I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. Looking back over my life, it has been filled with video games seemingly forever. Yet all that time the only board games I played were the usual family fare like Monopoly, Mouse Trap, and Risk. However, under my very nose existed a world that was full of amazing experiences, ones that couldn’t fully be translated to a video game.
Board games have sort of had a revolution over the last couple of decades. With the introduction of more modern design mentalities, board games now offer unique and interesting mechanics that only work in the tabletop format. I’ve spent the last few years essentially playing catch-up on this fantastic world, and wanted to share my admittedly somewhat ignorant thoughts with you, my fellow gamers. So, here’s the top five board games that every video game fan should try.
1. Settlers of Catan & Ticket to Ride
Starting off with a little bit of a cheat, combining two of the best intro games into one. Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride have essentially cemented themselves as the new intro board games. They’re the ones that board game fans pull out when a non-fan asks to play something. Simple mechanics combine with excellent design to create a game that is easy to pickup, but tough to master.
However, thanks to that same excellent design, even a master can’t run away with the game in most cases. Settlers of Catan relies on trading mechanics that make it so no single player can end up with the resources they need to complete the game. Even the most seasoned player will have to work with the other players, who can try to shut him down if things start looking bad. Likewise, Ticket to Ride doesn’t fully tally up the score until the end, a trait of European-style board games as I have come to learn. This allows one player to have a decent lead, yet no one really knows it, keeping everyone engaged right up until the bitter end.
If you’re looking to get into board games and need a place to start, you can’t go wrong with these two titles. Carcossone is another that usually gets lumped in with these two, and while it is equally excellent, I’ve felt like it requires more strategy and isn’t as good of an intro, but it is still definitely worth checking out.
Note: These two may be offered in video game form, but the experience just isn’t the same.
Anyone who has been into a board game or comic shop in the last few years is at least passingly familiar with Munchkin and its dozens of spin-offs. While it isn’t a personal favorite, the simple and easy to understand gameplay make for another great intro title, especially for gamers.
The basics of Munchkin are built on the same RPG mechanics that many video games have used to form their core functionality. You level up your character and boost their stats via items and gear. It’s stuff that any decently experienced video game player will understand within a few minutes of starting the game. And with the ridiculous amount of spin-offs there’s no end to the variety of humorous creatures you can fight, and characters you can create.
That’s it for intro games, now onto the really good stuff…
3. Battlestar Galactica
This is the game that first got me hooked on board games. What appeared to me at first to be a cash-in on the Scifi show’s success was actually an experience unlike anything I had found within the video game world. One which truly made me feel like a part of the universe that I had watched and loved on TV.
The game functions by taking the core mechanic of the show, that of humans vs. unknown cylon agents, and works it into the entire game. Players are given a “Loyalty Card” at the beginning and halfway point of the game, which can immediately turn them against every other player at the table. The humans have many tasks to accomplish, but along the way they can be sabotaged by the hidden agent. Everything works together to create a challenging and tense experience, just like that portrayed on the TV show.
Three expansions have come out for the game, adding and changing elements to suit later additions to the series. There is so much contained in this game that, even though I’ve played it dozens of times, I’ve yet to implement every single rule or gameplay element.
The game, without some heavy modification, can only really work in a board game setting. The asymmetrical elements of having a hidden adversary, combined with the ridiculous amount of options as to what to do on any player’s turn, and the social aspect of looking another player in the eye and asking “are you a cylon?” make this one of the best gaming experiences one can have, and it’s only possible as a board game.
Note: Ultimate Werewolf, and especially One Night Ultimate Werewolf have a similar “find the hidden enemy” mechanic, and are excellent games unto themselves. If you want a cheaper, and easier to understand option then I’d go with one of these, and move toward BSG once you’re more experienced.
This is one that I unfortunately haven’t been able to play beyond the initial learning phase, but it has already shown some great promise. Zombicide, like so many video games these days, started life on Kickstarter. It promised a co-operative zombie survival experience, which video game fans are all too familiar with. So what makes this an important board game for gamers to try? The miniatures.
Since getting into board games I’ve figured out that the tactile experience of having a board, with miniature representatives of the gameplay elements just works so well. There’s something about it that video games simply can’t reproduce (though they do other things better to create their own style of immersion, or course). The thing that sets Zombicide apart from video games, and even other board games of this type, is that it has a literal pile of mini figurines to represent each zombie in the game.
The initial set came with 71 miniatures, with each subsequent sequel and expansion adding more. Actually seeing the massive horde of zombies ahead of you, laid out in real space and standing right in your way, is a great feeling, and its one that I’ve found unique to the board game arena.
Along with this comes a rogue-like element where the game board can be reconfigured into any number of different ways. Creating the endlessly replayable random level design that video games have been obsessed with over the last few years.
5. Risk Legacy
After seemingly disparaging Risk as “family fare” here I am recommending it. This is because Risk Legacy is one of the most interesting innovations that I’ve yet seen in a board game. The core gameplay is similar to the classic that we all know and love to hate each other over, but everything beyond that is fascinatingly unique.
In Risk Legacy you will literally write, draw, and place stickers onto the game board, altering it permanently for future playthroughs. Things like: naming a city, placing a fortress for future use, and even destroying the environment in a given area, making it inaccessible for a certain number of games. There are even sealed packs of cards and other game pieces that can only be opened when certain conditions have been met. Once they are opened every future game with Risk Legacy plays differently than before.
This idea of permanent change is something that video games have flirted with, but rarely stuck to. MMORPG’s are probably the best example, with players able to change the world in a few ways, but eventually things get reset back to basics, or altered via a future update. Risk Legacy creates for the player an experience that is wholly unique to them, and the group of players that join them in their sessions.
There’s just something really great about pulling out your game board and seeing the lasting marks of past games. Then, whenever something is changed you always have to readjust your understanding of the game board, altering strategies and generally coming to terms with the new landscape.
These are just a few of the great board games that I think video game fans would love to try. They all offer something unique and different from what you can find in a video game, yet the design and philosophy behind them is quite similar. Fans of video games should fit right in with the board game arena, if they find the right path in. Of course, I’m no expert, having spent the last few years simply trying to figure out the basics of this world. What I’ve found so far I’ve loved though, so hopefully you will too. If you have a favorite then please share it in the comments below.