Clearly, the first game I’m going to mention is Kingdom Death Monster… wait, no. It costs HOW much?
And that’s to illustrate the point that board games can be flippin’ expensive! For those of you who don’t know, KDM is an incredible game, but it is by no means a budget game. The base version is $400!
Which begs the question,
Why do board games cost so much?
All of the intricate miniatures and artwork that we’ve come to expect from a AAA game, come with a price. Someone had to design it, manufacture it, and the price of raw materials is constantly fluctuating with demand. Producing and designing a big box game, jam-packed full of goodies isn’t cheap and that bumps the price up. Even certain card games can become extremely expensive if each individual card has custom artwork. This is why most games now are manufactured in China because they currently have the cheapest manufacturing in the world.
A great game doesn’t necessarily need to have flashy production or a 3-figure price tag, though. They just need to be fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big production, super fancy, deluxe games… but this article is all about getting the most out of your games while still being able to pay your rent on time. It’s a tough decision sometimes, but if it makes you feel better, some of the games in this article are less than the price of a fast food meal, and probably have more nutritional value.
We chose games that we actually enjoyed playing, and we ordered them starting with the cheapest. Every game on this list can be found for under $40 at the time we wrote it. Prices may change a little, but I’m sure another sale will come along.
Epic Card Game
Friday: A Solo Adventure
Sushi Go Party! Card Game
Rivals for Catan
Castles of Burgundy
Z-Man Games | 2012 | Playing time: 20 minutes | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4.4 stars
Love Letter is a simple deduction card game. The cards in each players’ hands represent who currently holds a love letter for the princess. The player with the highest number card at the end of the round (or the last player standing) wins.
I love Love Letter! It has simple mechanics and is extremely portable. It contains only 16 cards, which makes it the smallest game on this list, and also one of the cheapest. Kendra and I travel a lot and we always bring a copy with us. We’ve met and played with people from all over the world because it’s incredibly easy to teach and play. It’s even fun with just two players! The rounds are very fast and it doesn’t take up much space.
It’s a great buy for around $10! We’ve gotten hours and hours of entertainment out of our (very ragged) copy of Love Letter. There are tons of versions that you can get (including Batman themed variants). So, if the generic setting isn’t to your liking, you can probably find a copy that will pique your interest.
Indie Boards & Cards | 2009 | Playing time: 20 min. | Players: 5-10 | Our rating: 4.3 stars
What better way to spend time with friends than lying right to their faces?
The Resistance is a hidden traitor/social deduction game in which a group of players must successfully complete 3 out of 5 missions. It’s not going to be easy, however, because some of the players are spies and will purposefully sabotage missions while hiding among loyal members of the Resistance.
I first played this with a group of fellow students on a study abroad trip and it quickly became a nightly ritual. Regardless of what side you’re on, the game is a ton of fun and an excellent way to get to know people. There are several powerful cards and abilities that can be added to the regular rules that drastically change the game and can alter the power shift from loyalists to spies very quickly.
You’re going to have a great time arguing and talking throughout the whole game. After a few games, we even had the shy members of the group proclaiming their innocence at the top of their lungs.
Indie Boards & Cards | 2012 | Playing time: 15 min. | Players: 2-6 | Our rating: 4 stars
Set within the world of Resistance, the political situation hasn’t gotten any better. If the overt attacks of Resistance weren’t enough (and everyone at your gaming table is still friends) it may be time to start a Coup.
Coup is a bluffing and deduction card game where each player holds influence over the current government, represented by two cards in front of them. Each card has different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Everyone will be trying to wipe out the influence of the other players and become the last player standing. Nothing is as it seems, however, because players can claim to have any card they want and use any ability they want. Don’t get caught in a lie, though, or you’ll lose influence (a card)!
Coup is another fantastic game that Kendra and I usually throw in a bag when we go out to a pub. With simple mechanics, tons of replayability, and an amazing price (about $10), it’s hard to beat.
White Wizard Games | 2015 | Playing time: 20-40 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4 stars
Unleash brutal monsters in this streamlined Epic Card Game. Epic is designed to be an extremely simplified (and budget) version of Magic: The Gathering. Instead of dealing with mana pools and an economic system, Epic gives players 1 coin per turn. This means that players will be playing big monsters every turn, which requires a different level of strategy to become victorious.
White Wizard Games is known for putting out amazing (and complete) card games in small boxes for a budget price. On top of being very fun and highly strategic, Epic Card Game doesn’t require players to sink a ton of money into boosters or into rebuying cards to stay competitive. Everything comes in one box, ready to play. You can pick up a copy for less than $15!
If the fantasy genre isn’t your cup of tea, I highly recommend Star Realms! For a similar price, you can enjoy the same type of game with a Sci-Fi themed starship duel, using several factions of cards.
Rio Grande Games | 2011 | Playing time: 25 min. | Players: 1 | Our rating: 4 stars
Feel like playing with yourself? Hey, no judgment here.
In Friday: A Solo Adventure, you and you alone will take on the role of Robinson Crusoe’s trusty assistant, pushing him complete quests and overcome his city folk ways to become the burly mountain man he was always destined to be.
You’ll work against the deck and trying to survive the disasters of being shipwrecked, such as pirates and wild animals. Robinson Crusoe is represented by a draw deck that will determine his success in encounters, and as the game continues Players have the chance to remove useless cards from the deck and add stronger ones as they complete objectives.
There are very few specifically single player games out there making Friday a bit of an odd duck right from the get-go. It’s actually a great way to kill some time by yourself and all for less than $20. It does lose a lot of the social aspects of other games, but if you have some time before a class or while you’re waiting to for your game group to arrive it’s an excellent way to waste some time.
Eagle-Gryphon Games | 1997 | Playing time: 30 min. | Players: 3-6 | Our rating: 4 stars
Who knew real estate could be so fun? For Sale works in 2 parts. The first half is the bidding section, where players will draft cards and collect property cards (numbered 1-30). The second half of the game, players will show off their newly-acquired properties. They’ll play them on the table against the other players, and whoever has the higher value card wins. It is very similar to the old school card game, War.
For Sale is a fantastic game. It plays very quickly and is perfect for the start of a gaming session, or to kill 15 minutes while everyone is waiting around. The artwork is excellent, and I love that Eagle-Gryphon Games hides an animal somewhere in every card.
You will play this many, many times. There’s enough strategy to warm you up for bigger games and it’s so easy to learn that you’ll find yourself taking it off the shelf time after time. It also looks pretty darn good up there on your shelf too. Eagle-Gryphon Games publishes a series of games that are about the size of a large book and the whole set looks very nice together. But… For Sale is probably still my favorite out of all of them.
Forbidden Desert | Gamewright | 2013 | Playing time: 45 min. | Players: 2-5 | Our rating: 4.1 stars
A desolate desert surrounds you. You wake up amid the pieces of your airship and struggle to make sense of it all as you search for other survivors. There’s no time to waste! The elements are already taking their toll…
Forbidden Desert puts you in the midst of a group of survivors who have crashed into the middle of an unforgiving desert. The wreckage of your airship has been scattered far and wide and you’ll need to work together to collect the pieces before the shifting sands bury everything.
Growing up in a desert (and actually seeing several people get knocked down by heat stroke) makes you really appreciate proper hydration and adequate shade. I can really put myself in the position of a stranded survivor, which is one of the reasons I really like Forbidden Desert. It takes something that most people take for granted (like water and shade) and turns it into an ever-present menace, threatening to kill your character.
Matt Leacock is known for designing amazing cooperative games and his name actually appears twice in this list (see Pandemic). His games are characterized by cooperative play and very difficult board mechanics.
We like Forbidden Desert best of the current trilogy, but if you want to try some of the other games in the series check out: Forbidden Island or Forbidden Sky.
Steve Jackson Games | 2014 | Playing time: 20-50 min. | Players: 2-5 | Our rating: 4.2 stars
Port Royal is a push-your-luck pirate-themed card game in which players draw and draft cards. The more ships drawn in a turn, the more cards you’ll be able to keep and choose from. If, however, you draw too many and get two of the same ships, then you get nothing.
I always fail horribly whenever I play push-your-luck games because I always… push my luck. Go figure. I go for the big scores. I win maybe 1 out of 10, but that’s okay with me because I love playing them. They offer huge payouts that make for amazing in-game moments. For $13 you’ll get hours of fun. I highly suggest playing with a bottle of rum handy. It’s kind of a necessity when playing nautical-themed games.
When looking online you may notice two different versions floating around. Both games are virtually identical and both come with English instructions, so there’s really no downside to either one. Personally, I would just find the cheapest version.
Gamewright | 2016 | Playing time: 20 min. | Players: 2-8 | Our rating: 4.4 stars
This is quite possibly the cutest game in existence. Sushi Go Party! is a card drafting game where players will be creating sets of cards throughout several rounds. Each card will be a different type of sushi (sashimi, nigiri, etc) or sushi component (chopsticks & wasabi), and each card will score points or allow players to perform different actions. The player with the most points wins at the end of the game.
It’s incredibly simple to learn, and I actually learned and played my first game after a 6-hour flight, so it can be learned while jet-lagged and tired. The artwork is possibly the cutest thing and if sushi actually looked like, that we would all feel like terrible people for eating it.
Every adorable sushi card will score differently and is easy to learn yet still complex enough that one strategy doesn’t dominate every game. It’s easy to learn mechanics, amazing artwork, and genuinely fun gameplay makes this a must-have on my game shelf. And for around $20, who could say no to those cute sushi faces?
Looney Labs | 1997 | Playing time: 5-30 minutes | Players: 2-6 | Our rating: 3.2 stars
Fluxx is such a weird game.
The rules at the start of the game are:
1- Draw a card.
2- Play a card.
That’s it. There’s no way to win… until someone plays a goal card. Fluxx is a card game where the rules are constantly changing. The rules and win condition can literally shift from turn to turn. It’s incredibly random but going into the game and understanding how random it does allow players to build a strategy.
I personally love Fluxx and own several of the many different thematic versions. Fluxx comes in Science Fiction, Cthulu, Zombie, and even Adventure Time flavors. Chances are if you have a particular fandom then you can find a version of Fluxx for a few bucks. It’s cheap enough that you can bring it to the pub and not be worried about a few stains on it. It’s one of our favorite 2-player card games too!
If you aren’t a fan of Fluxx, an alternative game to check out is We Didn’t Playtest This at All. Both are between $12-15.
Czech Games Edition | Playing time: 15 min. | Players: 2-8 | Our rating: 4 stars
Codenames is a social word game where two teams (red & blue) will face off trying to find their agents in the field. A square grid of cards contains seemingly random words. Each square will represent either red or blue spies, innocent civilians, or an assassin. One player will be the spymaster and try to direct their team to pick the correct cards on the board to find their colored agents.
Codenames is a fantastic party game that uses words. Unlike most other party games, it promotes teamwork and conversation. The setup and variations that come with Codenames are varied enough that you could continually play the game over and over without anyone memorizing the setup.
I enjoy party games and they usually involve a lot of deception or “who can impress the judge?” mechanics. Codenames goes in the opposite direction where the better players communicate, the better they’ll do in the game. If you want a party that doesn’t involve X-rated themes or lying to your friends then for about $15, Codenames is an excellent choice. Also great with 6 players!
Z-Man Games | 2006 | Playing time: 45 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 5 stars
Humanity is on the brink of extinction as four separate outbreaks of horrendous diseases have broken out all over the world. It’s up to an elite response team to keep diseases in check and find the cure before humanity is too far gone to save.
The second Matt Leacock game on this list is characterized by highly cooperative play and a high level of Board Vs. Players difficulty. If you’ve never played Pandemic, go get it now. As of writing this, it’s $15 dollars online. That’s cheaper than taking a date to a movie and guaranteed to be fun.
This game is jam-packed with replayability and possibly one of my favorite cooperative board games. Everyone’s role in the game is crucial and players have to talk out a strategy to win. It definitely brings a table together. The times that I’ve lost, I’ve always found myself resetting the board for another crack at it.
We have a lot to say about Pandemic. Check out our in-depth review here!
Roxley | 2016 | Playing time: 20 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4.6 stars
Simple enough for an elementary student, but… I always get my butt kicked at Santorini, so take that with a grain of salt.
Seriously though, Santorini is a great educational game involving abstract strategy where players literally have only 2 options; move and build. It really takes the easy-to-learn and hard-to-master description to heart and has succeeded admirably.
Santorini is a classic that’s been around for about 30 years now and has been updated to improve upon strategy and thematic elements. If a game has been around for 30 years and still growing strong, it’s definitely worth the $20 price tag to check out.
KOSMOS | 2011 | Playing time: 45-120 minutes | Players: 2 | Our rating: 4 stars
Rivals of Catan is an excellent choice if you constantly find yourself with only 2 players. It takes a lot of the elements of Catan and transforms it into a 2 player card game. In lieu of the iconic hexagon tiles, players will build out their villages using rotating square tiles to keep track of incoming resources and trade routes.
When I played Rivals of Catan it still gave me a feel for the Catan universe. The two games have completely different mechanics, but at the end of the day, it still feels like a Catan-type game. Finding a game that works well for just 2 players is sometimes a difficult task in and of itself. Very often designers will claim their game works well with 2 players, but it has a weird rule variant instead of offering the full experience. Rivals of Catan is just a well-made game all around. If you find yourself in a lot of 2 player situations then trust me, this is going to see a lot of play time. And for around $25, how can you say no?
Ravensburger | 2011 | Playing time: 30-90 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4.7 stars
In possibly the most Euro of Eurogames, Castles of Burgundy places players in the roles of Nobility in charge of their own princedom in Medieval France. They must then build a castle and oversee the surrounding lands.
Castles of Burgundy is a little bit more than that. Players will draft tiles, each with different effects, and place (build) them in their princedom in the form of the player boards. There’s a lot to like about this game. For one, it’s one of the big box games that you can pick up for a cheap price tag (around $30).
Don’t let the theme fool you. Castles of Burgundy is highly-strategic with all of the options you have to choose from. That doesn’t always mean it’s going to be the winning option, but the possibilities are there.
Plan B Games | 2017 | Playing time: 30-45 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 5 stars
Azul is a deceptively simple tile-laying game in which players draft tiles and try to create patterns. This game is highly-strategic and deceptively complex. It won several prominent awards in 2018 including the Spiel des Jahres, Best Family Game, Best Adult Game, and the Mensa Select Award.
Players will pull tiles out of a bag and choose which one they want. The rest basically go into a junk pile. As players continue on, they’ll then have to continue picking through the mess they themselves have made and then cry because they failed to get the right tile.
It’s everything a family board game should be and the awesome price tag (around $30) can’t be beat. Seriously, this simple tile-laying game is considered by many to be THE BEST game of 2018, and it’s not even the most expensive game on this list.
Blue Orange Games | 2017 | Playing time: 30-60 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4 stars
Photosynthesis is a perfect gateway game. Its charming design and simple gameplay are easy to learn, thematically makes sense, and most importantly, is a ton of fun to play.
Players each take turns planting seeds, growing trees, and harvesting them for points. It utilizes a rotating sun mechanic that revolves around the board, simulating the different times of the day. In order to effectively plant trees, players will need to compete for the optimal growing positions to get as much sun as possible.
The production value of this game is excellent and well worth the $30 price tag. All of the trees have distinct looks and can be identified at a glance. The player boards have a very clean design, and most importantly, everything fits into the box when all of the trees are constructed, so setup and tear down is a breeze.
Rio Grande Games | 2008 | Playing time: 30 minutes | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 5 stars
Dominion is the original deck-building game. For around $30 you can pick up the base version of the game and it is worth every penny. If you could see our game shelf over the years, slowly being overtaken by all of the Dominion expansions… you would understand our obsession. We tackle all of the Dominion expansions here and you can read our in-depth review of Dominion base game here.
The base game alone is hours of entertainment packed into one box. Between the base setup of card combinations and the random card games, you’re looking at hours and hours of value out of just the base box. If you decide to get an expansion, then the replayability jumps up exponentially with each one added. I’ve played this with family members who don’t normally like board games and they had a great time. I’ve also played with some hardcore gamers that have pulled out some insane combos that I never even thought of. It definitely has something for everybody.
Space Cowboys | 2014 | Playing time: 30 min. | Players: 2-4 | Our rating: 4.3 stars
Become a jewel merchant without ever learning about jewels… or becoming a merchant. On second thought, just buy Splendor and play with some of the most aesthetically pleasing game components in the industry.
Splendor is a very lightweight game that is known for having excellent components and working especially well with 3 players. The poker chips that represent different gems are highly praised as being an excellent game component and are just fun to play with while waiting for your turn. The theme of the game, on the other hand, is mostly just a vessel for the game mechanics. It’s just a backdrop, so there’s not a whole lot there thematically. Strategically, however, you’ll have to think several moves ahead to plan your actions and get the jewels you need to win the game.
It’s an excellent family game that I’ve gotten a lot of non-gamers to play and who have really enjoyed it. It has enough strategy to keep everyone entertained and the hardcore gamers might find it a nice appetizer before digging into a more complex game. For under $40, it’s had a place on our shelf for quite some time.
Repos Production | 2010 | Playing time: 30 min. | Players: 2-7 | Our rating: 4 stars
Rewrite history and mold the world into your own image. (Insert evil Bond villain laugh here).
Maybe not that extreme, but 7 Wonders is a highly-competitive civilization building, card-drafting game. Players will each create their own civilization by drafting cards from the current age’s deck. As players progress in the game, the ages will shift and you’ll get access to better technologies and abilities.
7 Wonders has won multiple awards and has been around for several years now. 7 Wonders works especially well with 6 players, but if you constantly find yourself with only 2 players in a game group, you may want to check out 7 Wonders Duel which is the 2-player standalone variant of the game.
The board game Renaissance that we’re currently going through has made some great changes to the industry. There are thousands of games coming out every year with themes and new mechanics that nobody has ever seen before. As amazing as it is, games still need to be approachable and just plain fun to play.
Again, I’m not saying the uber deluxe games aren’t fun, I’m saying “I’m poor.” We wanted to showcase games that went straight for entertainment value. I often take a lot of flack for the amount I spend on board games and I do some incredible mathematic gymnastics to justify it, but every so often I find a fantastic game that I can buy with a couple of extra bucks that I had left over from lunch.
At the core of a game, it doesn’t need a huge price tag with flashy bits (even though it’s really cool sometimes). At a game’s core, it needs to be fun. Many of the games on this list are a blast to play, are very pretty to look at (in most cases), and are under $40.
If you go to the movies with 4 people you’re spending more than $40. Much more if you want popcorn, and it’s only maybe 2 hours of entertainment. A board game can be brought off the shelf again and again.
Do you have any cheap game recommendations? What bargain game do you find yourself pulling off the shelf more often than not?
We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let us know.