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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haven't found the right opponent yet...
I'll just go cry myself to sleep.