Somewhere along the way, someone has probably introduced you to the board game version of cocaine, The Settlers of Catan. If the sales figures and stats are to be believed, you got addicted. Without a doubt, Settlers is a modern classic, the Monopoly of today. The game hits the family game sweet spot in almost every way. You can play it over and over again without feeling bored, and it appeals to a wide audience, from children at age 9 to grandparents aged 69.
Settlers is nearly the perfect board game, kind of like Cherry Garcia is nearly the perfect ice cream. But even perfection can lose its luster without variety. One really needs to eat some Chunky Monkey every once in a while to continue to appreciate the bliss that is Cherry Garcia. So what do you buy after you have purchased Settlers? Of course, the next logical step is to buy the Settlers expansions — Seafarers, and Cities and Knights. But what then? Once the Settlers addiction has run its course, sorting through the mass of Euro-style and quality American board games can be confusing.
Quality games aren’t cheap either. It is kind of hard to drop $30 to $100 on a game if you don’t know that it is excellent. So, I want to present three different ways you can learn about new quality board games, followed by a list of surefire hits that will help you move from Settlers into the wider world of board games.
Traditionally, to find out about a great game, you needed to know someone who owned the game. Although the internet is slowly changing this.
The new TableTop online program featuring Wil Wheaton provides the most innovative new way to find out about great games. If you haven’t caught it yet, do so. Every other week, Wheaton sits down with three friends and simply plays a game. Each 30-minute show is set up to intentionally provide viewers with a basic understanding of game mechanics and to demonstrate what makes that game particularly fun. Wheaton and company provide the entertaining commentary. He is a master of geek smack talk, innuendo, and inside jokes, and he gets into his games. Be forewarned, Wheaton is a PG-13 personality, and the language and humor can be a little more than I want my youngsters to pick up — yet nonetheless hilarious. Currently, new episodes come out every other Friday. You can find links to them right here on GeekDad.
I really hope that game companies pick up on the success of what Wheaton is doing. If books can have trailers, why can’t we go to a game company website and watch an entertaining video of people playing the latest and greatest game? If sales are driven by seeing a game in action, then a demo online could greatly increase sales. (Hint: make sure the demo isn’t a boring explanation but an actual chance to see the game with all its turnarounds, back-stabs, and triumphs.)
There is a second way to find out about board games on the internet. More and more board games are being put on the internet as online games, which you can play with people from around the world. These electronic versions are usually a fraction of the cost of the actual print game. They provide an excellent way to try before you buy. Days of Wonder, the maker of Ticket to Ride, has been a particularly enthusiastic adopter of online board gaming. In a GeekDad interview last fall, Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont explained their thinking.
What better way to find out about games than to play them before you purchase them? There is no better place to see and play great games than at a game night hosted by a friend or at a local game store. For those of you who are a little more ambitious, you could attempt to host your own game night. GeekDad Jonathan Liu has written a basic guide to putting on a successful game night. I have written a tongue-in-cheek game night invitation, which takes a light-hearted look at game night etiquette.
Game night at a friend’s house may be a more comfortable affair for those new to quality board games, but there truly is no place better to find out about the latest and greatest board games than at the local game store. Most game stores host family-friendly open gaming sessions in which you are welcome to show up with your children and join in. In my area, Vancouver, Washington, Dice Age Games hosts a game night on Friday nights, which, when I last attended, had over 60 people playing board games. Board gamers are famous for their friendly open culture, in which they will gladly incorporate strangers into their play. Don’t be shy. These are often wonderful people. If you want to know a little more about Board Game culture, the documentary Going Cardboard is a great place to start. Here is a trailer which gives you a little glimpse into some of the people you can find in the world of board games.
Word of Mouth
In the end, the vast majority of great games are found by word of mouth. Friends tell friends or try games out during an evening. Here at GeekDad, we have a great selection of game reviews, which, while not being quite as good as playing it, will at least give you a sense of the style of play and what type of board game player will like it.
However, sometimes you just need fewer choices. Sometimes it isn’t more information you need but fewer decisions to make. This is what I want to provide you in part two of this post. I am going to give you a list of my favorites, along with a short description of each. Consider it a somewhat organized but very incomplete place to start as you move beyond Catan.