Board games are seeing somewhat of a rise in trend over the last few years. And that’s definitely a good thing, especially with a slew of fresh new ideas to shake up classic genres.
But for the evergreen board gamer, the sheer multitude of offerings out there may more often than not leave one paralysed with choice.
Fret not! That’s what we’re here for. To ease you into the hobby, or at least to filter the best ones (in our humble opinion) out for you, here are some of the best board and card games you can enjoy under US$25 (about S$35)!
Players: 2 – 8
Genre(s): Word Guessing, Team-based
Playtime: 20 – 30 minutes
Codenames is, in essence, team-based Taboo. You’ll be split between two teams – Red and Blue – and you want to be the first team to correctly identify all your agents who are going undercover.
One person from each team will be the Spymaster, who then has access to an answer key containing the locations of all the agents based on their codenames. However, you can’t give their identities away by calling out their exact codename, so you’ll have to come up with a synonym that matches the description. For example, you can’t say Dog if the card on display is Dog, so you could try something such as Canine or Pet.
Of course, you can get creative with synonyms, such as a common term or inside joke you and your friends are familiar with, which certainly adds to the fun. You can also attempt to get your team to guess more than one word in a single go by simply stating the word and the number of words you want them to find (e.g. Pet 3). Just beware of accidentally guessing your opponent’s agents right, or worse, the Assassin, in which case you’ll instantly lose the game!
Players: 2 – 4
Genre(s): Hand Management, Player Elimination
Playtime: 10 minutes
Dungeon Mayhem is a no-holds-barred fighting card game where only one winner remains after all the spells are slung, swords are swung, and all your opponents’ hit points reach zero. It’s also really simple, arguably one of the easiest games in this list to get into.
After picking one of four character decks (Wizard, Rogue, Barbarian, Paladin), you’re all set. The premise of each turn you take is simple: draw a card, play a card. The nuance is where all the small side-effects that come with the various cards you play. Some cards allow you to draw an extra card, some heal up your hit points or deal damage, and some even allow you to play more cards in the same go (provided you still have cards in your hand).
But it doesn’t stop there. Each character deck also comes with their own unique, thematic mechanics, which make gameplay so much more exciting and unpredictable. For example, the Rogue has a card that allows the player to steal a card from another player and play it on the spot. The Wizard, on the other hand, has a card that swaps that player’s current hit points with another’s, immediately turning the tables. The amount of quick strategy one gets from decks no larger than 30 cards is astounding, which makes Dungeon Mayhem so fun to play.
Players: 3 – 5
Genre(s): Hand Management, Player Elimination, Push Your Luck
Playtime: 15 minutes
This is one of those games that rewards you for being absolutely selfish, and being a lover of cats. Exploding Kittens is derivative of Russian Roulette, with a smattering of feline fun. You and your friends will duke it out to be the last person standing, by avoiding the dreaded Exploding Kitten by throwing it around to other players.
You and the rest of the group will take turns drawing cards from a deck. You’ll keep drawing cards until the Exploding Kitten card is drawn, which then will eliminate the one who has it in their hand. Of course, this can be averted in various ways; you can use a Defuse card to chuck the Exploding Kitten to an adjacent player, play cards that force them to draw multiple cards or shuffle the deck, all for an increased chance to draw an Exploding Kitten.
The game gets increasingly intense as more cards are removed from the deck, leaving surviving players with a higher chance to draw an Exploding Kitten. It’s quite an adrenaline rush to play Exploding Kittens, and for good reason. The thrill of narrowly avoiding being eliminated and having options to achieve that goal is one of the main reasons why this game is so popular.
Oh, and cats.
Players: 2 – 4
Genre(s): Cooperative, Grid Movement, Escape Room
Playtime: 30 minutes
If you’re a fan of escape rooms, or just like a good team-building sesh, then Forbidden Island will scratch that itch for you. You and your group are explorers stranded on an unassuming but dangerous island, and your goal is to find the missing parts of a teleportation device that will transport you out of the place, before the island is swallowed whole by the tides.
You and the other players will take turns exploring the individual tiles that are laid out in front of you. You can also use your action to explore the tile you’re standing on, in hopes of uncovering a part of the teleporter. However, as the game progresses, the island starts to flood, making parts of it inaccessible for a time. You and your group must then communicate and act effectively in order to find and assemble all the parts before it’s too late!
Players: 3 – 6
Genre(s): Hand Management, Set Collection
Playtime: 30 – 45 minutes
Oh look, it’s another cat game. But unlike Exploding Kittens, where you’re supposed to be avoiding cats like the plague, you’ll want to collect ALL the cats in Here, Kitty, Kitty!. Your aim is to be the most successful cat owner in the Neighbourhood, by collecting kittens from the streets, or even stealing from neighbours (a.k.a the other players), and putting them into your own Property.
Each player will pick two of three possible actions per turn, which includes drawing a card, moving a cat one space, or playing a card (each action can be duplicated, so long as you perform two actions per turn). While the first two actions are pretty straightforward, playing cards are where the game’s nuances take place. Some allow you to take two cats simultaneously, steal cats from other players, and the like. Some cards even allow you to Foster cats, which prevent them from being stolen, unless the other players have the Adoption card, which is considered a “legal” way to steal cats.
When there are no more cats in the Neighbourhood, scoring begins. More points are awarded to cats in the House, with less points for those in the Porch and on the Lawn. Bonus points are awarded for sets of cats of the same colour in one area, and so on. If you’re a huge cat fan and like to pretend you’re that lady with 27 cats (or just like games about set collection), this is certainly the one for you.
Players: 3 – 10
Genre(s): Bluffing, Team-based
Playtime: 20 – 30 minutes
Saboteur is one of those games where you can really screw around with your friends, and come out still friends (well, usually). Much like Codenames, you’ll also be split into two teams – Miners and Saboteurs – with the only catch that nobody knows who’s who, until the game progresses further.
The Miners’ goal is pretty simple: lay out Path cards to hit the potential gold among three Goal Cards. The Saboteurs’ goal is even simpler: derail the Miners’ path to hit the other two dead end cards instead. Players take turns laying down a Path card, connecting with other Tunnel cards so long as there is a visible path. However, you can also play cards that block the path ahead, forcing the rest of the group to reroute. Conversely, you can also play Dynamite cards to cancel out these actions.
Again, you won’t know who your teammates are or who your opponents are; it’s all a matter of intuition and trying to ensure your team’s objectives are met.
Players: 2 – 5 / 2 – 8
Genre(s): Card Drafting, Set Collection
Playtime: 20 – 30 minutes
Sushi Go! Is a game all about eating your favourite sushi – or in this case, eating the sushi that will net you the most points!
The game goes for three rounds total. In each round, you’ll be picking a card from your hand, then passing it to the next player. You’ll want to pick sushi cards that will get you the most possible points for that round, so you’ll be looking out for sets of a particular card. But watch out for those cards that give you negative points if you collect too many of them, or for players who intentionally “block” your efforts by picking the card you want!
The round ends when there are no more cards left to pass around, in which case you’ll tally up points, shuffle the deck, deal a fresh hand and go again. The person with the most points after three rounds wins the game!
Players: 2 – 4
Genre(s): Hand Management, Bluffing
Playtime: 15 minutes
A lot of the competitive games here derive their fun from playing mind games, and Tiki Topple is arguably the biggest advocate for that. In Tiki Topple, your aim is to score the most points by way of ensuring your secret objectives are met, a.k.a keeping your Tikis at the top three spots.
Every player has a card that determines their secret Tikis that net you points, depending on which position they’re in. At the start of each round, the Tikis are shuffled into random positions, and you’ll need to move the Tikis you want at the top three spots, of course. You’ll do this using a series of action cards that each player has. You can move a Tiki up, or topple a Tiki all the way to the bottom. Any Tikis at the bottom, then, can be toasted and removed from play. Once there are three Tikis left on the game board, or if players have all run out of action cards, the round ends. Points are divvied according to whose secret Tikis remain.
Note that you don’t necessarily have to always move your secret Tikis; you can move any other Tiki, so that opens up a ton of strategy for you to consider. Also, who says you can’t toast your own Tikis, just for the fun of it?
Players: 2 – 4
Genre(s): Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Push Your Luck
Playtime: 20 minutes
This list is just all about board games with animals, ain’t it? Regardless, Trash Pandas is a great deal of fun, putting you in the shoes of a bunch of raccoons scrounging for the most valuable trash. It’s also the only board game in this list involving dice, which should appeal to you fans of the click-clack rocks or chance.
But we digress. Trash Pandas, you’ll begin your turn rolling a unique 6-sided die, which will determine which of the 6 action tokens you get. You then claim the tokens according to which actions they allow you to take, such as drawing cards, playing cards, stashing them for points, or even stealing other players’ cards on hand. The cards themselves have a dual function, and that is to either be used to give you some benefit, or to be stashed for points. It’s then a matter of picking which cards will net you the most points when stashed. The game ends when the central deck is depleted, after which you’ll score points based on how many of each card you’ve stashed. The player with the most points wins.
The main draw of Trash Pandas is that you can always choose to push your luck and roll the die more than once, in hopes of acquiring as many tokens as possible (netting all of them in one go will give you an extra half-round, where you can roll up to three tokens). Be wary though — roll any one side more than once, and your turn is immediately forfeited!
Players: 2 – 5
Genre(s): Cooperative, Hand Management
Playtime: 5 – 30 minutes
5-Minute Dungeon is the equivalent of entering a funhouse VR sesh with your friends, killing monsters that come your way and earning power-ups in between. Except in the comfort of being seated at the table, and having none of that heavy VR gear to weigh you down. This game also has the unique novelty in this list for being the only one that uses a companion app to help facilitate gameplay.
In any case, in 5-Minute Dungeon, you and your friends will have to team up and have only 5 minutes to escape a randomised dungeon. Picking one of 10 heroes with unique skills and abilities, you’ll have to combine your efforts to defeat all the monsters that show up in the dungeon, but matching symbols from cards in your hand with the ones on the monster card. Each dungeon will culminate in a boss monster, the defeat of which signals the end of one campaign. You then can take on harder campaigns, with stronger monsters and final bosses. But again, you’ll only have 5 minutes to do so!
This list is by no means a definitive one, and there are certainly other great board games that retail for equally awesome prices. We’ve just handpicked some of the noteworthy ones, both popular and not as such, that you should definitely try out, if you haven’t already.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.