It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of playing board games. A good board game can be played hundreds of times and fill countless evenings with family and friends. A good board game can make you think and make you laugh. A good board game makes a great gift, too, and they can often be found at a pretty nice price if you’re patient and wait for sales.
Readers often write to me with mailbag questions related to boardgames, particularly focusing on how to start a board game night. The first step, of course, is to have a good but straightforward and, ideally, inexpensive game. Here are seven such choices (beyond the many games you can play with an ordinary deck of playing cards, of course).
In Forbidden Island, each player is an explorer of an island, which is represented on the table by a set of double-sided tiles. Hidden on this island are four treasures. Your goal is to find the treasures and get off the island, and each turn you can make a certain number of moves to try to do this. One problem, though: random sections of the island are sinking, so you may have to use your moves to shore up the sinking areas and make sure there’s still paths to the treasure. As time goes on, the island sinks faster and faster.
The game is cooperative, meaning all players are working together to try to defeat the scenario, and the setup is randomized with different difficulty levels. It has very nice components and comes in a nice tin to boot. This makes a good choice for a couple, a pair of couples, or a small family (up to four adults and children).
$14.99 at Amazon.com
Deductive social game with a mild sci-fi theme
15 minutes to play, 5 to 10 players
Similar, but with a bit more depth/complexity: Battlestar Galactica (both involve hidden roles and a sci-fi theme)
In The Resistance, each player receives a secret card at the beginning of the game. Most of the cards are blue, meaning you’re trying to work together to win the game. A few of them are red, which means you’re trying to secretly undermine the other player’s efforts. The game is played through secret cardplay using a very clever and simple ruleset that allows clever blue players to guarantee mission success and clever red players to undermine the missions.
This game is semi-cooperative, as you might imagine, and it plays very quickly and is easy to teach. This works well for larger groups, as you might imagine with five as the minimum number of players.
In Battle Line, two players sit across from each other with a line of nine flags between them. The goal for each player is to either capture five of those flags or three flags in a row. You have a hand of seven cards (the cards are rather similar to ordinary playing cards). On your turn, you play one of those cards on your side of any of the nine flags, then draw a card to replace it. To capture a flag, you have to assemble a better three card poker hand at that flag than your opponent has at the same flag.
This game is fast playing and very easy to teach, but it requires a lot of thought. It’s a wonderful two player game for a couple looking to dip their toes into playing games and want something a little deeper than rummy.
The heart of Citadels is the role cards. The game comes with a set of eight role cards that each have a number and describe a particular in-game ability (including the ability to “assassinate” another role). Each round, the starting player takes this stack of role cards, randomly puts one of them face down on the table, then chooses from the remainder. He passes the rest to the person on his left and the cards go around the table until everyone has a role, with the final card (or two) placed face down on the table next to the first one. Numbers are then called out in order, with the player having the role card with that number revealing it, using that ability, and playing their turn.
The game is a little complex, but the intrigue and guessing from the role cards makes Citadels into an amazing experience. This is a great group game that I find enjoyable with any group of four to seven or eight players that are at least ten years old or so.
No Thanks! comes with a deck of cards numbered 3 to 35 and a pile of chips. At the start, each player has eleven chips. One of the cards is in the center of the table and, on your turn, you can choose to put a chip on that card or take the card (and all of the chips that have been placed on it). Your goal is to accumulate the fewest points in cards, but when cards form a straight (say, 13, 14, 15, and 16), you only count the lowest card in that straight. So, the goal is to build the smallest possible number of straights. At the end of the game, you count up the value of your cards and straights, subtract the number of chips you have left, and the person with the lowest total wins!
This game is wonderfully light and straightforward, perfect for a light game with friends or family. There’s just enough risk taking and clever choices to keep it interesting, while the rules make sure the game stays very simple.
Love Letter is a tiny game – just sixteen special cards and a handful of cubes. When you play the game, you shuffle the sixteen cards and give one to each player. On your turn, you draw a card from the remaining cards and play one of the two in your hand. The cards have varying abilities, but mostly they eliminate other players based on the single card they’re holding. If you’re the last person standing, you get a cube, then you reshuffle the cards and play again. The first person to get a set number of cubes is the winner.
This game is also very light and enjoyable. It’s very tiny, meaning it fits great in a pocket, and it can be taught in just a moment or so. Even so, there’s a lot of deduction and bluffing involved in playing it well.
Currently out of print, but should return later this year with a price around $15
A clever card game of bluffing and deception
20 minutes to play, three to five players
Similar, but with a bit more depth/complexity: Cosmic Encounter (both involve hidden roles and bluffing)
Much like Love Letter, Coup is a tiny game – it consists of just fifteen cards and a handful of chips. At the start of the game, each player receives two cards face down. On those cards (which remain face down for the whole game) you’ll find a single role, such as Merchant or Assassin. Each player takes a turn in which they can either just take chips (which are money in this game), use the chips to attack another player, or use the ability of their role. Here’s the trick – you can blatantly lie about what role you have. If another player calls you on it and you’re lying, you lose one of your cards. If you’re not lying and you’ve been called, you lose one of your cards. The last person standing with at least one face down card is the winner.
This is a great game of bluffing and deception with some deduction involved as well. If you like a lot of bluffing and some good stories to tell from your games, give this one a try.