26 Classic Board Games for an Old-School Game Night

published Aug 9, 2023
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Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Level up your next chill day at home with our guide to having your best low-key home sesh ever. This content is presented in partnership with La-Z-Boy; it was created independently by our editorial team.

When game night rolls around, the only competition fiercer than playing the game itself is choosing which one to bust out. If your group is stumped by the hundreds of choices out there, bring it back to basics and choose from the best board games of all time.

Classic board games don’t have to be boring, and they also don’t have to be that old! Whether you want to escape to a fantasy land (oh, hey, Candy Land and Catan), show off your vocabulary skills (Scrabble and Balderdash, FTW), or impress with your strategic prowess (looking at you, Risk and Battleship), there’s a game for that. 

From iconic boards that have stood the test of time to new industry darlings, we’ve compiled the ultimate list of games. All you have to do on your next game night is pick one from these 26, and get playing.

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Many people consider checkers, also known as draughts, a gateway to chess, but the game is a challenging battle of patience and problem-solving on its own. The goal is to move diagonally on the black squares and overtake, or block, all of your opponent’s pieces. The iconic red-and-black checkered board and accompanying disks have their roots in 12th-century France, although many historians cite its origins as far back as 3000 BCE in the Iraqi city of Ur. So whenever you face off, remember that your next move has been in the works for thousands of years.

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This Hasbro staple with children riding slides on the box has roots in ancient Indian philosophy. In India in the 2nd Century BCE, it was known as “Snakes and Ladders,” or “Game of Knowledge.” The game was not played to be won, but to instead reflect your morals, either toward virtues (ladders) or vices (snakes). As you traverse the gridded board, you have opportunities to race toward the finish line by “climbing” the ladders, or you face “sliding” back where you came from on the chutes (or snakes). The game went to the U.K. as “Snakes and Ladders” in the 1890s, and it eventually transformed into its modern iteration in the U.S. in 1943.

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This board game with roots in India is the gold standard for the classic “chase” game. Known as “The Game of India,” Pachisi, as it was called, dates back to the 4th century BCE. In the game, four players, on teams of two, attempt to get all their pieces around a cross-shaped track before the other team, with the moves decided by numbers on dice or cowrie.

In the 1860s, European colonization led to the game’s appearance in England. When a version of Pachisi hit the U.S. around 1870, the game rebranded to Parcheesi, as it’s often known today. Parcheesi game boxes produced by Selchow & Righter and Winning Moves Games USA used to acknowledge it as the national game of India, but current iterations leave out its history on the box.

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Once you play chess, you’ll undoubtedly understand the phrase: “I’m playing chess, while you’re playing checkers.” No shade to its predecessor, but this game of kings, queens, and knights is hard. Its origins are widely contested, although most historians date it back to the 6th century BCE Asia.

The modern rules, with each piece’s distinct routes across the board, standardized in the 15th century — although the goal of overtaking your opponent’s pieces remained consistent as it evolved. Chess’ innate complexity and global competition circuit make it anything but child’s play, although it’s worth a study for the satisfaction of proclaiming, “Knight to E3!” à la Ron Weasley.

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You know the drill: You start playing Monopoly, and four hours later, someone flips the board. The history of this capitalist game is as convoluted as the gameplay. Originally thought to be created by Charles Darrow in the wake of the Great Depression, it was actually devised three decades earlier. In 1903, a progressive feminist named Lizzy Magie created Monopoly as a warning of the dangers of monopolization in America at the turn of the 20th century. While you don’t need a history lesson to catch on to the anti-capitalist undertones of Monopoly, know it’s all thanks to Magie the next time your thimble passes “Go.”

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Everyone’s favorite wordplay game has been a staple since the 1930s. But it wasn’t known as Scrabble until 1948 — it was originally called “Criss Cross” because of the pattern of the letters on the board. After its rebrand, it became a worldwide phenomenon, with editions created in dozens of languages. Armed with seven letter tiles, you must play off your opponents’ words on the board to score points, with less common letters like “Z”’ and “X” giving your score a boost. For Scrabble newbies who need a leg up: If you use all seven letters to make a word, you get a 50-point bonus.

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With roots in Parcheesi, Sorry! stands out from the classic “chase” games because it uses cards instead of dice to move players along. Introduced by Parker Brothers in 1934, the game incites chaos through “slides” that move pawns forward or backward, taking others in their path with them. Sorry! cards allow you to swap locations with any pawn on the board. With the mission to bring all four of your pawns to safety, every card pull can make the difference between victory and defeat.

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As the name suggests, Stratego — which came to be in the Netherlands in 1942 — is a game of strategy, specifically how to fight in a (pretend) war. It draws influence from a classic Chinese board game called “Game of the Fighting Animals” or “Animal Chess,” the latter of which informed the structure of modern gameplay. Two players work their way across a chess-like board, but there’s a kicker: Each player’s pieces have secret roles that are only discovered when one player attacks. With its Napoleonic flair, Stratego is the ultimate intro to the art of war.

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Candy Land invites players to draw cards to playfully journey through the Peppermint Stick Forest and Gumdrop Mountain toward the rainbow Candy Castle. The colorful game began in a 1940s hospital, thanks to the compassionate mind of Eleanor Abbott. She devised it as a way to keep children affected by the polio epidemic engaged during their recovery. Candy Land’s straightforward and whimsical nature entranced younger players and continues to be a staple in early child learning and grown-up game nights.

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Derived from the murder mystery parties of the early 20th century, Clue (or Cluedo) brings that intrigue to the board with a colorful cast of characters. British musician Anthony Pratt created the game during an air raid over Birmingham in England during World War II. His love of murder fiction and longing for pre-war parties combined to combat the stress. The game debuted to the public in 1949 so that everyone could unearth the nefarious Professor Plum … in the library … with the wrench.

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This game came onto the scene when card-playing was illegal in 1940s Communist Romania. Ephraim Hertzano created Rummikub to circumvent the card ban, fashioning tiles instead. The tiles had the same premise of playing cards — 13 “numbered” tiles, two jokers, and four suits — although the suits were replaced with four distinct colors to make gameplay easier for children. Hertzano and his family eventually moved to Israel, taking his overnight, tile-clearing hit with him and sharing Rummikub with the world in 1950.

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In 1957, French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse changed the trajectory of the board game with La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World), a game of diplomacy and conquest like the world had never seen. Parker Brothers brought it to the states in 1959 as Risk. It was the first war-like game of its kind to incorporate a multiplayer mode (rather than two players facing off). Risk shifted the paradigm of its predecessor, Stratego, by bringing lifelike conquest to a board game, complete with a world map and multiple enemy territories to occupy.

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Introduced in 1960 for the 100th anniversary of board game giant Milton Bradley, Life innovated the board game with the introduction of the spinning wheel, which eliminated the need for dice. As players travel Life Highway — choosing the career track or college — they stop at what some people consider milestones, like “Get Married” or “Buy a House,” potentially have a few kids, and ultimately try to make the most money for the end-game: retirement. Admittedly, it’s a narrow view of how to move through real life, but scooting your car down the board is still pretty fun.

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This is one of the greatest games that almost never was. When creators Marvin Glass and Burt Meyer tried to sell it to Milton Bradley in the early 1960s, the company fatefully called the game “plastic junk.” In reality, that “junk” became one of the most popular games on the market when it launched in 1963. Half the fun is building the “Rube Goldberg” device. Once completed, players can set off the trap to take out opponents and bring the mouse chase to fruition.

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For family members who like to cheat with the roll of a die, Trouble is a godsend. The roll-and-move staple that launched in 1965 is famous for its Pop-O-Matic — the plastic dome that makes a satisfying popping sound each time a player presses it to roll the die inside. Not only does it keep the die from going missing, but the Pop-O-Matic also keeps cheaters in check by shielding each roll from interference.

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The 1960s were a renaissance for innovative board games, and the decade’s crown jewel was Operation. Conceived by industrial design student John Spinello for a class assignment in 1962, the game was initially a desert exploration game where players had to “search for water” in Death Valley. When Milton Bradley bought the rights and debuted the game in 1965, they swapped exploration for Operation — and Cavity Sam, with his light-up red nose and punitive buzzing, was born.

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Before the Battleship we know and love debuted in 1967, the naval game was played in many iterations. Soldiers in the first and second World Wars used pencil and paper to play a game called Salvo. The Battleship precursor stands out from its modern counterpart in that it allows players to call up to five shots at a time instead of only one. In true Battleship fashion, though, the defender’s “Hit!” or “Miss!” gets you one step closer to capsizing a naval fleet. If you want to level up a classic game of Battleship, where you can only call out one coordinate at a time, use the Salvo feature for multiple attacks.

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A game of strategy, Othello’s similarities to chess begin and end with black and white pieces on a standard eight-by-eight grid. Goro Hasegawa reimagined an 1880s English game called Reversi when he created Othello in the early 1970s. The simple yet challenging game of conquest can switch dominance in a single turn as players vie to flip an opponent’s tiles to their color while continuing to place their own. Fun fact: While modern gameplay has a fixed start of two black and two white tiles at the center, Reversi allowed you to start the game from any position on the board.

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Child psychologist-turned-toymaker Howard Wexler was at the forefront of a board game renaissance in the 1970s. With a mission to create the next big strategy game, Wexler had a breakthrough when he decided to turn the playing field on its side — literally. Connect 4’s beautifully simplistic vertical gameplay didn’t take off until 1978, when it was no longer categorized as “vertical checkers,” but the satisfying plop of colored discs into the seven-by-six grid has endured with families for more than 50 years.

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The guessing game created by Israeli game makers Ora and Theo Coster came to the U.S. in 1979 to runaway success. Over the years, Guess Who? has evolved from a simple game of isolating characters by facial features and gender to editions with favorite franchise characters, from “Star Wars” to Disney, that can bring detailed storylines into the game. Still, what endures is the pronounced plop of a tile flapping shut as you get one step closer to Guessing Who.

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Dubbed “the biggest phenomenon in game history” by Time in 1984, Trivial Pursuit seamlessly blends the genres of board games and pub quizzes. Friends Chris Haney and Scott Abbott came up with the concept over a game of Scrabble in 1979. The game launched in 1981, and in 1984, they sold an unprecedented 20 million games. As the game has evolved with time — as only a quiz game can — it has maintained its six tentpole categories: Geography, Entertainment, History, Art and Literature, Science and Nature, and Sports and Leisure.

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A clever retelling of an old parlor game Dictionary, Balderdash has charmed players since 1984 with its outlandish game of real words no one has ever heard. True to the object of the game, “balderdash” means nonsense, as players try to guess the most plausible definition of an obscure word. While the most logical answer usually should win, the most outrageous answer typically reigns supreme. As the blueprint of similar nonsense games in the early aughts, like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash stands as the original game of laughs.

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Like any great idea, Pictionary plants its roots in a wild night in with friends. Creator Rob Angel started playing “charades on paper” in 1981 with a couple of roommates in his apartment in Spokane, Washington. When his mom sent him a care package with the recently created Trivial Pursuit, he realized his nontraditional board game could have a wider audience than just his living room. The game’s wild success made Pictionary an instant classic in 1985, with over 38 million games sold in the years since.

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was $48.99

This game’s conquest of modern game nights began in 1995 with German designer Klaus Teuber. Unlike other epically long games like Monopoly or Risk, Catan keeps a player’s interest for the hour or two it takes to play, making each turn crucial and wins hard-fought. With expansion packs that incorporate everything from pirates to traders to knights, the game feels fresh and exciting every time you sit down to play.

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A relative newcomer, Codenames debuted in 2015 and found traction in its simplicity and strategy. It’s a new kind of guessing game where teams must work together to find all the words assigned to them using clever clues that knock out as many words as possible in one go. Codenames is at its best when players aim for truly obscure one-word clues — which can just as easily backfire and score a point for the other team.

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As the name suggests, Wavelength tests how in tune you are with your teammate. Using a circular dial and a prompt card with two extremes — such as hot and cold or hero and villain — one teammate must offer a hint of where to point the arrow on the spectrum, while the other must correctly guess where the clue lands. Introduced to the board game world in 2019, it’s a masterclass in silliness as players quickly adjust their clues to get on their partner’s “wavelength.”