Science board games might seem like an intimidating genre, designed for serious board game players – but that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s a variety of topics, from biology to science fiction to computing, and some with more science in them than others.
Whether you’re looking for a quickfire game you can complete in 15 minutes or you want to play for two hours, you’re sure to find something that takes your fancy in this list of the best science board games.
If you’re looking for gift inspiration, check out our best science and tech gifts. For more board game reviews, our sister magazines BBC Good Food, BBC History and BBC Wildlife have also reviewed themed games.
The best science board games to buy in 2021
RRP: $40 (£31) | Play time: 60 mins | Age: 12+ | Players: 2-6
Hard shell, long neck or an ambush predator? Your goal is to give your species useful traits so they will thrive. The point system is based on the total amount of food your species eats, a measure often used by biologists to quantify the success of a species.
Just try not to get too attached to your species, as the threat of extinction is never far off.
RRP: £39.99 | Play time: 45 mins | Age: 8+ | Players: 2-4
OK, so 2021 might not be the best year to recommend Pandemic. But despite the subject matter, this is still one of the best science board games. It’s great fun, and refreshing to play co-operatively with your friends rather than against each other.
Together, you travel the world, suppressing the spread of four diseases and sharing knowledge to find the cures. Between the sudden epidemics, the chain reactions and the threat of running out of time, the game usually ends with a nail-biting race to the finish.
RRP: $35 (£27) | Play time: 30-90 mins | Age: 13+ | Players: 2-5
In this chemistry-themed game, you play as a lab manager, racing your academic rivals to synthesise real-world chemical compounds. Each compound is represented with a card showing its name, molecular structure and state of matter, and you can claim those points once you have collected all the necessary elements.
Keep track of your score on a periodic table as you trade with your rivals and hurry to finish your compounds before – disaster! – a lab explosion.
Lovelace and Babbage
RRP: £19.99 | Play time: 15-30 mins | Age: 14+ | Players: 2-4
In this quickfire, science board game, you play as a computing pioneer, including Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, to programme the Analytical Engine. Your goal is to complete tasks using the Engine and your character’s special abilities.
A bit like the numbers round in Countdown, you perform mathematical operations to reach certain number targets and win points for being the first to achieve it. As the game goes on, you unlock more complicated operators which earn you even more points.
Onward to Venus
RRP: $50 (£39) | Play time: 90-120 mins | Age: 13+ | Players: 2-5
Play as a 19th-Century colonist in the steampunk world of the Dr Grordbort graphic novels. Your target is not unclaimed land in Africa, but the planets and moons of the Solar System.
Claim resources, attack other players and go big game hunting, but be careful: each planet and moon has its own potential crisis if you don’t keep good control of your colonies, from a robot uprising to space pirates. Grab your ray gun and let’s go!
RRP: £24.99 | Play time: 20 mins | Age: 12+ | Players: 1-6
Based on the comic books inspiring the Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy Game allows you to play as one of the Hargreeves siblings. Take on Hazel & Cha-Cha and other supervillains using your unique superpowers.
The gameplay is co-operative – sort of. Each round starts by drawing a ‘Dysfunctional Family Card’ that will wreak havoc on your harmonious group dynamic and turn you against your teammates. But even if you can defeat all the villains while overcoming your familial troubles, it’s not over yet: all the villains come back to life for the final battle.
RRP: $60 (£46) | Play time: 40-70 mins | Age: 10+ | Players: 1-5
Wingspan is a beautiful card game in which you play as a bird enthusiast aiming to attract the best collection of birds to your aviary. Collect birds from the set of 170 unique, illustrated cards, each representing a different species.
The birds you collect add to and improve your habitat, attracting even more birds to your wildlife reserve. Each bird also has an ability which can enhance your aviary further.
You can compete against your friends, or play in solo mode.
RRP: $44 (£34) | Play time: 60-120 mins | Age: 14+ | Players: 1-3
It’s the Ice Age, you’re an ancient human, and your tribe is depending on you. You’re a Neanderthal (or Cro-Magnon or Archaic human) and you have to battle with the elements to keep your tribe safe, warm and well fed.
You choose everything about your survival strategy. Assign your resources as you like, including sending tribe members to hunt megafauna or keeping them home to teach vocabulary to the children. Your goal, over the span of 40 generations, is to develop specialised skills and language enough to create a tribal culture in one of the best science board games of 2021.