tl;dr: Board games aren’t what they used to be. Go out and play a modern board game today!
I have a problem.
Ok, I have more than one problem, but some of them are fun to talk about. Some are even potentially interesting to work on!
My problem is board games. I love them. I’m probably actually addicted to them, but people don’t talk about you for having a “degenerate board gaming problem”, at least not the way they do with heroine, Four Loco, or (shudder) Magic: The Gathering.
I should explain exactly what I’m talking about, lest you think I like charging my friends multicolored rent (which would be BORING).
I’m referring to a class of games we call “eurogames”, “German-style board games”, or even “designer board games”.
On that note, pop quiz: Do you know who actually designed Monopoly? If you answered “the Parker Brothers?”, you would be wrong. Parker Bros was just the original publisher, and now even that company is owned by Hasbro. It’s hard to build a relationship you care about with a multinational corporation…
How Are They Different?
So what’s different about these newfangled games? For one, they’re all about strategy and less about luck. Yes, you’re expected to do that “critical thinking” thing: laying plans, executing them, and, most importantly, feeling like you won or lost based on your own choices. I frequently lose, even when teaching newbies to play. But I have an absolute blast learning and teaching every single time.
Indeed, player elimination (or losing before the end of the game) is a big “no no” in these games. Ever invited your friends over to play Risk, then lost in the first hour? I hope you didn’t have anything else to do that night, because now you’ve got a mob of jerks squatting on your dining room table for the next 6 hours. This, folks, is a subpar definition of “fun”.
Instead, eurogames frequently offer “catchup” mechanisms for those lagging behind the group. It’s akin to the Blue Shell in Mario Kart, which only appears for players who are losing badly, and only targets the leader. Eurogame catchup mechanisms aren’t so heavy-handed as explosive, leader-seeking turtle shells; think more along the lines of “getting first dibs on scarce resources”, or “suffering less taxation due to having a smaller empire”. These mechanics are fun!
The hidden benefits of board games, for me, have to do with mitigation of my other problems. For instance, if left to my own devices, I would probably play ever video game created, never go outside, and let all of my social relationships languish. Compared to that, long, deep-thinking sessions in the immediate presence of my friends (and enemies!) are much preferred. This is therapy, people!
What Should I Play?
So, what games would I suggest you play? I wish it was that easy! Of course the answer is “it depends”, but here’s what I do:
- go to BoardGameGeek’s top games list
- find one that looks cool
- read about and make sure it resonates
- buy it
- play it
- go back to 5.
The games list is ranked, with the top 100 on that first page. If you don’t find something you like on there, I’d be shocked. But if not, the top 1,000 games are probably all great. Indeed, there are more than 8,000 ranked games on the site! (As an aside, the many versions of Monopoly appear down in the 8000+ zone. That means it’s bad. The internet doesn’t lie.)
I still haven’t taken the time to look up the original designer of Monopoly (I know there’s an entrepreneurial story of persistence in there or something…), but I have no such uncertainty about these new games. We call them “designer games” because each game’s designer is named right there on the cover of the box.
The designer is important! Why? First of all, game design is a work of craftsmanship undertaken by human beings, and that should be celebrated on its own. It’s also helpful because they make lots of games, and if you like one game by a given designer, you’ll probably like another. Amassing a knowledge of game mechanics and learning which designers (and even publishers) to ascribe them to has been extremely rewarding. I love the games that I love, and I love buying more games from the people who bring them to me. This is important to me when I’m deciding where to part with my hard-earned money.
Another triple-A blockbuster video game title chock full of explosions? Another overpriced copy of Scrabble purchased from the local mass market retail establishment? No, thank you.
I’ll take the latest release by Vlaada Chvatil, please.