Times are a little tough these days. While the economy seems to be getting better, it’s not the powerhouse it was in the early 2000s. So these days, it helps to have game options that won’t break the bank.
While most board games can retail anywhere between $40-$100, we decided to check out some games that you can get for under $20. We figured a good starting point would be to go with the current amazon.com selling price at the time of this writing. While that will be below MSRP, we felt it’s a good indicator of what you can buy the game for. However, prices do fluctuate a lot on Amazon, so a few may creep above $20 for a bit, no promises.
With a $20 maximum price point, you are not going to find any deep, 2-hour strategy games in here. However, there were a surprising amount of great games for this list. There are a large number of card games, as to be expected, but some surprises as well. Even games that take only 15 minutes to play and be a lot of fun. Do let the cheap price fool you, there are a lot of hidden gems to be had here
So without further ado, here are our Top 20 Board Games for Under $20:
Probably the oldest game to make this list, Tichu has been around for quite a while. Tichu will feel right at home for people who enjoy partner-based trick taking games. Teams work to accumulate points and to be the first team to reach 1000 points. Unlike many trick taking games, the main goal of Tichu is to empty your hand of cards before the opposing team members do. Tichu also has 4 special cards that increase the strategy of the game play.
Tichu is a fantastic game for anyone who enjoys this genre of card games. Game play is simple, quick and there is a good amount of strategy you can employ as well.
19) We Didn’t Play Test This At All
A fast, fun and somewhat crazy card game. This game made the list for two reasons. First, it is a lot of fun to play, and second, to appease the people looking for Fluxx. I’ll be honest, I hate Fluxx. Can’t stand it. It feels to have as much strategy as Candyland and the theme is kind of pointless. But if I’m going to play a card game full of randomness, I’d rather play We Didn’t Playtest This at All. This game doesn’t have any notions about what kind of game it is. It’s fun, it’s wacky and it plays really quick. We Didn’t Playtest This At All feels a lot more interactive than Fluxx as well and some of the cards are just downright hysterical. The publisher did a great job of making this game so goofy, you can’t but help to laugh. It’s a good game if you just want to turn off your brain for 10 minutes or so and be entertained. FYI, this game is currently awaiting reprint (due in spring 2013), however you can still get We Didn’t Playtest This At All: Legacies. It’s the same game, but arguably better because you can customize it.
18) Catan: The Dice Game
Take one part Settlers of Catan and one part Yahtzee and you have Catan: The Dice Game. Fans of either game will enjoy this island building game. Players roll special dice each round as the try and build settlements, roads, cities and knights on their private Catan island.
The game play is actually more similar to Yahtzee than Catan, as player interaction is almost non-existent. Each player will have their pad of paper representing their own small island. This will lay out the things they can build with their die rolls. Players are required to build things in a certain order, so there is a bit of structure to this game. The game itself can be fun, but you have to go into it knowing what you are playing. To be honest, it mostly feels like a retheme of Yahtzee, but that dice rolling classing has a lot of fans, so I’m sure many will enjoy the new options in Catan: The Dice Game. It does make a nice little filler game, just don’t expect the interaction and depth of The Settlers of Catan.
Reviewed in the past on this site, Guillotine is a great card game. While the theme is a tad morbid (players are tasked with executing nobles), the game’s artwork takes a light-hearted approach at the subject matter. The game play itself is very quick: play a card, collect a noble (who are worth victory points). Players also have action cards they can play on their turn to alter the noble the collect. While player interaction isn’t a huge part of this game, some of the action cards will affect other players. Guillotine is a nice little filler game that can be enjoyed by just about anyone.
16) For Sale
For Sale has been labeled the King of Filler games by some. It’s a game about buying and selling real estate property all while trying to out deal your opponents. Like any good filler game, the game play is quite simple. One phase you buy properties (via an auction mechanic), and in the next, you sell them. Easy as can be. For Sale only takes about 15 minutes to play a game, putting it right in that sweet spot for a filler game.
While the theme isn’t the most exciting, the game does boast some great artwork and good quality components. For Sale is very easy to teach and accessible to all types of players. A great way to pass the time when you only have a few minutes to spare.
15) Zombie Dice
When I wrote this article, I knew I was going to include either Zombie Dice or Martian Dice. Both games have very similar in mechanics and game play. Both feature a press-your-luck style of game. I decided on Zombie Dice because the theme is a bit more fun and popular right now. But both are equally fun games in their own right.
In Zombie Dice, you are the zombies tying to eat some tasty, tasty brains. On your turn, you roll three dice from the available 13. You must collect brains to eat all while trying to avoid getting shotgunned to death. You can play a game in about 10 minutes and it can accommodate a large number of people. As the only real component is 13 custom dice, Zombie Dice is highly portable and can be played just about anywhere.
14) No Thanks!
No Thanks! is a great little filler game that most people should have in their gaming collection. We reviewed the game just a few weeks ago on the site and loved it for its easy to learn rules and quick gameplay. No Thanks! is all about getting the lowest score. The players decide if they want to take the card face up or place one of their limited number of chips next to the card and pass on taking it. It isn’t the deepest strategy game out there, but No Thanks! is entertaining enough to keep players coming back to play again and again.
13) Rivals for Catan
The Rivals for Catan is a reimplementation of the old Catan Card Game. In the Rivals for Catan, players take on the role of a prince of Catan. They must develop their individual provinces and compete to build a more successful province then the other player. Much like in the original Settlers of Catan, players will have access to resources that they use to build their cities and settlements. As their empire expands, so does their potential resources and victory pints. Much like in The Settlers of Catan, players can also trade with their opponent to get the resources they need.
While Catan: The Dice Game felt like a like reskin of Yahtzee, The Rivals for Catan feels like its own, complete game. It plays in about an 45 minutes and is a great choice for anyone that loves Catan, but doesn’t have enough players for the original game.
12) The Resistance
The Resistance is a card game where players are all part of a team trying to complete a series of missions. Unfortunately for the team members, there are a couple of traitors trying to derail their success.
At its heart, The Resistance is a party game of social deduction. If anyone has played either Werewolf or Battlestar Galatica, they will find some similarities here. The players (the non-traitors) must try and complete their missions each round, all while trying to deduce who the saboteurs are.
The game plays pretty quickly with its simple deck of cards. It takes about 20-30 minutes to play a game, depending on how much bickering and arguing there are between the players. For groups that like a lot of social interaction, The Resistance is a solid choice.
11) Mr. Jack. Pocket
Mr. Jack Pocket is a travel-sized variation of the popular Mr. Jack game. In Mr. Jack Pocket, one player takes on the role of Jack the Ripper and the other plays the Scotland Yard Detectives. Mr. Jack must try and hide from the investigators until enough time has passed for him to escape.
Mr. Jack Pocket is an interesting game as it takes a good amount of forethought to decide on your actions. The unique turn structure and limited player actions mean every one you take counts.
The rules are very easy to pick up and the components are small enough to travel with. One of the nice things about Mr. Jack Pocket is the game plays in 10-15 minutes. The turns only take a minute or two, but there is actually some deep strategy to be found here if the player wants. Planning ahead on turns and trying to figure out what your opponent will do can add some great depth to this quick little game. Pick up a copy if you are looking for something unique and portable.
Innovation is a news twist on the civilization building game. It takes players on a journey from the early ages through modern times. With some unique card game mechanics, Innovation is easy to learn and can play in about an hour. While the artwork for Innovation is rather bland, that’s more the made up for in interesting game play. Plays play and draw cards from different “ages” decks throughout the game. Each deck is more powerful than the previous as technology advances and players get more options.
As players build out their civilization, they acquire special powers they can use to make their future actions much more interesting. The game play can almost be too chaotic sometimes though, as players actions between your turn can greatly alter your plans. That being said, there is some deep strategy in Innovation that rewards out-of-the-box thinking.
9) Ra: The Dice Game
I am a huge fan of the board game RA, an auction game that I find to be a lot of fun to play. So when I found out they were making a dice game based on RA, I jumped at the chance to play it, and I wasn’t disappointed.
While The Catan Dice Game felt like a reskin of Yahtzee, RA: The Dice Game really does feel like an adaptation of RA. The rules are pretty simple, roll some dice, put aside the suns, reroll what you want (up to 3 times). What you keep and don’t keep will be based on how you want to score and what you have/need from previous turns. There is a thematic board to keep track of everyone’s progress and the game scoring will be pretty familiar to anyone who has play RA.
As with most dice games, player interaction will be fairly miniminal. However, turns should go by quick enough that downtime is kept to a minimum. Ra: The Dice Game can be played in about 30-45 minutes. While not as great a game as RA, it’s a solid filler game and problem the best dice game you can get for around $20.
8) Lost Cities
Lost Cities is a classic two player game that can be enjoyed by gamers and their non-gamer significant other. Each player take the role of an explorer trying to find an ancient lost city in five different locals around the globe. Players play cards in front of the expeditions they want to go on and accumulate points based on the value on those cards (between 2-10). Each city that the player attempts to find cost points (-20) and they need to gain enough points to make the trip profitable, if not, its negative points for the player. Player with the most points at the end of three rounds wins the game.
There is a large amount of tension in the game, because your hand size is limited and you must either play a card on one of the expedition tracks or discard. The issue with discarding is that the other player can take that card and use it on another expedition they are going on. A player has to manage their hand to gain as much points for themselves but not also give to many points to the other player. Very quick game play and an easy game to learn make Lost Cities an easy pick to be on this list.
Chrononauts is a fantastic game for anyone who has even a remote interest in history or time travel. Chrononauts puts the players in the roles of competing time travelers. The game features a large grid of cards that represent famous points in history (WW2, Sinking of the Titanic, Assassination of JFK and so on). Events along the timeline can be changed by the players, each of which can cause ripples throughout history. The object is to make the timeline represent the unique events that take place on your ID card.
The game play is quite simple and quick. (draw a card, play a card). One of the best parts of the game is that it features real events from history, so it’s fairly educational as well. Chrononauts also can bring up those “What If” questions. What would the history of America look like had Abraham Lincoln never been shot? Pick up a copy today for some time traveling fun!
Jambo is both a card game and tile game. One of the deeper strategy titles on this list, Jambo has players taking on the role of a merchant selling wares through a market stand. The game involves buying and selling goods, all while trying to maximize their available selling space and profit. Jambo comes with a number of different tiles to represent he goods you can sell and some very well illustrated cards.
It is through these special cards that help to keep Jambo interesting. These cards are varied in their use from attack cards to cards that help out the owner. Jambo is very cleverly designed with a lot of game play variety and easy to learn rules. Jambo also has a healthy amount of player interaction and works very well with its theme. Jambo is a great choice for anyone who enjoys a good economic game.
5) Forbidden Island
Co-Op board games have been very popular over the last few years. Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot are some of the best out there, but Forbidden Island is right there with them. This game places players as a group of adventures on a life or death mission to retrieve the 4 treasures on the island. Players must work together to stop the island tiles from sinking. Their different actions will hopefully buy them enough time to gain the necessary treasure cards and get off the island before it’s swallowed by the sea.
Forbidden Island is a great game to introduce the co-op game mechanic to a group of people. The components are top of the line quality and the artwork on the tiles is amazing for the price you pay for the game. I have seen games that cost $60 that don’t have this good of components and artwork. The game play is solid and a lot of fun to play. It doesn’t have the complexity or difficulty of some of the more expensive co-op games, but the game does not suffer. If you want to dip your toe into the co-op arena, check out Forbidden Island.
Bang! is a spaghetti western card game where each player takes on the roll of a cowboy from the old west. Each player will have a specific role: Sheriff, Outlaw, Deputy or Renegade. The fun part is you won’t know which player is who (except the Sheriff, he’s public). This creates some great players interaction as you don’t want to shoot your allies, but you won’t know who they are until they’re dead. The game play is fairly easy, amounting to playing cards on your turn to shoot the other players or increase your defense.
Players can play cards that give them better guns, some defense or unique event cards. It’s a game of deduction and risk-taking. Turns go by rather quickly, so the downtime isn’t too bad. Bang! is truly a fantastic game. The one downside of Bang! is that players can get eliminated at any point in the game. It’s not a whole lot of fun to die in the second round, and then have to sit and watch for an hour while the game is fished. Despite that fact, Bang! remains a really good game that will provide a lot of enjoyment for you and your friends.
Intrigue (reviewed last year on this site) is a great game to test your friendships. If you are a fan of the old board game Diplomacy, than you will feel right at home with Intrigue. I’ve dubbed Intrigue: “Diplomacy Lite”. Intrigue is a game of negotiating, trust, backstabbing and betrayal. The game is played over a series of rounds where you must negotiate with other players to take your workers into their palace. The other players, in turn, must try and find jobs for their workers. Jobs are acquired by negotiating with your fellow players, usually involving bribes and deals. However, promises are not binding and feelings will be hurt. The jobs that need to be filled are limited so every turn workers will be banished to the island of misfits.
If your friends have very thin skins and are hurt pretty easily, the you’ll want to avoid this game. However, if you can handle some good natured backstabbing and betrayal, you will have an absolute blast with this game. We have lasting memories from some of our sessions that we still talk about to this day. One of the benefits Intrigue has over Diplomacy is that a game can be played in only 45 minutes. It’s much easier to take a stab in the back if you didn’t just invest 5 hours of your life into a game. The other point I should mention is Intrigue plays best with 5 players. If you have an even amount, it’s too easy for players to split into teams and the game will end up rather stale. Pick up Intrigue today for some good negotiating…and maybe some betrayal as well. Don’t worry, time heals all wounds.
I was somewhat surprised at how much I enjoyed playing Friday. One of the biggest draws of tabletop gaming is the social aspect. Yet Friday is a deck building card game for only one player. In Friday, you take on the role of Friday and they must help Robinson survive in the wild while you prepare him for a battle against a pair of Pirates.
As a deck building game, Friday has you constructing your play deck as the game progresses. During the game, you are trying to remove the bad cards from your deck, while adding the good ones. There are some fairly unique mechanics that make Friday a hard game to win, but a very rewarding one. Each round you have to decide which of 2 encounters to face. While beating the easy card may seem like a good idea at the time, the card you pass one will comeback to haunt you as a harder card. It’s a risk versus reward decision that has to be made every turn.
Friday is a quick game that plays exceptionally well. While deck building games are nothing new, Friday has some very unique mechanics and works great as a solo game. It’s perfect for those nights when you can’t seem to get anyone to the gaming table.
1) Jungle Speed
To be honest, just about any of the top 5 games on this list could be sitting at #1. I thought about which game I’ve had the most fun playing over the years and landed on Jungle Speed. I’ve played the game more times than I can count with many different people. It has always been and enjoyable and memorable experience. That’s what made me decided to crown it as the king of games under $20.
Jungle Speed (reviewed earlier this year) is a great game to play with just about anyone. It’s a game of recognition, dexterity and sometimes regret. The game play is simple. Flip over one of your cards and check to see if it matches another players. If it does, be the first to grab the “totem” in the middle of the table. Do that and the other player gets all of your face-up cards. Be to slow and you get theirs. Simple, fun and somewhat chaotic.
Jungle Speed does a great job of building tension as the game progresses. People will start inching closer and closer to the middle of the table as no one wants to lose a duel. In almost every game we’ve played, there have been some fierce battles for that totem. People have been literally dragged across the table in an effort to win. The totem has also gone flying across the room in the mad dash to grab it. Thus why no beverages are allowed on the table during the game. Hands will be scratched, hopefully no permanent inures will occur.
I think it’s because of all that chaos and mayhem that Jungle Speed is so much fun to play. It’s the excitement that builds from people being so competitive. Lose one too many duels and you will start to hold grudges against that player. When you are holding a large hand full of cards, you start to take more and more chances.
The game play is fast, unique, chaotic and highly competitive. And its accessible to your non-gamer friends as well. I can’t recommend Jungle Speed enough.
So there is our list of the Top 20 games under $20. I think we’ve found more than a few gems in this group. No matter your budget, I think you can find something here to entertain you and your friends.
Do you think we missed something? Disagree with a choice? Let us know in the comments below.
Cheat Sheet for the Lazy:
19. We Didn’t Playtest This At All
18. Catan: The Dice Game
16. For Sale
15. Zombie Dice
14. No Thanks!
13. The Rivals for Catan
12. The Resistance
11. Mr. Jack Pocket
9. Ra: The Dice Game
8. Lost Cities
5. Forbidden Island
1. Jungle Speed