In the last decade or so, board games have hit the big time again. This new wave of tabletop games is full of inventive ideas, beautiful art, and themes that are much more fun than property trading (although they do sometimes still include that).

The rise in popularity has partly come from improvements in the quality and variety of games, and partly because people see a growing value in spending time enjoying each other’s company in person, in a world where more and more of our contact with friends happens online. 

The following games will stretch your mind and your dexterity. We’ve got top board games for families and friend groups, or for two players to enjoy. 

1. BEASTS OF BALANCE

This high-tech game uses an app to ask you to balance differently shaped creatures on top of each other, which grows the digital world on your phone, tablet or TV. The system uses NFC to know whether you’ve placed the right piece or not. It’s not just about the creatures either: a new expansion includes Battle Cards, with power-ups you can place to cause havoc with other people, and there are other expansions with more creature shapes in.

2. PHOTOSYNTHESIS

In this game you become Mother Nature, controlling a forest, with trees of all sizes ready to plant. The shifting sun piece on the outside of the board alters the way shadows form on your trees, and your seedlings being blocked from sunlight is bad news – the way you cultivate your bark-based charges to full-bloom revolves around the sun (so to speak). Where you sow and grow can affect other players, so there’s some great strategy between you without being too cruel.

3. FRENETIC

Race yourself against others and the clock to create the most Scrabble-worthy word you can, but without all that hanging about and thinking – this is a free-for-all game. Draw tiles and lay them on the periodic play space and… start round one. Simply make words using the elemental symbols on the tiles, write them down and, after 45 seconds, score. As the game progresses toward the winning score of 1,000, more tiles means more word opportunities.

4. AZUL

Play with up to four others as you vie to claim the title of tile layer to the king in this award-winning game that’ll transport you to the palace in Alhambra, where these miniature tiles called azulejos were used. You select your tiles from the central factory spaces, with different options being offered by each manufacturer, and build your design on your own personal board. The aim is to complete rows and columns on your play area, with no wasting of tiles – anything you don’t use ends up on your floor and will be subtracted at the end. It’s jammed with strategy, and the satisfaction of building something beautiful (or the fun of trying to).

5. NINJA RUSH

Time is very literally of the essence in this game. The ninjas on the board have sand timers, and on your turn it’s your job to keep moving the ninjas as directed, while keeping the sand flowing. Eventually, you’ll flip a card passing a turn to the next player – if you kept all the timers going successfully, you’ll get a star, and the first to get stars wins. But the quick wits and fingers needed make it all a lot less simple (and a lot funnier) than it sounds.