Where Do You Get All These Games?
An Introduction to Contemporary Board and Card Games
by Mike Petty
Part II: Starting With The Essential Titles
Are you interested in discovering this fascinating new style of games so many have never heard of? Are you looking for a unique gift for someone who likes games? Well, one of the biggest problems with stumbling upon all these great games is that it's hard to know where to start! In my previous article I attempted to describe these games in general. For those more interested in knowing the best titles to start with, though, the following lists will be much more helpful. While the list leaves out many excellent games, it will provide a more than sufficient starting point for anyone who wants to sample the new trends in gaming that I'm highlighting in these articles.
I'm giving just a brief overview of each game along with an explanation of why I've chosen it here. Be sure to click the link to the game page at Fair Play to find out complete information about any of the games.
Family Games and Light Strategy Games
Settlers of Catan - I might as well start with this one, since it's the game so many of us discovered first. The game was released in 1995. It was selected for the Spiel des Jarhes award in Germany that year, which is the prestigious "Game of the Year" award in that country. Along with it's many expansions, it has sold over 6 million copies worldwide, which is phenomenal for these types of games.
In the game, players gather and trade resources. They use these resources to found settlements and cities. It has enough strategy, luck and negotiation to keep just about anyone interested. The original game is for three or four players, but expansions allow for up to six players to take part. Other expansions provide many other variations on the basic system. I can say with complete certainty that if you were going to buy only one game to get a feel for German games, Settlers of Catan is the place to start. It's been our top seller at Fair Play all along and nothing else comes close!
Carcassonne - Carcassonne is a tile-laying game where players form a growing arrangement of cities, roads and farms. Like Settlers, it won the Spiel des Jarhes the year it was released and has spawned many expansions. The goal is to score the most points through wise placement of tiles and small wooden "followers". While there's room for strategy, there's also enough luck of the draw present to keep younger players and casual gamers in the game. Another big plus is that it's for two to five players. Last but not least, you can get the basic game for less than $20.
Apples to Apples - This is our best-selling party game. If you're looking for strategy, keep reading down the list! If you want fun and laughs, though, Apples to Apples will do the trick. It's a silly game of comparisons where everyone plays noun cards that are described by the adjective card for the round. The unexpected pairings of cards makes for the hilarious surprises. It comes in basic sets for adults or children. It also has many expansion decks as well as collections of several of these expansions in one package.
Time's Up - Many have claimed this is the best party game available. Players compete as teams to guess celebrity names from cards. If that doesn't sound too original, don't worry. Each round players use the same cards, but the cluegivers are limited each time in what sort of clues they can give. In the last round you can't say anything! Again, this game comes in a basic set and expansion cards are available.
Lost Cities - I alluded to this card game in my first article as an excellent example of a good game with a "tacked on" theme. Ok, there's not a lot going on here that has to do with digging up lost civilizations, but it's always good for a tense, two-player battle. After you read the simple rules, you'll most likely scratch your head wondering what fun it will be. One play will reveal, though, it has that classic "German game" quality offering tough choices on each turn. It's worth mentioning that Lost Cities is one of many two-player card games from a series published here in the US by Rio Grande Games. If you like this one, there are plenty more to discover!
The Gipf Series - If you enjoy abstract strategy board games like chess, you'll want to check out each of the five games in this series-Gipf, Zertz, Tamsk, Dvonn and Yinsh. Each one is highly original and stands on it's own as an eye-catching, deep strategy game. By using expansion sets, though, the games can actually be "linked" together in various ways, so that a session of one game may bring one or more of the others into play. If you're not interested in buying all five right away, you could start with my personal favorites from the series, Zertz and Yinsh.
Light, Social Games
Bohnanza - Here's an interesting concoction-a negotiation game about farming beans! Trading abounds throughout this game, making for little time where players have nothing to do. There are a few odd rules, like the one where cards have to stay in the order they were dealt in the players' hands. Once everyone gets the hang of it, though, this novel game will keep them hooked. It's an excellent example of how cards can be used in new ways to force interesting and sometimes tricky choices.
Category 5 - This is a new version of the German classic 6 Nimmt. It uses a "blind bidding" mechanic where players play their cards facedown, then reveal them simultaneously. Like the classic card game Hearts, the goal is to avoid taking cards, but this is not a trick-taking game. Instead, the rules to this game are surprisingly simple, yet the tension involved makes for lots of surprises and great fun. This one is perfect for a group that's wary of trying a new game. It's light and fast, yet entertaining enough that you may just hook them for life!
Puerto Rico - Released in 2002, Puerto Rico has rocketed up near the top of Fair Play's all time best sellers. Many would argue this is the best game in this category. It's highly strategic and it has a fair number of rules to keep straight, so it isn't for the casual gamer! With so many original and involved mechanics, it's hard to summarize gameplay here. Suffice it to say it presents players with many possible strategies as they strive to develop cities. From resource production, to construction of useful buildings, timing is everything. If you're looking for something that's highly original and competitive, Puerto Rico is a sure bet.
El Grande - This winner of the Spiel des Jarhes in 1996 has players battling for control of regions of Spain. With its many wooden bits and engaging play it's sometimes deemed the perfect example of the German game. Several great resource management mechanics are combined with random card offerings, making each game a unique challenge. This title may be going on ten years old, but it will still seem revolutionary to anyone who calls Axis and Allies or Risk a multi-player strategy game!
Other notable games
The Mystery Rummy Series - Mike Fitzgerald has brought us a great treat with his growing series of rummy variants. Offering plenty of strategy and familiar themes, they make a great transition game for fans of traditional card games. The current games in the series are Jack the Ripper, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld.
Citadels - This is a very entertaining card game of bluffing, strategy and betrayal. There is very little to compare this highly original game with, so you may have to play it to fully understand it's charm.
The Lord of the Rings Boardgame - Fans of the movie trilogy will be glad to know a quality boardgame has been developed by one renowned German game designer. Players, taking on the role of hobbits, work together as a group against the random game system to destroy the One Ring. Expansions are available that add twists, including one that lets a player control the dark forces of Sauron working against the band of hobbits.
Ticket To Ride - This great family game about linking train routes across the US just won the Spiel des Jarhes in 2004. It looks great and works very well for young and old alike.
If that list seems overwhelming, just wait! There are actually hundreds of other great titles awaiting anyone who wants more. If you're wondering where all these games come from, that's what I'll focus on in the next article in this series. I'll feature the some of the best known designers and a few of the best publishers who are creating these great games for us to enjoy.
Other articles in the series "Where Do You Get All These Games?"