I got sucked into “real” board games about a decade ago. Some of my newfound friends from Twitter were into them, so we got together one night and started playing Catan, the gateway drug to the board game world.
Catan isn’t bad, per se; it’s just there are so many games that are much better than it, so we moved on to other games. After my move to Sweden, for a couple of years, I didn’t have too many friends to play with. In my last year there I’ve found a board gaming group and played regularly with them for a while, discovering many new games and making new friends. Since I moved back to Hungary, I haven’t played much but I want to change that this year.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of games I enjoyed over the years and still enjoy many of them:
- Race for the Galaxy (and its expansions): A card game, in which you’re each building your own galactic civilization, with different planets, goods, capabilities and so on. It took years of regular play to finally get bored with it; it’s that good. The mechanics are not complicated, but it does have a learning curve. We tried teaching it to a lot of people over the years, and it was interesting to see how fast some people learned, while others kept struggling with it and never really got a hang of it. While luck does play a role in it, the better you get at it, the less it matters. The base game doesn’t have much interaction between the players — whoever had the most points at the end of the game, wins — but the expansions do add some.
- Bang: A spaghetti western in a card game. Each player takes one of the four distinct roles: Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw or Renegade. The Sheriff and their Deputies want the Outlaws and the Renegade dead, the Outlaws want to kill the Sheriff and the Renegade wants to be the last person standing. Only the Sheriff’s role is known, it’s up to you to guess who’s playing who. Spoilers: everyone will keep insisting they’re the Deputy.
You shoot at each other, dodge bullets, hide behind barrels, drink beer to get back life points… It has quite a bit of luck in it, but that never gets in the way of having fun, and you can play it with up to 8 people.
- Agricola: You’re a farmer with a spouse, and you’re building your own farm, through 14 distinct rounds. You sow and reap crops, build fences, buy animals, expand your house and your family throughout the game. Like Race for the Galaxy, it’s kind of a multiplayer solitaire, but it’s a lot of fun. The only downside of it is that it takes about 15 minutes or so to set it up and even more to pack things away.
- Love Letter: Best played with 4 players, this game consists of only 16 cards and a bunch of heart tokens. You’re a young lover, trying to win the affection of the princess. There are 8 different kinds of cards in the small deck and the game is mostly about being able to correctly guess who has which cards. It has quick, 5-10 minute rounds, so you usually play a bunch of them.
- Codenames: This is the best party game, hands down. Two teams are working on finding their picks on a 5x5 grid of words. Each side has one Codemaster, who knows which words belong to their group and wants them to guess right: the only thing they can say is a one-word clue and a number. So if the table has “Athens,” “Berlin” and “France,” and all those cards belong to their team, they can say “Europe, 3”. It’s that simple, and yet this was an easy and unlikely example; more often than not you’re lucky if you can connect two words. Best played with 6-10 people. It’s been translated to a bazillion languages there’s even one where you have drawing instead of words.
- Someone Has Died: I played this game at XOXO 2018 and fell in love with it within minutes. It’s an improvisation storytelling card game: one person takes the role of the Estate Keeper, who the rest of the players will have to convince that they deserve all that money the recently deceased had. Everyone gets a role, a relationship to the deceased and two story cards. In the first round, you proceed with your introduction, weaving your cards into the your story. It has four distinct rounds, and the winner is the person who is deemed to have been the most convincing by the Estate Keeper. If storytelling games are your thing, you’re gonna have loads of fun with this one.
- Sushi Go!: This is a draft-and pass game: you deal a certain amount of cards, pick one and pass your hand to the next person until they’re all on the table. It’s fast, and it’s fun: each card has a type of sushi and a given amount of points; many of them only give you points when you have more than one of them, or combine them in a particular order. Best of all, the graphics are really cute. There’s a new version, called Sushi Go Party! with even more cards and support for up to 8 players (the original only goes up to 5).
- Kingdom Builder: One of the most versatile board games I’ve ever played. You have a board, made of hexagons, which you build out of four randomly picked tiles. Your primary objective is to build settlements and build your kingdom. However, the three ways of getting points are drawn from a deck and therefore each game requires wildly different strategies.
- Pandemic: A co-op eurogame in which you work together with everyone against the game itself, to stop a global pandemic killing humanity. Each player gets role with distinct powers. It’s fun and it can be quite challenging as well; the game lets you pick the difficulty.
You can’t talk about Pandemic without mentioning Pandemic Legacy, a version of the game in which you play 12 to 24 games total, while the game changes in permanent ways. You name viruses, you tear up cards and so on. This requires you to have a regular, dedicated group of friends, but if you have those, it’s heaps of fun, I’ve been told. There are even two seasons of it out by now.
- Fury of Dracula: Scotland Yard on steroids. One player takes the role of Dracula, moving around in Europe invisibly and building up an army of vampires, while everyone else is hunting him. Working against the clock, you have to be wise and try to find and defeat him. It’s a bit long (about 2-3 hours), but don’t let that deter you.
What are your favorite board (or card) games?