Start Your Collection Off Right
So it’s taken me a lot long to write this second part than it should have, one part real life obligations and another part analysis paralysis. When I set out to nominate 5 games it seemed easy, but when I got down to writing it I realized I wanted to put 10 games on this list, maybe even 15. The purpose of my list here is to give a solid foundation of games to start out a collection with that should be well-rounded in most situations. My initial list was very thematic, I could tell you 5 fantasy themed games in which I think are 100% awesome right now but I figured I’ll save that post for another day and stick to the core idea here. So without further adieu here are my 5 basic categories and a game for each of them, along with commentary, of course. I’ve also included a runner up for each category, mainly these are awesome games that are a little less beginner friendly and a little more nerdy, but equally awesome none the less.
This game falls into my “Family friendly” / wide appealing list because no one can say no to something as simple as Trains and building railroads. Right? The gameplay in ticket to ride is straightforward and simple enough that anyone can learn its rules within a single turn. You’re a railroad baron and you’re trying to build the best set of railways in the country, earning points for each route you map out and possibly earning bonus points for having the longest route at the end of the game. Winner with the most victory points wins! It’s colorful, good for all ages, only takes about an hour to play and has a nice luck:planning ratio that always hits a sweet spot. Ticket to ride is also a great example of euro style games which means it typically doesn’t involve direct player conflict. The rage-table-flipping likelihood in a game of Ticket to Ride is about 99.9% less than that of say…a game of Monopoly. I could go on and on about it but there’s a reason why this game has sold millions of copies, has a half dozen different expansions, and a video game version as well.
Great alternatives to: Monopoly. Life, Sorry!
This game falls into my “Strategy” category because at its core that’s what it is, a territory control game like RISK but with a lot more variety, replay value, fun, and a finite turn limit. Small World is a fantasy-themed territory control game where you take turns overseeing the fate of different randomly generated tribes of creatures that inhabit the lands on the board, after a race has been around for a while they will go into decline and another will take its place. Each race (elves, orcs, trolls, dwarves, ratmen, etc.) has a randomly determined quality such as diplomatic, merchant, and loads more. There might be a race of diplomatic skeletons fighting for control against some wealthy wizards… you really just never know. With Small World you get a taste of a wacky and colorful world, with just a dash of randomness, and plenty of strategy to fill out each turn. Winner is determined by who earned the most gold at the end of the game, which is over in 8 rounds (for a 4 player game). It’s a great light-hearted way to go head to head with up to 4 other friends and no one will want to murder you because the game has been dragging out for 6 straight hours.
Great alternatives to: RISK, Stratego, Checkers.
Falling into my “Party Game” category Say Anything can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a mild mannered ice-breaker style game or it can become a rude, crude, NSFW-joke filled evening. The premise of the game is simple, every player takes turn being the judge and asking a question like “what is the worst thing you could say at a job interview”, all the other players jot down their answers on small dry-erase cards and toss them onto the table. The judge then picks his favorite answer and all other players place their bets on which one it is they think the judge chose. Points are awarded accordingly for picking the right answer and if your answer was the one the judge chose. Rinse and repeat that until someone (or team, game plays well with teams too) reaches the score limit. There are lots of contenders out there in the party game scene but Say Anything has staying power because the answers players are giving are never the same, unlike most party style games that eventually lose their luster because you’ve read all the gags a dozen times.
Great alternatives to: Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash, Jenga.
I know a lot of folks who never had any idea there were such thing as cooperative board games, and Pandemic is one of the best so it takes the co-op category for me easily. In Pandemic you and your friends are racing to cure 4 different strains of diseases spreading across the globe. There are plenty of ways to lose the game, and only one way to win – so you’ll really need to put your heads together and use all of your resources wisely to pull it off. The game may seem impossible during your first playthrough or two, but then it becomes abundantly clear that it is so long as you’re prepared! Lucky for you if you’re just getting into board gaming there is a fresh copy on the shelves, shown here, the second edition has improved components, more colors, and overall looks way more awesome than my old copy! I’ve gotten so many fun hours out of Pandemic, you should too.
Runner up: Any of the D&D Adventure System board games like Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, or Legend of Drizzt. These games provide a compartmentalized D&D style experience with little effort and within a 1-2 hour time frame, I can’t recommend them enough. Check out my reviews and YouTube channel for more details on them if you’re interested.
Great alternatives to: No conventional board games really do what these do!
Castle Panic & Catan Junior
For my “Kids Game” category I have a tie, and I’ll explain why briefly but first I should explain why I even have a kids category. Not everyone has children, and I’m not trying to be some kind of daddy blogger here but it’s a safe assumption that everyone has kids in their life to some capacity even if they aren’t your own, and it’s always good to have a game around for them to play. Board games offer all sorts of learning/skill-strengthening experiences for kids (taking turns, math, social graces, etc.) so it’s never too early to get them started in my opinion.
Anyway both Castle Panic and Catan Junior are exquisite examples of these, I went with a tie here because Castle Panic is purely cooperative, and Catan is competitive, although indirectly as it’s also another euro style game. In Castle Panic you’ll be defending your keep against an onslaught of fantasy bad guys like trolls and orcs, swapping cards with your fellow players in order to take them out before they take your castle down. In Catan Junior you play pirates using trade, diplomacy, and luck to found territory and build ships along a series of small islands, the first person to build all of their bases onto the board is the winner. You can check out my full review of Castle Panic and my mini-review & unboxing of Catan Junior if you’d like to know more.
Runner Up: Forbidden Island is basically the kids version of Pandemic, and a steal at $15!
Great alternatives to: Chutes & Ladders, Candyland,
Go Forth and Game!
Well, that wraps it up for part two, stay tuned as I promise part 3 will be coming much sooner than the wait for part two. Also I’ll be down at Gencon all this week so I’ll be sure to report back on all of the coolest games and sightings during the show. Be sure to follow me on twitter for pics and thoughts from the convention floor. Now, go pick up some of these games and clear off a shelf, it’s time to be a board gamer!