The Best Board Games for the Frugal


Last month I casually tweeted about my Friday night:

To my surprise, this casual offhand tweet received 24 likes – now I know, that’s not necessarily Lady Gaga numbers, but clearly the concept of board games is one that resonates with many of us since they’ve been a staple of everyone life at some point another. Some side conversations started about which ones people played so I thought: “Hey! I know a lot about board games games, why don’t I post about it?”

Admittedly, board games can be expensive up front – they’re truly only a frugal night out if a friend is spotting the games for you (luckily, I have several friends like these). However, that hasn’t stopped me from slowly amassing a collection of my own whenever a few go on sale. In particular, whenever I go out and buy a game, my biggest decision point is replayability, meaning a game that game that will either always set up differently or has so many moving parts that the game could be drastically different the second, third, or fourth time from the first.

The list below is my personal list of my favourite top 5 games. They’re fun and social and buying one of them will keep you entertained for basically forever (until it falls apart due to overuse… I really don’t want to buy a new Catan any time soon, but it looks like I might have to).

Full disclosure: The following list includes affiliate links.

#1 Settlers of Catan

catanPlayers: 3-4 (5-6 with expansion)
Time: 45-60 minutes

Trade. Build. Settle. Settlers of Catan is one of my favourite games.

The concept is that each player is a settler on an island, called Catan. The island is populated with hexagons of land featuring different resources: grain, sheep, brick, ore, and wood. The goal is to amass resources and use those resources to continuously build settlements (1 point each), cities (2 points each), roads (2 points for the longest one), and armies (2 points for the largest one) to score points. First to ten points wins.

How do you amass resources? You start with 2 settlements on the board and go from there. All hexagons have a die number: if you’re settled on that hexagon and the number gets rolled, you get that corresponding resource – but don’t go hoarding cards because on the roll of 7, you could lose half your bounty!

I love this game because the hexagons and their numbers can be mixed and matched every game, meaning the set-up and “landscape” is always going to be different. It also is tons of fun because it literally incorporates the concept of compound interest (the more you build, the bigger your bounty). Trading between players is also encouraged, as is stealing via a “robber” character that moves around if you roll a 7 or play a knight card to add to your army. It’s always fun watching friends who share a hexagon desperately plea not to be stolen from!

I should warn: the game can be difficult to learn at first and becomes quite competitive as the bartering system can make frenemies happen – but it’s worth the fun. Plus, it’s a fairly mainstream game so plenty of people should be able to teach you.

#2 Sushi Go Party!

sushi go

Players: 2-8
Time: 15 minutes or less

A standalone expansion of an original game called Sushi Go! Super family friendly for all ages with a learning time of 5 minutes.

Everyone in the game is sitting at a sushi bar with sushi whizzing by on a conveyor belt in the form of cards. Every player is dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Each player picks one card from their hand and passes the remaining cards to their left and keeps doing so until no cards are left at the end of the round.

The goal is to score the most points after three rounds by having the best combination of menu items – like nabbing wasabi for your sushi, or getting the most desert, or having tempura with your meal. Miss out on getting a good combo? You might lose points or have taken that one sashimi card for nothing (because some food works best in pairs or in threes).

The party version of the game is particularly great because it offers different kinds of menus you can play with, meaning the one game actually has several different games within it. Some menus will have different deserts, different sushi, etc.

Warning: the images are super cute and will make you crave Japanese food. Best to eat beforehand.

#3 Codenames


Players: 2-8
Time: 15-30 minutes (very dependent on certain players)

This one gets really fun with the more players you have. A 5×5 grid of cards with one word on each card is laid out. Two “spymasters” have certain words they need their team of “spies” to select. They take turns giving hints to their team, trying to make their team guess as many words as possible – but there’s one problem: the hints they can offer can only be one word NOT listed on the grid. First team to guess all their words on the grid wins.

If their team guesses wrong, their turn will end or if they’re really unlucky, they’ll guess the “assassin” card which automatically loses them the game.

The game is very fun because it can involve a lot of abstract thinking and gives you insight as to how people’s brains are wired when you give one word clues. A very short learning time and very fun to observe.

#4 Dead of Winter

dead of winter

Players: 2-5
Time: 60 minutes+

A must have for anyone who is addicted to The Walking Dead. It’s wintertime and a zombie apocalypse rages on. Each players controls two survivors in a colony, each survivor with a different “special” power. Outside is a grocery store, police station, gas station, school, library, and hospital which are stocked full of essential resources your colony needs, like food, medicine, gasoline, and weapons – the problem is you got to deal with the zombie hoard who get attracted to the survivors, wherever they are.

Players work co-operatively to meet a common objective, such as surviving a certain number of rounds and ensuring there’s always enough food on the table, but working together only goes so far. Every player also has a secret objective they must achieve or worse, one of their secret objectives might be to betray the colony!

The game is great because sure it’s co-operative, but it’s sort of not as there’s always tension and uncertainty as to who to trust. If you don’t meet the main objective and secret objective – you lose. If you meet the main objective but not your secret objective, you still lose. If your colony’s morale drops to zero (i.e. people die or you can’t keep the colony clean or fed enough) – you lose.

Dead of Winter has a fairly steep learning curve but once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty straightforward game. Lots of different objective scenarios and secret objectives and characters make the game different every time.

#5 Betrayal at the House on the Hill


Players: 3-6
Time: 45-60 minutes

I know – another horror themed one. What can I say? I’m a sucker for games like these.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is almost like a two part game: the first part is a haunted house exploration game. All players are assigned a character who explores the rooms of a house. Every time you enter a new part of the house, a new room tile card gets drawn. Some of these rooms will have certain special features, giving you a special power or object or releasing an omen.

Once a certain number of omens are reached, someone in the group will become possessed by a spirit or “transform” into a monster (haunted houses – they do that to ya, eh?). They then will work against the group to try and either defeat the “unwelcome guests” or make them join him/her (some creatures can’t help it). The game is one part exploration, second part co-operative survival. There are 50 possibilities when it comes to what the haunt will be: werewolves, aliens, zombies, demonic possession, etc. Their latest expansion “Widow’s Walk” offers another 50 additional scenarios.

The game is fun because it replicates a cheesy horror movie, it’s surprisingly atmospheric, and occasionally creepy. The discovery aspect also creates a different set-up each and every game. Best to play with a horror flick in the background or the lights dimmed.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Blokus: an absolute classic and super fun spatial sense/logic game.
  • Taboo: A word party game.
  • Dutch Blitz: Hyper competitive card placement game.

Author: stretchingeverydollar

Starving artist to Debt Free MBA. Attempting to retire early.

3 thoughts on “The Best Board Games for the Frugal”

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