Best 3 Player Board Games – When Three’s Not a Crowd

I’ve narrowed down the best 3-player board games. My favorite? Terraforming Mars.

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Board games with three people can take a game from ho-hum to highly engaging. But finding the right one to play can be challenging.

Terraforming Mars is excellent for three people. It has variation, strategy, and an interesting theme. It’s also wildly popular, with a proven track record.

But you may want something different. I’ve reviewed the pros, cons, and features of the best 3-player board games so you can pick the right one for the best gaming experience.

Keep reading to learn more.

At a Glance

With such a wide variety of board games on the market, you need to know there is no single one size fits all best game.

 The following game types and features are common in 3-player board games:

Civilization Building

Many of the best 3-player board games include building civilizations. It’s an interesting theme that allows for a lot of variation. It also lends itself to different mechanics.

If you like civilization building games, you might go with Terraforming Mars, Tapestry, Catan, Through the Ages, or Kingdom Builder.

Engine Building Games

This game type is where players build up a system (i.e. “engine”) to gather resources, points, or money. The best boar games in this category require strategy, although the theme can vary widely.

Terraforming Mars, Wingspan, Catan, Splendor, and Century Spice Road all fall under this genre.

Cooperative Games

Is crushing opponents not your thing? You might enjoy a cooperative game like Pandemic or Spirit Island. These board games require players to work together to defeat opponents.

Good for Kids

If you’re playing with the family, you want something appropriate that kids can enjoy. I like Super Mario Game of Life, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, and Spice Road for younger players.

Best 3-Player Board Game Reviews

Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition: Best Overall

Players: 1-4

Playing time: 60 minutes

Age: 14+

Publisher: Stronghold Games

Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition is a faster-paced, slightly simpler version of the original award-winning game Terraforming Mars. The premise is the same, with players striving to achieve optimal oxygen, temperature, and water levels for human life.

In this engine-building game of space exploration, players control interplanetary corporations to make Mars habitable… while also making a nice profit. Terraforming Mars is for one to four players.

Like the original game, you draft cards to play into your tableau to build an engine that creates heat and oxygen. This is how you earn more money and victory points.

But unlike the original, you don’t play cities, forests, and oceans onto the board for positional points. Each player chooses a phase to play on their turn, and all players get to play that phase.

Some buyers drew the comparison between this game and Puerto Rico or Race for the Galaxy. The game mechanics are similar. You may draw cards, play cards, take actions, or gather resources.

Stronghold Games Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition Card Game Collectors Edition ,1 to 4 players, Orange

But don’t be fooled. Even though card mechanics are a large part of the game, this takes up more room than a card game. It resembles a traditional board game in the layout and space but is still significantly smaller than the original version.

This game shines with three players, even though it has solo and two-player modes. Because this game is a medium-to-heavy strategy game, it’s probably not best for novice gamers.

But if you like Terraforming Mars, you’ll likely enjoy Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition. Even if you aren’t a big TM fan, this is still a solid, fast-paced engine builder game.

For that reason, it earns a spot as one of the best 3-player board games.


  • Good balance
  • Quicker gameplay than original
  • Engine builder with cards


  • Not best for novice gamers

Catan: Best Classic Game

Players: 3-4

Playing time: 60 minutes

Age: 10+

Publisher: Catan Studios

Catan, formerly Settlers of Catan, helped usher in the modern age of gaming 20 years ago. It is a classic game. This euro-strategy resource management game is one of the best games ever created.

The base game can be played with 3 or 4 players, but I’ve found the three-player count to be perfect.

Players settle the island of Catan with five resources: sheep, grain, wood, ore, and silver. Players use them to build up their civilization.

The game’s hexagon board allows for endless variation. Catan is high up on the list of the best 3 player board games because of its wide appeal.

Everyone from light to hardcore gamers loves Catan. It is also a top entry game, which is the game you show to non-board gamers to get them in.

Catan (Base Game) Adventure Board Game for Adults and Family | Ages 10+ | for 3 to 4 Players | Average Playtime 60 Minutes | Made by Catan Studio

Some buyers were disappointed in the quality of the pieces. The pieces have not been updated in a while, true. Although as an abstract strategy game, that’s not unusual.

Others felt that the playing time was too long. That’s up to personal preference. It runs for about an hour, which is not long for this game type.

Either way, Catan should make an appearance at your next game night.


  • Blend of strategy & luck
  • Entertaining
  • Simple, streamlined rules
  • Fun for beginners and advanced gamers


  • Game components are not great
  • Lengthy playing time

Tapestry Board Game: Best Automa Option

Players: 1-5

Playing time: 90-120 minutes

Age: 14+

Publisher: Stonemaier

Next on my list of best 3-player board games is Tapestry. In Tapestry, your goal is to create the best civilization with the most storied history, starting at the beginning of human-kind and reaching into the future.

This is a civilization-building game that is easy to learn and fun to play. Start from nothing and advance your science, technology, exploration, and military to progress your civilization. You can attempt a balanced growth model or focus on a specific track.

Stonemaier Games Tapestry Board Game - A Civilization Building Stonemaier Game with 18 Painted Landmark Miniatures for 1-5 Players, Ages 14+

Buyers were surprised by the simple game rules. The play is quite streamlined, with excellent game pieces. And it has an automa option for those who want an extra player.

There were a few reports of a confusing rule book. House rules can clear that up, though. And be prepared to invest some time and money. This board game is lengthy and on the expensive side.

Some felt the game lacked balance, whereas others enjoyed the civilizations and felt it was just right.

If you like Stonemaier games and want something with quality pieces, this is a good game.


  • Easy to learn
  • Beautiful components
  • Has automa option for solo player
  • Streamlined


  • Long playing time
  • Confusing rulebook
  • Lacks balance
  • Expensive

Super Mario Game of Life: Best for Young Kids

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 30 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Hasbro

Inspired by Super Mario Brothers, the Game of Life Super Mario Edition features your favorite video game characters in a colorful twist.

Players play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, or Yoshi. They move through the Mushroom Kingdom and choose their path, along with which areas to explore.

But unlike the classic version of Life, this edition is not about money or retirement. Instead, the player’s ultimate goal in this board game is to defeat Bowser.

Players use coins to buy stars for a boost in the battle against Bowser. Compete in mini-games, like Rock, Paper, Scissors. And power up with special items and additional companions to help defeat Bowser.

Hasbro Gaming The Game of Life: Super Mario Edition Board Game for Kids Ages 8 and Up, Play Minigames, Collect Stars, Battle Bowser

Even though this board game is fun, it’s not an exact parallel to The Game of Life. Despite that, the game has solid reviews. Buyers liked the fun Mario theme and the easy rules.

They did confirm that this game is distinct from The Game of Life. For instance, you can move in different directions around the board, as opposed to one direction.

Some were disappointed in the quality of the game components. But in my opinion, it’s about what you’d expect from an inexpensive game designed mostly for kids.

If you want a board game for the whole family? Super Mario Life is a great pick.


  • Ideal for families, kids
  • Easy to learn
  • Quick gameplay
  • Inexpensive


  • Not much strategic depth
  • Game components lack quality

Clue Card Game: Best Card-Based Strategy

Players: 3-4

Playing time: 15-30 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Hasbro

If you like the intrigue of Clue but want something different, this Clue Card Game is it. Also published by Hasbro, this version has the fun of the original game packed into a portable card game.

Players use their best detective skills to solve the mystery and make an accusation. Who did it, with what, and where? The first person to solve the crime wins the game.

Gameplay is surprisingly similar to the board game but doesn’t require moving around the board to ask questions. Simply ask the person to your left about two items you think were involved in the crime.

Clue Suspect Card Game - All The Fun of Clue - in Minutes!,96 months to 180 months

Answering inquiries is the same in this card version of Clue. If the person has an evidence card to disprove the theory, they must show it to the asker. If they have more than one evidence card, they choose one to show. If they have none, they respond with, “I can’t help you.”

Instead of using a detective pad to mark off items, discard the cards to eliminate them from suspicion. Of course, bluffing is still allowed and encouraged! Ask about a piece of evidence you have to throw the other players off your trail.

Customers enjoyed playing this game. The portability and fast-paced play were a big hit. They did caution, though, that there isn’t much flexibility in groupings.

You can technically play with two players, but it’s not as fun. And there aren’t enough cards to support a 5-player game. You are best off with three or four players.

In a nutshell, this Clue Card version is the perfect game for traveling or killing time.


  • Strategy game
  • Fast-paced
  • Portable
  • Good value


  • Not much flexibility in groupings

Kingdom Builder: Best Deck Building

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 45 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Queen Games

Kingdom Builder is designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, the designer of the popular deck-building game Dominion.

In Kingdom Builder, players create their Kingdoms by skillfully building their settlements and aiming to earn the most gold at the end of the game.

A highly variable game board and varying scoring conditions will ensure that you can achieve a different game experience each time. For those who want an extra challenge, there are several expansions available, as well.

Kingdom Builder

In this board game, you can expand into five different terrains: grass, canyon, desert, flower field, and forest. To claim a territory, play a terrain card and place three settlements on unoccupied spaces of the corresponding terrain.

Gain extra actions by placing settlements adjacent to locations. Kingdom Builder cards determine the amount of gold each player receives at the end of the game.

Customers like the hex board and the built-in variation it provides. They also like that there are three different win conditions for each game. This adds excitement and unexpected twists to the gameplay.

Several did note, however, that there isn’t much interaction between players. You could theoretically play an entire game without speaking, which defeats one of the purposes of board games.

But the biggest drawback is that you can only draw one card, and you have to place settlements on the terrain shown on the card. This gives the game good balance, especially for younger players, but older players don’t have a lot of agency.

If you enjoy the board game but want more options, and are playing with adults or older children, I’d suggest having a house rule where people can draw more than one card and choose between them.

If you like kingdom-building games, then Kingdom Builder is a solid pick.


  • Kingdom building game
  • Good for novices & advanced players
  • Simple rules
  • Built-in variation
  • Good balance


  • Lack of agency
  • Low player interaction

Ticket to Ride Europe: Best Euro Game

Players: 2-5

Playing time: 30-60 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Days of Wonder

All Aboard! This train is headed to Europe! Ticket to Ride Europe is the next installment in the iconic train adventure series. This is a stand-alone game (not an expansion), so you don’t have to buy the original version to enjoy this one.

In Ticket to Ride, build your train tracks across Europe and connect iconic cities across an early 20th-century European map. As you build train routes, you earn victory points.

To start, you are given 2 or 3 secret route cards. It is your job to connect those routes by collecting colored train cards and using them to construct. You get points for completing those routes, as well as building the biggest and best train routes.

This game is playable with two to five players, but just three players are quite fun. It gives you plenty of room to space out and go for more ambitious routes. You also get more turns per game.

When you’re ready for new territory? There are plenty of expansions available, which explore other parts of the world.

Buyers enjoyed the added elements of tunnel and ferry routes, train stations, and European destination cards.

Ticket to Ride Europe Train Board Game for Adults and Family | Ages 8+ | For 2 to 5 players | Average Playtime 30-60 minutes | Made by Days of Wonder

If you are new to Ticket to Ride games, this one might be challenging to learn. Customers that complained about the game being too complex were almost all unfamiliar with the series.

But if you’ve played any version of Ticket to Ride before, you should be able to pick up the rules quickly.

Also, be sure to purchase the game from a reputable seller. Several people received damaged or counterfeit games going through questionable vendors.

The bottom line? Ticket to Ride is one of the best 3-player board games if you like trains or adventure games.


  • Good strategy game
  • Euro-style game
  • Easy to learn
  • Ideal for families
  • Offers great expansions


  • Difficult to learn for those new to TTR

Spirit Island: Best Unique Cooperative

Players: 1-5

Playing time: 90-120 minutes

Age: 14+

Publisher: Greater Than Games

Next up on my list of 3 player board games is Spirit Island. Set at the edge of the world, powerful roaming spirits dwell on an isolated island. The natives have learned to live in harmony with the spirits, but now would-be colonizers threaten to destroy the balance.

Taking on the role of the Spirits, players must team up and grow in power to drive the invaders from the island before it’s too late.

Each Spirit has its unique abilities and powers. Every turn, players simultaneously choose which of their elemental power cards to play. As the game progresses, the Spirits spread their powers to new parts of the island to seek out new powers. Meanwhile, the invaders ramp up their colonization efforts.

Greater Than Games Spirit Island Core Board Game, 4 players

Players must use intricate planning to make decisions and defeat the invaders. To win the game, the Spirits must destroy every single settlement or city on the island.

Winning this cooperative board game is a steep challenge, but once you gain momentum and scare the Invaders, victory becomes easier. They’ll begin to run away, abandoning cities or settlements.

This game takes around 2 hours to play, so you’ll want to dedicate some time to this board game.

Spirit Island has rave reviews. Buyers love this heavy strategy game, but they confirm that it’s not for beginners. There’s a learning curve at the first. However, once you get past that, Spirit Island is highly engaging.

Several customers did have broken casements upon receiving the board game. I recommend getting your storage casing if that happens.

Spirit Island is a great game for board gamers and gaming groups. It’s fun to play, fun to win, and even fun to lose. That’s a surefire sign for me that it belongs in the game board stash.


  • Complex strategy game
  • Fully cooperative
  • Entertaining and challenging
  • Loads of player interaction


  • Steep learning curve
  • Reports of broken casing

Through the Ages: Best Civilization Building

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 2 hours

Age: 14+

Publisher: Czech Games

An updated version of the classic civilization-building game, Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is one of my top 3-player board games.

In Through the Ages, players have to carefully balance their food, raw materials, science, and military to become the most influential civilization in the world.

The game takes place over five Ages, during which players take turns drafting cards, creating workers, constructing buildings, declaring war, and colonizing territory.

The goal is to accumulate culture points. The player with the most culture points at the end of the game is the winner.

CGE Czech Games Edition Through The Ages, Strategy Board Game

Through the Ages is quite complicated. Some buyers felt the complexity took away from the fun. It’s also quite lengthy. Two hours of playing time is a minimum.

But if you enjoy longer, more complex games, this one is entertaining. Buyers were pleased with the mechanics, the theme, and the solid components.

This board game allows for two to four players, but it’s best played with three players.


  • Great civilization game
  • Strategic depth
  • Good quality pieces
  • Resource management


  • Complex; challenging to learn
  • Lengthy playing time

Stone Age: Best Worker Placement

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 60-90 minutes

Age: 10+

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Stone Age is a popular gateway game that avid gamers introduce to non-gamers. This worker placement game has a blend of luck and strategy. It’s suitable for two to four players.

Players collect wood, break stones and wash gold from the river. They trade in hopes of expanding the village and achieving new levels of civilization.

There are a limited number of spaces, so you must determine the best actions to take each round. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

Stone Age

Buyers enjoyed this game as a gateway game. They liked the easy-to-learn rules and the quality of the pieces and art. Several did say this is better suited for three or four players.

This doesn’t have the niche of other games, so some customers found it to have a lower replay value. But despite that, they enjoyed the mechanics and the overall theme.

If you like light worker placement board games, Stone Age is a fun pick. It just may not be on the table as frequently as others.


  • Simple rule set
  • Euro style game
  • Resource management


  • Not as much replay value

Splendor Board Game: Best Entry Game

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 30 minutes

Age: 10+

Publisher: Space Cowboys

Set in Europe during the Renaissance period, Splendor is the game of all that glitters and shines. Players compete as jewelry merchants on their way to the top. This game supports two to four players.

As the leader of a merchant guild, you must invest in mines, send ships to the new world, and recruit the most renowned artisans. Your ultimate goal is to create the most fantastic jewelry to become the best-known merchant of them all.

In this strategy game, players collect gems of 5 different types, which somewhat resemble poker chips.

Once a player has enough gems, they can buy cards from the main display. Those cards act as permanent gems, reducing the number of chips you need to buy additional cards.

Merchants exchange gems for victory points. The first merchant to reach 15 points wins the game.

Splendor Board Game (Base Game) - Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Fun Family Game Night Entertainment, Ages 10+, 2-4 Players, 30-Minute Playtime, Made by Space Cowboys

Splendor is a fantastic game for families, mainly because of its smooth, fast-paced gameplay. Most games can be completed in under 30 minutes.

The user reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Users enjoy the quick playing time, the simple rules, and the intense competition. I find the artwork appealing, and many buyers agree.

The only consistent complaint? Several buyers received damaged boxes or used items. Be sure to go with a reputable seller to ensure your game arrives in the best condition.

Splendor is a good gateway game. It has enough depth to be interesting and enough simplicity for people to learn the rules quickly. I would recommend it as one of the top 3-player board games.


  • Great for veterans and beginners
  • Ideal for families
  • Simple rule set
  • Fast-paced play
  • Eye-catching artwork


  • Reports of damage during shipping

Pandemic: Best Cooperative

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 45 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Z-Man Games

When it comes to cooperative games, Pandemic is one of the best. It’s also my personal favorite. This intense board game pits a team of scientists against four deadly viruses that threaten the globe.

In this strategy board game, each player gets a role on the team, along with a special power. You could be the scientist who can build a research center, or perhaps you are the traveling pilot. Whatever your role, everyone plays each turn.

The board is a map of the world, with interconnected cities as spaces. Each turn, the virus spreads to new nodes. You have to complete different actions to contain, and hopefully eradicate, the viruses.

Customers have high praise for Pandemic. They enjoy the challenging strategy and cooperative elements. Several say this game requires a lot of talk among players, so it’s enjoyable and great for quality time.

Pandemic Board Game (Base Game) | Cooperative Board Game for Adults and Family | Ages 8+ | 2 to 4 players | Average Playtime 45 minutes | Made by Z-Man Games

A lot of buyers compared this game to a more complex version of Forbidden Island. And like Ticket to Ride, Pandemic also features several expansions. But the base game provides plenty of excitement, as is!

There is a learning curve on the front end, however. Some people were turned off by the complex rules. They also found it tough to beat, which is true. But once you get the hang of it, this 3-player board game is loads of fun.


  • Cooperative board game
  • Complex strategy game
  • Intense & entertaining
  • High-quality graphics


  • Not easy to learn
  • Difficult to win

Wingspan: Best Engine Builder

Players: 1-5

Playing time: 40-70 minutes

Age: 14+

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Wingspan is a medium card-driven, engine builder game that finds its sweet spot as a 3-player board game. It packs a lot of entertainment into one game, with an unlikely avian theme.

Players take on the role of bird enthusiasts–researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors–seeking to discover and attract the best birds to their network of wildlife preserves.

Each turn, players can take a limited amount of actions to grow and discover the hundreds of birds available. Players can gain resources (food tokens), lay eggs, or draw bird cards. From these actions, they try to build up the biggest fleet of exotic birds.

The game ends after four rounds. At that point, the player with the most points is the winner. There are multiple paths to victory, giving this game a lot of variation and strategic options.

There is very little interaction required with other players. Some buyers found this to be the biggest drawback of the game.

Stonemaier Games STM910 Wingspan with Swift Start Pack, Multi-colored

The flip side, however, is that it lightens up the competition. If you want to accrue points but don’t like intensely competitive games, Wingspan is a good choice.

The artwork and quality of the game pieces are stunning. Buyers are drawn to the beautiful details of this board game.

Wingspan is complex, so it’s not going to be one you can just jump right in and play. However, it does have a simple enough rule set that novice gamers can still learn and enjoy playing the game.

If you like engine-building games, Wingspan is a wonderful game for three players.


  • Engine builder game
  • Unique avian theme
  • Strategic depth
  • High-quality pieces & artwork
  • Light competition
  • Expansions available


  • Complex
  • Low interaction among players

Century Spice Road: Best Series

Players: 2-4

Playing time: 30-45 minutes

Age: 8+

Publisher: Plan B Games

Century is a series of stand-alone, mixable games. Each of the games is set in the range of the 15th to 17th centuries and depicts the trade routes of the era.

Century Spice Road is the first title in the series and is designed by Emerson Matsu Chi, of Specter Ops fame.

Players are caravan leaders who travel the famed silk road to deliver spices to the far reaches of the continent for fame and glory.

Each turn, players perform one of four actions: establish trade routes, make a trade or harvest spices, fulfill a demand, or rest. The last round is triggered once a player has claimed their fifth victory point card, then whoever has the most victory points is the winner.

Century Spice Road Board Game | Strategy/ Exploration/ Family Board Game | Ages 8 + | 2 to 4 Players | Average Playtime 30-45 Minutes | Made by Plan B Games,Multi-Colored,40000ENPBG

Many buyers compare this game with Splendor, which is a fair comparison in my view. What’s nice is that you can combine Spice Road with Eastern Wonders, another installment, for added elements.

A note of warning, however. If you’re color-blind, it might be difficult to tell apart the spices. Spice Road uses very similar colors on the spice cards, which can be tough to differentiate.


  • Colorful artwork
  • Fast-paced
  • Easy to learn
  • Includes abstract strategy
  • Other collections available


  • Difficult to differentiate spices

3-Player Board Game Buying Guide

There are no limits to the things you could be searching for in a board game, but I’ve found these elements to be essential.

First, you want a board game with streamlined rules. No one likes spending hours trying to figure out complex rules. Complex games are good, but they need to have clearly articulated rules.

Second, a game must have good quality components. They don’t have to be the fanciest, but attractive artwork and sturdy pieces will add to the enjoyment and longevity of the game.

Lastly, the game needs to have variation and excitement. If you know who’s going to win before you even start playing, it’s not going to be fun for anyone. Likewise, no one wants to spend good money on a game they only play once (except for legacy games).

Best Three Player Board Games: Conclusion

Which of the best 3-player board games is right for you? My recommendation for most people is Terraforming Mars.

If you want something cooperative? I’d go with Pandemic or Spirit Island.