Friday, July 27, 2007

Looking Past the Game of Life

So you played board games as a kid. You wonder why most of the games you see at Walmart are either the same old games you've been playing all your life or new gimicky ones that couldn't possibly be worth wasting time playing, much less actually purchasing. Maybe it's because the best games have already been developed and there just aren't any good ideas left. False. There are hundreds of new boardgames that have been released in the last couple of decades that blow away the so called classic games that crowd Walmart shelves around the world. In a way I'm a little bitter about this. Many times I've seen articles written by those who loved boardgames in their formative years but have no idea of the wealth of great games now on the market. I just want to scream: "Try Settlers of Catan, IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!" Just because you're old now (and I am!) doesn't mean you can't play boardgames! If you're like me you may just find you love boardgames even more now than you did then. Problem is, these incredible new games don't just come to you--they're not quite as mainstream as the monopoly and risk games of years past--to find them you need to look a little beyond the Walmart shelves. Now this isn't to say most of these games are obscure, quite the contrary: many are unqualified successes, hovering just below the surface of the mainstream.

It saddens me that so many people who really do love games at heart never do discover this new world of boardgames. However, it is also undeniably rewarding to be part of the minority that has access to these gems. It feels good to be special, but sometimes you still wish everyone else could be special too! Don't you want to be special? I thought so. Now, by the way I'm rattling on here you'd think that I'm an expert on the subject. By no means is this true. I have merely begun my exploration of this new world. Due to a lack of gaming group to play with in this area I still have yet to try many new games. Here are three I have played and why you need to give them a shot:

1. Settlers of Catan
Released in 1995, this undeniable classic really set the ball rolling in the modern game industry. Settlers wasn't the first game of this modern era (I don't even know when you'd say the 'modern era' began!), but it was the first to really make a big splash. There are hundreds of reviews on this game on the internet, especially at so by all means look around and read up on it. Here are some of the reasons I love the game:

The 'board' consists of many cardboard hexagons that represent different terrain types on an unpopulated island. Each game starts by randomly constructing the island, resulting in a unique distribution of terrain hexes for each play. This ensures that players will need to be flexible and adapt to different opening conditions each game. Also, it makes for a unique experience every time the game is played. Prime real estate is an important limiting factor in the game as players vie for the best positions on the board that will produce the best resources, which in turn allow them to build settlements and populate the island. Almost every move you make effectively limits what each other player can do. It is also important to maximize the benefit of the resources you acquire by managing your hand through smart building and timely exchanges with other players. A great strategy game that has plenty of luck as well to keep even novice players in the hunt. One last thing: Settlers isn't just a game, it's a franchise. A host of games have been released under the Catan umbrella, the two most notable (Seafarers of Catan, Cities & Knights of Catan) both expand the base game by adding extra terrain and rules.

2. Carcassonne
Carcassonne is a tile laying game depicting the countryside around the southern French city of the same name. The basic mechanic of the game is very similar to that of dominoes: each tile is played alongside at least one tile already on the table. Each side that touches another tile must match terrain features along the adjacent side(s). For instance to place a new tile next to a side that depicts a city, the new tile must have a city side as well. As you play tiles and construct cities, roads, cloisters, and fields, you place your pieces (followers) on tiles, then score points for completed features when you have more followers than the other players. The components are beautiful and there is lots of strategy to consider as you play. Carcassonne is easy to learn and definitely worth a try.

3. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is probably the best game amoungst these three, and that's saying a lot. Players act as plantation owners in Puerto Rico during colonial times. During game play, players produce five types of commodities, construct buildings, manage resources, & ship goods back to the old world. Instead of having a set order for each action in the game, Puerto Rico uses a mechanism that allows each player to choose a 'role' or particular action. Each player then performs that action, with the choosing player getting a bonus. Thus much of the game is determining which roles will be the most advantageous to you at any given time. Puerto Rico involves almost no luck, so those looking for a deep strategy game should love this one. PR is rated the number one boardgame on boardgamegeek, and is generally considered the best or one of the best boardgames of all time. Play it and find out why!

So, children, here's the moral of our story today: go out and find some new games! Do some research online and pick a game you'd like to try. Find a friend who has it, ask about demoing a copy at a local game store, or just get out there and buy a copy! Boardgames are better than ever, so you owe it to yourself to revisit the long lost friendship that is boardgaming... One final note: You may ask "So what do you think of The Game of Life?" No comment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its official.
You are a COMPLETE dork.