The modern board game hobby has quite a few barriers to entry that make the gaming community quite exclusive. I won’t get into all of these (that’s a much longer story for a much different time), but for now, let’s talk about one of the barriers to this hobby: money.
Board games are EXPENSIVE! Sadly, it is true. But they don’t have to be and I am here to find you the best cheap best board games money can buy.
This list could easily be filled with card games and mass-market games, which can be great, don’t get me wrong. Go out and buy some of those, and play them until your heart’s content. In case you are wondering, top of my recommendations for card games would include Port Royal, Arboretum, and Bohnanza to fill that ache (I will try to dig deeper into these on a future article.)
For this list, we are looking for games with a bit more meat on the bones, ones that are true bargains for what they are serving up. Without further ado, here are the best cheap board games you can buy for under $25 (usually).
Note: Sometimes the prices on Amazon get inflated temporarily when titles are low on stock, If that’s the case (and even if it’s not), we recommend calling your local game shop to see if they have what you’re looking for.
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 40 Minutes
- Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Mechanic: Area Majority and Set Collection
|Imhotep Builder of Egypt | Family Board Game by Kosmos | 2-4 Players | Ages 10+ | Toy of The Year...||$33.99||Buy on Amazon|
This is an extremely fun game that manages to pack a lot of punch into it’s relatively light-weight package (literally and figuratively.) I was always surprised by how cheap this game tends to be, because it is a relatively big box, but then I bought it, I opened the box and saw that it was mostly air stored under a massive cardboard insert. That is OK though, because the game that is in there is great, and it leaves a lot of room for expansions.
In this game, you will all be competing builders in Egypt contributing to your run of the mill monuments, tombs, pyramids, obelisks, etc. (you know, the usual stuff). Every person has bricks in their color and places these on ships that can set sail when they have a certain amount of bricks on it. The catch is that once they are able to sail, any player can initiate it on their turn and take it to any location of that is still available that round. Basically, you can really mess with each other’s plans, and I mean a lot.
It is such a short and light game though that it doesn’t sting so badly when your friend messes with your plans because in a few minutes, you can return the favor. The game has a very nice flow and it is perfect length and complexity for a gateway plus game. It also, has a lot of variability with variable setup and a great expansion to boot. This one is highly recommended and is usually available at a price that won’t break the bank.
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 60 Minutes
- Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert
- Publisher: Space Cowboys
- Mechanic: Card Drafting, Set Collection
What an underrated game this is. You’ll be taking on the role of Demigods trying to earn a spot next to Zues. In order to do this you have to best fill your Elysium with warriors, goddesses, and even the occasional civilian. It has a couple of really neat mechanics, firstly there is the action selection mechanic.
During your turn, you can spend these Corinthian columns of 4 different colors to do one of two things: either draft a card or select a quest. The quest determines turn order for the next round AND which rewards you can reap this round. The neat thing about the selection is you can spend any color column to do any either action. However, in order to draft a card, you must currently have the columns to meet that cards requirements. I.e. if you spent your green column already, you will be ineligible to draft every card that requires green.
Considering that other players will be drafting some cards between now and your next turn, you best choose wisely which columns you spend or keep. Nothing feels more demoralizing to a potential Demigod than being stuck with a Corinthian column that is only able to attract a civilian (which is the backside of every card), they are quintessentially a participation award, although they do help with the set collection. About that!
The set collection in this game is extremely clever and creates a lot of tense decisions. You see, the cards you draft go straight into your domain where they can be used for their powers, however, only after they have been moved from your domain to your Elysium, do they actually score you points. The cards also have extremely unique and powerful abilities that make your decision to move them from your domain even more difficult. Once you move them, you can no longer activate their abilities. This game will push and pull you with tough strategic decisions and yet, it never feels like it overstays it’s welcome or that it’s hard to play.
Forbidden Desert (2013)
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 45 Minutes
- Designer: Matt Leacock
- Publisher: Gamewright
- Mechanic: Co-operative Play
|Gamewright Forbidden Desert – The Cooperative Strategy Survival Desert Board Game Multi-colored,...||$20.71||Buy on Amazon|
This game is, at this point, bordering the categorization of evergreen classic. The only thing that holds it’s back is the obtuse shadow cast by it’s older brother Forbidden Island, which is cheaper, more gateway, and gets a much larger chunk of the mass-market sales. However, this game is essentially the slightly more complex and more exciting version of the ultra-light Forbidden Island.
In this game, you take on the role of explorers who’s ship has crashed in the desert. You will need to work together to find the ship’s pieces, put the ship back together to get out of the desert before dehydration kicks in. The game has two extremely clever mechanics.
First, there is this ever-increasing sandstorm which will add sand tiles on top of the desert grid and it can be overwhelming. It is even more overwhelming because the sandstorm moves around the grid in a mostly unpredictable fashion.
Secondly, there is this cross-section mechanic that is used to determine the actual location of the pieces. Within the grid, you need to find two icons for each ship part and then visually draw a line to determine where they meet. Then, and only then can you place the ship part there and go get it.
This game is so good and it is extremely challenging. It honestly goes a bit under the radar considering how good it is, and I personally like it better than both Forbidden Island and Pandemic at this point.
Check out our cooperative board game spotlight for more games like this.
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 15-20 Minutes
- Designer: Bruno Cathala
- Publisher: Blue Orange Games
- Mechanic: Drafting, Tile Placement
|Blue Orange Games Kingdomino Award Winning Family Strategy Board Game||$19.82||Buy on Amazon|
While Forbidden Desert might be, there is no doubt that 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, Kingdomino, will be an evergreen classic. It is supremely light, so it is an excellent game to introduce to your non-gamer friends and it has enough strategy to keep the avid gamer interested. In this game you will be drafting domino tiles and placing them into your own little landscape surrounding your own kingdom’s castle.
Each domino tile is split into two halves and consisting of two types of landscapes. On the backside of the tile, there will be a number and the higher the number, the better the tile is (in a vacuum of course). This number also determines the order the tiles are placed AND the draft order for the next round. So cleverly you are forced to decide to either go get that tile that will give you extra points, or go for a not so great tile and make sure you can get your top choice next round.
Placing the tiles gives you another set of unique and tough decisions. You MUST place the domino so that at least one of the landscapes matches a landscape it is adjacent to. However, even more of a puzzle is fitting it within the specific grid parameters, either 5×5 or 7×7 depending on player count. It is surprisingly difficult to stay within these bounds and you will wish you had a lot more space than this.
At the end, you will score points for your city based off each landscape and if you are really good at puzzling together your kingdom you an make sure your castle is smack dab in the middle of your luscious landscape, you get a whole heap of bonus points (something I did on my first play-through and haven’t managed to do since)
- Players: 3-5
- Time: 30-50 Minutes
- Designer: Hal Duncan, Ruth Veevers
- Publisher: Osprey Games
- Mechanic: Deduction
Don’t let the beautiful cover artwork fool you, this is a 100% no-frills deduction game, but boy is it a good one. The designer and developers have distilled this game down to its purest possible form and it does not offer a drop more than it needs to, which makes the game incredibly smooth and accessible, despite its extremely abstract nature.
At the beginning of the game, players are each given a different booklet of clues and based on a card, each player is instructed to look at a specific clue within their unique book. These clues will seem general and not super helpful at first, for example, your clue may say something like “The creature is within 2 spaces of a mountain.” But as the game progresses the way you use that information will be your key to victory.
During your turn you will be asking players if the creature can be at a location. They will place down a disc to say yes or a cube to say no. If that player places a cube, that means everyone can eliminate that space as a possibility (and in turn, any conditions that would have allowed that to be the correct space). In addition, YOU must also place a cube in a place where you know the creature cannot be, therefore providing players with even more subtle bits of information.
Eventually you can initiate a search at a location where you think the creature could be by placing your own disc there. In clockwise order players places a disc or cube. If a cube is placed, the search has failed, but if all players place a disc, congrats, you have located that slippery creature!
One great thing about this game is that every single game has one perfect solution. They also have managed to create a web app to randomly generate a new game for you, so there are little hundreds upon hundreds of clue combinations and solutions. You can check that out here:
First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet (2017)
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 60-90 Minutes
- Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
- Publisher: Portal Games
- Mechanic: Thematic Worker Placement
Forgive me for any typos during this section, I’ll be spending the next few minutes dodging the tomatoes that are coming barreling through my computer monitor.
This game gets so much flack, too much, if you ask me. Yes, this game is a disappointment compared to Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, and yes, this game (like the aforementioned) is bloated, and yes, it will take you a solid 2-3 hours to learn how to play it, and yes, you will STILL make mistakes when you play it.
Pro tip: Rodney Smith from Watch it Played, does an amazing job teaching this game in under an hour and it will definitely make the process much smoother. But be forewarned, you will still make mistakes. But is the game really as bad as everyone makes it out to be?
The answer is a resounding no in my opinion. In fact, if you go into without expecting the world and you are an experienced gamer who can manage to muddle through the rules and grasp them, it is actually a really fun and very thematic experience. It truly manages to capture the awful feeling up being stuck up on Mars all by your lonesome and having (basically) everything go wrong.
Plus, the amount of game you can get for this price is outstanding. It comes with a complete set of scenarios and campaigns that will get you your money’s worth.
It may be an unsettling opinion, but I truly enjoy this game. I say take a chance, and give this one a little time to stew before writing it off.
- Players: 2
- Time: 60 Minutes
- Designer: Andreas Steiger
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Mechanic: Worker Placement, Set Collection
|Thames & Kosmos | Targi | Two Player Game | Strategy Board Game | Golden Geek Award Nominee |...||$49.99||Buy on Amazon|
In Targi, each player takes on the role of a Tuareg tribe leader and will be sending workers and trading resources to gain gold and extend your tribe. This is a small box game that is deeply rich with strategy thanks to a really unique worker grid worker placement mechanic.
Players will take turns placing their workers on the outside of the grid (disregarding the 4 corners) and taking the actions on that card as well as the actions of the cards in which their workers meet. This is very similar to Forbidden Desert’s method of determining the locations of the ship pieces (mentioned earlier in this article). The thing that really boosts the tension on this one is that there are a number of restrictions to the worker placement.
Firstly, you cannot place your worker where the robber currently is (the robber is sort of just strolling around the board throughout the game acting as timer/barricade). Secondly, you can not place your worker on a spot with an opponent worker. Thirdly you can not place a worker on a spot directly across from an opponent worker. These restrictions breathe an intense amount of strategy into this one.
You will constantly struggle to strategically place workers to use a specific card, block your opponent from getting cards in the middle, and secure your chance of getting the card in the middle that you want. It is a real brain-burner of a game, but it is an incredibly satisfying experience.
If you want to see a bit more, be sure to check out the excellent review by Cardboard Rhino below:
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Broom Service (2015)
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 30-75 Minutes
- Designer: Alexander Pfister, Andreas Pelikan
- Publisher: Ravensburger
- Mechanic: Role Selection, Pickup-and-Deliver
|Ravensburger Broom Service for Ages 10 & Up - Intense Strategy Game of Skill, Lucky, & Bluffing,...||Buy on Amazon|
In broom service, you are taking on the role of witches brooming around collecting potion ingredients and delivering them to locations across a magical land. It is a silly but charming theme and it goes perfectly with it’s gameplay, which is the true spotlight of this extremely underrated game.
Players each have a set of the same 10 role cards. At the beginning of the round, players will each choose 4 of them which they will use this round. The first player will pick one of their cards, reveal it, and announce whether they are brave or cowardly. If they are cowardly, they immediately take the action associated with that role. Any other players who have selected that role this round will have the same choice afterwards, cowardly or brave. If they have not selected that role this round, they just say so and the choice moves onto the next player.
The really juicy part comes when someone announces they are brave, they have a chance to take a much more powerful version of the action, but ONLY if nobody else following them has the selected that same role card. If anyone does have that role, then you get nothing at all. It is such a great interactive push your luck mechanic and being able to read the players potential moves this round makes you so much more likely to be brave, which makes them so much more likely to do the unexpected, just to trick you into getting nothing, and soon you can see the mind-game looping round and round like a perfectly weighted top in your dream.
The mechanic, is so simple and yet so brilliant. As I am writing this article, I can visualize myself slowly moving this upwards in my top 100 spreadsheet. The great thing is, this game often goes for fairly cheap, so be on the lookout and do yourself the favor and snag a copy when it does.
The Quest for El Dorado (2017)
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 30-60 Minutes
- Designer: Reiner Knizia
- Publisher: Ravensburger
- Mechanic: Deck Building
|Ravensburger The Quest for El Dorado: Golden Temples Adventure Family Game For Ages 10 & Up||$65.95||Buy on Amazon|
In Quest for El Dorado each player will take on the role of explorers racing to the lost city of gold. This is done by building up a deck of equipment and specialist cards that allow you to efficiently push your way through the various terrain types. Each turn you will draw 4 cards, play any number of these to move forward through the corresponding terrains and then buy up to one card with whatever coins you have leftover. That card goes into your discard pile and can be drawn during later turns to give you better movement and flexibility.
I will be honest, I went into this game with a bit of hesitation because the idea of deckbuilding in a race to the finish gateway-plus style game did not excite me. This game is surprisingly good and I was wrong to underestimate it. The mechanics work very well together and there is just a great flow to the whole experience. This game just works, and it is an amazing choice for families and gamers alike.
If you find this game interesting, check out our other recommendations for deck building games.
While you could go out and spend hundreds of dollars on gigantic Kickstarter games with tons of miniatures, we suggest you give you these modestly priced games a shot as you just might find a whole lot more game than the price tag would indicate.
This has been the best cheap board games you can buy for under $25. Feel free to leave some comments below and even throw a few tomatoes my way if you think I’ve missed something or made a mistake.
Cheapest Board Games From the Community:
If you’ve made a cheap board game under $25 that fits the spirit of this list, leave a comment and let us know or Tweet some info at us. We want to round-out this list with some projects that might not get as much attention as other games on here.
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