Monday, May 4, 2009

Games for beginners

Navigating the seas of the board game world can be a tricky one. There are literally thousands of game out there with different themes, rules, from all sorts of companies. To an outsider it can either seem like a bizarre and overwhelming world better left to the experts and serious hobbyists, or it can be a tempting invitation into a fascinating realm of social enjoyment. Clearly, I prefer the latter definition but the first one is not without merit, especially the overwhelming aspect. So, I offer up a couple of games for the novice board gamer to get their feet wet.

Settlers of Catan has received numerous accolades as a spectacular game and is often credited as the flagship product for the burgeoning introduction of board games into the mainstream (especially in the U.S.). It’s all true. The game is not just very fun, but also an excellent gateway to the world of strategy games. It’s the pot of board games. The theme of the game is simple; players are settlers on a recently discovered island competing with one another to develop the land and generate resources. Like all the good games it is easy to learn but also continues to hold the interest of more experienced players, which makes it great as a learning game since everyone can get into it. It also introduces some of the basics of board gaming; resource harvesting and managing, planning for the short and long term, recognizing trends and fluctuating values, and developing an endgame strategy. Even with newer players the game shouldn’t take more than an hour, so it is frequently easy to convince people to sit down and play it, which is often a hurdle for some. Additionally, the game has numerous expansions so it is also great to grow into should you find that it’s the right game for you and your group.

Another game that I would recommend for inexperienced players is the cutthroat game of backstabbing and treasure hording, Munchkin. Unlike Settlers, Munchkin is a card game which sets it into a different genre. Though it’s really just like a board game without the board. Thematically Munchkin is in the world of fantasy adventure, that is to say it shares a theme with Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately, that appears to be a turnoff for some, but if they can get past that a great game awaits. Players fight monsters, gain powers and treasures, and try to fend off their fellow players and win the game. It’s the last aspect that makes it so much fun and engaging. A big aspect of the game is the ability to hinder other players as much as you can aid yourself. This is great for keeping players involved since you can act even on the turn of another player. I will caution that if the people you game with take things very personally than this may not be the game for them. Munchkin is also quick paced, though it tends to drag when more than four players are involved. And like Settlers, it has a bunch of expansions that add tons of new cards to the mix.

There are also many great resources available on line to get suggestions for games and to read reviews.


Dan said...

Back in High School we enjoyed an Avalon Hill game called Kingmaker. It was loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, and the idea was to get your preferred royal pretender crowned at Westminster Abbey. I don't quite remember all the rules, but you could summon parliament, which was an annoying way of making all the players best nobles return to a certain spot on the board, and hire reinforcements from Belgium and Wales. The combat involved matching numbers on a dice...but it seemed to work ok.

Fran said...

I've heard that Kingmaker is pretty cool, I should check it out. I do like the Avalon Hill games, but they are usually a bit rule heavy and time consuming so I'm not sure they are the best choice for newbies.

Dan said...

They can be painfully rule-dense. Every AH game had a scale on the side of the box like those thermometers on bottles of hot sauce that told you how complicated the rules were. Kingmaker was pretty a 2 or 3. I once bought a Napoleonic war game that was the maximum difficulty. The map/board was the size of my mom's living room. We never played it once; reading the rulebook was like reading a particle physics textbook.

Dan said...

Oh, and as far as games for beginners...hard to go wrong with Axis and Allies and the other MB war games like Fortress America and Shogun.

Risk is timeless, of course.