If you’re on the hunt for a new board game, you’ve come to the right place – today, we’re going to be breaking down the best board games of all time, ranked by decade, starting in the early 1900's and working our way forward.
We’ll take a look into the past to see what board games previous generations were playing; you’ll notice that game trends tend to come and go, but many of today’s most popular board games aren’t much different from those popular over 100 years ago!
Before we dive into our list of the top rated board games of all time, we'll first need to give you a quick gaming history lesson:
Have humans always played board games?
As with most activities and hobbies deeply ingrained in our culture today, board games can be traced back much further than you may realize: in fact, the oldest board game is a two person game called Senet – dating back to around 3100 BC in Predynastic Egypt.
Much has changed over the past 5,000 years, but we can still look to games like Senet or other early games like Backgammon, Go, and Liubo for inspiration and fun today. Fast forwarding a bit into the future, the modern gaming landscape is home to a seemingly endless number of board games.
It’s fair to say that the vast majority of these new editions were inspired by earlier games; so let's go peer back through history and rank some of the best-selling games of all time:
What's the best way to rate the top board games of all time?
While building this list of the most popular board games, we took a few different factors into consideration. It's not just about how many copies of a game have been sold, picking out the best board game from each decade requires a comprehensive review, including:
The longevity and nostalgia involved
The addictiveness of the gameplay experience
How accessible or available the game is
Longevity and nostalgia
For a board game to be considered among the very best, it needs to hold its own as a popular choice, even today – with board games that offer a hint of nostalgia being some of the best for connecting different generations.
Quality gameplay experiences
It goes without saying that the gameplay of a board game matters; this is a huge factor that separates the best from the rest – all the top games we'll be discussing have super unique game boards and are fun, exciting, and addicting to play over and over again.
Board games mean different things to different people, but the core gameplay loop of a game needs to be exciting for a group of friends to continue playing it each time they get together – otherwise, an unfun board game will simply just collect dust.
Accessibility and availability
If a game is hard to come by, it won't earn a spot on our list: it would be unfair to introduce you to an exciting game from decades prior, only to find out that it's no longer available or costs an arm and a leg to purchase.
On our list of the best board games ranked by decade, you’ll mainly find selections that are able to be played by gamers of all ages, giving entire families the opportunity to create new memories with each other.
These types of games create a sense of nostalgia and feature captivating gameplay experiences; and of course, they should all be available online at your local board game shop. Let’s get right into the meat of our discussion by unveiling the most popular board games of all time:
What are the best selling board games of all time?
Get ready to enjoy your bragging rights next time you host game night: by pulling out one of these vintage selections, you'll be the reason your friends and family have such a great time. We’re going to kick off our list by heading way back to the 1920's, the decade in which many board games first became popular in the United States:
Best board games pre-1920's
As you may imagine, we've come a long way since 1920. But we can still look back on this era and find a handful of best selling board games that are still being played to this very day, with fans still racking up game wins whenever they bust out the board:
Monopoly (1904) – also known as The Landlord’s Game
Checkers (3,000 B.C.)
Backgammon (3,000 B.C.)
In our opinion, the best two games on this list are Monopoly and Bunco. While Backgammon was among the first game boards in existence and inspired countless others, the exciting group play of Monopoly sets it apart from many games. Chess and Checkers speak for themselves – as two of the only board games that have sanctioned competitions.
Monopoly is one of our favorite board games ever because it teaches important life lessons: personal finance, critical thinking, and even street smarts a bit of friendly back-stabbing among pals. It also has that nostalgic factor, and is a game most of us grew up playing with siblings and friends.
It’s worth noting that in 1904, it wasn’t called Monopoly; back then it was known as The Landlord's Game – but with Monopoly being introduced less than 30 years later, that's the most common name that everyone is familiar with.
Bunco – another dice-based game – remains the highlight of many modern day game nights; this game’s ability to bring people together over 150 years later earns it a spot on our list of the best board games ever.
Best board games of the 1930's
Starting in the 1930's, you may recognize a fan favorite: Sorry. This classic game of revenge was first introduced in 1929 but didn’t pick up steam in popularity until a few years later. This time-based game is incredibly simple – which might be why people still love it so much.
While the gameplay is straightforward, the ensuing chaos from that first player’s turn till the very end has earned the game a spot on our list.
Sorry teaches probability and counting skills – making it great for development in young childhood; make no mistake, however, as adults can enjoy a round or two of Sorry as well. While new editions have been released as recently as 2013, we prefer the classic board and rules.
Best board games of the 1940's
Selecting the most popular board game of the 1940s was easy: Clue is the clear winner of this decade. Considered by most enthusiasts to be the best board game of this eventful decade, this classic mystery game has been in circulation for over 80 years with no signs of slowing down.
In fact, many gaming experts credit Clue with starting an entire genre of board games. Since Clue is a pioneer, it’s only right we reward it with a place on our list of the best board games. Our favorite element of the game is the deductive reasoning it requires players to adopt through storytelling, creating an interactive experience everyone loves.
Some may claim that Clue is a game you can’t play more than once or twice, but we disagree. With the right group of friends, you can play this great game time and time again.
Honorable Mention: Scrabble is another amazing game that was introduced in 1949 – it undoubtedly holds a spot as one of the best selling board games of all time, chock full of gameplay featuring tons of bonus points for quick-thinkers.
Best board games of the 1950's
During the 1950's we saw the inception of one of the most classic board games of all time – Yahtzee! This dice game was created by two wealthy Canadians who – as the name may suggest – developed the game on their yacht. When the two realized how much their friends loved the game, they knew they were onto something special.
The duo then brought the game to toymaker Edwin Lowe, who helped them introduce it to the rapidly growing 1950's toy market. At the time, the game was known simply as the "Yacht Game". Fast forward to today, and Hasbro Toys estimates that well over 100 million people still play Yahtzee regularly, inspiring other successful spin offs like Farkle.
Best board games of the 1960's
The vast majority of board games are played around a table – ideally, a specialized board game dining table like our customizable Dresden gaming-dining table combo (not to mention a sturdy board game storage shelf).
However, the best selling board game of the 1960's was one of the first to stray from this approach.
Twister was introduced in 1966, forcing players to get up out of their seats and get active.
This creative social game uses players as the pieces – allowing you to work on your balance, flexibility, and strength while playing. And let’s face it, Twister it’s just plain old silly fun! With that being said, some individuals look to board games as a form of relaxation, and Twister may not align with those who value their personal space.
Best board games of the 1970's
Connect 4 was introduced during the 1970's: this strategy-based game requires critical thinking and incorporates logic, despite a rather basic gameplay loop. The goal is simple: stack four of your discs in a row before your opponent does.
Striking a balance between offense and defense is critical to winning Connect 4; and this simple but fun game is easily enhanced by nostalgia – many of us grew up playing it all the time.
Best board games of the 1980's
According to Times Magazine, our pick for the most popular board game of the 1980's was “a phenomenon in the gaming industry”. While technically invented in 1979, Trivial Pursuit rose in popularity within the US during the early 1980's. Since its release over 40 years ago, countless copycat trivia games have been developed, all paying homage to the original.
Trivial Pursuit was actually developed by two Canadians, who – at the time – were deep in the pits of a Scrabble game!
Best board games of the 1990's
In the 1990's, more interactive board games started to catch on. One of these classics, called Cranium, requires other players to perform an act – whether it be spelling, acting, or drawing among other small silly tasks. The rest of the group has to guess what this act represents, similar to Pictionary.
Cranium is great for all ages including children: the fast-paced, rambunctious playstyle is a great way to keep kids entertained while the adults play their own game. But don't scoff at Cranium if you're a bit older – with the right group and maybe a couple of drinks, your crew will have a blast with this game too!
Best board games of the 2000's
Pandemic is our top choice for games of the 2000's. Thanks to its popularity, new editions are still being designed and produced since its 2008 release (including Pandemic Legacy – an entire series based on the original). When we say this game is unlike any other you’ve played, we mean it, but you'll have to pick it up and see for yourself.
Featuring tons of twists and turns to keep your gaming crew guessing, Pandemic is best suited for those looking for a new cooperative board game to try out during their next game night. Collecting resources is one of the main features of this flu-centric party game.
Best board games of the 2010's
Many new party game editions miss the mark, or simply resemble older games without much originality or creativity behind their release. There is one insanely fun new game, however – released less than 7 years ago, Codenames has already earned favor among many gaming pros and amateurs alike. This game has a super secret, mysterious style of gameplay and requires teamwork to win.
If you’re looking for a fresh and new party board game – this is one of our favorites; and if you happen to have a particularly robust vocabulary, this is the game for you.
In order to build our list of favorite games, we had to overlook a handful of cult classics and fan favorites from each decade. Because we want to give credit where credit is due, here are a few popular board game honorable mentions:
Candyland (1949) – one of the best games for children
Risk (1957) – an area control game centered around military expansion
The Game of Life (1960) – players compete to win at "life"
Stratego (1961) – a two person game with military elements
Battleship (1977) – play multiple rounds of navy warfare in this luck-based game
Sequence (1982) – a unique, abstract strategy game
Balderdash (1984) – a good game for those who enjoy endless possibilities
Pictionary (1985) – similar in concept to Balderdash
Jenga (1987) – a game of physical skill without much luck involved
Taboo (1989) – a word-guessing board game
Catan (1995) – also known as The Settlers of Catan or Settlers
Apples to Apples (1999) – the modern version of Cranium or Trivial Pursuit
Carcassonne (2000) – the best board game for fans of medieval warfare
Ticket to Ride (2004) – the favorite game of many train enthusiasts
Bananagrams (2006) – similar to other games featuring wordplay
Cards Against Humanity (2011) – a super raunchy card game
Exploding Kittens (2015) – defuse exploding cats with friends
There you have it – our list of the most popular board games of all time. With so many different options to choose from, picking out a new box of joy can be difficult – luckily, every new game you try has the potential to be the best board game ever, according to you! If you're interested in more game-related guides, make sure to check out the rest of our blog content.