Board Games: Welcome to my Closet

American board games have, until recently been dominated by simple rules, adversarial tactics, and a large degree of randomness. Like so many of you, I grew up with this instantly recognizable example of gaming history, and like so many of you I am sick to death of it. Along with this Parker Brothers classic, I enjoyed (and eventually grew tired of) all the basics: Life, Risk, Sorry, Othello, Yahtzee, Rummy, Chess, and so many others. (Full disclosure: I do however still own a copy of Connect Four. I love that game.)

During my teenage years, I largely outgrew them as I discovered more complex and satisfying games :RPGs and CCGs. Though I would still play the occasional bout of Axis and Allies, board games as a whole were no longer on my short list. If you had asked me then, if I was ever likely to play them again, I would have told you that it was very unlikely.

I would have been very wrong.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that my horizons were broadened and I fell in love with the Euro Game. Wikipedia defines a Euro Game as:

A German-style board game, also referred to as a Euro game or Euro-style game, is a class of tabletop games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components. Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends. German-style games are sometimes contrasted with American-style games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama.
German-style games are usually less abstract than chess, but more abstract than wargames and train games. Likewise, they generally require more thought and planning than party games, such as Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit, but less than classic strategy games, such as chess and Go.

To me though, they were just a breath of fresh air. Very complex and dynamic, Euro Games have the hallmark of being able to support a wide variety of strategies to achieve victory. Another hallmark about Euro Games though, in my opinion is that the theme and mechanics are largely independent; if you like a deck building game you can play it with magical kingdoms or werewolves, if you like economic domination you can play a game involving farms or casinos. Each game is part substance and part style, and if you like a certain aspect it is not too difficult to pull that thread and find other games in a similar vein. Few would put Alhambra in the same category with Ticket to Ride, for instance, but the similarities are striking.

Like anything else, there are bad games out there, there are simply so many to choose from that are instant classics that the hobby can be somewhat daunting to pick up, and if you buy a game you don’t like, it can be a costly mistake. One major disadvantage Euro Games have when compared to the kind most Americans are used to is that they can be pricey. Games with an MSRP are not uncommon, though the $40-$60 is much more typical. How do you know that your money is being well spent? Easy, play it before you buy it. Many great FLGS have a board game night where you can go play a game with people who will be glad to teach you the ropes. If you don’t like a game, you can always try another. With hundreds to choose from, you can be sure there are some out there that will suit you.

You can see my purchases in this arena below. These days my books and comics are all purchased in digital formats; my video games are digital downloads from steam. Only my pile of beloved board games continues to grow. It should be noted here that digital board games are making great strides; the versions of Small World and Ticket to Ride for the iPad are nothing short of phenomenal. The days of the analog board game might in fact be numbered along with everyone else.

My favorites? That’s easy:

  1. Ticket to Ride
  2. Dominion
  3. Agricola
  4. Fresco
  5. Stone Age

Of those, I would recommend the first two as gateway games to ensnare casual gamer types, but the final three are pretty involved and should be reserved for people with more experience in the genre. What games do you enjoy most? I’d love to know, even if it turns out to be Monopoly after all.

This entry was posted by David Winchester.

6 thoughts on “Board Games: Welcome to my Closet

  1. I love that your blog explores all of your facets of nerdy interest. I also love board games but have found my niche in co-op based rules. I’m a sore loser and an even worse gloater when I win.

    Arkham Horror, Islands, Pandemic etc. are my go-to games but if my friends can stand me I’ve been really into Cosmic Encounter, Gosu, and Wiz Wars.

    • First, Welcome to the blog. I hope that you continue to enjoy these posts as much as I continue to enjoy writing them, Second, that is a well chosen array of games; though I have not played all of them (Gosu, Wiz Wars,) I have enjoyed all the rest.

      I think one of the really great things about Euro Games is that there are co-op modes at all. It really does a good job of uniting the group instead of dividing it.

      • Play GOSU, I think you’ll appreciate the uniqueness, and the art if nothing else. As far as co-ops I love them as well. Forbidden island, and Defenders of the Realm are great.

  2. I don’t believe the “analog” boardgame will ever fully disappear. There is a fond majesty in the tactile connection we get from rolling dice or flipping a card or moving a peg/piece around the play field.
    Though it’s only a penny for your thoughts, that’s my two cents.

    • Well, I personally hope it never does, but 10 years ago similar comments might well have been made about books, and today the writing is on the wall; in another decade they will be boutique item for the wealthy, the old, and the specialized. All things have value, and while I love my well used (at least 200 games and counting) copy of Ticket to ride, I also love the iPad version at 1/4 the cost. Toss in a table sized version for the whole family in a few years, and I might be a believer.

      Regardless, welcome to the blog, Joe – I look forward to further thoughts and commentary.

      • It’s true. While I can’t say that I haven’t bought a paper book in over a year (there have been a handful), I can say that with few exceptions, I have pretty much given up on print. That said, until “Surface” becomes ubiquitous, I do see ‘analog’ board games keeping a strong foothold. Hell, if anything, it seems like they’ve had a resurgence in recent years…

        Judging by my FLGS, I’d say there is a bit of a board game renaissance happening. And I’ve never seen a group huddling around an iPad….

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