I want to set the record straight right off the bat. We will be discussing real board games in this space. Not those mainstream games peddled by toy giants Hasbro and Mattel, with the depth of a rain puddle. Games that make you think, make you mad, make you cry. These games will send you down the path towards a life of fulfillment, the Board Game Life.
These games are the ones I go to if I want to get somebody into board games. These games have simple mechanics but offer opportunities to develop and employ different strategies. I will be putting the company that makes each of these games in parentheses next to the game title.
Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder)
This game is the first board game I ever played and to this day is still my favorite. The original game (USA Map, shown below) supports 2-5 players and takes about an hour to play. The basic premise of the game is to connect cities via train routes to gain points, with the longer routes rewarding you with more points. It is a relatively passive game, meaning there probably won’t be any physical violence threatened, but that does not mean there won’t be some choice words used if you happen to take a route your buddy needed.
One of the reasons Ticket To Ride is a favorite of mine is the number of expansions Days of Wonder has available. There are currently over 10 expansions for the game and they have shown no signs of slowing down. The expansions include maps of Europe, Asia, Africa, India, and Scandinavia, with each one adding a new wrinkle to the game mechanics and ultimately making this a game you’ll want to play again and again.
The Settlers of Catan (Catan Studio)
This game has won more awards than Tom Brady has Superbowls and for good reason. Settlers of Catan requires nearly every skill you will ever need in any board game you will ever play. You will need focus, strategy, cunning, the ability to adapt, and luck, in addition to myriad other skills. The original game supports 3-4 players and can take anywhere between 1-2 hours to play, depending on the game’s competitiveness. There is an expansion that bumps the number of players up to 5 or 6, which I recommend if you have that many people who want to play. The object of the game is to settle the New World, the island of Catan, and stake your claim as the best new colony. Each turn involves dice rolling and collecting of resources (Sample game board shown below) followed by trading and building, if possible. Settlers is a very social game, with the best strategies always involving some level of interaction with your opponents. The ability to manipulate your opponents is not only encouraged, you’ll likely need it to win.
Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that Ticket to Ride is a passive game. Settlers of Catan, when properly played, is nothing close to that. By the end of a hard-fought 2-hour game, you may not speak to your friend who refused to trade you the wheat you needed to complete your last city. You may threaten physical violence against your own mother if she puts the robber on your 6 Ore tile for the 5th time. These occurrences are not uncommon. This game can ruin friendships and even tear families apart, but I promise you that it is worth the risk for the opportunity to call yourself the King of Catan.
The Next Step
After you have played and mastered Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan you should be fully hooked on board games and craving for more. The beauty of the two gateway games I detailed earlier is that they tell you want kind of board games you will enjoy playing. This section will go over some different types of games that you may like after you play TTR and SOC.
Pandemic (Z-Man Games)
Pandemic is a great game for you if you prefer to work together with the other players, rather than threaten bodily harm on them. It is a “Players vs. The Board” type of game where you all get different roles and you must work together to prevent 4 diseases from wiping the human race off the planet. It supports 2-4 players, with a 4 player game being the most ideal, and could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on which difficulty you play it on. Winning this game can be an incredible bonding experience that will fill all players with immense pride.
Sheriff of Nottingham (Arcane Wonders)
Sheriff of Nottingham is a great game if you played Settlers of Catan and thought to yourself, “This is fun, but I wish the game involved more lying, deceit, and shady dealings.” Sheriff is a bluffing game that requires you to have either an excellent poker face or be adept at bribing officials. The goal of the game is to get Goods through to the Market, however, the Sheriff of Nottingham has the right to check any merchants he believes may be breaking the law. There is legal goods and contraband that players must put in their bag and offer to the Sheriff, which is rotated around the table so that every turn has a different person playing as the Sheriff. Anyone caught smuggling is fined and punished, while those unjustly accused are compensated by the Sheriff for their troubles. Sheriff of Nottingham may not be the best way to repair any friendships you ruined during Settlers of Catan, but it is wicked fun.
Dominion (Rio Grande Games)
Dominion is the game for you if you enjoyed the laid back feel of Ticket to Ride. Dominion is a “Deck Building” game where you spend your turns using cards that include gold cards, which you need to buy more cards, and action cards that can get you more gold, more turns, or simply attack your opponents. The game has a quick pace and is relatively passive due to its individual play style. With that being said, you can add different types of cards that allow you to more directly affect how your opponent is able to play. Dominion is an excellent game to have in your collection due to the fact there are many different cards that you can swap into and out of the game resulting in a different experience when you want it and the same old stuff when you don’t.
These games we have just gone over represent just the tip of the iceberg in the board game world. These are simply my favorites and the ones I have had the easiest time getting people who “don’t really board game” to play with me. I will do another piece on some of the more complex games I enjoy playing and push you farther into the inescapable realm of the board game life.
Until then get out there and just board game outrageous. Makes friends to play with, do whatever it takes to get ahead, win it all to validate the actions. Rinse. Repeat.