The OGA Holiday Gift Guide - Part 1: The Classics
Games are awesome gifts.
I’m biased, of course, but I really can’t think of a better gift than a board game.
Knowing that about me, I’ll often have someone ask me for a game recommendation. It’s tough sometimes to recommend specific games off the cuff, so I’ll ask two questions to help me understand their gaming experience: “What have you (or your gift recipient) played before?” and “What did you/they like or dislike about that game?” If someone says that their board gaming experience is limited to Monopoly, Risk, or any mass market game more than 20 years old, I pretty much know where to go: the “five classics.” You generally can’t go wrong by gifting any of the five games below to someone or yourself. All of these games have simple rules that make sense, good playing times, and rely on skill to win. They are all still extremely popular for these reasons. Many board game hobbyists today got into gaming through one of these, so if someone knows nothing about modern board gaming, this is the place to start.
The Five Classics
In the tile-laying classic Carcassonne, players build cities and roads across a vast French landscape; claiming features in it for points. What I like about Carcassonne is its scalability in terms of gameplay and what level of mental intensity you want. With the two essential expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, it’s a complete crunchy brain-burn experience (and my preferred way to play). Playing just the base game can be equally as satisfying, even though it’s a light, breezy experience, perfect for socializing. Carcassonne is a great beach house vacation game, as it’s way more fun than any jigsaw puzzles you find in the closet.
In Ticket to Ride, players claim and build train routes across a US map, navigating, or more often than not, avoiding other players’ routes to complete “tickets” for points. This game rewards savvy spatial thinking and taking risks. Like Carcassonne, you can adjust the play style as there are many expansions with more mentally challenging options and even different nation/state maps. As a side note, there is something quite malicious about having passengers go the longest route possible just for extra points.
Dominion started a new genre on its own that is often duplicated: deckbuilding. Players start with a meager deck of cards which are used to purchase or obtain other cards in the market. These purchasable cards, for example, might grant additional actions or coins, and are added to the player’s deck with the goal to build up enough purchasing power to buy the coveted victory points to win. The challenging, and rewarding, part is determining how to fine tune your deck while figuring out optimal card trigger combinations. Like the previous games I mentioned, the support for this game is through the roof, with no less than nine expansions released for Dominion so far.
Pandemic wasn’t the first cooperative game, but it is one of the most revered. Players all win or lose together as CDC specialists working to control four diseases that are ravaging a global population. Each specialist has a unique talent that aids the team in figuring out the optimum path to save the world. The heroic theme, as well as gameplay that intensifies over time, has made this a must-have in any game collection, even if that collection is only one or two games.
The little, and conveniently hex-based, island of Catan has been bringing people to dining room tables since the mid–1990s. Players are colonists building a life for their communities on the island, which is rich in resources, conveniently generated by die rolls. However, nobody has complete access to everything, so players have to rely on trading resources from each other, or savvy trading at seaports to build the structures that give them victory points. An entire game company was formed just for supporting this game and its myriad of expansions and spin-offs, both cardboard and virtual. The base game is in its fifth edition, and we are starting to see IP-licensed versions being released (Star Trek, A Game of Thrones), which seems inevitable once you sell a bazillion copies.
What if someone has played a few of these games and is looking for something new or different? Next week, I’ll lay out some newer games that may fit the bill as future classics, or are just too universally fun not to check out.