High school movies would have you believe that board games and sports belong to two very different worlds. The sports people are six feet tall and six feet wide, striding down the hallway in letterman jackets, ball tucked under one arm, the world in the palm of their hands. The board game people, meanwhile, are in the library, wearing pocket protectors and glasses held together with sellotape, hunched over some chess pieces while said glasses steam up with fog.
The real world, however, is not so cliched.
Joe Manganiello, Hollywood heart-throb and high school varsity captain of the football, basketball and volleyball teams, is a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan. Shaquille O’Neal calls himself “the world’s tallest geek”. Frank Lampard can speak Latin.
It’s no surprise, then, that the shelves are stuffed with board games based around sport. Both share a collaborative and competitive spirit, both rely on tactics and luck, and both can either reward or punish risky strategy, depending on exactly how far you’re willing to push it.
Undeniably though, board games are less physically taxing. So, when you’re looking to recapture that sporting edge without ever getting off your chair, these picks of the best sports board games have you covered.
Best sports board games
- Flamme Rouge: It’s all about the timing in this cycling sprint finish.
- Baseball Highlights 2045: Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the ‘Borgs.
- The Football Game: Win your matches, manage your off the field scandals and climb the table as you take control of your very own football club.
- Crash Tackle Rugby: All the strategy, intricate timing and bone-crunching body slams of rugby.
- Camel Up: Place your bets early and win big, or hold your fire and wait to see how the madcap race unfolds.
- K2: Battle against other players or just the elements as you try and survive a dangerous descent.
- Jab: The fists fly as fast as the cards in this boxing game that puts you in direct control of your fighter’s gloves.
- Blood Bowl: Dungeons & Dragons meets the NFL, and they’re going hell for leather… or is that hell for pigskin?
- WWE Dice Masters: Wrestling stars old and new alike do battle in this strategic dice-rolling game with endless add-ons.
- Downforce: Start your engines and try your best to win… or secretly bet big money on your opponent instead.
1. Flamme Rouge
It’s all about the timing in this cycling sprint finish
If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France - or any tour cycling, really - you’ll know that there are two basic ways to win a stage. You either carve out a big enough lead throughout the stage that you cross the finish line unopposed, or you stay with the peloton until the final stretch and burst out at the perfect time.
This cycling board game deals with the second scenario: the vein-popping sprint to the finish, as you navigate slipstreams and jostle for position before making a late dart for the finish line.
In the game, you control two cyclists: a Rouleur and a Sprinteur. To win, you have to make sure one of these riders crosses the line first. Each team gets their own deck, and you must take care to play the cards in such a way that you don’t fall too far behind the pack, while also not giving opponents the opportunity to use your slipstream and not leaving your attack too late. Flamme Rouge is the mad dash to the finish line frozen in time for us to pick apart the moment-to-moment action.
2. Baseball Highlights 2045
Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the ‘Borgs
Let’s examine the future of baseball’s history. In the year 2032, the game has grown stale, so the league decides to shorten games to six innings each. Added to that, some pitchers have bionic arms installed and have become known as ‘Borgs, while the all-human players are the Naturals. There’s also ‘Bots, who are fully automated and can both pitch and bat, but cannot field. All caught up? Great! Because it’s your job to manage the team!
It’s the ‘Highlights’ in the title of this game which is of crucial importance. Unlike some other sports games that focus on the play-by-play of a game or day-by-day of a season, Baseball Highlights 2045 cranks the pace up. Each match sees you draw just six cards, deciding on whether defensive or offensive play is best; although some cards and players will allow you to do both simultaneously.
3. The Football Game
Lead your own football club to the top of the table, on the table
The Football Game is essentially a Football Manager board game, with the added challenge of keeping fans happy, maintaining the stadium and dealing with the day-to-day running of the club. So in that respect, it’s closer to a Football General Manager board game.
You play through six games, using coloured dice and tactics cards to determine the outcome of the football matches. A mixture of skill and luck is needed to earn your team the victory.
There’s also off-the-field drama like press scandals, social media blow-ups and injury crises that can work both for or against you. For added realism, each club has different expectations, so finishing higher up the league doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve won.
Buy The Football Game on Amazon UK
4. Crash Tackle Rugby
All the strategy, intricate timing and bone-crunching body slams of rugby
Crash Tackle Rugby, sometimes known as simply Crash Tackle, describes itself as ‘rugby chess’ - and, honestly, that’s not far off. It deals with a full game of rugby union, with you and your opposing coach managing the manoeuvres of all 15 players on your team.
As you control every individual step, pass and kick of each player, there’s an added level of control that stats-based manager sims can’t offer. Stats, tactics and positioning still play a big part, along with dice rolls and pressure play cards that lean into the thundering pace and knife-edge luck of top-level competitive sport. Of all the games here, Crash Tackle Rugby puts you right in the centre of the game, rather than controlling it from overhead.
Buy Crash Tackle Rugby on crashtacklerugby.com
5. Camel Up
Place your bets early and win big, or wait to see how the madcap race unfolds
While many other sports board games revolve around you managing the outcome of a match or competition, in racing game Camel Up you’re just betting on the results. Sitting on the sidelines doesn’t mean the pressure is off, however.
In this quick and easy game, you watch camels race around a pyramid. The earlier you bet, the more you stand to win. The camels move along the track based on the roll of a die, but - to add to the fun - can also hop on each other’s backs and be carried along to victory. Easy to pick up and engrossing from the start, Camel Up is perfect for any and all skill levels.
Battle against other players or just the elements during a dangerous descent
Mountain climbing is usually a sport where you’re only competing against yourself and the elements. Board game K2 does offer a solo experience, but also allows you to go head-to-head with up to four other players in a race.
You need to ascend the mountain and make it back to base camp while keeping your climbers alive. As everyone uses identical decks, there’s limited luck here - instead, it’s all about tactics. When do you move, and when do you shelter? Wait for a storm to pass, power through it, or try and beat it down the mountain? These are the sorts of decisions you’ll have to make that can mean life or death for your climbers on K2.
The fists fly as fast as the cards in this boxing game
Boxing’s fast and furious pace can be difficult to gamify without taking the sting out, but somehow Jab manages it. By drawing cards, you take direct control of your boxer’s fists in the heat of the moment.
Rather than a turn-based game, the fists are constantly flying. You need to keep your wits about you and strategise off the cuff, making sure to play the right offensive cards while still managing to defend. All the rush of boxing and none of the risk. It features some referential humour too, with bonus cards in the form of famous faces - Barack Obama’s Obamacare card can heal you up if you draw it mid-fight.
8. Blood Bowl
Dungeons & Dragons meets the NFL, and they’re going hell for leather… or is that hell for pigskin?
Blood Bowl is quite literally fantasy football, as players are tasked with running a twisted game of American football between a team of humans and a team of orcs. There’s a plethora of statistical analysis in play but, basically, the humans are all-rounders and the orcs are wrecking balls.
Various dice are used as the players move, pass, block or blitz leading to often violent outcomes. The game has several expansion factions to bring in more teams from the world of Warhammer, and has collectible figurines for every blood-splattered star player. It’s all-out war on the pitch, and the players are giving it their all - sometimes even their limbs.
9. WWE Dice Masters
Wrestling stars old and new alike enter the ring in this strategic dice-rolling game
WWE Dice Masters is a great game for wrestling fans because it includes old legends such as Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage alongside more contemporary superstars including Becky Lynch and AJ Styles.
Another entry in the Dice Masters series, the game sees two players taking control of a dice-based team to do battle with one another in the ring. All of the Dice Master games are fully interchangeable, so if you want to blend your WWE set with your Avengers set, your Justice League set or your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set, just grab the expansion packs and you’re all set.
Buy WWE Dice Masters on Zatu
Start your engines and try your best to win… or secretly bet big money on your opponent instead
Like Camel Up, Downforce sees you placing bets on the racing on the board - cars rather than camels, this time - but instead of relying on the chaotic luck of dice rolls there’s a little more tactical thinking involved.
You play cards to bid on which car you receive at the beginning of the game, but these cards may end up helping other players out more as everyone lays cards to race the cars around the track. A well-timed bonus card might even give you the perfect boost. You can also make secret bets on your opponents to cash in even if your own driver flames out. Downforce manages to capture the burning rubber mayhem of elite racing, while also embodying the spirit and glamour of the shady backroom deals of high-stakes gambling.
Buy Downforce on Amazon UK