Your Board Game Guide for While You’re Staying Inside

Have more fun indoors with these editor-tested board games.

BY LINDSEY ANDERSON, CHRIS DROSNER AND CHELSEA MAMEROW

We certainly admire those hearty folks who regularly hike, ski or snowshoe through the winter, regardless of what the temperature is outside. But some of us prefer to wait out the cold indoors, where we keep our electric blankets, industrial-sized canisters of cocoa … and board games.

Yup, turns out that several MilMag staffers are thoroughly obsessed with this age-old pastime, although many of the games they play are recent entries.

Here, they happily offer their expert opinions on some of their favorites.

1. Catan

3-4 PLAYERS, ADD-ONS FOR 5-6 | 1½-2 HOURS | AGES 10+

Players begin this 25-year-old strategy game with two settlements and roads, and build their network of power out from there. Settlements count toward the winning score and, more critically, reap the rewards of the resource tiles they’re built on. It’s a study in scarcity, deal-making and a little bit of luck.

“Catan is a perfect choice for families looking to try a game that’s a bit more complex and interesting than Monopoly. I’ve spent a lot of time since March playing on the Catan Universe app, where games move a lot faster.” – Chris Drosner, executive editor

Photo by CJ Foeckler

2. Ticket to Ride & Ticket to Ride: First Journey

2-4 PLAYERS OR 2-5 FOR THE KID-FRIENDLY VERSION | 30 MINUTES TO 1 HOUR | AGES 8+ OR 6+ FOR THE KID-FRIENDLY VERSION

Easy to learn, but not without action, Ticket to Ride is a gateway into the expansive world of board gaming. Players compete to claim train routes across North America with corresponding train cards collected during game play. Ticket to Ride: First Journey scales down the strategy just enough to make it accessible for players as young as 6, while still engaging adults in the competition.

“My kids think it’s special to have their own version of an adult game, and we enjoy it just as much as they do!” – Chelsea Mamerow, art director

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Two Friends Prove Diverse Games Are in Demand

Best friends (and Brew Citizens) Peter Ferry and Jason Crayton have always been interested in developing a fantasy board game that emphasizes diversity. On Nov. 10, they launched a Kickstarter campaign for Factions: Battlegrounds, a multiplayer combat game that does exactly that. And they were able to reach their $8,000 fundraising goal in less than a day, meaning that it’s only a matter of time before the game of their dreams becomes a reality. Visit factionsbattlegrounds.com for updates and more info. – LA

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3. Splendor

2-4 PLAYERS | 30 MINUTES | AGES 10+

You’re a Renaissance-era jewel merchant, and you want to increase your wealth and influence, while preventing your competitors from doing the same. That’s the idea behind Splendor, a fast-paced deck-building game that pits gem dealers against one another. It’s competitive but rarely contentious, and easy to learn but difficult to fully master.

“This is a game that works just as well for two players as it does for three to four. My fiancé and I like to play it when we’re stuck indoors and are tired of watching TV.”  – Lindsey Anderson, culture editor

Photo by CJ Foeckler

4. Pandemic

2-4 PLAYERS | 1½ TO 2 HOURS | AGES 10+

If this title feels a little too on the nose for a list of must-try board games amid the pandemic, know that Pandemic is a pulse-pounding classic in its own right. Players work together – a quality in board games that boosts its family appeal – to quell unpredictable outbreaks of infectious disease on a Risk-style board, balancing priorities of containment, treatment and research for a cure.

“While most of us can’t do anything about the real-world pandemic, it is cathartic to defeat the one playing out on your table. And because it’s cooperative and playable by two players, Pandemic is a great fit for quarantining couples.” – CD

Photo by CJ Foeckler

5. Mysterium 

2-7 PLAYERS, ADD-ONS FOR 5-6 | 45 MINUTES | AGES 10+

If you’re tired of your game nights devolving into arguments about who ought to be robbed next (*cough* Catan *cough*), check out Mysterium. You and your friends will have to work together to solve a murder in an abandoned mansion. And you’ll do it by attempting to interpret clues left behind by a friendly ghost.

“My sister, who hates board games, loves Mysterium. Partly because of the collaborative spirit of the game and partly because the cards the ghost uses to communicate with players are so beautifully designed – each one looks like a little work of art.”  – LA

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A Locally Made Game Perfect for Political Junkies

If you’ve ever puzzled over our country’s gerrymandering conundrum, you’re not alone. Milwaukeean Matt Petering was so intrigued by the problem that he created Distrix, a two-player strategy game that calls on players to compete for control of as many election districts as possible. The game took home a silver medal at the 2020 Serious Play Tabletop Game Competition and can be purchased at distrixgames.com. – LA

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6. Space Base

2-5 PLAYERS | 1 HOUR | AGES 14+ 

Strategic deck building and luck of the dice combine for endless game play options. Will you choose long odds for big rewards or the safe but slow and steady accumulation of money and points? With myriad combinations of cards, you’ll find new ways to outscore your opponent nearly every game – as long as the dice are in your favor.

“When one person rolls, everyone gains, keeping the pace quick. I prefer two-player – you have greater opportunity to craft your deck, resulting in a more exciting (and fun!) game.” – CM

Four Questions for Game Designer Peggy Brown 

MILWAUKEE RESIDENT and MIAD graduate Peggy Brown has been creating board games for decades. She’s worked with hundreds of companies – including heavy-hitters like Parker Brothers, Nickelodeon and Fisher Price. And she’s been a regular guest on “The Rachael Ray Show” for years. We asked her about the ins and outs of her enviable job. – LA 

What drew you to game design? 

You aren’t just designing a product. You’re designing the way that people interact with each other. You’re designing fun, which is completely fabulous. 

Of the games you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite? 

That’s tough. There are lots of reasons to consider a game a favorite. There’s the one that sticks around for 15 or 20 years and pays your mortgage. There’s the one that you wish you had as a kid. There’s the one that was just a lot of fun to create.

 What about the one that’s currently the most popular? 

Who’s the G.O.A.T? (Currently available at Target in stores and online!) is doing well. It’s light and silly, and great for families – especially right now. If you’re locked up with the same people all the time, people of various ages and skill sets, it’s something that everybody can play. 

Have you seen an uptick in board game interest this year? 

Yes! Sales are up 30% or 40%. We’d seen a steady increase for the last 10 years or so anyway. I remember that everybody was really worried when CD-ROMs came out that that was going to be the end of board games. But they bring people together. They get people to put down their phones and look at each other.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.