(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Pirates by Bullets and Octane)
You know, for a while, I was thinking about narrowing this to just “fantasy board games” or “high skill board games”, but maybe this will force me to be a little more selective. And that way, you all can be assured you’re getting the cream of the crop in… random blogger board game reviews.
Eh, whatever. If you didn’t know from any of my other posts, my roommates and I are avid board game players – but it goes back even further for me to my childhood memories of playing board games with my family. I remember bringing friends over and that’s what we would do instead of (or in addition to) video games, talking about girls, and stupid kid stuff.
Of course my favorite game of all time is probably Dungeons and Dragons, as it’s essentially collective storytelling (and we all know how much I like to tell stories). But this one’s for the non-nerds, the people who just like a good solid board game and might want some new recommendations.
For that same reason, I’m gonna take out the “classic” board games from my potential selection as well. Chess might be one of the greatest games ever made, but it’s not a relatively unknown thing; if I want to give you all some recommendations, they should be something other than chess or Clue or Twister.
So here we go with Reed’s Top 3 board games you may or may not have heard of:
NUMBER THREE: SETTLERS OF CATAN
(Skill level – High; Nerd factor – 2/3)
This one’s relatively well-known, so you might have heard of it. Catan is one of those classic high-skill diplomacy games, similar to Risk and, well, Diplomacy. But the main benefit of playing this game is that it’s not super long – a game of Catan can run anywhere from 45 minutes to over 2 hours, although it usually settles in around an hour and a half.
In the game, you play with up to three other people who are trying to settle an island called Catan. The island’s format changes every game, but there are always five different types of land available which produce five types of resources. Your goal is to gather resources to build yourself a little network of cities and roads – which then help you gather more resources, which help you build more, and so on.
Since the resources are spread out, it’s difficult to get everything you need, and that’s where the bartering comes in. You get to make any trade with another player, resource for resource, each trying to get the upper hand in the negotiation. It makes for some tense moments, but all in all it’s a really fun game.
NUMBER TWO: BETRAYAL AT THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
(Skill level – Medium; Nerd factor – 3/3)
I’ll be the first to admit that Betrayal is not for everyone. It’s one of those special games that’s reserved for fans of “crawlers”, like dungeon crawlers or house crawlers. And that’s exactly what this game is – a house-crawler horror game where you end up turning against one another. I picked it out from a very extensive board game store in Los Angeles and I’ve been really stoked with the choice ever since.
The premise is basic – you and your fellow players are cooperatively exploring a house, the format of which changes every time. When you open up new rooms, different events happen to you – everything from having a phantasmal corpse reaching out for you, to finding a sacrificial dagger you can use as a weapon. Infrequently, you find “omens” – powerful items that boost your character’s stats. And each time you get an omen, you take a step closer to the second phase of the game.
In that second phase, one of your fellow companions betrays the rest of the party and becomes the “traitor”. The traitor then gets their own set of rules and a brand-new group of monsters under their control. The rest of the players – the heroes – have to try to fight off the traitor and the monsters long enough to accomplish their goal. The betrayal aspect is really the best part of this game to me – having your friends suddenly not on your team makes for some tense and exciting gameplay.
NUMBER ONE: 1313 DEAD END DRIVE
(Skill level – Low; Nerd factor – 1/3)
This game has been around in my family for more than a decade, and I’m so glad to have had it as a kid. And it tops my list not because it’s my favorite game – I love all three of these games for different situations and co-players – but because I think it’s the most universal game of my list. Pretty much anyone, from parents and children to young adults to experienced board game players, can pick it up and have a good time.
The game begins when sixteen people are gathered around a table, reading the will of their recently departed Auntie Agatha. These people all have millions of dollars coming in inheritance, but before they can claim their money, they have to escape the mansion alive. You as a player are given a set of heirs that are “yours”, meaning if they make it out the mansion, you get to keep their money – but which heirs you have are kept secret from the other players. Then everyone takes turns moving any of the heirs, including ones that aren’t their own, around the mansion.
The fun comes with the killing. Because the will hasn’t been officiated yet, any heir who dies while still in the mansion has their money transferred to the next heir in the will. So what you’re trying to do is surreptitiously move your own heirs out the door, while running other people’s heirs around the mansion, setting them up on the various traps (including a blazing hearth, a falling boar’s head, and a rickety set of stairs) that could lead to their demise. If you play your game perfectly, you can transfer millions of dollars to your heir right as you move them out the front door!
This game isn’t “low skill” in the same sense that Uno is low skill. It takes some foresight to try to move your characters in a way that allows you to accomplish your goals while hindering others. But really, the strategy is pretty easy to pick up, and it’s hilarious watching each others’ hopes rise and fall over and over as an heir is moved towards the door, then away, back to a trap where they’re killed.
If you’ve not played any of these games, I’d assess your desire for strategy and your overall nerdiness level, and choose based on that. The way I put it is, my mom loves to play 1313, and I can occasionally get her to do Catan, but she’d never really be interested in a game like Betrayal. Pick the game to fit your playstyle!
And that’s all for me folks. Here’s hoping that your September is significantly less sweaty than mine here in LA.
Yours, just now realizing how many of his favorite games involve murder,