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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!

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