For those of you that know me personally, you’ve probably noticed my steadily growing collection of (and addiction to) board games. I’m not talking about games like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders, mind you. There’s definitely a place for those, but those aren’t the type of games this article is about. The games I love involve a rich layer of strategy spread over a game thick with replayability, with a side of geekery, if possible.
Instead, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite games, with a little explanation of each. I’m publishing this article today, in celebration of (evil?) Wil Wheaton’s new online show called Tabletop. (You can read all about it on the Geek & Sundry website.) I have no idea which games they’re going to be covering in the show, but I’m looking forward to it.
Finally, if you’re attending the Stir Trek conference on May 4th, don’t forget that there is a Nerd Dinner the evening before, on May 3rd. We’ll be camping out in a mall food court to meet the speakers and organizers, as well as play many of the games listed in this article.
OK, the wait is over. Here’s my current list of favorite board games.
Settlers of Catan ($37)
Up to 4 players, expandable to 6. My 8-year old daughter mastered the game mechanics at 6 years old, and is getting stronger on the strategy side of the game. This is a great family game.
Settlers of Catan was probably the “gateway drug” for many of you that have ventured into board game land in the past 10 years. The basic idea behind this game is that you are settling on a new island, and are trying to expand your civilization by collecting the five different resources that the island possesses: sheep, ore, brick, wood, and wheat. Because the game encourages players to trade, and even create “alliances,” you’ll likely hear the phrase “I have wood for sheep” more than once.
In order to collect these resources, you build your settlements at the intersections of hexagonal tiles. Each tile is assigned both a resource type, as well as a number between 2 and 12. Each player’s turn begins with a roll of two dice, and the resulting roll awards the specific resources to the players that have settlements on the appropriately numbered tile.
Settlers of Catan, is, without question, one of the best combinations of strategy, game play, and ease of learning (which you will find becomes very important when teaching your friends how to play) It’s easy enough to pick up and play that you can teach your friends very quickly.
Ticket To Ride ($38)
Up to 5 players. Recommended age is 8 – 12. Haven’t played this one with my daughter yet.
My wife and I love this game, and it has become a family event favorite when our parents come to visit. The basic concept of this game is that you are an up and coming railroad tycoon looking to expand throughout the United States (there are also excellent variations on this game for Europe, Asia, India, and even the Nordic Countries.)
With a randomly selected set of route cards, you have to connect all of the cities those cards indicate. You do this by collecting sets of rainbow colored train cards, and trading them in to capture routes across the map. You’re competing with the other players, however, and before you have a chance, the route you were hoping for gets taken. You’re constantly balancing between having enough trains and capturing routes quickly enough, and since you have new routes every single game, it’s a completely new experience every time.
Of all of the games on this list, this is probably the easiest one to learn. There’s little to no math, and there’s almost no reading either. In fact, the most challenging part of this game for newcomers might just be their personal strength in geography. It is increasingly valuable to know where cities are on the map, without having to scour it for your city.
2 – 4 players. Once you explain the simple game mechanics, I’ve seen 6 year olds grasp the concept and strategy of this game pretty quickly.
Dominion is one of the most popular new games available right now. The entire game is based on a large set of 300 cards, and really introduced the concept of a “deck building” game. In short, you start with a small set of 10 cards that is identical to your opponents. Dealing 5 cards on each turn, you use these cards to acquire even more cards, without ever actually discarding any of them permanently. They end up in your personal discard pile, and when you run out of cards, you reshuffle your discard pile and keep on rolling.
Cards you can aquire might give you more money, more cards in your current hand, or even the ability to buy more than one card on this turn. Ultimately, you’re trying to acquire as many of the “Victory” points you see in the photo below (they are the green ones with the numbers 1, 3, and 6.)
Your deck accumulates many more cards quickly, giving you a completely random hand of 5 powerful cards each turn. What makes this game great, much like the rest of the games on this list, is that it is constructed to be a completely different game each time.
In the photo above, you can see that there are 10 “types” of cards you can buy (the two rows of five cards). The game actually comes with 25 different types, which means you’re highly unlikely to play the same game twice.
This is another game that is very simple to learn, but I think that the true strategy of this game comes only after you’ve played it a few times. There are many beginner pitfalls that you will discover, and after a few games under your belt, I think you’ll find your approach completely changes.
This game has exploded with expansions lately, and there are currently 7 stand-alone editions of this game available. While similar, each game has its own theme, but can be combined with the original for even more variety.
2-4 players. My 8 year old daughter LOVES this one.
Quarriors is, in many respects, much like Dominion (above). Instead of collecting cards, however, you’re collecting dice. And instead of buying Victory points, you get to summon spells and monsters to destroy your opponents’ monsters, which ultimately also scores you some points.
Ah, the dice. These richly colored little cubes make the game exciting. Instead of randomizing a deck of cards, you keep your dice in a small bag, and you randomly pull six of them from the bag on each turn. By rolling these dice, you can gain money (referred to in the game as Quarry), monsters, spells, portals, and any number of other fun things.
It has the same concept of a “store” where you can purchase a new die on each turn, which gets added to your bag, and eventually makes its way to the table for rolling.
This is another simple game for you and your friends to pick up, but I will issue a warning on this one: your non-geek friends are not going to respond in a positive way to creating dragons that have a defense of 6 and an attack of 8. It definitely happens, and it’s core to the game. There’s goblins, primordial oozes, wizards, you name it. The moment my wife heard the words “how many defense points does your monster have?,” she was uninterested in playing.
I persevered, and showed her that it’s actually a fun game, and I’m not going to be dragging her down into the graph-paper laden Dungeons & Dragons. She’s definitely a fan now (as she already liked Dominion).
I think there’s a similar level of strategy to Dominion in Quarriors, but I can’t help feeling like the game was designed to be WAY too short. Most games last 30 minutes or so, but it often feels like you’ve FINALLY gotten the dice you need to be successful when the game ends. I can’t recommend playing to 20 every time, no matter how many players you have.
Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot ($22)
2 – ? players. My daughter had no problem playing this game at 7 years old, but there are many pop culture references that are either WAY over her head, or slightly inappropriate.
This is probably my favorite game in the list. Not because of the strategy, though there is some. Not because of the gameplay, because it’s ridiculous. I love this game because the “playing” of the game is far more rewarding than the actual “outcome” of the game. I will tell you up front, that winning this game is the result of shuffling a deck of cards, and hoping one of your cards matches the one on the bottom of this shuffled deck.
The basic concept of this game is simple. You have a gigantic deck of cards, and everyone draws cards from it. You have a queue of two cards that lie face down in front of you, and 5 additional cards in your hand. The two queue cards are referred to as your “top run” and
bottom run” cards. Perhaps a photo illustration will help.
On your turn, you turn over your “top run” card, and do what it says. That’s the incredibly refreshing part of this game that, with expansions, can have over 800 cards in the deck: all of the rules are written on the cards.
By following the instructions on the cards, you slowly try to acquire bunnies, which then unlock your ability to use more and more aggressive cards against your opponents. Not having a bunny makes you a very docile player, because it really limits what you can do in the game. Thankfully, the deck is stocked full of all sorts of bunny cards. On the downside, it’s also full of devestating weapons and devices designed to kill them as well.
You use your cards to acquire as many of the Magic Carrot cards as you can, and once all of the carrot cards have been “gotten,” the game is over, and results in a random draw for the winner.
Along the way, you’ll see every kind of interaction you can imagine, with an inside joke or pop culture reference behind every one of them. You’ll build alliances, only to turn on your friend the moment it benefits you in the slightest.
This game, while good as the base game of Blue and Yellow decks, gets increasingly more fun, interactive, and outrageous as you add in the expansion decks. I can’t recommend getting all of them enough, but start with the original Blue & Yellow first. Make sure you like the game before investing in the rest, because this game will definitely run you up over $100 when all is said and done.
So there you have it. A quick summary of some of the games from my ever-growing collection. If you already own all of these, I might also recommend a few more here, without the exhaustive writeups. In addition, if there are games that you are playing, and you absolutely love, leave them in the comments. I’m always looking for a new challenge.