Best Classic Board Games
Everyone knows treasured favorites like Monopoly and Yahtzee, but what about the classic board games that have stood the test of time and even contributed their mechanics to the modern board games of today?
Let’s go on a journey through history and look at the best classic board games out there and contemporary versions you can try today! Find the best retro games below.
Dating back to around the 7th century, Chess is still a dominant and iconic figure in the tabletop gaming world.
Its history has seen empires rise and fall on and off the board. Its strategies have evolved from fast-paced action to the highly methodical strategy that we know today. The last big shift was when Deep Blue, a computer built specifically to play chess, beat the world champion, Garry Kasparov, signaling the fall of humanity’s dominance in chess.
Today Chess is still incredibly popular and played competitively worldwide through FIDE, the worldwide chess federation. It’s even seen a big popularity boost after being featured prominently in the Netflix series Queen’s Gambit.
Also try: Hive
Catan is responsible for pushing the popularity of modern board games worldwide. There’s been innovation before and since, but the initial popularity of Catan is probably one of the most influential tabletop games in modern times.
Catan has some great expansions to include other players as well as many games like Catan with similar mechanics. It’s become such a household name that chances are, if you walk into any random house you’ll probably see a copy of it on their shelf. They also may call the police on you, so don’t do that.
Also try: Archipelago
Catan is still pretty modern but if you enjoy it and are looking for something a little different, try Archipelago.
Abstract strategy games have really stood the test of time, and checkers is another classic that hit’s the list. Old Hanna Barbera cartoons come to mind with characters comically jumping every single piece on the board in a single move. This comic is pretty spot-on too.
It’s a simple game, and I only really play it at restaurants that have it built into the table, but the fact remains that Checkers is still around and will probably outlast us all.
Also try: Quoridor
Ah, we meet again my old nemesis. Monopoly is a classic that we love to hate. It’s a game that’s specifically designed to be unfair and ruin all the players while simultaneously rewarding one.
Be that as it may, it’s still a classic, and surprisingly still played competitively to this day. I actually enjoyed Monopoly quite a bit, and it was a weekly ritual during my stint in the Navy. There were a lot of angry shouting cans thrown around the room, but we still had fun.
Also try: Monopoly Deal
It’s a modern take on the classic theme in travel form. There are still some mind-numbingly unfair cards in the mix, but games last 15-20 minutes, and the rules and mechanics are actually pretty decent in comparison.
My mother taught me to play Backgammon when I was young. She used to love to play it with her sisters growing up. It’s been a while since I picked up a game, but it’s still extremely popular today.
I was walking through the streets of Istanbul one day and every five feet there was another game of Backgammon going on. Everywhere you looked, people would just be sitting at cafes enjoying a mid-afternoon Turkish tea and a game of backgammon.
Also Try: Battle Sheep
It may be a bit silly-looking, but Battle Sheep uses similar mechanics and is a quirky modern take that reminded me of the classic.
It was a marketing gimmick for sure and I never got the electronic version, but I still have fond memories of playing. During my time in the Navy, I actually was lucky enough to play Battleship on one of the last remaining US battleships, the USS Missouri.
The little red and white pegs were obnoxious to keep track of but the game still holds up today as a fun diversion.
Also try: Captain Sonar
Mancala dates back all the way to ancient times, and the board is commonly seen in museums as well as on board game shelves.
A board game that’s older than the Roman Empire and still popular in modern times has clearly earned its spot on our classic games list. Originally thought to have come from Ancient Sudan, over time it’s spread throughout the world and has been entertaining the masses ever since.
It uses a simple system of pits and “seeds” that are picked up and “sown” throughout the board. This led to the count-and-capture mechanic that plenty of modern board games use. Its simplistic roots hide an intensely strategic and competitive game.
In its base form, it’s completely mathematics-based, which led to programmers designing computers that can play a “perfect” game. Regardless, it’s still an incredible game that’s stood the test of time and is still enjoyed worldwide.
Also try: Five Tribes
Clue / Cluedo
The deductive reasoning and slight bluffing involved have made it a household staple for years inspiring the cult classic movie of the same name.
The roll and move mechanics are definitely dated but the questions, accusations, and the crestfallen looks on players’ faces when they’re 100% sure they’ve got it right are some of the many elements that make Clue a classic.
Clue remains a household name with dozens of reskinned versions of any fandom you could possibly imagine. I had a Simpson’s version growing up. Although it is a classic, I peaked when I legitimately won the game on my second turn. I’ve refused to ever play another game after that.
Also try: Mysterium
Yahtzee was originally dreamed up by a Canadian couple who wanted a diversion while spending time on their yacht, and they called it the “yacht game”. It was packaged and mass-marketed years later to get the household name and scoring system that we know today.
Also try: King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo also uses the Yahtzee-style mechanic (roll 3 times and keep the result), but instead of writing down scores, players punch other monsters in the face.
It is constantly updated with different fandoms and genres to give players something to flex their trivia muscles against.
Also try: The Game of Wolf
The Game of Wolf is a strategy-based trivia game that requires players to pick their wolf pack based on other players’ knowledge or go Lone Wolf to get double points!
I was debating which one to put on the list, Axis & Allies or Risk. Axis & Allies definitely came first and has an important place in shaping the board game industry and wargaming, but Risk seems to be more of a household name. To the average player, if you mention the two games, Risk will more likely be recognized than Axis & Allies.
Risk has long been the easy go-to for wargames. It involves a handful of dice and a lot of little pieces moving around the board. Due to Hasbro’s massive presence in the board game and toy industries, it’s easy to see how most people have heard of it and played it at some point.
There are also a ton of different themed versions, but unlike most others, each themed version of Risk adds some kind of new element that keeps it fresh, and oftentimes completely unrecognizable as a risk game.
For example, Star Wars Risk still falls under the Risk name, but the way units work and the two factions play completely independently from any other Risk game.
Also try: The 7th Continent
Stratego is the classic “hidden chess” game. Players face off on opposite ends of the board while all their pieces are hidden as they try to find the opponent’s flag.
Stratego is all about the setup. Each piece can be set up on the board in any of the starting positions. One player could hide their flag front and center, and another could hide it behind a wall of bombs. It’s all about bluffing and manipulating your opponent while catching them off guard.
As the name implies, it’s highly strategic and as long as you change your layout and strategy, it has an incredibly long shelf life.
Also try: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
Dominoes originate as far back as 1300’s China and can still be found lying around in most households.
They were originally used like playing cards until paper became more common, and there’s a variety of different ways to play with Dominoes. Simply stacking them and knocking them down, or using them in an actual tabletop game are all valid ways of playing with them.
There are hundreds of ways to play Dominoes, and no wrong one to choose.
Also try: Kingdomino
Kingdomino uses similar pieces as traditional dominos, but instead of pips, it uses pictures of different parts of a kingdom. Players create their own little domino kingdom that will later be scored and compared to their opponents.
Sternhalma (Chinese Checkers)
Not to be confused with #16 on the list, Sternhalma (more colloquially known as Chinese Chess) has been around in one form or another since the mid-1800s. From Hoppity, Halma, and Sternhalma, It wasn’t until clever (and a little racist) marketing that it became the Chinese Chess that we know today.
Its origins are not at all from China but were instead based on the German game Halma, which in turn was based on the American Hoppity.
At the time it was a marketing gimmick to portray Sternhalma as coming from the “Far East” and used to prominently portray a racist stereotype on the box. Funnily enough, when it was introduced to the Chinese market it became immensely popular, but nobody had ever heard of it before.
To this day, Sternhalma is still marketed as Chinese Checkers just without racial iconography. It’s still very popular and can often be seen in any game store, but the popularity of competitive play lags behind the more strategic abstract tabletop games like Chess or Chinese Chess.
Also try: Santorini
Santorini has grown from a purely abstract game into a much more complex and brightly colored one. If you’re looking for a game that has evolved over time and is more strategic than Sternhalma, definitely check out Santorini.
Boggle is the classic word creation game that uses a customized dice box. When shaken, the letters fall randomly giving a selection of consonants and vowels that are then used to create new words. Published originally in 1972, Boggle has been a household staple for families looking for fun word games that didn’t involve the setup or breakdown of Scrabble.
Also try: Unspeakable Words
Similar to Boggle, players create words using cards instead of dice. The difference here is that if you’re unable to come up with a good word, you can always call upon Cthulhu and speak in the tongues of madness to get a leg up.
Xiangqi (Chinese Chess / Elephant Chess)
Xiangqi or Chinese Chess was actually created in China around 200 B.C.E. It’s commonly confused with Chinese Checkers because of the similar name but they are actually nothing alike.
Xiangqi was created by a Chinese general after one of his battles. It came to its current name for the unique pieces it uses. Xiang + qi translates roughly to “Elephant Game”, the elephant being one of the major pieces used.
The game simulates the conditions in which the actual battle was fought, and became popular for its strategic and entertainment value. The pieces all move similar to Chess with a few exceptions.
I was personally taught this game by my nephew when I was still in high school and loved the strategies and level of competitiveness that went along with it.
Also try: Onitama
Not nearly as popular as it once was, Mouse Trap has a place in gaming history as the 90’s gimmick games dominated the market. It uses a plastic Rube Goldberg machine to capture pesky rodents.
Mouse Trap is a silly game that’s dated and often still found in garage sales and on eBay. However, as 90’s kids will know, it was one of the most popular games of its time. Usually, players would simply set up the traps and watch the ridiculous thing play out instead of actually playing the game, though.
Also try: Khet Laser Game
If you’re looking for complex physical movement in games, try Khet. It’s a series of mirrored pieces placed on a board that uses a laser pointer to direct the flow around the board.
Blokus is a fun little puzzle game. It uses simple Tetris-like pieces added to a main board to play. The player who is able to place most of their pieces onto the board is declared the winner.
It’s simple, and yet this type of game has remained popular throughout the years. Using spatial reasoning with a dash of competition, you have an instant classic.
Also try: Patchwork
Patchwork is similar in that it uses tiles placed on a board, but it’s a much more thought-out and complete game than Blokus. If you’ve sat around the gaming table and played enough games of Blokus it may be time to try a much more serious strategic game.
The idea for Operation came from a University of Illinois student named John Spinello in 1964. It was part of a project in a class on which he reportedly got an “A”. Afterward, he sold the rights to Marvin Glass who marketed it and helped to make it the household game that never seems to have the right-sized rubber band in the box.
Operation is probably most gamers’ first introduction to dexterity games and as a child, I was so frightened to try it because I thought I was really going to be electrocuted for failing. Today, Operation is still being produced by Hasbro and a copy can probably still be found in your attic.
Also try: Beasts of Balance
Beasts of Balance is a modern-day physical dexterity game. It uses physical pieces mixed with A.I. As you stack the pieces on the board you can use your phone to make them come to life showing the beasts stacked and balanced on the table.
Parcheesi has many different names and variants. Possibly the aptest name for the game is “Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht”, which translates to “Men Don’t Get Angry”, and if you’re playing this game, you’ll immediately know that that’s a lie.
All of the variants play pretty much the same way. Each player has a group of pawns that need to make it around the board and safe back at home. The problem is that other players will smash into them and send them flying back to the start.
The rage-inducing, table-flipping gameplay usually happens when a piece is only a mere space or two from being safe before being sent hurtling back to the start.
Also try: Trouble
Trouble is a gimmick game that replaces the dice with the patented “Pop o’ Matic”, a bubble that you press and rolls the dice around. It’s basically the same game, but a little simpler and very portable.
It has a special place in my heart because I used to play this with my friends growing up, and I would carry around a copy in a backpack when I was in the Navy. I have a lot of good memories of this simple game all around the world.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best classic board games (and modern board game suggestions)! Let us know if we missed any of your favorites or if you have any ideas for contemporary versions of these classics. We’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below.