15 Board Games for Non-English Speakers (Language Independent)

emily mini profile pic By Emily

Board games are great at bringing people together. But what if you want to play board games with non-English speakers? What if you’re playing with a group who speak different languages at varying levels of fluency?

Thankfully, there are some great language independent board games out there that work really well for speakers of any language.


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Tokaido meeples
Tokaido meeples

I’ve personally played all 15 of the games in this list. They are chosen based on my experience playing games with friends who speak English as a second (and sometimes third or fourth) language.

All the games have the four characteristics that I look for in board games for mixed language groups.

1. Mostly pictures

A common trait of Eurogames is that the same game can be used all around Europe by only reprinting the rule book. To achieve this, game components rely on images, symbols and numbers rather than text to communicate what they do.

2. Simple rules with interesting gameplay

If the game is complicated to learn and understand, it can be hard to teach it to a person who speaks a different language. It also makes answering questions about gameplay tricky.

The best language-independent games have simple rules you can teach by showing, not telling. But simple rules doesn’t have to mean a boring, simple game.

3. Don’t need much talking

If the people in your group all speak different languages, a game with lots of talking is not such a great idea. Trading, complicated bluffing games, and co-operative games all require a lot of talking so don’t always work so well.

4. No cultural references

Games like Dixit and A Fake Artist Goes to New York are awesome picture-based games. But if there’s one person from another country in your group, it can be difficult for them to give good, yet vague enough clues to do well at the game.

Cultural associations in one country are different from another. What is considered obvious in one country, might not be in another country.

Language-independent board games

1. Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride board game
Ticket to Ride trains

Number of players: 2-5
Time to play: 30-60 minutes

Ticket to Ride is a classic Eurogame. The board is a map of North America showing vacant train routes between cities. Players compete to collect different coloured train cards and complete the train routes between the cities.

Each turn players pick up cards and play trains. The only words on the game components are the city names on the board and the route cards. But the route cards also have pictures showing the route. The simple mechanics and lack of words make Ticket To Ride a winner for non-native speakers.

Take a look at Ticket to Ride on Amazon to see what people are saying about this award-winning game.

2. Skull

Skull discs pink
The pink disc set and play mat in Skulls and Roses

Number of players: 3-6
Time to play: 30-45 minutes

Skull (also known as Skull and Roses) is a game of bluff and deduction with beautiful artwork.

The games of Skull I’ve played people haven’t involved much talking or debating. It’s more a game of narrowed eyes, deduction and chance taking.

Each player is given a play mat and a set of 4 discs. 3 discs contain a flower and 1 disc contains a skull. Each player takes it in turns to play a disc face down on their mat. When someone is ready, they announce how many flowers they can name. Other plays can choose to outbid them and call a higher number.

The highest bidder then has to flip over than many discs (including their own) to find the number of flowers they announced. If they hit a skull, however, they lose the round and one of their discs. The person who completes two successful challenges wins the game.

If you’re playing with gamers who speak different languages, during the call phase, you could have people hold up fingers instead of saying the numbers.

Skull is one of the cheaper games in this list.

Check out the latest price of Skull on Amazon.

3. Saboteur

Saboteur board game
Saboteur board game

Number of players: 3-10
Time to play: 30 minutes

In Saboteur, players are miners digging for gold. They need to dig tunnels from one side of the table to three locations at the other side. One of the locations will contain gold, the rest will have plain old rocks.

Each turn players can play a card which:

  • digs a tunnel route
  • helps another player or themselves
  • hinders another player or themselves
  • reveals information about where the gold is

Some of the players are secret saboteurs who will hinder the plans of other miners while trying not to be too obvious and get caught!

All the cards contain pictures and symbols with no words and the gameplay is simple yet fun. Saboteur is a great game for a group of players who speak different languages.

Saboteur only contains cards so it is the lowest priced game on this list.

Find out the current price of Saboteur on Amazon.

4. Camel Up!

camel up board game
Camel Up 1st Edition (2nd Edition has a plastic pyramid and different artwork)

Number of players: 2-8
Time to play: 20-30 minutes

Camel Up! is a game where players bet on which camel they think will come in first and second place in a race. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Camels stack on top of each other and are carried by other camels towards the finish. How far the camels move is all in the dice which roll out of the pyramid-shaped shaker, one at a time. It’s great for building tension in the game.

The betting cards only contain numbers and the dice, camels and board are all colour coded so Camel Up! easily crosses language barriers. It is a fun and fast-paced game of strategy and luck.

Check out what other people are saying about Camel Up! on Amazon.

5. Carcassonne

carcassonne with yellow and blue meeples and tiles
Carcassonne

Number of players: 2-5
Time to play: 30-45 minutes

As a Eurogame, Carcassonne was designed to be used across all the languages in Europe so it’s great for players who speak different languages. The game includes meeples, tiles with pictures and a score track with numbers.

Players take it turns to select a random tile from the stack and play it immediately. They then place one of their meeples on the tile if they want to. Their meeple can either be a farmer, monk, thief or knight. Each has a slightly different role and can score different points but the rules are very easy to grasp.

The simple mechanics and combination of luck and strategy make Carcassonne a classic board game that most people enjoy.

It has sold millions of copies so it is definitely worth checking out Carcassonne on Amazon.

6. Magic Maze

Magic Maze co-op board game
Magic Maze co-op board game

Number of players: 1-8
Time to play: 15 minutes

There is no talking in Magic Maze at all! In fact, it’s against the rules. Perfect for a mixed language group!

In the game, the players have 15 minutes to move all the pawns around the maze, collect their items and get to their exits. But each player can only move the pawns in a particular direction or use a particular ability.

For example, I could only move pawns to the south, another player can only move them to the west, another can move them to the north and use the escalators etc.

What each player can do is printed using symbols on cards which match the symbols on the board so it’s very easy to understand.

Check out Magic Maze on Amazon for more details on the game.

7. Tsuro: Of the Seas

Tsuro: Of the Seas board game
Tsuro: Of the Seas

Number of players: 2-8
Time to play: 30 minutes

Tsuro: Of the Seas is a super simple tile placement game. Each player has a ship and they play a tile each turn to set its course through the seas.

Each tile has a series of lines on it, all which must line up to the other tiles around it. As soon as a tile is played the player must move their ship to the end of the line their ship is sailing along. If the tile connects to another player’s line, that player must move their ship too.

The trick of the game is to play your tiles so that our opponents sail off the edge of the board but your ship remains on it! Players also need to avoid the sea creatures which randomly move around the board on certain dice rolls.

Tsuro: Of the Seas starts off quite relaxed and fun as you move your ships along the swirly lines. But as the board gets more and more crowded the game gets more intense!

Tsuro: Of the Seas is worth a look on Amazon.

8. Animal upon Animal

animal upon animal board game
Stacked animeeples in animal upon animal

Number of players: 2-4
Time to play: 15 minutes

Animal Upon Animal is a game based on dexterity instead of strategy.

At the start of the game, players are given several wooden animals. They take it turns to stack them on top of each other to create a pile of all the animals in the centre of the table.

On their turn, players roll a dice to see what they need to do. They can either:

  • place 1 animal on the pile
  • place 2 animals on the pile
  • pass an animal to another player to place on the pile
  • place an animal at the bottom of the stack to extend the base

If anything falls off when you try to place an animal, you get 2 animals back. Whoever is out of animals first, wins!

Animal Upon Animal is a great family board game to check out on Amazon.

9. Sushi Go!

Sushi Go cards
The cards in Sushi Go!

Number of players: 2-5
Time to play: 15 minutes

A cute party game with great kawaii style artwork, Sushi Go! is deceptively simple in how it plays.

The game consists of a deck of cards each with sushi items on like maki rolls, wasabi or chopsticks. Each player is handed a set of cards, they must choose one and play it face down in front of them.

When everyone has selected their card, all the cards are flipped over and everyone passes their hand to the player on their left.

The idea is to collect sets of high scoring sushi. Sounds easy? It’s not! The player to your right can see what you’re planning and might grab the card you want before it gets to you!

The only text in Sushi Go! is how many points a card is worth. This is printed on each card. The chopsticks card says “Swap 2” and wasabi says “Next nigiri x3” but that’s as complicated as the text and actions get.

I love Sushi Go! The game comes in a tin that looks like a bento box and it’s usually on the cheaper end of board game prices.

Check the current price of Sushi Go! on Amazon.

10. Flick ‘em Up!

Flick em up board game
Flick ‘Em Up

Number of players: 2-10
Time to play: 30-45 minutes

There are no cards, tiles or tokens in Flick ‘em Up!

It’s a dexterity based game set in an American town in the Old Wild West. Two teams of players (the sheriffs and the outlaws) compete to either protect the town or accomplish their dastardly deeds.

The old town is created from large cardboard standees and wooden cacti, barrels and logs.

Players move their meeples around the table and flick a little disc across the table to hit their opponents. Every time I’ve played Flick ‘em Up! there has been a lot of laughing and I’m always surprised at just how fun it is!

Text only features on the signs on the building standees but it’s obvious which is the bank, saloon etc from what they look like. The non-essential use of text and the focus on dexterity over strategy make this a good language-independent game.

See the price of Flick ’em Up! on Amazon.

11. Celestia

Celestia board game
Celestia

Number of players: 2-6
Time to play: 30 minutes

I love the theming of Celestia – the little cardboard airship is wonderful and the artwork is beautiful. The game concept is simple but the game is so fun.

Every player takes it in turns to pilot the airship and move it further along in its journey to find treasures on islands. The further away the island is from the start, the better the value of the treasures. But it’s not all easy flying.

Each player has a hand of colour-coded cards which can overcome different aeronautical challenges like electrical storms and flocks of birds. But the other players don’t know which cards each other has.

When a player is piloting the ship, they roll 2 to 4 dice to see which challenges they need to meet with their cards. The players then decide whether they want to take a chance on the pilot having the cards needed to get to the next island or not.

If they don’t think the pilot has the cards, they jump off the ship and collect the treasure from the current island. If they think they do, they stay on in hopes of better treasure at the next island. But if the pilot fails so does the ship, and those on it get no treasure!

The first player to earn 50 points of treasure wins.

Other than the colour coded challenge cards, there are only 4 additional action cards in the game, and they have pictures too. So there aren’t lots of rules to explain.

The rules are quick to pick up and Celestia flows really easily without much talking needed between players making it a good language-independent game.

Check the current price of Celestia on Amazon.

12. Karuba

Karuba leader player board with tile piles
My board in Karuba as the leader with the two tile piles

Number of players: 2-4
Time to play: 30-40 minutes

I think Kaurba is an ideal game for a mixed language group. The concept is easy to explain, there are no words on any of the components and each player manages their own board so they don’t need to discuss strategy at length.

In Karuba, players lay tiles to create paths through the jungle to temples so that their explorers can collect treasures.

Each player has their own board and set of numbered tiles which are identical to everyone else’s. At the start of the game, players put 4 different coloured temples on their board in the same locations as everyone else. Every player apart from the leader lays their tiles out around their board and everyone places their colour-coded explorers at their starting positions.

The leader places their tiles face down in two piles in front of them. The leader draws a tile, turns it over and all the other players select the matching tile from their own identical set.

All players lay a path tile on their board at the same time each turn and move their explorers. Players compete to be the first to get their matching coloured explorers to their corresponding temples. If an explorer finds and collects treasures on tiles along the way, they get extra points.

The game ends when one player gets all their explorers to their matching temples or when the tile is played. The player with the most points wins.

Karuba is super simple but super fun. At board game conventions there are sometimes huge tournaments where loads of people play Karuba at the same time to see who can score the most points!

Check out the current price Karuba on Amazon.

13. Patchwork

My board in Patchwork board game
My board in Patchwork

Number of players: 2
Time to play: 15-30 minutes

Patchwork is a 2 player tile laying game. Both players have their own board on which to lay patchwork fabric tiles. The aim of the game is to create the most beautiful patchwork quilt. But there is a time limit.

At the start of the game, all the patch tiles are laid out randomly in a circle between the players. A marker is placed next to a particular patch and each player is given 5 buttons which work like coins in the game.

Each player takes it in turns to either buy one of the patches within 3 spaces clockwise of the marker, or pass and collect a button. If they want to buy a patch, they pay the amount of buttons printed on the patch. Then they move their time marker forward on the time board by the amount stated on the patch. They then place the patch on their board.

Like in Tetris, players try to fit all their tiles together as closely as possible.

Whoever’s time marker is last, takes the next go. This means that sometimes players take 2 turns in a row.

As the time markers move around the time board, players can take buttons from the bank equal and sometimes pick up a 1×1 patch tile too. Very handy for filling in odd spaces left by tiles!

The game ends when both players reach the end of the time track. They then add up all their buttons and deduct points for each empty square on their board. Whoever has the most points wins.

Patchwork is a relaxing game to play and because it’s a two-player game, you can both take extra time to revisit rules if needed to explain a game concept.

Take a look at Patchwork on Amazon.

14. Tokaido

Tokaido meeples
Tokaido meeples

Number of players: 2-5
Time to play: 45 minutes

Tokaido is a beautiful Japanese-themed board game. The aim of the game is to have the most interesting time travelling along the East Sea Road in Japan.

In Tokaido, the artwork is magnificent and makes it really clear what you need to do using symbols.

The game board is a linear path along the East Sea Road. It has different stops along the way for players to sample food, collect items, earn gold, enjoy panoramic views, visit temples and meet people.

There are a limited number of stops at each location along the road which limits the number of players who can stop there. Whoever is last along the road always takes the next turn.

The game is a balance between moving quickly to get to the stops you want and blocking other players from stopping at the stops they want. You also need to move slowly enough to stop at enough places for an interesting trip.

Tokaido creates a zen mood for everyone who plays it which makes for a very memorable gaming experience. It will soothe players who are nervous about their language skills!

Take a look at how beautiful Tokaido is on Amazon.

15. Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island board game
Forbidden Island board game

Number of players: 2-4
Time to play: 30 minutes

My last recommendation is the co-operative game Forbidden Island. Although co-operative games can involve a lot of talking, Forbidden Island doesn’t need much discussion between players.

Each player is an adventurer with a unique special ability who is seeking treasure on a treasure island. Players need to get all the treasures and escape the island before it sinks.

The island is made from a series of tiles which the pawns and treasure tokens are placed on. The game starts with all the tiles available. But they are sinking! When a tile sinks it is removed from the game – making the play area smaller. It increases the tension and forces the players to make increasingly daring moves!

It’s a simple concept but the pressure created by the tiles being removed and each player having special abilities to help the group make it interesting.

From a foreign language perspective, the location tiles and their corresponding cards have the location name printed on them, but they can easily be matched using the beautiful artwork on each one. It is a very visual game in general. It makes it really easy to understand what’s going on.

See the beautiful artwork of Forbidden Island on Amazon.

Language independent board games are fun!

From my experience, all of these board games are language independent and work great for groups with non-English speakers or players who speak different languages. I hope some of the games sound interesting and you give them a go!

You could even try out some of the board games online with your friends and family from other countries. The sites often have tutorials in various languages on their site. These are the top 6 sites for playing board games online.

Have fun!

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Emily
Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

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