In late 2007 I wrote an article about the 11 Best Geek Board Games which has consistently been among the most visited pieces of writing I’ve ever done (averaging more than 75 people per day for 3 years). In re-reading that article the other day I decided that I needed to do an update with games I’ve come to love since then. I’m not sure how to classify these other than as “great”. Are they replacements for some on that list? Are they honourable mentions? Or are they simply an extension, taking my original list to 14? I can’t decide, so you be the judge.
I was introduced to this cooperative play game by David of Koko Tap Games. Simply put you and your friends are racing to try and stop the spread of disease around the globe. It’s devilishly hard and positively addictive. It’s one of those games that as you introduce someone to it they go out and buy their own copy. It’s not terribly complicated to learn, but it is hard to win at first. Often your team will win or lose by a single turn or round.
The On the Brink expansion adds some great new cards & team member abilities that correct a few minor flaws in the original, but most important it gives you petri dishes for your disease cubes. These are just plain cool and somehow these plastic circles add to the realism of the game in ways I can’t describe.
Games of Pandemic last about 1-1.5 hours for a team of four, but no one is ever left sitting idle. The team is most effective when they are discussing how best to use every single turn. Does the player get to move, or are they going to take actions that will benefit the efforts of some later turn? Perhaps you’ll have a player literally moving in circles on the board containing an outbreak before it spreads while the rest of the team runs off to find the cure on the other side of the globe.
Lastly, the game is never the same twice. Each team member is dealt one role from a set of a dozen. You could be a medic curing curing whole cities at once or a scientist who can discover cures more easily. Perhaps you’ll get to be the dispatcher who is able to move your team’s pawns around the board while you stay safely home or even an containment specialist who can cure disease as they move about the board on other errands. Regardless of your role, you’ll need to use it very carefully on every turn or else the world will die despite your efforts. That’s a heavy burden to bear.
On a side note, one of our favourite parts about this game comes as a result of babies and toddlers entering our lives. When getting together with friends to play, invariably there are kids and babies in tow to complement those who live here. In this game if someone needs to go put a child back to sleep, read a story, get a bedtime snack or change a diaper the other team members can simply play a teammate’s turn without interrupting the flow of the game at all. Sure, it’s not quite as fun for the person leaving the game for a few minutes, but at least the momentum of the party doesn’t crash and burn.
We lovingly call this game “beans”. It’s a very cheap, simple and easy to learn card game where the goal is to plant, farm and sell beans. The person who makes the most money by the end of the game wins. Sounds kinda boring right? Well, in reality it’s a lot more subtly challenging than that. First off you only have two bean fields, second you have to play the cards in your hand in the order you got them, and third you can’t pass your turn. Therefore, every time it’s your turn you need to take at least the first card from your hand and put it into play. This might mean up-rooting and selling a profitable crop before it’s prime or wasting a fledgling investment. Devious.
In addition to playing cards in turn, you need to ensure that two random beans from the deck are planted someplace (anyplace!) which sometimes means giving them away, and other times means bribing others to take things you really don’t want in your hand any more. These rules have led to what we call the “little brother clause” around our table. “If you WANT that card, then you NEED to take this one with it.”
The game moves quickly unless two players get into a dispute about the relative values of the cards being traded and haggle to death, but that can be avoided by picking the other players carefully. Moreover, there is enough randomness in the game to ensure that new players have at least a chance of winning their first time out, without driving veterans crazy with foiled plans for bean domination.
Lastly, with the provided rule adjustments Bohnanza works great as a two player game. This is a major bonus for most couples. When it’s hard to coordinate schedules with friends some times Bohnanza can scratch that burning gaming itch easily.
This game wins the award for most well traveled board game in our collection. It joins us on almost every trip to the cottage, to game nights and family gatherings.
Odds are that if you’re a gaming enthusiast then you’ve heard of Ticket to Ride. It’s increasingly becoming mainstream and I’ve spotted it in department stores on more than one occasion. If you haven’t heard of it, then here is a quick summary for you.
You’re a turn of the century rail tycoon. You have accepted a number of contracts to build rail lines connecting certain cities throughout Europe and Asia. You want to block your competitors from completing their lines without at least using you as a connection, and you only have a limited amount of resources and time to do it.
The mechanics of Ticket to Ride are very simple. There is a large deck of coloured cards which act as your building resources. You collect sets of cards matching the colour segment you want to build then on your turn you discard the set and build your train. Sometimes you collect two blue cards, sometimes 8 yellow ones. Points are awarded for completing contracts, using long-haul routes and having the longest contiguous route. There is no trading and any action a player can take on their turn is very short. In the early game it’s not unheard of to have 2 or more turns per person per minute.
Lastly, many of the extra rules that adults play with can be removed from the game when kids are involved. Don’t want to play with the rule for building tunnels (includes a 1 in 3 chance of failure)? Simply treat them as overland routes (and ignore geography). Kids don’t like the “longest route” rule? Remove the 10 bonus points for it. Kids can’t read? remove the contracts and simply collect matching colour card sets and build random segments on the board. With Ticket to Ride you can either have a cut-throat strategic tycoon game, or you can have Candy Land with trains (and anything in between).
A combination of the kids and adults rules leads to the drunken tycoon or saboteur. The adults all play with the full rule set while the kids just collect colour sets and build random segments when they can. This regularly blocks the adults from their most efficient routes and disrupts strategy in frustrating but hilarious ways. “Honey, if you really love Daddy you will build a blue train here to block Mommy instead of that pink one you’re planning on…”