I used to play board games all the time. When I was a kid I remember having an old, beat up Scrabble and Monopoly set that looked like it was 20 years old at the time. One of the newer games in my childhood collection was called Squatter and it had something to do with grazing sheep, or trading sheep. I don’t know, it was on a farm and just bored me to tears.
As I became more acquainted with video games their analogue brothers just fell by the wayside. It didn’t help that I found (and still find) Monopoly to be tedious and Scrabble is great but when you’re a kid and playing with your parents you don’t really stand a chance.
Flash forward 16 years later and I’m going through a huge board game revival that was sparked, in part, by Shut Up & Sit Down and my introduction to Ticket To Ride.
Recently I got together with a group of friends and we ran through a selection of games from our collective…collections.
I took some photos and I will add some words to them in the hopes that you’ll find something you like. Maybe you’ll dust off the old box of Risk you have in your closet and get freaky with the cardboard and dice. It could happen, I don’t know you.
This town aint big enough for the both of us.
Deadwood is a worker placement game from Fantasy Flight Games and sees the player controlling their own gang of cowboys as they vie for control of the old west town.
A railroad is being constructed in Deadwood and with it comes a boat (or train) load of cash. There are three types of cowboys that each player can place on the board and their aim is to control, or “annex”, buildings. Doing so will earn them money, allow them to place down more building tiles, add more track to the railway or a host of other options that will help them gain control of Deadwood.
Taking it in turns players can choose to either hit the town, by annexing a building, or return one of their cowboys from the board to their hand, or “ranch”.
Players only start with three cowboys so it’s up to them to earn more money and hire additional help by annexing certain buildings. The more cowboys you have, the more buildings you can annex which will ultimately earn you more cash.
Deadwood is simple to understand and can be played in around one hour and there is a surprising amount of strategy that can be brought to the game. All players can see each other’s ranch so they know how many cowboys, wanted posters and how much cash everyone has. This is important because there are very specific moves that will bring the game to a quick end and you want to make sure you have the most cash when that happens.
Attacking other players by engaging in a shootout is the only way to annex a building that they occupy. Starting a shootout will earn you a wanted poster which you will have to pay for when the game ends, potentially costing you the few extra dollars that would win you the game. So you have to weigh the benefits of taking a certain building with the risk of receiving a wanted poster which you may not be able to get rid of before the game ends.
Deadwood may not be as in-depth or engaging as some of the other games in this article but it does enough to hold your interest for the length of the average game. It’s simple, quick fun that is definitely worth a look.
Catacombs is an odd beast. It’s a fantasy themed dungeon crawler where players take the role of one of four adventurers fighting monsters and, if they’re lucky enough, hunting down and killing the Catacomb Lord.
Catacombs sticks with fairly standard fantasy heroes: the barbarian, the wizard, the elf archer and the thief.
All of the monsters are controlled by another player who acts as a sort of Dungeon Master (to use Dungeons and Dragons parlance) and tries their hardest to kill the foolish heroes as quickly as possible.
Hiding within the circle of pillars is a good way to protect your vulnerable heroes.
I said “lucky” before but that’s not really the right word for this. The core mechanic of the game sees players flicking their character discs around the board.
Hitting a monster with your character disc counts as a melee attack, the Elf has two smaller discs she can shoot as a ranged attack and the wizard has a variety of spells that use different sized discs in different ways, depending on the effect.
This makes Catacombs are real game of skill and dexterity. Flick your character just a little too hard or a little to the left or right and you might completely miss your target, leaving yourself wide open for the inevitable retaliation from the dungeon’s multitude of angry hell-beasts.
Each character also has a limited number of hit points. The wizard has a single healing spell and there is an opportunity to visit a healer during the game. However, the healer charges 300 coins per health point restored (!) so you often find yourself dangerously close to death throughout large sections of the catacombs.
Even if you do manage to make it to the final room in one piece, you still have to face off against the near omnipotent Catacomb Lord who is far more dangerous than any monster you have previously encountered.
The skill based gameplay, the horrible monsters you will face and the fragility of your heroes all come together to make Catacombs one of the most intense, stressful and ultimately rewarding board games I have ever played.
It also lends itself incredibly well to a variety of drinking games so get excited, responsible adults.
I love the video game Civilization V, which you would already know if you’ve listened to the podcast. Does it then stand to reason that I would love civilization board games like Small World?
Let’s take a look: I can play as “Commando Halflings” or “Bivouacking Skeletons” among others, I earn gold for conquering new territories and it has an art style that I can really get behind. Of all the games we played last night, this was probably my favourite. And I’m not not just saying that because I didn’t not win.
Those trolls have fortified positions, making those territories incredibly difficult for other players to conquer
In Small World you take control of a fantasy race with a particular special ability and you conquer territories on the game board. As stated above the picture you earn gold for each territory you hold and, depending on your race or special ability, you can earn certain bonuses.
However, you have a finite number of tokens with which to conquer and when you feel like you’ve gone as far as you can with a particular race you can choose to go into “decline”. After going into decline you select a new race and start conquering again.
There are 14 different races and 20 special powers which can lead to a tonne of different combinations and play styles
This mechanic means that, sooner or later, you are going to butt heads with other players because all of these active and declined races take up space and, as the name implies, it is a small world.
Days of Wonder, the folks behind Small World (and the equally terrific Ticket To Ride) always put a lot of effort into the production of their games, and it really shows in Small World. The art is bright and fun, there are roughly 500,000 pieces to deal with but the box is specifically designed to hold all the pieces in organised rows and stacks.
The pieces themselves feel good. Yeah they’re just coloured cardboard but it’s nice to know that they at least feel like something that came out of a box that cost you upwards of $50.
This is also a great game for people that aren’t huge gamers. They may struggle a little knowing when the best time to go into decline is or what combination of races and abilities are the best for their situation but overall it’s a pretty easy game to grasp.
The box also comes with four or five quick references rules sheets with information on all the races and abilities on the back so they can use that as a quick reference throughout the game.
If you want to start getting into board games you could certainly pick worse places to start.
Those were the three games we played as a group, there were a few others brought along that didn’t really get a look in but I’ll talk about them later.
For now, go out and play some games.