Peter Jenkinson is the UK’s leading board games journalist. His job takes him all over the world, attending toy fairs and board game expos. His expertise and ability to absorb rule books means that board game publishers often seek his input for their next potential best-seller.
No longer something you drag out of a dusty cupboard to banish Boxing Day boredom, board games are enjoying a mainstream renaissance. This year, we are truly spoilt for choice thanks to continued growth among smaller independent publishers and major innovation from more established board game makers.
Having attended a number of worldwide events devoted to board games over the past 12 months, it’s evident that an entirely new category has arrived on the scene too - shelf-worthy. These board games are so beautifully crafted, you’ll want to keep them on display even when they’re not being played.
So here’s our new favourite games of 2019 - not too taxing on the grey matter but challenging enough to ensure they deliver on fun. Whether you’re looking for something high-tech, fast-paced or family-friendly, you’ll find it here.
1. Bank Attack
In this collaborative safe-cracking game, up to four players are each tasked with a role to release the $50 million reward inside. The electronic game offers a series of increasingly rapid instructions to each player and you’ll need to keep the pace up for five minutes to grab your stash. It’s a co-operative game and you won’t know who’s turn is next, so everyone needs to be alert if you’re going to succeed. Make a mistake and the vault is sealed. For seven and up.
In this two-phase game of the iconic 70s flick, one player takes on the role of the killer shark while the rest go on the hunt as Brody, Hooper and Quint. Part one of the gameplay involves the shark terrorising swimmers along Amity Island while trying to stay out of sight. In the second part, the shark-seekers climb aboard the Orca in the hunt for Jaws. The shark attacks the boat enough times, it wins. You manage to do away with the beast and you’re not going to need a bigger boat. Stick on the infamous soundtrack for added suspense in this hour(ish) long game.
An antidote for those who don’t like the inequality of quiz-based board games is this new title which gives those without University Challenge level knowledge a chance to win. For two players or more, you’re offered a series of question cards ranging from the expected “How many countries does the Equator pass through?” to the more obscure “How many times has Trump tweeted since taking office?” Players then decide upon a range in which you think the answer falls, and the player with the smallest correct range wins. With chances to double points, swap or copy answers with other players, this is a superb random knowledge gathering game where you don’t have to wait your turn.
4. Rats to riches
Play as a bunch of sneaky rats, each of you trying to get to the $100 prize and claim your title as the big cheese. Work around the game building up a sewer system and sabotaging everyone else’s along the way. It’s not as mean and nasty as these aims may suggest but with swindling and snatching along the way there might well be that occasional “Monopoly” moment. Great gameplay aimed at those 8+ and a rulebook easier to digest than a stinky cheese.
5. Monopoly Voice Banking
Every year, there are new iterations of the classic property trading game but none usually innovative enough to warrant a mention… until now. In this game, no player has to take on the burdensome role of the banker, which eliminates any concerns you may have that he/she has their hand in the till. Instead, the Mr Monopoly speaking hat uses voice recognition to track all your movements and purchases as you aim to snag entire streets, populate them with houses and hotels and ultimately take everyone else out of the game.
6. Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
Take on the roles of gardeners trying to transform the arid desert into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. One of the best-looking games out there for 2019, the tile-based play is a highly strategic game for 2-4 players but, with some playtime you’ll soon get the hang of it. The best way to learn this game is to take it on a practice run to understand the narrative and in no time, you’ll be putting up fountains and growing luscious green grass. One for the competitive gardeners out there.
This is probably one for more seasoned board game players, as you’ll need a modicum of patience to get to grips with the gameplay – but it is worth the effort. A must-buy for any ornithologist, the design and attention to detail is outstanding, just about justifying its price tag. Over four rounds, you’ll play the parts of various bird enthusiasts trying to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Gather food, lay eggs and populate spaces with the most valuable birds to win.
8. Cobra Paw
A fast-paced, simple and quick-to-set-up family game where reaction time is everything. Roll the two dice covered in symbols and match these symbols to the tiles laid out in the game play space. Your mission? To grab the correct matching tile before any other player – easy enough. If the dice is rolled and the tile has already been claimed by another player, you’ve a chance to steal it - unless they cover it up before you take ownership. Bring your ninja reflexes!
9. Deep Blue
In this treasure hunt game, you’ll each be captains of a ship, striving to gather the biggest haul. Gameplay starts with you each trying to attract the best divers and historians to give you the best chance of locating the most valuable wrecks. Race to the best dive-spots, try and get your divers to stay underwater for longer than your opponents. A mix of push-your-luck and strategy play, this is certainly a game that falls into the coffee table category - one you’ll want to keep out on display.
Indulge your dark side with this great family game that also takes players on a learning curve. Each player takes control of one of six Disney characters, all of them villains. You’ve a villain deck, fate deck, player board, and a 3D character. At your turn, you’ll move to a space, take the action required by the playing cards you hold and then replenish your deck. Winning demands being scheming and opportunistic, messing with other players plans and slowing their progress. Play new games with different piece for a new experience. It’s good to be the baddest.
All the products mentioned in this article are selected independently by our journalists. The Telegraph makes money by adding affiliate links to some of the products.