Do you like board games? If so, you should keep reading because it’s always validating to see people recommend the stuff you like, and I’m probably about to do that. Did you like board games as a kid, but quit playing at some point because you realized that Clue was just an exercise in the process of elimination? If so, you should definitely keep reading. Good news: we are in a golden age of board games. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of absolutely terrific games out there, whether you enjoy strategy or hilarity, competition or cooperation, logic or creativity (or both).
I regularly recommend this game to friends who haven’t discovered the joy of good strategy games. It’s inexpensive, yet has attractive components (solid tile cards, nice illustration, wooden player tokens). It’s a cooperative game: everyone is playing together against the rising floodwaters, so if you have a very young child who wants to play and doesn’t object to being told what to do on his or her turn, the whole family can play. On the other hand, if you have a single individual who just wants to boss everyone else around, it may get old fast. Depends on your group!
This is a deck-building game. To play, you select a set of cards to use for that session, and each person on their turn spends resources increasing the size of their deck on cards used to gain more resources, or to eventually win. It’s easy to learn and fun to play, and since you can vary the cards every time, it’s a different game each time you sit down. It does require some fiddly organization when you put the game away at the end, and if you drop the box and all the cards fall out, you will be super irritated. The game itself is minimally fiddly and lots of fun, though.
The problem with some games as that as you get close to the end, everyone starts trying to sabotage each other. (That’s why Munchkin doesn’t make my personal list. The first 8 levels take one hour; the last two levels take two.) This game solves that problem by giving everyone a different set of victory conditions, and letting you keep your victory conditions a secret. No one knows what you’re trying to accomplish unless you make it obvious. You don’t have to have read the Discworld books for the game to be terrific, although you’ll get more of the jokes if you have (and they’re awesome! Why haven’t you read them? Go read some!)
If you liked Clue as a kid but lost interest when it got to easy, or if you like the sort of logic puzzles where you have to identify the green-eyed knitter who DOES NOT like strawberry ice cream, this game was designed for you. You’ll especially enjoy this game if you really enjoyed The Name of the Rose. If those sorts of logic puzzles give you flash backs to your least-favorite math class, it’s probably not the game for you.
5. Small World
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I wish I could play Risk, but have be faster and more fun, and also it would be great if we could play it with trolls and wizards instead of real-world countries,” this game was designed for you. (If you hated Risk…you’ll probably still like it, actually.) The downside to this game is that it takes a few minutes to set up and if the cat jumps on the board they may ruin everything. If you have annoying cats who like jumping on your table, it may not be the game for you.
6. Mage Wars
If you played Magic: The Gathering at some point, and think back on it fondly while also not wanting to (a) spend hours learning all the new rules that have been added since you graduated from college or (b) spend 8 million dollars acquiring all the new cards that have been added since then, with maybe a side of (c) my kid wants to use every cool card out there and winds up building a completely unusable deck every time… check out this game. Downsides: complex rules, and it takes some time to set up. Upsides: most of the stuff you liked about Magic, but a one-time game purchase instead of infinite iterations of new cards you eventually got sick of going out and buying.
Originally published January 15, 2015.