If your only experience with boardgames is when you played Scrabble, Risk or Monopoly when you were young, then you're in for a pleasant surprise.
Most of us have memories of playing those classic games when we were younger. Some folks might look back on them with fondness, while others may cringe at the thought of hours around a board with a dice roll deciding their actions for them. Whichever group you might fall into, modern boardgame designs can offer you an entertaining and social way to spend your spare time.
In 1995 a German game called “Settlers of Catan” appeared on the international markets for the first time after winning the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) for its designer Klaus Teuber. While it wasn’t the first game of this style, it had enormous appeal. It has been translated into 30 languages and by 2009 the Catan franchise had sold 15 million copies. Settlers has also been adapted to a videogame for Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo DS and Facebook.
You’ll often hear these modern games called Designer Games, since the designer’s name appears prominently on the box, or German Games due to the early, widespread acceptance of the style in that country. Eurogame designs in general have some common features:
- They embrace strategic decisions for the players.
You, not the game, will choose your actions and there is often less emphasis on luck.
- They usually have no player elimination and the players are involved for the entire game.
Remember going bankrupt half way through the game and having to sit around while everyone else finished?
- They usually have a shorter playing time.
A time span of 60 to 90 minutes is very common.
- They have good “replay value”.
A single game might have a price tag of $60, but a family or group can play it over and over again with the same level of enjoyment. Cheaper than going to the movies and more social.
Not all of the games of this style are designed in Europe. Another popular, entry-level Eurogame is “Ticket to Ride” by American designer Alan R. Moon. Its publisher, Days of Wonder, has released several expansions and computer versions. The game lends itself very well to the asynchronous play available through its iPod, iPhone and iPad versions.
Brashly sitting on the shelf next to the Eurogames, you will find the Ameritrash. Although the name might sound derogatory, it’s more often used affectionately by its fans. The games in this genre are usually rich in theme, with many illustrations and lashings of flavour text. High in luck and direct conflict, the games are more often loved for the story they can tell in the playing over the satisfaction of winning through optimal play. If you want to be polite about them, you could call them Thematic Games, or Experience Games, but you might be missing the point. If the Eurogames sound more like spreadsheets than fun to you, then you might enjoy:
- investigating arcane clues in an attempt to stop the world being devoured by an ancient, alien god in Arkham Horror;
- making your fame and fortune as a swashbuckling pirate on the Caribbean in Merchants & Marauders;
- delving through the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft on a quest to destroy the vampire Strahd von Zarovich.
That’s Quite a Collection
Of course, the genres mentioned above have many overlaps. Not every game fits into these categories, either. There are abstract games, collectible card and miniatures games, war games, dexterity games and party games. If you’re just starting to get into the hobby, make sure you’ve got room for some extra shelves. With over 800 new games released in 2011 alone, it’s tempting to collect a bit of everything.
On The Go
More and more boardgames are being converted to computer, particularly iOS, implementations. While this means that you miss out on the real-world social aspect of the hobby, it can be a great way to try out a new game to see if it’s a style you like. The good ones will start you off with a tutorial, so you don’t have to read the rule book straight away, and they’re generally a lot cheaper than a physical copy. Try searching the App Store for Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.
Will Wheaton (Remember Wesley Crusher from Star Trek? Yeah, him) is a champion of geek culture. He has been producing an online show called TableTop, in which he gets around a table with other notable celebrities to explain and play board games. Take a look at the YouTube channel.
Hopefully you’ll have found something appealing in the preceding examples. Your next port of call should be the online hub of the boardgame hobby, boardgamegeek.com. Try not to let the interface or the sheer volume of data overwhelm you. It’s a wealth of information and a friendly online community. Lurk for a while and read all you can, then sign up and join in the fun!