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Four friends gathered around a table playing a card-based board game.
Photograph: Pavel Danilyuk

The best board games to play with friends

From fantasy games with deep narratives to bluffing games requiring finesse, these are the best board games on the market

Adena Maier
Written by
Adena Maier

If you're looking for fun things to do the next time you have friends over, board games are the answer. From quick two-player games like Coup that test your poker face and bluffing abilities to the immersive fantasy game Lords of Waterdeep that can take a couple of hours to play, this list has something for everyone.

Order a few of these games from a local Melbourne store like Gameology and put board game night in your calendar. 

RECOMMENDED: The best online and at-home escape rooms.

Number of players: 4-8
Game duration: 30-60 minutes

This fast-talking word description game is similar to Taboo but with the addition of word categories as well as a game board where you can watch your team's pawn move closer to the finish line.

The game deck has cards that each have five categories on them: person, world, object, action, nature and random. Pair up and try to get your partner to guess a word related to the category that corresponds with where your team marker is on the board. After the round is over you can move your team marker to the same number of spaces as words your partner got correct. 

This is definitely a game that makes your brain work a bit and you're going to learn a lot of new words along the way. It also has the potential to become a great drinking game, if that's the way you roll. 

Number of players: 2
Game duration: 15-20 minutes

In this fast-paced card game for two people, each player takes on the role of a powerful trader competing for the Maharajah's favour. You'll each take turns acquiring various commodities including jewels and cloth and selling them on the market for tokens that are worth points. Selling groups of three, four or five earn you extra bonuses but you also have to be quick — flooding the market with a product reduces its value, so the first player to sell goods of a given type will earn the best bang for his buck. 

This engaging two-player game is quick to get the hang of and perfect for a competitive duo. 


Number of players: 2-6
Duration: 15 minutes

In 2015, two friends went on vacation together and instead of doing any of your typical vacation hobbies they decided to make a card game. That card game is Exploding Kittens, which has now sold over ten million copies and remains popular to this day. 

The aim of the game? It's simple: don't explode. The draw pile is laced with exploding kittens, and if you draw one without a defuse card then you're out of luck and the game goes on until there is only one player left standing. You can sabotage the other players or lessen your chances of picking up a kitten by playing cards that shuffle the deck, let you skip your turn, let you see the future or take cards from the other players. 

Number of players: 2-5
Duration: 60-120 minutes

If you've ever been interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons but simply cannot commit to the level of preparation and time it requires, Lords of Waterdeep is the perfect middle ground. Based on the D&D world of Waterdeep, you play as a masked Lord of Waterdeep who gets to deploy agents and hire adventurers to complete tasks that give you points. After eight rounds, the player with the most points wins the game. 

While this may seem straightforward, there are many ways a player can appear behind on the game board and still come out on top. Each Lord will secretly have a type of quest that they can complete more of to earn extra points that are tallied at the end, and the loot you've accumulated gets counted up as well. 


Number of players: 5-10
Duration: 30-45 minutes

We've travelled back in time to 1930s Germany where Hitler is attempting to gain power. In this game, each player is randomly and secretly given a card that states that they're either a liberal or a fascist, and one player takes the role of Secret Hitler. Liberals are a majority, but they won't know the role of anyone else while fascists are aware of who the other fascists are, but must attempt to pass themselves off as liberals.  

The aim of the game is different depending on what side you're on. The fascists are trying to remain hidden while secretly getting Hitler elected as chancellor, at which stage they win the game. The liberals are doing everything in their power to prevent this from happening while also passing liberal policies, and if they pass enough of them they win the game.


Number of players: 2-4
Duration: 30-45 minutes

For those of us who loved Harry Potter and had desperate dreams of taking classes at Hogwarts, here's your chance: Potion Explosion is essentially a marble-based potions class. A large dispenser is filled with marbles of varying colours that correspond to a potion ingredient. Each player will pick a few potions that they want to make and go around in turns collecting marbles from the dispenser. If you collect a marble and the marble above and below it are of the same colour, they explode and you can take them too. It's almost like a live version of Candy Crush.

Oh, and don't forget to drink your potions as you progress through the game to unlock their powers and abilities, like stealing marbles from your opponents. At the end of the game, the player who brewed the most valuable set of potions wins. 


Number of players: 2-4
Game duration: 10-15 minutes

While it's very simple, this tile-placement game is highly addictive. You and your opponents will be building a kingdom out of dominos that have a terrain on each end and trying to make the best strategic choices about what terrains and bonuses to collect.

Points are calculated based on the number of connecting tiles of the same terrain as well as the number of crown symbols you've collected on your dominos, so choose wisely. But keep in mind that it may not always be the best move to try and grab the most valuable domino, because the person taking the least valuable tile in the current round gets to go first the next round. The game ends once each player has completed a 5x5 grid. 

Number of players: 3-5
Duration: 60 minutes

If you're familiar with Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham might ring a bell. He's the main antagonist in the story, best known for subjecting the local people of Nottinghamshire to ridiculously high taxes. In this game, you'll get to step into his shoes for a bit and lean into the bureaucratic corruption. 

Each round, one player is the Sheriff and the rest are merchants looking to make a quick profit. You'll get a mix of goods at random, some of which are legal and not worth a whole lot and some of which are contraband that you can attempt to smuggle in for the big bucks. You can decide whether or not you'll be an honest merchant, if you'll try your luck and bluff or if you'll slip the Sheriff a bit of coin to persuade him to let you through at the expense of your peers. 


Number of players: 2-4
Duration: 30-45 minutes

This one might be a bit too on the nose given our current circumstances, but maybe your coping mechanism is embracing the whole shebang and playing a game where you see how well you'd fare at stopping a global pandemic such as ours?

What sets this game apart from many of the others on this list is that it's a collaborative game, not a competitive one. Each player has a special ability, so you'll have to coordinate your efforts and strategies. Can you and your team find a cure before it's too late?

Number of players: 3-4
Duration: 45-90 minutes 

Created in 1995, Settlers of Catan has become quite a cult classic. Welcome to the island of Catan, where you're a settler trying to collect resources that enable you to expand your territory by building roads, settlements and cities. The first player to earn ten points win, but don't be fooled by what you see on the board because some of these points can be kept secret by the player. 

This game's popularity is likely due to the fact that it's really easy to learn, requires strategy but also has a dice rolling element that gives it an element of luck, and is highly interactive and involves trading with your opponents. 


Number of players: 2-6 (best with 5)
Duration: 15 minutes

If you're not super keen on games that take a long time to play, Coup is perfect for you. It's quick to pick up and gameplay usually only lasts around ten to 15 minutes, so you can squeeze in a few rounds after dinner without committing to anything too intense.

The game deck contains 15 cards with three copies of five different characters, each with a unique set of abilities. You'll start the game with two coins and two character cards, which remain secret. If you're not super thrilled about the cards you've got and the powers they have, here's the best part: you can lie. Put your bluffing skills to the test, but be warned — if a player calls you out, you lose a card. If you were honest, they lose a card. The aim of the game is to be the last man standing, so manage your risks carefully. 

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