There is a renaissance going on in the hobby industry. It is in board games. No, I don’t mean like Monopoly.
I mean board games that engage you, make you think and create a social environment. These are games that do not rely on luck. Instead, they reward those who plan ahead, can adapt to an ever-changing environment and can manage resources, cards or playing pieces (called meeples or workers). Monopoly, on the other hand, is strictly based on luck. If the dice lands fortuitously for you, you will win. Every time as a player approaches GO they ask the dice to please roll that combination that will get them to Boardwalk and Park Place. Inevitably, once someone owns these two properties it is game, set, and match. The games in this new age of board games (often referred to as Euro-style games) do use dice and often have little or no luck, but great planning will almost always negate that element. These are the games that I love.
While looking for some games to play with a group of friends the other night, I chose several options and placed them on the table. As I began to unpack the components on the table, I saw a glazed look come over my friends’ faces as they saw the sheer volume of “things” I was taking out of the box. Small multi-colored pieces, deck after deck of cards, wooden counters, and dice with designs that they did not recognize. These friends are college educated people, yet they had a look of sheer panic as I began to explain the rules. It was then that I wondered how many other people do not get into this fantastic hobby because they are just completely overwhelmed by everything about it. These people need a mentor to help them traverse the world of these board games, and guide them down the best path. In this 3part series of blogs that is what I plan to do. Be your mentor, teacher and board game nerd. These blogs will be a source of information on how to start in this hobby, grow your collection, teach yourself the sometimes complex rules, and, most importantly teach others how to play.
So where does one begin? Why with Monopoly of course. Monopoly is a game that almost everyone knows, almost everyone has played it, and if you are like me, you have grown bored with it. However, it is a game with simple procedures (mechanics) for playing the game. You roll, you move, you get money, you pay money, and you collect sets of cards (properties). According to the Board Game Geek (BGG) website, these mechanics give Monopoly a complexity rating of 1.69 out of 5 (5 being most complex). So a game with a similar complexity and some of the same mechanics would be a great place to start. Two of my favorite games that meet these criteria and have many of the same mechanics are Catan and Ticket to Ride.
Catan is a game that has a 2.36 complexity rating on BGG. The game itself while more complex has a lot of similar mechanics to Monopoly. In Catan, the players are settlers on an island, and the goal is to develop the dominant society on the island by building villages, cities, and roads. The equivalent would be houses and hotels in Monopoly. You pay for the structures in Catan not with money as in Monopoly but with resources (wood, grain, brick, wool, and stone). You collect sets of these resources (think properties of the same color) and turn them in for the structures you need. You get victory points for completing these structures, and the player first to ten wins. While this is a very simplified overview of Catan, I am using it as an example of why this game works as a starting point.
Ticket to Ride is also a game that includes collecting sets of cards as Monopoly does with properties, but instead of building structures you use these collected cards to place trains and tracks to connect various cities. This mechanic is known as worker placement in Eurogames. Ticket to Ride gets a complexity rating of 1.88 on BGG, so it will be a little easier to learn. Ticket to Ride also adds an element of having a secret agenda (connecting two cities that your opponents don’t know) that is common in these type of games. As with Catan, a victor is crowned by victory points. Unlike Catan, it is the person who has the most victory points, similar to Monopoly’s mechanic of having the most money. Ticket to Ride has no dice in it but instead adds an element of luck through cards, but planning which to collect and where to play them is strictly a strategic decision of the player.
Board Game Geek has sections in their database not only for complexity but game mechanics as well. These are two keys for expanding beyond the initial two games I mentioned above. On BGG Catan is listed as having the mechanics of dice rolling, hand management, trading, modular board and route building while Ticket to Ride is listed as having hand management, route building, and set collection.
After playing these games several times, you might find that you enjoy them and like to begin to expand your collection. I always recommend finding a game with a slightly higher complexity that incorporates at least one mechanic of the game that you enjoyed playing most, but has a new mechanic. This new mechanic could include things like tile placement, co-operative play (all the players are against the game), resource management, or deck building to name a few. This method will allow you to choose a game that has a mechanic you know but adds something new for you to try. With Catan and Ticket to Ride you may try Carcassone (adds the mechanic of tile placement), Dominion (deck building) or Pandemic (cooperative play). Eventually, you will find game mechanics that appeal to you, particularly in certain combinations and that is when your collection will begin to grow.
There are two more considerations in choosing games that I have not mentioned yet, game length and age appropriateness. Many of these style games, with their increased strategic decision making can take a long time to play. The approximate time to play is listed both on BGG and also on the boxes of all of these games. Try different lengths of games to find the length that you are most comfortable playing. Sometimes a game that is long will seem much shorter when you love the mechanics and theme used.
Age appropriateness is different for everyone. I have a fourteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old and my idea of appropriateness may be different than yours. The age on the boxes of these games is determined using several factors. Predominantly the age ranges are based on three things playtesting, reading levels, and artwork. Many designers will playtest their games with different age groups to see which groups will grasp the more abstract concepts and will then adjust appropriately. The rule book and many times the cards in a game will contain text that needs to be understood to play properly. Standard reading levels are used to determine who will be able to understand these items completely. The artwork in a game is the last determining factor. Many games will have artwork that contains graphic or adult themes that would not be appropriate for certain ages. Again the best way to determine this is through playing games. My 11 year old often plays games that have a 14+ rating, and he does very well.
Hopefully, this will be a great starting point to help you get into this wonderful hobby. There is nothing more satisfying for me then when my family and I sit down to a great night of board gaming. As your collection expands and you find yourself craving more and more complex games, the rules will get equally complex. My next blog in this series will give you strategies that I use for learning games rules. Until then please visit Bord Game Geek and take that first step towards breaking that habit of hoping you land on Boardwalk.