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10 actually fun board games to get you through the end of winter

Murder! Magic! Cute little animals!

Illustration Sharon Gong
February 16, 2018
Harry Potter: Battle For Hogwarts

I suppose IRL Quidditch has its charms, but I’ve never been able to deal with the fact that everyone playing looks like they’re galloping around on a hobby horse. And while I’ve heard good things about Harry Potter-themed Clue, I’ve yet to investigate it first-hand. I can, however, wholeheartedly vouch for Harry Potter: Battle For Hogwarts, a relatively new deck-building game inspired by the intricate and heartwarming universe of The Boy Who Lived.

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You play as either Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville (or, with the expansion pack, as ethereal misfit Luna Lovegood). Gameplay is cooperative and kid-friendly, with seven card decks that smartly mirror the books, both in terms of which villains you’re up against, and in the way they grow incrementally more complicated and challenging. It’s all especially fun for Potterverse mega-fans, but it’s endearing enough to appeal to pretty much anyone, even those who couldn't tell the Hog’s Head™ from the Three Broomsticks™. — Patrick D. McDermott

Betrayal at House on the Hill

My favorite board game of all time is 13 Dead End Drive, a game where you and your fellow players try to kill each other to receive a large inheritance. It is, unfortunately, kind of hard to find and maybe out of print entirely. A game that I love that isn’t out of print is Betrayal at House on the Hill. In this game you and your crew enter a haunted mansion that you build as the game goes on (the board is different every time you play). About halfway through, “The Haunt” starts and it is revealed that one of your pals is actually trying to kill the rest of you; this is the titular betrayal. The rest of the game is spent either fighting evil forces or becoming one of them. Light a candle, burn some incense, and I promise you’ll start hearing things go bump in the night (a/k/a me flipping the board after I lose). — Olivia Craighead

The Devil's Levil

Da Share Z0ne is one of my favorite Twitter accounts. It's managed by a skeleton named Admin who shares relatable posts of other low-budget heavy metal bone-people who deliver ALL CAPS THOUGHTS on life's troubles both big and small. In January Share Z0ne launched a kickstarter for a tabletop card game called "THE DEVIL'S LEVEL," so far raising over $136,000 – far exceeding its original $35,000 goal. Sometimes it's easy to get lost in the strategy of a tabletop game, and ignore your gathered friends as you plan the next move. I think with its built-in sense of humor, "THE DEVIL'S LEVEL" has the potential to be more socially stimulating. I'm excited to give it a try. — Jordan Darville

Patchwork

Patchwork is a friendly game for couples or two people who don't feel like fucking each other. It's so peaceful. I play it most Saturday mornings with my wife over breakfast — it takes 20 minutes. You take turns, competing to put together a more complete quilt out of Tetris-shaped fabric swatches, like a puzzle. No weird story, no complicated game mechanics, just making quilts with a friend. — Duncan Cooper

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

The original Agricola is a sprawling, stressful game about life as a primitive farmer. It's kinda complicated, and every action feels of dire consequence. Fortunately, there's a cuter, easier, two-player variant called Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, where, instead of worrying about how to feed your starving family, you focus entirely on the cute little animals. You take turns, over a series of seasons, competing for finite resources to house and purchase sheep and cows. Like Patchwork, it's a sweet game that transports you to a new world without involving the usual aesthetics of board-game fantasy. Pretty hard to find, though, but they reprint it every once in a while. — Duncan Cooper

Carcassonne

The final game in my bucolic-life suite is Carcassonne, in which you compete to build the most medieval buildings across the French countryside. Fortresses, roads, and churches are constructed with tiles, sort of like dominos — it's simple but you'll develop real strategy, which can get a little nasty when you start sabotaging your opponents places. Once your skill-set turns you into a total savage, there's a good iPhone version, too, so you can take out your worst rentier tendencies on computer-characters, instead of your friends. — Duncan Cooper

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Balderdash and Wise or Otherwise

One person reads the word/phrase, and then everyone has to come up with the definition (in Balderdash), or complete the phrase (in Wise or Otherwise). You excel by reading people so well that you know the answer they'll choose even if it's a complete lie, and I think reading people is the heart of most games, so this is very classic. Occasionally you might also know the real word or idiom, which gets you extra points. They're fun to play with a lot of people, and games always get more creative and ridiculous as they go along. Usually by the end at least one person is very serious about winning and a few have broken off into just writing nonsense. — Lily Puckett

Carrom

I grew up playing this game with my mom and little brother, when we'd hang out at home on Saturday afternoons after soccer games. It's a game that's a few centuries old, that works essentially like pool but with your hands. You and up to three other pals take turns flicking a striker into wooden discs of various values, with the aim of hitting each disc into corner pockets. At the end of the game, the person with the highest cumulative disc value wins. It's super chill, and makes for a fun lil game to play while lazing around or preparing for a turn-up. — Nazuk Kochhar

Ludo

When I was a kid, I would often slink away from my friends and the chaos of the playground to play Ludo with the neighborhood adults. It's a simple enough strategy game for two to four players, oriented around colors and lucky rolls of a dice. Looking back, maybe it's that austerity that made it feel appropriately grown-up. And don't just take my word for it: this Shenseea and Vybz Kartel song "Loodi" is pretty much an ode. — Rawiya Kameir