A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
As we reach the deepest darkest depths of winter, perhaps you’re looking for a way to pass the time without having to venture outdoors. If your Netflix watchlist is exhausted already, now’s the time to grab a four-player board game. And because the world of four-player board games extends far beyond Monopoly, we asked ten experts — including game store owners, board game reviewers, and even a board game illustrator — for what they consider the very best. Below find their top picks, with an option for everyone from beginners looking for their next game night standard to advanced players seeking a new challenge. While there are some games on this list that can be played by more (or fewer) people, our experts note that these are all ideal when played with just four.
Best overall four-player board game
If you find battling a fictional pandemic soothing when compared to watching the news, this game was cited by five of our experts as being one of the best four-player games on the market, with Greg May, owner of The Uncommons and Hex & Company, calling it a “stellar cooperative game.” The main objective is for players to work together to stop the spread of four diseases and save the world. “This is considered a modern classic because it has a simple set of rules, it has a theme that everyone can get into, and it is highly replayable,” says Ronny Alexander of cooperative board game review site Co-op Board Games.
Best four-player strategetic board game
A classic for a reason, Catan is, according to May, “perhaps the most important game of the past few decades.” Players collect resources to build a civilization from the ground up, earning points along the way. Players gain resources by rolling dice or bartering with other players, so the game requires “a lot of strategy and a little luck.” Because playtime can run on the longer side–and the rules are a bit more involved–this game is best suited for intermediate players. “It’s no accident that it’s such a popular game. Catan is such an endlessly adaptive game with so many opportunities to show off your skills at strategy,” says illustrator Stephan Walsh. Plus, there are a variety of expansions now available to keep the game fresh. [Editor’s note: Catan is sold out across multiple retailers, but we found a Game of Thrones edition available.]
Best four-player board game for beginners
If you’re looking for a more entry-level strategy game, three of our experts suggested Ticket to Ride as a more accessible alternative to Catan. It’s an adventure-style game where players attempt to cross the country and connect cities by building train routes. It is easy to pick up and can be played casually with family, “but also offers a level of strategy and tactics just deep enough for competitive gamers to return to time and again,” says Ian Ross, who runs the popular Instagram page Board Games as Art. “Playing with four keeps the board tight and the tension high.”
Space Base “offers a great blend of luck and strategy,” says Ross, because players have to roll the dice and choose their cards. Plus, “players have the potential to benefit from each other’s dice rolls, keeping everyone engaged and eliminating the tedium of waiting for your turn.” he says. The futuristic artwork, designed by Chris Walton, is also sure to delight any sci-fi fans.
Best four-player thematic board games
Quintin Smith, editor of game review site Shut Up & Sit Down, describes Isle of Skye as “an absolute box of delights.” The game challenges players to build and expand their Scottish island by bartering with other players. “There’s a sense of progress as you slowly build out this little map in front of you, and the shopping phase makes for plenty of cunning plays and funny mistakes.”
Story-driven adventure game Eldritch Horror can be played with 1-8 players, but Roy Carter, owner of Tribe Comics and Games, thinks it’s “perfect with four.” He adds that the game positively “oozes theme” and promises that “really horrible things will happen to your characters and that is part of the fun.”
For another spooky option, four experts recommended Mysterium to our sister site. Ronny Alexander, who runs the board-game review site Co-op Board Games, calls it “one of the best-looking board games in existence.” Dr. Michael James Heron of Meeple Like Us agrees: “It’s full of some of the most beautiful, creepy, and sinister art you’ve ever seen.” The game begins in a haunted mansion: the new owner invites a group of mediums to rid the house of spirits, by solving their murders through a series of clues.
“First published in 1986, Labyrinth is now considered a classic game”, says Nick Tee, founder of Board Game Reviews. In the game, players take turns shifting the walls and paths of a maze to block their opponents. The game combines both strategy and puzzle-solving, and can be enjoyed by adults and (slightly) older children alike. There are also various themed versions of the game, such as a Harry Potter edition, or a Pokémon board.
Best family-friendly four-player games
For fans of Pictionary, Smith recommends Pictomania, which he describes as being “more deep, exciting, and competitive” than the old game night standard. It is “a side-splittingly funny” game where players have to draw and guess at the same time, “resulting in remarkably poor drawings and guesses.”
“Imagine a game where the only goal is to tell a story, using narrative beats dealt out to you from a deck of cards adorned with whimsical fairy-tale imagery. Now imagine there are four of you, with different cards, different endings, and you’re all fighting for control to tell one single tale that has to make sense. That’s Once Upon a Time, and it’s glorious,” says Dr. Michael James Heron of Meeple Like Us, a board game review site with an accessibility focus. Plus, the storytelling and fantasy components make it an ideal choice for family game night.
“This is a great family card game and it’s easy enough that you can teach it to anyone in a matter of minutes,” says Kelsey Demers, who runs the board-game blog The Tabletop Family. She specifically loves the witty cards and the way the gameplay “bounces back and forth,” as everyone attempts to recruit clans of magical creatures away from their opponents’ kingdoms and into their own. “I love that you can play this with a wide range of ages and how it always brings about so many laugh out loud moments.”
In Telestrations, players alternate between drawing a word, and guessing what it is that their neighbour has drawn (sort of like a Pictionary pass-it-on). “Telestrations has the smallest imaginable distance between explaining the rules and everyone laughing,” says Michael James Heron, founder of Meeple Like Us. “I have tried it with dozens and dozens of people over the years — it has never failed to hit,” he says.
Best four-player board games for kids
Walsh told us that this “really sweet” game about competitive panda husbandry is a favorite of his kids. The game asks players to cultivate land plots and grow three different species of bamboo for the pandas. He describes it as the “perfect Christmas Day game,” for when you want something family-friendly and upbeat.
If you’ve been looking for more educational games to entertain your kids, try Timeline, which is “a simple game that asks players to guess the relative timing of historical events,” explains Dr. Joey J. Lee, Director of the Games Research Lab and Coordinator of the M.A. Program in Design and Development of Digital Games at Teachers College, Columbia University. Timeline has 220 cards with a historical event, discovery, or invention printed on one side. Players take turns placing their cards in a relative timeline before flipping them over to reveal the date. If the player guesses the correct date, the card stays; if not, it gets thrown out, and they must draw a new one. The first player to successfully place all of their cards down wins. The game is suitable for ages eight and up.
Best board game for advanced gamers
Andy Matthews, founder of Meeple Mountain, recommends Power Grid, a resource-management game where players compete to “keep costs down, power lots of cities, and profit.” The game takes about two hours to play, making it a solid bet for advanced gamers looking for a challenge. “If you love meaty games with lots of maths, this one’s sure to light up your group.”
Best cooperative four-player board games
Meeple Circus is a super fast, super fun board game where you begin the game with a pile of board game components. Once the carnival music starts to play, players race to “balance all of those components together in a complex sculpture where every pattern you make with the pieces earns you points,” explains Heron. The game tests your dexterity, skill, and teamwork abilities. “I give you thirty seconds before the whole thing collapses to the joy of the table,” he promises.
Best world-building board game
Another popular option is 7 Wonders which is “a trading and resource management game in which players build up their architectural wonder across three ages of time,” explains Dr. Joey J. Lee, Director of the Games Research Lab and Coordinator of the M.A. Program in Design and Development of Digital Games at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Efficiently building your civilization’s commercial routes, military or technology can give you an edge in the future.”
Best four-player party games
Walsh also loves the party game Dixit, which he describes as “a great icebreaker of a game, fantastic for getting everyone interacting.” The game begins with one player being designated the storyteller. That player makes up a sentence based on the image on one of the cards in their hand. Then each player selects the card in their hand that best matches the sentence and gives it to the storyteller. The storyteller shuffles the cards and presents them to the other players who place bets on which one is the original card, with the winners gaining points for correct guesses. As an added bonus, “the card artwork is beautiful, imaginative and sometimes a little surreal.”
For another party game with well-designed artwork, Lee suggests Azul, a strategy game where gamers fill in “beautiful walls with colored patterned tiles.”
“This is a small card game that is unlike anything else out there right now,” says Alexander. You have to work together to play cards in ascending order, but the twist is that no one can talk about the cards that are in their hands, he explains. Because of this surprise element the game is especially great for replaying. “There are plenty of exciting moments in every game of The Mind.”
Best word-association four-player board game
“Using only a couple words as clues, can you get your team to correctly guess your words?” asks Lee about the basic premise of this Czech spy-themed favorite. Similar to the basic elements of charades, players divide into two teams with one designated spymaster providing clues. By guessing the words correctly, players unveil the other teams’ agents. The first team to unmask all of their opponents’ spies wins.
Best fast-paced four-player board game
Mathews describes For Sale as “a light card game” that has a “wickedly clever” two-part auction mechanism: in the first phase, you bid cash on properties, then turn around and sell those properties for a tidy profit in the second phase. “For Sale plays fast and offers some genuine tension,” he promises.
Best app-compatible four-player board game
Chronicles of Crime is unique in that it combines both a board game, a mobile app, and virtual reality. It’s a cooperative game that asks players to work together to solve a murder mystery. “By searching for clues in virtual reality crime scenes, interrogating witnesses or people of interest, and exploring key locations,” you can catch the killer and solve the crime, says Lee.
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