1. Photosynthesis ($30)

Photosynthesis is "absolutely perfect" for luring in folks new to the world of modern board games. Players grow trees for timber, strategizing as the sun circles the board. "You can revel in competitive meanness as your shadows smother your opponent's ill-laid shrubs," writes William Herkewitz at Popular Mechanics. Buy it at Amazon.

2. Azul ($40)

Inspired by Moorish art, Azul is another easy-to-learn, award-winning game in which up to four players win points by placing decorative tiles in various patterns. Beautiful and beautifully simple, it's a new "instant classic" among gateway board games. Buy it at Amazon.

3. Wingspan ($60)

The hottest game of the year was designed by an amateur bird-watcher, and "it's a marvel." Up to five players compete to attract and cultivate bird species in varied habitats. The playing cards feature hand-drawn scientifically accurate images of 170 birds. Buy it at Amazon.

4. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 ($69)

This twist on Pandemic’s cooperative strategy classic tasks two to four players with limiting the spread of four viruses. But in this heightened version, the rules change whenever the pathogens mutate — changes that carry over to subsequent games. Buy it at Amazon.

5. Terraforming Mars ($46)

This challenging-yet-rewarding game puts up to five players in control of corporations that compete to turn the Red Planet green — and inhabitable. Though the gameboard is ugly, the gameplay generates "a tight, tense experience the whole way through," writes Luke Plunkett at Kotaku. Buy it at Amazon.

Editor's note: Every week The Week's editors survey product reviews and articles in websites, newspapers, and magazines, to find cool and useful new items we think you'll like. We're now making it easier to purchase these selections through affiliate partnerships with certain retailers. The Week may get a share of the revenue from these purchases.