Yes! Of course there is you twit. If you have already read my Practical Gift Ideas Guide, where I also explained why video games are a bad gift to get for your gamer friends, you would know that I’ll be talking about board games today. Why board games? I’m glad you asked:
1. Tangibly awesome: Sure you can chainsaw someone in half, but nothing is more satisfying than physically being able to knock over someone’s rook and send it flying across the room while you scream “Checkmate noob!” in their face. Indeed, the visceral aspect of board games is one reason why so many people still play them.
2. Not for kids: Admittedly, some of the board games that I will talk about later on in this article can be played by kids. However, unlike in Halo where a 14 year-old can kill you from half-way across the map while simultaneously insulting your mother and stuffing pizza in his face, age-earned experience and wisdom has more weight in the board game world. These games are most fun when played with peers and you can be sure that they’ll enjoy the lack of squeaky girly voices in their ears as well.
3. Batteries not required: What will you do during a power outage? No, you cannot surf the internet idly or even do it offline. Instead, I would recommend you play board games by candlelight while eating all the ice cream in your freezer. Don’t let a friend be deprived of this joy, get them a board game!
4. Multiplayer! Perhaps one of the most important elements of board games are the social and interactive quality of it. I’m sure that most people will agree with me that the games that get most replay are ones with good multiplayer. Well, board games are designed with multiplayer and replay in mind. On top of that, you almost are required to physically be in the same room with your friends. That is good for a thing called “bonding” and is also good for taunting when you win.
5. Collectible: Sure, there are some great video game collections out there, but they’re not really that great to look at, being simply a disc or cartridge inside a box. Some board games have amazing components that will certainly bring you back to your CCG or miniature days. In fact, why not pick those hobbies back up again? I’ll throw in some advice for less costly alternatives for the penny wise.
6. Vast Appeal: Just like video games, there is something for everyone in the board game world. Even if your friend is new to game or if they already have a giant collection, there is always going to be something that you can still get for them that would be perfect for them. As long as your friend is open minded about games, they will get hooked.
Best of all, your gamer friend will most likely not have any good board games in their house. While video games have “hot” seasons and anticipation periods, classic board games are just as good as newly released ones. This means there are tonnes of options for you to choose from. Perhaps too many, in fact, so I’ll help you out by suggesting some of my favourites.
For the Competitive Spirit
If you or your friends are relatively new to the new age of board games, you definitely will need to pick up a copy of Settlers of Catan. Settlers is essentially the equivalent of Monopoly in its role of heralding the new age of board games. Like Carcassonne (a game that we’ll ignore because I don’t like it much), it became popular in Europe before coming over the ocean and winning lots of awards and getting a lot of attention. The game is essentially a resource management/trading game and will probably be the first time you’ll ever hear the term “victory points,” but definitely not the last. The rules are relatively simple and easy to pick up, but there are layers upon layers of strategy involved that deepens, especially if you get the expansions for the game. What is particularly interesting about Settlers is the fact that the entire board, made of several hexagon tiles, is shuffled and changed every game, meaning the resource strategy that won you the game last time won’t work again this time.
Another great game is Power Grid, an auction and acquire type game where you bid against other players for power plants. Money management is crucial, however, as you must also use money to buy resources for your plants (nuclear, coal, oil, garbage, etc) and to buy a position at a city. In the end, the player who powers the most cities on the last turn wins. This game pits you directly against the other players and its well-designed and balanced so that you’ll be constantly pushing and shoving each other throughout the game. If you do get this game, invest in some poker chips, because, gentlemen, we’re not playing Monopoly with paper money anymore. This is serious stuff.
For a game that is as awesome as it is portable, I would recommend Citadels, a card game. The quality of the cards for this game is super, it’ll last a long time. As well, this game comes with the expansion and the whole thing goes for 20-30 bucks, which is quite frugal. In Citadels, you race against other players to earn money and build districts in your city. Each turn, however, you choose from a host of role cards that grant you special abilities for that turn. As players select cards from the same pile, everyone has a rough idea of what the other players picked. Certain characters, such as the Assassin or Theif, can target other characters. However, if you guess wrong and no body selected that character that turn, then you waste your character’s ability. Mind game and bluffing are major factors in this game.
Co-op beyond Zombie shooters
Not really looking to create a hive of scum and villainy? No problem! There are several great co-op board games out there as well. Shadows Over Camelot is one example, as you and your friends assume the roles of the knights of legend and wander out to complete noble quests and earn white swords to display on the round table as proof. However, at the same time, Camelot is being engaged by siege engines, Picts and Saxons that the knights must also fight off. The game is a race against time and the players play to win against the game itself. With each turn, knight complete a heroic action while evil progresses. However, Shadows is not a true co-op game as each knight is dealt a loyalty card at the start of the game. Of the 8 loyalty cards, only one is a traitor card and the player who receives it must secretly work against the efforts of the knights. However, with a maximum of 7 players in the game, there is usually a good chance that no one is the traitor, but everyone still must be wary until everyone is accused or the end of the game.
True co-op board games include Arkham Horror and Pandemic. Arkham Horror is based of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories and the players work together as investigators to defeat various monsters and close the other-worldly portals. In Pandemic, players work together to keep several diseases from outbreaking while working on an ultimate cure for each. I know Pandemic doesn’t sound like much, but the game is fricking awesome and has been a game that I’ve been looking forward to for ages. In it, there are varying difficulty levels, with the Introductory level being fairly easy and the Heroic game being nigh-on impossible. Pandemic is a game that is so simple and brilliant in its design, but plays so well and definitely forces you and your friends to work together and make hard decisions.
Among every excellent co-opting team, there will always be a “that guy.” You know, a “that guy” is the guy who always wants to undermine the team for no good reason. With “that guys” everywhere in mind, board game designers created games that are in-between co-op and competitive. It is as if there is always a traitor in Shadows and everyone knows who it is.
One of the first games that employed this game design is Scotland Yard, which recently got a DS release. In this game, one player is Mr. X and moves secretly through London. The other players play as detectives and move their tokens on the board in a concerted effort to trap and capture Mr. X. Both sides have a few tools and tricks to keep them on top of each other and, in the end, it will be the craftier side that wins.
Fury of Dracula works in a similar fashion. In this game, one player plays as Dracula and moves in secret through Europe, using location cards placed face down to track his trail. The other players assume the roles of the hunters and movement through Europe and other various events can help them reveal parts of Dracula’s trail, hopefully leading them to Boss Vamp and allowing them to go all stabby on fangs. I like this game better than Scotland Yard because there are a lot more game elements in play. Dracula gets random encounter tiles that he can use to leave as traps in locations that he has visited. If a hunter stumbles upon Dracula’s trail, they get to see where he’s been, but they also must handle the traps left behind. As well, there are item cards, event cards, and special actions to help both sides along the way.
Descent features a game play style that should be familiar to a lot you as one player assumes the role of the GM and pulls the strings on monsters and traps that the other players must overcome on a pre-determined campaign. Expansions after Road to Legend for Descent features a long, continuous campaign (300+ hours!) that can be played in smaller increments. If you ever wanted to get back into tabletop RPGs but lacked the motivation or creativity, this game is perfect for you and your friends.
I’ll mention Battlestar Galactica here because I know a lot of people love the TV series. This game is similar to Shadows over Camelot in that one or more players may be on the opposing side and it is up to the good side players to out them while also starring down fuel shortages, food contaminations, and political unrest.
Current and ex-CCG/Miniature lovers
If you were like me, chances were that you got into some form of CCG, TCG, or collectible miniature game (cough, Warhammer, cough) when you were younger. If your wallet is especially unlucky, you may still be knee deep in this stuff. Card games and miniature games are fun, but there are some cheaper alternatives out there that won’t hurt your cash flow as badly.
Heroscape features beautiful, already painted figurines and awesome, durable tilesets that you can put together in any way you like to create a wide variety of battle scenes. You can put away the tape measure as movement is calculated using the same hexagon tiles. There are plenty of expansions and you’ll always know what you’re getting. However, if you’re not interested in expanding your set, no sweat, as the base set for the game can accommodate up to four players as it is.
For card game lovers, I would definitely recommend Munchkin, a wonderfully punny card game series. If you are a tabletop RPG fan, you’ll love all the jokes and puns in this game. It’s even in the rules, as specifics are purposely semi-clear in order to allow a set amount of “interpreting” to occur. Again, there are tonnes of expansions and stand-alone sets to choose from, but you only need one and can play with six players.
If you want something inbetween CCG and miniatures, try Battleground. In this game, your army are the cards themselves. You can keep that measuring tape away as movement and other things are measured with card lengths. As well, the cards are nicely made and you are encouraged to use dry erase markers on them to keep track of health, supplies, and movement/attack orders. The game actually works really well and is a super cheap way to get your wargame/miniature battlegame fix. Plus, it’s easy to carry around and you don’t have to worry too much if they do somehow get damaged.
Head on Head action
For your girlfriend/boyfriend or loner friend, two-player games are awesome. Some of the games previously mentioned, like Citadels and Pandemic already play amazingly well with just two players. However, it’s nice to have a few games specially made for two players in a collection as well.
Mr. Jack borrows a few things from the “that guy” school of thought. One player is Jack the Ripper, who has impersonated one of eight characters. The other player is the detective and tries to eliminate the number of suspects in order to correctly accuse one of being Mr. Jack before dawn or before Jack can escape. The detective eliminates suspects by moving them into or out of the light. Jack gets to move characters around as well and, at the end of each turn, Jack declares if he is in the light or in the dark, allowing the detective to eliminate a few suspects at a time. The detective only gets one guess, making the majority of the game a tug of war type game where each player tries to out think and out maneuver the other.
Dungeon Twister is another great two-player game and, if you like it enough, there is an expansion for 3-4 players as well. In this game, you race against your opponent in helping your team escape from a maze. The rooms are randomized every game and each also have mechanisms that allows you to rotate the room. As well, each character have special abilities that let them move in different ways or to alter the room. The base game alone is really fun and never the same. Like many great games, there are plenty of expansions available if you so wish to add more spice.
If all these suggestions weren’t helpful
So your bugger of a friend already has all the games I listed here? Or perhaps none of these suggestions are particuarly interesting to you? Well, there are still many great games out there and I’ve only listed a few from my own collection. An easy tip for gauging a game is to see if there are expansions for it. Rarely will a unpopular game get an expansion, so it is a good way of checking its mettle. For friends that already have many board games, shopping for them should be a breeze. Simply get those aforementioned expansions for their games! There are literally tonnes out there and it is rare for someone to get all the expansions unless they’re obsessive. Another Munchkin set or player expansions never hurt.
If you have particular games that you love, feel free to drop a line. There are a few, like Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, and Agricola, that I avoided talking about because they seem to be recommended everywhere.