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How to Choose Which Board Game to Buy

There are hundreds of board games out there, and it can be nearly impossible to decide which board game to buy for yourself. There’s nothing worse than spending money on a game only to quickly find you don’t enjoy it. This guide will help you narrow down your options and determine what types of games you should look for, as well as recommend some examples.

Board games can be broken down into categories based on how they play. If you like the playstyle of one category, you’ll likely be interested in other titles of that or adjacent categories. Within categories, games are divided into numerous themes. These will help you decide more specifically what games interest you.

Some games fit into multiple categories. That doesn’t necessarily mean that if you like one of these categories, you’ll also like the game. So you should determine not only what type of game interests you, but which categories you dislike, to help you avoid titles with features that don’t agree with you.

Roll-and-Move

Which Board Game to Choose Monopoly

Perhaps some of the most ubiquitous board games are of the “roll-and-move” style. In these games, you roll one or more dice, often standard 6-sided dice but sometimes specialized, to determine a number of spaces to move on a board. Once you move, you draw cards, complete actions, or activate abilities based on where you landed.

These are some of the most well-known board games, as were a large part of what popularized board games in the modern world. The goal is typically to reach the end of the board, or else land on enough spaces to complete your objective—and be the first one to do so.

What you might like

  • The dice determining where you land gives everyone a fair chance, regardless of skill level
  • These games are generally simple; the rules are often outlined on the spaces you land on
  • No two games are alike due to random variation

What you might dislike

  • The simplicity of these games may not satisfy cravings for strategy
  • Game boards are often small and repetitive, limiting replayability
  • Everything you get to do is determined by the dice, so you may not feel in control

Themes

Many worker placement games don’t follow a strict theme (see Snakes & Ladders: merely a cute visualization of the game’s mechanics). However, others may make the game more interesting by incorporating a world or theme into the game board.

The dozens of different Monopoly variations, for example, each capitalize — so to speak — on worlds like Star Wars and Game of Thrones to make the game more exciting despite having the same mechanics. Other games like Clue have randomized objectives based around a central theme (i.e., uncovering the murderer).

Roll-and-Move Board Games – Examples

Placement Strategy

Which Board Game to Choose and How Machi Koro

Also called Worker Placement games, this category requires you to choose where to put your pieces as opposed to letting the dice determine that for you. It requires more strategy than random chance.

Different pieces, or “workers,” have different abilities and are more effective in certain areas or situations than in others. You often have to budget your resources to afford better workers while competing against other players’ worker placement. The goal is often to create an effective network of workers that you complete the objective faster than the other players.

Things you may like

  • Higher focus on strategy rather than chance
  • There are many choices to make and many ways to play the game
  • Involves more direct competition, as your actions can compromise others’

Things you may not like

  • Early mistakes can severely hinder you later
  • It may take some time to learn the different workers’ abilities and where/how they are useful. Experience can create a barrier between players
  • These games involve a lot to manage, and require much multitasking; they aren’t as good for casual play

Themes

Worker placement games tend to have unique themes, as the “workers,” their stations, and the world around them all depend on their setting. Root, for example, is set in a fictional forest with warring bands of creatures. The different worker groups are different bands of animals. There’s no common list of worker placement themes as each game must be in a different setting to be unique, so you’ll have to explore the various titles to see what strikes your fancy.

Worker Placement Board Games – Examples

Cooperative

Types of Board Games Arkham Horror

Cooperative or co-op games involve a central goal that players work together, instead of compete, to achieve. They often involve a variety of things to manage and keep track of.

Generally, you will have to manage your own resources as well as the group’s, leading to a higher challenge than a single-player objective. Each player has to balance their own needs as well as everyone else’s, while battling some opposing force, such as a central villain or even just attrition of resources.

The goal of some cooperative games requires everyone to succeed for the players to win. Others require only some or just one player to win.

Things you may like

  • More casual than other games
  • Easier for beginners, because other players can support them
  • Don’t have to worry about battling other players—just work together

Things you may dislike

  • Not enough “action”
  • Less motivation to “win” than traditional games
  • Your success depends also on others’ actions, not just your own

Themes

Co-op games also have a wide variety of themes based around a central villain. For example, in the Dark Souls board game, players work together to defeat bosses from the video game series; in Pandemic, they fight against a plague threatening to take over the world. In some titles, one player works against the others, acting as the “archenemy” (e.g. the Magic: The Gathering Archenemy board game).

Cooperative Board Games – Examples

Political

Which Board Game to Buy Choose Catan

Political board games juxtaposition nicely with cooperative ones. Instead of working together to achieve one central goal for the group, players work both together and against one another — to succeed at the expense of others.

While sometimes players make deals with each other and form symbiotic relationships, everyone knows the end goal is to push everyone else down to succeed yourself. Until you get to the final push, though, you do need to cooperate so that others return the favor — you just have to make sure they’re helping you more than you’re helping them. Still, if you take too much more than you give, your “allies” might clam up and stop helping you at all, leaving you far behind. Political games are a constant struggle to balance these different aspects.

The general goal of political games tends to see all players steadily rising towards success until one player explodes ahead in advantage, seizing the objective unless they’re stopped by the other players.

Things you might like

  • Making deals with one another and managing diplomatic relationships
  • Managing out-of-game resources (e.g. trust)
  • Difficult, long-term strategy

Things you might dislike

  • Lying / being lied to or manipulated
  • Games can be highly fragmented as players team up against one another
  • Requires a lot of brainpower

Themes

Just like many categories, political games involve a variety of themes as developers strive to keep the market fresh. However, political games very often involve buying, selling, and trading resources—often natural resources.

Many of these games revolve around the building of a city, empire, business, or some other enterprise, as other players are trying to do the same. Sometimes, you’re not just competing for success, but for space. With a limited amount of area to build on, you have to amass enough resources to build your structure first, while blocking off other players.

Political Board Games – Examples

Deck-Building Games

Which Board Game to Choose Next Exploding Kittens

Deck-building games involve a set pool of cards players draw from throughout the course of the game to build a powerful deck. There are many different types of deck to build that emphasize different strategies and synergies.

The idea deck ultimately scores the most points or has enough resources and abilities to out-compete the other players. Usually, your deck must have a variety of different cards that work together, rather than just collecting each of a single powerful card. These games often have multiple, fast-paced rounds as players compete to build more powerful decks.

Deck-building games’ goals often revolve around using your deck be the first to achieve a goal or objective, or to outlast other players as your resources are stripped away.

Things you may like

  • Fast-paced
  • Requires quick thinking and analysis
  • Allows for complex strategy from relatively simple rulesets (often printed on the cards)

Things you may dislike

  • Strategy, while present, is short-term and transient
  • Success may depend somewhat on “luck of the draw”
  • Many don’t like the “drafting” portion of the game

Themes

While theme is often largely unimportant in deck building games, each is generally based around a specific context or situation in order to make gameplay more interesting. Some games might be based around combinations of tasty food, while others involve the formation of an effective army. However, as long as a theme doesn’t put you off, it usually doesn’t factor too much into the mechanics of a game.

Deck-building Games – Examples

Collectible Card Games & Trading Card Games

How to Choose Which Board Game to Buy MTG

Collectible Card Games (CCG) and Trading Card Games (TCG) are a popular format that also involve deck building. However, instead of a small, contained pool of cards from which everyone draws, players open booster packs contained with a random assortment of cards.

There is a functionally infinite amount of each card, so you aren’t limited by what comes in the box — just how much money you’re willing to spend opening packs, buying the cards directly, or trading for them. Some people just like to collect the cards in binders, but more often players construct decks to play against one another in casual or organized play.

In “Limited” formats, players will open a set number of booster packs and build a deck with only those cards. This format is similar to deck-building games, except each player’s card pool is their own. In “constructed” formats, players bring a deck with any cards from the game’s history, or from a specific slice of history. Some restrictions might be placed to keep various decks balanced.

Generally, the goal of TCGs and CCGs is to use your cards effectively against the opponent’s deck to bring their life total to zero.

Things you may like

  • More variety and control in deck construction; a focus on synergy and effective card combinations
  • Pretty cards and art to collect and play with
  • A constantly changing environment with new expansions keeps the game fresh and exciting

Things you may dislike

  • “Rotating” formats require you to invest in new decks relatively often
  • “Power creep” as cards from new sets outshine the cards you already own
  • The effectiveness of your deck often depends on your budget

Themes

CCGs and TCGs often encompass a single IP (though many do cross-overs), but each expansion builds upon that world or introduces a new one. While they all stay within the realm of the initial setting, they explore different aspects of it, such as Magic: The Gathering’s near-infinite planes.

TCGs and CCGs – Examples

Strategy Control and Domination

How to Choose Which Board Game to Buy Risk

Control and domination games generally involve seizing power over a board area. Usually requiring some element of strategy in creating workers (or an “army”), players compete for control over specific regions and seek to push other players out. This often includes some form of combat, though that might not necessarily be fighting — some games may require you to put other players out of business, so you have a Monopoly over the area.

Many of these games do overlap with Roll and Move games, as that level of random chance determines which spaces you land on and what actions you can complete there.

Things you may like

  • The ability to amass a large number of pieces and conquer regions
  • Playing the “long game” in strategy and sometimes politics
  • The constant struggle for power against other players

Things you may dislike

  • Games take long, and often start slow
  • If you fall too far behind, it can feel impossible to catch up
  • These games have been known to destroy friendships

Themes

Control and domination strategy games vary greatly in their themes, like most board games. However, there are two common themes that fit nicely into this category because of the style of play: war and commerce. These games can be perfectly represented by the fight to conquer territory and resources.

Strategy Control and Domination Board Games – Examples

Secret Identity / Puzzle Games

How to Choose Which Board Game to Buy One Night Werewolf

The goal of these games is to uncover a hidden piece of information, generally the “identity” of a player or some other character. The game’s format often revolves around some sort of mystery: someone is found dead, someone is a traitor, or someone is a monster. Generally, the game is won when that identity is discovered. These games are typically rules-light, focusing on the mystery instead of on mechanics.

Things you may like

  • Secrets, mysteries, and lies
  • Piecing together clues to solve a puzzle
  • Real-world critical thinking and problem-solving

Things you may dislike

  • Answers may become predictable over time
  • Completely randomized answers may not be engaging
  • Require a playgroup with good sportsmanship to maintain the mystery

Themes

Secret identity / puzzle games are most famous for their murder mystery tropes. However, the genre has expanded to include everything from werewolves to gangsters to haunted houses. Because these systems are very light on rules, most games with a theme that interests you will suit your needs.

Secret Identity / Puzzle Games – Examples

Party Games

Which Board Game to Choose Cards Against Humanity

Party games are easy, rules-light games whose focus is more on the social interaction between players. They provide an excuse to get together, have fun, catch up, and laugh without being bogged down by rules. You come away from games like this not with memories necessarily from the adventure or story of the game you played, but with memories of your friends and your time together. These games are like sandwich bread: they aren’t the central purpose of the experience, but rather a vessel that facilitates it.

Things you may like

  • Easy, simple rules to get started quickly
  • Short rounds–easy to start or stop whenever; you can always squeeze one more round in
  • Little to no preparation or setup required

Things you may dislike

  • Games are not very in-depth or complex
  • They won’t hold your attention for long
  • For more serious gamers, this is a “background” game, not a central focus

Themes

Party games have the most variation of all board game categories. There’s no point in describing the range of themes because — as you can see from the examples below–they can involve everything under the sun. Indeed, many of these titles don’t fit in a cohesive theme, or are entirely nonsensical. The point of party games is to have fun, not to worry about the canon of a setting or ruleset.

Party Games – Examples

Role-Playing Games

Which Board Game to Choose DND

Role-Playing Games (RPGs) have greatly ascended in popularity in the last few years, namely boosted by Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), featured in popular media like Stranger Things. These games have been around for decades, though, and D&D is only the tip of the iceberg.

RPGs require players to build characters and play in a fictional world — largely “theater of the mind” rather than on a physical board — and make decisions not as the player would, but based on the character’s personality. RPGs offer unlimited possibilities as the rules do not determine the story, but facilitate it.

One player is generally elected as GM or Game Master. They adjudicate rules and guide the story, but players have free rein in actions they choose to take. Games can take place over one evening, or stretch out across weeks to months, and even years in long-term campaigns. Overall, RPGs create a living, breathing environment that players can immerse themselves in and create their own story.

Things you may like

  • The freedom to do nearly anything you want
  • Rules are second to story: you can follow or ignore them at your leisure
  • Long-term campaigns allow for investment into story no other game can match

Things you may dislike

  • Rules can have a steep learning curve for beginners
  • Tough to begin because the culture, style, and gameplay is unique and different
  • Require players to often step out of their comfort zone and roleplay

Themes

While most board game categories have a ton of market proliferation to fill niche themes, RPGs don’t necessarily need that. RPGs are rules light because they allow players to fill in the gaps and make their own story. Even systems that are generally tied to a specific setting or theme can be converted to work in any direction you please. For example, D&D 5th edition has been converted to a Star Wars system if you want to play an epic space campaign instead of fight goblins and evil wizards.

That being said, there are a variety of RPGs whose rules are specifically designed to meet certain genres such as horror, mystery, or the wild west. There’s even a system if you have the urge to play as racoons on a racetrack.

RPGs – Examples

Combat Games

How to Choose Which Board Game to Buy King of Tokyo

Combat games have a focus on using units to fight your opponents’ in order to gain territory, resources, or else just generally dominate the battlefield. They have a lot of overlap with other categories, as they are often a core mechanic of games but aren’t advertised as “combat simulations”.

However, it’s important to recognize this type of game because you may be only interested in playing games with this type of action, or perhaps you want to avoid them because you prefer slow-paced strategy.

Success is determined most often as a combination of the number and power of units on each side, the placement of said units, and random chance (usually a dice roll). Most games won’t have a binary success/failure resolution system, and will instead involve degrees of success, represented by one side losing more or less units depending on the dice roll or other factors.

Things you may like

  • Bursts of fast-paced combat that can turn the tide of the game
  • Amassing units to smash armies against one another
  • A combination of action and strategy that keeps the game fresh and interesting

Things you may dislike

  • Heavy dependency on odds and randomization in combat
  • Difficult for beginners to recognize better units, cards, placement, or other strategy
  • Players’ game plans are often disrupted even by a single bad combat outcome

Themes

Combat games are often similar to Control and Domination strategy games in their themes. Generally, they focus on some kind of war, whether it be historical fiction or fantasy. Occasionally they’ll stretch the genre somewhat and include themes of commerce and economy. Typically, the theme is based around the nature of combat, and the rules are designed to match that.

Combat Board Games – Examples

Which Board Game to Buy – Conclusion

There are thousands of board games out there waiting to be purchased. However, when you’re deciding which board game to buy, it can seem nigh impossible to choose one that suits you. That’s especially true, if you’re new to board games and don’t know what to expect.

The diverse set of categories above should help you more closely define what interests you and what categories to explore. Sites such as X and Y allow you to browse these categories for games, and will suggest newer and more popular games to ensure you enjoy your purchase.

Do you know of any missing categories or examples for any of the categories above? Be sure to leave a comment to let us know what your favorite board games are and how they fit into these descriptors!

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