board Games You’ll Be Playing this Year

We are currently in the golden age of board games.


There are two main teams: the villagers and the werewolves. Everyone is dealt one card face down. The remaining three are put in the center, also face down. Everyone views their card, places it back in front of them and then closes their eyes. The “night actions” begin. One by one, certain players open their eyes and take their turn: they view another player’s card, trade another card for their own, switch two players’ cards. Then everyone “wakes up” and opens their eyes. First they must find out if they are now part of the village, or part of the werewolves. Then they vote to kill the werewolf, or protect themselves.

So goes One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a social deduction game created by Ted Alspach that has sold more games than all of the others games from his production company, Bezier Games, combined. “Working on One Night Ultimate Werewolf, one month into testing, something clicked and people just got it,” said Alspach. The one “something” that ignited the game, he said, was the addition of a new level of randomness and disruption to the game. The players now had to find out which team they were on before they could play to win. It’s the type of game with mass appeal because everyone wants to be the smartest guy in the room — but maybe more importantly, it only takes 10 minutes to play. Only problem is, like most board games made in the last few years, many have never heard of it.

When people think of board games, they think of The Game of Life, Monopoly and Risk. These games were all developed in the 1960s or before, but still loom large in the toy section of every Target and Walmart. “They put a lot of money into those brands to put them on the shelves. Hasbro continues to market them, and they spend more money than any other board game company,” said Alspach. “If we got to reset right now, those games wouldn’t exist without the history and the marketing.”

A study completed by FiveThirtyEight of the ranking system of Board Game Geek, considered the authority on board game reviews, found that we are currently in the golden age of board games. The last decade has seen some of the most highly rated games being produced; most striking, games like Monopoly that are some of the most popular, are actually some of the worst, containing broken gameplay structures that have been fixed by other games for decades. But these classic games persist because everyone, regardless of age, knows how to play them. When families are headed out for a vacation or old friends are getting together, they are the most readily available. We found seven board games released in the last five years that have gotten great reviews, but aren’t as financially successful as the old classics.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak

Best Party Game: Modeled from The Resistance, the game assigns players a role that they carry out during the “night,” when all other players have their eyes closed. In the morning it’s up to everyone to sort out the truth and eliminate the werewolves.
Number of Players: 8+
Game Duration: 10 minutes
Alternative:The Resistance: Avalon or Two Rooms and a Boom

Buy Now: $17

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition

Best Strategy Game: In this updated version of the decade-old original edition, King Robert Baratheon is dead and Westeros is plunged into war. The game plays like Diplomacy and Risk, but with intricate artwork and details perfect for fans of the series, like geographic advantages and special abilities relating to each house. Players use diplomacy and warfare to take control of the Iron Throne turn by turn. A good step up from Keyflower and Settlers of Catan.
Number of Players: 3-6
Game Duration: 2-4 hours
Alternatives:Mage Knight or Pandemic Legacy

Buy Now: $42

Fire in the Lake

Best War Game: A part of the renowned COIN Series of war games, designed with the help of CIA analyst Volko Ruhnke, Fire in the Lake sees players partaking in sweeps of the jungles of Vietnam, infiltration of Saigon politics and defense of Northern infrastructure, all while combating the media’s pressure on the war. The game captures the mess of complex moving parts involved in any modern war. A great gift for anyone who enjoys Twilight Struggle.
Number of Players: 1-4
Game Duration: 3 hours
Alternatives:Virgin Queen or Star Wars: Armada

Buy Now: $66


Best Trivia Game: A redesign of the 2009 Fauna trivia game from Friedemann Friese, Terra asks questions like: “How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?” and “Where has ‘evidence’ of the Yeti been found?” and “How many sculptures are on Easter Island?” Players don’t need to be right, they just need to be close. Place your game piece on the map where you think the clue took place, or on the number scale indicating a numerical answer, and points are awarded based on how right you are. It’s a more inclusive take on Trivial Pursuit.
Number of Players: 2-6
Game Duration: 45 minutes
Alternatives:Wits & Wagers or Fauna or Timeline

Pre-Order: $50

9 Great Games We Haven’t Mentioned


Balderdash ($35)
Carcassonne ($35)
Dominion ($24)
Pandemic ($23)
The Game of Scattergories ($30)
Scrabble ($15)
Settlers of Catan ($65)
Taboo ($11)
Terra Mystica ($52)


Best Family Game: It’s the Renaissance era in Splendor, and players are merchants trying to buy gem mines, transportation and shops. Players use gems to buy and develop cards, which give them points relating to their prestige among the townspeople. It’s a quick race to 15 points. For another great, classic family game, look for Ticket to Ride.
Number of Players: 2-4
Game Duration: 30 minutes
Alternatives:7 wonders or Sheriff of Nottingham

Buy Now: $26


Best Creative Game: A storyteller tells a story based on a scene depicted on one of the cards in their hand. The other players then hand in a card from their hand they think matches the story. The cards are shuffled and everyone votes on which card they think was the storyteller’s original card.
Number of Players: 6+
Game Duration: 30 minutes
Alternatives:Telestrations or Cranium Wow

Buy Now: $23


Best Children’s Game: Players shoot coconuts at a stack of cups in the middle of the playing area. If they make it in their own cup, they stack their cup on their play area. If they hit an opponent’s, their opponent gets to stack that cup in their own play area. It’s a race to six cups, with special cards that add fun twists to the game.
Number of Players: 2-4
Game Duration: 30 minutes
Alternatives:Rhino Hero or King of Tokyo

Buy Now: $40

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