The Spinoff’s must-have board games this summer

If you’re looking for Christmas gifts or just trying to fill the void of silence with your friends and family this festive season, look no further than the humble board game. 

Christmas is coming which means long, lazy days with your nearest and dearest, perhaps eating too much and definitely still spending too much time on your phone. If you want to maximise your time with your people this summer (and potentially ruin a couple of relationships in the process), then look no further than the humble board game. 

In this era of weird isolation, where social media has replaced proper quality time with other humans, board games are back in a big way. How else do you get people to put down their phones, communicate with one another, make crack-up jokes and even start their own property portfolio on Lambton Quay in 2019? 

If you’re new to the world of board games and don’t know where to start, here are ten favourites that The Spinoff will be cranking this summer. 

Monopoly Deal

There are a lot of reasons why Monopoly sucks. It’s too long, provokes bitterness and inequality, and the vast majority of games finish with all but one player’s day ruined. But Monopoly Deal is a completely different game, which perfectly fixes all of those problems. It doesn’t really even have much to do with Monopoly, except for the branding. Instead of dragging towards a morbid conclusion, games feel social and engaging. And best of all, each one lasts about a quarter of an hour – and there’s almost always enthusiasm for another one. / Alex Braae


Yes it’s a game for four-year-olds, but anyone at the beginning of their te reo Māori journey will get a kick out of this. It’s a card game somewhere between Snap and Memory. You get one card that decodes the symbols and another card with eight symbols on it. There’s a pile of cards in the middle and as you turn over the top one, you have to find the matching symbols on your card and the one on the pile. The first to yell the corresponding word in te reo Māori wins. You have to really yell. This is not in the rules, it’s just how I prefer to play. Harder words like parekereke (jandals) are the funniest, especially when you get them wrong. But when you get it right, what a feeling! There are 57 symbols and 57 cards so you have to memorise 57 words in te reo. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they take root once you’ve yelled them aggressively at your friends and family a few times. / Leonie Hayden

Settlers of Catan 

You are a simple farmer, tilling the land for wheat on a warm summer’s morning. Your strong sons are building a road that stretches to the port, from whence you will set sail to find clay for your house and honour for your name. It’s like Monopoly, but more colonial and there’s no money. The land of Catan is conveniently both rich in resources and unpopulated. When you really get into the spirit of Catan the ghost of a conquistador will possess you, making you scream bloody vengeance over the loss of ore access. Tear your family apart just like they did in the old days – by stealing sheep. / Josie Adams

Sushi Go 

I get that Scrabble is a classic, Settlers of Catan is amazing and there’s always Monopoly, but if you’ve packed your car up to the absolute brim with boogie boards and beach umbrellas, sometimes there just isn’t room for a big box of game bits. Sushi Go! will fit in a glovebox, a door nook or a cargo pant pocket. It’s super easy to learn and more fun than you would expect to yell ‘Suuuushiiiiii GO!’ with each new round. / Alice Webb-Liddall


Articulate has been there for some of the funniest, booziest, longest summer nights of my life. It’s been the reason I’ve missed parties because the pre-drinks were simply too fun. It’s been responsible for my learning that the Ganges and the Andes are different things. It’s also been responsible for some of the crispest articulations I have ever heard in my life. Bee line? Simply affect a nasal bee voice, flap your arms rapidly (I know gestures aren’t allowed but it’s so much funnier) and declare “BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ AND I’M GOING STRAIGHT THROUGH!” Clear your mind, open your heart, and prepare to have a hard time getting people to guess Basingstoke. / Alex Casey

Secret Hitler

Half of the joy of board games is that they’re a socially acceptable forum to treat your loved ones in some truly unacceptable ways. Want to shout at your lovely aunt for secretly being a murderer, or maybe gaslight your little brother into thinking you’re on his team when you’re really trying to overthrow his government? Look no further than Secret Hitler, which is like your average game of Mafia, but with a whole lot more coups. In short, a few people play secret Nazis (don’t worry, actual Nazism is absolutely not required here and is, as always, discouraged) trying to get Hitler elected while blending in with the other players, who are trying to run a democratically elected government. Come for the intrigue, stay for the ability to scream ‘But you’re trying to elect Hitler!’ consequence-free! / Sam Brooks


Forget about chilling out this summer, there’s a global pandemic spreading from country to country and you, a scientist, a medic or an operations expert have been tasked with saving all of humanity!! Pandemic is a cooperative game that will test your communication skills, your logical thinking and your ability to not eat the delicious-looking little cubes of disease that litter the board. Because whenever the going gets tough during Pandemic and the spread of disease seems uncontrollable, I like to imagine dissolving one of the little jube cubes on my tongue. I’d go with yellow as a starter, then red for the main, then blue for dessert (please note: you are not supposed to eat the disease cubes). / AC

Pass the Pigs

When I was about four, I remember sitting at the dining table with my poppa throwing a pair of identical tiny plastic pigs in the air, watching them land, and then scribbling some numbers down in a little notebook. It was always puzzling to me why he seemed to love this game so much, especially when he wasn’t playing against anyone in particular, but now, 17 years later, I get it. It’s Pass the Pigs, and its perfection is in its simplicity. Throw the pigs, see how they land, gain (or lose) points depending on that, and then LOL with your friends. Alex Casey also told me she’s always been tempted to eat the pigs. Don’t do that, please. / AWL

Small World

Every summer, my buddy Mike packs up all his board games and art supplies and drives to the family bach at Whitianga. For the next few weeks Mike spends his days alone eating poorly, lying on the beach, zoning out and playing board games (and hand painting goblin masks, but that’s irrelevant). 

Around this time, my partner and I drop in and visit Mike, mainly to check that he hasn’t contracted some sort of lung disease from his aversion to dusting/vacuuming/cleaning. On one visit he insisted we play Small World, so we did and it was a very fun and pleasant experience. It’s basically an empire expansion game – you play a particular fantasy race like an Orc or a Dwarf using a mixture of special powers. I don’t remember much else of the game because I got quite drunk sitting on Mike’s deck, but I can testify that I was happy to be outside and pretending to be a wizard with my friends. / José Barbosa

Ticket to Ride 

If, like me, you forgot to properly book yourself a summer holiday, then consider Ticket to Ride your imaginary journey across your choice of vast, unchartered continent. USA? Yes way. Europe? Yuurp. UK? OK! Collect up delightful coloured train carriages as you compete against your beloveds to build the biggest and most exciting rail network on the board. But don’t be fooled for a second by the romance of the tiny rails, this boardgame can tear relationships apart. Sometimes I lie awake at night replaying the betrayal that happened to me, somewhere between Santa Fe and Calgary. Never forgive, never forget, and always use the rainbow cards. / AC

This content was created in paid partnership with Seriously Board & Game Kings. Learn more about our partnerships here.

The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.