Board Games

2017/04/24 lists

Board games, tabletop games, whatever.

Broadly speaking [0] tabletop games are classified as "Ameritrash", "Euro", or "War Game".

Ameritrash games tend to have crazy themes, like superheroes or science fiction. They will feature dice, backstabbing, wild swings in leadership, and more-or-less aim for anecdote generation. Confrontational and dramatic.

Euro games on the other hand tend to have modest or historical themes. Farming, building a villa, running a utility. They're designed to minimize randomness, and offer a much more placid experience.

War Games... it refers less to Risk and more to very involved games about logistics that take forever. I don't think I've actually played one, though some popular games come close to capturing the vibe.

I definitely without question lean towards prefering "Ameritrash" games. If your best board game experiences are backstabbing each other, this is a good list.

The Resistance

5-10 players, 15 minutes per round.

Social game, small form factor, great for lying to each other. I much prefer the original version to the big-red-box one, and I prefer the strategy in plot cards, to the acting dimension provided by Avalon. I don't think any other game has given me more value per dollar spent (and I've bought this one like 3 or 4 times since I often gift it away).

Cosmic Encounter

3-8 players, 45 minutes per round.

"Poker in Space". While most games try to balance the choices given to the player mechanically (eg: more power, less defense), Cosmic Encounter lets some players be incredibly overpowered compared to others but lets them even out the odds socially by allowing alliances to form and dissolve quickly. The way I see it, everything about this game has an insane kind of elegance, diametrically opposed to the elegance of a placid Euro. Everything is chaotic and unpredictable... except that if someone is speeding ahead everyone can band together to balance things out.

Codenames

2-N players, 30 minutes per round.

In a sense the same game as Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, but structured in such a way that two teams are competing against each other. This gives the game a lot more direction. Insanely fun, and playing it with other people often results in them buying the game shortly thereafter.

Spot It!

2-8 players, 1 minute per round.

Incredibly dumb game that could be played by pre-schoolers. You just try to match patterns fast. Surprisingly fun, though.

Honorable Mentions

Battlestar Galactica

Captures the feeling of the show insanely well. It's similar to The Resistance in that there's a traitor, but there's a whole fleshed out adventure that everyone (except the traitor) is cooperating to try and beat. Even without a traitor, it can sometimes be tough to simply survive the events that the game throws at you. The issue is taht it's too long. 3 hours normally, maybe 1 extra hour the first time around. There's a variant that shaves things down to about 1 hour, but it's still a bit oo long.

Game of Thrones

A ton of very elegant mechanics woven together very convincingly, and people can get insanely fired up. It also captures the source material pretty well. However, it's excrutiatingly long even at the best of times. People claim they wrap it up in 3 hours, but I've seen it last up to 8. Never hits the table as a result.

Cyclades

Beautiful game, and quite elegant, but it feels a bit random.

Twilight Struggle

Incredibly awesome game, but 2 player 3+ hour game means that it's only suitable for, say, a couple where both partners are really into board games. There's a digital version that gets rid of the annoyances with setup and makes it easy to play with people at a distance, so opt for that instead.

Android: Netrunner/Sentinels of the Multiverse/Dominion/Sushi Go!/Seven Wonders

Magic: The Gathering is an insanely popular game that is actually 2 games in 1. There's a part of the game that involves sitting at a table with other people, timing your attacks and deciding which card to play to handle a situation. And there's a whole separate game-before-the-game, where people shop around for cards and plan out decks, maximizing the chances that their card draws will be useful or work together. A whole slew of games attempt to capture this latter experience in a short time-frame.

Alhambra/Ticket to Ride/Settlers of Catan/Puerto Rico/Power Grid

All very fun, but a little tame for the time invested. Better for a family gathering than a predrink.

Betrayal on the House on the Hill

Fun, and perhaps the epitome of "Ameritrash", but it plays almost like it's on auto-pilot. You have very little agency in this game, since your next move is usually obvious and everything is dominated by dice rolls. So it's more of an interactive movie or way to pass the time. However, it is fun.

[0] At least back when I was really into board games in ~2012, in communities like BoardGameGeek