Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 26, 2010

From a Board Game Junkie: How to Spend a Rainy Day

By now my loyal readers have surely divined that I spend most of my time working in politics, writing about politics, or thinking about politics. This is true, however there is a second passion of mine that comes a close second.

I love board games. I love playing them, collecting them, learning new games, figuring out old ones. I love the dice, the pieces, the counters and cards. I own over 50-some games and have played over 200 in the last five years.
The board game industry has been one in constant flux. For decades the industry was dominated by the Parker Brothers style family games. Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Life, etc. Easy to learn, colorful games families would play together. This led to a solid connection in the public’s mind: board games were for children.
Conversely, card games have always been the domain of adults. Anything played with a deck of cards was approached with respect. Poker, Blackjack, Bridge, Cribbage, Rummy, all of these were acceptable games for adults, but if you placed a board in front of them there better be children around because that was a childish thing. You would never see the men-folk gather around and proclaim, “Let’s grab some beers and play us some Parcheesi, man!”
Then came the card game boom for children in the nineties. With the success of the Seattle-based company, Wizards of the Coast, a collectable card game called “Magic the Gathering” exploded across the country. A simple set of rules, two or more players played with fantasy-themed cards to build resources and destroy their opponents. This led to hundreds of copy-cat games. Suddenly, children were playing card games, further driving adults to movies, books and other forms of spending their time.
Enter a quiet little German game called “Settlers of Catan” in the early 2000s. Three or more players slowly build settlements on an island, acquiring more resources and eventually converting their settlements to cities to win the game. A combination of efficient economic planning and lucky dice rolling keep the game competitive while the ever-changing set up of the island makes it a different game each time.
This game became quite popular with adults in America. Something about the complexity, the strategy or the economics made it a hit. There was a market, and game designers have been cranking out some pretty high quality board games since.
So let me share with you a couple of my favorites. Recent weather flukes aside, we all know that May and June are pouring-down-rain season, and even a sunny day can be spent sitting in a park playing a game, so let’s take a look, shall we?
Arkham Horror! This game is based on H. P. Lovecraft’s series of horror novels. The players pick a 1920’s era character (the mobster, the professor, the jazz singer, etc.) and move through a Massachussetes town slowly being devoured by some ancient horror. Portals to other dimensions open, spewing monsters and other impediments in your path while you gather enough clue tokens to seal the ancient horror from coming through. It’s a cooperative game that feels like you are inside a cinematic movie. Very complex, very worth it.

Brittania! Imagine if Risk was made by history nerds and you are pretty darn close. This board game reenacts over 1000 years of history as the characters play the various tribes struggling for control over the British Isles. Play the Welsh, the Celts, the Norse or the Normans as they sweep through various provinces in England. Your goal is not so much to destroy your opponent but to hold the appropriate province at the appropriate time in history, scoring you points. Challenging but also very educational.

Carcassone! Technically a tile game, this rather simple game is two fold. First you slowly build a map of rivers, roads and castles. While you are doing so, you place your eight little workers on those very same roads and castles making them robbers, or knights. When you have finished building your castle, you get points from a job well done and take back your worker. This game is quick, only twenty minutes, but can be very challenging as you decide where to best use your men. The board slowly grows until you run out of tiles and total up your points.

Win, Place and Show! Here you create a whole horse racing track right in your living room. Little plastic horses are moved along the board and you bet on who is going to win based on the odds and previous wins. Its got a great mechanic that keeps the races different each time and is a wonderful party game, because one or two people can run the race while the rest chat and place bets. Very fun.

Fury of Dracula! Race all across Europe by train, boat or road, and try to catch the Prince of Darkness. Play the characters from the novel by Bram Stoker and try to catch one of your fellow players who is trying to spawn enough children to overwhelm Europe. A longer game (2-4 hours) but very exciting. Truly, a board game that treats its source material well, and is better for it.

Clearly, I could go on for a while, but I urge all of you who have not played a board game since your youth to go find yourself a copy of Settlers of Catan and play. You will find yourself challenged, entertained and hopefully, hooked.

Honorable Mention: Last Night on Earth, Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, Drakon and The Great Dalmuti.



  1. […] I have written about before, Bryna and I are huge board game fans. We own over fifty different board games, and regularly play […]

  2. […] next time you are considering a game to buy or play, consider one of these instead. It will save your game night from ending up just like these poor confused […]

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