Board gaming is one of the best hobbies anyone can get into because it requires face-to-face interaction, it’s a gateway to meeting a wide variety of people, and it’s just plain fun. Although, learning the rules to so many different games can be quite intimidating. Like video gaming, board gaming has many different levels and intricacies to each game. Nothing is more daunting than sitting down to learn a game with a group of strangers, realizing the rules are going over your head, and that you’ve committed yourself to a three-hour game.
Getting in over their heads can turn new board gamers away from the hobby. In order to avoid this, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best entry-level board games in seven different genres. These titles are perfect stepping stones for learning basic rules and mechanisms that are the foundations of a wide variety of games. My rules for building this list were very simple. First, all games have to be simple to learn and teach, so anyone, regardless of age or experience, can play. Second, every game must have an attractive table presence. It’s much easier to get someone new to the hobby to try a game if it’s visually appealing.
Survive! Escape from Atlantis
Genre: Take That
The “take that” style of games is an odd one, as it’s often one of the very first genres many people are exposed when they start board gaming, yet it’s a genre that’s quickly outgrown. Think back to those early memories of Sorry or Aggravation and you’ll have some idea of what this genre has in store for you. Games in this category are often focused on attacking and player elimination, which can lead to the classic bout of gamer rage if you’re playing with the wrong group. A lot of gamers outgrow games this style as they become more advanced players, but I always find myself returning to Survive! Escape from Atlantis. A playthrough takes 45 minutes to an hour and the game holds 2-4 players.
The objective of Survive is to get the most points by keeping your highest value survivor meeples alive. You do this by getting your survivors from the sinking island in the middle of the board to the safe beaches on the corners. This may seem like a simple task; however, the water is full of sea monsters which create a turbulent journey for the players. The “take that” aspect comes into play with the movement of boats and sea monsters. For your actions you can choose to move meeples or boats; you might choose to move a boat to a location that gets your survivors closer to safety but puts another player’s survivors in jeopardy. Each turn you will also roll the monster die to determine which sea creatures you can send to attack other players or move away from you own survivors to protect them.
There are even a few expansions that add new creatures such as dolphins and squids, as well as expanding the player count to 5-6 if you wish, providing even more mayhem for players to enjoy. It works best with 4 or more players, though it has a two-player variant I don’t recommend playing with only two. The game is both easy to learn and eye-catching with its wooden boats, whales, sharks, and seas monsters that infest the waters. Survive! Escape from Atlantis can be a bit mean if one player solely focuses in on another one, but with the right group, it’s a riotous fun time.
King of Tokyo
Genre: Dice Rolling/Push Your Luck
Anyone with even a partial interest in board games probably won’t be surprised with this entry. King of Tokyo has been THE gateway game since 2011. While it’s had some competition in recent years from games such as Azul and Century Spice road, it’s hard to deny that it remains one of the go-to games for tabletop veterans to introduce newbies to the hobby. A playthrough only takes around 30 minutes, the game holds 2-6 players, and it works well at all player counts, though playing with at least 3 or more players is recommended.
King of Tokyo follows the familiar “Yahtzee” dice rolling mechanic. You begin your turn by rolling a set of dice, setting aside whatever you want to keep, and re-rolling the others up to two times. After your third roll, you’ll execute the actions shown on the dice; which give you victory points, heal your monster, give you currency to spend on upgrade cards, or allow you to attack other players’ creatures. If your monster gets into Tokyo you’ll score points and if you’re able to stay there for a whole round you’ll receive even more, but you will also become the target of everyone’s attacks. You win if you are the first to earn 20 points or if you are the last monster standing because all the other monsters were eliminated
The game is very simple, but the assortment of upgrade cards which provide a wide variety of powers to the monster who purchases them makes this starter game stand above the rest. Paying attention to which of the available cards will play well into your strategy can be crucial to winning. I highly recommend the Power Up expansion as well; it gives every monster their own evolution deck granting them unique special powers on rolls of three hearts, adding a level of depth to the gameplay. Even though players can get eliminated quickly since the game is over quickly eliminated players won’t have to sit out for a long duration. While there is some strategy, King of Tokyo is light enough that anyone in the family can understand the rules in a matter of minutes.
Genre: Tile Drafting
Azul has been in the running for the most popular board game of the last 10 years since its introduction in 2017, for good reason. The title has a stunning production with dozens of beautiful Starburst shaped tiles and gorgeous player boards. Plus, the gameplay is nothing to scoff at either. A playthrough only takes 30-45 minutes, the game holds 2-4 players, and plays well at all player counts, with the two-player count being a bit more cutthroat.
The object of the game is to tile your floor in an order that will earn you the most points. At the start of each round random tiles will be placed in the “factory” area in the middle of the table. On your turn, you’ll choose one color of tile to take from one of the factory spaces or the center. Tiles leftover on that factory will be sent to the middle, creating a large pile for players to choose from. The round ends when all the tiles from the factories are gone. Then each player scores their floor, the factories are refilled, and the game continues until a player has filled up an entire row on their board. Beware, you do get negative points if you take tiles you can’t place, however you may be able to catch up on points during the end of game scoring. Players get bonus points for completing entire rows, columns, and color sets.
Knowing when to bite the bullet and drafting a few titles that you can’t slot can make the difference between an okay round and a horrible round. Balancing what you need for your board and trying to leave your opponents with tiles they can’t place or don’t want can be a vital strategy. Azul only has a handful of rules making it a wonderful experience that players of all ages can enjoy.
Genre: Dice Drafting
Thanks to Sagrada dice drafting has recently become one of my favorite mechanisms. A playthrough takes 30 minutes or less, the games holds 2-4 people, or 5-6 with the expansion, and works well at all player counts. The object of the game is to make the best stained glass window possible. Each player picks their window layout and receives a hidden objective that gives them bonus points at the game’s end. Each turn the starting player will draw dice from the bag and roll them, then all players take turns “snake drafting” dice to place in their window. Certain spots on your window require a specific number or color to be placed there. You’re also not allowed to place the same number or color orthogonally adjacent to the one already slotted into your window.
Sound tough? Luckily, every game provides the players with a random assortment of tool cards that they can use to help with dice placement. By sacrificing tokens, you can use these tools to do things such as move dice around, change dice values, or select two dice at the same time when drafting. You’ll need to decide when is the right time to use these tools because unused tokens give you extra points at the end of the game, and the more a tool is used the more expensive it becomes. At the end of ten rounds, you’ll score points based on your hidden objective, three public objectives, and how many tokens you have left at the end of the game. You’ll earn negative points for illegal placements in your window as well as any gaps in your masterpiece.
Sagrada’s theme really comes through in the game’s the masterful design and it can be a bit of a brain teaser. Deciding which die will work best for you in the short and long term is crucial and using the tools to manipulate your window are all keys to victory. Regardless of what your final score is, you can be almost certain that by the games end you’ll be left with a work of art you can be proud of.
Category: Area Control
Someone at Blue Orange Games must have been listening to Rush’s “The Trees” while designing this game. Just like the classic rock song, Photosynthesis is all about different types of trees competing with each other for sunlight and the best soil. A playthrough takes about an hour to an hour and a half and it holds 2-4 players. If there was an award for most the harmonious marriage between mechanics and theme in a board game, Photosynthesis would win every year.
Every round a sun disc moves around the board and gives every tree the light touches “light points,” the game’s form of currency. Planning ahead for the sun’s movement and placing trees where they will absorb the most light is crucial. Taller trees block shorter trees from the valuable sunshine, so growing your tree to its tallest form not only gives you currency to use on your turn but it also potentially blocks your opponents’ trees from reaching the sun.
You then use these points to perform actions on your turn, such as planting seeds, growing trees, or chopping your trees down, which gives you points based their position on the board. The dynamic of building taller trees to gain light while determining when to cut them down in order to gain points, so you can actually win, is the crux of the game. There’s almost a zen-like ebb and flow to the game when you are hitting your stride. Not to mention, Photosynthesis might be the most beautiful title on this entire list.
Genre: Deck Builder
know some gamers might be upset with me for not choosing the classic Dominion for the deck building category, but that game’s almost theme-less styling can be a bit dull, especially for new players. Clank provides you with all the trappings of a deck builder with the added bonus of a jaunty dungeon crawl. The game holds 2-4 players, takes 1-1.5 hours to complete, and works well with all player counts.
In Clank players are competing to explore a dungeon patrolled by a dragon, as well as other monsters, all while trying to steal enough treasure from the winged beast to impress the townspeople on the surface. Every round you’ll draw cards from your own personal deck, executing the actions on each card, and buying new cards for your deck if you can afford them. Every time a card shows up with a dragon symbol all “clank” cubes are thrown into a bag and a certain number of cubes are pulled out. If your color is drawn from the bag the dragon attacks you and you take damage. The game keeps going until all players are either knocked out, or a player gets cold feet and high tails it to the surface with all the treasure they’ve collected.
Once a player makes it out of the dungeon, the dragon goes on a rampage each of the remaining rounds attacking those still in the dungeon. If all players don’t get out after four more rounds, everyone still below ground level is killed and their points are not added at the end of the game. Deciding if it’s time to bail or if it’s okay to dive just a little deeper for that 20-point treasure is adds greater depth to the game. That last push to make it out near the game’s end, when you know you have enough points to win, only to be crushed one space away from victory is heartbreaking if it happens to you. Clank is such a unique spin on the sometimes-dry nature of the deck building genre; I highly recommend this title.
Viticulture Essential Edition
Genre: Euro/Worker Placement
I avoided the worker placement genre for a long time, thinking those games were dull or too complicated. Viticulture is one of these games that changed my mind and it’s still one I introduce to newbies once they’re ready to dive a bit deeper into the hobby. It holds 1-6 players, works well at all counts, and a playthrough taking around 1-2 hours.
In Viticulture, players compete to be the most prestigious vineyard by making and aging wine to fulfill contracts. A round consists of four phases representing the seasons of the year. Spring beings with players placing their rooster meeple on a chart which decides turn order and which bonus they’d like to receive for the round. In Summer you use your workers to prepare your vineyard by either constructing buildings to provide various bonuses, playing summer visitor cards that have a variety of effects, planting grapes in your field, or giving tours. During Fall you draw summer or winter visitor cards which give you bonuses during their corresponding seasons. In Winter you use your workers to harvest your grapes, make wine, or fulfill contracts by selling off wine from your cellar.
You have to be careful when placing your workers in the Summer and Winter phases because you only have one set of workers for the whole year, so if you employ all of them in Spring you won’t have any to use in the Winter. Each action can only be taken a limited number of times, but every player had a grande worker than allows them to take any action that has already been used up. Viticulture boasts a simple and appealing design. The mechanics all lend themselves to the goal of winemaking. Grapes and wine all age at the end of the round, making them more valuable as time goes by. Every player has their own vineyard board and various meeples of your color representing the different buildings you’ll construct throughout the game, bringing your vineyard to life.
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AKA “The Board Game Mole”
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