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8 best board games for adults: From Scrabble to Exploding Kittens

No one is ever too grown up for a board game. After all, who hasn’t spent hours with friends arguing over whether something is or isn’t in the dictionary or tried to prevent a family member from expanding their property portfolio?

The nights are drawing in, and once again board games are coming into their own. But what exactly makes for a brilliant board game?

Firstly, it must be fun. This doesn’t mean it has to be silly or full of jokes, but it has to feel mentally invigorating and moreish. It must absorb players and ideally inspire a sense of competitiveness between one another.

Secondly, it can’t be too complicated (note, this doesn’t mean it can’t be difficult to excel in). Anything that has reams of rules and caveats to unpick and explain after each move is going to make the game stilted and dull.

Thirdly, a good board game should engender a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. You should feel pride at your progress. And lastly, board games should provide unity and comraderies even if you are all trying to outdo one another.

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How we tested

We tested these games with groups in different combinations of adults aged between 18 and 71. We played each game at least once and took particular interest in how the instructions were communicated and laid out. We also wanted to see that each game was well-made and packaged.

Mainly, we wanted to know how enjoyable the game was. Were we on the edge of our seats? Did we raise voices and shriek? Did we all want to play again? Well, these are the ones that passed with flying colours.

The best adult board games of 2021 are:

Professor Puzzle Backgammon

Best: Overall

One of the oldest known board games, Backgammon’s history can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to the Middle East. It is a fast-paced game for two that is completely addictive. In basic terms, each player must “bear off” or get rid of all 15 of their checkers from the board by using skill, strategy and enjoying a pinch of luck that dice affords all of us. We can confirm that even absolute beginners can catch the Backgammon bug after a couple of games.

You can get all sorts of Backgammon boards with some costing hundreds of pounds. But this gorgeous, diminutive wooden version (28 x 3.3 x 15cm) has all the style at a snip of the price. We were chuffed at the portability of it, too – Backgammon and holidays belong together.

Catan Studio Catan legendary board game

Best: For invested players

You and your fellow players (there must be at least three of you) have just discovered Catan, a land rich in natural resources. The aim of the game is to gain dominance over Catan, bartering and strategizing in order to upgrade humble settlements into powerful cities.

If you want to win, it’s essential to have a game plan and to think ahead – anticipating other player’s moves and working out plan b’s. There is no room for luck or chance in Catan.

Be warned – you’ll need plenty of time to play this game and you’ll need to be invested. We think it’s perfect for a long weekend away with friends as it’s very likely it’ll take more than a day to conclude.

Mattel Scrabble original board game

Best: For word nerds

Every wordsmith fancies themselves as a bit of a Scrabble champ, which is why it’s one of the most competitive board games out there. Creating the longest word with the highest scoring letters is a tricky business – and we advise having a dictionary handy as no game of Scrabble worth its salt can happen without the validity of a word being called into question.

It’s a classic game for good reason – it’s absorbing, frustrating and brilliant all in one go. And here’s a little tip – “ew” is an officially valid word. You’re welcome.

Big Potato ‘Top of the Pops’ music party game

Best: For unbridled fun

Top of the Pops was a childhood staple for generations, but even if you’re too young to remember, there are no age limitations on enjoying the game. You work in teams and there are different rounds – with players going head to head to “win” the different categories. We love the board and challenge cards with a retro cassette design.

You don’t even need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music – just knowing some popular tunes from the Sixties onwards is going to stand you in good stead. You’ll complete song-related challenges against a timer, have to guess the artist by quoting lyrics and even attempt to replicate a song on the (included) kazoo.

This is a light-hearted, fun game that can involve up to 20 – yes 20 – people. Expect to laugh, a lot.

Ginger Fox ‘Love Island’ card game

Best: For flirting

This is for anyone mourning the end of this year’s Love Island. A selection of cheeky and flirty challenges await – you’ll need to couple up with a friend or partner before spinning the bottle to determine your challenge, of which there are 115. There’s also blank cards which you can use to write your own challenges on, which might be enquiries into your partner’s twerking skills or who their crush is. We can’t say this is the most sophisticated or complex of games, but it is cheap and very cheerful.

Exploding Kittens

Best: Quirky game

With 10-million copies of this game sold, the creators have struck gold when it comes to challenging, cut-throat fun. While not strictly a board game we’re going to bend the rules a bit because it’s just that good.

With a strapline of “Betray your friends. Try not to explode” and a call to adopt cruel strategies in order to win, we defy anyone not to be curious. This is a game for two to six players and you essentially have to avoid being blown up. Don’t worry we’ll explain...

In the deck of cards, which are placed face down, lurk exploding kittens. If you draw one of these cards you “explode” and are out. There are however other cards that help you avoid drawing an exploding kitten – such as “see the future” or “skip”. You win the game by being the last person not to have blown up. If it sounds complicated, it’s not but it’s probably best to learn on the job.

Zatu Games Rummikub black

Best: For strategists

This is the collector’s edition – featuring a sleek all-black aesthetic including tiles and playing mat – of the classic numbers game which requires players to adopt constantly changing strategies.

Rummikub essentially requires players (between two and four) to lay down groups of tiles in runs of at least three determined by colour or number which will earn you a score – the winner is the first to get rid of all the tiles in their rack, at which point they shout “Rummikub!” If you cannot put down a run of three you pick up another tile, and so on. It’s addictive, engrossing and easy to pick up.

Allingham Games The Good Life

Best: For green fingers

This is Monopoly for gardeners. Instead of trying to expand your property portfolio, you’ll be buying and trading pigs and chickens as well as trying to fill up your gardens and allotments with produce.

Don’t worry though, just because there’s no “straight to jail card” doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of spanners to be trown in the works. Watch out for penalties for trespassing, catching the bird flu and especially foxes who are a constant threat to your chickens chickens.

There are a lot of rules and the first couple of rounds are quite intense as players get to grips with the game’s objectives. However as people start to get the hang of it, tactics start to come into play. What we really liked was that you learn a lot about sustainability from some of the challenges in the game, especially thanks to the “natural selection” cards, which are multiple choice questions with an eco leaning.

It looks lovely too – bright, fresh and inviting, just like the countryside.

The verdict: Adult board games

It’s been going for thousands and years and still Backgammon takes some beating at a brilliant board game. This particular set is a beautiful bargain – snap it up; you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, Catan will provide you with a magnificent marathon of a game while The Good Life will transport you to a bucolic alternative reality.

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For more gaming fun, read our review of the best two-player board games

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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