The Best of Boardgaming: A 2010 holiday gaming guideBanner, News, Opinion — By Contributing Writer on December 20, 2010 at 11:41 am
By John Mehrholz
No, not a trip to the casino over a long weekend, but board games.
A good board game can help pass the time at those family gatherings, or make a nice gift. If the term “board game” only brings to mind Monopoly, chess, or Trivial Pursuit, then you have some catching up to do on what’s available today.
The past fifteen years or so have seen a renaissance in board games. Starting in Europe and spreading to the US, game designers have worked hard to design games that are more entertaining and that don’t take forever to play. I’m going to list a few of the more popular games that are both easy to learn and readily available.
These games would all make good gifts, and the board games can also make for a nice pastime at the seasonal family get-togethers.
To start with here are some of the ones that have been around for a few years:
This is a game for 3 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, that takes about 90 minutes to play. Players compete to help settle the island of Catan by building roads and cities. This game has many sequels and expansions if you end up liking the base game.
Each turn you roll dice to determine what resources everyone gets, then the active player can offer to trade resources with other players before using the resources to build roads, town and cities. Building things both earns points and allows for more opportunities to gain resources. The first one to reach a certain point level wins.
The turns are short, and the way resources are distributed and then traded tends to keep people involved even when it isn’t their turn.
This is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, that takes about an hour to play. Players compete to build the city of Carcassonne and its surroundings by playing tiles on the table. This game also has many sequels and expansions.
Players score through assigning tokens to build roads, cities, monasteries, and farms. Each player has a limited number of tokens they can assign to a project when they place a tile, and they don’t get the token back until the project is completed. For example, a token assigned to a road project isn’t returned until the road has both a beginning and an end. Once completed the token is then free to be assigned to another project, so while a project is still scored at the end of the game if incomplete, it’s usually better to complete a project if possible in order to free up a token to work on another project.
This is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, that takes about 45 minutes to play. Players compete to complete train routes across the US. Again, this game features many sequels, but the original game is the easiest to learn.
Players pick which routes they want to try to complete from a set of cards they draw, then attempt to collect the types of trains they need in order to complete those routes. Players score by connecting cities and completing the routes on their cards. Links between cities are limited, so players can block other players from completing routes, either unintentionally or on purpose, by completing key links. While a simple game to learn and play, there’s enough strategy involved in picking routes and guessing what routes others are trying to complete to keep more experienced gamers involved.
Here’s a couple of more recent games that should be both easy to find and to learn, and which have proven popular amongst many who have played them:
This is a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, where the players work together to recover four artifacts from a sinking island before everything sinks beneath the waves.
Each player has a different special ability to use in trying to recover the artifacts. Part of the game is spent cooperatively figuring out what the best action is for every player in order to complete the group’s goals, but each player has final say over what they do. In addition to being a fun game, this can also be a good exercise in learning teamwork, because if players refuse to cooperate with each other its nearly a guaranteed loss.
This is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, where players score points by controlling land with various fantasy races. Each race has special abilities that can change every time you play the game, so that there is a lot of re-playability.
Players take turns attempting to expand their current race to as large a territory as possible, usually at the expense of the other players’ races. When a player has decided that their race has reached the limits of their expansion, then they can put that race into decline and choose a new race. A lot of the strategy involves determining when is the best time to switch races.
In addition to being a fun game to play, the random match-ups between race and special ability often create funny combinations, such as “flying giants” and “berserker halflings” that can at least generate a chuckle. The artwork is also very good and in keeping with the theme of the game.
Finally, here’s a couple of introductory tabletop roleplaying games that would make for good gifts for someone interested in trying one out:
This is an introduction to the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons for ages 12 and up. It includes a solo adventure, but you’ll need to gather four of your friends to take advantage of everything in the box. You’ll also need to get additional books if you like what you find here and want to do more. It has the advantage of being a good introduction to the game and being readily available.
The game is also a good crossover either from board games or from online computer games such as World of Warcraft, as it borrows many concepts from both.
This is a tabletop roleplaying game for 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, based on the popular Dragon Age: Origins computer game. It’s a little harder to find than Dungeons & Dragons, but would be a good starting point if you’re a fan of the computer game.
While all games are easiest to learn from someone who already knows the game, these games in particular shouldn’t be too hard for anyone to pick up just from reading the rules.
Most or all of these games should be available from local hobby gaming stores, or from online hobby game dealers.
[John Mehrholz runs a weekly board game night at Castle House Games in Fayetteville.]
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