For decades board games lived largely unloved lives, their battered boxes pulled off dusty shelves on rainy days and holidays. But as we approach essentially another national lockdown, many of us will be dusting them off once more.
Back in their heyday, board games were designed to be simple, with concepts that could appeal equally to your gran or your toddler. Games like Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk give the illusion of nuance and complexity, but once you’ve mastered the basics, they’re mostly luck-based distractions.
More involved titles have existed on the peripheries of popular culture for decades, games that require a day or more to play and a doctorate to understand their labyrinthine rule-set.
But times have changed. Geek culture has become pop culture, and lockdown has only accelerated our desire for physical, social experiences. Now board games of dizzying complexity are multi-billion pound enterprises, played by City bankers as well as nerdy teens.
It’s hard to overstate the size of the market: The GamesWorkshop, best known for its futuristic Warhammer 40,000 game, is worth more than ITV or Marks & Spencer. Earlier this year more than 80,000 people backed a game called Frosthaven, generating $13m to produce a game that costs $145 to buy. The industry as a whole was worth $7.2bn in 2017 and that’s expected to rise to $12bn by 2023.
Part of the appeal of board games is the nostalgia of recreating childhood experiences, with successful board game adaptations including Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s also a huge market for out of print games, with second-hand titles changing hands for hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
So if you’re looking for ways to survive lockdown 2.0, here’s our guide to some of the best board games out there. But beware: once you tumble down the rabbit hole, you may never escape.
Ticket to Ride
Launched in 2004, Ticket To Ride is a “gateway game”, spanning the gap between the basics like Risk – which are sneered at by the board game community – and more complex titles.
It sees you compete with friends to collect “train cards”, which allow you to build points-scoring railways across America or Europe. The simple premise can be picked up by children, but there are layers of strategy and nuance that give it a huge amount of replay value.
What could be more perfect for a lockdown afternoon than collaborating with your family to fight the spread of deadly diseases? This cooperative title requires teamwork and communication, utilising the strengths of the individual players to beat a pandemic before it gets out of control.
With varying difficulty levels, this is a game that requires skill and determination to beat, with the very real possibility that a deadly disease may end up the winner. At least in this fictional version, you can always have another attempt.
If the thought of fighting off a pandemic sounds a bit too close to home, why not try instead combatting a host of classic monsters terrorising a town? In Horrified you and your teammates must pool your skills and resources to fight off Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Each has a unique set of characteristics that require specific strategies to overcome. Monstrously good fun.
Another game of conquest, this one sees you transported to mythical ancient Egypt, where you play a god directing your armies and feeding on the power of prayer. It’s a deep, tactical experience that’s as much an insight into the mind of your opponents as it is into Egyptian mythology.
A board game you can play alone or with others, Terraforming Mars sees you take control of a corporation attempting to set up a human colony on Mars.
You must make an atmosphere, create drinkable water and encourage immigrants to take the trip to your brave new world. It’s a game of space capitalism that Elon Musk hopes to be playing for real, played on a handsome board of interlocking hexagons.
Combining elements of Choose Your Own Adventure, dungeon crawling and grudging cooperative play, Gloomhaven is designed to be played over many sessions. Summing up its complex rules in a pithy sentence is all but impossible, but this medieval European adventure is a truly unique experience.
As much a lifestyle as it is a tabletop game, Warhammer 40,000 doesn’t just involve highly complex battles, but assembling and painting an entire army of miniatures.
With tournaments across the world, there is a hugely competitive scene, as well as more narrative game styles for less competitive players.
A game itself will comfortably eat up an afternoon, but it will take months to get to a stage where you’re ready to put your little space-men into bloody battle in the grim dark future of the 41st century.