I did something similar to this article a while back on the subject of Minecraft and the various titles that followed in its wake, some time shortly after an explosion of some of the less exemplary Minecraft-ish games. Under a similar umbrella find Cards Against Humanity, whose irreverent and unapologetically offensive game caught the world’s attention, and many people looked to its simplistic format and said something to the effect of: “I can do that, but what if this time…” (more…)
There’s something weirdly therapeutic about shuffling a deck of cards, and for enthusiasts of all stripes there’s an ever increasing number of games to choose from across a wide variety of genres, so many in fact that I for one do not remember the last time I played a game with the classic four-suite deck. The combination of a randomised deck, the resource-management elements of a hand, and the sheer volume of options afforded by the printed space on cards make them a versatile utility for any game designer.
But with such an array of choices, how do you know what’s right for you?
The structure of decks, and how those structures are reached can vary wildly:
Pre-built decks are the most common by far, and most frequently multiple decks control different elements of the game. For example, in Munchkin the Door deck describes your encounters, and the Treasure deck rewards you for your efforts. In Bucket of Doom (a recent acquisition of mine) players are required to formulate escape plans drawn from the Situation deck using one of their Item cards as the most essential component. Or to take it one step further, in Boss Monster, you have a Dungeon deck with which to built your evil lair, a Spell deck that grants you special powers, and all players are at the mercy of the Hero deck.
Deck building games most commonly feature a single deck around which the entire game focusses, which is slowly divided amongst the players. The DC Deck Building Game is a favourite of mine, in which players begin with only a handful of powers, and must gather more powers, as well as allies, equipment, and even a few enemies in order to strengthen their chances of securing better cards as the game progresses, and work their way through the super-villains. Smash-Up takes a different course, where the deck is built right at the beginning by combining any two of the large choice of factions together, using complimentary tactics to compete for control of the bases.
CCGs (collectible card games) offer players a library of cards from which they can collect and horde, and building a deck from what cards they amass from booster packs and boxes. Whoever can build the best deck wins. This type of game lends itself to victory through study, knowledge, and yes, more than a little cash spent on cards that can assure victory, and this can create a rather elitist type of gamer, or just a bunch of people who really enjoy testing their strategic thinking.
The real beauty of the deck structure is that it is easy to expand upon. As a perfect example, Cards Against Humanity having such a simple structure allows the creators to bring out new decks based on what’s funny to a geographical area (or hand us some lazy British stereotypes, cheers lads) or simply add more material to keep the game fresh. Smash Up gains more factions to mix and mash, and CCG’s expand upon the ever growing market, changing with the time so as to prevent older players gaining too strong an advantage over new players. It never quite works out like that though…
Your only resource is the cards in your hand. Games may differ, changing the way cards are played depending on other elements of the game, but ultimately you can only control what you do with what you have. Card quality can vary, and you can end up with some hands offering you next to no choices, while others grant you significant bonuses in any situation. You’re frequently limited as to how many cards you can hold, and almost always limited on how many you replenish, so managing this precious resource is a tough balancing act of weighing pros and cons of each play, calculating the best order, but leaving yourself prepared for what may come.
It’s little wonder it can take some people an hour to make up their minds.
The random nature of a well-shuffled deck can be a blessing and a curse. Some players may find that the cards they draw just aren’t good enough, or are stuck with the agony of choosing which of their incredible choices would be best used in the moment, only to find another, better situation arise soon after. Magic the Gathering players will be familiar with the terms Mana-Screwed or -Flooded referring to having too little or too much of the essential resource card. Fans of Cards Against Humanity or Dixit will know the sting of picking up “The Perfect Card” the moment they made an inadequate play.
This level of chaos can put some people off playing, but sometimes it’s best just to make the best of what you have and hope for a change of fortunes. And if it never happens you can always blame the cards.
They’ve been around for thousands of years, entertaining people from all ages and walks of life. Whilst Video Games are still relatively adolescent, board games are like the great, great, great grandfathers of gaming. They have taught us plenty of strategies, help to keep the mind active and are generally brilliant in social environments as well. They are great in parties as well as between a small group of friends, or even games between lovers.
Yet, one question has remained throughout all of this… Just what are the best board games out there today? Joel and Timlah decide to tackle an extremely tough topic as they dig out their board games, look through what they’ve played, take serious notes (by which I mean we just shouted at one another until we’re blue in the face) and judged each game for the merits they bring to the table. This is the GeekOut South-West list of our Top 10 board games!
10) King of Tokyo
Giant monsters have a real thing for Tokyo. I suppose once you’ve become unnaturally massive your diet will naturally take a shift for the similarly huge, so skyscrapers eventually end up on the menu.
Take up the role of one such giant monster and slug it out in your own B-Movie battle for Tokyo. Gather power to buy cheesy upgrades like laser beams, fire breath or an extra head. Go straight for the kill, or just chase the points while everyone else is preoccupied.
If your more a Michael Bay fan than Harry Hausen, try King of New-York too. More building smashing, more calling in the military and more strategy!
The game of the path is an excellent mixture of chance and strategy, and it’s also elegantly simple. Place your marker at a starting point around the edge of the board, use tiles covered in paths to start your journey, last man standing wins. Oh but everyone else is building their own path, and every tile has four paths on it that could take you somewhere you don’t want to be.
Tsuro is brilliantly quick, really easy to play, harder to master, and massively replayable with so many possible variations. The board and all pieces are beautifully made and designed, as is the sequel Tsuro of the Seas, but I’d rate the original game higher.
Spawning one of the most memorable catchphrases in all of gaming history, this is a game of placement, strategy, logic and luck. I mean the initial shots are basically just luck, but once you land your first hit, you know a ship is vulnerable. These ships are simply sitting ducks that are perfect targets for you to sink. All of these ships are vulnerable, except the most evil ship of them all.
The patrol boat! It’s just 2 pieces long for crying out loud! Where are you, you nasty little patrol boat! Stop looking for me, I’m looking for you now. I’ve sunk all the rest of your fleet, you have no chance… Oh wait, what are you doing? Oh no…
“You sunk my battle ship!!!”
7) Mouse Trap
First made back in the 1970’s, Mouse Trap is a brilliantly unique game. Whilst it certainly has its faults (such as Joels revelation that his trap rarely worked, whereas my traps nearly always worked), the game is something of a childhood classic. Nostalgic is a great way to describe this game now, but it is still available in shops with more modern editions.
You play as mice who are trying to get their cheese but most importantly: Not to be caught by the mouse trap. As you go through the game, you build up one of the wackiest, zaniest traps in gaming history. These traps puts Acme to shame, as it involves cranks, boots, marbles, divers, bath tubs, rolling tracks and a cage. I loved this game as a kid and I think many others did too, although it wasn’t very well received by critics.
Never the less, this game is simply fun. It’s childish, it’s silly – It’s just a fun game to play, with lots of set up and lots of things to see and do. Its USP however… That trap is ridiculously unique and Loony Tunes-esque.
Collectable chibi figures that beat each other to death with wacky powers in an adorable cartoon arena may sound like a child-friendly concept, but here’s a game for people with a flair for strategy and a cruel streak. It’s not all that simple to play, but once you’ve gotten to grips with it, Krosmaster can be a fast-paced bloodbath of slung dice.
If you want to practice there’s a free version online, and investing in the figure boosters allows you to unlock those characters in the online game. But the board game comes with so much! It’s not cheap, but there’s a huge collection of set pieces, tiles, tokens, and a full playset of figures! It’s quite possibly the best investment you can make in a board game.
So the board is little more than a scoreboard in Dixit, but it’s a lovely game nonetheless. We’ve talked about Dixit before, a game of narrative and descriptive power for the creative types. Players take it in turn to take an art card from their hands, offer a clue to what’s on it, and then other players place their own art cards into the pile that they think match the clue. Not too obvious, or you get no points and everyone else does. Not too obscure, or everyone else gets points and you don’t.
You may find this game requires expansions to keep it fresh, but there are plenty of those to be had, and with new players it can offer a wealth of new perspectives on the cards you thought had become familiar. We love Dixit here at GeekOut South-West, and we’ll offer anyone a game at a convention.
4) Ticket to Ride
Have you ever gone to a train station and decided “Boy, I’d sure like to go from station A to B in the most convoluted way possible!” No? Well that’s a shame, because players of Ticket to Ride surely have.
Surprisingly educational and an easy game to pick up and play, Ticket to Ride is a game that balances simple game play with a lot of strategy and a pinch of luck to go with it. Do you want to be risky and take the longer routes with fear that your competitors might try to take it over. This is the ultimate game of balancing greed and being strategic with your monopolisation of the railway. Be warned though, this game takes minutes to learn with its simple rules of: Each turn you either draw a card, claim a route or get more destination tickets. With such an easy rule set, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’ll keep you and your friends or family entertained for hours.
Also for all of you mobile fans out there, you can buy this board game for a hefty discount from the typical asking price of £25 and above. Seriously, it’s well worth playing this game, even though board games can be expensive, man! Controversial
3) The Settlers of Catan
The ultimate resource management board game, the Settlers of Catan sees you in charge of a group of settlers as they build settlements, cities and roads that connect them all together. A simple game to pick up and play that has been praised for how well balanced it is. It’s the modern day board game.
German designed, Catan has had many spin-offs and variants, including many expansions. I’d argue that Settlers of Catan is the board game that helped bring board games back to the centre of social gaming. Having sold more than 15 million units world wide, this board game is easy to pick up and play, which can be played in an hour. The question is, which version do you get? I’d recommend still getting the original.
Although I get a feeling they kind of went wrong when they introduced this to the world…
==1) Chess & Hero Quest
Chess – Joel
The king of games. Little needs to be said, it’s the pinnacle of strategy gaming, there are no elements of chaos like dice or decks of cards, only skill.
When we debated chess and Hero Quest to a standstill, I likened chess to sharks. It’s a design that has barely changed since its’ creation many centuries ago, a few tweaks here and there to made as play intensified, visual aesthetics that reflect trends of the time. Chess is history itself, it’s art, and music, and literature, and narrative.
Nothing can be said about the King of Games that has not already been said a thousand times before by a thousand more eloquent people. It’s also one hell of a way to start arguments.
Hero Quest – Timlah
This was a board game that was basically a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Amongst some of the special points about Hero Quest are that it’s now quite a rare game to get your hands on. It’s so worth having a go if you can manage to get your hands on it, though.
It’s incredibly expansive with people creating resources for the game, almost to the same degree that people make resources for Dungeons & Dragons. This game was so popular, they took to Kickstarter for a 25th anniversary edition which was highly successful, even though they were met with copyright disputes. This shows that the community for this particular game is so strong still – It’s worth a nod at the very least.
Couple this with encouraging children to learn to tell stories and to teach them basic dungeon master skills, this game is the very foundation for children to progress into tabletop RPGs. It was very well balanced, with lots of great pieces which you could put on the board. With character sheets and rulebooks, this was the ultimate in tabletop RPG… And it was a board game, not pen & paper!
You’ve heard mine and Joels arguments for our respective game choices and now we’re handing it over to you. Do we hand the number one slot to Chess, or do we hand the number one slot to Hero Quest? Two entirely different games, both highly educational in their own rights and incredibly strategic. One promotes healthy competition, whereas the other promotes working together as a team. Now their fate for the ultimate battle of the number one slot is in your hands.
Don’t you just hate it when you’re sat there with all of these incredible board games and some people decide to mention these damned games instead? We’re not saying they’re bad or anything, but we’re saying god damn it, why do you even bring this up right now? Still, they deserve the love, even if one is the root of all evil and the other lets you find out who is going to play the root of all evil.
Dungeons and Dragons
Do you have any idea how many times during an explanation of what D&D is, I’ve been asked “So is it a board game?” and my response always starts the same way, “No, well, ehh… kind of.”
And that’s the point, tabletop RPs are board games that don’t need a board necessarily, but there’s no denying that they can be helpful under certain circumstances. Boards are readily available in huge varieties, pre-made, draw your own, build your own, everything from line drawings to sculptures. Tokens, and figures and dice are all available, even box-sets that’ll give you the whole lot in one go.
But they’re not board games! They’re not!
I’m not sure if this game is evil at its core by this point, but the game was first made as a way to demonstrate the evils of property trading. No seriously, that is why Monopoly exists… And it’s very good at getting this point across. This is a game where you have to watch your friends and family turn from your loved ones into vicious, penny pinching, money grabbing monsters before your very eyes.
They want your blood, your thimbles, your wheelbarrows, your dogs and evil your top hats. They do this, not out of love… But this is war. This is a property war and this is Monopoly, damn it!
Whew, I may be getting ahead of myself here, but Monopoly is pure evil and it always brings up heated discussion. Whether you love it or hate it… Monopoly is a game that will tug at peoples heart strings, either from pure love of the game to “hnngh, I’m going to have a heart attack as you mentioned that vile abomination of a game.”
That was our list of our Top 10 Board Games and our honourable mentions for this week. Yes, we know, we cheesed it with our honourables, but Monopoly is a necessary evil that needed to be exposed for the evil (but fun evil) that it is. We also have a controversial decision in our contentious first place position, between Chess and Hero Quest. What do you think about that? Let us know what our next Top 10 should be!
As always, if you disagree with our list: Why not shout at us and tell us that we’re stupid in the comments below? Or you can be nice and give us your suggestions and let us know if you think we’ve forgotten a really important board game from this list. Perhaps you like our list but don’t agree with the order? What are your thoughts on us doing a joint first place with Chess and Hero Quest? We had a long, tough debate over this but we couldn’t put a point past either of them. As always, comments below, over on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you think of our Top 10 for this week!
Dixit is a simple game which features wonderful little bunny rabbits as the characters that represent you, the player.
As you hop and jump through a magical dream-world like state, your goal in this beautiful game is to get to the number 30. Why 30? I dunno, something to do with you getting 30 points and winning the game or something.
It’s a deceptively simple and all around adorable game. Each player is given 6 cards, each of which have nice large illustrations on them. The purpose of the game is to tell a story or to describe your picture in a way that some people get it, but not everyone. Once you’ve described your card, you place it face down around the board and the other players put down a card that they feel is similar to what you said. These get shuffled up, the story is generally repeated and then the cards are placed face up so people can see the cards around the board. Once all is said and done, the players must then decide which card was the story tellers card.
The game can be played between 3 to 12 players, but I’d say it’s recommended with at least 6 players. If you have more than that, you are required to vote for 2 cards, yet if you have 6 – You have a bigger range of cards to choose from and you basically have a 1 in 6 chance of getting the answer right. In a game with just 3 people, it’s quite easy to guess which card belongs to the story teller, but this is down to the creativity of the story teller in general.
I first played my new set of Dixit Odyssey in our recent Taunton meetup. We were playing this game after a good number of us had consumed a reasonable amount of alcohol, which really made some of our descriptions of our cards quite warped in a fun and friendly way. The most amazing thing is, we played this game right after we had played Cards Against Humanity. As such, we expected we’d have made all of the lovely pictures out to be a lot worse than what they are – but we didn’t. Dixit truly is a beautiful game which allows people to be creative without the need of being obscene.
Each player is given a voting card, which has 12 holes in it. Players then also get either 1 voting peg (for up to 6 players) or 2 voting pegs (between 6 to 12 players). Scoring is quite simple too: If some (but not all) of the players guess the storytellers card correctly: the story teller gets 3 points. If everyone guesses the storytellers card correctly, then everyone except for the storyteller gets 2 points. If no one guesses the storytellers card correctly, then again everyone except for the storyteller gets 2 points. Players also score an additional 1 point for each other player that voted for their card, rather than the storytellers.
If you’ve played the standard Dixit before, then Odyssey might be somewhat disappointing to you, as it is basically the exact same game. There are a few basic variations to the rules, which is easily replicated over to the standard Dixit game. The only thing that isn’t so easy is the fact it has 12 voting cards unlike the normal Dixit. But with the amount of cards you get in Odyssey, you will quickly run through them all and start reusing cards. It might be worth investing in the expansions, but these can go for an extra £10-£15 a piece!
Have you ever played Dixit before or Dixit Odyssey? What did you think of the rather dream-like qualities of the game? Have you ever been able to make one of the most magically innocent games into something warped!? If so, shame on you – but tell us your stories below!
My local games shop host regular events where people can come and play board games, take part in events, meet new gamers and try something different. They’re a lot of fun, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on the committee who runs them. Helping to manage events is one hell of an opportunity for me, and I’ve learned a great deal in the process, and though it’s been a long fight for us to make games days a success, they get better every time, and everyone who comes enjoys themselves, and ultimately that’s what is important.
We are Shrewsbury’s biggest games event, and we are still rising. In fact e-Collectica itself is currently looking likely to move from it’s current stall in the local Market Hall and into a high street premises, and next years’ events are going to be bigger and better than ever.
If you’re local to the area, keep an eye on Facebook and GeekOut South-West for updates on when the next games day should be. For now though, take a look at what you’d be missing out on:
A huge thank you to everyone who attended and an even bigger thanks to those yet to attend! We look forward to seeing you.
And once again, a huge thank you to e-Collectica for every opportunity they’ve given me.