Maybe you’re looking for something to do with your in-laws, or perhaps you chose to host a dinner party that took a turn to the boring. 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 11 experts — including game-store owners, board-game reviewers, and even a board-game illustrator — which ones they consider the very best. Below, find their top picks, with an option for everyone from beginners searching for their next game-night standard to advanced players seeking a new challenge. While some games on this list can be played by more (or fewer) people, our experts note that all of these are ideal with four players.
Best overall four-player board game
If you find battling a fictional pandemic soothing compared with watching the news, Pandemic was cited by five of our experts as 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 everyone can get into, and it is highly replayable,” says Ronny Alexander of the 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. You 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 Stephen Walsh. Plus, a variety of expansions are available to keep the game fresh.
Best four-player board games 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 in which 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 the 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.”
Strategist writer Lauren Ro, who admits she finds most board games “needlessly complicated and mind-numbingly boring,” says Bohnanza converted her from a game skeptic to an enthusiast. “It’s fun. It’s fast. The artwork is delightful. Best of all, it’s easy to learn, even for a dolt like me.” The concept is simple enough: Each player is a bean farmer who plants different varieties of beans; players harvest their crops in exchange for gold, and the more beans you harvest, the more coins you collect. However, the game dictates that you play with a fixed hand, meaning you have to play it in the order the cards were dealt or drawn, which makes things a bit more complicated since your hand dictates which bean you can plant in each field at each turn. But players can barter with one another to trade beans, putting their strategy and negotiation skills to the test. “I didn’t think I could ever love a game, but this is the only one I actually look forward to playing and introducing to friends when there are four or more adults in my home,” Ro says.
Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo discovered this game from her brother, who often played it in groups of four with his wife and parents. Corsillo describes it as having the fast play of Ticket to Ride mixed with the social interaction of Catan “but more engaging and fun to look at.” As in Ticket to Ride, players win by getting the most victory points by building wealth and collecting railroads, towns, or buildings. “There’s even fake money, as in Monopoly, which I like because it’s the only time in my life I’ll get to slam down a wad of cash in exchange for a town, a railroad, or a factory building,” Corsillo adds. She also loves the “intricate, uncanny” illustrations by painter Annie Stegg. “Every time I play, I discover some clever detail that makes me laugh (my current favorite is the mossy landscape painting on the card for a town called Mole Hill).”
Patchwork Doodle is a Tetris-style game that adapts Uwe Rosenberg’s two-player smash hit Patchwork to accommodate more players. The main objective is to fit the shapes into the overall puzzle, “creating as few gaps and empty spaces as possible,” says board-game enthusiast and Cartamundi tabletop games ambassador Sean Amdisen-Cooke. To make it even more interesting, each player has several special abilities they can use “to fill their board, make shapes fit, or even choose different shapes,” he explains.
Space Base “offers a great blend of luck and strategy,” says Ross, because players have to roll the dice and choose their cards. “Players have the potential to benefit from one another’s dice rolls, keeping everyone engaged and eliminating the tedium of waiting for your turn.” The futuristic artwork, designed by Chris Walton, is sure to delight any sci-fi fan.
Best four-player thematic board games
Quintin Smith, editor of the 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 others. “There’s a sense of progress as you slowly build out this little map in front of you,” Smith adds, “and the shopping phase makes for plenty of cunning plays and funny mistakes.”
Story-driven adventure game Eldritch Horror can be played with one to eight 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 “really horrible things will happen to your characters, and that is part of the fun.”
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’s “a side-splittingly funny” game, he says, in which 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 and 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. The storytelling and fantasy components make it an ideal choice for family game night.
Heron also suggests Sheriff of Nottingham, a bluffing game “with a wonderfully forgiving learning curve and a brisk pace of play that excels at a four-player count.” The goal is to smuggle illicit goods, including fruit and crossbows, by bluffing and bribing your way past the sheriff. “It’s funny, forgiving of errors, and a great opportunity to play out your fantasies of being a frustrated TSA agent in olde-times Nottingham,” he says.
“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,” Demers says.
Demers also loves Valley of the Vikings, which won the coveted Kinderspiel des Jahres, or German Game of the Year, competition, which evaluates board games based on their elevated design, game concept, and rule structure. “It’s basically a strategic tabletop-bowling game,” where the objective is to knock down colored barrels in the middle of the board. Depending on which colors are knocked down, players are given a spot along the dock. Some places instruct you to collect coins or steal them away from other players, and the game ends when all the coins have been divvied up. The player with the most gold wins.
Best four-player board games for kids
Walsh told us this “really sweet” game about competitive panda husbandry is a favorite of his kids. It asks players to cultivate land plots and grow three species of bamboo for the pandas. Walsh 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, “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, a discovery, or an invention printed on one side. Players take turns placing their cards in a relative timeline before flipping them over to reveal the date. If a 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 8 and up.
Best board game for advanced gamers
“Fans of Risk should definitely give Scythe a try because of its fantastical art and beautiful miniatures,” says May. Scythe takes place in a post-WWI dystopia where players have to vie for resources and land. Since the rules are dense and the gameplay lengthy, it’s a good option for serious gamers who have hours to spare.
Andy Matthews, founder of Meeple Mountain, recommends Power Grid, a resource-management game in which players compete to “keep costs down, power lots of cities, and profit.” It 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 math, this one’s sure to light up your group,” says Matthews.
“Charterstone is a campaign-style game in which, over the course of 12 games, you’ll build and expand a village shared by you and your opponents by constructing buildings and unlocking new elements with each play,” says Demers. “Consider it the board game equivalent of a Netflix binge,” she adds, because it’s a game you won’t be able to stop playing once you start. It’s a great choice for players looking to try a harder game, but it isn’t too complicated to ease into. The branching story line slowly grows more complicated, and by the end, after you’ve completed your 12-game campaign, “you will have a unique-to-you board game you can play again and again.”
Best world-building board game
Another popular option is 7 Wonders, “a trading and resource-management game in which players build up their architectural wonder across three ages of time,” explains Lee. “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.” It 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 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,” Walsh says.
For another party game with well-designed artwork, Lee suggests Azul, a strategy game in which players fill in “beautiful walls with colored patterned tiles.”
“This small card game 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 in their hands, he explains. Because of this surprise element, the game is especially great for replaying. Alexander says, “There are plenty of exciting moments in every game of The Mind.”
Another fun icebreaker game is Buffalo, says Lee, who notes that “it’s similar to Apples to Apples.” After the two cards are drawn — each with its own characteristic — you want to be the first to identify a person who matches both criteria. For instance, the game may ask you to name a “British Wizard” or a “Female Nobel Prize Winner.”
Best word-association four-player board game
“Using only a couple words as clues, can you get your team to correctly guess your words?” Lee asks about the basic premise of this spy-themed Czech 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 to unmask all of its opponents’ spies wins.
Best fast-paced four-player board games
Alexander calls this “one of the best real-time cooperative games.” And it comes as no surprise that a game called 5-Minute Dungeon takes, that’s right, only five minutes to play. “It’s quick, it’s intense, and it requires good teamwork to beat,” he says.
Mathews describes For Sale as “a light card game” with 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 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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