12 September 2007

Board Gaming

I've never really mentioned here my lifelong abiding love for board games. I suppose it started with Scrabble, Chess, Monopoly and Risk with my dad and brothers when I was in my pre-teens. There were dozens of other games, but mostly flavors of those four (Hotels, Solarquest, Sorry, Castle Risk, Dead Stop, Trivial Pursuit, Clue, and Save the Whales were highlights). Once I hit twelve or thirteen, I'd started playing Talisman and Lost Worlds with my friends from school. Talisman was my first fantasy board game, and the first game I'd played with add-on expansions. My complete Talisman 2nd Edition contains The Adventure, The Expansion, Timescape, City, Dungeon, and Dragons, plus some custom cards published in White Dwarf Magazine. I suppose it's worth a pretty penny on eBay, but I'd never sell it. Same goes for my complete Talisman 3rd Edition, with City of Adventure, Dungeon of Doom, and 3-D Sorcerer's Tower expansions. (Talisman 4th Edition comes out this fall. Supposedly they are adding some rule changes to make it more fun for adult gamers (Talisman can drag a bit), so I'll be sure to get it.)

During my senior year of high school, I started playing serious Scrabble with some friends, and I've been playing that regularly at a high level for over 15 years now, along with the occasional Boggle session. The wife won't even consider playing with me. In college, I dabbled with Dungeons and Dragons, but I never really became a big fan.

My real eye-opener was when I moved to California in 1999 and played Settlers of Catan at my buddy Kaleb's place. Settlers is considered among the first of a new vanguard of adult board games, mostly German in origin, that combine relatively simple play, a healthy amount of luck, and fairly complex strategy into a 60-90 minute timeframe. Settlers and its various expansions and alternate versions (Seafarers, Cities and Knights, Stone Age, Starfarers, etc.) were my games of choice for a few years, and I infected friends in several states with them. Then I read an article in the LA times about "new" board games, including Settlers and another newly-popular game called Carcassonne.

The Game Keeper at the Westside Pavilion was closing down for good, and they had a stack of Carcassonne Limited Editions (which included the Inns & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders and The River expansions). So we got a copy and took it for a spin. Another rock star of a game. Extremely simple to learn, but with infinite variability in strategy. This was followed by other expansions and flavors (Castle, City, Discovery, Hunters & Gatherers, etc.), but none of them really measured up to the original, which remains a masterpiece of casual gaming.

In the last two years, having moved back to the DC area where some of my more adventurous gamer friends live, I've added Tigris and Euphrates, Puerto Rico, Anno 1503, Tikal, Caylus, and Lost Cities to my repertoire. All excellent; all vastly different. Puerto Rico doesn't even have an actual board. Thanks to Board Game Geek, I'm never short of inspiration regarding what game to play next, and for the ~$30 these games cost, it's a cheaper night than a movie, and a far better way to spend precious time with friends. It makes buying birthday presents for me pretty easy for my wife (you get free shipping from online game companies once you spend $125 or so).

So what prompted this post? Last weekend I played Ticket to Ride: Europe for the first time. Holy crap that's an awesome game. The innovation these game designers show never ceases to amaze me.

Go out and play a game. Next up: Power Grid (are you reading, wife-o-mine?).

Looking for recommendations? Look no further.
  1. Settlers of Catan (2-4 Players, 2-6 with Expansion)
  2. Carcassonne (2-5 Players)
  3. Puerto Rico (3-5 Players)
  4. Ticket to Ride (2-5 Players)
  5. Tikal (2-4 Players)
  6. Starfarers of Catan (3-4 Players, 3-6 with Expansion)
  7. Settlers of the Stone Age (2-4 Players)
  8. Tigris and Euphrates (2-4 Players)
  9. Caylus (2-5 Players)
  10. Lost Cities (2 Players)

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