Board Games You Keep

Eclipse

Today, I was thinking about the games collection that I own and love.  I began to wonder how difficult it would be to reduce the number of games in the collection if for some reason I really had to drop some titles.  There is no specific trigger for that concern.  I just wondered how I would decide which games would have to stay;  Which games are essential.

It occurred to me that though some of the games are rated a “10” when I think in terms of ranking them, that several low ranking games would have to stay too.  The high rated games in my collection are ones I think of as great strategy games.  But there are essential games also because of their accessibility or just plan fun with a larger group.

So which games are the essentials?

Some games are obvious easy candidates for the must-have list.  The others require some reflection and consideration.  Here’s the list.  I’ve included links with each game where you can learn more about them and even an on-line board game store where you can order your own copy.  I’ve been purchasing board games on-line from Thought Hammer for years now and always recommend them, although I have no affiliation with the company.  I just recommend them.  Of course, some of these games can be purchased at your local hobby game stores and some can be found in “big box” department store like “Target”.  I recommend you check local suppliers first because they help to keep this gaming hobby thriving.

Ticket To Ride

Ticket to Ride

This one has to be included no matter what.  It’s not a highly rated game when compared to the deeper strategy games.  But this is “the gateway game”.  It’s the game you pull out with the family when you want to introduce someone to modern board game design.  It plays quickly, is easy to learn, and everybody loves playing it when introduced.  I’ve introduced this game to several adults and families that have gone out and immediately purchased their own copy.

When we play the game we always include the USA 1910 expansion.  It adds more destination card choices and the original game cards are replaced with much larger and easier to manage cards.  Our family loves this game.  We also “tricked it out” a bit by purchasing wooden train pieces — including ones in purple and pink — to replace the original game’s plastic train pieces.  The original pieces are fine, but these wooden ones look cool and feel nice to touch.  I purchased the wooden pieces at Mayday Games on-line but I’m not sure they still carry them.

One last note about this game.  It has been a success story for the board game industry and stands out as one of the board games you can actually find at stores like Target now.

Escalation!

Escalation!

We often use this card game for quick fun.  Again, easy to learn, and plays really fast.  Everyone has a great time.

This is another of those games that doesn’t earn a high strategy game rating but wins for shear fun.  Escalation! is another of those games we own that, when introduced to new players, they want to go purchase their own copy.

We played this game so many times that we have worn the cards down and have purchase several replacement decks over time.

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition

No doubt about it, this is a heavy strategy game.  It’s deep and takes a long time to play.  It’s another family favorite.  We have played this game over 40 times.  The game is a rich immersive experience.  You set aside a Saturday to play it, but it’s always worth it.

By no means is this an introductory game and it’s not everyone’s “cup of tea”.  But we love it.  There have been 2 expansions that have come out for this game over the past few years.  Each expansion adds more interesting player alien races to choose and more options and ships.  I find both expansions to be valuable and worth owning.  It all fits in the same box if you remove the original box insert.  We have “tricked” this game out a bit too by adding custom colored dice for each player to use.

Power Grid

Power Grid

This is a great “euro”-style game.  Another family favorite.  Power Grid is an economic game where players purchase power plants and resources (coal, oil, nuclear, etc.) to operate those power plants.  Players must also make connections between cities to form their “power grid”.  You spend money to buy plants, resources and city connections.  You earn money by providing power to your cities.  This is a strategy game and can get pretty involved for the players.

An amazing characteristic of this game which we have encountered many times while playing, is that the game almost always ends with a very close final score.  The other feature I observe is that the game plays along casual until about the last two turns.  By that point everyone is quiet and thinking through the options for their next turn.  It’s cool to experience and part of what makes playing the game memorable for players.  Like many “Euro-style” board games, you feel like you are engaged in the game until the very end.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

This is a classic tile-laying game.  Players build up cities and roads from randomly drawn tiles.  It behave likes a puzzle game and, depending on the players, either feels casual and light or highly competitive.  You score points for completing roads, cities, and other game features.  It’s one of my wife’s favorite games.

Carcassonne is another good game for introducing people to the hobby.  There are seemingly infinite expansions for this game and we’ve purchased probably every one.  We purchased extra player pieces for this game in new colors — again including purple and pink.

I have seen the game Carcassonne for sale at Toys R Us and Barnes & Noble book stores.

Runebound (2nd Edition)

Runebound (2nd edition)

This is not a game we play as often as we did when we first purchased it.  However, it still gets pulled out sometimes even when we have new players visiting.

Runebound is a board game with a strong role-playing fantasy element.  Players move their figure around the game board and encounter challenges to defeat.  As they build up their skills and inventory of weapons, spells, and other tools, they become better prepared for the highest level of challenges in the game and win.

Our family also loves this game and we have “tricked it out” as well by adding custom colored dice for each player and we substituted the cardboard bits representing challenges with glass beads.  The game looks very appealing while playing.  Runebound is not a lightweight game, but also not difficult to learn and play.  The one down side to consider is that a game can take a long time to play if there are many players.

Bohnanza

Bohnanza

A game about bean farming seems an unlikely theme for family fun.  But this card game proves to be both unique and fun.

One of the interesting game design mechanisms used by Bohnanza is that you are not permitted to arrange the cards in your hand.  You play them in the order they were dealt.  I know, that sounds really odd.  But you have to try it.  It’s fun, the artwork is silly and it’s another easy game to learn and play.

Eclipse

Eclipse

Eclipse has become my “new hotness” game.  This game is a great blend of “euro-style” and “thematic-style” board game design.  It’s an epic space game like Twilight Imperium but lighter and quicker to play.

I consider it to be an essential part of my gaming collection and a compliment to and not a replacement for TI-3.  What makes this game stand out is the elegance of the design mechanisms.  There are many clever elements to the game play design.

The ratings for this game in the larger hobby board game community is amazing.  The game was introduced a few months ago and has already skyrocketed to a top 5 ranking.  If you get a chance to play the game you’ll understand why too.

The only real problem with this game right now, in my mind, is that it’s impossible to find.  The initial production run has sold out everywhere.  You can find copies available for $50 to $100 over the standard retail price.  The game publisher announced the next production run will be ready in May or June of 2012.  That’s a long time to wait for as much fun as this game has been.  If you can find a copy at the $85 – $100 price, get it.  More than that, you’d have to decide for yourself.  I was quite fortunate to get a copy as a Christmas gift from my wife.

I cannot say enough good things about this game.  It may be the best new board game that came out in 2011.  I’ll certainly play it whenever I can find a chance.

Shadows Over Camelot

Shadows Over Camelot

We have introduced this game to families and it has always been well received.  It’s easy to learn, and with the available expansion, handles up to 8 players.

This is a cooperative game.  That is, all the players are working together to accomplish goals and not lose against the game itself.  The game is hard to beat.

The interesting feature of this game is that one of the players secretly plays the role of a traitor and tries to remain undetected throughout the game.  The traitor is working against the other players.  The tension and potential for mis-trust and deception make this a fun game to experience.

Shadows Over Camelot is another one of those games that when played have resulted in the other families playing to purchase their own copy.

Thebes

Thebes

Also known as “Jenseits von Theben”, Thebes is a great introductory game.  The game is published by Queen Games and they always do an excellent job with the production values.  The board is attractive and the components are first class.

In this game each player is kind of like an “Indiana Jones” character, exploring ancient sites around the globe, seeking valuable artifacts.  A very cool game design mechanism with this game is that each “site” has a dedicated cloth bag full of cardboard tiles.  Most of the tiles represent sand, nothing of value.  But also within each bag are the few precious artifacts.  The players travel to these ancients sites and commit to digging for a certain amount of time.  The longer you dig at a site the higher the odds of pulling good stuff out of the bag.  The trade off is that you may also be wasting time needed elsewhere on the game board.  And here’s the really cool trick.  After a player “searches” through the cloth bag (blindly, without seeing the tiles they have extracted until they are done, and the useless sand tiles are the same shape as the artifact tiltes), they put back all the useless “sand” tiles.  This makes it even harder for the next player to find anything valuable at the site.  It is such a simple thematic element that just enhances the enjoyment of playing this game.  Some folks feel this inclusion of a certain level of luck in the game diminishes it’s appeal.  I disagree.  A little bit of luck in a game is what makes it feel like fun to newer players.  Our family loves this game and we introduce it to new players frequently.

Starfarers of Catan

Starfarers of Catan

The now-classic German board game Settlers of Catan has an official space-themed version with this entry.  We actually prefer this game to the standard Settlers of Catan.  The game has a very cool looking board and some amazing “mother ships” that each player uses to both produce the random event selections as well as identify the enhancements made to their space fleet (speed, freight capacity, and cannons to ward off space pirates).

The game plays very much like Settlers of course, where each player rolls dice to determine the resources they collect each turn.  There is no direct conflict between players.  This is not a war game.  Each player tries to earn victory points by exploring, building and creating alliances with alien races.  This was one of the early Euro-style games for our family and remains a favorite.  It’s easy to learn but can take a while to play.

Dominion

Dominion

In 2008 the game Dominion was introduced to hobby board gamers.  It introduced a very simple and clever “deck building” game design mechanism that instantly became a huge hit.  It’s really a card game but comes in a standard sized board game box.  Many new deck building game designs have followed in the following years, but I still enjoy playing Dominion.

Like Carcassonne, there are several expansions you can add.  Dominion is actually quite easy to learn, fast and (here’s the amazing part) addictive to play.  It always happens.  Whenever I introduce Dominion to new players and we finish a game they always want to play it again right away.  It’s a good game.  The only complaint I have about it is each player ends up frequently having to shuffle your card deck as the game progresses.  In fact, you shuffle almost every other turn.  Still, it’s fun and plays fast.

Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy

This is a card game.  It’s got a little bit of a learning curve to it.  Mostly that’s because each card has little icons festooned around the edges of the artwork and it take a little while to “get it”.  But once it clicks for the players, which generally only takes one or two practice rounds, the game starts humming along.

It is a little bit like Dominion in that you are evaluating your card choices each turn, but this is a nice rich strategy game experience.  This is another one of those games that has that addictive feel to it and you want to play several games in a row to try out other winning strategy ideas.  There are 3 expansions available for this game and I recommend them all if you have played the base game and enjoyed it.  The second expansion, and they have to be added to the game in order, even includes a provision for an automated “robot” player that yields a pretty good solitaire experience.

Pandemic

Pandemic

This is another cooperative game.  Each player is part of a team working together to contain the outbreak of several diseases around the globe.

The board game and it’s components are top notch quality.  And the game design is quite elegant, with several clever design ideas combined to make a thematic and approachable fun game to play.

There is an expansion for this game that provides for several options that you can choose to include in the game.  I think the neatest component from the expansion is that it comes with little plastic petri dishes you can use to store the game’s virus cubes in.  Very cool.  The expansion also provides an optional bio-terrorist option where a player can be secretly working against the others.  I think the game s challenging enough without one of the players as an adversary.

Wits & Wagers

Wits & Wagers

I like this game quite a bit when I need a game that can be played with a larger group and has a “party game” feel to it.  The interesting design feature of this game is that it’s a trivia game where you don’t have to know the right answer.  Instead everyone places bets on a game board of what they think the correct trivia question answer is.  You just bet on which answer from everyone’s guesses is the correct answer.  You don’t have to know the answer, you just have to be willing to bet which other player does know the answer.

This game actually scales up quite well to very large groups if needed.  You treat the game as if everyone is participating in a game show and working together on teams.  Wits & Wagers is a very successful board game and has won many awards for it’s design.  It’s a trivia game done right.  I have seen this game for sale at Target.

Killer Bunnies

Killer Bunnies

Let’s be plain and up-front about this.  Killer Bunnies is not a strategy game.  Not really.  It’s a fun, easy to learn, silly little game about trying to keep your own bunnies alive while doing horrible things to the bunnies of your opponents.

The game is a card game and the artwork on each card is quite fun.  We always have a good time playing when everyone is in the mood for a lighter “take-that” kind of card game.  There are numerous expansions available for this game too and we purchased them all.  Fortunately, we’re able to fit everything in one box.

We hadn’t played this game in quite a while and recently had some company over where I thought it might be fun to pull out and play again.  It was as fun as we expected.


I’d better stop there.  Of the games in my collection there are many more that I truly love to play and would want to include in any gaming library.  But the above list is pretty good and accomplishes creating a must-have list for me.  There are 16 games here.  I’m sure I could add another 48 “must haves” if I keep thinking about it.