Monday, July 12, 2010

That's How I Roll - Part III - "GAME ON!"

What up, High Rollas?

Welcome to my third and (hopefully) ongoing series about board games. 

Alright, let's play!

So, for the Dedicated Readers amongst you who have indulged my folly thus far, you're probably still thinking: why board games?  Why?  I'm asking you right now.  Answer me!!!!

*Whoah!*  Well, I guess before we go any further it's time for:


(10)  It's the gift that keeps on giving.  If you buy a well-researched board game that you and your friends really like you'll likely end up playing it a zillion times.  People routinely pay ten bucks for a one-shot movie that may or may not entertain you for a few hours, so why not invest in a $40 board game that you'll get hours of enjoyment from?  And as you'll see below there's even a few simple card games you can buy which are about the same price as a movie ticket (or less if you made the mistake of buying a bottle of theater water) but will give you infinitely more amusement mileage.    

(9) Grab n' go.  Tired of lugging that tower, monitor and/or game console somewhere?  Board games are low on wiring and high on portability!

(8) "Whattaya mean all board games aren't as boring as Monopoly?" I keep picking on decrepit, ole' Monopoly, but antiquated crap like that gives my beloved hobby a bad name.  Board games are unique in that almost everybody has had some experience playing them as a child.  In fact, if you go back to the first two parts in this series about my own formative years with board games you can probably see why you drifted away from them.  After a while board games just become associated  with the trappings of childhood.  The only difference between me and you is that I've been lucky enough to encounter evidence that board games are (in many ways) even more appropriate for adults than kids.

It's a real treat for me to see a lapsed gamer play something from my collection and become overwhelmed with child-like excitement in spite of themselves.  For many, the epiphany they experience when they realize that not all games suck, bite and/or blow makes them downright giddy with joy.  It's as if you took the clown makeup off an old friend and they're revealed as someone you can discuss the latest episode of True Blood with.   

(7) Great 'WTF'?! factor.  When you play through a video game, you're typically done with it.  With board games however, the experience is likely to be different every time you roll a die or assemble a unique new group of characters together.   

(6) It's time well wasted.  Unlike the oft-solitary pursuits of watching a T.V. box set or playing through a video game alone, board games allow you to reminisce about the fun, communal experience you just shared with your peeps.   We still talk about old, funny D&D stories to this day...("Hey, remember that time when Thomas kept gettin' knocked out by traps because he was opening every chest he came across like Curious friggin' George?")

(5)  You get to fondle some nice bits.  Seriously.  Even in this day and age when we can read a book without ever turning a paper page I still believe human beans (?) are tactile creatures that like to maul stuff.  When you break out a board game like Zombies!!! just time how long it takes for people to start rolling the dice, flipping through the cards and/or making little "grrrrr, argh" noises with the little plastic ghouls.

(4)  You can trash talk people properly.  Sorry, but there's something cold and antiseptic about the anonymous smack-talk often encountered with online gaming.  For example, X-box Live seems to be rife with prepubescent ass goblins who feel brave enough to constantly call into question your sexual orientation only because mommy isn't within earshot.  I don't even play with a headset anymore.  Plus, there's something satisfying about winning a board game, jumping up on the nearest chair (crazy Tom-Cruise style) and yelling "SUCK IT!" to you opponents.  Or a simple "HAW!  HAW!" could suffice I guess.

(3)  Give Yer Noodle Some Exercise (No, not that noodle!) Our daily work and home lives are sometimes pretty mundane.  A lot of us spend all day at work staring at a monitor doing things contrary to our common sense and human nature.  To get through this monotony we often go home at night and self-medicate with passive doses of crap reality T.V. like Dwarfs on Vacation or some other tripe.

Board games keep your brain analytical and frosty.  And if you don't keep your melon in shape you may turn into one of those senior citizen that goes rogue from their retirement home and when they find you you're sitting on the shoulder of the road without pants rubbing gravel in your hair and barking like a dog.  I'm just sayin' is all.   

(2) Everybody got game.  Have a group of people who don't like complicated rules?  Then check out one of the "Abstract", warm-up games below.  Do you like games that have a cool narrative and by the time you've finished, you feel as if you've participated in a really good interactive movie or book?  The "Thematic" suggestions will be right up your alley.  Like "Party" games but tired of getting burned by the shite those kiosks in the mall sell around Christmas time?  Then have a gander at the revelations below.  There is literally a game out there for every competition level, temperament, gender, age, experience level, complexity and taste.

(1) Face time.  As important as it is for people to be touchy-feely, it's triply important that they pull themselves away from their LCD and plasma teats and actually gather together in groups occasionally.  A few months ago I was at an Irish pub downtown and saw four kids in their early twenties sitting at a table together.  Not one of them was talking to the other.  They were all just sitting around texting so furiously that their tongues were sticking out of the corner of their mouths.  Now, that's just sad people.

Little wonder we're all becoming more and more socially retarded.  A good board game is an excuse for folks to gather together, reconnect, have a few casuals and make fun of each other.  And, let's face it, isn't that what life should really be about?   
So, where to begin?  I'm gonna break these games down into a few simple categories to help you decide what's best for you and your homies.  In each category I'll give you a personal recommendation and briefly explain what the game is about and who it might appeal to:


For all you Matisse, Kandinsky and Van Gogh freaks, this is the choice for you.  Abstract games are games for gaming's sake.  They have no theme or story, per se, but they're typically quick-playing, simple, surprisingly tactical and serve as a good warm up for people who don't have a lot of experience with modern games.

Here are a few of my faves: 

Ingenious is played on a board broken down to hex-spaces.  The game comes with 120 two-hex pieces with different symbols on them.  The players take alternate turns placing their pieces, one at a time, down on the board so that the matching symbols line up.  In doing so you score points.  The game ends when there's no longer any room to place a tile and the winner is the player who has the most points in his or her lowest symbol category.  In other words, you really have to play a balanced game.

This a fantastic option for just about anyone.  I've really lost count of  how many parents and non-gamers I've impressed with this one.  It's a great start if you're just easing your way back into the hobby.  I give it four die pips out of six:

Here are two other suggestions in that same category:

Our next category: COLLECTIBLE GAMES.

For all you "hoarder" types out there, here's one for you.  "Collectible" games are usually based on some sort of attractive fantasy or licensed property and often have built-in fan appeal.  Young kids love 'em, older kids love 'em and forty-year-old kids love 'em.  The games are usually sold in some sort of complete and playable "starter set" but if you dig the game you can augment your experience by picking up "booster packs" that add more cards, terrain, figures and options.

Here are a few of my faves:

Okay, well, as you might guess, the Star Wars Miniatures game is a way for arrested-development types like myself to rationalize some half-way socially acceptable manner to play with action figures.  Each miniature (which often vary in scarcity from "common" to "very rare") comes with a special card that summarizes their unique abilities and each figure has a certain point value based on relative strength.  For example an AT-AT Walker is worth 200 points and a sad, scared l'il Rebel Trooper is worth five points.  Each player builds an "army" using an agreed upon point total and the battle begins!

The figures slug it out on a variable terrain grid map with blasters, lightsabers, grenades, force-powers and other assorted methods of Lucasian-inspired destruction.  You play until someone meets the pre-set victory conditions which could be as elaborate as "capture the flag" or as simple as "Wipe them out, all of them!"

These are fun games but the collectible angle can make them a slippery slope for those of you with addictive personalities that demand you "MUST HAVE ALL THE PRECIOUSI!"  People who are fans and have a semblance of self control are in for a real treat, however.

I give "Star Wars Miniatures" a solid 5 pips out of 6:

 And here are a few more beauties to ponder from that same category:

Axis and Allies Minis 1939-1945 Starter SeDungeons & Dragons Heroscape Master Set: Battle For The UnderdarkMagic the Gathering MTG: Magic 2010 Core Set - Theme Deck - Intro Pack Green : Nature's Fury

Next up are FAMILY GAMES.  These are generally quick n' easy games that appeal to a pretty broad audience.  Unlike the "Abstracts" they have a bit of theme tacked on to give people something to relate to but try not to simulate stuff.  Here's a particularly non-threatening suggestion:

In Ticket To Ride, players compete to connect major cities to one another by trading in matching sets of colored cards for plastic trains which they use to complete routes.  It isn't particularly complicated, long or "conflicty" so it's easy for just about everyone to have a good time.

I give Ticket To Ride a solid four pips outta six:

Now for those you out there that think trains are a bit too wienerish, check out this bad boy:


That's right folks, you can be entertained by a board game and get trained for 2012 all at the same time!

Despite it's grim subject matter, Pandemic is a blast.  Players take the role of a member of the Center of Disease Control (like "Dispatcher", "Scientist" or "Engineer") and work together as a team to cool down germy hot-spots around the world.  They co-cooperatively race against time to find the cure for four distinct afflictions while the game uses a brilliant card-deck mechanic to simulate ever-escalating outbreaks and tick down the doomsday clock.  This may not be the best choice for hypochondriacs but for people that can get beyond the apocalyptic theme, they're in for a crazy ride.

I gotta give Pandemic five pips out of six:

And here's slew of similar recommendations.  You really can't go wrong with any of these:

The Settlers of CatanCarcassonneCitadelsBohnanza Game Through the Desert

Next stop on the "Gamey Train": PARTY GAMES (Woot!!!)  First out of the gate its:

Wits & Wagers Family

Do you like "trivia"-style games but sometimes feel like a victim of a head injury because you keep answering wrong?  Well, in Wits and Wagers, you don't need to know the answer, you just need to know which one of your opponents knows the answer!  That right, if you have no clue whatsoever you can just wager your betting chips on the dude or dude-ette with the big, throbbing brain sitting next to you.

I give Wits and Wagers four pips outta six:

Another game that has started many an acquaintance of mine on the road to board game Renaissance is Apples To Apples:

Apples to Apples Party Box - The Game of Hilarious Comparisons

This can't get any simpler, folks.  Each player takes turns being a judge.  He randomly draws a "Thing" card (like "Helen Keller" for example) and the other players place one face-down "Description" card out of their hand that they think you'll secretly pick as a suitable match.

Sticking with "Helen Keller" as the example some people might play a "Description" card like "Brave", "Determined" or "Inspirational".  But then again some sick f#@% might play "Sexy" just to see if you share their bizarre proclivities.  This one is fun but with a few drinks it's friggin' knee-slappin' HI-larious! 

For being so simple and attractive to non-gamers, I gotta give A2A four pips out of six:

Here are a few more excellent ice-breakin' options to groove to.  Before you buy anything make sure you take note of how suitable these games are based on number of players.  They are "party" games not "solitaire" games after all!

DixitUltimate Werewolf Ultimate Edition Party GameDa Vinci Bang, 4th Edition

Here's one of my favorite categories: STRATEGY GAMES

These are like the "Family Games" but are a bit more complex.  For those of you that end up enjoying those games but are now looking to take off the training wheels, take note:

Puerto Rico

I LURVES this game!  In Puerto Rico players are cast in the role of plantation owners back during the Age of Sail.  They can produce five different types of crops including cheaper commodities like corn and indigo to relatively valuable resources like coffee, sugar and tobaccy.

There are constant decisions to be made here.  What should I produce?  When should I sell?  When should I ship?  What are the best buildings for me to construct that will allow me to maximize my production and earnings?  Where should I position my colonists to maximize my operation?

By picking certain roles that are only available once per turn you attempt to further your business and hinder your opponents.  You may have to work your way up to this one but if you can it's really rewarding.  I give it six die pips out of six!

Here are a few sister games in the same advanced category which I also highly recommend:

AgricolaPower GridDominionRio Grande Games Race for the Galaxy

The last two categories are undeniably my favorites, so bear with me as I gush a bit.  Many people will read this and be content with the "Abstract", "Party" or the "Family" games and 'thas coo'.  For the special slice of crazy people out there, follow me down the path of high adventure!

THEMATIC GAMES  For those of you who want to see how truly "epic" a board game experience can be, they just need to strap one of these mofo's on for size.  Here's a clear favorite of mine:

Regrettably I think it may be out of print right now but for Tolkien and board game fans alike, this is a little slice o' heaven.  Take an Axis & Allies-level war game, layer on an awesome theme, put a few "Eurogame" sparkplugs in the engine and you have, IMHO, a quantum leap of board game technology.

War of the Ring does something few games can: it manages to create a unique, borderline literary/cinematic experience every time it's played. Again we get great production values, which adds a lot to the aesthetic appeal. There's just enough details in the rules to make you feel as if you're playing something substantial without getting too fiddly.

Again, it's something you may have to work up a head of steam the brave will be soundly rewarded!

If any game in my collection earns its six pips outta six, it's this baby!

Even if War of the Ring is currently hard to find, there are plenty of other epic "Thematic" games for you to chose from.  Here are a just few that spring to mind:

RunewarsWarhammer: Chaos In The Old World Descent: Journeys In The DarkTales of the Arabian NightsTalisman: The Magical Quest Game, 4th editionDoom: The BoardgameRunebound: 2nd EditionDays of Wonder Shadows Over Camelot

And last, but certainly not least, my first love: WARGAMES.  

Days of Wonder Memoir, 44'

I like to refer to Memoir '44 as the war game of my childhood dreams. I've always been a fan of this category but reading the rules for the older war games was kinda akin to wading through a constitutional legal document. I own more complicated games like Europe Engulfed, but I actually play Memoir '44.

This is a solid "Euro"-influenced introductory war game with appealing components, a well-written rulebook and handy reference cards which make it very easy to just chuck down for a quick match. There's also an excellent variety of scenarios. Although it's a great, fun little game I still think it could use just a bit more realism to counter the admittedly high luck factor.

Having said that I'm always up for this one!   It certainly deserves it's 5 pips out of 6.  

My ongoing quest is for what amounts to a war game "Holy Grail".  My mission is to find the perfect war game that's a bit more complex than this one and Axis & Allies.  The following have come pretty damn close to scratching this particular itch but the goal is still outstanding:

BattleLore Tide of IronConflict Of Heroes: Awakening The BearAxis & Allies 1942

So, there you have it, folks.  I hope this inspires you to at least consider this rewarding form of entertainment that you'd be forgiven for dismissing.  But no excuses anymore!  At the very least I hope I've given you some food for thought.

I certainly understand that the most daunting thing about buying a board game is the "unknown" factor.  The last thing you want to do is blow fifty or sixty bucks on something that may end up being an elaborate paperweight gathering dust.

Mercifully in the age of the internets, there are plenty of websites to help you navigate away from the poo and pick a game that's just right for you and your peeps.  Here are a few good ones:

If you check these out and still have have questions (or if you want me to make a suggestion tailor-made for your own individual group) leave a comment or shoot me an email and  I'll try my best to get back to you.
Hells, I love board games so much that if you buy one of my recommendations and you're not sure how to play it after you read the rules I'll personally come to your house and show you how!

You can take that as a threat or a promise, it's up to you.

Happy gaming and play nice, people!  

EPIC:  (example of how good instructional board game videos can be nowadays)



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