In a world where we now have the Oculus Rift, I expect to be laughed out of town for daring to mention this, but there is nothing that I like better than to sit down with my friends on a Monday night and get down to some good old-fashioned PG fun with a board game. Play mode: analogue.
Now, let’s get a couple of things straight: board games aren’t jigsaws for the elderly and they aren’t just to cure kids’ boredom on a rainy afternoon. Their function isn’t even to forge some kind of ‘family time’ once in a while after a warming home-cooked meal. They are for everyone, all the time, and, if you don’t think ‘traditional’ gaming is for you, then I happen to think you haven’t found the right game in the plethora of games that are available.
Sometimes have to explore to find what you’re looking for. You need to be intrepid, and that does not mean popping down to the local store to pick up Monopoly (1935) or Trivial Pursuit (1979). Whilst there is nothing wrong with these games, I think we can all agree that we have explored the possible game-play variations that they have to offer (if any) and they don’t feel new anymore. I remember being taught how to play Monopoly by my father (pre-Playstation) and it holding a mystery and magic (after years of perceiving the game as some sordid adult-only game, as if it were some pedestrian and more complicated version of Spin the Bottle.) But imagine trying to teach a kid how to play these days. Sadly I think that these youngsters may look for the ‘power’ button, gaze blearily at the board as if it were a museum artefact (which arguably it could be) and marvel at the toy money as the Tiny Tim-esque cousin of Bitcoin.
So, what do modern games have to offer? Apart from logical thinking, team work and learning how to be a good loser (all great for young and old minds alike) there is now, in case you’ve been under a rock, such a wide range in game genres, types of gameplay and of course – themes! Games are so much more immersive in the board game world than they used to be, and you still get to produce what Jane McGonigal coined as the ‘on the verge of an epic win’ face as you come to the realisation that you’ve nailed it.
Here are my top 3 recommendations (in no particular order because I hate that person who tries to get you to rate things, like, "Top 3 Beatles albums, go!’ Painful...):
1. The Stars are Right (12+)
Steve Jackson Games - www.sjgames.com/starsareright
Game time: 1 hour approx.
Klaus Westerhoff (a lot of talented game creators happen to be called Klaus) and illustrator Goomi have created a beautiful landscape that lets you play with the alignment of the stars. In this game, you get to summon ghouls and ghosts (who are very cute!) in order make the Great Old Ones return. You do this by matching patterns on the star alignments on the board with the ones in your hand for points. The challenge is that every move you make ruins someone else’s alignment and vice versa so it’s pretty frustrating but really fun to play with family or friends. The harder the alignments you go for, the better perks you get. This game seems simple but there are lots of possible paths to take in game-play which keeps it fresh and alive.
Sopio is card game (so not strictly a board game...) which was created by British YouTuber Alex Day and his cousin Danny Hooper in 2011. All of the cards are designed by the team and are usually pun based which is a feature that I really love. It is really simple to play in that you have to reach 1,000 points to win and the cards have plus and minus points attached to them. You can choose which cards to play on yourself or others but you must be careful as some of the cards have adverse effects or game-destroying consequences. This game can be for any age as the concept is simple, but the puns are likely to be lost on younger gamers. The lads have recently launched an App version of the game called King of Sopio. This is a lovely game for any time and is quick to play. I’m pretty sure you could easily develop this into some form of drinking game...
3. Settlers of Catan
Kosmos, designed by Klaus Tueber - www.catan.com
This German creation is probably making seasoned gamers groan at its inclusion on my list as, well, it is a classic. But, as it is a classic, in my opinion I needed to share this with as many people as possible as it is a game that has brought pure joy and addiction to many. You may have heard it mentioned in The Big Bang Theory, which may or may not have been good publicity!
Settlers of Catan is a game in which players are settlers looking to develop the holdings which they already have on the board (the island of Catan). Again, the concept is pretty simple. You must get a certain amount of points and you do so by building settlements and cities and chancing your luck by buying development cards. You can of course gang up on one player and destroy their chances, which is pretty fun, but playing the game as intended is also really fun. There is a range of expansion packs to buy when you feel like changing it up, but the ‘vanilla’ version is a true classic like Chanel No.5 (apparently...)
So, my message is, do! Do gaming, and do it the ‘traditional way’, not the way which is alone on a headset with your virtual friends (I have to interject and say that I do also ‘do’ computer games), but in a way which gives your brain a workout and puts your friendships to their ultimate test!