I’m a gamer, and I’ve been a gamer my entire life. Before discovering the world of hobby board games I had love affairs with a myriad of board, card, yard, and bar games, which were often intense and lasting for several years. Some of them (like chess) have been on and off mistresses for over 2 decades. I share my love with anyone patient enough to learn, and have taught dozens different games to literally hundreds of different people.
Below is a list of games that you should own. Not based on a set of guidelines or any tangible criteria – these are games that I believe you should own based on my experiences playing games with probably thousands of people over the course of 30 years.
#5 – No Thanks!
Games that are good for multiple reasons are a must on any game shelf, but this becomes especially true if you have a small or starter collection. No Thanks seats 3 to 5 players which is the sweet spot and enough to cover most game nights entirely, but even if you’re having a bigger group No Thanks is a perfect “filler”. Before the 6th and 7th player arrive or after they leave, the 10-15 minute play time makes this game a great book-end to any game night.
And even though this is one of the top tier best filler games of all time, it functions even better as a “gateway” game for even the most apprehensive players. A gateway game is one that is perfect for playing with newbies, and so if you meet one of the many folks out there whose last gaming experience was gin rummy 15 years ago, No Thanks should be the first thing to hit the table.
#4 – Dixit
Seating 3-6 players (truly, the more the merrier with Dixit) and taking around 45 minutes to play, Dixit is the most unintimidating game on the market. Dixit features no words, no numbers, and no board or grid or map, and is probably thus unique from everything else in your collection. Its singularity alone is enough reason to own the game, but this too is a wonderful gateway game.
There’s no chance of scaring people off with the impression that this game might actually be a math or vocab test in disguise, or in some other way a measure of the players’ intelligence. Now is a good time to remind everyone that probably the biggest reason people decline playing games is the fear of failure, and Dixit is an invitation to success.
#3 – Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is in the top 3 on a lot of lists, and its placement here is well earned. If craft board games were Italian food, Ticket to Ride is spaghetti & meatballs. It’s the Monopoly of our generation featuring light strategy and ultra-simple mechanics with a very straight forward ruleset. Many enthusiasts might now be thinking “Well I got into the hobby recently and I’m really into it, and everyone that plays a lot of games knows that there are so many games out there right now that are better and I like so much better than Ticket to Ride. Why should I own this when I already have Mansions of Madness and Star Wars: Armada and…” well I’ll tell you why: because I’ve taught dozens if not hundreds of people how to play this game, and those people that I’ve taught have themselves taught hundreds of other people and so on.
I am the great-great-grand-teacher of perhaps thousands of TTR players, and so are many more like me who have taught thousands of more players. And one day, your boyfriend or girlfriend’s best friend is going to come over with his or her new crush, they’re going to be the worst, most intolerable person ever, and conversation is going to be strained, and things are going to be awkward, and they’re going to say “oh wow you have a lot of board games! I’m not up for learning something new right now, but I know how to play that one with the trains.” And then, then you’re going to wish you had listened to me.
#2 - Oh Hell!
At this point the hobbyists out there are saying to themselves, “Oh Hell? Is that new? Who designed it? Is it like Exploding Kittens?” Oh Hell is actually a playing card game (yes, like hearts, clubs, aces, jacks) that I’ve been wanting to talk about with hobby gamers for a long time. I consider Oh Hell to be hands down the best card game of all time for 5 players. And for 6 players. And 7, and 8, 9, and 10 players. And in the top 5 best card game for 3 or 4 players. If you like hobby games you will love this one – it’s strategic, psychological, easy, flexible, and fun. And although the ranks of hobby gamers are still limited, there are millions of folks out there that would love to get a game of bridge, or pinochle, or euchre, or hearts, or spades, etc; and they will all love this game too. Anyone that’s played a trick-taking game will be able to learn this game in 60 seconds, and anyone that hasn’t will pick it up in a fraction of the amount of time it would take to teach bridge or euchre or any of those.
To own this game all you technically need is a deck of cards (or two), but what I’m really encouraging you to do is to just learn the game well enough to teach, and play it enough to love, and when you’re on vacation and it starts to rain, and you didn’t have any room in your carry on for your copy of Mechs and Minions, you have this to fall back on. I am always happy to teach if you want to learn.
#1 - One Night Ultimate Werewolf
There are so many things about ONUW that make it a must-have for every household in America: It plays anywhere from 3-10 people (5-10 is best), it takes 7 mintues to play (and less than 10 minutes to teach including a learning game), and it’s the best distillation of the social deduction mechanic in existence.
The social deduction mechanic provides players with both aspects of board gaming that people love - it’s extremely social allowing an opportunity for everyone at the table to interact with everyone else, and the deduction is the puzzly, problem-solving bit of gaming that keeps people involved the entire game. With this player count and time frame, players can jump in and out of games, and the game can play for hours with no complaints. It’s the best!