Board Games

After such an intense (though beneficial) theological discussion (see the previous post), perhaps it’s time to post on something a bit lighter.  If you came here for theology and don’t really care about games, it certainly won’t hurt my feelings if you decide not to hang around.

There have been some great-looking board and card games coming out in recent years, and since I’ve been on a games kick lately, I thought I’d post about a few of them.  My wife has wisely requested that I restrict myself to at most one game purchase per month, which is probably a bit generous, to be honest, so many of the games I’m about to list I haven’t actually played, yet, but based on their rules and online reviews, I may be picking them up in the next few months.

The purpose of this post is two-fold.  First, if it’s a game I’ve actually played, consider its inclusion here as an endorsement by me and a recommendation to play it if you have the opportunity.  If it’s a game I have yet to play, consider this a request for second opinions from folks who may have played it or who have read some reviews themselves.

First, card games.  We picked up Canasta several months ago, and I think we play it about once a week.  You can buy a specially-made deck with labeled cards that include scoring values, but later we found out that most people play the game with two decks of regular playing cards.  It’s a classic game that’s easier than Pinochle, but still has plenty of strategy.

Next up is Bang!.  This game could be described as “Mafia meets spaghetti westerns.”  We learned this one last week and ended up playing it several times back-to-back, as it is quite fun.  Players (except the Sheriff) have secret roles and a different set of winning conditions based on their role.  The game-play boils down to a shoot-out, where players shoot at each other with BANG cards, dodge bullets with MISSED cards, and “drink” BEER cards to regain life points.  There are a ton of other cards that players can use to do more exotic things.

Now for three card games I haven’t tried, yet.  I’ll only comment on the first one, as it is the most interesting, and simply link to the other two.  The first one is called Dominion.  The mechanics of this game are very similar to Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games, but this is not a collectible card game.  All of the cards you need in order to play as a group are included in the box, and what makes this game interesting is that you build up your deck as you play.  The advantages of this seem tremendous to me.  I (thankfully) never got into Magic back in middle school and high school, even though it seemed to be what half of our Boy Scout troop spent most of our meetings doing.  Although collectible card games can be very involved and quite entertaining, they require you to spend a pretty good deal of money to build up your deck, and if you don’t take the time to purchase and plan and build your own deck, you generally can’t play.  If you borrow a deck from a friend who has multiple decks, you will generally lose in short order, as you won’t know much about either deck, and your opponent will know what both decks are capable of.

But enough about Magic.  In Dominion, you spend treasure cards to purchase other cards from supply piles in the middle of the table.  You win by having the most victory point cards in your deck at the end of the game, but during the game itself these cards are useless, and thus you also need to buy action cards in order to help you build up your deck.  This game looks like a ton of fun, with enormous replay value, as there are 25 types of action cards, but only ten will be used in any given game.  The rules are also a bit simpler than Magic, which means my wife might actually be interested in playing this with me.

The other two card games are Bohnanza (“bohn” is German for “bean”), and Citadels.

Now on to board games.  I think all of the following would fall under the category of “Eurogames”.  Check this Wikipedia page for more info about what that means.  The first and foremost, and one you are most likely to have heard of is The Settlers of Catan.  In Settlers, players try to build and expand their settlements on an island by collecting resources to build roads and cities.  Players can trade with each other and with the bank, and may also earn points for things like the longest road.  This is sort of “the game that started it all” for many people, and it has become a family favorite for us.  It’s a great introduction to this genre of games.  It also happens to be the only board game I’m going to mention that I’ve actually played.

Next up is Agricola.  I’m very excited about Agricola.  In Agricola, players each have a small farm which they are tasked to develop over the game’s fourteen rounds.  The land may be used to expand your house, plow fields, or fenced in to hold sheep, pigs, and cows.  Each player starts out with a husband and wife, but later on the small family can choose to have children.  The larger your family, the more actions you can take in a given round, but there are also harvests that occur after every few rounds, and you must have enough food each harvest to feed your entire family or you lose major points.  At the end of the game, the farms are scored and the winner is the player with the best farm.  Puerto Rico, which is mentioned below, held the #1 spot on Board Game Geek’s ranked games list for about five years, until it was recently displaced by Agricola. Here is a link Scott Nicholson’s entertaining video review.

Another game that I’m very excited about is The Pillars of the Earth.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because this game is based on a series of novels from a few years ago.  In this game, players work together to construct a massive cathedral — the first of its kind, in fact — in medieval England.  The winner is the player who contributed the most to the cathedral’s construction.  It is similar to Agricola in that players compete for a limited set of actions each round.  Not only does this game look like a lot of fun, but the board is absolutely beautiful, and it comes with a nice 3D cathedral you build out of blocks as you go. Scott Nicholson’s hilarious video review of this game is here.

The last board game I’ll comment on is Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico seems to have been an inspiration for many of the recent popular board games.  As I mentioned, it held the highest ranking on Board Games Geek for multiple years.  Your job as the governor of the island is to manage the city of San Juan and its surrounding plantations in order to generate resources to send home to Europe for points.  The actions you are permitted to take are determined by role cards that the players choose in order.  Once again, this looks like a fun game, though I’m not as excited about it as I am the previous two.  Here is Scott Nicholson’s review.

Finally, a runner-up “train” game that I unfortunately don’t have time to comment on: Ticket to Ride.  (Review here)