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Board games have been experiencing a renaissance, in no small part thanks to geek god Wil Wheaton’s popular web-series, TableTop. The variety seems to be growing exponentially, no longer limiting you to the lonely sets of Monopoly and Clue collecting dust in the back of your childhood closet. There are board game cafés and bars, as well as International TableTop Day in the spring. I attend a weekly board game night with friends, and there’s no shortage of games to choose from.
That said, having so many options can be overwhelming, especially for those new to the tabletop phenomenon. These are my seven favorite games for beginning tabletop gamers; easy enough to learn quickly but fun enough to want to play over and over again.
Perhaps you’ve heard of friends talking about a Catan drinking game and wondered what they were talking about, or maybe you’ve seen Ben Wyatt talk about it on "Parks & Recreation" and wondered what the heck a “longest road” was. Catan is the game that everybody wants to play, and for good reason: it involves strategy, bluffing and alliances, as well as a bit of luck -- basically, everything you could want from a game.
The objective of Settlers of Catan is simple: get to 10 Victory Points by building roads, settlements, and cities. However, these things cost resources (and which resources you get depend on what you roll), and you’ll have to convince your opponents to trade with you in order to succeed. It’s a game where you have to balance working with others in order to help yourself, and where you draw the line is up to you.
If you’re looking to play with more folks, there’s an expansion that will allow up to six players. There are also a ton of story expansions available, as well as a Star Trek version and an American version.
Ticket to Ride is quickly becoming an easy way to introduce newbies to the world of tabletop gaming. Players work to complete routes across the country, using train car cards in order to claim a route. Not only is a great way to practice geography, but it’s a fairly straightforward game. The object of the game is to have the highest amount of points, which you achieve by claiming routes and completing Destination Tickets.
I love that Ticket to Ride provides each player the opportunity to strategize individually, though other players may interfere as everyone is secretly planning out their routes. How will you work around someone claiming the route that you were depending on? Its replayability lies in the strategy; you’ll play differently depending on who you’re playing with and how aggressive they are in their game play.
I grew up playing Rummikub with my family, so I’ll fully admit that I’m biased when I say this is one of the best games ever. Though it was created in the late 1970s, I feel as though not enough people have been playing it until recently.
Rummikub is a straight-forward, easily learned game with a crazy amount of strategy. If you’ve played gin rummy, it’s a similar premise: you need to get rid of all of the tiles in your hand by “playing them” onto the board. You organize tiles in sets of three or more onto the board, i.e. the common area, by runs or by group. The strategy has to do with how you manipulate the tiles out on the board, using what other players have used in order to play the tiles in your hand.
There is nothing more satisfying than reorganizing the entire board in order to put down a tile, especially when it then causes your opponents to restructure their entire game plan.
Since it’s been around for a long time, I’ve found that it’s similar to Uno in that people have their own sets of rules. It’s fun to play by different “house rules” as it can change your strategy dramatically, keeping gameplay interesting. Additionally, there’s a point component built in if you want to keep playing for several rounds - which you will, once you start to master the strategy.
If you like Rummikub, check out Qwirkle, which is a modern Rummikub-meets-Dominos hybrid.
Of all the card games out there, Dominion is easily my favorite. The goal is to have the strongest kingdom, which is indicated by the number of victory points you have at the end of the game. It’s a deck building game, which means you’re constantly buying new cards in order to build a strong deck. You have the ability to buy coins, action cards, and victory points. Each game, there are ten different action cards to buy from; however, the starter box set comes with twenty-five options, so you can mix and match to customize game play.
Each turn, you play one action card (and do whatever the card tells you to do, including possibly playing more cards) and then buy one card (or more, depending on the action card). The strategy comes from deciding when to buy action cards that allow you do things on your turn and when to buy victory points.
Though the victory point cards will give you the win at the end, they are essentially useless during gameplay. Depending on the action cards available in that game, game play can vary from peaceful to aggressive; the customizable nature of this game is why I find it endlessly replayable.
Dominion has a ton of different expansions, each of which add something new to gameplay. If you’re interested in a similar game, check out Ascension.
The Resistance is very popular among my board game group, partially because it can play with up to 10 people, and partially because it is the ultimate bluffing game. I’m a terrible liar with little to no poker face, but even I find some enjoyment in trying to fake out my friends.
The Resistance is a group of rebels, working to take down an evil government. However, spies have infiltrated the rebels. The goal of the game is two-fold: figure out the identities of the people at the table, and help your side win. Each game consists of five “missions,” in which a leader picks a team, opening a heated debate in which loyalties are questioned and public interrogations threaten friendships. This is where the ability to bluff comes into play. It’ll make you question how well you actually know the people sitting around the table; converting friends into strangers is one of this game’s specialties.
All players then vote whether or not to let the mission go forward, based on if they trust the team. The team, once approved, secretly votes whether or not the mission is a “success” or a “failure” -- the trick being that rebels are only allowed to vote success, whereas spies are allowed to vote success OR failure. First side to win three out of five missions win.
Pandemic is a cooperative game in which you and all other players are disease specialists, working to save the world from four deadly diseases. Each player has a role with a special ability, and must work together to figure out the best action plan. A turn involves four actions, including movement, sharing cards, treating infection, discovering a cure, or building a research lab, and concludes with drawing cards to see where the diseases will spread next.
It may sound like winning is easy -- simply cure all four infections -- but diseases outbreak rapidly, and the sense of urgency escalates quickly. The game is designed to work against you and your team at every conceivable turn; if there’s an Epidemic card coming up, it will inevitably turn up at the worst possible moment.
What I like about Pandemic is the sense of working with a team to solve a common goal. Because there are so many ways to lose, the stakes are high. I’ve played this game dozens of times and only won a few; it’s a difficult game, but that makes it all the more satisfying once you win.
It’s nice to have a social game in your docket; something that opens up conversation with old friends and serves as an excellent ice breaker with new ones. That’s where Dixit comes in. One player each round chooses a word to describe one of the illustrated cards in their hand. Words can vary from “boom” to “mousey” to “magic realism” -- whatever works best but still manages to be vague. Each other player must then choose a card from their hand that they feel also represents this word; then, everyone takes turns guessing which illustrated card belonged to that round’s storyteller. Everything is scored, and then the next person gets to repeat the process with one of their cards.
The premise is uncomplicated, though it can sometimes be hard to come up with a word on the spot. The art is whimsical and beautiful, not to mention complex enough that each card can have different meanings. It’s amazing to see how a group of people will view the same thing and interpret it in their own way.