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Board Games

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Christmas: the season of giving, festivities & 3 hours competitively buying real estate in London. I have never completed a game of Monopoly. I don't think it's even possible. It's the gaming equivalent of trying to touch your right elbow with your right hand. And anyway the best thing about Monopoly was the tiny money.

I'm trying to conjure up my memories of playing board games. Mouse Trap, Operation & classics like Snakes & Ladders, Chess & Checkers. I remember coveting Hungry Hippos in the Argos catalogue over breakfast. They really aren't fond memories.

Once I had discovered Warhammer (the overpriced, collectable miniatures), to me, board games died a death. That was until I recently stumbled across a Youtube series called TableTop hosted by a much older Wesley Crusher from Star Trek… Wait! Dear reader, don't leave just yet. I realise the previous sentence couldn't get any geekier unless Wesley (well the actor - Wil Wheaton) was hosting a game with hobbits & wookies in the Tardis but don't let that put you off.

It turns out I had stumbled across a treasure trove. Whilst I had been embracing the sticky floors of nightclubs & the bland carpets of university libraries (i.e. playing Counter-Strike) the board game scene had exploded.

The board game renaissance

In the early 2000's board games began to increase in quality, accessibility & variety. This happened when American & European play styles started to be combined. Unbeknownst to me the western world had American-style games, which had interesting stories & themes but suffered from poor & long gameplay. On the flip side European games were accessible & had compelling gameplay but were based on mundane themes such as collecting beans.

But when these properties were eventually combined they created the perfect combination. As Quintin Smith from Sit Down & Shut Up puts it:

"European Design Ethos + American Storytelling = Perfection."

The common themes of trivia, puzzles & party games were being expanded with strategy, history, farming, hacking & mystery. Not only can you battle over world domination in the classic game Risk but you can team up with friends to battle a world wide epidemic in Pandemic.

As for the gameplay one of the first things I noticed when I bought Agricola ( a game in which you manage a farm & try not to send your family begging for food ) was that there were no dice or board to progress round. Agricola & similar resource building games like Lords of Waterdeep have a set amount of rounds the game plays over. Players have to strategically fight over the best resources during the game. Players won't know who's won until the very end and this is critical in keeping people invested.

This recent increase in the quality of board games can be seen in the top 100 games on boardgamegeek.com, the vast majority of which were created within the past 10 years.

So board games have gotten better and they've become more accessible. We no longer have to peruse the Argos catalogue full of the same old Hasbro rubbish. There is now a vast selection of games on Amazon & a whole host of websites which have replaced magazines with recommendations, game guides & gameplay videos.

People are also beginning to realise there are better games out there than the classics. At the time of writing the original Monopoly has a board game rank of 10,017. There are literally 10,016 better board games out there. Well I may be exaggerating... out of the 76 versions of Monopoly in the rankings the top edition, Monopoly: The Mega Edition, is ranked 4010.

So try something new

I've listed the Top 10 board games from boardgamegeek.com & provided links to Amazon (although if you can get them from a local gaming shop all the better!)

Get some friends together & give one of these a blast:

I bought Agricola for the iPad & it's surprisingly playable (then again it's at the top of bgg.com so it should be good!). It's basically a game where players jostle for resources to build their farm. You might have to give up the food you were going to feed to your family to pay for some bricks for your pig hut. If you don't have enough food you'll have to send your family out begging!

I kind of wish I had this as a physical game though. I miss the tactile feeling of the game pieces.

Netrunner was a recent addition to our collection & it's a great two player a game. One person takes the role of a corporation which has to protect their evil agendas from being exposed by the other player (a hacker or runner as they call it). It's all about resource management, deck building (making sure you've got good cards in your deck) & bluffing.

Honourable mentions:

I've played this with 3 sets of friends & everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Not the best but one of the most popular niche board games out there.

Board Game resources:

If you're thinking of buying a new board game these are the best resources to help you pick. It's worth checking the ranking & details on boardgamegeek.com & checking out a video play through.

Happy Gaming & if you want to learn a bit more about the board game renaissance I can highly recommend the video 'Board Game Golden Age Talk'


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