Board Game Bonanza

forbidden islandWell, not a bonanza, really, but my wife and I picked up Forbidden Island and Pandemic this weekend, and I’ve been researching other board games. We don’t have too many of the modern ones, as we’ve continued role-playing games over the years. A lot of the modern board games people rave about are sort of like “role-playing lite,” like Defenders of the Realm, and I figure if I want that feel I can just run a paper and dice role-playing game.

But there are scads of great looking modern games even apart from those. I’m most drawn to games with ancient civilization building and war themes, as you might expect, and other tactical games. I’ve heard wonderful things about Tigris & Euphrates for years but haven’t picked it up — I don’t imagine my wife would like the conflict aspect of it. (One of the reasons I have gotten into solitaire games is that I can play tactical scenarios that way.)

pandemicMy wife is drawn to co-ops, some of which look pretty cool, and I spent some time Friday night and Saturday morning reading through scads and scads of reviews, trying to narrow things down. Was there a lot of conflict? Did it scale well from 2-4 players? I wasn’t interested in just the review score, but WHAT was said, and the biases of the reviewer.

Anyway, now we have two new games in the house, and we discovered that the nearby game store (hard to believe, but there’s actually a cool store on our side of town!) allows you to check out a used game for 5 dollars for a week to see what it’s like, so we can try out Castles of Burgundy or Agricola or a host of others. If any of you out there have any suggestions, I’m all ears.

I was just reading a review of the co-op Freedom: The Underground Railroad while I finished breakfast. It looks good. It put me in mind of a book I read and re-read when I was a little boy of 6-8, about Harriet Tubman. I loved that book. Great atmospheric pictures and evocative prose, although it was for younger children and some of the concepts weren’t entirely clear. For instance, for years I misunderstood what the underground railroad really was — I thought it was literal, and there had been this vast network of secret train tunnels underground, pulled by some cool ultra fast trains. Man, if the abolitionists had possessed that technology, it would have been all over…

12 Comments on “Board Game Bonanza

  1. Both great games! Especially if you’re both new to them — one potential challenge is if one person is more familiar with the mechanics, they can kind of take over.

    Takenoko is a really fun competitive game that works well with 2-4 players. Ditto Lanterns.

  2. So. Many. Good. Boardgames.

    Instead of leaving a huge list of favorites, I’ll just make note that the designer behind Pandemic and Forbidden Island also made a game called Forbidden Desert — another superb co-op with interesting mechanics and beautiful components.

    • I was THIS close to getting Forbidden Desert, for I saw the online consensus seemed to be that it was a slightly better game. But I spoke with a friend at the karate dojo right before we went to the game store, and he thought FD was a little less exciting than Forbidden Island. I thought we’d try one and if we enjoyed it, try the other.

      Right now I’ve just found Onirim and its companions, as well as Friday. I’ve ordered Onirim for my wife.

      How goes your writing, MK?

  3. Yeah, Forbidden Desert is great — possibly better than Forbidden Island in some ways, but I don’t say that to in any way denigrate Forbidden Island, which I really like.

    And apparently there’s some kind of Pandemic Cthulhu on the way? Which I assume will be thematically similar to Arkham/Eldritch Horror, but maybe a little less brutal?

    • I haven’t been sure I wanted to try the Eldritch/Arkham games. I saw enough characters die in the old Call of Cthulhu sessions we used to run in our gaming groups, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to re-experieince it as a board game. I assume it’s a little different…

  4. Hello Howard, I just found your website the other day and have been enjoying it a lot. (Big reader of sword and sorcery.) My wife and I are always searching for good two-player board and card games, and for a while Agricola was our favorite. One of the best things is that you can play it competitively (each going for your own high score) or cooperatively, where you are trying to get a combined high score. I find the theme of it–trying to make sure your subsistence-farming family doesn’t starve at the end of each year–really engaging.

    • Hi Caleb — welcome to the site!

      I’ve been hearing good things about Agricola for years, and it’s one of the things that the game store nearby (I can’t believe that there’s actually a cool store on the north side of my town!) carries in their library so that we can check it out for a few bucks before deciding whether or not we need to buy the somewhat expensive game.

  5. Hi Howard, over the past few years I’ve really gotten into board games (my apologies if due to this this goes a little long), so many good ones out there! I can give a few recommendations, but as tastes can vary substantially I’ll also point you to a few review sites that I’ve found quite helpful for seeing if I’d actually like a game before buying:, and Also Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop can be quite good.

    Castles of Burgundy happens to be my favourite game, with Pandemic being a serious contender. Currently playing through Pandemic Legacy, which plays the same but many of your choices and their effects change the rules/game board/components over a ‘season’ worth of content (~12-20 games), which I can’t recommend highly enough if you enjoy the regular game.

    (My thoughts on) Agricola: really good, solid amount of depth, but a lot to learn up front. Will probably take a game or two to learn.

    7 Wonders: scales well from 3 to 7 players, though I think it can be played with just 2. Each draft a mini civilisation from a hand of cards passed around each round. Not much conflict, but you can take moves that hinder (while not crippling) your opponents. There is military, but this at most this is of slight inconvenience to those around you.

    Kingsburg and Lords of Waterdeep: Check out if you end up enjoying Burgundy. Similar in that you largely focus on your own goals from a shared pool of actions.

    Love Letter: One I recommend to anyone, a little filler game that has a surprising amount depth for it’s size. A full game would probably be only 5-15 minutes, though it’s one that we’re often played into the wee hours of the night after wrapping up our main play session.

    Eclipse: I’m not overly into civ building games, this being the closest in my collection. Probably better contenders out there (despite how much I enjoy it), probably avoid if sci-fi or 3-4+ hour play times are turn offs for any of your regular group members.

    Other co-op games: haven’t played myself but Robinson Crusoe has good reviews.

    Partial co-ops:
    Battlestar Galactica: uses a traitor mechanic, where most players are working together but at least one (unknown to the rest) tries to sabotage their efforts. Good even if you have no familiarity with the TV show.

    Fury of Dracula: another one I haven’t played, but involves one person playing Dracula while the others try to hunt him down. Works somewhat like the bioterrorist in one of the Pandemic expansions, but hidden movement.

    • Hey Karl,

      Many thanks for the detailed information! I’ve read information on a lot of those, although I hadn’t heard of Love Letter or Eclipse. Castles of Burgundy and 7 Wonders have both got me curious, and I’d done some reading about both. I know that the local game store has a copy of Castles of Burgundy that I could check out to try playing, and I hope to do that soon… although so far we still haven’t managed to play the two new games we bought! The week nights and weekends have been busy.

      Is that Waterdeep game kind of a light RPG on a board, or is it more like Burgundy game play? I’m far more interested in the latter than the former. As I probably kvetched, if I want to get an rpg feel, I’ll just run a role-playing game, like I did last Saturday.

      Thanks again!

      • Hi Howard, Waterdeep is definitely the latter, no RPG elements at all (unless you bring them out yourself). It draws in theme from the Forgotten Realms universe, with it being set in the city of Waterdeep, and you’ll play as one of the characters from that location. However it’s theme only, not gameplay elements, so if need be theme can be discarded completely (I’ve played with groups who have no particular interest in fantasy at all, who’ve ended up really enjoying it).

        The mechanics of the game are fairly different from Burgundy (which is why I enjoy having both in my collection), but they share enough that I’d say they’d appeal to the same type of player. Burgundy’s main focus is the usage of dice to get tiles from the main board to build up your own kingdom. I rate it so highly because there’s not really any bad option no matter what you roll, just less optimal options for pursuing your own goals. There’s a little bit to cover from the start, but you can teach aspects as you go along (the specific buildings and knowledge tiles as they come out each round), and the core actions are simple enough to draw newcomers in while there still being enough depth/strategy to appeal to seasoned players.

        Waterdeep is similar in complexity, but probably slightly easier to learn. You play as one of the Lords, visiting different locations of the city of Waterdeep to gain favours/contacts so that you can send out adventurers to complete quests and build up your fame. Or to say the exact same thing without theme: you go to different spots on the board to collect resource cubes to complete missions to get victory points. There’s more to it than that, such as position management, some options to disadvantage or hinder others etc, but that’s the game in a nutshell.

        Should also say for the games I’ve mentioned: Love Letter, Pandemic, LoW all can be used as gateway games, with CoB and 7 Wonders not being far from this at all. Agricola, Kingsburg and Battlestar Galactica are more midweight games, with there being a fair bit to learn up front but are simple enough to play once the basics are known (strategy on the other hand…). Eclipse would be towards the heavier end of the spectrum, nothing daunting for those who have the interest, just a bit more of mental investment upfront to learn. But all of these can be learnt, enjoyed, and even played well from the first play.

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