Ready to take a leap into some more interesting board games? If you still think board game equals Pictionary or Monopoly, it is time to run, not walk, do not pass go, and get yourself online or to your local game store to dive into the wonderful new world of gaming.
Perhaps you've seen SETTLERS OF CATAN or CARCASSONNE? These European style games really helped to ignite a new generation of gaming. Euro- or German-style games are known for simple rules, relatively short playing times, indirect player interactions and abstracted physical components. They are a great way to get newbies into gaming. But there is much more out there to explore.
What makes a great game?
Replay Factor. Does it get boring? Going around a track over and over can make me want to stick toothpicks under my nails. (Sorry, Sorry.) What made Settlers of Catan so great was that the map is different every time. Lots of games now offer expansion packs to add new components or cards or adventures to keep the game fresh and interesting. But be careful, you usually need the base game for any expansion to work so make sure you aren't buying an expansion first!
Tactile Pieces. I love little wooden playing pieces or cast miniatures in my games. Holding a little wooden cube that represents ore or a fighter satisfies me in a way I can't explain. Meeples are little people shaped figurines used as the player's piece. Animeeples are animals, get it? I also enjoy games with a lot of dice and games where each player gets their own home base. I am not a huge fan of deck building games with one giant exception but more on that soon.
Skill and Luck. A game like chess is all skill. A game like Backgammon is half skill with half luck on your dice rolls. I've found when playing in groups, sometimes one person will dominate a game if they understand the complicated rules best or are really good at thinking 8 turns out. Games with a little luck thrown in help to even out the playing field so everyone can enjoy the game.
Great Artwork. As an artist, I am attracted to visuals. Games with unique and interesting artwork really draw me in. Seems simple but a lot of games are surprisingly cheap with their art budget and I just pass on by and find something else to play.
Ready to dive in? This is just a teeny, tiny sample of all the amazing games out there ready to be discovered! In no particular order, here goes!
1) ALIEN FRONTIERS. This is one of the very first games we bought when we started branching out in our games and it is still one of my all time favorites. You are competing to create colonies on an unexplored planet. It has wooden pieces to track ore and solar production and rocket ships to track scores and dice that represent your space ships. You can buy cards that give you special buying powers or ways to back stab your playmates. The areas you are trying to colonize are named after famous science fiction authors. (!) You roll your dice and use the results to take actions like buy new ships, raw materials, or colonies to place. Now there are some simple expansion packs that add a lot of punch. I love this game! Best with 4 players for more variety and backstabbing fun.
2) LEGENDARY. This is my big exception to avoiding deck building games. Based on classic Marvel comic books, you build your deck with recruit points to add heroes like Captain America, Ms. Marvel or Wolverine to your deck. Then when you play a hand from your deck, you use the special abilities of your heroes to either recruit more heroes or to fight off the bad guys in the city or the mastermind that's running the whole plot. Add in dozens and dozens of schemes, scheme twists and master strikes and things can get a little tense. Will you beat the villain in time and rescue all of the bystanders? You play semi-cooperatively to defeat the villain. We used to play that you could count up your villain points to see who won at the end but now we just play to beat the villain and it makes for a more satisfying win. With expansions like Secret Wars, Paint the Town Red, and Guardians of the Galaxy, we still haven't played anywhere near all the villains and characters. A new Captain America expansion just came out that looks super. Good for 2-4 players but absolutely great for two people which makes this even better.
3) RACE FOR THE GALAXY/ROLL FOR THE GALAXY. Race for the Galaxy is a bit of a deck building space expansion game which I enjoy just fine. However, they have remade it into a new version called Roll for the Galaxy and now you use lots of different colored dice to allocate goods and workers and the game is a lot more fun and tactile. You also get a little screen to hide your selections from the other players. What's not to love? Works okay for 2 people but 4 people best.
4) KING OF NEW YORK/KING OF TOKYO. Can you say adorable? You're a big mean radioactive monster trying to destroy Tokyo or Manhattan. These two games have all my favorite components. Everyone gets their own stand up monster to place on the board and a little counter to score victory points and health points. You roll dice to take actions like attack or heal and collect power cubes to buy cards to use to attack the other monsters. Best with 4 people for city smashing fun.
5) LORDS OF WATERDEEP. This is a resource allocation game based in the Dungeons & Dragons world. Using meeples, you select different tasks like collecting resources, gaining new quests or going on espionage missions in and around the city of Waterdeep. Little wooden cubes represent fighters, wizards, rogues, and clerics. Use different combinations of cubes to complete quests and score points. This introduced me into the world of Dungeons & Dragons in a big way. (More on that later.) Works well with 2 players but again, works best with 4 for more variety and action.
6) TELESTRATIONS Remember the telephone game when you were a kid? Whisper a message into someone's ear and they would whisper it to the next person and wait to see what happens after 6 people passed it along? Well, you basically do the same thing here but with pictures! And before you freak out that you can't draw, the simpler the drawings the better. Environmental bonus: You use dry erase markers in little notebooks so you aren't wasting a ton of paper every game. Everybody wins when you play this game. Seriously. I have thrown together gamers and non-gamers, 14 year olds next to 70 year olds and everyone ends up laughing hysterically. Also great for team building! It's worth buying the expansion so you can get an even bigger group to play. Best with 6 or more.
After you've been playing these more interesting and advanced games for a while, you might start to get an itch to create your own stories or go even deeper in a game. And that brings us to my final favorite board game choice that is and isn't a board game at all.
7) PATHFINDER/DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. These two games are role-playing games, or RPG's. These two are classic fantasy themed-I'm sure the dragons part was a big giveaway--but a ton of other themes, like zombies, vampires, Star Wars, horror, western, steampunk, etc are thriving as well. A LOT more complicated than any of the board games above, both Pathfinder and D&D consist of many thick rule books, although you can start with just the core rule books or the even simpler beginner box sets they both offer. When you play an RPG, a Game (or Dungeon) Master leads the game and sets up the story. Sometimes your GM will create the story from scratch but frequently they will use published adventure story lines to provide frame work. Games can be several hours but frequently are played over several to many months. You and your group of fellow adventurers create characters starting with race (like human, elf, or gnome) and class (your profession, like Cleric, Rogue, or Fighter) and then can individualize yourself with hundreds upon hundreds of different traits, feats, styles, race bonuses and the like. Your characters are then led through the story by the GM, but you have to act as the character you created would act in any situation. You solve puzzles, work your way through landscapes and dungeons and of course fight bad guys and monsters. Frequently, when you have battles, out comes a big gridded mat and little miniatures so that's where it ties into the whole board game thing. You use dice to resolve situations such as to see if an attack hits a monster and to roll for damage. And don't worry, you don't have to talk in a silly voice if you don't want to, but that can add to the fun of it too.
When I was first teaching myself the how-to's of role playing, I stumbled upon a great Youtube show from Geek and Sundry called CRITICAL ROLE, where voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. It gave me a lot of ideas and input on how to get started.
It took us a while to find people who were in interested in trying out these more complicated games. Many people we knew were too interested in microbrews and cocktail hours to bother spending a whole evening playing games. Frequently, I think a lot of people are too self-conscious or afraid to look silly while playing a game. But we've carved out a gaming group of our own and we've also joined some local meet up groups that have us playing several times a month.
If you want to discover even more games than what I listed above, skip the big box stores and check out your local game shops. Often, they will have games open for you to try out before you buy it and can give you recommendations based on other games that you already know and love. You can also check out Wil Wheaton's Youtube show (another Geek and Sundry production), TABLETOP, to watch him and his friends having fun playing new games. Pro-tip: Watch the show on Amazon Prime to get the uncensored shows!
Remember, not all games are for all people. I am not overly fond of deck building games but tons of people are and they are worth checking out. If you don't like one game, move on and find another!
Game on! //Jennevieve