We truly are living in the golden age of board games, and great new games are appearing on shelves every week. While many people have most likely heard good things about these new games, they are often intimidated by learning new mechanics and rules. The following is a guide to many different types of board games on the market today to help you and your family choose one that will be right for you.
First of all, there are a lot of great “gateway” games out there that are easy to learn and a lot of fun. The Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Courtier are all fun games that are relatively simple to learn and provide great experiences for family and friends. Once you've played some of these games, you might want to graduate to different and more complex games.
Let's start with card games. In the last year or so, the light card game has really taken off. The light card game uses only a relatively small number of cards (fewer than 20) and exploits the many options that are possible with the combinations. Light card games are quick to set up and play, and they usually feature some really intense competition.
Examples of light card games are Love Letter and Coup.
A big trend in the market today is deck-building games. In a deck-building game, players are given a starting hand of cards that is relatively weak, with each card boasting some kind of currency or power. More powerful cards are laid out on the table, and each player takes a turn “spending” his cards by discarding them into his personal pile in order to “buy” the more powerful cards from the table. These new cards, too, are placed in the player's individual discard pile. When his initial draw deck is empty, he shuffles his discarded cards and finds a more powerful deck. Some games allow players to attack other players with their cards and take other fun actions.
Examples of deck-building games are Dominion, DC Comics Deck-Building Game, Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game and Eminent Domain.
Some board games work a deck-building mechanic into game play. Essentially, the way you buy and use cards can affect the action on the board, allowing you to field more units, take more actions or play nasty tricks on your opponents.
Examples of board games with deck-building are For the Crown, Asgard's Chosen and A Few Acres of Snow.
Many board games feature a worker-placement mechanic. In a worker-placement game, players usually have one or more “workers,” usually a small wooden cube, disc or Meeple. A board features many spaces that offer specific actions or items. Each round, players take turns placing their workers on the spaces until they are all gone, and players may then use their actions or items to do the things they need to achieve victory.
Examples of worker-placement games are Lords of Waterdeep, Russian Railroads, Mercante and Caverna.
Light war games have been around for a while, but they, too, just keep getting better and better. Light war games are games that have a war theme and in which players engage in combat, usually dice- and card-driven. When one thinks of a typical light war game (distinguished from heavy war games, which attempt to offer more of a simulation of actual battlefield combat in a variety of ways), one usually thinks of the traditional game of Risk. Even Risk has taken a leap forward recently, however, with Risk Legacy, a game that evolves every time you play it and encourages players to make permanent changes to the board with stickers and markers.
Other examples of light war games are Axis & Allies, Memoir ’44, Conquest of Nerath, Friedrich, Twilight Struggle and Tide of Iron.
The last few years have seen the rise of the cooperative game. A cooperative game is a board game in which players work together against the game itself, usually powered by a card mechanic of some sort. This is a great kind of game for families and groups who don't really like competition. Most cooperative games tend to be difficult to beat, however, because if they were too easy they just wouldn't be worth playing.
Examples of cooperative games are Pandemic, Darkest Night, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Eldritch Horror.
A close cousin to the cooperative game is the hidden traitor/secret identities game. A hidden traitor game plays much the same as a cooperative game, though with an important twist. Though all of the players seem to be working together, one or more players is secretly a traitor and is working against the other players. The traitor wins only if the other players lose. These are really fun games, but they contain a healthy dose of paranoia, and you don't want to play these kinds of games with people who take in-game betrayal too seriously.
Examples of hidden traitor/secret identities games are Shadows Over Camelot, Battlestar Galactica and The Resistance.
A pickup and deliver game is just what it sounds like. Players move around the board, taking items from one space to another, usually in a race to get the most victory points. Many times, players are able to choose which items they will carry and where to drop them off, ensuring a lot of options throughout the game.
Examples of pickup and deliver games are Merchants and Marauders, Cinque Terre and Merchant of Venus.
Hidden-movement games have one player secretly moving about the board, which is usually a map of a city or country, while the others try to seek him out. These games are often very frustrating as the key player usually has many options to elude his hunters, but they also offer tense and thrilling moments as the hunters' ring tightens around their prey.
Examples of hidden-movement games are Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula and Letters from Whitechapel.
It used to be that a tape measure was standard equipment for miniatures games. Now, many miniatures games come with cool template or card mechanics that allow players to move their minis across the board and engage in combat. Miniatures games consist of small models, often airplanes, starships or figures, that duel it out with no need for a board. Miniatures games are a whole lot of fun because they bring a real toy factor to the table.
Examples of miniatures games are Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, Star Trek: Attack Wing, Wings of Glory and Sails of Glory.
Once you've played many of these games, you may decide to graduate to epic civilization-building games and grand adventure games. Typically, these are games that focus on many different aspects of play and sport different mechanics. These games take a long time to learn and a long time to play, but they offer some really unique excitement and truly legendary experiences.
Examples of some these heavier games include Twilight Imperium, Clash of Cultures, Mage Knight, War of the Ring, Space Empires 4x and Eclipse.
There are many great online resources that offer reviews and other information about these and other games. Tom Vasel and his crew at dicetower.com boast hundreds of board game reviews and some really great information on the board game industry. At boardgamegeek.com, you will find a wealth of information for virtually every board game ever created.
Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) hosts a YouTube series called Tabletop in which he and other celebrities play through many of these games. Closer to home, Trent Howell offers board game reviews from a family perspective here in Utah on his website The Board Game Family.
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The Salt Lake Valley alone boasts many great board game stores specializing in many of these niche games. Epic Puzzles and Games, Fongo Bongo Games, Game Haven, Game Night Games and Hastur Games & Comics all offer demo games that you can stop by and play in the store. This a great way to familiarize yourself with a game and make sure it's right for you before you buy it.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Centre Theatre and Off Broadway Theatre. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org