Board games… the very name makes most adults cringe. We’ve seen the family fight over Monopoly (and how so-and-so always cheats), we’ve been bored to tears playing Chutes and Ladders and Candyland with kids, and most of us have dealt with the one lone Risk army that holds off a much larger force all by itself. You’d be forgiven if you weren’t aware that there has been a renaissance of games going back to the late 90’s, and from Germany of all places (you know what else came from Germany?)..
This influx of new games (with a little help from Kickstarter) has brought about the modern board game culture. There are games for all tastes: light party games, games heavy with math, press your luck games, games that test your dexterity, and cooperative games. I’m hoping that by writing this up, I can introduce some new players to some great games, and get more players involved in the hobby.
Inspiration for this comes from FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), who did a write-up on one of my favorite games: Chinatown. Instead of repeating what’s in that article, I’m going to focus on a couple of other games that would work well for different groups of people. I’ll be focusing on games that are available for purchase (at a reasonable price), and here I’m going to focus on some entry level games that play in about an hour.
Game 1: An Auction Game – Modern Art (3-5 players)
This is a game created by Dr. Reiner Knizia, one of the most prolific board game designers of all time. The premise of the game is simple, each player is running a modern art museum. Everyone is dealt a hand of cards, which all feature a different piece of art by a selection of modern artists. There’s also a symbol in the upper right corner of each of the cards indicating how they will be auctioned off. On each player’s turn, they play a card and it is auctioned off as indicated. These auctions can be a fixed price, hidden money, traditional open auction, one around, or a double auction (which allows a second card from the same artist to be played). The player who played the card is the auctioneer, and is also allowed to bid on the card themselves. If the auctioneer wins, they pay the winning bid to the bank, if any other player wins the auction they pay the auctioneer. Then the next player selects a card to play, and this continues until the fifth card of any one artist is played. At that time, the round is over and each player sells their paintings to the bank at a price determined by the popularity of the artist. The artist who ended the round will have all of their paintings be worth 30, the artist who came in second has their works valued at 20, the third place artist has works valued at only 10, and every other artist’s paintings are worthless at the end of the round. Each player gets a couple more cards, and another round begins. This is where things get interesting, as the valuations from earlier rounds add on to the current round as long as the artist is one of the three most popular. If you have paintings from an artist who was the most popular in the first three rounds, but is the fourth most popular in the fourth round, that painting is worthless. The game plays over four rounds, and playtime is around 30-60 minutes.
Game 2: A family take that game – Survive: Escape from Atlantis (2-4 players, up to 6 with an expansion)
This is an old game, and originally was released by Parker Brothers in 1982. If you want a different theme, there is a space version as well, but I much prefer the classic. In this game, there’s an island built up in the middle of hex tiles that are beaches, forests, and mountains. Players then put meeples (little pieces shaped like people) on the island (each of these meeples has a number on the bottom between 1 and 6), and scatter boats around the island. Once the meeples are placed, you are not allowed to look at the numbers again. Each turn, players move their meeples or controlled boats up to three spaces total, then select a portion of the island to sink (beaches sink first, then forests, and finally the mountains). The back of the island tile will either be an instant effect (such as a boat or a shark appearing), or a tile you can hold onto to play on a later turn (such as a dolphin dragging a swimmer up to 3 spaces). Then the part that gets everyone excited, you roll a monster die to see which of various sea creatures you get to control. There’s three, and an equal chance for you to roll any of them. They are:
- The Sea Monster – 5 of these start on the board. There’s no defense against them, they kill any meeple they touch, and destroy any boat they touch. Thankfully, they can only move one space
- The Sharks – None of these start on the board, but will get added as the island tiles get flipped over (which means you get to make people fall into sharks). Sharks kill any meeple they touch, but leave boats alone. They have the ability to move up to two spaces.
- The Whales – These also are absent from the board at the beginning, and get added later. Whales don’t hurt people at all, but they destroy any boat they touch, throwing the people in the boat into the water. They are the fastest of all of the monsters, being able to move three spaces.
Few things cause as much cheering and groaning around the table as a Sea Monster eating a boat full of meeples. The goal is to get your meeples to the safe spaces in the four corners of the board. The game ends when the mountain tile that has the volcano on the back is flipped, so you never know exactly when the game will end. At the end of the game you score points based on the numbers on the bottom of the meeples you rescued. The most points wins, and the game is over in about 45 minutes.
Game 3 – Do we all really need to know the rules? Between Two Cities (1-7 players; best with 5-7)
This one has a bit of a twist, it’s a tile drafting game that is semi-cooperative. Each player is working to build two cities, one with the player on their left, one with the player on their right. For the first round, everyone draws 7 tiles, and keeps two of them. The others will be passed along to the player on their left. Of the two tiles that everyone has drafted, one must go into the city on their left, and the other in the city on their right. At this point, players will negotiate and discuss what works best for all three of the players. Why would you work with both players? Because at the end of the game, you score all of the cities, and each player’s final score is the city they are sitting between with the lowest score. So if the city on your right is worth 78 points, and one on your left is worth 30, your final score is 30. The game will rarely have ties for the winner, but the losing score is always shared between (at least) two players. In the second round of the game is where things get tricky. Each player receives 3 duplex tiles (each duplex tile is the size of two standard tiles, and has two buildings on it), and must select 2 of them (once again, one for the city on their left, and one for the city on their right). These tiles cannot be rotated, some are vertical, others horizontal, and must fit into the final city grid (a 4 x 4 square). After this, there’s a final round of 7 tiles (this time passed to the right), and the cities are scored. The really nice thing about this game is you don’t have to go through strategies or deep plans with new players, just explain the scoring, and make sure they’re sitting between two players who know the game, as it’s in all of their best interests to make sure the new player’s cities do well. Since this is a drafting game, the play time stays steady at 30-45 minutes.
If there’s a good response to this, I have several other groupings of games to talk about. Let me know if you would rather see brief write-ups to steer you towards games, or in-depth reviews about a single game at a time. I own more than enough games to keep this going for a long time, and that’s not even going into the games that I’ve played.