Top 10 Board Games of All Time - 2020 Edition

How do you feel about "Top X" lists? You know, the ones out there like "Top 10 Worker Placement Games with a Twist," "Top 10 Games for Catan Lovers," or any other ones that come to mind.

I personally love them. I could never find myself agreeing 100% with any of them out there, but it's about the fun of diving into that person's likes and dislikes and what makes them tick. So whether it's put together by notable content creators like Shut Up & Sit Down or The Dice Tower, or by any of my friends in the forum, I enjoy learning more about that person through seeing their preferences. Plus, there's the undeniable joy of patting myself on the back out of agreement when a game I own pops up.

Well, Trent is continuing to roll out new features for Board Game Atlas and here's the latest one: Our own ranking system. Now our game pages not only display the average user scores, but also indicate a game's rank based on a variety of metrics and relative weight. For example, the "Best of All Time" list ranks games by weighing the number of page views on that game's page, mentions in forum comments, links to forum posts, number of times it's included in a user's list (such as this one), average score from users, number of reviews, and number of plays logged. This aims to capture the best rated games while also considering the game's relative "staying power" and longevity within our community.

We also have the top "Trending" list which primarily ranks games based on number of visits on that game's page, mentions, links, and plays within the last week. This is meant to capture the hottest trends and will indicate games on the rise either due to content spotlight, new release or Kickstarter, and other causes.

With that in mind, here are the current Top 10 Board Games of All-Time on Board Game Atlas:

10. Pandemic

In Pandemic, players collectively work together to research a cure before a massive outbreak wipes out all of humanity. This game is often credited for jump-starting the trend of cooperative games in the industry and today, there's a long line of Pandemic games with plenty of "flavors" to choose from.

If you'd like to introduce something slightly less complex to your friends and family, check out Forbidden Island and its sequels by the same game designer, Matt Leacock. I'd personally recommend Forbidden Desert.

9. Codenames

Competitive word game where two opposing teams compete to get in contact with all of their secret agents first by discovering their codenames. Each team has an assigned Spymaster who possesses a key card that reveals the location of all of the team's agents, and he/she must give a one word clue to help the team discover their agents. Take a risk by offering a clue that will point to as many of the secret agents, but you may unintentionally alert the assassin instead.

Undoubtedly the most commercially successful game in this list, the simplicity of Codenames' formula has produced 10 different sequels and variations over the years, featuring themes such as Harry Potter, Disney, Marvel, and others.

If you've overplayed Codenames and want another great word game, I'd recommend Just One. It's a fully cooperative game with a "beat your score" goal and accommodates lower player counts (3-7 players). It delivers on the fun of trying to read the other players' minds 1-100 steps in advance but undoubtedly failing to do so half of the time. Also, I like that Just One has a clear beginning and an ending, where the groups I've played with often feel satisfied after 1 or 2 plays. Codenames, on the other hand can often lead to a few of your friends raring to give it another go for the 4th or 5th time for the night while others reluctantly follow.

8. Terraforming Mars

You play as one of many corporations competing to be the best in terraforming Mars and advancing human infrastructure. This is one of the longest running games in the Top 5 position, and there's even a Kickstarter that's out at the moment that will offer you a "deluxified" experience.

Personally, I would've loved to have seen a complete overhaul of its illustrations and graphic design so that it can appeal to a wider audience. No additional comments on this one as I still haven't had a chance to play.

7. Wingspan

This won't be the first of the games you'll see from Stonemaier Games. And whether you love it or not, their games are certainly popular and never fails to cause a big stir in the community.

So here's Wingspan, the talk of 2019. Contrary to its charming and harmless theme, it was a subject of extreme controversy but also adoration, and perhaps the most influential board game of 2019 in its ability to draw in an entirely new group of people into the hobby. It was featured across numerous non-board game media and sparked the interest of those in the sectors of science, nature studies, bird enthusiasts, and more.

My first impression of Wingspan was that it's a brilliantly marketed/presented package that knows how to capture a wide audience. Similar to another game below, Wingspan sells an experience that is memorable to people who are completely new to the hobby and helps break their bias. And while it may have its flaws, I think it's a great introduction to engine building games that are sure to please many experienced gamers as well.

6. Azul

In Azul, players are tile-laying artists who draft various colored tiles from a shared supply to decorate their walls. Grab as many tiles as possible to make the best patterns and combos, but take too much and you will pay a heavy price for any wasted ones.

Like many other Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winners, Azul is a family classic with great staying power. It may not be for everyone though, because it does invite some potential for mean plays. So while I love using this game to impress my friends and family who are new to modern board games, I often had to hold myself back from upsetting someone who might be sensitive to that type of play. On the flipside, this will also be a welcome news for groups out there who love to pound on another. If you belong to this category then you MUST check out The Estates. And lastly, the starburst-like tiles provide some of the best tactile experiences you'll find in board games.

5. Spirit Island

Spirit Island is another cooperative game on this list that's in a class of its own. Namely, it takes one of the most controversial and common themes in board games—colonialism—and flips it on its head. So instead of finding yourself leading a band of colonists casually exercising dominance over the natives, you take on the role of one of many powerful spirits trying to drive out the invaders (think Te Ka from Moana). And by teaming up with one another, you'll discover various ways to synergize the highly unique spirit powers and exercise dominance on the level of natural disasters.

4. Viticulture: Essential Edition

Here's another game from Stonemaier Games. In Viticulture, players manage their own vineyard to grow various grapes on their fields, crush them and produce high quality wine, and fulfill orders from your clients. Your main task will be to efficiently allocate a handful of workers to complete only the most important tasks for each season, as they'll be competing against all other players' workers in a limited space. Games of this type are commonly referred to as a "worker placement" game, which often tests your ability to adapt in a competitive environment by making the best of every scenario.

This was my first worker placement game and still remains my wife and I's one of top 5 games to play together. The mechanics and theme go hand in hand, components are satisfying to play with, and the gameplay offers a "chess-like" feel in anticipating and blocking each other's moves.

Like all others, this game isn't without its faults though. A common complaint about this game is the frustratingly bad card draws that can sometimes bog down your ability to get your engine running in the early game. If you're an optimist, you'll see it as an extension of the themeafter all, how can you always get what you want from nature? I belong to this category and enjoy the challenge of adapting to whatever I have in hand. If you don't think this way (which is completely reasonable), know that the expansion is absolutely wonderful for fans of the game, not just in terms of luck mitigation but for a whole lot of other content.

3. Root

Asymmetric "war game" where animal factions are vying for power in the Woodland. For those unfamiliar with the term "asymmetry," these type of board games offer each player a completely different playing style because each faction/character will come with its own set of objectives and mechanics. So if you like a more straightforward, methodical process of building up your power and having a wide reach over the Woodland, then Marquise the Cat will be the way for you. If you want a faction that stretches your ability to strategize in advance and forces you to commit to your moves, then go with the Eyrie (the Birds). If you like the idea of starting as the underdog and becoming the biggest headache for everyone at the table, then go with the Woodland Alliance. Lastly, go with the Vagabond if you want to be that one player who frolics around the Woodland completing various side quests and engaging in battles at your own pace.

My personal favorite, but it's one of the more divisive games out there with those who love it vs. hate it. This is mostly due to the difficulty to learn and teach if you don't have a committed group. 

2. Gloomhaven

Cooperative dungeon crawler with euro-inspired tactical combat using cards. Players control characters in an expansive campaign with enough content that is sure to last years, all the while fighting monsters, leveling up your characters, discovering secrets, and permanently shaping the landscape of the world of Gloomhaven with your own personal touch.

Ever since designer Isaac Childres came out with Gloomhaven, this game and its franchise has been setting new records and turning heads like no other. I mean, just look at some of these keywords/titles that Gloomhaven is associated with:

  • "Hit board game Gloomhaven costs $150 and weighs 20 lbs"
  • "Fully funded at $4M on Kickstarter"
  • "How Frosthaven raised $12.9M and became the biggest game in Kickstarter history"

And today, the new buzz is all around Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the more price-friendly, accessible counterpart targeting gamers who want to get in on Gloomhaven but without the barriers. I'm glad I secured my copy as soon as Target opened up because I've been hearing reports of it going out of stock within hours. Has that ever happened for a board game?

If you'd like to hear our thoughts on Jaws of the Lion, here are Trent's first impressions (and an opportunity to win your own copy).

1. Scythe

Here's the last game from Stonemaier Games on this list! It's a beautifully presented game with a stark, alternate 1920's Europe where the cold steel of mechs contrast against the lush fields. Despite its looks, Scythe is not combat-heavy and its core gameplay is surrounded by maintaining a Cold War-like tension between the players as they establish control over different areas and resources on the map.

Honestly can't say too much more about this one. I still haven't had a chance to play and it'll be quite a while until I'll be able to meet up with my friend who owns a copy! So I'll leave it up to you—how do you feel about Scythe? What would be your #1 board game of all-time? Which game are you surprised to see the most on this list?

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Supporter12 months ago

I can get behind this list, although there is admittedly a distinct lack of Star Wars content here. 

Would have a couple of niggles with the order but the games are all solid. 

Owner12 months ago

Looks like you haven't been talking about Star Wars nearly enough in the forums!

Supporter12 months ago

It’s hard to do it on my own!

Supporter12 months ago

I’ve tried, but obviously I’m a big factor in Root.

Supporter12 months ago

At least #Gloomhaven is up there 

12 months ago

Regardless of order, this is a very solid list of games, (especially since i own 9/10 of them), and anyone getting settled in to the hobby would surely enjoy something from this list. Nice Job!

Premium User12 months ago

I like top 10 lists. 

tldr: I like the concept, but think the naming and categorization needs work.

I wouldn't call the weighting mechanism for BGA's top 10, to be the top 10 of all time. The top 10 of all time would need to be better defined as to what that means. Is it the most influential? The best objectively (if there is such a thing), the most played? 

What you have is the top 10 based on BGA statistics, which is a different thing than 'of all time' in my opinion. I would be hesitant to put any game made in the past 3-5 years in the best of all time category, just because they haven't proved themselves yet. There is also a huge cult of the new component that appears to be messing with the scale for BGA top 10.

Premium User12 months ago

This is a good list.  I think #Scythe and #Gloomhaven could easily be 1A and 1B.  

Supporter12 months ago

Wow, surprised gloomhaven is not at the top lol

Supporter12 months ago

Even though they aren't all my personal favorite I do think this is a good mix of games for a top 10 for sure.

It is nice that 3 of the top 4 are games I own and love and the other (Gloomhaven) is at least (well Jaws of the Lion) a game I'm interested in picking up.

10 months ago

Mmmmm to many Euro style games... Love game with more player interaction. Bought Viticulture based on a lot of good reviews and comments buy ended up selling it.... Didn't click for us :(

11 months ago

I think we need to call such lists ‘most popular and hyped game of all time’. Some of the games I’d have on my top ten are ranked between 5000 and 7000 on BGG and aren’t even in this database. A kickstarter that reached $1000,000 + will almost certainly reach everyone’s top 100 at least. 

12 months ago

No surprises on this list, I own the first half of this list, the top 5 are all games that intrigue me to varying levels: very much want to play #Root and #Spirit Island.

It's almost a nice walk through of introductory games through to the big heavies. You start by playing #Pandemic with few mates, maybe crack out #Codenames at group hangout, nice cooperative/team games you can walk them through to begin with. A few people who are interested you introduce to #Wingspan or #Azul (have to start thinking of their own strategy but the cards/options are fairly self explanatory. Once they're familiar you throw them into #Viticulture: Essential Edition or again give them plenty of support with #Spirit Island introducing asymmetry as a concept (I find a coop can be heavier and remain accessible than equivalent competitive games). Then once they have been gaming for a little while and are completely hooked you give them a real challenge with #Root or #Scythe before losing them forever to an endless game of #Gloomhaven.

12 months ago

I own 8 of the 10, with only 2 being on my Shelf of Shame and I sold Pandemic once I played Pandemic: Legacy Season 1.

My gaming group does not like Terraforming Mars, but I do...I have yet to try it solo.