Because Few Things Are More Fun than Excavating Ancient Desert Civilizations (So Long As You’re Not Actually Dealing with Sandstorms and Sunstroke)

In which Emily encourages you to take a weekend to immerse yourself in all that’s new and exciting in the world of board games.

I’ve always liked board games. Even through those awkward years when I was too old to get excited about Candy Land but not yet old enough to wax pedantic about Scrabble, board games have always been a good way to while away an afternoon and engage in some friendly competition with siblings, friends, and passersby. Obviously, there’s quite a range of board games and quite a spectrum of strategy- and skill-levels: you can master Sorry! in about five minutes, while my sisters and I STILL make up rules for Risk because we haven’t yet gotten bored enough to read through the entire rule book. But somewhere between Sorry! and Risk, there’s an awesome category of board games that reward attention and strategy yet also understand that their primary purpose is amusement. And that category has fantastically expanded in the last couple years.

Having spent a considerable portion of TTLP’s December-January hiatus deep in the midst of a board game marathon, this week I want to recommend a couple of fantastic  games — and to encourage you to seek out one of these the next time you’re trying to think of something social but geeky to do on a slow weekend.

Ticket to Ride

Holy Nellie Bly, this game is fun. According to the box, it’s based loosely on Phileas Fogg’s adventures in Around the World in 80 Days, but that connection is tied more to a steampunky, 19th-century American aesthetic and less to game play. (Not that I’m complaining — the board and cards are GORGEOUS.) If you’re playing the USA version (different continents have different boards), you’re given a map of America that has a bunch of railways and major hub cities depicted on it. You’re also given destination cards which promise you varying amounts of bonus points if you manage to claim railway routes to connect cities with each other. Then you play a weird version of rummy, finding sets of cards so that you can claim your railways and connect your cities. Game play isn’t ostensibly difficult, but it’s complicated by the fact that 19th-century America only has so many railways, and your opponents are also trying to claim railways. And seriously — the board is steampunky and just beautiful.

7 Wonders

Having control of one of the ancient civilizations that birthed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Getting to decide whether to invest in cultural institutions, arts and sciences, or military might? Balancing trade, natural resources, and the desire to cement your legacy by building your Wonder? Seriously. If you don’t geek out about getting to be an ancient civilization, then you and I have vastly different ideas about what constitutes a fun afternoon.

Catan

At this point, Settlers of Catan (now apparently just called Catan?) is a classic — the first edition came out in Germany 21 years ago. But it’s also an awesome gate way for anyone curious about this new boom in tabletop games. If 7 Wonders is about building a civilization, Catan is about colonialism — or at least, about expansion into a new land. With roads, armies, resources, and a charming, honey-comb-shaped board, you compete against your fellow settlers to achieve the most stable, prosperous settlement on the uninhabited island. Like the rest of the games listed here, game play progresses according to both your decisions and the decisions of your opponents, so your strategy evolves and mutates from game to game and replay-ability is massive.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

(Seriously. I can’t get over just how gorgeous the artwork on these boxes and games is.)

Castles is basically The-Winchester-Mystery-House-Meets-Cinderella’s-Castle: The Game. Ludwig was a Bavarian king who built extravagant faux-medieval castles in 19th-century Germany. Now he’s commissioned you (and your competitors) to build him a new castle — and he’s got some weird requests. You work to build the castle that’s closest to his specifications while remaining within your means. Your competitors work to build better castles and to keep you from getting the pieces (rooms) that you most want. Everyone makes weird and elaborate floor plans for castles with three root cellars and five astronomy towers — or two conservatories and four dungeons — and the like.

Forbidden Desert

You and your compatriots are explorers and scientists looking for an ancient civilization in the desert — but your plane crash-landed! Now you have limited time to excavate the civilization and find its ancient fancy flying machine before you all die from a sand storm or dehydration. In this awesome game by the maker of Pandemic and Forbidden Island you have to team up with your fellow game-players to explore the desert, share water, and collect the scattered pieces of the ancient flying ship before the storm buries you or someone runs out of water. This game is surprisingly hard to win — but it’s SO smartly designed. You get the feeling that if you just logicked it out, you could absolutely figure out how to make everyone play their parts to get through the desert and win. (This one’s probably my favorite of the aforementioned bunch.)

Of course, there are dozens of other wonderful games — I recommended Dominion in one of our first posts, and there’s a whole new world of tabletop games ripe for exploration. But regardless of what you choose to play, take some time in the next week or so and enjoy getting overly competitive about fictional railroads and cities and towers.

Because few things are more fun than squabbling over which one of you has the best plan for getting to the airplane’s propeller before someone dies of dehydration.

Happy Gaming!

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