So, maybe you read my post geeking out about board games and you’re thinking, I want to give that a try, but where do I start? Well, you’re in luck! This is the first in a series of posts about how to get started with your very own game night, from picking some games to teaching people how to play them.
We’ll start with your game collection. Let’s say your current collection consists old “classics” like Monopoly, Life, and Risk. Maybe a chess set, if you could find all the pieces. A couple decks of cards. You’re thinking about heading to the nearest Wal-mart or Target to stock up on some games, right? Think again.
If you want the really good stuff, you need to find yourself a games store, and I don’t mean Toys R Us. Check the yellow pages for “Games” or sometimes “Hobbies.” Unfortunately, I’ve found that many phone books don’t have a section that really helps you narrow down the stores that actually sell board games, so it’s probably worth calling to see what sort of thing they carry before you make the trip. If (like me) you live in a place that doesn’t have any local game stores, then you can always turn to the interwebs for help. (I always recommend supporting your local game stores, though. If they’ve got a friendly knowledgeable staff, their recommendations will be worth the price because you won’t be wasting money on lousy games.)
So where should you start? Here are my tips on some games to seed your collection.
The Meat: Settlers of Catan
This one’s a no-brainer. As I mentioned before, it’s the gateway game that got me hooked, and while I don’t play it nearly as often these days, it’s always a good standby. There are tons of expansion sets for this, but the basic game (for three to four players) is one of the best introductions to the world of European boardgaming. Resource management, victory points, hex tiles, and little wooden bits. At around $40, it’s a bit of an investment, but worth it. (You may be able to find used sets cheaper, but bear in mind that they recently did a reprint and newer expansion sets won’t fit with the older base set.)
… and Potatoes: Carcassonne
Carcassonne is a tile-laying game which is a personal favorite. There’s one guy in my gaming group who can’t stand it, but other than that I find it’s also a good introductory game. Gameplay is easy to teach, the game scales up to five players, and you’ll finally get all the references to “meeples” on BoardGameGeek. Carcassonne also has many different expansions which add new rules and increase the number of players, but start with just the basic game to see if you like it.
Side Dish: Bang!
Inspired by spaghetti Westerns, Bang! is a card-based shoot-out with a sheriff, deputies, outlaws and renegades. It borrows a little from Mafia-type games in that you only know who the sheriff is and try to figure out the others on your team. (Hint: everyone claims to be the deputy.) Each person has a character card with a special ability, and a bullet meter that tracks your health. It’s a good, not-too-expensive game that plays best with a bunch of people. The downside: when you get killed, you’re eliminated, so dead players need to take the initiative to start a new game, or sit around and watch the action.
Fluxx is a geek’s game: the cards you play change the rules, from the number of cards drawn and played per turn to the goal of the game. There’s a lot of reading the first time through, but after you get used to the cards the game goes really quickly. It’s a good filler game in-between lengthier fare, and can accommodate a wide number of players. Bonus: if you like the game, you can also get different flavors like Zombie Fluxx, EcoFluxx, Family Fluxx, and Monty Python Fluxx. Later this year we should see Martian Fluxx as well.
All-You-Can-Eat Buffet: Icehouse
Here’s another geeky choice: Icehouse pyramids were originally conceived as part of a science fiction story. As the author thought up more details about his imaginary Martian games, he wondered if the pyramids he described could really be created. The pyramids are more of a game system, like a deck of cards, with oodles of games you can play. These are also not cheap if you get enough to play most four-player games, but you can get a TreeHouse set to try it out and get a feel for it. It’s also a good resource if you want to try your hand at designing your own games; they make good playing pieces and are very versatile.
Regular or SuperSized: TransAmerica and Ticket to Ride
TransAmerica and Ticket to Ride are both train-building games, but with very different feels. TransAmerica is the simpler of the two, is easier to teach and plays in about half an hour. Ticket to Ride takes a little bit longer, is more expensive, but is also the better-rated. I own both, and I usually prefer Ticket to Ride, but TransAmerica is good for playing a quick game and having less setup time. (If you do decide on Ticket to Ride, the European version seems to be slightly more popular than the original American version, but you may have to learn a bit of geography.)
Splurge: Last Night on Earth
One more if you want to splurge on something fancy: Last Night on Earth is a zombie game which is a favorite among some of the high schoolers here. Two to six players take sides as zombies or heroes; there are several different hero characters and scenarios to play out, from the basic “Kill 15 Zombies Before Sunset” to “Defend the Manor House” (in which the zombies try to overwhelm the manor in the middle of the board. Customizable boards, well-balanced scenarios, B-movie-style artwork, and even a soundtrack CD give this game a lot of replay value. If you like zombies, of course.
Of course, there are plenty of lists out there of The Definitive Board Game Collection, and there are many more games that I love that I’ve left off for the sake of brevity. This is just to give you an idea of the vast variety of games that are out there waiting for you to discover them, and if your favorite game isn’t on the list, add it in the comments!
And, by the way, if you insist on playing Monopoly or Risk, at the very least check out the book New Rules for Classic Games and add a few sprinkles on your vanilla.