Last week, someone asked me about my favourite board games. What a tricky question!
When I was growing up, we played the usual family games. Scrabble on Wednesday night when the neighbours used to visit, Monopoly or Cluedo on Christmas Day, and occasionally draughts with my dad who almost always beat me.
It wasn’t until I met my husband, who is a real board game afficionado, that I realised that there are there are thousands of games out there now, with themes from bicycles (Flamme Rouge) to birdwatching (Wingspan).
If you’re bored of Cluedo and Monopoly, with so much to choose from, where do you start? Here’s my Desert Island
Discs Board Games.
If you want something that’s easy to learn, try Ticket To Ride (pictured above). You’re competing to build railway lines across the USA. The tension builds as you can never be sure that someone won’t thwart you and claim your routes first. There are lots of different versions of this game with different maps. We recently played the London version which has buses instead of trains.
Another favourite of ours is Azul. This is an abstract game where you’re collecting sets of tiles. The tiles themselves are a real feature of the game: they’re colourful, weighty and have a lovely tactile feel. Again, the rules are simple, but playing it well is a real artform.
I’ve played SpaceBase so many times, my husband often jokes that I’m addicted to it. It’s a dice rolling, card collecting game which is quick both to learn and play, but there are so many choices to make and many different ways to win. Depending on which cards you’ve bought, you collect points or money not only on your own dice roll, but on the other players’ rolls too. You’ll often hear board game players talk about ‘building an engine’; by that they mean collecting cards that work well together to give you an advantage in the game. There’s something very satisfying about building your engine in SpaceBase then accumulating lots of points when your opponents roll the dice.
Two games I’ve really got into recently are Gizmos (pictured left) and It’s a Wonderful World. Both of these games are, like Spacebase, engine building games. In Gizmos, you’re striving to build the most efficient machine. There’s no dice in this game, just cards and marbles which come with their own little marble dispenser. It’s a Wonderful World has different coloured cubes instead of marbles. Each round, you choose cards, which can then be either constructed or recycled for resources – cubes – which you then use to build other cards.
If you are a Homes under the Hammer fan like I am, check out For Sale. In the first half of the game, you’re bidding on different properties. In the second half, you’re selling those properties. The one with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.
If you fancy a slightly longer game, you might like to try Agricola. In this game, you’re a farmer, competing to build extra rooms for your house, cultivate your fields and grow your family. To feed your children, you can harvest wheat and bake bread or breed animals. You score points at the end for the number of family members, rooms in your house, fields and animals on your farm. It sounds easy, but it’s a bit of a brain-buster.
My final recommendation is Terraforming Mars. Your mission is to create cities, oceans and forests on Mars, raising the temperature and oxygen level on the planet. When you first open the box, it looks complicated. And it is, but it’s well worth it. There are so many different ways to play this game, you’ll never get bored.
One thing these games have in common – and probably the reason why I like them so much – is that they all require skill but there’s also an element of luck. Will you roll the right dice? Will the right cards come up? Will you bag your route to New York or will your opponent get there first?
They also all play well with two players but equally well with more.
These kinds of board games aren’t cheap. If you’d like to give the above games a try without shelling out, you can try out a virtual version of all of them (with the exception of Terraforming Mars) on the website boardgamearena.com. If you don’t like reading rules, there are also plenty of videos on YouTube explaining how to play.
Happy board gaming!