This holiday season saw many a board game played by me and mine, and I thought I would throw together a list of the best I played. Not the best I received. No no, because I haven't had time to play all the games that somehow managed to creep into our collection like roaches. That and a lot of the games that I enjoyed most belonged to other people.
Concept takes the classic "guess what is written on my card" party game, a la Catch Phrase or Charades, and adds an extra element of difficulty: you can only communicate your ideas through the use of predetermined concepts laid out on a board. These concepts are represented by pictures, and you can utilize them however you wish to attempt to get the other players to guess correctly. For example, you might have a bee. You would lay down tokens on Animal, Flying, Yellow, and Black. It is very simple, but the fun lies in watching your friends flounder and make angry faces at you as they give you clues that make so much sense to them but are complete gibberish to you. Classic.
This is a game in which you and your friends are wizards going through a tournament of Seasons... blah blah blah, the story is only there to justify you and your friends gathering elements and using those elements to summon creatures and items to help you become the most powerful wizard. And how do you tell who is the most powerful wizard? Well, each item or creature is worth points, but what it really comes down to is who has the most crystals. It's like you're magical drug dealers or something. The game comes with a huge selection of cards you might summon and absolutely colossal dice. Seriously, these things could kill someone if they aren't rolled with extreme caution. I did accidentally put a hole in our drywall when one took a bad bounce off the side of the table.
What better way to spend time with family members than by accusing them of being traitors to the crown? Avalon is a party game like the old timey Mafia game, where certain players are evil and it is the job of the good guys to figure out who they are, all while trying to keep their powerful good guy, Merlin, from being discovered. It can get heated, it can get out of control, but it will always be fun.
7: Arabian Nights
This game, I have a feeling, would be much higher on my list if I had the opportunity to play it more than once. But the one time I did was marvelous. It is a choose-your-own-adventure in board game form. You move around the board, draw a card, someone turns to the page the card dictates and reads the story, and then you choose how to react. No no, it is much more interesting than it sounds. See, you have skills that determine whether you can make a certain choice or not, or you might have magic items that give you a special choice, or maybe you have a certain status (there are tons like Accursed, Sultan, Wounded, Insane) that gives you an edge over the peril you are encountering. The stories are all wonderful and varied, and you really feel as though you are on a grand adventure with Aladdin or Sinbad or any of the wonderful characters of the 1001 Nights stories. And don't worry about exhausting the book; at least five forests were killed to bring you this game! Deforestation for the win!
6: Munchkin Smash Up
I love Munchkin. It almost ruined many a friendship. I love Smash Up. It almost ruined my marriage. Put the two of them together? It almost ruined my life. I love it.
5: King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo is a great way to cool off after a super competitive game of screw your neighbor such as Munchkin or Avalon or what-have-you. Sure, you are monsters battling over Tokyo, punching each other, unleashing your fire breath on each other, but more often than not you are doing that to every other player, not just one person, so it feels less harsh. The push your luck dice rolling really makes for some easy-to-grasp yet addicting gameplay.
Carcassonne is the perfect game to curl up in front of (but not too close to) a fire with a nice cup of hot cocoa and just build a peaceful, beautiful countryside together. Sure, it can be cutthroat when you are trying to attach your city to your opponent's to leech off their city like so many suburbs of today and they deftly deny your attempts at rezoning, but how can you get mad at someone when literally all they are doing is laying a tile? It's so beautiful you just HAVE to forgive them. It is such a soothing game.
So remember what I just said about soothing, peace, and all that? Rubbish. This game is subtitled The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game, keyword uncooperative. You'd think a game about acquiring cake would be a pleasant experience, but that is only if you have never played the board game's video game counterpart. This game is vicious. One game saw me incinerate my own test subjects along with my wife's cake in order to claim victory. Another saw my sister distract my test subjects with the Companion Cube <3 and kill off the last of hers with a turret. There is no game as uncooperative as Portal. Plus, it is hilarious. The game ends when a player runs out of test subjects in the lab, and the instruction manual is so helpful as to point out that the easiest test subjects to kill are your own. Or the fact that in the event of a tie, the players must each state their case in ten words or less and none of the words can contain the letter e. I'm not making this up.
Another party game, another frustrating exercise in communicating with apes. A spymaster from each team is attempting to get their players to contact their team's secret agents in the field, all represented by unobtrusive codenames such as Fire, Sphinx, Australia, and Knot. Hello, calling Agent Knot? Hello? Or are you tied up at the moment? Guffaw. The only thing the spymaster can say is a word followed by a number. The word is something that is related to the meaning of some of the names on the table, and the number is the number of names the word is referring to. For example, to try and get your team to guess Fire and Volcano, the spymaster might say Hot 2. The team might get Fire right away, but oops, the spymaster didn't see the word Jalapeño, and they guess wrong, giving the point to the other team. It is marvelous fun watching players talking themselves in circles, especially when members of the other team chime in, giving them perhaps nonsensical suggestions that don't make sense at first but then as you think about it yeah maybe Expedition could mean Expedia, traveling, gnome ah that's it gnome, spinning them in circles and making them second guess themselves until they don't know who first made the suggestion.
1: Ladies and Gentlemen
This one surprised me. I knew it would be fun: it's a game poking fun at Victorian stereotypes and gender roles. But I didn't think it would be THAT fun. You split into pairs, one person donning the persona of the Gentleman playing the stock market and one donning the dress and bonnet of the Lady whose goal is to... shop. And look beautiful. And hire servants. But to buy things, the Lady relies on the Man to do well in the stock market. And the Lady has to choose what to stock her shop with. And here's the part where this game will either be the worst experience of your life or the most fun since Kylo Ren showed us his lightsaber and we all geeked out over it: the game hinges on you fully playing your part. For example, the Ladies (be they played by male or female) are encouraged in the rules to gossip, flatter, or degrade each other. My Lady at one point remarked how one of her competitors was forced to get her clothes out of the dumpster because her husband didn't love her. I have never heard my wife talk like that before! If you can find people who will fully devote themselves to a game, this will be the best game you ever play. If the people you play with can't get into the game, you will still find yourselves playing a decent though not excellent game that seems almost insulting. But that's the point. Once you fully engage yourself in the world, you realize how ludicrous it is for these Ladies to be slitting each others' throats over earrings, how silly it is for the Gentlemen to be the ones who ultimately decide what the Lady does and does not buy (it is their money that they earned, after all). And it will be your favorite game.
Was Santa good to you this year? Were many tress sacrificed to satisfy your Christmas board game appetite? Let me know in the comments. If you like what you just read you can subscribe, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. All that socially media stuff. Feel free to email ideas on what you would like to see 2 To 4 Players blog about at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, Play On!