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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