The best gifts for tabletop gamers

Even with two new living room game consoles on the scene, there’s still something to be said for the classic board game experience. Playing board games has always been fun, but the industry has undergone a creative renaissance in recent years, with increasingly sophisticated tabletop games capturing a surprisingly mainstream audience. That means family board game night (or friend game night) is back on, and there are more options than ever before for every type of game play.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the themes of the most popular board games are often focused on zombie attacks, sci-fi battles, Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy and Lovecraftian supernatural hijinks. Some popular board games, such as Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth, combine map tiles, miniature figures and a polished tablet app that handles some of the card and combat management for you. 

The best part of this board game renaissance is that there is now a game for every person and every occasion, so if you’re looking for a family game, a strategy game, a battle game, a card game, or something else entirely, chances are that it exists. Further, now that games are in vogue, the game board, game pieces and game play are more sophisticated. A fun game is definitely worth the investment.

Any one of our picks for the best board games to give or get in 2021 can turn game night into an epic adventure. Feeling ambitious and want to make your own extra accessories, pieces or card holders with a 3D printer? We’ll show you how to make that happen, too. Keep reading — a new favorite game is sure to be found in the list below!

Read more: Best cooperative board games to play with family

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Gloomhaven is the $100-plus king of modern tabletop games. But it’s also insanely complicated, comes in a 20-plus-pound box and takes hours to play. Jaws of the Lion is a new streamlined version for more mainstream audiences and was easily my favorite new game of last year. The cleverest part is that all the map tiles are replaced by a spiral-bound book of pre-made maps. 

Read our first impressions of Jaws of the Lion.

There’s a lot happening in this colorful Marvel-themed game. It’s a kid-friendly symbol-based card game at one level, but with awesome-looking Marvel character miniatures (done in a Chibi style) that jump between NYC-based locations like Central Park and the Avengers Mansion.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Probably my favorite “modern” board game, with tons of floor tiles you can use to create a haunted mansion, plus dozens of plastic miniatures for investigators and monsters. The vibe is definitely classic Lovecraft and this board game actually requires you to use its companion app, which creates the layout, spawns monsters and even adds sound effects. 

Fantasy Flight Games

It’s time to get the fellowship back together. Another board game with a tech twist, it starts with tons of cards, map tiles and miniatures, but it also uses a free iOS, Android and PC app, which adds extra narrative content, and tells you how to lay out the map and which monsters to fight.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The go-to game for many Lovecraft fans, with amazing narrative storytelling built around nothing but cards and a few cardboard tokens. The game involves laying out location cards on the table and exploring them for clues (while fighting monsters). It’s a  “living card game,” which means there are regular releases of card packs with new characters, missions and enemies. 

For more of our board game coverage, check out our picks for the best 2-player board games and the best cooperative board games for your small gatherings. Or if you’re looking for something to entertain a slightly larger group this year, check out the best card games and the best family games for 2021.

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