As it is approaching Christmas I am jumping on the listicle bandwagon and have put together a “definitive” list of recommended tabletop games that you can buy for loved ones, ask for as presents or you know just buy for yourself as a “you deserve this” purchase.
These recommendations are broken up into several posts each one covering a different category of games. Each list includes a varied selection of games for you to buy and enjoy.
Last week I covered Casual & Family Games this week I am covering Introductory Games.
The criteria for these lists is: If I own it, I can include it. So if I have missed out on your favourite game it probably means that I do not own it…..yet.
Introductory Games is a selection of games for people who are just getting into the hobby or want a solid tabletop experience that is not overly complex. I find these games are also great to play with people of the older generations who only know Monopoly, Risk, Uno and their ilk. You know the types, your grandparent who looks at the box for Ticket to Ride and scoffs that it is not Ludo or a chess set. I guarantee that if you sit them down and explain how to play one of these games you will have some fun!
Ticket to Ride
I love Ticket to Ride! And I mean LOVE IT! There is just something about it that hits a sweet spot for me. I’m not a huge train enthusiast or have a particular fascination with maps. Yet I am always willing to play Ticket to Ride at the drop of a hat. The game is super easy to explain and everyone gets into the swing of things after a round or two. It is also one of those games that can be very cutthroat depending on who you are playing with. Games with experienced players have this nice build up of tension at the start as people try to horde cards to quickly claim key routes in subsequent rounds. Once one player starts laying trains suddenly it becomes a mad dash to secure the optimum routes while blocking progress for other players.
One of the reasons I enjoy Ticket to Ride is that the board slowly becomes more complex as the game goes on. At the start of a game it is empty and you have infinite possibilities. However once trains start being placed on the board it becomes harder to claim the routes you need. Naturally the other players will be going for similar routes and you will have to change your plan once or twice over the length of the game. The board also becomes a web of colour as more and more trains are placed on it. I enjoy taking pictures of the board at the end of games because it is a beautiful mess that the players have cobbled together just by playing the game.
The only real downside to Ticket to Ride is that there are too many options when it comes to buying it. Seriously, it is getting ridiculous. I own the fancy 10th Anniversary Edition which looks great on the table, especially the red player trains with the little giraffes poking out of the top! It takes the original US map and mixes in elements from the first two expansions to creative a beautifully presented core Ticket to Ride experience. Sadly it is not compatible with the growing number of expansions and alternative maps due to the size of the 10th Anniversary plastic trains. I would recommend either going for the standard Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe as your first purchase for this wonderful game, both of which you can get relatively cheaply. The additional maps you can buy add unique rules and mechanics. They can also help shake things up when you have grown a bit board with your initial map. For the maps I would say just have a look at them and get the ones that interest you. Just bare in mind that any set that is not the core American map will have some twist to it, be it an additional mechanic or a tweak to how things are played.
Ticket to Ride is a must have for any board game collection and if you are anything like me it will see a lot of time on the table. It is also the perfect stepping stone to show people who have only played traditional board games (Cluedo, Monopoly, etc.) what the medium can do.
A game I have acquired recently, Carcassonne has quickly wormed its way into my heart. Like Ticket to Ride it is really easy to teach but whereas Ticket to Ride has a optional element of players butting heads. Dicking each other over is at the heart of Carcassonne.
The instructions for Carcassonne are fairly simple, on your turn: draw a tile, place the tile so that it continues the growing picture that makes up the board, place a meeple on the tile (if you want to) then resolve any scoring that comes from placing that tile/meeple. Depending on what features of the map you place a meeple on they assume different roles. From Knights to Robbers to Priests, all of them do something different and generate victory points for you in various ways.
The complexity of the game comes from chaining tiles together or moseying in on what other players are doing in an attempt to either take or split the available points. If you are a savvy player you can take over your opponents claims on the various parts of the map that you are collectively making. You can not directly place one of your meeples on a city, road, field, etc. occupied by another meeple but you can for example place a meeple on a road tile you place then with a future tile placement connect it to your opponents slowly growing road. It sounds complex but trust me it is worth giving a go.
It is a great game to elicit quick bursts of competitive anger from players. The road that has a meeple from every player on it. The constant bickering over whose farmer controls a field another player is trying to place a meeple in. The mega city that will just not stop growing no matter how hard the player who has the greatest claim tries. All of it provokes a mix of great reactions both overt and passive. I also love that over the course of a game you create a unique map populated by strange looking roads, rivers and cities of varying sizes. You create something unique, that has a story to it.
Carcassonne is perfect to play with 2-5 players and because it has been around for a while there is a near endless supply of expansions and add-ons to enhance the base game. It is not to expensive and will almost certainly get a lot of play time.
Putting the drama around slaves being printed on a key resource card type in the game’s initial release to one side, Five Tribes is a wonderful game. The setup for it can take some time but I always think it is worth it. To explain it in the simplest terms, Five Tribes is a game of moving meeples.
At the start you have a sea of meeples and infinite possibilities before you. Then over the course of the game your options narrow as you start formulating a strategy and more meeples get taken off the board. It is a very versatile game and there is something satisfying about the game’s central mechanic of picking up a handful of meeples and dropping them off one by one as you make your way to your destination.
At the start of a round players bid on a track that determines turn order then in that order they take their turn. You grab a handful of meeples from one tile and make your way to another in range. The only caveats being that the last meeple you drop off must match with one on your destination tile and you cannot move backwards. Your journey has to be one constant trip forwards. (You can loop back around though if you have enough meeples in hand) You then resolve the action of the last meeple you placed and the ones that match it on the destination tile, the more the better. Those meeples are then discarded. Then you resolve the tile’s ability which can range from gaining resources from the market to summoning Djinns to aid you for the rest of the game. Finally if the destination tile is not empty of meeples you get to place your fancy wooden camel on it to claim that tile as your property.
The key to winning the game is amassing great wealth or generating points to match other player’s wealth via the game’s many paths to victory. Each tile that makes up the board gives you points if you claim it. The cards of goods you can collect give you points. Djinns give you access to powerful game changing abilities and also yes, give you points. The blue meeple’s soul purpose is to give you bursts of cash which can indeed be converted into points. Everything in this game works towards helping you win the game.
There is however one major downside to Five Tribes, it starts off quite slowly due to sheer amount of meeples available at the start of the game causing extreme analysis paralysis. For new players it can be very daunting but a little persistence pays off and after a turn or three everyone will get in the swing of things. Just make sure everyone has one of the double sided help cards to help resolve any questions.
As ever there are also ample opportunities to halt your opponents’ progress while furthering your own aims. The game also contains wooden camels, palm trees and Arabian palaces which further increase the cool factor. It is probably one of the more complex Introductory games out there but it stands out thanks to its mostly unique mechanics, theme and presentation. Just make sure you buy a newer printing of the game to avoid anybody being put out by the inclusion of slaves as a resource.
Another recent acquisition that has rocketed its way into my favourite games list. Splendor is the perfect game for people who like shiny things, solving puzzles and playing poker or similar card games.
The game is about choosing some nice weighty gem chips from an ever changing selection then using them to buy gem mines which in turn will let you acquire artisans and stores in the aims of getting a patron to visit you. Cards you buy give you free gems and also victory points in most cases. The first to 15 points stops the game, then there is one last round to see if anyone can beat that score to win the game. The poker elements of the game comes from being able to hold cards in reserve in your hand and hedging your bets on going for that extra gem you don’t really need but which would be helpful. The puzzle side comes from being able to recognise the patterns of cards that will help you get the most points to win the game or get a patron to visit you. Except every time a player buys or reserves a card the puzzle shifts and changes.
The game’s theme is a bit on the thin side but it is well presented. Like I said the gem chips have a nice weight to them which gives them the air of being valuable. The art on the various cards is also detailed and consistent. Splendor is also a relatively short game so it is good to play in-between longer and more complex games.
As for downsides Splendor does not have much in the way of player interaction and conflict. Everyone is just sort of looking at the cards they have, the board and then reacting accordingly. Conflict only comes about when it is clear that two or more players are aiming to obtain the same patron. Then you have a race of sorts of people buying and reserving the key cards to do that but because there is a constant stream of new cards appearing it does not really block opposing players. It can also be quite easy to catch players napping and surge ahead and win the game without any real tension building up.
So while Splendor doesn’t have much in the way of player conflict or interaction it does keep you on your toes thanks to your plan and path to the top is constantly changing. If you are fond of puzzles this is a game you need to own. If you want something quick-ish to play and to serve as a warm up for more taxing games give Splendor a go. If you prefer your games to be about interacting with your opponents, maybe give it a miss.
Have you seen Reservoir Dogs? How about any heist movie ever made? You know that bit where the mobsters are about to divide up the score and suddenly turn on each other? Yeah, I am talking about Mexican Stand-Offs. Cash’n’Guns is essentially Mexican Stand-Off: The Game lovingly presented in a cartoonish modern mobster style. Oh and I almost forgot the most important thing, every player gets a foam pistol to point at the other players. Cash’n’Guns is all about greed and seeing how far you can push things as you aim to earn the most money from the loot you acquire.
Each round of Cash’n’Guns consists of a few phases. The first sees players looking at the loot on the table and then selecting a bullet card for their gun. Click cards mean you are not going to shoot your opponent. Bang cards mean you will cause some damage. The game’s current Godfather then counts to three, on the count all players point their gun at another player. After a brief moment of laughter the Godfather then counts to three again. This time players may place their gun on the table to signify they have dropped out of the round if they believe they are going to get shot to pieces. The remaining players then reveal the cards loaded into their guns and resolve those effects against who they are aiming at if they are still in the round. The loot is then divided up between the players still standing until it is all gone. If you get shot with a bang card you take a wound and out of the round, take three wounds and you are out of the game.
For a relatively simple game there is a surprising amount of depth to Cash’n’Guns. There are several types of loot to collect: cash, diamonds and paintings along health packs and additional bang card power ups. Cash is simple, it is just worth the printed value on it. Diamonds come in a few varieties but if at the end of the game’s eight rounds if you have the most Diamonds you earn a bonus $60,000. Paintings are cool because a painting by itself is not really worth that much. But if you manage to pick up several paintings you now have a collection, one that can be very valuable.
I enjoy Cash’n’Guns a lot mainly because it is just fun to play. Most people end up ignoring the overall obtain the most loot goal and just end up having a laugh pointing guns at each other. I also enjoy the light bluffing elements of the game. You have to weigh up how many people are pointing their guns at you and the chances that they have a Bang card loading into their gun. If you want a bit more complexity you can use the additional special ability cards. They grant things like being able to take more damage, stop people from taking specific types of loot and more.
The is also an expansion called More Cash’n’Guns that naturally includes more cash and more guns. You have counterfeit money, a safe, a big gun, new abilities and special cards. A very worth while addition to the game once you have played the base game many, many, many times.
So there they are! The Introductory Games! I think it is a worthy selection of games to get started with. All have reasonable playtimes and have rules that are easy to grasp. They are also games that should stand the test of time and many plays. Meaning that you will happily come back to playing these games over and over.
Next time I will be stepping things up a bit and will be covering Intermediate Games.