The next time you send your college kid a care package, toss in a board game along with those extra socks and packs of ramen.
Different game types—such as strategy, trivia, and cooperative—work better with different groups, but one seems to trump all the others. "Generally, luck and chance-based games work great because they're fast-paced," toy expert Amanda Gummer of The Genius of Play says.
We spent hours researching the best board games for every college student, considering the game type, portability, and duration of each. We rounded up all of our favorite picks, including a deception card game from Stellar Factory, a trivia-based game from Buffalo Games, and a strategy game from Bicycle.
Here are the best board games for college kids.
Stellar Factory Werewolf: A Party Game for Devious People
Suitable for large parties
Need a lot of people to play
When searching for the perfect party game that everyone at your gathering can play together, look to Stellar Factory Werewolf, which can accommodate up to 35 players in one round, making it our favorite. In this take on the classic card game Mafia, each player gets a character card and must keep their identity a secret.
The game moderator then instructs everyone to close their eyes except the Werewolf, who chooses a player to "kill." Then, through lies and deceit, the rest of the characters must come together to determine who the werewolf is before any other casualties occur. Players will get a new character to embody and play every round, making for a high replay value. You can also try new strategies and deceptions as you work to uncover the werewolf.
Price at time of publish: $14
Catan Strategy Board Game: 5th Edition
Easy to replay
Many opportunities for player interaction
Anniversary edition offers a new, sleek design
Takes some time to understand
This classic strategy game will never go out of style and is equally fun for adults and kids over 10 years old. Players attempt to trade, build, and settle on the island of Catan in order to build their civilization and earn victory points. With a completely variable board, the possibilities for replay are endless and for a completely new experience, add on an expansion pack for new trials, elements, and ways to play. This game prioritizes player interaction, so it's perfect for family game nights or birthday parties.
This game earned a nearly perfect review from our tester, saying "Catan is an awesome, absorbing game, and vying to build the biggest settlements is as exciting as it gets." They did note, however, that the rules do take a bit of time to understand and it may be difficult for young players. However, there's tons of tutorials and supplemental material online to help you during your first few rounds.
Price at time of publish: $48
Telestrations After Dark Adult Party Game
Easy to grasp direction
Minimal equipment needed
Hilarity sure to ensue
Some reviewers preferred the original version
The iconic combination of telephone and Pictionary gets an adult upgrade with Telestrations After Dark. The rules are simple: One player draws what they see, and the next guesses what they saw for a hilarious repeating cycle each turn. Now, the 100 prompts are specifically designed for players aged 17 and older for a more mature, but still outrageous time. For even more ways to play, snag an expansion pack that has different themes suitable for the whole family.
Price at time of publish: $30
Bicycle The Alpha
Beautiful and accurate illustrations
Lots of opportunity for player interaction
Found to be more fun with larger groups
Lead your wolf pack to claim territory, search for food, and hunt prey in this light strategy game from Bicycle. Players send their packs to various regions with the ultimate goal of becoming The Alpha. When encountering a rival pack, you can choose to fight or share, but only one pack will come out on top. One of the coolest touches of this game is the highly detailed illustrations done by a park ranger in an effort to be extremely accurate to wolves in nature. Thus, even when not in use, The Alpha makes a beautiful addition to any game collection.
Price at time of publish: $13
Buffalo Games Chronology
Learn something new while playing
Can be more educational than enjoyable
See if you can accurately build your own timeline with random historical events like the invention of mayonnaise, or the Gettysburg Address to claim victory in Buffalo Games' Chronology. Each player draws a card and tries to decide where that event fits within the timeline of their other cards. If they are correct, they keep the card and their timeline grows. The first timeline of 10 cards wins in this portable and historical card game.
Price at time of publish: $18
Czech Games Codenames
Suitable for large and small groups
Better with more than two players
This top secret word game is a perfect choice for game nights as two rival teams compete to determine the identities of 25 agents known only by codenames. Two spymasters give one-word clues that could point to multiple words on the board while teammates try to guess words of the right color, while avoiding those on the opposite team. This game is quick, so you can play multiple rounds with different teams in one night and get a new high-energy experience each time.
Our tester loved the fun spy game and high-energy gameplay, fitting for multiple age ranges. They also noted that it's better with more than two players. "While it’s nice to have the option to play as a duo, we found that this version eliminates the competitive component," they shared.
Price at time of publish: $16
Prospero Hall The Shining Board Game
Two different play modes
Comes with Room 237 keychain that can be repurposed
Rules can seem complex at first
The beauty of this board game is that you don't even need to have seen the iconic horror movie to have fun playing it (of course, if you have watched the movie recently, it will be even more satisfying.) The design is refreshingly retro (down to the room 237 keychain), and teens will enjoy working together to survive the long winter months at the Overlook Hotel. To do so, they'll have to visit certain locations, perform specific actions, and, of course, avoid becoming corrupted by those pesky supernatural forces that took down Jack Nicholson in the film.
Price at time of publish: $35
Monopoly: Black Panther Edition
Perfect gift for any Marvel fan
Expensive collector's item
Grown weary of the classic Monopoly set? This version has the same rules and basic concepts, but with the exception of the original finger-pointing "Go to Jail" policeman, the design has gotten a Black-Panther–themed refresh. The tokens include a mask, helmet, blade, gauntlet, and spear, and Marvel fans will recognize movie locations such as the Warrior Falls' challenge pool and the Hall of Kings. The Chance and Community Chest cards have been replaced with Kimoyo Beads and Herb cards, but they will still force you to complete actions like handing over money or going to jail. Players will need to make alliances as they build villages and establish strongholds, and the object of the game is to finish flush with cash after everyone else has gone bankrupt.
Price at time of publish: $82
Mattel Games Apples to Apples
Great for large groups
Can add different decks for more ways to play
Some pop culture references are more suitable to older players
Apples to Apples is so beloved by the teen and 20-somethings–many families use it as the gold standard by which they judge all other board games. In this dorm-pleaser, players are dealt seven nouns—places, faces, or pop culture icons—and compete to pair them with an adjective card supplied by a highly subjective judge, who awards points based on entertainment value. The result is a hilarious, easy-to-learn game that quickly draws a crowd.
Price at time of publish: $30
University Games Smart Ass
Suitable for various ages
Great option for quick gameplay
Can end quicker than desired
For a trivia game that's fast-paced, fun, and educational, look no further than Smart Ass. This easy-to-follow game features four categories of cards (What Am I, Where Am I, Who Am I, and Hard Ass), and each card contains a clue that players must answer before anyone else. However, you don't have to wait your turn to yell out the answer! Whoever answers the question first can roll the dice and advance on the board. Rounds progress until someone lands on "The End" space. There's a nice mix of questions, so no one will feel excluded from the fun, and the content will appeal to a wide range of ages.
Our tester loved the wide range of topics, saying "With topics ranging from history and geography to literature, pop culture, and food, Smart Ass will make the most of your collective brain power." However, the short rounds can feel a bit rushed, leaving players wanting more. Luckily, with so many cards, you can play this game again and again.
Price at time of publish: $15
Jax Jumbo Sequence Game - Tube Edition
Convenient storage tube
Easy to clean mat
Suitable for large groups
Difficult to flatten vinyl mat
If your kid loved playing Sequence when they were younger, they will likely realize that it's a game with serious staying power. This version comes in a tube, so it's easy to store, and the large, cushioned board game mat can be used either on a table or on the floor. The mat is made from vinyl, so it's also easy to wipe down in case of spills during game night. Sequence mixes elements of dominoes and card games like rummy and poker, and the point is to create rows of five chips (called sequences) while blocking your fellow players and removing their pieces.
Price at time of publish: $45
Half Truth: The Trivia Game That Makes You Feel Smart
Created by Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings
Multiple-choice format gives players a better chance of winning
Can be frustrating for new players
Unlike other trivia games where participants are expected to come up with a single answer spontaneously—which means you're out of luck if you know nothing about the particular subject—Half Truth is a more accessible option because each card offers a multiple-choice question with six possible answers. Then, each person places bets on which answers are right, racking up points when they guess correctly. The game was created by Ken Jennings, who became famous for his 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy and knows a thing or two about the world of trivia.
Price at time of publish: $27
Bob Ross: The Art of Chill Board Game
Includes postcards of Bob Ross paintings
No direct conflict between players to fit the chill theme
Instructions can be difficult to follow
Fans of the late and beloved artist and TV personality will love the chance to paint their own Happy Little Trees, Fluffy Clouds, and Almighty Mountains as they move through the game trying to rack up "chill points." Bob Ross is featured as a character who pops up on certain sides of the dice. When you "roll a Bob"—as a player, your goal is to try and finish the painting before he does—and strategizing is required as you complete actions such as using certain colors, adding paint to the palette, washing it off, or filling in parts of the picture.
Price at time of publish: $25
Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Outer Rim
Perfect for Star Wars fans
Ideal for long gameplay
Fast-paced despite long duration
Icons on dice can be hard to see
The roles of this immersive game include eight iconic Star Wars scoundrel characters such as Boba Fett, Han Solo, Jyn Erso, and Doctor Aphra. Players will be expected to build their own new story as they deliver cargo, capture bounty, and travel across the outer rim of the galaxy. They'll need to avoid warring factions and, of course, their fellow players as they gather tokens and try to become the most famous outlaw in space. "Intuitive and easy to pick up... I genuinely felt like a true Outer Rim occupant doing whatever it took to get by," said one happy user.
Price at time of publish: $61
Number of Players: 1-4 | Duration: 3-4 hours | Recommended Age: 14 years and up
Expansion packs available
Ideal for two players
Pieces are sturdy, detailed, and easy to clean
Lots of rules to remember
Affordable and portable, Hive is a two-person strategy game that's reminiscent of chess (one reviewer called it "chess for the impatient"), with the hexagonal-shaped tiles modeled after insects such as beetles and ants. And like chess, there are specific rules governing the movement of the different pieces—ants guard the perimeter, grasshoppers can jump, and beetles are permitted to climb onto other pieces. The goal is to surround your opponent's queen bee on all seven sides with other bugs. As you work to do so, you'll need to keep an eye on your opponent's reserve pieces while you plan your next move.
Price at time of publish: $40
Funko Games Parks and Recreation Party Game
Iconic characters and images
Includes Lil' Sebastian figure
High replay value
Won't be as fun for those who haven't seen the show
Fans of the beloved sitcom Parks and Recreation will flip over this party game from Funko Games. Treat yo' self to some heartwarming fun in Pawnee, Indiana with Leslie, Ron, April, Donna, Rom, and Andy. Work with other players to complete projects for the department with images and iconic murals from the show. There's also a Lil' Sebastian figure to collect and admire. Different characters show up in every round, adding to this pick's replay value for fans and newbies alike.
Price at time of publish: $13
Funko Games ESPN Trivia Night, 1000 Trivia Questions
You can learn something new
Perfect for sports lovers
Includes physical challenges
Only fun for sports fans
Calling all sports fans! Funko Games' ESPN Trivia Night is the perfect trivia game to test your sports knowledge from basketball to baseball to football and more. In addition to challenging trivia questions, the game also includes miniature challenges inspired by different sports, including scoring a mini field goal. Add this game to your next football Sunday tailgate or during a dinner party of sports lovers to determine the master of all things professional sports. it accommodates up to 10 players, so don't be afraid to get your whole friend group together for some hardcore trivia. You may even learn something new.
Price at time of publish: $16
Identity Games Escape Room: The Game
Digital countdown timer
Four challenges in one
Challenges problem-solving and deduction skills
Can only enjoy once per challenge
A much more affordable way to enjoy escape rooms, Escape Room The Game invites players to escape four different escape rooms from the comfort of their own homes. On rainy days or chill nights, this game allows college students to come together, solve clues, uncover combinations, and "exit the game" in 60 minutes or less. This would make a great date night or bonding activity for those who love a thrill and mystery to solve. A decoder displays a digital countdown to add more pressure and sound effects to give hints on whether you're on the right track. While there are only four challenges to complete, there are many expansion packs to add on to continue the fun.
Price at time of publish: $40
What to Look for When Buying Board Games for College Kids
High-energy and luck-based games are the best options, according to toy expert, Amanda Gummer of The Genius of Play says. This also avoids conflict between players who get too competitive. But if you're ever in doubt, opt for classics like Scrabble or Charades, as most players already know the rules to these games, saving time for more play. Complicated rules often defer players before the game even begins, so simple rules are always encouraged.
Duration of Game Play
Board games are often one of the main events at college board games, and Gummer says that games that last around 15 minutes are likely to work best at these events because you can quickly switch to another game or play multiple rounds. But if you're planning to stay up all night with a group of friends, longer games like Escape Room The Game can fit the bill.
Some board games are easily folded up and fit into a smaller box, but others aren't as easy to tote around. And, keep in mind that if a game takes a while to set up, it could be a pain to have to take it on the go. College students often live in small dorms without much storage space, so games that easily pack away and store in a small box, like Werewolf, are ideal. Also, games with multiple pieces risk getting lost, so the simpler the better.
What makes a good board game for young adults?
A good board game for young adults is one that is fast-paced and doesn't take a lot of time to learn how to play. Skill or luck games are great choices because the rules are easy to understand. You could also choose a more widely known game that most players already know the rules to. Gameplay should be fast and have everyone involved. The best games for young adults are ones that get them talking and laughing.
How many people can play a board game?
A board game typically requires at least two people but can often be played by a group. Look at the specifications for the game for the minimum and the maximum number of people who can play. For the best gameplay, follow their recommendations. If there are more people than recommended, consider putting gamers into pairs.
What's a good board game for a large group?
A good board game for a large group ideally has room for many players to access the game board. Look for large games or rectangular games that have room for more players, or consider a card-based board game that would be easy for a large group to play. To find out if a board game is good for a large group, take a look at the details to see the maximum number of players. This will give you a good idea of what's a good game, even if you have a large group.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Julia Fields, a lifestyle writer for The Spruce covering all things surrounding toys, gifts, and the holidays. She's also covered similar topics in other roles, including toy reviews, product roundups, expert-focused articles, and more. Additional reporting was done by Katie Pittman, who has more than five years of experience in lifestyle and digital media and is an expert writer for MyDomaine.
Additional reporting and research was done by Stacy Fisher, a writer with nearly two decades of experience covering crafting, freebies, and other fun pastimes.