The first designer game which caught widespread attention in America, Settlers of Catan is a true masterpiece of game design. A random board layout ensures that every game is different, and there's a fine balance between skill and luck. Players compete to collect resources and use them to build roads, settlements and cities. Several game expansions are available. If you've never played, you owe it to yourself to give Settlers a try.
Some players study Scrabble like Garry Kasparov studies Chess, but that's not necessary to have fun. It's a strong choice to satisfy any word lovers who wander by for a game or two. The deluxe edition boasts several worthwhile features, including a board that spins and holds letters in place.
3. Puerto Rico
This is an incredibly deep strategy game in which players can follow various paths to victory. Players compete to be the best at growing corn, indigo, coffee, sugar and/or tobacco -- and getting their products on the ships. Each round, players choose from a variety of available roles (e.g. builder, mayor, settler) to help achieve their goals.
Hasbro first published this delightful game in Germany, and Uberplay has republished it as Hollywood Blockbuster in the U.S. The name translates to Dream Factory, and it's an auction game about making movies. I'm a sucker for auction games, and my college major was radio-TV-film, so I'm also a sucker for movie games. Players compete to hire actors, directors and crew members to make Hollywood films.
5. Time's Up!
Players compete in teams of two over three rounds of increasing difficulty to identify the same set of celebrities. It's not as easy as it sounds, and it's hilarious. Time's Up! won a Mensa Best Mind Games Award in 2000.
6. I'm the Boss
A great game of wheeling and dealing, I'm the Boss was published in English for the first time in 2003. As players move around the board, they try to put together deals -- but need help from their opponents to do so. Adding to the fun is the fact that those opponents not being included in the deal can send would-be deal-makers out of town, or even take over control of the deal by playing an "I'm the Boss" card. Great fun, as long as it's not taken too seriously.
HeroScape's subtitle is "The Battle of All Time" and it certainly is. Everything about this game is well done: the figures, the terrain, the rules, the scenarios. The fun starts by setting up your battlefield. The interlocking terrain pieces can be assembled in a practically infinite number of combinations. Players then draft armies -- choosing from dinosaurs, robots, samurai, and more. In my mind, HeroScape rates as the ultimate battle game.
8. ChessFor 2 players, ages 8 and up. Public domain game.
Some players spend their entire lives trying to master Chess. And having an 8x8 game board in your collection is always good (you can also play Checkers, Robo Battle Pigs, and many others). And I'd look for a Chess set that also includes Backgammon.
9. Smarty Party
Smarty Party is the most fun trivia game I've ever played. It keeps everyone involved constantly, and it can appeal even to those whose brains aren't packed with minutiae. One player reads and others answer questions with multiple answers. For example, players may name U.S. states bordering the Mississippi River. The clever scoring system almost guarantees every game will be close.
10. Mystery of the Abbey
I needed a deduction game on this list, and Mystery of the Abbey is a good one to have along. Who killed Brother Adelmo? That's the question players try to solve in this deduction game, which encourages players to make revelations ("the killer is thin") along the path to making a straight-up accusation ("the killer is Father William"). Other deduction games I considered include Inkognito, Sleuth and the Clue DVD Game.