I have about 35 board games stashed away at my house. I don’t say that with pride but with a slight twinge of wariness, because I’m starting to feel like a hoarder. I wasn’t always such a huge board game fan. I played some of the usual suspects through childhood - Scattergories, Life, Monopoly, Cluedo, Scotland Yard, Scrabble, Pictionary - but was never enamored by them.
A couple of years back I got re-introduced to board gaming and while I don’t exactly remember what my first modern board game was, it opened the floodgates. There were new mechanics, great design, and themes that I hadn’t thought of before. The more I read about the games, the more in love I fell. There is a game in every genre imaginable - you could be a spy, a soldier, a sailor, a merchant, an alien or just a backstabbing murderer! It’s like the world of books but now you’re stepping INTO them and taking your friends along for the ride.
What's Up Doc?
The story of the modern board game starts, like all great things, in the 90s. In 1995, Klaus Teuber, a dentist who designed games in his spare time, made a new game that put players on the fictional island of Catan. The players were to try and colonise the island (what a surprise) while trading resources, building infrastructure, and avoiding robbers to maximise the number of points.
2000 saw the arrival of Carcassone, a game where players put down tiles to score points and generate new landscapes every single time they played. In 2004, came Ticket to Ride. Players took on roles of railroad corporations trying to build their empires across America. Together, these three Euro style games became the cornerstone of the modern board games and for a very long time, were great gateways into modern board gaming. It made people hungry for more games with different rules, mechanics, and themes never seen before.
There were largely two factions of game styles - “Euro” and “American”. Essentially, American style games were huge on story, theme, and luck. They encouraged direct confrontation with other players and were low on game mechanics & strategy. Euro style games on the other hand were high on strategy, and tried to keep all players in till the end for a fighting chance. They were low on luck, featured indirect confrontation with other players and were usually drab in terms of theme and story. It looked like someone put them in as an afterthought.
While the debate about which style was better raged on, more designers were trying their hand at making new games. Most of these were hobby designers because making board games and marketing them was expensive. There wasn’t a big enough market yet for companies to print huge runs of a game, so it was mostly just slow going. So while people were ready for newer board games, there weren't enough of them being published, yet. There was still a missing element.
Enter Kickstarter. No one thinks of board games when they think of Kickstarter but it was the perfect platform for them to enter public consciousness. Designers could now reach out to people itching to try out new games and get to print faster without waiting for a publisher. Not only did more board games start cropping up, people were running kickstarters for gaming accessories too!
Owing to the demand, a lot of great channels started cropping up on YouTube - people made videos reviewing new games, made instructional videos on how to play them, etc. Board games were starting to gather speed.
Then, to add on to this surging momentum was the last piece that began the avalanche. Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton created a new show on YouTube and called it “TableTop”. The format was simple - Wil would introduce a new game, explain the rules and the objective, and would then play it with his friends set to hilarious interviews and great production values.
It became an instant hit. People outside the board gaming community watched these episodes and a community that was slowly expanding was now suddenly blown wide open in a blaze of glory. Demand for games featured on the show peaked so much that sometimes the publishers ran out of them.
It also exhibited something that the other reality shows were completely devoid of. A group of friends, catching up around a table, having fun and going on adventures. What's not to like? The games were no longer relegated to nerds. EVERYONE was in.
To Infinity and Beyond
If you're reaching to order Catan because you've heard so much about it, let me stop you right there. While Catan is a GREAT game, it is now over 25 years old. The effect of new designers entering the industry and the surge from Kickstarter and YouTube introduced a new dimension to board gaming that was indifferent towards "Euro" or "American" style.
New games cropped up that were familiar yet distinctly fresh - they balanced strategy, mechanics, luck, design and story so well that it led to beautiful, immersive experiences that elevated them to art.
What game to pick usually comes down to the people you're playing with. People have variety of experiences, interests, and preferences so what game you bring out will determine if the group enjoys it or not. Let me introduce you to some new categories and games and see which ones catch your fancy!Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are Amazon affiliate links. They help me support the site and get new games to review for you guys!
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Warm-Up & Party Games
For people new to board games, or people who claim to hate them, these are great games to start with. They are fun, tiny bite sized appetisers that make way for bigger, more complex games later. Maybe you're two players who want a nice breezy evening of play or maybe you just want to elevate your next party.
Jaipur is an oddly addictive 2 player game where players trade goods like gems, cloth, leather in the open market to earn points. It’s a fast paced game that blends tactics, luck, and camels to great effect!
Schotten TottenImage by @c_mcc from board gameGeek
Imagine playing teen patti with 9 different hands to ensure that by the end of the round you're going to win 5 of them. Schotten Totten is a surprisingly layered game once you begin playing it.
A quick social game to warm up your engines. You take on different identities as the round progresses and attempt to kill your fellow competitors until you're the last one standing. The catch? No one knows which character you’re playing so Coup is a great one if your group like bluffing.Coup on Amazon
To put it simply, Resistance is a much better version of Mafia. You know how in Mafia, if you "die", you just have to sit aside and wait for it all to end? In Resistance everyone is involved until the very end. This is essentially a quick 20-30 minute game of two sides competing against each other in secret and each faction trying to get the other one out.
For a quick playing time, Resistance can become incredibly nuanced the more you play it and could easily become one of those games you play for the entirety of the night. I've never not had fun playing this one, no matter how bored people are or how much they hate board games. It's that good.Resistance Avalon on Amazon
Offering a largely similar yet a slightly different game mechanic to Resistance, is Secret Hitler. I'd recommend Secret Hitler for new groups and people who love deduction a little bit more (Resistance is a tad more open ended in terms of information) but you can hardly go wrong with any one of these two.Secret Hitler on Amazon
Cards Against Humanity
I don't think this game needs any introduction. There are countless variants and knockoffs of this concept now - apt for people with dark humour.
Probably one of the greatest games ever made, in my opinion. I’ve brought it to the loudest room and eventually it dies down because of the sheer intensity it exudes.
The rules are dizzyingly simple. A deck of cards numbered from 1 to 100 is shuffled and a card is given to each of the players for the first round. The players, without exchanging a single word have to play the cards in ascending order. If they pass, the consequent rounds keeping adding one card for each player. That’s it.
I don’t know how to accurately describe the effect The Mind has on people. That moment when you just BARELY lay down 16 cards in perfect order is one of the greatest rushes you'll get from any game.The Mind on Amazon
This is one of the greatest party games I’ve played, mostly because it manages to have something for almost everyone, no matter their background, right from groups of 6 to 20, to people aged 10 to 70 years! This can easily be the best pick for your first game to buy if you have a group of friends over once in a while, or if you really enjoy social games.
The agenda of Codenames is for the spymaster of each of the two teams to make their teammates guess as many interlinked words on the board with a single clue as possible, while avoiding the words of the opponent team. You can see by now that some of the best games are the ones that seem the simplest but have incredible depth.Codenames on Amazon
The newest kid on the block! Wavelength is a great new party game about trying to read each other's minds. The leader picks up a card and tries to convey a single thought that will land their teammates in the target zone. It sounds a little more complicated than it actually is and is extremely thrilling and super addictive. The discussion at the end of each round is gold and just makes you talk about things with your friends you never thought you would.Wavelength on Amazon
Let Me At 'Em!
Competitive games are the oldest type of games - a group of players get together and try to beat each other for glory. You don't need a group of hardcore competitive players to enjoy one and these games are really well balanced so everyone ends up having fun. The sheer variety here is mind boggling so let's get to it!
One of the original modern board games released in 2004. It is a Euro style game which is very heavy on strategy and a little low on theme. However, the gameplay is what elevates this beyond you caring about story and theme. It is VERY balanced and you cannot count out players who’ve been in the last place for most of the game. Power Grid is also a master-class in economics and is great for players who don’t like luck and like winning purely on strategy.Power Grid on Amazon
If you love war, aggression, and are competitive, you’ll love this one. The players play as different Egyptian Gods who pick up powers as they go along. The game has NO dice so it is 100% reliant on strategy. The theme, miniatures, and the experience is beautiful and game mechanics are really well done. Kemet rewards you only for attacking so it sets up some very interesting decisions up front instead of dragging it over 3-4 rounds.
The game is also very replayable because every time you play it, depending on what powers you pick up, your God and your playing strategy changes completely.Asmodee Kemet Board Game
This is why board games were made. Technically this is a competitive game but I've just had so much fun and joy playing it! Cosmic Encounter makes you play as different aliens trying to colonise planets. Each player picks an alien race at random and each of them have extremely weird powers. There is absolutely no balance of power so there’s a lot of luck involved but the best part of this game is the banter that goes around the table as seemingly random things happen to all the players and everyone is pulled in for the ride.
Game of Thrones
Do not be put off by the title. Even if you haven’t seen a single episode of GoT (I haven’t), this is an ingeniously nuanced strategy game. This could have just been a cash grab for fans of the book/show but this is a great game that emulates what it’s like to try and gain power of the throne. There’s alliances to keep track of, where to send troops, how to position ships to ensure trade, all while ensuring you keep grabbing more land. Game of Thrones gets very intense very fast and keeps that intensity for its long playing time which is a feat on it's own.A Game of Thrones on Amazon
This is hands down one of the prettiest games I've seen and one of the most soothing ones I've played - words I never thought I'd string together to describe a board game. Tokaido has you playing geishas, artists, priests & entertainers, all while enjoying a lovely, picturesque vacation!
All you have to do is meet new people, collect paintings, eat great food, and buy souvenirs along the way. The travellers decide whether to revel in the beauty of what Tokaido has to offer, or run ahead and grab the best stuff before anyone else does. Either way, this game will have you feeling zen!Tokaido on Amazon
When your powers combine:
Co-operative games get the players working together to beat the game itself. Needless to say, these games are tough and put players in absolutely terrible scenarios to wiggle out of. You won't be winning as much but even when you lose it'll be as a team and the discussion will be damn good fun. Co-op is also just a very different dynamic a lot of people haven't tried before so do give it a go!
Everyone’s favourite game of 2020! Pandemic sees players play as scientists rushing to contain viruses as they race across the globe. This is hands down one of the cruelest games I’ve played. One moment you’re cruising to victory - you’ve all planned out the next round and victory seems to be in grasp. Suddenly you’re hit with an epidemic card, which then triggers a chain reaction as the world descends into chaos and you’ve lost horribly, just because someone forgot to wear a goddamn mask (the last line may have been an addition from my end).Pandemic on Amazon
As if this was not enough, the board game world had a collective meltdown when Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was announced. Legacy made Pandemic an actual episodic story so that every time you played a game it equalled to one “episode” of a series, hence the “Season 1” moniker. Depending on the choices you made, your season would last 12-24 episodes. So if you made the decision to not travel to Delhi to curb a new virus because you think it’s manageable, it could have a butterfly effect and could completely change the course of your season. WHY WOULD YOU NOT PLAY THIS GAME? They also made Season 2 and Season 0.Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 on Amazon Pandemic: Legacy Season 2 on Amazon
Made by the same designer as Pandemic, Forbidden Desert casts the players as travellers on the lookout for an old civilisation that was technologically advanced enough to build a solar powered airship. Unfortunately, the helicopter crashes into the desert which means the players must now dig up ruins in an ever changing desert and assemble the airship before they run out of resources or they die of heat, or starvation.
This is actually a sequel to Forbidden Island but the mechanics here are slightly better so it's a little more fun than the previous one! Forbidden Desert or Pandemic are great first forays into co-op gaming if you're new to them.Forbidden Desert on Amazon
A game of battleship. BUT IN REAL TIME. This is both a competitive and a co-op game of sorts? Two teams take the helm of different submarines as they attempt to bomb each other to oblivion. The real-time mechanic will have you sweating as you jostle to fulfil multiple duties that adds a fun new twist and a whole lot of tension.Captain Sonar on Amazon
If you love Lovecraftian horror, this is your jam! Supporting 1-8 players, this game takes you across the globe as you try to stop the Ancient Ones from spawning into this world while also ensuring you don’t descend into madness as you witness terrible things. Eldritch Horror is easily the toughest game on the list because by the end of it you’ve probably actually descended into madness as the number of setbacks test your will. The win percentage is usually around 40%.Eldritch Horror on Amazon
Betrayal at the House on the Hill
Another co-operative horror game that plays like a horror movie with a twist. The set up? You’re a bunch of friends who’ve gone to explore that creepy house on the hill. As you explore the house room by room, almost ANYTHING can trigger the “Haunt” which is when you find out one of your friends is actually the villain/ghost/vampire/mummy/you-get-the-gist. Imagine handing over a gun for safekeeping only to find out your friend was actually a werewolf in hiding. Fun times, eh? Especially if you’re the murderous traitor.Betrayal At House On The Hill on Amazon
Dead of Winter
ANOTHER co-operative horror game?!?! Dead of Winter puts the players in the middle of a zombie apocalypse where you’re all a part of a colony just trying to survive. The design and the build up of the atmosphere is great and the game absolutely dials up the dread by introducing a betrayer mechanic. The twist? Unlike BatHotH, you MAY or MAY NOT HAVE have a betrayer amongst you. So when you come to the end of the round to see if there’s enough food to feed the colony, and you’re just short, you start wondering if your friends actually didn’t have enough food or if there’s just a traitor among you. How’s that for paranoia?Dead of Winter on Amazon
Flash point fire Rescue
Another great co-op game especially if you have kids playing. You all play as firefighters who've just been summoned to a burning house. Your job is to go through the house room by room, get survivors out, put out the fires and ensure the fire doesn't get out of control. Surprisingly in-depth for a firefighting game and there's actual lives at stake!Flashpoint Fire Rescue on Amazon
That's All Folks!
Well, I think I now know why I’ve collected 35 board games over the years. It’s because they always leave you with the best stories to reminisce. The arguments you have during a game or the discussions that happen after it, are magical.
Be certain that the next time you meet your friends, you will be reminiscing that time your friend got bit by a zombie 3 times in a row ending Dead of Winter in record time, or the time you all rolled over laughing because of that clue in Codenames no one got, or the time you felt badass because you played a dog equipped with a sniper rifle and night vision goggles. It’s like you lived a different life through these games or were skimmed away for a little adventure!
I hope I’ve gotten you excited enough to gather your friends around the table and venture into the world of board games and memories.