Saturday, February 28, 2009

Expanding my collection, part one: Building Variety

So I lasted about six weeks between board game orders...that's pretty good, isn't it? I should have a brand new shiny pile of board games some time on Monday, and I'm pretty excited about the new additions to my collection. How did I narrow my search to these few? Over the next few days I'll discuss some of the most important factors.

New Directions

Each of my most recent two game shipments have been focused on expanding the variety in my collection. For instance, my previous order included Pandemic, my first cooperative game, and Memoir '44, my first war-themed game (unless you count the tired and very abstract Risk, of course). This current batch of board games pushes the boundaries of my collection by including Say Anything, a party game, Fury of Dracula, a more heavily themed American-style game, and For Sale, a simple auction game also considered a 'filler,' a very quick, easy to play game that can be played between heavier games, or used to wrap up an evening of gaming.

Part 2: Focusing on Simplicity

Part 3: Theme
Part 4: Number of Players

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fitting the games to the group

Recently my board game tastes have leaned toward lighter, more accessible fare. After a little consideration I realized the simple explanation: the majority of the time I spend playing board games is introducing them to new players. It only makes sense that most of my games, especially the new ones I've been ordering, would fall into the 'gateway' category: easy to explain, quick to play.

Certainly I'm not sacrificing fun, or tough in-game decisions, or production values, or anything really essential--just some extra degree of complexity. Every time I purchase a game, or even research one, I'm thinking about who I will play it with and how often. If a particular game will just sit on my shelf for lack of appropriately experience players, then I'd rather shift my attention to something else. Once I get to the point where I'm playing games many times over with the same set of people and developing a regular game group I'll definitely start looking at the heavier, longer playing board games on my wish list. For now, though, the lighter stuff will do just fine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7 light strategy games (that every game lover should try!)

Quite some time ago I posted this article about a few of the most accessible strategy board games of recent years. As my collection has expanded and my opinions on this subject have developed, a follow-up article is long overdue. While I recommend anyone not familiar with modern board games to read that article as an introduction to the hobby, the following list should shed some light on some of the best places to start if you'd like to try something new. A couple of these games are also mentioned in that piece.

This list is for you if:

  • you played board games as a kid but the same old games don't really do it for you anymore--maybe one of these new games will rekindle that sense of fun
  • you enjoy strategy games like risk, monopoly, or stratego--one of these games featuring new, exciting mechanics and game play may be of great interest
As should go without saying, this is a very small list drawn from a huge pool of great games. It reflects my interests in games and is certainly limited by the still small sample of new games I've had the opportunity to play. I've intentionally left many great games off this list that I feel are heavier than light to medium depth simply because they are less accessible to new players and therefore are probably not the best games with which to start. Without further ado:

  • Settlers of Catan A modern classic and lots of fun. Settlers features a modular board so every game plays out a little differently. The game features enough luck to keep things interesting and give new players a chance at victory, but not so much as to negate the importance of strategy. Settlers makes for a particularly fun experience because there is plenty of interaction between players, both in blocking each other on the board and in trading resources with one another. Most importantly it is quite simple to learn, especially from an experienced player. If you can play monopoly you can play this! Can be expanded to accommodate 6 players, but best with 3 or 4.
  • Carcassonne This one is a simple tile laying game in which players build the playing board as the game progresses. Each player places a new tile onto the board each turn and thereby expands the landscape by adding fields, cities, cloisters, and roads. The object of Carcassonne is to place your pieces (lovingly referred to as Meeples!) onto each of the landscape features as you play tiles in order to control them and score points for yourself. The player with the most points at game end is the winner. With expansion can accommodate 6 players, but really not recommended with more than 4. Ideal for 2 players.
  • Pandemic The only cooperative game currently in my collection, Pandemic is easy to learn and a lot of fun. Listed for 2-4 players, I find it can fairly easily accommodate 1-5. Players take on the roles of specialists trying to save the world from four deadly diseases. While the players race to find cures, the diseases spread and intensify, and the pressure mounts throughout the game. Pandemic has a very accessible theme and is especially easy to teach new players because everyone is on the same team! If you've never played a cooperative game you should certainly give this one a try.
  • Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation This fun little game borrows liberally from the classic Stratego, yet adds some interesting mechanics and plays much more quickly. The Confrontation has hidden characters and custom piece positioning to start the game just like Stratego. It differs by adding a card aspect to liven up combat, by reducing the size of the board, and by introducing a board layout and movement restrictions that force players to be aggressive. All of these changes are great improvements which make The Confrontation a quick playing and fun two person game.
  • Dominion This 2008 release for 2-4 players features deck building as the heart of the game. In Dominion players start with an identical small deck of cards, comprised primarily of money cards. As players take turns and draw cards from their decks, they can use those money cards to purchase many additional cards from a common pool and add them to their personal deck. Each player must react to what cards are available to buy and what strategies their opponents adopt in order to come out on top. Once you are familiar with the cards this game plays quite quickly, certainly a two player game shouldn't last more than 3o minutes. The only barrier here to new players is that the game plays a little slowly for the first couple times as new players familiarize themselves with all the cards.
  • Neuroshima Hex! The one game on this list that I have yet to purchase, I've familiarized myself with Neuroshima Hex! through the excellent online version of the game. This is a fairly abstract tactical board game for 2-4 players (probably best with two) in which each player chooses a deck of hex-shaped tiles that represents their army. Players then take turns, starting with a 'headquarters' tile, placing tiles on a small board of hex spaces and attempting to defeat other players units and ultimately damage or destroy their opponent(s) headquarters. Each unit that is played has different strengths and weaknesses. Some can fire ranged attacks across the board, some specialize in melee combat, some attack in many directions, some deal multiple damage in one direction, some can move every turn, etc. Battles, when they happen, usually wipe out the majority of the units on the board so be prepared for lots of unit turnover! Neuroshima Hex! plays quickly and is an intense experience.
  • Memoir '44 Out of all the games on this list this is the one I have played the least--not because I don't enjoy the game, but rather because I haven't found quite the right opponents yet, and because I've been so blown away by Dominion, Pandemic, and Neuroshima Hex as of late! Memoir '44 is a simple World War II scenario-based tactical combat game. The basic system is simple and easy to learn, although there are some details, such as the different effects and modifiers for each different special terrain type, that take a few games to learn. There is a bit of setup for each scenario, but once that is out of the way the game plays very quickly. The publisher recommends playing twice in a sitting, first one player takes the allied forces and the other the axis, then for the second game play the same scenario but with roles reversed. This is important since many of the scenarios will be somewhat biased toward one side or another. If you are a WWII buff or just enjoy war as a theme, this game may be for you. Memoir '44 is primarily a two player game although it can be played in teams, including an eight player variant called overlord which is supposed to be a lot of fun.
Ultimately I intend to post full reviews of each of these games. As I do so, I will edit this post to include links to each of those reviews. When you read this, some of those links may already be present.

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5 Reasons I May Never Play Monopoly Again

Now don't get me wrong, I don't hate Monopoly. Lots of Monopoly bashing goes on every day online, especially at Board Game Geek, but I don't count myself amongst those of such persuasion. Years of playing the game with my brothers, cousins, and uncles, has cemented Monopoly, at the very least, as a memento of some of the best days of my life. It has been the centerpiece of family gatherings for as long as I can remember, and is one of the few games I cut my teeth on upon being introduced to the wonderful world of board games. Even today, with the right group of people, using the original rules as written, I could envision myself playing again.


There are a core handful of reasons why this venerable game may never again grace my table.

  • Outdated mechanics. I do agree with the haters that there is lots to dislike about how this game plays out. Success on both the front end (landing on properties in order to buy) and the tail end (landing on heavily improved monopolies late in the game OR your opponents somehow avoiding yours) of the game relies entirely on chance. Personally I have no problem with dice. In fact, I rather like them. However, in monopoly they just seem like a little too much.

  • Long play time with few strategic options. There is certainly some strategy to Monopoly, but much of it occurs very quickly within a very small portion of a very long game. Trading to get a monopoly is the meat of this game, once that is over basically all you have left are a few tactical timing issues such as when to build additional houses. Most of the game is roll and move, roll and move, roll and move... These first two problems are much of what other people hate about Monopoly. I still like it despite these, but what pushes me away from the game are the following:

  • Unless I play with my own set, I'm likely to be forced to play a poorly re-themed novelty set of Monopoly. John Deere, Star Wars, The Simpsons, Boston Red Sox, etc., are not appropriate themes for the mechanics of Monopoly!! No, I do not want to buy Ted Williams and improve him hoping that my opponents will land on him and pay me money. How does this make sense? Oh yeah, these games don't need to make sense, because they're not made to be played. They are simply a reason for a household that already owns (but never plays!) the regular Monopoly game to buy many additional copies (that don't, and shouldn't get played!)

  • House rules. Although Monopoly seems like it should be a common link between board game players, in reality it is not. This is due to the fact that almost no one plays the game the same way! In fact, I would go so far as to say that 99% of the people who play Monopoly have never actually read all the rules. Everyone 'already knows how to play' so therefore needn't ever learn how to play correctly! So everyone plays differently, but that shouldn't be that big of a deal so long as all players agree on house rules before playing, right? The problem here is that 99% of house rules make the game longer and more painful. So what happens when I sit down to play Monopoly with someone? I'm forced to say that I will only play by the written rules and thereby sound like a game snob (which I am, but I do so try not to come off that way!) So everyone has a different idea about how to play the game and it ends up being one huge mess. Ultimately it is far easier to teach a group of friends a new game (which, incidentally, is bound to be better than Monopoly anyway!) than to get on the same page with everyone who 'already know' how to play Monopoly.

  • The most significant reason for never playing Monopoly again is not that I don't like it (which I still do, despite the above problems), it is that there are far too many games that are far better. Monopoly will always have a place in my collection because of fond memories, but I already own at least 10 games that are more fun. We live in a golden age for board games, don't waste your time playing the same old tired one! It is time to let Monopoly retire and get some long needed rest.
Love board games but getting a bit sick of Monopoly? My next post will be an introduction to some of the most accessible (and most fun!) modern board games. Have fun!