Classic games of skill and chance, often used in fiction to illuminate characters' personalities. There are many board games, but those listed in this index are pretty much the only ones you will see in fiction. Often, the trademarked ones will have an in-world Brand X equivalent. In the last decade, piecepacks have become popular as a means of devising new board games.
For a brief overview, there are four general categories of board games: Abstracts like chess; Party Games, which have a penchant for randomness and fun over hard strategy; Wargames, which typically feature maps full of troops duking it out at varying levels of realism, and Eurogames, which focus on gaining victory points through economic competition over game resources rather than direct combat (the most famous of these is "The Settlers of Catan" - the Germans have a particular love of these and they can sometimes be called "German Games"). A fifth category not well known outside of Boardgaming circles is "Ameritrash" which focuses on the theme of the game and aggressive gameplay which mixes strategy and luck. (Named as a contrast to Eurogames which are perceived as very skill-based). It should be said that Ameritrash Games aren't always made in or are exclusive to America - games such as the Avalon Hill line of board games for many years reached international audiences but were cut from the shortlist of games to preserve in print because of Hasbro's Money, Dear Boy.
Many games float among these categories.
Some board games - especially of the war variety - are so complicated they become the trope Guide Dang It in that they are near impossible to play without the rule book in hand. Many review series and podcast series help gamers to understand new games and rate them, series like Tom Vasel's The Dice Tower and Paul & Quinn's Shut up and Sit Down
Since the 90s there's been a major revival of boardgames, and sites like boardgamegeek (which lists all existing games - yes, all of them) have many hundreds of thousands of members. Not to mention game conferences like Spiel (in Essen, Germany), which draws 150,000 people each year. Also, recent board games have been colored pink hoping more girls would buy them.
Recently, Wil Wheaton has promoted the board game hobby with his web series, Tabletop, where he and several 'geek celebrities' play a variety of board games. Additionally, webcomics like Dork Tower and Going OverBoard detail the adventures of your average Board Game Geeks.
A Massive Multiplayer Crossover homage to board games lies here. Also, a weird online game with lots of board games can be found at Boardgame Online.
A subset of Tabletop Games.
18XX: A variety of games on building railroads in the 1800s, with emphasis on designing quick routes and manipulating the stock market.
7 Wonders: A card based board game in which the goal is to make your wonder better than the other players', by building structures, winning wars, and researching science.
Abalone: A curious combination of Chinese checkers and sumo wrestling. Hails from France.
Backgammon: Not as popular a game anymore; the goal is to move your pieces into your own "home board" while doing everything possible to stop or outrun your opponent. Many of the higher-quality kits have boards that close and latch like a briefcase (with handle) for easy transport.
Battleship: Naval warfare game originally created for pencil and paper play, but successfully adapted into a commercial form by Milton Bradley. If characters are seen playing this, it usually indicates they've had way too much idle time to kill. Due to the deeply embedded memories of MB's marketing campaigns, nobody ever is depicted destroying a cruiser or carrier, but within 3 turns one player will finally announce "You sank my battleship!" This is more often than not done ironically, or with a lampshade on it, at least recently. It received a loose (and rather unsuccessful) film adaption in 2012.
Bingo: Gambling for for old people, at least in North America.
Candy Land: The stock example of a childish game. Children are enthralled by the colorful world, while anyone over the age of 10 will only play in order to spend time with someone under the age of 10. This treatment is very much Truth in Television: Candy Land is totally unaffected by any player choice nor is the flow of the game at all suitable for gambling.
Carcassonne: A Euro Game in which players compete to control and complete cities, roads and fields. Famous for having over 20 Expansions which add everything from simple things like extra tiles to entirely new game mechanics and pieces.
Checkers (also known as Draughts): The archetypical game of casual minds; e.g., young children and leisurely seniors. While definitely a simpler game than chess, checkers may be treated as if it were barely above the level of tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses). Extra bathos points for a character using a chess set and board to play checkers. Almost invariably, one character will be looking supremely confident until the other player reaches out and click-click-click-click-click takes most of their pieces in a single move, often with a smug "King me!" at the end when they make it to the last row (even though they made backwards jumps that would be illegal if the piece were not already a king.
Unless it's Russian Draughts, where men attack both forward and back, and kings move much like chess bishops, just like in Polish Draughts (the most commonly played variant worldwide, which in contrast to the Russian variant is played on a 10x10 board, and almost certainly did not originate from Poland).
Note that in real life checkers or draughts is an easier game than chess for beginning players and computers, but about as hard as chess for seasoned players, who in both games see an average of two valid moves in every situation. When played blind, 10x10 checkers variants are even harder to play than chess, because there are more pieces, and they're all the same.
Also, Chinese checkers is neither checkers nor Chinese — it's more of a race to move your army from one point on the board (usually in the shape of a Star of David) to the other. It's a derivative of a 19th century American game called Halma.
Chess: The supreme Western test of intellect. The Spock, The Professor and cunning villains will all play this superbly, because Smart People Play Chess. Show them a game in progress, and they will confidently announce, 'Mate in three/five/seventeen.' In practice, even the world's best professional chess players would not be able to consistently do this well. (Spock, at least, has the excuse that he's an alien.) Sometimes, as in House and Robert A. Heinlein's Sixth Column, it's just a bluff. Chess, in turn, comes from the Persian Shatranj (below), which in turn came from the Indian Chaturanga.
Cribbage: A rare combination of a card game and a board game, players advance pegs on a peg board to race to the end of a track based on rounds of card play. Utterly incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but undeniably popular.
Diplomacy: A game of diplomacy, war, and treachery for up to seven players. Players move their armies and fleets in simultaneous turns, with hidden written orders. You may end the game with fewer friends than you had at the start, as There Can Be Only One ruler of Europe, while the rest can enjoy having ornate daggers jammed into their backs.
EmpireBuilder: The original member of the Crayon Rail family, the main family of railroad games that are not 18XX games.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue: A cooperative game about firefighters struggling to save as many people as they can from a burning building.
Formula D: A tabletop game about vehicular racing with many complicated rules, thankfully, the game is divided into basic and advanced.
Ghosts: A two-player game taking place on a 6-by-6 grid representing a haunted castle, each player has eight ghosts, with four of them being good and four of them being evil. If one player gets all the opponent's good ghosts, s/he wins. If one player gets all the opponent's evil ghosts, s/he loses.
Go: The supreme Eastern test of intellect. The aura of inscrutable Asian wisdom doesn't hurt either, though in reality playing either game at world championship level is equally difficult. And then, in the other direction, there's... (See the Shogi entry much lower.)
Hangman: Guess the word or phrase letter by letter. Each time you guess wrong adds a new piece to the gibbet, noose, and hanged man. This game, of course is the spiritual ancestor of Wheel of Fortune.
Hnefatafl (King's Table): Scandinavian chess known at least from IV century A.D. — that is, Vikings played this. Mentioned in the Eddas and sagas both as a noteworthy skill and used for Chess Motifs: in Fridthjof's saga the King's man came with a war-related request to Fridthof and Bjorn who played the game, and they answered in game strategy terms, looking at the board.
Icehouse: A boardless board game played with pyramidal pieces pointing at each other. Something like a cross between Go and vector arithmetic; more than four hundred games using the pyramidal pieces are listed on one site alone here. note And created by Andrew Looney, inventor of Fluxx.
Jenga: As mentioned in the page quote. Jenga isn't exactly a board game per se; it's a game where you try to deconstruct a stack of wooden or plastic rods without it falling over. It was created by an African-raised Brit, and the name is Swahili (and trademarked by Hasbro).
Lupin III is a semi-cooperative game based on the adult cartoon of Lupin the 3rd and his gang, Gentleman Thieves, attempting to steal a treasure protected by Zenigata, an Implacable Man with an army of policemen to support him. Fujiko, the lone woman on the team, makes the game more interesting as she may betray her fellow thieves at any point.
Mahjong: The quintessential East Asian gambling game, where 4 players try to form 14-tile hands by drawing and discarding a tile per turn, in a manner vaguely similar to gin rummy. It could be considered the Eastern analogue to poker, being part luck and part skill and having many variants and House Rules. Commonly (but not always) played for cash stakes, converting points to money, although more recent trends have seen a shift towards playing for sport and bragging rights, especially with the Japanese Riichi variant. Not to be confused with Shanghai, which is a matching game played (usually on a computer) with an enormous pile of mahjong tiles.
Makruk Thai Chess, with short-assize pawns (i.e. starting on the third rank) that promote on the sixth, Bishops that move like Silver Generals in Shogi, etc.
Mancala: A family of "sowing games" where stones are distributed around a circuit of cups, frequently capturing the contents of the cup opposite where the sowing stops. It seemingly originated somewhere in east Africa and is fairly popular in the USA and parts of Europe. Some of the most recognized variants are Kalah (created in the US), Bohnenspiel (German-Persian), and Awari (Ghanaian).
Mastermind: Guess the code of the other guy, using the clues he or she gives you from wrong guesses.
Monopoly: A game for the whole family (so long as the whole family understands real estate, mortgages, land development, and math of at least a fifth grade level). Expect lots of squabbling, convenient luck and complicated trades, often extending outside the game.
Operation: Removing various punny pathologies from a patient who reacts to mistakes and slips of the hand with a buzzing red nose.
Pachisi (and relations like Ludo and Sorry): A series of games, originally from India, that involves racing pieces around a track and trying to be the first to get all of them to a home space.
Pandemic: A daring team of researchers and doctors out to stop the eponymous disaster.
Reversi (including the commercialized Othello): A vaguely Go-like game where surrounded pieces change color instead of being captured. Reversi can be very difficult to keep track of, since one piece placement can drastically alter the entire board, at least on traditional boards - computer-based versions take care of this on their own. Reversi variations have appeared in some Party Game series, including Point Blank, Mario Party, and WarioWare, with the caveat that a player must win a minigame to claim a square.
Red Dragon Inn : A board/card game where adventurers cheat each other out of loot.
Risk: A game for two to six players, featuring a full world map and hundreds of tiny pieces representing armies, in which the goal is to take over the world. This game often takes several hours to play out. A common strategy is to take over Australia as quickly as possible, since it's the hardest continent to attack. In Risk, every player tends to suffer from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, as alliances between players are made and broken on a whim.
Scotland Yard: A eurogame where up to six police officers must work together to track down the criminal Mister X (controlled by a seventh player) through a map of London.
Scrabble: A game for people who know lots of words and how to spell them. Having a big vocabulary is a plus, but actually knowing the definition isn't important to the game so long as it is an actual word. The Magic Poker Equation applies here. The winner always has just the right letters for a long, high-scoring, but recognisable word, and there's somewhere on the board that it'll fit. They rarely resort to kind of obscure words common in professional Scrabble: aa, cwm, etui. (Although one can occasionally expect Calvin and Hobbes-esque arguments over the legitimacy of such words as "kwyjibo," "xrbtt", "jozxyqk" or "zqfmgb.") Further, even though short words are common in professional Scrabble, anyone who plays a word less than four letters will be seen as a dummy. Another common Scrabble trope is when people playing the game all have and play words relating to the situation.
Senet: The oldest known board game, dating as far back as predynastic Egypt. The rules aren't known with any certainty, but approximate reconstructions exist.
Sittuyin: Burmese Chess, where moves 1-8 are devoted to mustering your forces.
Small World: A Risk-like world conquest game with fantasy flavor and an emphasis on individual racial powers in combat over dice rolling.
Snakes and Ladders, including the Americanized Hasbro version Chutes and Ladders: A kid's game, originally from India meant to teach moral lessons. Good deeds get you a ladder to the top of the board, bad deeds get you dragged down by a snake.
Tic Tac Toe (also known as Noughts and Droughts): First player to get three in a row wins.
Ticket To Ride: Family game in which you build railroads. Published by Days of Wonder.
Trivial Pursuit: A combination of luck and knowledge. Entire books have detailed not only strategies for choosing categories and both asking and answering questions, but also the game's inaccuracies and ambiguities.
Twilight Imperium: A space board/tabletop game that incorporates not just war strategy, but politics and trade as well.
Twister: Well, yes, there's a board, and yes, it's a game, although the players are the pieces. The aim of the game is to contort the players into shapes that don't collapse into a people pile. Or at least that's the ostensible aim; in practice the point is more to create embarrassing juxtapositions of body parts. It's sometimes used as a punchline for jokes, especially involving teenagers and an Over Protective Dad, suggesting that they are not playing so much as using the game as an excuse to feel each other up.
Xiangqi: Two housebound Generals send Chess-like armies after each other. The name literally means "elephant game", and it was what happened when chaturanga went east from India.
Yahtzee: Where players roll five dice, trying to get as many matching numbers as possible. If they succeed in getting all five to match they get a "Yahtzee" and a large point bonus. Bonuses are also awarded for poker hand-esque combinations, such as a pair of twos and three threes making a full house.