Getting together with friends at the table has proven difficult during a global pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the board game industry from continuing to release fantastic new games. Even licensed games, which have often been derided in the past as quick cash-grabs, have proven some of the best family games around thanks to fun game mechanics and popular themes.
We’ve slightly modified our typical age range compared to the video game lists, as there are very few Mature-themed board games released in any given year. The Older Teens category is for games that recommend a minimum range of around 14 due to more complex systems and strategies.
As always, just because a game can be played by younger kids, doesn’t mean teens and adults won’t enjoy them as well!
Younger Kids (Under 10)
Disney Jungle Cruise Adventure Game
The live action film may have been delayed, but you can still enjoy this fun pick up and deliver game along a river cruise, based on the hilariously archaic Disney theme park ride. In Jungle Cruise Adventure Game, each player pilots their own boat and passengers, and takes turns rolling dice and drawing cards to see what terrible yet humorous fates befall them.
Light strategy elements include discovering which passengers are worth more points, where to place them on the boat, and how to balance passengers and cargo to score the most amount of points while racing down the dangerous river.
Last Defense uses the standard co-op gameplay of gathering cards to complete tasks, with a very important twist: you only have 20 minutes. The game uses a free mobile app to track the time, as well as spawning monstrous threats like space aliens, giant tentacles, and spider robots via fun news alerts.
Players run around the city gathering cards to rescue scientists while avoiding the monsters. It’s a simple concept made better with the frantic, fast-paced structure and highly thematic app.
Small World of Warcraft
Small World is almost a decade old, and still one of our favorite light strategy board games. Small World of Warcraft replaces the generic fantasy factions and powers with those from the Warcraft series, such as Night Elves, Orcs, and Murlocs, and traits like fishing, beastmaster, and portal mage.
The brightly colored world of Azeroth fits in perfectly with the cheery battles of Small World, making this a great version for newcomers and fans.
Something Wild is a series of Disney-themed card games by Funko Games. Each pack is a stand-alone card game resembling Rummy, as players draw cards and try to match suits, sequences, and numbers. The twist lies with the included Funko figure and the separate deck of power cards. When playing the matching color, players can activate the power, such as turning purple cards wild or a chance at a free card draw.
Creating a proper match rewards you with that power, and the first to collect three powers wins. It’s easy to teach and quick to play, with nice Funko art on each card – the perfect stocking stuffer.
Older Kids & Teens (10-14)
Horrified: Universal Monsters
In Horrified players work together to defend a village from an onslaught of classic Universal movie monsters such as Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster. They’ll need to travel around the board collecting item tokens while escorting villagers and avoiding the dangerous monsters.
Each monster has a unique set of objectives that must be completed before they can be vanquished, allowing players to divvy up tasks between smashing coffins, searching for cures, and saving a hapless villager. Horrified also features high-quality components, including plastic minis and large character sheets for each monster.
Disney Villainous has been one of the biggest hits in the world of licensed board games, spawning several expansion packs (the latest releasing this year). Marvel Villainous takes the same basic concept, this time starring the Big Bads from the Marvel universe, such as Thanos, Hela, and Ultron.
Like Disney Villainous, each villain has their own deck, player board, and win condition. As a nod to the shared universe of the comics and movies, fate decks are shuffled together – Iron Man is just a big a threat to Ultron as he is Thanos, and the Marvel villains tend to feature far more player interactivity compared to their Disney counterparts.
Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons
Challenge of the Amazons is a cooperative adventure where players play as one of five unique Amazon warriors (including Diana, aka Wonder Woman) defending Themyscira from different villainous threats. The three villains, including Ares and Cheetah, each have their own decks, methods of conquest, and overall complexity and difficulty level.
The heroic Amazons will need to coordinate their plans and play cards to move around the gorgeously illustrated map, collecting artifacts and vanquishing evil forces.
Older Teens & Adults (14+)
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Gloomhaven remains one of the best RPG board games ever made, but it’s also and intimidatingly huge box with an equally intimidatingly price tag. Jaws of the Lion is the perfect solution. It’s a stand-alone spin-0ff that features most of the same rules in a much more digestible format, including using the pages of the scenario book rather than separate map tiles to build each dungeon area.
Jaws of the Lion may be cheaper, but it still features the awesome card and mini-based dungeon crawling that makes it so compelling, including four distinct character classes, 16 monsters, and 25 scenarios. This is a must-have for those looking for an RPG experience they can play over dozens of sessions, and will almost assuredly lead to getting the main game and it’s upcoming sequel.
Pan Am combines gameplay ideas and concepts from many of our favorite games, including route connections, bidding, and worker placement as players build their fledgling airline into a global conglomerate during the first half of the twentieth century.
The goal is to generate money and collect stocks by connecting routes between cities, which requires the proper size airplane and destination cards (or airports). Everything is fought over by placing engineers in purchasing spaces that can be outbid, but the real twist lies with the titular airline company of Pan Am. Pan Am expands on its own every turn, gobbling up other players’ routes for a hefty payday. Thus the winner is the biggest corporate sellout. Capitalism, ho!
Remember the joy of laying tiles and scoring points in Carcassonne? What if instead of one big bag of tiles you each had to purchase your own personal tiles, and you were timed each round when placing them, and you had to deal with the occasional skeleton, evil mage, and gelatinous cube?
Sorcerer City puts a delightful twist on the tile-laying gameplay, yet keeps the rules simple and fun. Each player starts with their own starter pile of tiles, and using the timer app (or sand timer), quickly places those tiles, in order, to generate money, mana, and military power. Resources are spent between rounds to earn new powers and tiles, while monster tiles invade each players city, forcing clever adaptations. Sorcerer City is perfect for Carcassonne fans ready to graduate to something a bit meatier.