1. Risk — This is probably my favourite board game of all time. Truthfully, though, it is not a game for everyone. You must be patient, ruthless, cunning and cruel to be successful at a round-table Risk night. It is chess with the human element thrown in, and the occasional rogue set of die. You must be prepared not only to stab the person next to you in the back, but also to cut out their metaphorical heart.
2. Carcassonne — Great example of a game that is easy to learn but hard to master. As far as board games go, Carcassonne is as portable as they come — partly because you create the “board” as you go. The object of the game is to flip map tiles, one per turn, and occupy as much territory as possible before the game’s end. The set-up is similar to other games, but the real fun of Carcassonne comes from screwing over your friends, building a dead-end road or a city wall where they were hoping to expand their kingdom.
3. Trivial Pursuit — This is a game that always seems to make appearances around Christmas time. Somehow, I feel as though you have to be a “buff” in some major category to enjoy playing Trivial Pursuit. Whether you’re the one who’s watched CNN every day since 1980, or you’re the English major with nothing else to do with their degree, if you have extra brain juice hanging around with nothing else to do, Trivial Pursuit is a great game. Personally, I always preferred playing the Trivial Pursuit game for kids . . . the questions are so much easier.
4. Chess — Chess almost always ends in tears. There is something strangely intense about it; losing hurts. The game puts your brain and the brain of your opponent on a scale. The feeling of your heart plunging down into your belly when your queen is taken is a one-of-a-kind moment. Only to the victor — whose brain is obviously superior — go the spoils.
5. Scrabble/Banana Grams — Scrabble is notoriously boring. But for the master wordsmith it’s a game where your skills are allowed to come alive! For anyone with an extensive vocabulary, Scrabble is exhilarating. Seeing the disgust on a friend’s face when I spell the word “squirmy” across a triple word score, with the “q” landing on a double letter score is just oh-so satisfying.
Banana Grams is a lot like scrabble, but portable. I would even go so far to suggest that Banana Grams is the superior game.
6. Cranium — Cranium is a game that combines the best of Pictionary, charades, trivia games and word play. Because it takes a piece out of so many different games, there is a little something for everybody. You could take Cranium out at a party, and — so long as it is still relatively early — it can be fun for everyone. Managing this is no easy task and deserves recognition.
7. Apples to Apples — The only game on this list that doesn’t have anything that resembles a board in its packaging. Simply put, Apples to Apples (ATA) is a game that will make you laugh. Whereas chess and Risk are competitive games, ATA is one big, wonderful joke. For those of you who haven’t played it, ATA is very simple: there are red cards and green cards. The green cards are adjectives (such as scary, smelly or patriotic) and the red cards are nouns (such as knives, cheese or Abraham Lincoln).
One person acts as a “judge” and turns over a green card. Everyone else — hands full of the red noun cards — must pick the card in their hand that best matches the adjective. The winner of each round is the person who picks the red card that best matches the judge’s green card. This description sounds a bit complicated, but once you break the game open and start to play, things will become absolutely ridiculous very quickly. The only way to win is to know what goes on inside the heads of your friends.
8. Citadals/Settlers of Catan — Not quite classics yet, these are both games that have been released semi-recently. Both are kind of like Risk or Age of Empires but quicker and a lot more fun. With Citadels you have to understand the motives of the people you choose to play with, while with Settlers of Catan you have to be pretty cunning to defeat your opponent — make sure they don’t cut off your roads and beware of that damned robber! Both are new board games that deserve more attention than they currently receive. At the same time, these are two games that cannot be played with just anyone. Your opponents must enjoy a good strategy based board game to enjoy either of these titles.
9. Guess Who? — I love Guess Who? That is why it’s in this top ten. I love it. And I refuse to leave it out. Who cares if the questions required to guess the character’s identity become predictable? Who cares if lucking into a highly specific question is the best way of attaining victory? Anyone who played Guess Who? as a kid understands this was the best game ever, and growing up can never ruin that.
10. Ticket to Ride — The year is 1900 and you play one of five railroad tycoons eager to emerge with the top railway this side of the Atlantic. The game begins on a map of the Continental U.S. (including stops in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal). Similar to Monopoly, the object of the game is to purchase/occupy as many empty property spaces as possible — only this time the properties are all railways in the ever-expanding train game. As more and more pathways get claimed, you’ll find yourself battling it out with other players to get from point A to point B before your competition beats you to the punch. Fun, fun game.
Honourable mentions: Pictionary, Outburst, Candy Land, The Game of Life