A short introduction to board games.

I’ve wanted to add board games to the list of stuff mentioned on Re-enchantment for quite some time. I thought about the best way to do it and decided against detailed reviews. We are, after all, mainly book-oriented and only occasionally venture into other media. So – some basics for now, and a couple tested examples will follow next week (or one after that, we’ll see). If you play a lot and already have your favourite games – move along, back to boardgamegeek.com, where regular players belong. But surprisingly many people need to be pushed in the right direction – I’m speaking from experience here, I’ve (re)introduced some people to occasional gaming and most of them claim to enjoy that 😉

Board games will be understood on our blog rather broadly, as games played on board or not, as in case of some of the card games (and I don’t mean a regular deck of cards, but cards especially designed for a specific game, as in case of (in)famous Magic: The Gathering). The category obviously excludes all kinds of video games (although, interestingly, there are video versions of many board games), and role playing games (for me – the highest form of gaming, one day I’ll write an eulogy of table top RPGs…).

A photo or two are needed for the main page – so I present my games (and a few borrowed) – I’m not bragging here, and it’s not false modesty, I know a few people with vastly superior collections. I’m somewhere between casual gamer and a regular, closer to casual probably, never playing competitively and treating games mainly as a kind of social entertainment.

History of board games… is long. Chess and Go are two most popular games with ancient lineage, but hardly the only early examples. Some of them were just a pastime, some were treated as tools of education – to teach strategy to political and military leaders. One of the modern games inspired by this branch is Diplomacy, endorsed by Henry Kissinger himself. No surprise it’s a backstabbing war/diplomacy strategy with only one winner and slogan “destroying friendships since 1959” ;). Serious military wargaming is another one of traditions that gave birth to modern board games. If you like military history and have a lot of time at your hands – you can find a game inspired by any and all significant historical wars and battles. There are also simple family games, like Monopoly or Risk, closer description of which is beneath me. Sure, having one of them at home doesn’t hurt, but it’s not serious stuff.

History is always important, but many of the coolest games to choose from were published within the last 10-20 years. I wanted to write “10”, but then I realised how old I am… some of my favourites are not so fresh anymore 😉 But still good 😛

We live in a golden age of boardgaming. More and more people play, and hundreds of interesting titles are released every year. So many that there is no “top ten” universally agreed upon. Aforementioned BoardGameGeek follows trends and many games stay on their “The Hotness” list for years, but it’s not a good idea to simply buy top two. To find a nice game to play you have to think what kind of game would fit your (and your probable co-players) interests and temperaments. And how many people can you get to play with you, some games require minimal number of players to provide most fun.

Another criteria – many games are based on already existing intellectual properties. “Something something: the Board Game”… and some of them are very good. If you already like – and know – a world the games takes place in, and major characters, and if game designers managed to incorporate that properly into game’s mechanics… it can enhance your fun from the entire franchise greatly. If done wrong, it’s just a waste of time, but you already bought it because of the title so the publisher doesn’t give a f*.

A game of this kind is actually a good place to start. Lack of familiarity with games in general will be lessened by the familiarity with the game’s world, the possibility of changing favourite book’s/show’s events will motivate enthusiasts. Of course, a really good game can be played by people unfamiliar with the IP, and that is the case with all the games I’m going to present on this blog, I’ve seen newcomers winning each of them. A little concentration and a will to get into the mood were enough.

So my advice for newcomers would be three-fold. First, start with a game the topic of which interests you. It doesn’t have to be your favourite show, maybe just a history period you’re interested in. And game should be pretty, you’re going to spend at least a few hours playing, quality illustrations are important in assuring it’s gonna be a good time. Many experienced players despise franchised games and don’t even see the art, concentrating solely on the mechanics of the game. But they’re snobs.

Secondly, think for a moment about yourself and people you’ll play with. What style of gameplay suits you best? Very confrontational, with ruthless elimination of weaker players and only one winner? Cooperative, when all the gamers try to beat the scenario? Or something in-between?

With people you who like competition and are not sore losers you can safely choose, say, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Or Kissinger-approved Diplomacy. But it’s not for everybody, and especially for the beginners it may be better to choose a game when everybody will be included, working together for a common goal. Whether you all win or loose doesn’t matter that much, you’re together on a journey and nobody is angry afterwords. Usually 😉 The important rule – no hard feelings, and try to limit the influence of external factors on how you play. Don’t go extra hard on somebody you’re angry for no game-related reasons, maybe you two should band up against your wife, who conquered too many territories last turn 😉 She won’t hold that against you after the game, surely ;)?

I like to introduce newcomers to Battlestar: Galactica. Not only most of the people at least heard about the show, but the game has a mechanics that balances competitive and cooperative elements incredibly well. And then there are games like Arkham Horror or Lord of the Rings: the Card Game when players don’t have to act against each other at all (but it’s still rather easy for all of them to lose together… cooperative games are not necessarily easier then competitive ones).

Thirdly – consider time. There are games for 15 minutes, and games for whole weekends. Or longer. During school days we used to play for hours and hours. And then hid the board with unfinished game under the bed, to return to it a week later. But most games would require 1-4 hours, but make some research (and the box often lies, there are games I played dozens of times and never managed not to exceed expected game time).

Some final links/ideas:

Will Wheaton, popular geek celebrity and an awesome human being, together with Geek and Sundry created an amazing youtube show, TableTop. Videos aren’t short, but they show you many interesting games Will plays with his friends, and usually after seeing one you want to play the game of the week. Badly. Because Will is so cool , but also because games are so good.

Again and above all – BoardGameGeek (simply called BGG). THE site for gamers. They have everything. Guides, reviews, lists, and, above all, a vibrant community. All levels of experience, all kinds of games.

Also, chances are the is a FLGS somewhere near you. Friendly Local Game Store. Great place to check out, with helpfully enthusiastic staff, and possibly not only selling games, but also organising events when you can come and play new games and meet new people. Or maybe there are open gaming groups in your city that you can join when friends and family refuse to play your favourite game.

But the best place to start is your home, with people normally around you, and just a little extra something to improve the quality of an evening together – a nice game. You can still drink wine, eat cake or chips*, and talk about usual stuff. But the game will be a worthy addition, I assure you.

*of course food and drink can be dangerous to paper and cardboard elements. Be careful. Some paranoid players put their cards in special plastic sleeves. Like me. I’ve spent quite a long time recently securing a game with 1000 cards that way. Totally worth it, barbarians I play with would spoil them with their filthy, greasy fingers 😛

With kids – it’s even better. Games are perfect activity for families. But please, make some effort and go beyond Monopoly. From thousands of games out there find one based on a show you all like, or simply one recommended on BGG for your kid’s age group. I even have one I can play with my 2,5 yo niece, only slightly simplifying the rules 😉 And she already “helps” us to set up the board for more serious ones!

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4 thoughts on “A short introduction to board games.

  1. Board games… A thing from my childhood (Talisman, anyone?) to which I am coming back more and more often, mainly thanks to all of the young enthusiasts around me, but also because I discovered how much fun that can be 😉 I’d love to read some amateur-friendly reviews of board games 😀 I’ve been to BoardGameGeek a few times but that’s a bit too much for me 😉 I had to pass when I saw a thread with all the pics of hand-painted miniature figures used at some game or another… So, Piotrek, any hand-painted figures I should be taking into account? 😉

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    • Painting figures… heh, I really, painfully suck at it. Hope one of my nieces will have the will and some talent, but I’ll have to wait for that 😉
      Talisman is actually a great introductory game, both for young board game players and potential RPG fans… and figures do look better if you take some time to paint them. Or similar, but sf-y, Relic.
      Publisher’s suggested age: 10+ for Relic, 12+ Talisman. That can be safely ignored 😉

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  2. Pingback: Battlestar Galactica – the board game. | Re-enchantment Of The World

  3. Pingback: Silva rerum (5) feat. computer games | Re-enchantment Of The World

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