essential board games

I know I talk a lot about board games, but I’ve never talked about which ones are actually good starter games for anyone interested in building a modern board game collection. So what games do you need? In no particular order, here’s my list:

  • Ticket to Ride (Europe): Ticket to Ride is considered by many to be as dominant in modern gaming as Monopoly is in “classic” gaming. There’s a good reason for this. It is a great game, particularly to play with people who don’t game very much. It is a gentle strategy game that is easy to learn, and it is often a “gateway” game, leading people to explore more games. Players try to build railroads across a map by collecting cards (yeah, that’s pretty much it). I like the Europe edition because of the slight extra complexity given by ferries and tunnels.
  • Carcassonne: Carcassonne is one of the original modern board games. Players build the board by laying tiles that create cities, monasteries, roads, and farms. There are lots of expansions to this game, but the base game is great. It uses meeples (miniature people), which are rather iconic. Players have to make decisions about how to use their meeples, whether to farm and play the long game or go for quick points. It’s a good worker placement game, and another great intro to modern gaming.
  • Dominion: This is the classic deck-building game. You can get really into it and get a bunch of expansions, or you can stick with the base game, which is a fine addition to a collection. It’s a good intro to these kinds of games. On each turn, players take an action and buy a card. The cards give modifications to these two things, so players build their decks. And hence, it is a deck-building game. An excellent example of one.
  • Pandemic: This is a great cooperative game, in which players try to save the world from giving in to disease. Players use their turns to treat disease, share knowledge, and cure disease. I played this again recently, and I realized that it might not be the best game for introducing people to games. If some people are really experienced in gaming, they can dominate this one, using all the players’ actions without consulting those players too much. But it’s great if you’re all learning, or if you know how to play, and it’s become a standard.
  • Splendor: I think most people have bought this game after they’ve played it with us. And then people who play it with those people buy it too, so I should pretty much get pyramid-scheme rights to profits of this game. Players buy cards with gems on them, some of which have victory points, and all of which make it easier to buy further gems. It’s a straightforward game, very easy to learn, and fun to play.
  • Love Letter: Players have a hand of one card, and at the end of a round, the person with the highest card gets a love token. Each card has special abilities, whether it is looking at another player’s hand, forcing a player to discard their hand, or protecting your own card for a turn. Very easy to pick up, and there are so many themes out there that you can pretty much pick your fandom. I carry this around in my purse, but don’t play it too much when we’re out, which is a bummer. Great filler game, to play while you’re waiting for people to show up or as a palate cleanser after a heavier game.
  • Hive: This is an excellent two-player game, heavy on strategy, but with enough variation to make it fun. You try to surround your opponent’s queen bee with bugs, by either placing them or moving them. Get the pocket edition – there’s no need for the full-size one. Because this game is designed specifically for two players, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything when you don’t have multiple people around.
  • Tsuro (of the Seas): This plays up to 8 people, so it’s good for a larger group. With Tsuro of the Seas, you can play classic Tsuro, or you can add daikaiju (sea monsters). Players try to be the last one standing, by placing tiles on a board and moving their ship along a path. If you go off the edge of the board, you lose. Pretty straightforward, but plenty of strategy involved, and the daikaiju add a fun risk element to it.
  • Five Tribes: This game is kind of worker placement meets mancala. I haven’t encountered another game like it. Players take turns picking up meeples from the board and placing them down like mancala shells, and then taking actions allowed by the meeples and tiles they land on. It’s a fantastic game, one that I consider essential for a board game collection, though it is a little heavier than some of the others here.
  • Munchkin: Munchkin is pretty classic now. It’s a play on D&D, giving more structure and creating additional competition. Players try to defeat monsters, get treasure, and gain levels through experience. There are a lot of different themed Munchkin games. The play is similar from theme to theme, so choose your favorite fandom! We have Adventure Time Munchkin. It’s pretty great.
  • Patchwork: This is another great two-player game, with a little more luck than Hive. Players build a quilt out of pieces of different sizes. It’s got a bit of a tetris element, in that players need to have some spatial reasoning. It’s a fantastic game that is cute and balanced, and I’ve found that people enjoy it whether they are quilters or not. 🙂

You may be wondering where Catan and 7 Wonders are on this list. While they are excellent games, they seem superfluous to an essential collection. Most people have them, so if you’re late to the gaming hobby, you’re bound to have friends who have them. Then again, if everyone took my advice, no one would have them, so, you know, whatever.

A future post will talk about what games you need if you already love these games!

insecurity and bravery

My husband won’t sing in front of me. He’s taking voice lessons with a great teacher (Tyler Kofoed, if you’re interested), and he says he’s getting better, but he won’t sing for me. Part of it is intimidation, because I’ve been taking lessons and just singing a lot longer, but part of it is massive insecurity and not wanting to reveal that he’s not great at something. I didn’t realize it was actually a thing until he nearly had a panic attack after he almost got up the nerve to let me warm him up the other day.

He calls me brave. It’s not a word I generally claim, because I think I would back down from a physical altercation, and I’m not sure I would rush into a burning building to save cats. But in some ways, I am brave. I ignore the part of my ego that cares what other people think, and when I want to do something, I just don’t give a damn about other people.

Take climbing. It had been over ten years since I last went climbing (indoors, but still). Ten years and, oh, 50-60 pounds. My harness didn’t really fit anymore. Did you know that shoes feel tighter when you’ve gained that much weight? But I decided to go climbing at a gym here with a friend. We started with bouldering (stupid idea, but I didn’t have a harness that fit), and I fell off the wall. Many times. At one point, I fell on my way walking to the wall. Yeah. I shut down the part of me that said I was too big and clumsy and weak and lazy and all manner of bad things, and I made some progress. And then a little more the next time. And when I finally got a harness that fit, I got a little ways up a wall a few times. And then more. And now, I’m still not very good, and not very strong, but I’m getting better each time, and no one has even tried to say that I’m too big to climb, or anything negative at all.

I’m really insecure about most everything. I know I’m smart, but I’m not doing big, important things with it. I know I’m a good musician, but I’m not in top-notch ensembles. I know I’m kind and funny, but I’m sometimes unsatisfied with my friendships. I could create a very long list of the things that I am insecure about, but you get the idea. My pride and my bravery and very closely related to my insecurity. It comes from deciding that my life would be better for having tried something, or for letting something go, than to stick with the old ways of doing things. And once I decide that, the external naysayers get the same treatment as the internal naysayers: I ignore them, or, at least, try to ignore them.

indispensability and value

I had a realization when I started my current job: I don’t want to be indispensable.

For a very long time, I wanted to be indispensable, where things would come to a halt if I weren’t there or if I hadn’t left detailed instructions behind. I wanted to be so important to a company or a project that work absolutely required my expertise and my presence. I thought that was a sign of value, that it meant I mattered.

But now, I don’t want to be indispensable. It seems to be a sign of arrogance to the point of irresponsibility and disregard for the well-being of an organization to be indispensable. I want to be valued and to train others to do my job, so that I have the freedom to take a vacation, or even (gasp) leave, somewhere down the road. I care about the team I’m on and want them to succeed, with or without me. What I want is to be valued, to be respected for the skills, knowledge, and ideas I bring, and to be regarded as a positive force on our team.

However, we have a new tester on our team, and I’m training her. Though I know I really want her to succeed and be a partner with me, I still feel a little threatened, like… I’m no longer required. Even though I’ve been thinking these ideas, about the tension between indispensability and value, and coming to regard them as separate concepts, I still feel like they are the same thing, like the best way to be valued is to make myself indispensable.

I actually talked with the new woman about this, so that she understands that if I start to sound a bit territorial or a bit fussy, it’s not about her, but about me, and she’s welcome to confront me about it. We’ll see how I react if she does confront me. 🙂