The best board games of 2023 so far

Earlier this year we launched this post as a guide to the best new board games of 2023. Now that the two largest board game conventions, Gen Con and Essen Spiel, have concluded, we’re back with even more great picks. It’s been a wonderful year, one full of fantastic, innovative new titles that spark imagination. Whittling down the list to just 10 games wasn’t easy, but what made the cut should keep you entertained well into 2024

This list is not ranked. Instead, titles are offered in alphabetical order. All are currently in stock and available for sale.

City of the Great Machine

CrowD Games’ City of the Great Machine has been a surprise. One player controls a steampunk mechanized AI whose grip on the floating sky city has tightened. The rest of the group opposes the technocratic authority by inciting dissent and sowing destruction. The goal is to foment three riots before the clock strikes midnight and the machine has squeezed the last sparks of life from the city.

This is a marvelous hidden movement game. Players plot their paths on the map using hidden cards, while the Great Machine attempts to deduce their plans. Location powers and special abilities are triggered during a dramatic reveal each round. There is latitude for creative solutions as you can move sections of the cities around and reconfigure the map layout. Furthermore, it’s a flexible design that includes an alternate rule set for the game itself to control the Great Machine, allowing for solitaire or cooperative play. It’s an underrated design worthy of greater attention.

Dark Venture: Battle of the Ancients

A wooded forest, with bridges and other medieval bits, covered with red and yellow dice. In the background a series of three comic-like books in bright, primary colors.

Photo: Gilded Skull Games

Dark Venture: Battle of the Ancients is a zany, heavy-metal skirmish game where players control hordes of alien creatures battling in a post-apocalyptic fantasy hellscape. It’s an indie title that promises more than its small stature, offering competitive, solitaire, and cooperative modes of play. You can command armies and clash head-to-head in dozens of scenarios, or you can take on any faction with a simple AI system running your foes.

This is a thrilling tactical endeavor where you spend limited actions to scurry about the map and pursue faction-specific objectives such as destroying enemies or gathering enough resources to build an overlord. Each of the different warbands is unique, with asymmetric play being a significant component. This is a relatively simple core design with a load of features piled atop. There’s nothing quite like it on the market today.


A shallow depth of field focuses on a hand of cards that are largely unreadable. The front one sayw Eathquake Fissure. The larger game board in the background is illegible, but largely green.

Photo: James Paul Correia Photography/Inside Up Games

The tableau-building genre — where players organize tiles, tokens, or, as here, cards on the table — has been revitalized in recent years. Hits like Terraforming Mars and Ark Nova have helped tableau-building games become more mainstream, and now Inside Up Games’ Earth is poised to take things to the next level. It’s a whole world better that its competition.

Players seek to build a self-sustaining engine of flora and fauna. The game has an open-world feel, supporting several different areas of exploration and allowing you to shape the environment however you’d like. The rule set is simple, but the interactions between the various cards and abilities are rich and satisfying. It’s also much less demanding than its peers, clocking in at roughly an hour for experienced players.

Freelancers: A Crossroads Game

An image of the components from the board game Freelancers

Photo: James Paul Correia Photography

Plaid Hat’s Freelancers: A Crossroads Game is a silly game. It has an Adventure Time tone, as players take on the roles of a mixed company of trolls, stilt-kin, dwarves, and goblins. You choose one of these species and then pair it with an oddball class, such as dung farmer or divorcee. Once you each have a character, you fill in Mad Libs-style prompts to build a narrative and background. Then you’re ready to start the adventure.

This is a cooperative story game not unlike Dungeons & Dragons in board game format. You travel along a map and then access narrative passages read from the fantastic Freelancers app. Sometimes you make Choose Your Own Adventure-style decisions, while other times you trigger unique entries based on the type of character you’re playing as, or see the game unfold due to a previous accomplishment made earlier in the adventure. It’s an approachable affair, with a ruleset that can be internalized in just minutes. The magic is in the story that emerges and how it incorporates player input to produce a stunning and hilariously irreverent adventure.


The Frosthaven box by itself sitting on a coffee table.

Frosthaven is so big they hired a submarine engineer to fit it inside the box. No, really.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Frosthaven is the highly anticipated sequel to acclaimed dungeon-crawler Gloomhaven. This follow-up is a cooperative RPG board game identical to its predecessor in spirit. However, it’s even larger than that previous monstrosity. The players control a band of adventurers diving into the tunnels beneath a frozen countryside to the north of Gloomhaven proper. New encounters, creatures, and characters will all be discovered.

The most interesting new feature is an element of base-building. In between adventures, the group manages resources and develops an isolated outpost. Your home is barely hanging on in the harsh elements, so you will have to work to manage survival and ultimately thrive. The classic mechanism of sophisticated card-based combat provides the same engaging gameplay we’ve come to love from the original. Frosthaven is something to behold.

Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory

An image of the components included with Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory.

Photo: Hegemonic Project

Hegemonic Project Games’ debut title takes the depressing realities of capitalist society and forges those elements into an absolutely gripping game of class warfare. This is a highly asymmetric design that has players taking on one of four roles: the working class, who are fighting for jobs and prosperity; the middle class, who must balance their workforce with the concerns of small-business ownership; the capitalists, who only care about lowering taxes and maximizing the profits of their corporations; and the state, which is trying to establish its legitimacy to govern the other three classes.

This political game is an economic simulation that explores the collisions of varying interests among the populace. Legislation is proposed and passed, taxes and minimum wage are at stake, and a constant stream of immigrants arrive seeking work. It’s a rich and evocative game that fosters contemplation of our society and its various ills. This is one of the most interesting and compelling board games of the past few years.

Sky Team

The full contents for Sky Team, which includes additional cardboard instrumentation for more advanced scenarios.

Image: Le Scorpion Masqué/Hachette

With copies first trickling out at Gen Con and now Essen Spiel, Sky Team has garnered a great deal of attention and praise. This two-player affair places a duo in the cockpit of a passenger airliner. The task is to get the bird home and land it safely. This is much more difficult than you’d imagine.

Part simulation and part abstract puzzle, players take turns placing dice to trigger various actions. You can deploy the brakes, adjust the flaps, and set engine speed. Cooperation is necessary to achieve success. However, communication is limited during the round, turning teamwork into an experimental process that you’ll have to feel out. In its most basic form, this is a 20-minute streamlined experience with clever twists, but as you progress through the numerous modules, the layered systems become rich and even more impressive. The amount of content to explore is vast, and despite its simple premise, Sky Team is a game with a surprising degree of depth.

The full contents for Sky Team, which includes additional cardboard instrumentation for more advanced scenarios.

Sky Team

Prices taken at time of publishing.

• 2 players, age 14+

• Playtime: 20 minutes

• Similar games: Apollo

Snap Ships Tactics

An image of the components of Snap Ship Tactics.

Photo: Snap Ships

Snap Ships Tactics isn’t your average release. It’s a full-fledged space combat system similar to Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, but it was designed to fit atop a preexisting toy line. Snap Ships have been available for several years and consist of snap-together blocks that allow for the construction of modular spacecraft. You can outfit your ships with various weapons systems, wings, and visual accessories. Now, you can also battle with them.

What’s surprising about this release is that the game is so damn pleasing to play. It’s packaged as a boxed set with two ships and all the cards and terrain needed to battle. Players each control a single ship, selecting how they want to configure their craft and what gear they will take. You alternate turns, moving along a template and activating weapon systems to fire missiles or unleash projectiles.

It’s a tense yet quick experience that doesn’t get bogged down with too many details. It’s more simple and approachable than the previously mentioned X-Wing, and it also supports a steady range of expansion vehicles. The game comes alive and fulfills its promise when each side fields two or more ships. This allows for a larger player count with team play, or for each participant to fly more than one Snap Ship.

Thunder Road: Vendetta

An image of the Thunder Road: Vendetta board game’s components.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Restoration Games is the company digging up old classic board games and revitalizing them with modern design philosophy. They are responsible for the wonderful re-creations of Fireball Island and Dark Tower, and their strongest restoration yet is the venerable Thunder Road: Vendetta. This new edition of the Mad Max-inspired board game from 1986 is sensational and sleek.

Players control a team of vehicles ranging from small buggies to larger vans. Dice are utilized to activate and move these automobiles along a rugged road, dodging hazards such as mines or oil slicks in an attempt to reach the finish line. Weapons are unleashed as cars take damage and careen like bumper cars in the congested warzone. It’s a fast-paced and visually inspired design that is evocative of its source material, and just a downright joy to play.

Votes for Women

Tory Brown’s Votes for Women is a stunning product. It includes replica voting registration cards, newspaper articles, and personal letters of historical significance. All of this sets the tone for a card-driven area-control game focused on the struggle of the women’s suffrage movement in America. As a set of systems, it’s similar to a historical wargame; as an experience, it’s a sobering retelling of moral achievement.

There is something particularly nasty about playing the opposition in this game. You utilize cards to sow dissent for the proposed 19th Amendment and rally states against your opponent. Thankfully, the game includes an automated system to control this side of the conflict, allowing one or two players to lead the suffragist movement and fight for women’s rights. This is a compelling release that compares to genre greats like Twilight Struggle, wielding intriguing mechanisms alongside a significant historical moment to produce a splendid educational experience.

Update (Oct. 19): We added five new games that impressed us this year, which you should keep an eye on as possible gifts as we approach Black Friday and the holiday season.