Tag: Arkham Horror

Board or Bored?

SmallWorld with the 'rents

“I don’t play board games,” my lovely wife says. “They’re boring.”

In the case of ‘older’ board games, the ones I and most kids grew up with, like Monopoly or Risk or Chutes’n’Ladders, I’d be inclined to agree. Chutes’n’Ladders is an extremely randomized game. Risk involves a great deal of downtime between turns, provided you’re not in an opponent’s direct path, and turns get progressively longer as the players with board advantage begin to dominate the others. Monopoly has both of these problems and the added issue of money being involved (even if it is fake money).

However, if you’ve been following me for a while, and especially remember posts like this where I discuss games that aren’t played with a joystick or gamepad, you’re probably aware that board games outside the old and tired Parker Brothers standards exist. There are a few in particular that I’ve played which, in my opinion, really break away from the idea that board games are boring.

SmallWorld springs immediately to mind. The game is one of territory control, with fantasy races endowed with special powers vying for position. There is very little die rolling, unlike Risk – players rely on numerical superiority and careful planning before their turns. Said turns are rather short, leading to little downtime, and even when it isn’t your turn, it behooves you to watch the board, as positions can change very quickly based on who chooses which race/power combination. And don’t worry about one position on the map being better than another. There’s no ‘Australia’ portion that, when taken, guarantees victory. No matter how attached you might get to your Dragon Master Giants, sooner or later you’re going to run out of troops, and must go into Decline to choose a new race. This keeps the game vital for all of its turns and never lets things settle into a ‘status quo’ situation.

If you want a less direct means of competing with your friends, a ‘worker placement’ game might be more your speed, a great introductory example of which is Lords of Waterdeep. Set in one of the largest cities in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting of Forgotten Realms, the game casts its players as one of the eponymous Lords, who compete with one another for control of the city through agents and adventurers. Agents move through the city, gathering resources for their Lords, engaging the services of builders, and inviting adventurers to their Lord’s tavern. From the tavern, adventurers are sent on quests, which garner more riches and renown for the Lord who sent them. With Intrigue actions, mandatory quests that can be played on other players, and the ways in which play order can change, this is another game where ‘status quo’ is not something that really exists. The pace of play is even faster than in SmallWorld, with each player taking one action in turn as they try to gather enough resources to score the most points. Between these aspects, the replayability inherent in the structure of quests and buildings, and the fantastic aesthetic and pieces, this is a game I feel I need to play more often. The only conflict between players exists in the Intrigue cards, and this can be modified for a group’s liking if they’d rather not stab each other incessantly in the back, which in my experience is the only thing that can make Lords of Waterdeep not fun. Most of the Lords, after all, are humans or demihumans; none of them are trolls.

But let’s say you don’t want to compete at all. You’d much rather work together with others towards a common goal; for example, saving the world from some global threat. Don’t fret, Pandemic has you covered. I could also mention Arkham Asylum, and while that game is a ton of fun to play in a large group, it does take some time to play through and there can be some stretches of downtime involved for individual players. Pandemic, on the other hand, has the advantages of easy setup, fast pace, and encouraged cooperation. The players are members of an elite team of specialists working together to contain several epidemics of disease around the globe, trying to keep them from combining into a global pandemic. Each turn, players move around the world, treating disease and gathering data for cures. However, at the end of a player’s turn, more cases of disease crop up, and if a city hits critical mass, there’s an outbreak. The world can only take so many outbreaks and epidemics before the entire population begins coughing, puking, dropping over, and bleeding out. It’s a tense game that sucks you in. There are many ways to lose in Pandemic, and as much as it sucks to not prevail in a game, it’s still fun to play even when it feels like the game is out to get you (which, by the way, it is.)

Those are three board games that, off the top of my head, absolutely destroy the notion that board games are the same old tired distraction trotted out at family gatherings to keep conversations from getting stale. I could go on to talk about some favorite card games – Chez Geek, Cards Against Humanity, Fluxx – or dice games – Elder Sign, Zombie Dice – but for now, I will leave you in the capable hands of Wil Wheaton. Watch him and his friends play SmallWorld here or Pandemic here. I’m still waiting on a Lords of Waterdeep episode…

And of the games mentioned, my wife has played… none of them. Yet. This makes me sad.

Chuckin’ Dice


There’s something soothing about the rattle of polyhedrals. As immersive and rewarding as an experience can be when the game in question involves role-playing and character sheers, the tactile feeling of dice rolling around in my hand is just as good in other games. Playing things not based on the computer is a relatively uncommon experience these days, but with so many good memories and a few choice games eagerly awaiting to be played in my closet, I do want to increase the frequency at which I chuck dice.

Old-School Games

My dad introduced me to grand strategy on the tabletop at a young age. We played a lot of old Avalon Hill games together, ranging from historical engagements to one based on Starship Troopers. The scale of our games varied, from the great naval battle of Jutland played out on the living room floor while things got rather personal during Advanced Squad Leader. We’ve tried several variations on Risk, finding the Lord of the Rings version to be, perhaps, the most appealing. We’ve also had long campaigns of War of the Ring, Fortress America, Shogun, and Axis and Allies. We’ve even found ways to play these game via email, and while it’s fun, it just doesn’t quite capture the feeling of dice in your hand.


I’ve dabbled in the world of tabletop miniatures gaming in the past. I still have all of my books for Warhammer 40,000 and WarMachine. Plastic and pewter soldiers do have more presence than cardboard ones, adding dimension to the action taking place. The downside is that even a small, basic force can be massively expensive, and assembly and painting eats up a lot of time. Part of the reason I enjoy the Dawn of War video games is the ability to field massive forces of my favorite grimdark armies without having to shell out for, glue together, and paint up an embarrassing amount of miniatures. While it’s something I could get back into, between my Magic habit, a slew of video games to play, and other tabletop games, I know better than to really delve back into that world.

The New Stuff

Settlers of Catan is a game I was introduced to some time ago, and it remains fascinating to me, bloody struggles for land replaced by trading wood for sheep with my neighbor. Resource management and diplomacy may not sound like very interesting stuff, but games that focus on interpersonal dynamics and frame competition in ways other than direct violence do tickle the intellect in interesting ways. Co-operative games, as well, break away from the usual slugfests. Arkham Horror is a particular favorite, and I have picked up Pandemic to see if the experience is similar. I mean, sure, sometimes you just want to blast your buddy, a niche that Frag and Munchkin fill nicely. But I also seek new takes on old favorites, like introducing my family to Ticket to Ride as a much faster and more friendly type of Rail Baron game. As much as I don’t get to play these games terribly often, there’s still good times to be had chucking dice around, if just for that tactile feeling and spending time with people away from glowing screens and klacking keys.

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