We’re up to our necks in board games here at Nerds on Earth. And, uh, we also wear a board game box lid like a hat. So, above the neck as well.
Why? Because board games are incredibly hot right now. They’ve seen double-digit growth for several years now. And maybe you’ve wanted to trade in your dusty old game of Monopoly for one of the shinies like Ticket to Ride, Catan, or King of Tokyo, games that all the young, cool nerds are raving about.
But board gaming can be a little bit intimidating. It’s become its own pocket universe that acts as a perpetual rulebook making machine that defies the laws of physics. The complicated rulebooks can make it feel nearly impossible to just jump in for an easy board game. Science is at a loss to explain it. Also, science asked me how I got their number and could I please stop calling them for rulebook clarifications because they’re working on real science and don’t have the time to serve as a prop for my silly little jokes.
Like any other pocket universe in nerdom, board gaming has got its own jargon and genres. So strap into your inter-dimensional traveling capsule and let me take you on a little guided tour of the board gamer’s multiverse. That feeling in your tummy won’t be sickness, it’s excitement.
How to Get Started with Board Gaming: Terms and Lingo
The current generation of hobby board games really begins in 1995, with the release of Settlers of Catan (learn more about why here). And there’s a piece of jargon right there. What’s a “hobby game?”
A hobby game is…well, not Monopoly. The old board games we played with our families when we were kids–like Monopoly, Life, and Clue–aren’t considered hobby games.
Hobby games tend to have less randomness and more strategy. So there is often less dice rolling and choices tend to matter more. But that sounds like an unfairly harsh definition, though. Some games which have passionate followings, like Scrabble, aren’t considered “hobby games”, but they’re pretty fancy stuff.
On the other hand, lightweight party games like Dixit, Codenames, and Wits and Wagers are typically considered hobby games. It’s a fuzzy definition and to complicate things further, they can also be called “modern” board games.
“Euros” are hobby games that typically have their origins in Europe, are often heavier on strategy, and have pretty generic theming. Settlers of Catan is a good example of a Eurogame.
“Ameritrash” might seem like 5th grade insult, but the term is mainly affectionate and is used to refer to hobby games which have strong themes like zombies, elves, or pirates, typically have lots and lots of gaming pieces, and often have a lot of dice chucking, which add to their randomness.
How to Get Started with Board Gaming: Types and Genres
Although the lines can be fuzzy, here are a few of the basic genres of board games, giving you some examples so you can decide if you’d like to make that plunge into the glorious depths yourself.
Deck Building Games
Magic: the Gathering as led to many a human selling their soul to Mephisto in order to continue to afford packs of cards. But a big part of the fun of Magic was not even playing the games, it is in building that perfect deck of cards. Deck building games focus on that part where you built the perfect deck of cards.
The first deck building game was the excellent Dominion in 2008. Now a host of new games using the basic gameplay pioneered by Dominion. You start with a very basic deck of cards and limited actions. You use those actions to acquire more cards, which improves your deck, and allows you to do a wider variety of actions.
Dominion is a great first game for someone looking to get into board gaming; the rules and basic mechanics are quite simple. After only a couple plays with the game’s suggested card layouts and you’re ready for one of the seemingly 43,231 expansions that are available for Dominion. You can get it here.
Co-Op Board Games
Co-op games have the players team up, working together against the game. The signature co-op game is Pandemic. The theme of Pandemic is that you are researchers fighting to stop worldwide disease outbreaks. Each player takes on key roles, which differ in abilities.
Working together in a co-op board game makes for a very fun and social evening, allowing you to gather around a table to solve a problem together, rather than to fight to eliminate one another as you would in a game like Monopoly.
If you’re looking to get started with co-op games, Pandemic might not be your baby step. A good first game (either co-op or in general) is Forbidden Island, which was designed by the guy who also did Pandemic. Forbidden Island is simpler, and a great game to play with your family, too (my 7-year-old loves to play with me). You can get Forbidden Island here, then graduate to Pandemic.
Worker placement games describes moving around little pawns that may represent actual “workers”, or other more abstract ideas, like energy. You move your workers around strategically, which opens up actions to you. Goodness, that sounded like a total snooze, but I promise, they’re fun!
The classic of the genre Agricola, but that would be a brutal place to start. Lords of Waterdeep has a light D&D theme, plus is a great first worker placement game (our review). It’s your huckleberry if you’re new to the genre. You can get it here.
Settlers of Catan is a good first game with the route building vibe. But perhaps even a better first game is Ticket to Ride, where you build train routes. Players get cards that list a train route between two cities on a map. Your objective is to collect the colored trains necessary to complete the route.
I’ve yet to meet a reasonable human who doesn’t like Ticket to Ride. You can get it here.
I like to think of Ameritrash as both a descriptor and a genre, even though gameplay can span all the above genres. But Ameritrash games can be just what you are looking for if you want a big, brash board game to go with beer and pretzels.
The Star Wars themed Imperial Assault is excellent, as is Zombicide or the Viking themed Blood Rage. All three come with a box of sweet miniatures, are sure to bring cheers and laughter, but are pretty complex for new board gamers.
There is so much more to share. We’ve barely scratched the surface of modern board gaming, but hopefully this has whetted your appetite to try a game. Click the links above; find something that looks interesting to you. And if you have questions, ask away in the comments.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go play some games!