In a world of premium Kickstarters, upgrades, exclusive promos, and the ever-elusive triple-foiled holographic golden super-mint Black Lotus cards, it’s kind of nice to play a game that doesn’t cost the same as a month’s rent.
Let’s take a look at the best board games we could find that are under $20 dollars.
🏆 Our Top Picks for Best Board Games Under $20
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
Do you enjoy swarms of things? Do you sometimes think, “Man I wish I could have a pocket full of insects right now?”
Well, you’re in luck! Hive Pocket is full of insects and is much smaller than its original counterpart.
Okay, weirdness aside, Hive is a fantastic 2-player game that’s easy to travel with. It will see use again and again, and the value-to-game ratio is extremely high here.
Codenames has been taking the board game world by storm. A party game with simple rules a ton of variety and multiple expansions/versions? That sounds like a winner.
Using their own take on the simple word clues, players are split into 2 teams and need to identify the hidden agents in the field before the other team. The only clue they’ll have, however, is a single word.
It’s a very fun party game for 6+ players that even has a 2-player version called Duet, if you’re looking for a great date night game.
The game is a ton of fun yet so simple… it makes me mad I didn’t think of it first.
Star Realms & Hero Realms
Think of Hero Realms as a cheaper, more accessible Magic the Gathering. Hero Realms is the fantasy cousin to sci-fi-themed Star Realms, which uses a very familiar system.
This dueling deck-building game has players summoning monsters to bash each other to death in an epic showdown. Even with just the base game, you’re looking at hours of replayability.
I have gotten so many games out of my copy of Love Letter. It’s probably seen just as many airports and countries as I have at this point.
It’s a simple card game with only 16 cards. That literally fits anywhere. Even girl pockets.
In Love Letter, players are trying to get their love letter to the princess. The card currently in your possession represents who has your letter and the higher influence card (biggest number) wins at the end of the round.
It’s super simple but I’ve had a copy for years and it still is fun to play. That’s high praise for any game, and incredible that it’s only a few bucks.
Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game
Castles of Burgundy is an example of a Eurogame done right. Although you won’t be able to get the full big box version under $20, the card game is a fantastic game in its own right.
It condenses down the feeling of the original and brings it to a simplified 2-player version. It has even won several awards specifically for fantastic gaming in small boxes.
If you’re a fan of the original, there’s no reason to pass on this. It’s a solid addition to any gamer’s shelf.
Dominos is a classic game but as most board gamers will tell you, there’s no pizazz. There’s no flair.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it but the last time I played a game of dominos was in the belly of a military ship with everyone betting and exchanging work days. That’s not as relaxing and whimsical as say, a kingdom-building version of Dominos.
In Kingdomino, players lay down custom domino tiles in the shape of various parts of a kingdom. How you lay them out and in what order will net you those sweet victory points at the end of the game.
It’s a new take on a classic and is much more colorful and vibrant.
What happens when you hire a bunch of incompetent technicians to set up your fireworks display?
Not fireworks… that’s for sure.
Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks, and in Hanabi (the game), you’ll get to play as one of those bumbling pyrotechnicians that screwed up the whole display. You’ll need to organize your fireworks cards by color and number… but the tricky bit is that you can’t see any of your own cards.
You’ll have to rely upon and cooperate with your fellow bumblers to get the show up and running. If you can’t get it together, there are going to be a lot of unhappy revelers.
There’s nothing quite as exciting as real estate… Okay, maybe there are a lot more exciting things out there but For Sale packs quite the gaming punch without having to sit through a timeshare meeting.
For Sale is a very fun bidding game in which players bid auction-style on the cards to start out. Each card is numbered (1-30) and the higher cards are going to have more value (not monetarily).
In phase 2, players have to sell their house for the most money. At the beginning of each round, a series of checks are placed on the table indicating what the houses will sell for. Each player plays a single card from their hand and the higher-numbered house gets sold for the most.
This adds a huge strategic element to the game. At what point you play your high-number cards or drop your low-number cards is a huge part of the game. I’ll be honest, I’ve spent many an afternoon sitting around the game table playing For Sale for hours.
No Thanks! is a fun little card game that won’t break the bank. It’s a simple press-your-luck game in which players either pick up the current card or place a coin down in the center. The object is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.
See how easy that was? You already know the rules. It’s a nice non-thematic card game if you’re in the mood for a quick game of something. It fills the role quite nicely and is responsible for me burning my copy of Phase 10.
I definitely would say “Yes, Please!” to a game of No Thanks.
This one is for all you history nerds who still think the burning of the Library of Alexandria is one of the worst atrocities to befall mankind (I’m looking at you, Kendra).
Biblios puts players in the roles of Abbots looking to score some serious points by gathering as much of the world’s knowledge as they possibly can. To that end, they need to manage their own scriptorium.
Players receive victory points throughout the rounds by having the most workers and resources on their side.
It requires a fair bit of strategy and bluffing, which puts it over the edge over a lot of budget games that have very simple mechanics.
Coup is one of my favorite games. I’m a big fan of bluffing games as well as games that travel easily, so it’s always awesome to find one that pulls double duty.
Coup is set in the same world as Resistance and the backstabbing skullduggery is just as bad in Coup. Each card represents a player’s influence in the government or who’s in your pocket, bought and paid for. It may be a little too close to home sometimes…
Players try to wipe out their opponents’ influence to be the last one standing.
Dragonwood is in enchanting card and dice game that lets you explore a fantastical realm and then stomp and scream at everything in your path.
Players receive cards and work to collect sets. The sets get you dice that, in turn, enable you to perform actions. The better/number of sets you have, the more dice you’ll be able to use.
It’s a very well-designed game and I absolutely love the artwork. If you’re a fan of dice games, then this is definitely one to check out.
Get ready to channel your inner Indiana Jones.
The Forbidden series (Island, Desert, Sky) is known for packing a big cooperative gaming punch into small packages. They’re also one of my favorite series of games.
What better place to start than the first in the series on the cheap?
Get ready for the weirdest port visit you’ll ever make. Players will walk through the harbor, wheeling and dealing as they try to make the most of their visit.
Harbour is a set collecting game with a rather dynamic economy built into the rules. As players purchase buildings, the prices of resources fluctuate depending upon which resources were used. Players need to time their purchases just right in order to maximize their profits and crush their competition.
Kahuna is a 2-player abstract strategy game. In Kahuna, there are a series of islands that players must connect with their bridges to completely surround each island. Players use cards to place bridges on an island and if that gives them the majority of bridges on an island, they get to remove their opponent’s bridge.
Kahuna was originally marketed under a different name but its current form has great production value and components. It’s generally thought to be the definitive version and it won’t break the bank.
Mint Works & Mint Delivery
There are not a lot of worker placement games that come under the $20 mark.
Think of Mint Works as training wheels for worker placement games. It has bare-bones worker placement mechanics that still offer a complete gaming experience.
Why is it called Mint Works? Well, the entire game fits within a small mint tin. That makes it ultra-portable and you can impress all your hipster friends with your cool retro mint tin.
Niya or Okiya
Blue Orange Games and Pegasus Spiele are both known for their very pretty and uniquely-themed games.
Niya and Okiya are abstract strategy games that play like an elaborate game of tic-tac-toe. Granted, that is an oversimplification of the rules, but that’s the closest comparison I can make.
Players take turns placing their tokens on tiles in a grid and each tile has several different symbols or pictures. Players will only be able to place their token on a tile if there’s a matching symbol from the previous tile.
See? There’s a bit more to it than X’s and O’s.
It’s another fantastic game that’s incredibly simple yet can be played time and time again without it ever getting old.
Villainous: Wicked to the Core
Normally, I’m not one to jump on the Disney bandwagon. There has been a slew of hit-or-miss Disney games since Disney first set its sights on global domination.
Villainous is actually one of the better ones out there. It smartly focuses on the most interesting aspects of their films, the bad guys.
In Villainous, players get to take on the role of their favorite mustache-twirling, tentacled, or polymorphing baddie.
Each baddie has its own nefarious objective and way to go about it, but there’s also a fate deck included that changes the game up for everyone.
If you’re a Disney fan, it’s hard to pass this one up, and there are a lot of expansions to improve your game and add even more of your favorite bad guys to the mix.
There have been a ton of new, simple card games with adorable (sometimes horrifying) themes coming out recently… and Unstable Unicorns is a great addition to them.
In Unstable Unicorns, you try to build the best stable of unicorns that you possibly can.
Players take turns adding various unicorns to their own personal stable. Other than the Basic unicorns, each one has a special ability. They are magical creatures, after all.
There are a lot of these types of card games floating around right now but this one really tickles my funny bone. The humor and artwork of the cards crack me up and, I mean, who doesn’t like unicorns?
Gloom is the game you pull out when your emo/goth friends come over for some quality game time. Gloom feels like it was designed by the Addam’s family while they were vacationing with Jack Skellington.
In Gloom, the object of the game is to inflict the worst possible day on your respective families. The family with the saddest-sack of a story at the end of the game wins! You’ll actually attack your opponents with cards’ “good” events to make their day better. The ultimate goal is to kill off your own family after having the worst day of their lives.
The best part about Gloom is the narration. Each card presents or horrible situation and it’s up to you to explain what happens to your family, weaving a horrifying narrative.
It’s a stupid fun game that’s also really great for beginner role-playing. Who knows? You may jump into a game of D&D, Legacy of Dragonholt, or Vampire: The Masquerade after this.
Gaming can be an expensive hobby. There’s always a new miniature, gizmo, box organizer, or new Spiel Des Jahres winner. But that doesn’t mean you have to mortgage your house to have a good gaming session.
Hopefully, you’ve found something that will let you enjoy what we love most about games, strategy, and good times with friends and family. You might even have some money left over to buy a pizza!
Did we miss any of your budget board game favorites? We hope you liked our list. If you have any suggestions for games under $20 or if you just want to talk about board games, please leave a comment below.
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Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.