When it comes to favorite tabletop games for college students, we often think of Cards Against Humanity and little else. But there are so many amazing board games out there just begging to be played by young adults.
Whether you’re shopping for a college student or one yourself, The Resistance is a game every tabletop enthusiast should own. This social deduction card game pits players against each other as they try to suss out who among them is a loyal Resistance member and who is a corrupt Imperial spy.
Between pointing fingers and bluffing, everyone at the table will be a suspect!
|Ticket to Ride
Related post: Best Board Games for Preschoolers [Our Top 15 Picks]
Best Board Games for College Students and Young Adults
1. Best Overall – The Resistance
Survey any group of board game fanatics, and The Resistance is practically guaranteed to make their list of must-own games. This social deduction card game is straightforward enough for new players to pick up while also offering the strategy and replayability experienced players crave.
You’ll probably recognize the game’s main mechanic from a variety of popular campfire and party games: Each player is given a (secret) role at the start of the game. Most players’ will be part of the Resistance, but there will be a few Imperial spies in the mix, as well. The Resistance members’ job is to identify these spies and stop them before it’s too late.
Throughout the game, players take turns secretly voting on different missions. The Resistance members always want these missions to succeed. Unfortunately, Imperial spies can choose to either let a mission succeed or doom it to fail. In the end, the Resistance is a game of elimination and bluffing that will quickly get even the most laidback groups pointing fingers and laughing.
2. Best for New Tabletop Gamers – Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride
Step into the world of strategy board games with this modern classic about building railroads and squashing the competition.
[ 2 -5 players | 30 – 60 minutes ]
Contemporary board games are flush with creative mechanics and immersive themes. But it’s nice to include a few games in your collection that bridge the gap between today’s heavyweights and classic titles like Sorry! or Monopoly. Ticket to Ride is a perfect example of such middle-ground.
In Ticket to Ride, players must build railroads across the contiguous United States. While building the longest railroad will earn lots of points, strategically connecting cities can be even more rewarding. Of course, sabotaging your fellow players is a big part of what makes this game so competitive (and fun!).
One of Ticket to Ride’s greatest attributes is the use of a large, central board. For players who have little experience with more complicated board games, this is far less intimidating than a tableau- or tile-based setup.
3. Budget Option – Codenames
Sync up with your teammates to win this fast-paced word association game that’s great for parties or icebreakers.
[ 2 – 8 players | 15 minutes ]
From hanging out with close friends to getting to know a brand new group, deductive party games are an excellent way to pass the time. One such game that is a must for any college student’s collection is Codenames.
To play, split the group into two teams and designate a leader for each. The board is made up of 25-word cards — each card belongs to a specific team, but only the leaders know which are which. The leaders must give single-word hints to lead their team to the correct cards while avoiding the opposing team.
This game is great for new college students living in dorms because of the quick playtime and team-based mechanism. While you can play with just two people, it really shines with larger groups. Either way, you can trust Codenames to be an “icebreaker” that is actually fun to play.
4. Best Nature-Themed Game – Wingspan
Study the world’s feathered inhabitants as you compete to build the best habitats for your favorite bird species.
[ 1 – 5 players | 40 – 70 minutes ]
If you or someone you know is studying the natural sciences, a game like Wingspan is practically a must-have. This board game has been extremely popular since its release in 2019, boasting a combination of great game design and fun mechanics.
At its core, Wingspan is an engine-building game wrapped up in an eye-catching theme. In it, players work as ornithologists (a.k.a. bird scientists) to observe and attract bird species to a specific habitat. To keep these birds happy, players must also balance resources like egg-laying and food.
Different bird species offer bonuses and power-ups, letting you collect even better birds on future turns. The base game alone features 170 bird species, with several geographical expansions either already available or in the works.
5. Best for Quick and Easy Gameplay – Tsuro
Take to the sky in this 15-minute strategy game featuring flying dragons and breath-taking graphic design.
[ 2 – 8 players | 15 – 20 minutes ]
Some of the best college tabletop games come in the most unexpected packages, as is the case of Tsuro. In this high-flying game, players move “dragon” pieces across the board. The last dragon flying wins the game, but they’ll need to avoid other dragons and the sky’s edge along the way.
Tsuro’s strategy is not about moving your character but instead about placing tiles from your hand. Each tile features flying paths — dragons must follow the path laid in front of them. Since meeting the board’s edge or overlapping with another player spells “Game Over,” things can get hairy with just a moment’s notice.
Despite such beautiful design and simplistic gameplay, Tsuro doesn’t jump out as a favorite among college students. But I know from my own college years that this game is a winner at casual get-togethers and bustling parties alike. It’s so quick and easy to learn that anyone, from experts to complete newbies, can jump into a session with zero issues.
6. Best Casual Game – Exploding Kittens Party Pack
Exploding Kittens Party Pack
Think multiple turns ahead to dodge furry bombs and set your opponents up for explosive failure.
[ 2 – 10 players | 15 minutes ]
Exploding Kittens Party Pack — an expanded version of the original game that allows for more players — is all about strategy. The thing is, though, that your strategy is just as likely to backfire as it is to succeed.
Winning this card game is pretty much like winning Russian Roulette. The deck is filled with Exploding Kittens, which, unless defused immediately after being drawn, eliminate the unlucky player. One-by-one players will fall until only the winner remains.
As far as where this card game fits into the average college student’s collection, think of Exploding Kittens Party Pack as the new Cards Against Humanity. It’s filled with laugh-out-loud humor, quirky mechanics and can be reinvigorated with tons of expansion packs.
7. Best for Art Students – Mysterium
Collaborate with your fellow psychics to solve a ghost’s murder using only the abstract, illustrative visions set before you.
[ 2 – 6 players | 42 minutes ]
Mysterium is a unique board game experience that’s perfect for anyone who enjoys thinking outside of the box. Using nothing more than some illustrated cards, players must decipher the story behind a ghost’s murder in this abstract communication game.
One player, acting as the ghost, must choose cards that communicate the location, weapon, and perpetrator of the crime — no spoken words allowed. For example, the ghost might say that the murder happened in the kitchen with a card bearing an apple. But clues can get much more complicated than that!
Mysterium is a co-op game, so the other players are allowed to talk and work together to solve the mystery. We’d love to see the types of clues a group of art students could come up with using the game’s beautiful illustrations and one-of-a-kind communication system.
8. Best for Comics Nerds – Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power
Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power
Step into the shoes of your favorite Marvel supervillain in this reimagined version of Disney’s popular Villainous game series.
[ 2 – 4 players | 40 – 80 minutes ]
With how popular Disney’s Villainous lineup has been with tabletop gamers, both new and old, it should come as no surprise that Marvel got the same treatment. Instead of classic Disney fairytale villains, Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power lets you play as your favorite comic book bad guys.
Players can choose from Thanos, Hela, Ultron, Taskmaster, or Killmonger as their villain. Every villain has a separate play area, Villain deck, and win-condition. Meanwhile, Marvel’s superheroes will try to thwart your plans in the form of Fate cards.
If you’ve played any of the original Villainous games, then this superpowered version will be extremely familiar. The most notable change is a shared Fate deck rather than separate cards for every character. A scalable difficulty system has also been added, which is great for introducing the game to new players.
9. Best Dice-Based Game – King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo
Roll dice and unlock power-ups in a battle to prove who is really the worst monster of all and rule over the destruction of Tokyo.
[ 2 – 6 players | 30 minutes ]
From Godzilla to Cthulhu, modern pop culture is full of mysterious behemoths that seem bent on destroying human civilization. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to play the villain. In King of Tokyo, players step into the roles of mutants, aliens, and other monsters to battle over Japan’s capital.
These battles are settled by rolling dice to collect points, gain energy, heal, or deal damage to your fellow monstrosities. Players can use gathered energy to draw a random power-up, beefing up their cinematic monster even further.
Playing King of Tokyo can feel a lot like a game of Yahtzee. Fortunately, the game’s fun theme and several playable characters (with more available from expansion packs) ensure it stands out. It’s a great game to pull out at a party or in a dorm lounge — each playthrough is packed with dice-rolling action and only lasts 30 minutes.
10. Best Bluffing Game – Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham
Line your pockets with contraband, bribes, or by leading an honest life as a simple apple merchant — the choice is yours.
[ 3 – 5 players | 60 minutes ]
Inspired by the world of Robin Hood, Sheriff of Nottingham tells a different tale of thievery and shady deals. Players take turns acting as the Sheriff, who inspects merchant goods for contraband. In this game, bribery is allowed, if not encouraged.
Merchant players must be truthful about how many items are going to market, but lying about what those items are is completely fair game. No one will know if you try to pass off contraband as a few chickens (unless, of course, the Sheriff calls your bluff).
For a party game, Sheriff of Nottingham is complex and a bit long-winded. Still, the rotating Sheriff role and opportunity for shenanigans will make time pass quickly. This is a great board game for groups that want a break from intense strategy games in favor of some light-hearted merriment.
What to Consider When Buying Board Games for College Students
Whether living in the dorms or off-campus, college is a time when friend groups are extremely fluid. In other words, you’ll probably be playing with near-strangers just as often as close friends.
The best board games for college are going to be those with a relatively low barrier to entry. If it takes hours to learn the rules of a particular game, it’s not going to work well at a party or dorm hangout.
While it’s hard to know exactly how difficult a game will be if you’ve never played it yourself, there are a few ways to figure it out. Most games with short average playtimes are fairly easy to pick up and play. You can also look for games advertised as “party games,” which are designed for this exact situation.
Number of Players
Between class, work, and extracurriculars, it’s not always easy to get a consistent group together for game night.
When shopping for board games to take to school or send to your favorite student, look for games that accommodate a wide range of players. For example, a game that works with 2 to 8 players will get a lot more use than one that works for just 3 to 4 players.
One last consideration to make is the size of the game’s packaging. College housing, especially dormitories, isn’t exactly known for being flush with extra space. And for students who move back home during summer, packing up a huge game box won’t be easy.
Card games tend to be the most compact option when portability or storage space is of concern. However, there are many traditional board games that pack down into small boxes, as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which board game makes the best gift for a college student?
There is no singular board game that reigns supreme over all others. Instead, you’ll need to think about what your giftee enjoys and would get the most use out of.
Most college students are tight on time and constantly surrounded by peers. Look for a game that is quick to set up, teach, and play. Your giftee will find far more opportunities to play a 30-minute game than one that takes 2 hours.
Gifting a board game that features a favorite hobby, media icon, or even relates to their major is a great way to surprise a college student. With so many excellent tabletop games out there, you can find one to fit any theme.
Finally, think about what games your giftee already owns. Some games are extremely similar in theme or mechanics, and the more varied their collection, the better.
What is a party game?
A party game is exactly what it sounds like: A board or card game that’s great for parties. These games normally accommodate several players at once, are easy to learn, and take less than an hour to play. It’s pretty obvious why party-style games make such good gifts for students and other young adults!
Most party games are extremely casual, which is fine. But there are plenty of fun examples that employ strategy, as well. For college students who enjoy tabletop gaming and want to introduce their friends to the hobby, party games are a great gateway to heavier titles.
Last update on 2023-12-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API