Outside the box: Board game recommendations for beginners

There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of original concept board games out there — how do you know what to try first? 

There’s not really a wrong answer to this question; new board gamers have plenty to choose from, based on what theme (pirates, vikings, fantasy, etc.) interests them most and what style of board game they’re looking for (card-based deck builder, lighthearted group party game, and so on). 

Following is a list of games that I enjoyed playing as a beginner in the hobby. While these games are simple enough for new board gamers, they’re still plenty of fun for more experienced gamers too. 

Smash Up

Smash Up is one of the first board games I played and is still one of my favorites. It’s a great gateway into the hobby of board games, and I’ve had good luck convincing people to play it with me solely based on its theme. 

Smash Up is a card game that allows you to create your own customized deck by selecting two factions from the box and then mixing them together. For example, a player might pick the zombies and the robots, or the dinosaurs and the time travelers, or any number of crazy combinations. You play these cards to compete for different “bases” that are worth points. First player to 15 points wins!

The novelty of creating your own deck is the main draw of this game, and when you get tired of the factions that come in the main box, there are dozens of expansions to choose from (including parodies of Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Star Trek). 

Star Wars: Destiny

While this is actually my all-time favorite board game, I almost hesitated to include it here because game manufacturer Fantasy Flight actually just announced that they’re going to be retiring the game. However, if you’re a Star Wars fan who wants to get into board gaming, it’s worth hunting down a copy (though I recommend doing it as soon as possible, before they’re all gone).

Star Wars: Destiny is a two-player card and dice game that lets you put together a team of Star Wars characters and then battle another player. It’s a little like Smash Up in that you can combine many different Star Wars characters on a team (yes, in theory, you could make a team composed of Jar Jar Binks and Han Solo). Personally, I like to put together a more thematic team; for example, my favorite deck has Rey and Kylo Ren teaming up, like the scene in Snoke’s Throne Room in “The Last Jedi.”

Each player builds a deck composed of event cards and weapons to support the characters you chose. You “battle” by playing these cards and rolling dice, and the player who destroys the other person’s characters first wins. 

You can get a starter set that comes with two characters, but you can also buy dozens of different characters separately. As I mentioned before, because this game is being discontinued, you should probably start collecting things now. 


This game is a little like Apples to Apples, but with pictures instead. Each player is dealt a hand of cards with fanciful artwork on them. Players take turns giving a cryptic clue about one of their cards and then everyone else also plays one of their cards that fits with the clue (all these cards are played face-down, so no one knows who played what).

The cards are shuffled and then revealed in a line face-up. People now have to vote on which card they think is the actual one that relates to the clue. The clue-giver gets points if people guess the correct one, and other players also get points if they successfully trick people into selecting their card instead of the correct one. 

This game is fun to play with a big group (the more the merrier), and even if you’re not very good at giving clues (like me), it’s still fun to look at the artwork and try to trick people.


There are many, many pirate-themed board games out there, but this is one of the simplest (and the most fun!). Each of the players gets their own pirate ship and races to collect the most treasure and cross the finish line before everyone else. 

However, it wouldn’t be a great pirate game without some epic battles on the high seas. Throughout the game you get opportunities to raid other players’ ships and steal their gold and supplies.

Sheriff of Nottingham

This is one of my very favorite board games, and one of the few times where you’re encouraged to bribe, cheat, and lie.

This Robin Hood-themed game has players trying to sell goods like apples and bread (while also sneaking some contraband goods through on the side). One player is the Sheriff of Nottingham, and on your turn, you present the Sheriff with your sealed bag of cards and declare what goods you’re taking to the market (naturally, you don’t mention if there are also some contraband goods in said bag).

The Sheriff can decide to A) accept your story and let you through; B) suspect you’re lying but take a bribe to let you pass through anyway; or C) call your bluff, open the bag, and then land you in major trouble if you’ve tried to smuggle illegal goods. (Personally, I’m very bad at bluffing, so I usually have to bribe the Sheriff almost every time.)

One of the best twists in this game is that one player doesn’t get stuck playing the Sheriff the whole time; the role actually rotates, with a different person playing the Sheriff every round. So you get a chance to smuggle goods AND catch other smugglers!


We all know the velociraptors are one of the best parts of the Jurassic Park franchise, and this game capitalizes on that. 

This two-player game allows one person to play a raptor trying to help her babies escape from a team of scientists (controlled by the other player). Of course, the raptor is a lot more fun to play than the scientists, so you’ll probably have to take turns because everyone will want to be the raptors. Thankfully, this is a quick, fun game so you can easily play it several times in a row.

Are you a more experienced board gamer, or are you interested in stretching your gaming skills? Come back next week for a list of recommendations of more challenging board games!

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