Some people think video game systems are expensive, but those people have never seen some of our massive board game shelves. It can get rather expensive but it doesn’t always have to break the bank.
Each year, thousands of games come out from AAA production value to intricately sculpted minis. There’s so much design poured into them, that they qualify as works of art in their own right. You’d also have to get a second mortgage if you went out and bought all of them.
As many of you know though higher price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to a better game.
In this article, we’re going to explore the budget options for board gaming with some of the best games we could find under (or around) $30.
🏆 Our Top Picks
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
#1. Kingdom Death Monster…
#1. Tiny Epic Whatever
I love the company philosophy behind the Tiny Epic series. Gamelyn Games tries to throw as many games as they can into as small a package as possible, and they succeed wonderfully.
Each Tiny Epic game has a different theme and major mechanic, but they all share the epic feel of a big box game.
#2. The Castles of Burgundy
There’s a lot going on in The Castles of Burgundy.
Players take control of a rival princedom and work toward building up their own princedom by laying down tiles. Castles of Burgundy is a Euro-style game, but with an interesting twist. It uses dice to determine what tiles can be laid down at any given time.
Most Euro-style games don’t use dice at all and it’s rare to see factors being eliminated from the game, but The Castles of Burgundy embraces these mechanics.
It works extremely well as a 2-player game and there is a lot of strategy and depth involved in successfully running a princedom.
It’s also published by Ravensburger which is a company that I’m a big fan of.
You can check out our in-depth guide and review of Castles of Burgundy here.
- FUN PLAY EXPERIENCE – In The Castles of Burgundy, players...
- HIGH QUALITY COMPONENTS – This board game comes with 164...
- GREAT REPLAY VALUE – Playing time is 30-90 minutes, for 2-4...
# 3. Star Realms
For way under $30, you can get one of my favorite dueling card games of all time. It’s easy to learn, quick, and I love the sci-fi theme and artwork.
- Fun Amazingly rich yet easy to learn game play
- Portable The whole game comes in a deck box that can fit in...
- Expandable One copy supports 2 players Add additional copies...
#4. 7 Wonders: Duel
Each complete round represents an age of civilization. As players draft cards from the pile, they’ll add them to their own city in an attempt to overwhelm their rival through economics, technology, or military might.
There are not many games that give you that epic feeling of creating your own civilization, but 7 Wonders: Duel does an excellent job of giving that overarching feeling of growth that you would expect from a civ-builder.
It’s an excellent game and also pulls double-duty as a two-player only game. If you often find yourself with a duo at game night, it’s nice to have some games that you can play with just two people.
- Similar style of play as the award-winning original, 7 Wonders
- Designed specifically for two-player, head-to-head battles
- Build a civilization that will crush your competition and...
#5. Race for the Galaxy
Race for the Galaxy offers a whole new world to explore in a small box.
Each player represents a rival species/civilization and needs to build up their technology, economy, and expand throughout the Galaxy.
Race for the Galaxy uses a follow mechanic that allows players to perform the same action as their opponents, so you need to be aware of what everyone is doing at all times.
For being a card game, Rio Grande Games has managed to cram a very fun and tight civilization-builder into a handful of cards.
- For 2-4 players
- 60 minute playing time
- Check out all the great expansions to Race for the Galaxy
#6. The Resistance: Avalon
Avalon will always have a special place in my heart. The first time I played Avalon was in Oxford, UK. This was also the first time Kendra and I really bonded… and it was over a game of Avalon.
Avalon is a group party game where players try to go on missions to save the kingdom. The problem is that there are two competing factions. The loyal Knights of Arthur and the minions of Mordred. Not everyone knows who is who, so everyone’s arguing amongst themselves to get themselves onto the mission. It can get rather tense but it’s still a lot of fun.
The only reason that I don’t play Avalon as much as I would like is that you need a minimum of 5 players, and it works best with around 7. For a game that retails around $15, I definitely got my money’s worth.
- The Resistance: Avalon is a standalone game and while The...
- For 5 to 10 players
- Takes 30 minutes playtime
I debated whether actually putting Pandemic on this list or not. The MSRP is higher than $30, but usually, you can find it on sale for just $30. The price of games always fluctuates a bit, but at the time of writing this article and then it can be found for just $30 maybe $0.20 over.
Pandemic, for me, is a powerhouse board game. It’s what many new gamers get started on and a modern-day classic.
Most players’ first example of a cooperative board game will be Pandemic, and after numerous playthroughs and versions, it’s still fun. If you’ve never played a game of pandemic I highly suggest giving it a try on your next game night.
Jaipur is a very colorful two-player card game. Each player plays as a rival merchant and tries to obtain the Seal of Excellence to become a master merchant. Only the holder of a seal is allowed to visit the Maharaja.
Jaipur is a press-your-luck kind of game. On a player’s turn, they’ll be able to sell goods but they’ll only be able to sell one type of good. The first person to sell their goods will make the most money, but selling sets of goods will be more valuable. So do you sell early? Or wait and sell in bulk?
There’s no real right or wrong answer but that’s part of the fun and strategy.
- A classic, award-winning card game by Sebastian pauchon
- New, beautiful artwork by Vincent Dutrait. Same great gameplay
- Easy to learn game that offers a lot of depth and strategy.
Carcassonne is a weird game and that there’s not a lot to it, but I still always find myself being drawn back for more.
Carcassonne is a classic tile-laying game in which players build out the city and countryside. Yes, there is a strategy and yes, there is a competitive element to the base game, but there’s something else special about Carcassonne.
I find myself and my fellow players going into an almost meditative state as we slowly build out our city/countryside and think about all the possibilities the tiles can offer. It’s a little weird and I may be going too far down the rabbit hole, but there’s something calming about Carcassonne.
Check out our guide for ALL of the best Carcassonne expansions here.
- Completely redesigned rulebook to make learning the game easier
- Introduces the Abbot mini-expansion and a new version of the...
- Game and expansions have sold over 10 million copies worldwide
#10. Forbidden Desert
I really like the Matt Leacock series of games. He does an incredible job of making challenging cooperative games that feel like a real achievement when you manage to win.
The Forbidden series is one of those games. Players have crashlanded in the middle of a desert and need to find the pieces of their steampunk airship before everything is swallowed up by sand or dies from dehydration.
There are currently three different games in the series, and I may be biased, but Forbidden Desert is my favorite. Kendra and I both grew up in Arizona and know how miserable it is to be caught in the heat without any water, which is one of the major threats of the Forbidden Desert.
From components to gameplay Forbidden Desert is a knockout, which makes it all the more impressive that it’s so cheap.
#11. Sushi Go!
Sushi Go! is freaking adorable. Honestly, most board gamers have a copy already on their shelf. If you don’t, I highly suggest you go out and get it now.
It’s a great party game, it has adorable artwork, easy to learn, and a lot of fun. Sushi Go! is a game that’s age-appropriate for everyone. It has enough strategy and quirks to keep everyone interested and it’s under $30.
Sushi Go! is a no-brainer for me when it comes to board games on a budget.
Check out our in-depth review of Sushi Go! Party here.
- Includes 108 cards
- Rules of play
- Reinforces probability, visual discrimination and strategic...
#12. Love Letter
Out of all the games in my collection, Love Letter has probably seen the most playtime.
There’s a grand total of 16 cards in the entire game. That’s it.
It’s extremely portable and we’ve taken it basically everywhere we’ve gone for the last several years.
That reason alone makes it worth looking at but does it make it a good game? Love Letter is a very simple card game where players try to end the round with the highest value card. Each card value has a different ability that can be played against your opponent or to protect yourself.
It’s very simple to teach new players and beginner board gamers and most importantly, it’s a ton of fun. What makes Love Letter even more amazing is that the game probably costs the same as a combo meal at McDonald’s.
Who doesn’t like going on vacation?
Tokaido is a journey with friends where players meander through ancient Japan. How you spend your vacation and the most successful holidaymaker is the winner.
Tokaido is a beautiful minimalist game that offers a fair bit of strategy and depth. Players can gain victory points through meals they eat on their journey, paintings, shopping, and a myriad of other options.
There’s always something new to discover and with this many options, it’s going to see the table more often than not.
I was lucky enough to get my copy on sale for $30 and at the time of writing this, it’s only slightly above budget at $33. For the amount of beautiful game in the box, I thought for the difference of $3 was worth adding it to the list.
- For 2 to 5 Players, 45 minute playing time
- Standalone game from the designer of 7 Wonders, Antoine Bauza....
- 5th Anniversary Edition updates the base game of Tokaido with all...
There are a lot of different versions of Catan, and the smaller versions like Catan Dice or Rivals for Catan can easily be found for under $30. The original game’s MSRP is usually around 35-40, but you can often find it for much cheaper when sales come around.
There’s even a travel version that completely folds up that can be found for around $30.
Catan is one of the biggest names in the board game industry and a modern-day classic. Honestly, if you don’t own or have never played a game of Catan stop reading and go play it now.
Check out our complete guide to the best Catan expansions here.
Lotus is a gorgeous game, which is no surprise because it’s all about flowers in a garden.
In Lotus, players will be adding flower petals to different types of flowers. Once a flower is completed, the person who contributed the most influence will gain victory points.
Players can also gain influence over a flower by adding insect meeples to an individual flower.
It’s very easy to learn and, for a small game, has a huge table presence.
- Grow flowers one petal at a timeusing a clever and original...
- Transform your table into a work ofart
- Call on the creatures of the garden tohelp you control the most...
Cartagena is a remake of the classic board game of the same name. It’s a pirate-themed racing game based on the infamous historical jailbreak of Cartagena in 1672.
Each player leads a group of pirates that are trying to break free of the prison. Waiting for them at the docks is a ship ready to take them the freedom.
Cartagena uses a card-based movement system where players will leapfrog forward. To get a new card, players will also need to leapfrog back to their furthest meeple in their group. It takes a bit of strategy to keep yourself from taking one step forward and two steps back.
The newest addition has been updated with some new scenarios and upgraded components. It’s a nice little game that can add some real tension as you try to outrun the competition.
#17. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards
The artwork alone is worth the entry price for this game. There’s a lot happening on every single card. The fellows over at Cryptozoic know card games and they’ve made a really weird one with Epic Spell Wars.
Take part in an EPIC wizard duel as you make up the most insane spells you can think of and blast your opponents into oblivion.
If you are a fan of the absurd and on a budget, Epic Spell Wars definitely fits the bill. Just looking at the cards cracks me up and we usually enjoy a few adult beverages every time we play. One of the cards is called “Testi-Kill”. You need a beer for that.
Check out our in-depth review of Epic Spell Wars here.
- An explosive spell-casting card game for 2-6 players, ages 15+,...
- The box is cracking at the seams with super-cool art - Game cards...
- Hilarious spell-combining mechanic creates endless gameplay...
#18. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Lanterns is an easy-going, relaxing family game.
Lanterns utilizes a simple tile-laying and set collection of mechanics. Players will place color-coded tiles down and collect Lantern cards to gain honor (victory points).
It’s a very colorful game with surprisingly high-quality components and works for rather well with just two players.
I really enjoy Lanterns, especially because it’s such a family-friendly game, and can be adapted to your group’s play style. If you have players that want to play aggressively you can absolutely try to block and be sneaky about playing tiles, or you can have a relaxing game and just focus on your own honor and points.
The MSRP is above $30 but it can often be found on sale. At the time of writing this article, it’s about $25 online right now.
- Voted most anticipated abstract strategy game of 2015 on board...
- Beautifully crafted components
- Tons of replay value
Munchkin is a stupid game.
It takes all of the fantasy tropes and boils them down into two actions: Kick Down the Door and Loot the Room.
Just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean I don’t like it, though. It’s a simple card game that doesn’t take itself seriously and you really shouldn’t either. I’ve often heard of it as being either you love it or you hate it.
I personally love this game. Kendra and I have played it numerous times. It comes with us when we travel and on road trips and it’s a silly game that always makes for a fun time.
If you’re familiar with old school RPGs you’ll find a lot of jokes that you’ll recognize, and there’s a lot of game in the box for the price tag.
Board gaming can become an expensive hobby… but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.
I’ve known many players that have multiple games on their shelf that they’ve only played once or twice, and there’s those among us whose shelf is full of games still shrink-wrapped.
That does them a disservice, in my opinion, and can rack up the ol’ credit card debt as well.
Hopefully, you’ve found a game on this list that won’t break the bank but will also see the table pretty frequently.
What’s your favorite game under $30? Did your favorite not make the list?
Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.