Best classic board games 2024: Revisit some old favorites

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A selection of board games divided by the Gamesradar+ cross

(Image credit: Future, Gibsons, Catan Studios, Hasbro)

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Best overall
3. Best role playing
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7. Best mystery
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FAQ

They don't make 'em like they used to when it comes to classic board games; nowadays, they're even better. Thanks to clever revisions and streamlined mechanics developed after years of feedback, these old-school favorites still have more than enough gas in the tank.

But which ones are worth revisiting? While we've not got time to list all of the classic board games you should watch out for, we'd argue that these are the essentials that still have it where it counts despite being long in the tooth. Actually, a few could qualify for our 2024 list of the best board games despite being decades old.

If you're wondering why we chose these classic board games in particular, it's because the GamesRadar+ team is – and continues to be – fans of them no matter how often we play. While some sour after repeat play (you know the kind), these keep delivering time and again. Plus, our writers have had extensive hands-on experience with all of the entries featured below.

Written by
Benjamin Abbott, Tabletop & Merch Editor at GamesRadar
Written by
Benjamin Abbott

Benjamin's been writing about board games for almost five years, but has rolled dice for much longer than that. An early favorite was the pirate-themed Buccaneer, and he's a big fan of taking trips down memory lane with the recommendations listed below.

Best classic board games - quick list

Eager to dive in? You'll find a whistlestop tour of the best classic board games below.

Best classic board game overall

Cosmic Encounter box, cards, tokens, and playing pieces on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Benjamin Abbott)

1. Cosmic Encounter

It's still got the goods

Specifications

Players: 3 - 5
Ages: 12+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 120 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Mix of action and diplomacy
+
Easy to learn, but with lots of fun quirks
+
Variety of unique playstyles

Reasons to avoid

-
Not like traditional games
-
Can be hard to understand at first
Buy it if:

You want something a little different: Cosmic Encounter isn't like other classic board games. More specifically, it delights in breaking its own rules for an experience that's totally unique - and very compelling.

You love games with talking and bluffing: Being able to talk your way out of a tricky situation is key to Cosmic Encounter, so it'll go down well with anyone that likes negotiation, deception, or bluffing games.

Don't buy it if:

You want something simple: Due to it tearing up what you expect from classic board games, there can be a fair amount to get your head around in Cosmic Encounter.

You don't like lots of talking: Cosmic Encounter is, without a doubt, a 'talky' game. If negotiation and diplomacy aren't your thing, you're better off looking elsewhere.

What you need to know: Seeing as it was first published in 1977, Cosmic Encounter well and truly earns its 'classic' label. It's been through plenty of editions since then, of course, but none of them lose the game's blend of strategy, negotiation, and general weirdness.

How it works: On paper, Cosmic Encounter is straightforward - you have to establish colonies on planets owned by your rivals. You can do this by attacking them (e.g. playing a larger number from the cards in your hand) or through diplomacy. However, things screech into the left-field thanks to the species you'll be using. Most break established rules in some way, whether it's winning by losing or reversing attack card numbers so weaker ones overpower your opponents.

Gameplay: Because there are 51 alien species on offer (all with their own unique power), it's rare for two games to play out the same way. Each match is very unpredictable as a result, and you're always given wild new strategies to overcome. It's energizing in a way few classic board games are.

Naturally, you can add to that chaos with many, many expansions packs. There are more than half a dozen add-ons to choose from right now, so you can always mix things up if the base game loses its shine.

The bottom line: You may think of Monopoly or Sorry when someone mentions 'classic' board games, but this one should get your attention instead. We've yet to find something that can match its (slightly bonkers) creativity, so we suspect it'll still be running rings around its peers in another 50 years. 

Classic board games - role playing

HeroQuest miniatures facing off with a knight and gargoyle

(Image credit: Hasbro)

2. HeroQuest

Time to go on an adventure

Specifications

Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 14+
Complexity: Hard
Lasts: 60+ mins

Reasons to buy

+
Original gameplay remains intact
+
Reimagined art and miniatures
+
Unique competitive gameplay 

Reasons to avoid

-
Very, very cheesy
-
Lacks depth compared to modern successors
Buy it if:

You played the original and love it: This new version of HeroQuest is almost identical to its predecessor in terms of mechanics, but ups the ante with all-new artwork, plastic scenery, fresh model sculpts, and more.

You like old-school fantasy: Are you a fan of '80s D&D, Conan the Barbarian, and Xena? HeroQuest has a similar tone and style.

Don't buy it if:

You don't like cheesy fantasy: Because it's an ode to old-school swords and sorcery, HeroQuest is undeniably corny.

You expect something as deep as Gloomhaven: While it's more layered than the average board game, HeroQuest won't be able to match the complexity of the projects that followed in its footsteps.

What you need to know: The original HeroQuest was an '80s child through and through; it was populated by loincloth-wearing barbarians, hulking orcs, wizards with dreadful fashion sense, and a classic fantasy story of good battling evil. It also kickstarted board game dungeon-delvers as we know them today, so seeing it back warms the cockles of our cold, dead heart.

How it works: Fast-forward a few decades and the classic dungeon-crawl is back for round two. Revised and republished by Avalon Hill, it gives the original a facelift for the modern day along with removing any Warhammer influences (the original was made in association with those behind the wargame, so included plenty of references). You'll run through a series of narrative-light missions to defeat monsters and overcome traps, but these aren't controlled by dice rolls or encounter tables. Instead, they're under the command of another player.

Gameplay: Although its core mechanics are largely intact, this version of HeroQuest sports new artwork, updated miniatures, and sturdier terrain to populate your underground lairs. There's even a fully-voiced app for solo play if you want to go it alone. And yes, the brawwwwdswooord is here too.

When combined with gameplay that's not too dissimilar from the best tabletop RPGs (putting one player in control of the game's monsters), HeroQuest is still as enchanting as it was all those years ago. OK, it may have been superseded by flashier alternatives in its absence. But so far as good old fashioned swords and sorcery goes, it can't be beaten. 

The bottom line: The original HeroQuest was many a player's first introduction to fantasy board games, and this revised version brings it back into the spotlight it deserves. Although it's not quite as advanced as successors like Gloomhaven or Descent, it has quaint nostalgia in spades.

Classic board games - for adults

Someone rolls dice at the table while playing Catan

(Image credit: Catan Studios)

3. Catan

Settlers of Catan

Specifications

Players: 3 - 4
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 90 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Plenty of strategy
+
Trading and deals
+
Novel mechanics

Reasons to avoid

-
Some rules can be frustrating
-
Reliance on chance
Buy it if:

You want something more thoughtful, but not too complex: Catan sits in a happy middle-ground between simplicity and depth. It's easy to understand, but encourages more strategizing than some other entries on this list.

You like trading games: You'll need a silver tongue to get what you want in Catan, so those who like discussion-based games will enjoy this one.

Don't buy it if:

You don't like randomness in games: The resources that pay out each turn are decided by probability and dice rolls, so keep that in mind if randomness annoys you in games.

You want to play with five or six players: The game only accommodates up to four people, so you'll need to buy an expansion to increase the headcount.

What you need to know: Seeing as it was first published in 1995, Catan is a fresh-faced addition to the best classic board games… but it absolutely deserves to lead the pack. A resource-management extravaganza where you're tasked with constructing a civilization from scratch, it sees players trading and building settlements to get the upper hand. If you're hunting down good board games for adults, this is a solid contender.

How it works: The premise may sound simple, but you'll need plenty of cunning to achieve victory. Players win points by building towns, and you'll have to round up a variety of resources to do that. Because the board (and the locations that give you those resources) is randomized, this makes clever placement crucial. And while probability-based dice rolls introduce an element of chance, foresight is rewarded.

Gameplay: There's something satisfying about collecting resources so that you can buy more stuff and thus get even more resources. Sure, some of the rules can be frustrating (we always forget that you can't build near a rival, for instance). Dice rolls that decide what appears and when will leave you at the mercy of randomness too. But the satisfaction of putting together an empire and haggling for the items you need will more than make up for it.

Speaking of which, you'll never have all the goods you need. This makes Catan an intriguing balancing act; swapping wood, clay, stone, or sheep may help you in the short-term, but it might also bring your opponent one step closer to victory.

The bottom line: It's easy to see why Catan is so beloved after a match or two. And thanks to a wealth of expansions, the experience doesn't have to end with what's inside the core box. 

Classic board games - trivia

A group of people stand around an older woman playing Articulate

(Image credit: Drumond Park)

4. Articulate!

Riddle me this

Specifications

Players: 4 - 20+
Ages: 12+
Complexity: Moderate
Time to play: 30 - 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Fast-paced and competitive
+
Can have 20+ players
+
Hundreds of cards included

Reasons to avoid

-
Some won't like the pressure
-
Not so good with less players
Buy it if:

You want a trivia game everyone can play: Articulate's categories trade on general knowledge rather than specific facts, so anyone can give it a go - you don't need to be a quiz master here. 

You want to play with lots of people: This is one of the few classic board games that can accommodate 20 or more people, so it's great for parties. 

Don't buy it if:

You don't like pressure: You only have 30 seconds to describe as many words as you can, so the pressure will be on. If having the spotlight on you doesn't appeal, sit this one out.

You don't have many players: Want to play this with four or less people? It doesn't work quite as well, instead excelling with larger teams.

What you need to know: The problem with many trivia board games - especially classic ones - is the fact that they eventually go out of date. Articulate doesn't have this problem. Its questions are broad enough to stand the test of time, and that means everyone can get involved (there's no need to be a walking fact repository here).

How it works: Articulate is a bit like charades - one person per round is trying to describe words from a category like Nature or Objects, and their team must guess as many as they can within 30 seconds. Get them right and your token moves along the board that many spaces. The first to the finish-line wins. But beware… there's an option to move your foes back a space if you land in the correct place.

Gameplay: Because of how Articulate works, you don't need to be a font of knowledge to play; even if you don't know what something is, you can usually work around it with some lateral thinking. For example, you could say "a body of water that's better than anything else" for Lake Superior. It's still tense trying to get all that across in a limited time, of course, but lowers the barrier to entry significantly.

In much the same way, the fact that you can have 20 or more players involved means that no-one will be left out (the only rule is that they've got to be divided into teams). In other words, this is the perfect board game to break out if you have family or friends descending en masse. 

The bottom line: Some trivia board games show their age fast, but not Articulate. While a few celebrity references may wear thin after a period, most categories won't. A camel is still going to be a camel in 30 years, for example. 

Classic board games - strategy

Soldier models on the Risk board, alongside three red dice

(Image credit: Hasbro)

5. Risk

Want to conquer the world?

Specifications

Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Tactical, but straightforward
+
Reinforcements and objectives level the playing field
+
Lots of licensed versions

Reasons to avoid

-
Dice mechanics can be arbitrary
-
Matches can be quite long
Buy it if:

You want an accessible wargame: Risk's rules are efficient and easy to understand. There aren't any bells and whistles to speak of as a result, but that means almost anyone can play.

You like more thoughtful games: Even though Risk isn't the most complicated option on shelves, it definitely requires more of a tactical mind than many other classic board games.

Don't buy it if:

You don't like random chance in your game: Due to Risk's battle rules where victory is decided by the highest number on a die, your brilliant strategy can be undone if you roll badly.

You want a quick game: Risk is notorious for taking ages, so you're better off avoiding it if you're short on time or don't have the patience for something lengthy.

What you need to know: Much like Monopoly, Risk is a classic board game that's been through more iterations than we can count. However, it's still the same excellent strategy epic it was back when it launched in 1957.

How it works: As you'll probably know, Risk is a game about conquering regions around the world by moving army models across the board and rolling dice to simulate combat. Like the name would suggest, you won't get anywhere by being a pacifist; the winners will be those who go out on a limb to snatch territory from their opponents. After all, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

Gameplay: Risk's straightforward mechanics are hiding a lot more than they let on. The game can result in plenty of political tussling with alliances, betrayals, and wins snatched from the jaws of defeat. Rolling dice in battle may not seem exciting, but when your lone unit has managed to hold off an overwhelming army for many turns in a row, it's one of the most satisfying feelings you can get at the tabletop. However, there is a flipside to that. Because the success or failure of your grand strategy will come down to what is essentially random chance, it can suck the fun out of things. That's not a reason to avoid Risk, but it's worth being aware of nonetheless.

Still, the rest of the game has been pretty well balanced. As an example, the reinforcements rule (which sees more troops appear each time someone plays a matching set of three cards) allows players to catch up if they're trailing behind. Similarly, the hidden objectives of the 'Secret Mission Risk' game type allow for a more balanced session because military might isn't always the answer.

The bottom line: Risk manages to strike a great balance between simplicity and tight, tactical carnage. Experienced wargamers may not get on with it as well because it's so dependent on luck, but for everyone else, there should be plenty to chew on. 

Classic board games - mystery

The board of 221B Baker Street on a red surface beside a deerstalker hat and magnifying glass

(Image credit: Gibsons)

6. 221B Baker Street

The game is afoot

Specifications

Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Each case has a unique written story
+
75 cases overall
+
A more advanced Clue / Cluedo

Reasons to avoid

-
Some clues haven't aged well
-
Once you've solved the case, you can't really replay them
Buy it if:

You want something like Clue, but better: 221B Baker Street takes the mechanics of Clue (or Cluedo, if you're based in the UK) and improves them with new mechanics and a wrapper of story. 

You love Sherlock Holmes: Fans of the great detective will adore being able to work through cases that feels as if it could have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle himself. 

Don't buy it if:

You don't like stories in board games and just want action: This is a Sherlock Holmes game, and that means each case begins with a narrative preamble which lays out the narrative. If that sounds like it'd bore you, we'd suggest steering clear.

You want something simple and breezy: If you want a more straightforward mystery board game, you should opt for Clue instead - it's similar, but easier. 

What you need to know: Designed in 1975 and based on the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street is best described as a supercharged version of Clue. Its mechanics work in much the same way, but everything is tied up in a shiny wrapper of story. 

How it works: Players work their way through 75 unique cases of murder, and each one begins with a detailed narrative to set the scene (as you might expect from a game that's decades old, there's an expansion pack of 50 new cases to keep you busy as well). You'll then have to figure out who the killer is, their motive, what weapon they used, and more by hitting the streets of Victorian London. Figure it out and you'll rush back to 221B Baker Street before smugly reading out your theory like Mr. Holmes himself. Basically, it's a race to the finish-line.

Gameplay: Getting to said finish-line won't be easy. Each location on the board could harbor a vital clue, but you'll have to work for them; players must solve riddles, word-games, or read between the lines to blow this case wide open. There's even a chance for underhand trickery - everyone can 'lock' a location and hide whatever clue is inside, but doing so draws attention. 221B then becomes a game of bluffing. Is the hidden info useful, or are your rivals sending you on a wild goose chase? 

The downside to all this is that a small number of clues haven't aged well - they reference things from the '70s that'll make very little sense to modern audiences. In addition, it's a shame that those clues don't always follow the story's internal logic (we've had instances where visiting the scene of the crime gets us a seemingly unconnected lead rather than something in-keeping with the narrative). Fortunately, none of this will dampen your fun too much.

The bottom line: Thanks to intriguing cases that feel as if they could be forgotten Sherlock Holmes stories, this classic board game will delight fans of whodunnits. Although it's not as involved as the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective series, it's a step above the likes of Clue. 

Classic board games - FAQ

What is the most commonly played board game?

It's difficult to answer such a question with any authority because most people don't post an exhaustive roundup of every game they've ever played, but we wouldn't be surprised if Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble topped the list. Besides having been in circulation for decades, they're all household names that are synonymous with 'classic board games'. It feels as if everyone has a copy of Monopoly somewhere at home, for example.

What are the best old-school board games?

Even though there's always room at the table for old favorites such as Monopoly, we'd argue that Catan is actually a better overall experience. Besides offering broadly similar mechanics (it still features trading, resource-gathering, and building), it arguably does everything better. Crucially, it won't  lull you to sleep like Monopoly's slow bleed-out where one player winning becomes inevitable.

This doesn't come at the expense of accessibility

We're big fans of 221B Baker Street, too. It plays in much the same way as Clue, but the systems on offer are more complex and they push the idea further with an in-depth narrative. However, this doesn't come at the expense of accessibility. Similarly, HeroQuest is one of the best adventure board games from days gone by - it's still remarkably sound more than 30 years after it first hit shelves. 

What is the best board game of all time?

If you're trying to find the best and most popular board game in history, you may be surprised to learn that it's a contest between three classics: chess, Monopoly, or Backgammon. 

Backgammon is the oldest of the bunch, so wins in terms of stubborn longevity. It was first conceived around 3,000 BC, so trumps almost everything else in terms of replayability. 

Meanwhile, chess hit our tables in 600 AD and has gone on to dominate sales charts ever since. In fact, it manages to shift around three million copies each and every year. Little else can keep up.

Well, apart from Monopoly. This fixture on shelves has been going strong for more than 80 years, and has managed to sell well over 200 million copies in its lifetime... and it shows no sign of slowing down.

While choosing just one of the above is difficult, we'd probably vote for chess being the most popular classic board game of all time - you can't argue with three million sales every year, after all.


For more recommendations, don't forget to check out these board games for 2 players. You can also find cool additions to a galaxy far, far away with the best Star Wars board games. For a younger audience, on the other hand, take a look at the most highly-recommended board games for kindergartners.

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to the latest Lego news. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012, and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.