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Best new board games and tabletop games, according to experts

Classic board games are great but there's much more out there. We consulted the American Tabletop Awards Committee on some of the best games to consider.
The best unique and recent board games and tabletop games include category winners Wingspan (left), The Taverns of Tiefenthal (center) and Draftosaurus. We asked expert gamers about other options and share tips on how to choose your next board game.
The best unique and recent board games and tabletop games include category winners Wingspan (left), The Taverns of Tiefenthal (center) and Draftosaurus. We asked expert gamers about other options and share tips on how to choose your next board game.

As the coronavirus keeps more and more Americans in their homes, there's an increased interest in how to best spend time indoors. Many people opt into the pleasure of streaming content or playing video games. Others refocus their efforts into cooking and baking. Whatever your remote work situation is or how you're spending these strange months, there might be some solace in creature comforts like board games. But how do we know which board games are best? Sure, you’ve got your Monopoly, Sorry!, Battleship and other bestsellers. But maybe you’re yearning for something new or unique. To help you figure out some of the best new board games out there, we consulted members of the American Tabletop Awards Committee, which came together in 2018 to eponymously award best-in-class board games and tabletop games, a stateside version of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres, which has been awarding games for decades.

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In this article

  1. Is this board game for you?
  2. Best Early Games
  3. Best Casual Games
  4. Best Strategy Games
  5. Best Complex Games

The committee is made up of tabletop gaming professionals within the hobby and gaming space, and highlights games in different categories, from kid-friendly and all-ages titles to heftier strategy titles. Committee member Nicole Brady told NBC News she hopes this year’s list opens people's eyes to “the diverse amount of games that are available and that this helps draw new families to the game table.” Here are the top winners in each of the four ATTA categories, (which we dive into below, as well as into the nominees in each):

  1. Best in Early Games: Draftosaurus
  2. Best in Casual Games: ShipShape
  3. Best in Strategy Games: Wingspan
  4. Best in Complex Games: The Taverns of Tiefenthal

Is this board game for you?

Knowing which games won awards isn’t everything when it comes to choosing a board game, of course. To help guide you through the list, we’ll be sharing what playing each game entails, according to popular online tabletop gaming community BoardGameGeek (BGG), whose users profile virtually every board game with helpful criteria and details like playtime but also a game's so-called “weight,” BGG’s loosely-defined scale to determine how easy a game is to understand and play.

Weight is scaled from 0.1 (the easiest, or “lightest”) to 5.0 (the hardest, or “heaviest”) and determined through game characteristics like how much luck is involved or how long you have to spend thinking during any given turn. Here’s a rough breakdown of the weight scale:

  1. Light: 0.1 to 1.0
  2. Medium Light: 1.1 to 2.0
  3. Medium: 2.1 to 3.0
  4. Medium Heavy: 3.1 to 4.0
  5. Heavy: 4.1 to 5.0

Best Early Games

With play times ranging from 15 to 45 minutes, the Early Games category covers games that are great for a younger audience (aged 12 and under) who are new to the world of gaming and need a low-stakes introduction into the hobby — or for anyone new to gaming and looking to gently dip their toes.

1. Draftosaurus (winner) by Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, Théo Rivière

“Functionally, it's pretty simple,” ATTA member Eric Yurko told NBC News. Players pick a dinosaur and add it to one of the spots on their respective parks . “At the end of the game, you've built up a cute (and unique) little dinosaur park, like a more colorful (and micro-scale) Jurassic Park,” Yurko explained.

  • Players: 2 - 5
  • Ages: 8+
  • BGG Weight: 1.23/5
  • Playtime: 15 minutes

2. The Aquicorn Cove Board Game (nominee) by Katie O'Neill, Ben Eisner, Tim Eisner, Steve Ellis (II), Tyler Tinsley

Players are become members of a small fishing village, building up the local aquatic ecosystem.

  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Ages: 10+
  • BGG Weight: 2/5
  • Playtime: 30 - 60 minutes

3. L.L.A.M.A. (nominee) by Reiner Knizia, Rey Sommerkamp, and Barbara Spelger

Using the dump-a-card model made popular by UNO, players draw six llama cards (numbered one through six) with the goal of playing their highest card to collect the least points.

  • Players: 2 - 6
  • Ages: 8+
  • BGG Weight: 1.07/5
  • Playtime: 30 - 60 minutes

Best Casual Games

It’s all in the name. This ATTA category includes games for players of all ages seeking an approachable and easy gaming experience.

4. ShipShape (winner) by Rob Daviau

Set on the high seas during the 17th century, players bid on crate tiles and compare troves treasure with other players. “ShipShape is pretty interesting,” says Eric Yurko. “What I like about it is the tiebreaker rules — if two players tie, they have to play again, after every player. This throws a lot of chaos into the game and means players are often making the best of tiles they didn't particularly want.”

  • Players: 2 - 6
  • Ages: 8+
  • BGG weight: 1.67/5
  • Playtime: 20 - 50 minutes

5. Miyabi (nominee) by Michael Kiesling and René Amthor

Build up your beautiful Japanese garden by delicately placing stones, bushes, trees, ponds, and pagodas on varying levels for the ultimate goal of being crowned the best garden designer of the season.

  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Weight: 1.86/5
  • Playtime: 45 minutes

6. Silver & Gold (nominee) by Phil Walker-Harding and Oliver Freudenreich

Made for endless adventures, players design and complete treasure maps on wipeable cards in a game of adventure, action, and luck.

  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Weight: 1.11/5
  • Playtime: 20 minutes

Best Strategy Games

Requiring wit, planning, and patience, strategy games are the next step up from casual games — and typically take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to play.

7. Wingspan (winner) by Elizabeth Hargrave, Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth Sobel

Birds are the name of game. Players draw from hundreds of bird cards and play them, building up their own unique network of wildlife preserves. “I love that Wingspan is bringing new people to the table together,” ATTA's Amber Cook told NBC News. “It appeals to naturalists, birders, casual gamers and those who love engine-building games. It’s one of the most popular games at every convention I’ve attended in the last year.”

  • Players: 1 - 5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Weight: 2.37/5
  • Playtime: 40 - 70 minutes

8. SHŌBU (nominee) by Manolis Vranas and Jamie Sajdak

Culling from gold standard games like Chess and GO, SHŌBU players move a set of natural river stones across a wooden square to win.

  • Players: 2
  • Ages: 8+
  • Weight: 2.00/5
  • Playtime: 15 - 30 minutes

9. Hadara (nominee) by Benjamin Schwer and Dominik Mayer

Explore, navigate, and transform a small world from a simple settlement to high culture. Populate your world with diverse cultures while incorporating agriculture, culture, and military power.

  • Players: 2 - 5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Weight: 2.21/5
  • Playtime: 45 - 60 minutes

Best Complex Games

Complexity builds on strategy. These games are for older, more experienced players who can take the time — sometimes hours — to play towards victory.

10. The Taverns of Tiefenthal (winner) by Wolfgang Warsch and Dennis Lohausen

In the town of Tiefenthal, locals lure nobles into "The Tavern of the Deep Valley" where the wealthy are exploited into expanding the town. “Wolfgang Warsch is responsible for some of my favorite games, from light games like That’s Pretty Clever and Wavelength to last year’s ATTA winner, The Quacks of Quedlinburg,” Cook said. “‘The Taverns of Tiefenthal’ brings back some of that magic in an expanded, complex format that is replayable and feels like it flexes the diversity of mechanics in Warsch’s designs.”

  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Weight: 2.59/5
  • Playtime: 60 minutes

11. Pipeline (nominee) by Ryan Courtney and ArtistIan O'Toole

Pipeline is all about oil. In this complex game of strategy and skill, players hire experts to build an efficient pipeline network that puts their competitors out of business. It’ll take a clever brain and strong economic skills to make your network succeeds.

  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Weight: 3.84/5
  • Playtime: 60 - 120 minutes

12. Cthulhu: Death May Die (nominee) by Rob Daviau, Eric M. Lang, Nicolas Fructus, Karl Kopinski, Edgar Skomorowski, Adrian Smith, and Richard Wright

Inspired by the world of H.P. Lovecraft, players transform into 1920s-era investigators on the mission of stopping the Elder Gods trying to summon the evil cosmic entity, Cthulhu.

  • Players: 1 - 5
  • Ages: 14+
  • Weight: 2.30/5
  • Playtime: 90 - 120 minutes

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