25 of the Best Board Games for When You Have Exactly Five Players – Ask The Bellhop

This week is a good contrast to last week where I talked about great games for a casual game night. This week we’ve got someone who wants 5 player games that aren’t filler or party games. A gamer more after my own tastes.

Jay Gordon asks,

My game group usually consists of 5 players. It’s really hard to find something that plays well with 5 players and isn’t a filler or party game. Do you have any suggestions?

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The Short Answer:
Just buy Terraforming Mars if you’ve got a group of five looking for a game with some meat.

If you’ve got a group of five gamers looking for a solid engaging board game experience where their decisions really matter and the race is going to be pretty tight right to the end, you can’t do much better than Terraforming Mars in my opinion.

I do strongly recommend you include the Prelude Expansion with this as well, as the game can get long with five players and that little boost at the start of the game will help keep the total time down.

The Long Answer:
I’ve got a variety of great five-player board game suggestions for those of you who already own Terraforming Mars.

The secret to picking out the perfect game for your game night is knowing your players, and if you don’t know your players you want to find games with near universal appeal. There are a ridiculous number of games coming out every year nowadays (“It’s over 9000!”, it really was, in 2018) and trying to pick a game to play is all about filtering down the list of candidates.

Thankfully Jay has given us a good start here. Just by only looking at games good with five players, that eliminates a ton of games. Added to that Jay doesn’t care about party games or filler games. That’s a ton more games we can forget about. What I don’t know though is if Jay’s group digs cooperative or competitive games, if they like campaign games, if they like really heavy games or prefer medium games or what kind of game length Jay may be looking for here.

Due to this, I’m going to stick to our usual format and break my five-player, non-filler, non-party game suggestions into categories.

Five Players is the perfect player count for a team based game.

Star Wars Imperial Assault – Not only is this the best campaign based “dungeon crawling” game out there it’s also got the Star Wars licence. That’s a win/win for me. Imperial Assault is one of the tightest and best designed one vs. many games I’ve played. There’s no need for the adversary player to go easy on the players, everything is very well balanced with each side having a good chance of winning any mission. This game has the bonus of also including a skirmish mode, which is a two-player miniature battle game.

Descent Journeys In The Dark (Second Edition) – If you prefer your dungeon crawlers to be actual fantasy dungeon crawlers then this is what you want over Imperial Assault. Personally, I think the rules in Imperial Assault are somewhat better but if your group prefers the fantasy theme this is the way to go.

Fury of Dracula – One player takes on the role of Dracula and the other players are characters from the historic novel trying to track down and defeat the Count. This is an old game. I own the original Games Workshop edition. Since then three other editions have been released, each tweaking the rules in some small ways. The latest edition is from Wizkids and is the best looking yet, having pre-painted miniatures.

Letters From Whitechapel – This one is actually quite similar to Fury of Dracula but it’s a more pure hide and seek game. One player is playing Jack The Ripper while the others are the police detectives trying to find him. This game doesn’t have any combat and removes the random elements of Fury of Dracula and will appeal more to groups who prefer pure deduction over theme.

There are a ton of classic Eurogames that are fantastic at five players:

Settlers of Catan – While you need a 5-6 player expansion to play with five, I really enjoy Catan at 5. It’s even better than at six players as I find the board gets too crowded with six. Note there is a new rule with this many players, at the end of every player’s turn everyone gets a chance to build with the resources they have in hand. This stops players from accumulating too many cards between rounds and getting hit hard by the robber.

Power Grid – I think five is the perfect player count for this route building economic game. I’ve been a big fan of Power Grid since I discovered it many years ago. At one time it was my number one game. This classic still stands the test of time. A fair warning: some people find the amount of math in this game a turnoff. There is a lot of it but it’s all just money based addition and subtraction.

El Grande – Even after about fifteen years this is still one of the best area majority games ever made. I’m a huge fan of El Grande and happy to say it actually plays best with the max player count of 5. You want as many players as possible when you are all fighting to control areas on the same map.

Puerto Rico – While I think this classic game plays best with four it works pretty well at five as well. I would rather play five than three. This role selection game has been near the top of the Board Game Geek rankings since it’s come out and is still in the top twenty-five. Everyone should try this classic game at least once, it very much stands the test of time.

Shogun/Wallenstein – These two games (which are basically the same games with different themes) are second only to Terraforming Mars for me when I think five-player games. They are my absolute favourite folk on a map games, using the amazing cube tower for battle resolution. A very solid mix of Euro and Wargame mechanics has had these games in my top games list for a long time. They both play best at the max player count of five players.

How about getting your five players to work together in these cooperative games:

The Grizzled – A card driven cooperative game about surviving in the trenches of World War I. This has some very unique mechanics, a really unique and moving art style and engaging gameplay. It was nominated for seven different awards, including the Kennerspiel, though it has never won. My guess is that is due to the uncomfortable theme.

Mansions of Madness Second Edition – Your team of five investigators arrive at a spooky old mansion. What unspeakable horrors lurk inside and what will you have to do to stop them? The app-driven mechanics of this game greatly surpass the original one vs. many gameplay of the first edition. I was blown away by how well this new edition plays and feels.

Sentinels of the Multiverse – While there can be a bit of a downtime issue playing with five players, Sentinels of the Multiverse is still my go-to superhero game. Each player picks a hero, you then pick a villain and an environment to challenge them in and go to it. This game is all about teamwork and finding synergies between your various character abilities.

Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle Earth – This is the latest game in the Descent/Imperial assault series and it has changed over to be a purely cooperative game at this point with a required app. replacing the “Overlord” player. This has proven to be hugely popular since it was released and is considered by many to be the best in the series so far.

Here are some great medium weight games that play perfectly with five players:

Risk Legacy – I know a lot of people are going to baulk at the name Risk. Realize that Risk Legacy is not the Risk game you grew up with. No longer is the game about taking over the entire world, instead, each game is a race to four victory points, victory points that can be earned multiple ways. The first Legacy game, the board and objectives change as you play through the campaign. Worried about replayability? Well if you do actually manage to finish a campaign, your board becomes a Risk board, that you can continue to play on for years to come, that’s totally unique to your group.

Small World – This is a great area control game with some very cool mechanics where you match up a wide variety of fantasy races with various special abilities to end up with armies like Seafaring Vampires and Marauding Gnomes. As is true with most area control games, the more players you add the more cutthroat the game gets and this is definitely true of Small World.

Lords of Waterdeep – While I admit that waiting between turns can get a bit long in Waterdeep with five players, it still works. This is a great introductory level worker placement game with a very cool Dungeons & Dragons Theme. I find that the Skullport expansion helps out the 5 player game a bit by giving players more worker placement spots.

Endeavor Age of Sail – While I haven’t played my copy a ton of times yet, Endeavor seems like a great nautical area control game at a five person player count. Five players means more competition for spots and more diversity in what buildings get built each game. I found Endeavor surprisingly easy to teach despite it’s seeming complexity.

Istanbul – One of the unique parts about this game is having to pay people to use spots that are already occupied. With five players this type of player interaction happens quite a bit. Overall I really love the “movement” system in Istanbul, where you have to drop your family members off at spots to use them and then pick them up later or else you run out of options. This is a really solid pick up and deliver game that I personally dig quite a bit at five.

Tokaido – The most zen game ever, until one of the other players takes the last spot you needed to get that fifth sea panorama. With five players there’s more competition for spots making the game more cutthroat and that’s a good thing. Be sure to add the Crossroads Expansion when paying five though, so that there are more options at each spot and it doesn’t become a matter of haves and have nots.

Wingspan – The new hotness from 2019, this bird themed game from Elizabeth Hargrave has taken the board game world by storm. The only complaint I’ve ever seen about this game is the fact that it’s constantly out of print due to selling out. It’s an amazing looking game that even comes with a wooden birdhouse dice tower!

While they make take some time to play there are some great heavy board games for five players:

Concordia – I really love this game, unfortunately, the weight and playtime tend to scare people away. I will admit the scoring is also quite opaque and takes a few games to really figure out. That said, this is a great five-player option. While there will be some downtime, it will be well worth it. The two-sided map means this game scales well all the way up to five.

Scythe – Is there anyone out there that hasn’t heard the hype on Scythe? One of the most hyped board games of all time. Featuring fantastic art, great components and highly engaging gameplay. Scythe is now in the top 10 games of all time on Board Game Geek. One of the best strategy games out there and now considered one of the best games overall.

In the Year of the Dragon – This classic Stefan Feld game is all about mitigating disaster. It seems the Year of the Dragon wasn’t a good one, as players will have to deal with fires, drought and earthquakes. Be sure to recruit the right people to prepare for the coming year. I’m a Stefan Feld fanboy and this is one of my favourite Feld games. I really love that it’s all about planning for the worse and that the winner is the person that managed to do the best they could with a bad situation.

Rising Sun – Besides being one of the most overproduced yet beautiful games in my collection, I’ve found that this folk on a map wargame actually plays best with five players. This is mainly due to the tea ceremony mechanic where players make alliances with other players every round. With five players this means that there’s always someone left out, making the negotiations more tense and often involving more future promises and resources trading hands.

Once you get five players, maybe it’s time to put the board away and grab an RPG.

While writing this one of the things that came to mind was that if I personally had a group of five players, and all of them could commit to getting together regularly to play games, I would probably suggest starting a roleplaying game campaign over playing board games.

While I love board games, I’m still a big fan of pen and paper roleplaying, and while I have fun playing one shots at conventions now and then, or running a group through a beginner box, my true roleplaying love is an ongoing campaign.

Here are some RPGs I wish I could be playing right now:

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition – I was part of the D&D Next playtest team and while playing that I noted that I haven’t enjoyed D&D this much since playing 2nd Edition. I have since played a game of 5e at a con and still felt the same. It’s like 2e D&D with some modern mechanics like passive checks, inspiration and actual background information that matters. While I haven’t read through the new core rulebooks, I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. Plus I can’t deny the popularity of this edition of D&D.

Shadow of the Demon Lord – Since reviewing this dark fantasy roleplaying game back in March, I’ve been itching to run Shadow of the Demon Lord. The fact that the game has a limited time frame really appeals to my busy schedule. This game has been called a modern homage to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and that was the system I loved the most growing up.

Starfinder Beginner Box – The Pathfinder Beginner Box was, by far, one of the best RPG starter boxes I’ve ever experienced. I managed to take that box and the simplified rules within and turn it into an epic campaign that ran for almost a full year. Since Starfinder came out, I’ve been curious about this new Sci-Fi setting and when I heard that they were putting out a Beginner Box I knew I had to have it.

So there you have some of my top five player, non-party, non-filler, games. This list is close to my heart, as five players is one of my favourite player counts for game night. I find it’s the perfect amount of players for many crunchier, more competitive, games — the style of games I prefer to play.

So what’s your go to game for five players? Let me know in the comments below!

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20 Responses

  1. For an RPG, I would have to say “Star Trek Adventures” would be my top suggestion.

    For board games:
    And the heavy-ish games would be: Republic of Rome, Lewis & Clark, Villainous.

    For medium-type games: Small World, Cosmic Encounter (though the new version may only play 4 without expansion), Wingspan.

    And for light games: Munchkin, Rhino Hero

    But good list overall!

    1. Hey Phil,

      I am really curious about Star Trek Adventures. I had a great time with FASA Star Trek back in the day.

      I haven’t played any of your heavyish game suggestions. Small World I found the map to be too crowded with five players. I hate cosmic encounter and haven’t tried Wingspan yet.

      I doubt I’m ever going to recommend Munchkin though I know people who enjoy it. Rhino Hero is an interesting one, I hadn’t considered. My girls own it but we haven’t played in a few years.

      Thanks for the comment,

  2. No mention of Valeria: Card Kingdoms!

    I admit, I don’t think I’ve played with five…. but I have no reason to think it won’t be totally acceptable.

    I have played Smallworld with five players, though. Apart from some shenanigans with Sorcerers (I was getting 20+ points per round with my Merchant Sorcerers!) it worked quite well.

    1. The reason Card Kingdoms isn’t on the list is that it has one of the worst five player variants I’ve ever seen. With five players the fifth player takes a token and basically doesn’t get to play, that round. So that no one generates too many resources each round that player’s turn is skipped. Now that token passed to a new player each round but it’s still a really lame rule.

      Smallworld works, the map gets very crowded though, I prefer it with 4.

      Thanks for the comment Keith,

      1. Loth

        I can’t really argue with that one. It’s on the list right at the top. The only one that beat it out for me is Terraforming Mars. Mainly due to the fact it’s not such a long term commitment as a campaign game.

        Thanks for the comment,

  3. If you were a fan of FASA Star Trek, Moe, definitely look into Star Trek Adventures! FASA was my favorite Trek, but STA has stepped right up and is nearly on par for Star Trek enjoyment!

    1. Well that’s good to know. Right now a new game is totally not in my budget but I am going to keep my eye open for a deal. Maybe I should pitch them for a review copy.

      Thanks for the added info Phil,


  4. Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is a great new 5 player from the creators of MoM that my group has been playing a lot.

    1. Hey Arron,

      I picked up a copy of Journeys in Middle Earth but haven’t even cracked the shrink yet. I’ve heard very good things about it.

      Thanks for the comment,

    1. Jazon,

      Sorry, I can’t agree with you (or Tom Vasel) on this one. I can’t stand Cosmic Encounter. One of the worst games I’ve ever had the displeasure of playing. I don’t understand how this game can be as popular as it is. To each their own though, and I’m glad you dig it. It definitely has some fans, I’m just not one of them.

      Thanks for the comment,

  5. We play Cosmic every year at Gen Con and Origins. It is the only game that is always on the schedule. Maybe you are playing with the wrong people.

    We have done IA campaigns with four a couple times but that should be five. Easy pick. Power Grid is great. How about Battlestar Galactica for another heavy game?

    I am not a fan of terraforming but I think five makes it drag. I am a fan of Viticulture with 5 as it opens another space, drags with six, and I also like Kemet with five.

    Light games, Parks and For Sale.

    Dixit for non gamers

    1. Concordia is another one I love with four, not so much with five. but I guess if you have five and you have to play something….

      1. I personally dig it at 5, actually more with four. I like it best with 3, second best with 5.

        It’s always interesting to see how people’s tastes differ.


    2. Every time I’ve played Cosmic I felt I had very little control of my own destiny, between randomly determining who the target is and over the top alien powers I just didn’t enjoy myself.

      Battlestar Galactica would have been on this list if you had looked at it a week ago. I took it off due to the game now being impossible to find at a reasonable price. I didn’t feel right recommending a game that now costs over $300.

      Not a fan of Terraforming, say it ain’t so 😀 The trick with Terraforming Mars at 5 is the rules from Venus Next where at the end of each round the UN raises one of the terraforming requirements by one, chosen by the current start player. That really speeds things up at 5 players.

      Viticulture is a good call. I’ve only played it with up to four players, I actually forgot it did more than that. As for Kemet that game fell totally flat with the local gamers. I was one of the few people who actually liked it. It was so unpopular that I ended up selling my copy.

      Parks I’ve yet to try, I remember having some fun with For Sale but it’s been years since I’ve played it. Dixit is a winner.

      Thanks for the comment,

    1. Charles,

      Personally I wasn’t a big fan of Dogs of War. I actually just sold my copy at the end of last year. I don’t sell many games. It was a decent enough game, had some cool components but I think I have other games that do that kind of area marjory scoring better.

      Game of Thrones the board game is a pretty good call. The problem I have with that one is hurt feelings. That game is almost as bad as diplomacy for players making deals and then screwing over the other party. If that’s the kind of thing your group loves then great, but that’s what makes it hard to recommend to everyone as a great five player experience.

      We’ll be sure to mention both on our podcast though.

      Thanks for the comment,

  6. Space base is my main 5 player go to. I had to vasal recommend it when I met him once and it doesn’t disappoint. It has a lot of the dice rolling resource gains that you get with settlers of Catan but without that pesky kingmaker trading.

    1. Hey WoodyX,

      Space Base I really need to play. I’m a huge fan of dice driven tableau builders like this and just haven’t had a chance to play it. Right now Valeria Card Kingdoms (not good with 5) is my favourite but I know many people who prefer space base.

      Thanks for the comment,

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