This is a very difficult list to make because so many board games are designed with the intention of creating the best experience for 4 players. I could literally list a hundred games here, but I will try to restrain myself to just a handful of the best 4 player board games, but no guarantees.
I am sure if I had an out of body experience at this very moment, my hands would look like Thing from the Addams Family uncontrollably clicking away at my laptop. Thing, will you do the honors?
In the meantime, here’s a handful of must-play four-player board games with something for everyone’s shelf.
6. Ghost Stories (2008)
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 60 Minutes
- Designer: Antoine Bauza
- Publisher: Repos Productions
- Mechanic: Cooperative Tower Defense
- For 1-4 players
- Supernatural horror theme
- Takes about an hour to play
- High quality components
- English (Publication Language)
In Ghost Stories, you take control of a group of monks with unique abilities attempting to prevent a village from being destroyed by forces of evil. It is an extremely difficult cooperative game, in fact it is considered to be one of the hardest cooperative games out there. If you’re looking for a big challenge with 1-4 players, that makes Ghost Stories one of the best cooperative board games.
This game is an extremely good cooperative experience that you will likely want to play over and over again, at least until you master it. It is relatively simple and makes for a good family game but has enough strategy and difficulty to keep gaming aficionados engaged.
The reason this game plays particularly well at 4 is that in order for the game to work, you must use 4 monks at all times. In a game with less than 4 players, you have to include the extra monks and activate their abilities occasionally, but it just doesn’t quite feel like it was meant to be played that way. It is truly at its best when you have four players, each controlling their own monk.
5. Concordia (2013)
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 100 Minutes
- Designer: Mac Gerdts
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games
- Mechanic: Card Drafting, Resource Management
- For 2-5 Players
- 90 minute playing time
- Historical strategy game
- For 2-5 players
- Takes around 90 minutes to play
There are so many games that use the theme of building and gathering/spending resources in the Mediterranean, well do not let the generic looking artwork and theme dissuade you, this is a delightful game.
This game is extremely simple to understand, but has an amazing amount of strategic depth because of the way the cards break the basic rule structure and add to the ever-changing board state. It is also an extremely interactive game in which you are often receiving resources because of other players’ actions and the cost of building becomes doubly expensive if someone has built there before you. However, the interaction never feels personal or like “take-that.”
The reason this one plays best at 4 is again two-fold. Firstly, it is the right amount of player interaction, buildings can get really expensive, really fast in a 5 players game. Secondly, the game can drag out a bit longer with 5 and the game just feels like it is the perfect length at 4 players. Every time I play this game at 4 players, I am surprised at just how smoothly it plays, even with new players.
4. Scythe (2016)
- Players: 1-5
- Time: 90-115 Minutes
- Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
- Publisher: Stonemaier Games
- Mechanic: Engine Building
- It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries
- Lead your faction to victory, building mechs, working the land, and exploring the mysterious factory, all while protecting your territory from the mechs of other encroaching factions
- Explore the alternate-history of 1920+ Europe through Jakub Różalski's stunning artwork
- For 1-5 players
- Plays in 90-120 minutes
Scythe is an engine building game set in a beautiful alternate 1920s Europa. It is already considered one of the greatest games ever made according to critics and public opinion and there are very few designers who have done more for the board gaming community than Jamey Stegmaier (Check out his blog and his Q&As for amazing tips on game design, kickstarter, etc.). I was fooling myself if I thought I could get through this list without including Scythe.
This game is excellent at all player counts, but in my opinion, it really sings at the player count of 4.
With so much asymmetry and player choice, the game SHOULD suffer at larger player counts due to downtime, but the action selection and the combat system are so streamlined that the game seems to play briskly no matter what. The only reason I prefer the game at 4 is because the player interaction is at a sweet spot for me. At 2 or 3, combat interactions are relatively low unless a player is truly looking for it, while at 5 it can happen just a touch too often for my taste. At 4 it just feels like the more natural experience.
The replay-ability for this game is also off the charts especially once you add in any combination of expansions, modules, etc. It is a relatively high entry point in terms of price thanks to some gorgeous production quality and art, but it is worth every penny.
3. Blood Rage (2015)
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 60-90 Minutes
- Designer: Eric Lang
- Publisher: CMON
- Mechanic: Area Control, Drafting
- Amazing Figures - From the different clans, to the ships, to the legendary monsters, all the Studio McVey miniatures in the game are beautiful and highly detailed.
- Breathtaking Art - With Blood Rage, Adrian Smith has created a world steeped in Norse mythology. Players are immersed in Viking folklore and invested in the outcome.
- Custom Clans - Players start with the same abilities, but throughout the game they’ll upgrade their clan and leaders and add monsters, creating their own strengths and strategies.
Blood Rage is a fairly straight forward drafting and area control game about being in charge of a viking clan and traveling around Yggdrasil pillaging, fighting, and dying at the foot of enemy clans or Ragnarok. You know, the standard life of a viking according to years of media reinforcement.
The chunky and exhilarating part of this game comes from the card drafting and card play. There are literally so many strategies to implement that every game feels like a new yet familiar experience. You can focus on upgrading your clan, or focus on winning battles, you can try to complete missions, or you can even tank yourself, deliberately sending your warriors to die in a blaze, and yet, that is a perfectly legitimate strategy, and if you execute it well enough, you could gain just as much honor as someone who has not lost a battle all game.
This is a game that plays particularly well at 4 players because of the area control and adjacency rules of the game. Locations will be highly contested and battles will occur often and people will be clamoring to jump in when the call to battle occurs. I usually shy away from battle driven games, especially ones with this much interaction, but this game just works on so many levels that I actually enjoy that part of it much more than I have in any game before it.
2. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (2014)
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 60-120 Minutes
- Designer: Jonathan Gilmore, Isaac Vega
- Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
- Mechanic: Semi-Cooperative Survival
- For 2-5 Players
- 90 minute playing time
- Great co-op game
- Playable in 100 minutes
- For ages 12 plus
Dead of Winter has some of my best memories in board gaming. I can still recall the feeling I had when a friend and I stared at each other with a reluctant and guilty sadness as we came to a long-debated agreement to vote our compadre out of the colony leaving him to fend for himself against the horde of zombies.
Worst of all, we knew he was not a traitor, but our only chance of winning (my friend and I) was to avoid feeding this non-traitor and his people our precious food. We felt terrible, I mean really really terrible. But then again if he did not spend the whole game searching for weapons in the Police Station, maybe we could have ALL survived together.
This is the type of drama you will surely encounter in a game of Dead of Winter, and it is memorable to say the least, but it is also emotionally draining experience and while I have played it at 5 players on a number of occasions, I am sure that I would never play it with that many again.
You see, the game can go as long as people are willing to let it go. Sure, the box says 1-2 hours on it, but if you have a group that likes to talk and debate whether someone is a traitor or a group who really likes to map out the round of actions, this game will take 3-4 hours easy. Every time I have played this game at 5 players, it has been a 4 hour experience and one that ended badly in some way, either anti-climatically or by someone deciding to tank the whole game for everyone just because they did not meet their personal agenda.
However, just by subtracting 1 player, you alleviate a little bit of that excessive playtime and more importantly, you condense the social aspects of the game to a more manageable level. You go from verbally questioning every single action a person takes, to simply cautiously observing the players around you. It plays fine at 3 players as well, but the tension definitely is a little too low at that count. So for me, I typically only pull this out when I have a group of 4.
1. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (2015)
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 60 Minutes (per session)
- Designer: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Mechanic: Co-op Legacy
- STRATEGY GAME: Players must work together playing to their characters' strengths as they plan their strategy of eradicating the diseases before they overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. A truly cooperative game where you win or lose together.
- COOPERATIVE BOARD GAME: Only through teamwork will you keep the world safe from outbreaks and epidemics. Your team must work together and plan carefully to stem the tide of infection while working toward finding the cures.
- PLAY OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR: Pandemic Legacy begins like the original Pandemic, but soon morphs into something more. Pandemic Legacy has a story arc that occurs over the course of a year. Each passing month brings new objectives, new challenges, and even new rules.
- THE STORY EVOLVES AS YOU PLAY - YOUR DECISIONS CARRY OVER FOR THE NEXT GAMES: Actions have consequences from one game to the next as you strive to avert global disaster. Trigger certain events and you’ll unlock tools that reveal strategies for dealing with each new problem. These developments have a direct impact on the game itself. There are many paths to follow.
- STRIVE TO SAVE HUMANITY IN THIS EPIC ADVENTURE: It starts simply. A virus tougher than the rest. Nothing your team can’t handle. But as January turns to February, things take a turn for the worse. This is no ordinary virus. The world is on the brink of collapse. The coming year will determine the fate of humanity. Gather your team and prepare for a campaign full of epic twists and evolving gameplay.
Pandemic Legacy is a legacy board game version of the ever-popular cooperative game Pandemic. You will play 12-24 games (about an hour each) to see the whole story unfold. You will be adding new mechanisms and tearing up and writing on components, and it WILL be one of the greatest board gaming experiences of your life if your gaming group is committed to playing it consistently and all the way through.
My group decided to binge play the entire game in one weekend and we played it at 3 players. It was and still is the best gaming memory I have, but while playing, I couldn’t help but feeling we could have used one more person to elevate that experience even further.
Those who played with me on that fateful weekend, you know exactly who that 4th person should have been (can you imagine, the 4 of us saving the world together?). Apologies for the getting sidetracked, now where was I?
This is an amazing game and more importantly an amazing experience. If you have a group that can consistently get 4 people together who are willing to commit to playing through this, click the link below and order this game right now, you will not regret it.
There are so many other games that could have been included in this list but these are definitely my most highly recommended games when you have exactly 4 players at the table.