“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.”
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that board games changed my life.
Now, I am not saying they saved my life - I wouldn’t go quite that far.
…*Channeling Sofia Petrillo* …
Picture it: Orlando, Florida. 2011. I had just moved back down south to spend a few months with my sister and get my life sorted out after having lived 6 years in somewhat tenuous circumstances in New Jersey. I was not keen on the idea of meeting new people, making new friends, putting myself out there; I’ve never been good at those things, but it’s a particularly twisty road to navigate as it might relate to new romantic interests. Which I was not planning for anyhow, but of course it came up in my thought processes. I did not want to have to get to know someone all over again, make myself vulnerable to all of that mess. And I sure didn’t want to have to meet their dumb family and stupid friends. “Dumb family and stupid friends” <– no doubt, that is exactly what I said because sometimes – especially when frightened – I can be terribly close minded and shut off from new people and experiences.
Oddly enough and despite myself, I did end up dating someone a few months after I moved back – a big-hearted, beardy man with an enormous capacity for compassion and a fantastic imagination, and well, that is a romantical story for a different time. He did, however, have friends and family to meet and I was not looking forward to this at all.
One of the first occasions I had to meet some of these friends was during a board game event he puts together a few times a month at a local comic book shop in Orlando*. Great, I thought, new people AND new experiences. KILL ME NOW.
I had never been a fan of board games (or card games or dice games or basically any sort of game). I don’t like learning new things in front of new people – it makes me so intensely uncomfortable and anxious. I suppose it’s not even the learning of new things in a group of people, because you do that in classes and at work all the time…but rather it comes down to demonstrating that new knowledge in front of people. What if I misunderstood the rules? What if I am playing my hand wrong? What if it’s my turn and I misunderstood and am doing it wrong in front of five people I have never met before and they all get impatient and angry with me or think I am a moron? OH GOD, It’s almost more than I can bear to think about.
Fast forward a year or so, and I’ve interacted with these folks enough times that I am very nearly comfortable (which is maybe as good as it gets for me!) and wonder of wonders – it turns out I might actually like playing board games! They are fun! What? I like to do things that are fun? Who am I?
Allow me to tell you a little bit about the games I like, and why; perhaps if you, like me, were a board game and table top game novice/phobic but wanted to step out of your comfort zone, you may find one listed here that you’d be willing to try out!
Product Description: “In the Gloom card game, you assume control of the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. The goal of the game is sad, but simple: you want your characters to suffer the greatest tragedies possible before passing on to the well-deserved respite of death. You’ll play horrible mishaps like Pursued by Poodles or Mocked by Midgets on your own characters to lower their Self-Worth scores, while trying to cheer your opponents’ characters with marriages and other happy occasions that pile on positive points. The player with the lowest total Family Value wins.”
I would probably love this little game for the peculiar, melancholic character artwork alone, but in the course of gameplay it’s encouraged to make up wildly embellished stories to go along with the scenarios you are inflicting upon both yours and your opponents characters and I am MUCH better at that than games where you’ve got to rely on strategy or resource management. Of course, story telling isn’t even essential to the game, you can probably slap your cards down and win without it, but I think that’s what makes it fun and interesting.
Full disclosure: I have only played this game two or three times. I don’t think it is a favorite in my crowd for some reason. Also, I find the scoring system a little bit elusive, but I think I am in the minority here, as it’s supposed to be pretty easy. And anyhow, I don’t actually play this to win; I just like to hear the stories that people come up with!
If you’d like to see this game in action, here is Wil Wheaton and friends playing it on his Table Top show.
Kittens in a Blender
Product Description: “This fast-paced card game has players working to save all of their own kittens before the unthinkable occurs. But sometimes, the only way to save your precious litter of kittens is to let those curious little cats learn the lesson of why you should never play in a blender! Featuring adorable art and tons of lighthearted, cut-throat player interaction, Kittens in a Blender is quick to learn and easy to play!”
Yes, yes, yes -The name sounds rather horrific, let’s just get that out of the way first. Kittens belong on your lap and in gifs on the internet, obviously not in a blender. Game play is more tame than the name would have you think, though it can get a little cut throat, especially if you are the sort to form vendettas against other kittens. I mean players. Basically, it works like this. Everyone chooses their own group of kittens; you try to keep your kittens from going into the blender, while at the same time, sending other players kittens to the blender. It’s a pretty fast-paced game and it actually is a great deal of fun. I would also say that there is not a lot of strategy involved in this one, as well, which is probably why I like it. Also, again the artwork is great. The kittens are adorable and they have ridiculous names. Ham Sandwich forever!
Ticket To Ride
Product Description:”The Ticket To Ride Board Game is a cross-country train adventure that celebrates Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble to travel “Around the World in 80 Days” by proposing a new wager. The stake is a $1 million prize in this winner-takes-all competition. The objective of this train board game is to see who can travel by rail to the most cities in North America in just seven days.
Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.
This is a game that I did not think that I was going to like at all, and yet it is one of my absolute favorites, and usually my first choice if someone wants to play a game. Don’t be put off about that million dollar competition in the description; I never even noticed that until I copied and pasted it from Amazon just now, and game play has nothing to do with it. You are dealt several routes, you elect which ones you want to keep, and you spend the rest of the game trying to get the cards/cars you need to make your routes. That’s a little simplistic, but that’s basically the gist of it. I think there’s a sort of tension created in this game (will I make my route? gah! he blocked my route! now I have to go from Miami to Los Angeles by way of Toronto!) that’s good for you, and oddly enough, makes you want more. This is my #1 gateway game, I think, if I wanted to get other people interested in playing table top games.
Speaking of table top, here is Wil Wheaton and friends (Sheriff Carter from Eureka!) playing Ticket to Ride. This is actually what sold me on giving it a try in the first place.
Product Description: “It is 1926, and the museum’s exotic curios and occult artifacts are opening up barriers between our world and the elder evils lurking between dimensions. Other Worlds begin to leak through and terrifying creatures of increasing strength steal through them. Animals, the mad, and those of susceptible minds are driven to desperation by the supernatural forces that the portals unleash. A handful of investigators are racing against time to locate the eldritch symbols necessary to seal the portals forever and stop evil Ancient Ones from reducing humanity to cinders.”
Elder Sign is a fast-paced, cooperative dice game of supernatural intrigue for one to eight players by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, the designers of Arkham Horror. Players take the roles of investigators racing against time to stave off the imminent return of the Ancient Ones. Armed with cards for tools, allies, and occult knowledge, investigators must put their sanity and stamina to the test as they adventure to locate Elder Signs, the eldritch symbols used to seal away the Ancient Ones and win the game.
I purchased this game for the aforementioned beau and we learned to play it together, which I think it one reason I like it so much. Neither one of us knew how to play it, and we had to figure it out together…and although it’s a mean game (all those monsters always appearing!) I personally think it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, this seems to be everyone else’s last choice, so I never get to play it very often. Aside from my learning experience with it, I think the other reason it’s a favorite is because it is diced based, meaning that there’s more luck involved than strategy. I’ll say it again, BAH STRATEGY.
As a few listed above, you can see Wil Wheaton (and Felicia Day!) playing it on Tabletop, so you can get an idea of how it is played and make a decision for yourself.
Product description: “Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.
Players must work together, playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. But the diseases are outbreaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures.
A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.”
Speaking of mean games..there are so many ways to die in this one! But the upside is that you are not going at it alone – you are working with a team of players. You’re never really bored sitting around waiting for your turn because you are contributing/debating on every player’s turn -what the best moves are, what special abilities can be used to achieve the goal efficiently, and what problem areas need to be dealt with. Definitely not a great game for overly competitive folks; you are not competing with each other, but rather trying to defeat the game. If you prefer games wherein decision making opportunities are shared and it’s not solely up to you, this is a good one to start with.
Also; as seen on Tabletop!
Fluxx: A card game that starts out as “draw one, play one” but the rules are ever changing. A round could go lightning fast – or it can be drawn out and torturous. It’s easy to play, you really just have to do what the cards tell you to. Unless you are learning it drunk, on New Years Eve, of course. Then you have to have your friend play your hand because nothing makes any sense and the room has started spinning. Also, they have many versions of this (Pirates! Cthulhu! Monsters! Cartoon Network!) so it also has a bit of a collectors aspect to it.
Qwirkle: “Qwirkle is as simple as matching colors and shapes, but this game also requires tactical maneuvers and well-planned strategy.” Known in our circles as the “you can’t do that!” game, and despite the military sounding description, “tactical” and “strategy” and whatnot – just look at it! Bright! Colorful! Fun! Don’t pay any attention to the description.
Machi Koro: We just got this the other day and I have only played it once so far, but I liked the concept of it once we got going: you’ve just been elected Mayor and “armed only with your trusty die and a dream, you must grow Machi Koro into the largest city in the region. You will need to collect income from developments, build public works and steal from your neighbor’s coffers.” The artwork reminds me the tiniest bit of Katamari Damacy and I think it will be really enjoyable when we get to play it with more than 2 people.
I started out by saying that I think board games changed my life, and I am not exaggerating. First off, I don’t think I have ever been very good at having fun. I am just so uptight that expressing myself “having fun” has always seemed a little bit intimidating. I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? Weird, but true. Couple that with my shyness in meeting new people and I can really start to seem like a drag to be around. I’ve found, however, that meeting new people while playing board games/table top games is so much easier! You don’t have to agonize over topics of conversation and awkward silences because you’re already talking about something and doing something! You’re either working toward a common goal and trying to solve a problem or a puzzle, or you are trying to beat each other out to win at something, but anyway you look at it, the topics of conversation are already there! And even though folks might not be saying much about themselves, you are still learning a lot about them – whether they are aggressive or cautious, open or reserved, generous or stingy…I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they play a game. Then again, they might be a total monster during the game while before and afterward they are amazingly sweet, so maybe those assessments don’t amount to much – but it’s fun to guess!
Myself, I am kind of an “under the radar” player; I don’t like to get anyone riled up or make a target of myself…I sort of like to go unnoticed until I am taking all the winnings because no one saw me coming! Ok, so that really only works, like 5% of the time, but that’s my strategy, such as it is.
What about you guys? Do you play board games? How do you play? Fast and loose? Hyper competitive? And what are your favorite games to play with a group, or something that you like to introduce non-gaming folks to? As always, I love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.!
*Are you in Orlando? And do you want to meet up to play board games and perhaps have a little tipple? Booze and Boards is a board gaming group that meets every 2nd and 4th Saturday during the month at the Geek Easy, from about 12-5. Stop by and say hello! I will hide behind my cards and maybe talk to you.