One thing about me? I am a game night girly. While I think game nights are a great way to bring people together and are just plain fun, there’s also another reason why game nights are my go-to party suggestion: I am competitive as hell. Don’t get me wrong, I can have fun even when I’m not winning, but the simple act of competing brings me a thrill like no other. As you can imagine, I’ve hosted and attended my fair share of game nights and am here today with my definitive list of essential board games everyone should have on hand.
From classics like Scrabble and Clue to party games perfect for a big group of people, these are my essential game night games, whether you’re playing with family, friends, or just your partner on a date night in.
They’re classics for a reason. Everyone knows the rules of Scrabble, Monopoly, and Clue, so these games are easy to pick up on the fly, whether you’re with gaming pros or people who haven’t touched a board game since Candyland. The major win of this set is that they’re beautiful special editions that you can use as decor the same way you’d use coffee table books.
It’s no secret that The Queen’s Gambit brought chess back in a big way, but regardless, a chess set is a quintessential part of any board game collection. This beautiful set is timeless, elegant, and one you could have for years.
It may seem basic, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t own a set of classic playing cards. With these on hand, there’s no shortage of games at your fingertips. My personal go-tos are Crazy Eights for a group or War with my husband to decide things like who will make dinner that night.
You know her, you love her. She’s Jenga—or “tumbling tower” if we’re playing safe with trademarks. I love this elevated set for a sophisticated take on the classic party game.
Anomia is relatively new to me, but I’ve loved it from my very first play-through. It’s super easy to learn and fast-paced, so you can get the game up and running fairly quickly to go through multiple rounds. In this game, players take turns placing cards down in front of them. When the symbols on two cards match up, those two players race to see who can name something that fits the category on their opponent’s card first.
You’ve probably heard of the classic Werewolf game. This edition takes the classic and turns it into a quick and easy party game. My husband and I have introduced this to both our families and friends, and it’s always been a hit. It’s super easy to pick up and a great icebreaker as it forces people to form alliances and work together to sus out the werewolves, who must lie to the best of their abilities in order to win.
Uno is a certified classic, and even if you’re with a group who isn’t huge on games, it’s likely they’ll know this one. While Uno is super simple, it’s taken on a life of its own with people coming up with their own house rules (whether or not you’re allowed to stack draw cards always inspires debate). The simple nature and fun of debating rules make this game a crowd-pleaser whenever it comes out.
Settlers of Catan is a little bit more advanced than some of the other games here, but if you’ve got a smaller group and more time on your hands, this is a great option. It’s a strategy board game that involves settling the Isle of Catan and racking up points along the way. Your opponents will try to inhibit your settlements by building their own. This game is made for alliances and backstabbing—which is what a game night is all about, right? There are also tons of expansions and different versions available, so if this becomes a household favorite, there’s no shortage of opportunities to build a collection.
Ticket to Ride is a strategy board game where you set out to build train routes across the map to accumulate points. With multiple ways to score and win, this is a fun game that’s more about being strategic than it is about competing with those around you. If anyone in your group gets a little too competitive when playing games, this is a good chill option to have on your shelf.
Best played with a group that knows each other fairly well, the Voting Game is a quick and easy game in the same vein as Cards Against Humanity. However, unlike Cards Against Humanity, it hasn’t been played into oblivion and is likely something new you can introduce to your friends. In this game, you’ll vote on superlatives like “who’s most likely to get a ticket for driving too slow” or “whose Google search history would you most like to see.” This simple game is a load of fun and ends up sparking conversation as the superlatives inevitably lead to must-share anecdotes.
If you’re looking for a quick game you can play pretty much anywhere and with any group of people (kids and family included!), Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is it. This game can be picked up in seconds and only takes a few minutes to play. The objective is to get rid of all of your cards first by matching the word in the game’s title to the card that’s placed down. It sounds complicated, but I promise basically anyone can pick up this game super quickly.
Codenames is a classic that’s been pulled out at almost every single game night I’ve attended. This simple word association game is great to have on hand because it’s both easy to pick up and still fun for people who’ve played it numerous times. There’s also a ton of different versions out there, so if you already know and love this game, you can pick up a new version to try at your next game night.
No game collection is complete without a trivia variety, and if you ask me, there’s no better option than the classic Trivial Pursuit. This version features 2,400 questions across six categories, but you can also purchase expansion packs with more cards to make this game truly new each time you play it.
Similar to trivia, some sort of charades-style game is also essential to any collection. I love Monikers because it doesn’t rely solely on acting out the cards. The objective is to get your team to guess the word on your card, but you’ll have three opportunities to do so: a round where you can say anything, a round where you can only say one word, and a round where you must act it out—where the charades part of this game comes in. This game also has a ton of expansion packs available, so once you’ve exhausted this base game, you can buy new cards to make it feel brand-new again.
No, this isn’t a board or card game, but having Mario Kart on hand is never a bad idea. This is the kind of game that elicits nostalgia and can be played by anyone from kids to family to friends. Some of the most fun I’ve had is playing a drinking version of Mario Kart (Beerio Kart if you will) that brings this childhood classic into adulthood pretty seamlessly.