Hey there! This thread is about board games. Let me tell you about them!
But first, story time! Once upon a time a member of my family announced a GAME NIGHT! Oh, that sounds fun! I come over to discover... Guitar Hero and Life. Nothing intrinsically wrong with either of these (I lied, Life is horrible horrible), but I knew deep in my soul that there must be something better-suited for hanging out with family and friends. Thus began my journey (helped by previous incarnations of this thread) into board games that are actually fun
The first thing to say about board games is that there’s this wonderful website called BoardGameGeek.com.
See how I didn’t make that site a link yet? There’s a reason for that. You can’t just go running there and expect things to just work out. The site is huge and daunting, and if you just start buying the top rated games, you will very likely be disappointed. So consider this your introduction into what is possible in cardboard, and then AFTERWARDS you can go and make irresponsible financial decisions.
Oh, and I promise some Wil Wheaton! The famous superstar! It's a new age in cardboard, I'm telling you.
GREAT GAMES TO INTRODUCE TO JUST ABOUT ANYONE (including those new to games):
Settlers of Catan
Ah, the grandfather of what’s called the “euro-game”. Little direct confrontation, trading, grabbing valuable resources or positions before your opponent, a bit abstract, and you win by accumulating the most points. You accumulate and trade to get certain combinations of resources to get cities and roads. Your cities help you gather more resources. It’s a bit grey around the temples these days, and there are probably better expressions of these mechanics, but it has stood the test of time and one huge reason to include it here is that you may have already played it. If you want an expansion, get “Seafarers”.
Ticket to Ride
Quite possibly one of the best entry-level games. Draw cards into your hands, claim a route between two cities with your train cars by laying down same-color cards that match a route on the board. Simple, intuitive. Kids can grasp it, adults can play it more cut-throat and get into deeper strategies. Many versions have been made; they are pretty much all great, but check to see how many people can play. There’s also plenty of expansion maps, including a highly-rated Asia map for team play up to 6.
This genre-defining game is played entirely with cards. Hey, I thought we were talking about board games! We are, shut up, it’s a problem of semantics, whatever. Anyway, in this game you build up your own personal deck by accumulating money cards (to buy things), action cards (to make cool stuff happen), and victory point cards (which give you points but clog up your deck). Each game has different action cards to buy so every game is different. There are a TON of expansions; good ones are Seaside (adds effects which carry over into later turns), Intrigue (a lot more interaction between players), and Prosperity (adds higher-value money and victory point cards). It plays fast, but some of the expansions slow it down a bit. Don’t buy Village.
Another older game, which has aged well because of its short length and wide appeal. Pick up a tile, add it to the tiles already placed so that you match the road, castle, or field. You may optionally “claim” a road, castle, or field with one of your followers or “meeples”, which gives you points. A great, quick game for pretty much all ages, but it is especially good for a younger crowd.
As promised, Wil Wheaton! In this very spoiler! But if you let him out you'll have to say his name three times to put him back.
Choose from the randomized races, spread out, hold key areas, gain points every round. Once you have extended as much as you can, put the race into decline (i.e. you can’t do anything with it but it still gives you points), and choose a new race. You get the good feeling from wiping someone out without as much of the hurt feelings, because they can just get a new race and ethnic-cleanse you in return. Popular, has a bunch of expansions.
REALLY GOOD TWO-PLAYER GAMES:
Probably the best epic 2-player game. Epic because of its length and scope. Intensely confrontational without being a wargame. Imagine a game about the Cold War where the mechanics take, at face value, the rhetoric of both sides. In other words, it’s the USA versus the USSR, and all the other nations in the world are just pawns to be influenced one way or the other. Influence is what you “spend” every round, to control a nation or even cause an uprising in a less-stable nation. Influence tends to spread through a region like a virus. You can use an event card for the event (which is some historical event or concept), or use it for influence, or even put it towards the space race. The only possible downside is that it’s long for a 2-player game, so it is hard to introduce to a casual gaming group.
This is simply the easiest introduction into a whole family of light wargames: Commands & Colors: Ancients, Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, BattleLore, BattleCry. Most can be played within an hour, but can feel suitable epic. The basic idea is that the battlefield is divided into a left, center, and right flank. You play a card that “orders” units in a flank (or flanks), which allows it to move and attack. You attack by rolling dice, which can cause hits or retreats. You win by wiping out a set number of units (and maybe occupying critical points). A brilliant system that each game has a special “spin” on. Memoir is a bit simpler and has a very appealing theme. Ancients is also highly regarded here (and is my favorite); it has a priority on melee attacks and gives additional benefits if your units are lined up.
Think of this as some strange asymmetric chess variant where the pieces are cards. Each player chooses a faction, and your goal is to kill the enemy summoner. Your units are ranged or melee, and have different attack strengths, and different hit points. You attack with dice. You bring new units out of your hand onto the board if you can pay the cost in magic. You gain magic by killing units or by dumping cards from your hand. Each faction plays VERY differently, and in fact every single card has some special ability (like moving extra spaces or attacking in a different way). There are a TON of factions for this game -- I think 16 right now -- so there’s a lot of combinations to try.
This SOUNDS like another combat game, but it’s not. It’s an abstract game where you’ve got 9 flags in a row, and you take turns playing one card in front of a flag. You need a better “set” of three cards in front of a flag to “claim” that flag as yours. Get 5 total flags or 3 adjacent flags to win. It’s a game where you’re working through the odds of finishing a “set”, against a bit of guessing as to what your opponent is holding onto in his hand.
This is an abstract game where the entire game is 22 hexagon pieces of bakelite. There’s not even a board. The pieces are bugs, each of which moves in a particular way. The winner is the one that surrounds the enemy queen. It looks pretty nice as the game plays itself out, too.
Probably one of the best “husband and wife” games. You play cards, one at a time, in same-color and increasing-value stacks. The trick is that if you place even a single card down of a particular color, you need 20 points in that color to break even, so you can’t get too aggressive or you’ll end up deep in the hole. Also, each color has its own shared discard pile, so you often have to hang onto cards you’ll never play yourself to keep them away from your opponent.
BattleCON (War of Indines)
Round 1! Fight! Yes, another "fighting game simulation" where you have a movement track and play attacks simultaneously, and try to out-think/out-maneuver your opponent. Your "hand" is made up of a few "styles" (unique to your character) and "bases" (mostly the same for everyone). Each card has modifiers for power (how much damage it does), range (spaces on the movement track to your opponent), and priority (who hits first). You combine one style with one base to form your attack for the round (or "beat"). For example, "Grapnel" style + "Strike" base = "Grapnel Strike". Any attack you do is on "cooldown" for 2 beats, which means that neither card can be used. The game comes with 18 characters, and they are all QUITE different to play. This one will inevitably get compared to Yomi (and Flash Duel), but I think that this is somewhat easier and/or more fun to learn. The print-and-play comes with 4 characters and is pretty easy to put together, if you want to try it out.
Newer asymmetric game that is very geeky and very good. The "corporation" player must defend and score their agendas. The "hacker" player must steal agendas from the "corporation". The agendas are worth points, and first to 7 points wins. What really sets this one apart is that almost everything the corporation does is hidden information (i.e. face-down cards), so there's ample room for bluffing and traps. This is a "Living Card Game", which means that there are numerous expansions, each of which is a fixed number of cards so you know what you're buying. Still allows for spending a lot on the game, but the base game comes with a LOT of stuff to try out (i.e. multiple hacker and corporation "identities").
BIG-GROUP FUN (6+ players):
A party game! Well, sort of. In this game everybody is given a hand of imaginative, surreal, and evocative cards. The active player puts a card face down, and give a phrase, word, or noise that goes with it. Everyone else ALSO puts in a card that best goes with that “clue”. They are mixed up, shown, and people get points for picking the active player’s card, or for getting people to choose their card. But if the clue is too obvious, the active player gets NO points. So there are serious demands made on the imagination of the players -- dull clues or simply half-hearted ones diminish the game experience. But knowing that caveat, it’s a GREAT game. There are a couple of versions of this one, but Odyssey plays up to 12.
Time’s Up! (Title Recall)
Another party game, but you might call this one a “proper” party game. You start with a small stack of cards with short phrases or titles on them. You play in pairs, and you have 30 seconds at a time to make your partner guess what’s on the cards. In the first round, you can use just about any clues, gestures, and noises. In the second round, you are limited to ONE WORD for a clue and one guess. In the third round, NO talking but gestures and noises still allowed. Absolute hilarity ensues. The genius of this game is that even when it’s not your turn, you care very much about each hint and guess, because you’ll probably run into that card again in a later round. The "Title Recall" version is the best, because even if you don't know the movie/book/song, you can give hints one word at a time (i.e. "Devil With the Blue Dress On" is easier than "Rutherford B. Hayes" if you are unfamiliar with both).
Straight-forward, almost bare-bones social game that is also great and plays up to 8. Pass around the role cards, pick one secretly, the king calls out the roles in order. A good way to introduce the “social” type of board games.
VERY popular game these-a-days for a group of up to 7. You build up a civilization, which really just means you play cards that produce some product, or provide military strength, or give you points directly, or improves your science. So multiple win paths, which is always cool. Each player has a hand, but you only play ONE card before passing your hand to the adjacent player. You can also trade with your neighbors, so overall you are VERY interested in what other players are doing, and you often have to change your strategy to thwart theirs. Highly recommended by this thread.
EPIC IN SCOPE/LENGTH/THEME:
Twilight Imperium (3rd edition)
Ah, the game that defines epic space expansion and warfare. In a nutshell, the hex-based “board” is made up of planetary systems, which can be conquered. You “spend” command tokens to activate a system and move stuff there or build stuff. Then there’s technology research, trading, dice-based warfare, secret objectives, phase selection, a hand of action cards,... and on and on. Pretty intense. Pretty long. But there’s something about the theme that makes it almost irresistible.
This game LOOKS similar to Twilight Imperium. Sci-fi space exploration with hexes, dice combat, and tech research. However, it is QUITE different in scope and "feel". This is a premier mechanic-centered euro in the same class as Power Grid and Agricola. This means that it’s a bit more indirect than you might expect in the genre; it has been described as “intensely passive-aggressive”. Many of your thoughts are about optimizing your actions or making other people’s actions sub-optimal, rather than "space ship battle pew pew". However, direct conflict has a definite place in this game, and furthermore it has awesome stuff like exploration-produced initial maps, and also customizing your own spacecraft blueprints
In many ways this is on the other end of the spectrum from the sterile spaceships and abstracted planet-conquering of Twilight Imperium or Eclipse. This game is all about the atmosphere, and trying to hold it together while you avoid being devoured by nameless horrors. Those horrors are of the Lovecraftian kind, and the rulebook kind. Seriously, the FAQ has its own FAQ. But if you can pierce through the “rule crust” into the pulsing black heart of the game, you’ll probably... uh... go insane. But madmen are often happy, right?
This has consistently been one of the most-talked-about games since it came out. It’s a streamlined version of Risk with a huge twist -- after each game you will permanently alter the board (naming a continent, adding a city), the cards (ripping up(!) one of them), and/or the rule book itself. It comes with packets that you will open after meeting certain criteria. It’s meant to be played over 15 games with the same group of people, producing a totally unique map which is also a testament to each previous battle. Not all groups can make this kind of commitment, but we can dream, can’t we?
And here are some common board game categories, and some representative games for each:
-- (mentioned above)
This was the next big game after Dominion that used the same mechanic, but it has a real theme! It’s a dungeon crawl. Wait, what? No, seriously! The basic idea is that you alternate between buying adventurers and weapons and stuff in the village to improve your deck, and then trying to defeat monsters in the dungeon, which also get added to your deck, giving you points and other benefits. Has a ton of expansions. There’s a new version of this called “Thunderstone Advance” that is probably your best choice if you’re starting off.
Dice. Lots of dice. Cool dice. You roll dice and buy things with... ugh... “quiddity” shown on them. You buy monsters that attack other players’ monsters. Doesn’t have a lot of depth, especially when compared to other games with this mechanic (I would lean towards calling it filler), but it’s flashy and quick and good for getting an “Oh, cool!” out of people you introduce it to. There are some "advanced rules" if you want to mix up and/or deepen the gameplay, though it makes the game a bit longer.
A meaty, polished, economic game. Buy a network of cities, bid on power plants to power those cities, profit. You need to supply your power plants with resources (oil, nuclear, etc), but the cost of a resource goes up if everybody needs it. There’s math. LOTS of math. There’s also a bit of fiddling as you decide the turn order (and whether you’re going through it forwards or backwards), refilling resources, knowing when to go to “Step 2/3”, and so on. So not really an introductory-level game, but very satisfying.
Race for the Galaxy
Card-based space-exploration/conquest economic game, though the theme isn’t very strong. Players choose a phase simultaneously, and the only phases in the round are the ones that players picked. Has a pretty dense iconography, making it a bit daunting for new players, but it allows for a fleshed-out and satisfying game with multiple paths to victory. Low player interaction. Has a bunch of expansions; I suggest the first one (Gathering Storm), as it improves the base game and adds some optional goals to provide a focus for new players. Good with two players, also.
You ever play mafia or werewolf? Some smart guy boiled it down into a 5-10 player game that can be played in 30 minutes. Every round someone becomes the leader, who then chooses a team for a mission. Each person on the team secretly contribute a “pass” or “fail” card for that mission. Since there are spies, some missions are going to fail. Incriminations will fall like the rain on the moor. Best 3 out of 5 missions. An elegant and tense social game, but like all social games it is somewhat dependent on the group. Quick enough for multiple games (which will often be stridently demanded). There's also a newer, advanced version of this game called "Resistance: Avalon", where one character (Merlin) knows who the bad guys are, but the bad guys will win if they identify Merlin.
In the description for The Resistance, I called it “tense”. Battestar Galactica redefines the term into something devastating. It’s a game with a strong theme from the TV series, but the game is good enough to be fully enjoyed by people who have who have never seen the show. The goal is to get to Earth, but the ship is faced with environmental threats in deep space, hostile Cylon warships, and internal Cylon traitors. Each player has a hand of cards that is used to meet (or sabotage) these threats. The basic flow is “Jump into terrible location, deal with terrible event after terrible event, deal with an increasingly terrible Cylon armada, and then jump again... if anybody is still alive”. Popular here on the forums as PbP.
Great, intuitive abstract that scales well from 2-4. Place a tile on the hexagonal board to score points for matching icons. You need to score well in EVERY icon type, because only your WORST icon score is your actual score. Get it? Part of the appeal of this game is the excellent component quality. Chunky plastic tiles, fabric bag, and solid cardboard.
A more confrontational abstract, where you simply need to get as many of your pieces on the board as possible. Anything not placed counts against you. Blocking others is inevitable but still tricky. Simple enough for young players. A possible downside is that it is really best with 4 players. For a slightly more flexible (in terms of players) and forgiving variant, try Blokus Trigon. But my wife swears by the original.
This has been described as “Scrabble without letters”, because of the way in which you lay down a group of tiles and connect to other groups. Has a mix of luck and strategy that makes it another good introduction game. Another game with really good components.
-- (mentioned above)