09 January, 2013

Board Game Geek

Something V and I enjoy doing together is playing board games  Not your mom's games of Monopoly or Scrabble, mind you. I was really surprised a few years ago to discover how much board games have evolved over the years, and now it's one of my favorite hobbies!
V and I have sought out and purchased several games that work for two only so we can play together, but we also really like playing in groups with like-minded people. When we lived in Cork, we met a bunch of people through boards.ie and boardgamegeek.com (BGG) and would gather once a week to socialize and play games. We have built some really meaningful relationships with friends now, whom we would never have met had it not been for board games.

Now we are in Sweden and have met a few people, again through BGG. It's great to find community through board games  Such a fun way to get together with people. We are always looking for new friends to play board games with.

Today I'd like to share with you a few of my very favorite games!

We own several games now - more than twenty - and we are often asked to bring games with us to family gatherings. Here are a few that always come with us:

1. Pandemic and the expansion On the Brink

This is a cooperative game, meaning you work against the board game itself to cure disease!

You get to choose certain roles, like the Scientist, Medic, Researcher, Dispatcher, etc. and each role has a special ability. Each player has four actions they can use during their turn, and then once the player's turn is over, the board game "infects" more cities with little disease cubes. It can get surprisingly intense, and our record shortest game ever was that the game wiped us out in three moves.

The expansion adds an extra disease (purple) to the game plus new and different Epidemic cards (which spread the diseases to new, previously uninfected parts of the globe) and Mutation Events, which is how the purple disease comes into play. It's overall a pretty simple game to explain, and it is definitely my favourite of all the games we own.

2. The Settlers of Catan

This was probably my very first foray into the new and evolved world of board games. I played it often several years ago with some friends, and V and I played it again more recently when we ran off to Alaska after eloping, with different friends - that was when we really discovered we like board games again.
It's a pretty simple game with not much to explain. The board is the island of Catan, and there are bunch of different resources that you can "farm" by collecting cards each time the dice show your number. Each resource is needed for a different reason so while you might think you're sitting pretty with a pile of wheat farms, you might really need bricks and the only way to get them is to trade with another player.

There are a few different ways to set up the board, but this way is my favorite:

First, lay out the water tiles in order (they're numbered)

then, lay out the farm tiles upside down to avoid placing them subconsciously...

and flip them over.

Then, starting from the desert, place the number circles alphabetically (they have small letters on them).

The players then place their settlement houses where they think they have the best odds of collecting the most resources - the numbers have little dots under them indicating the likelihood of that number being rolled.
There are a couple different aspects to the game, like the robber who moves each time a seven is rolled - blocking someone's settlement, and development cards which give you different things including but not limited to victory points and knights (which move the robber).

The ultimate goal is to collect victory points, and the first player to 10 wins the game immediately. Since this is not a game that can be played with two, we often play it with V's parents - who only speak Polish. We have created a cheat sheet for this purpose:

which, after playing with V's sister and her husband, who is Swedish, the list is now in three languages. So fun! Pay no attention to my lame drawings... haha

3. San Juan

For those who have ever played Puerto Rico, this is a card game version of that game. For those unfamiliar with either game, read on!

San Juan is a pretty quick game, depending on how many players participate. This one accommodates 2-4 players, and I think it's best with two. 

Basically, you accumulate victory points by constructing buildings. Every building has a special ability allowing you certain advantages, and collect cards, which you need of course to build. The players take on a different role for the round and try to be the first to build 12 buildings and/or have the highest score. I believe it's one of those "learning by doing" games - and for that reason, I won't explain too much more about it here for fear of scaring you off, haha!

Suffice it to say that once you actually play a round, and see how easy it is, you'll be hooked. The game has a lot of replayability so each game is different. There are lots of different strategies you can employ to win (or try to), and for something light and quick, I really enjoy San Juan.

4. Kolejka
In Polish, Kolejka (said "kol-ay-ka") means queue, or line - and that's pretty much it. It's a game about standing in line. How could that possibly be fun? Well, let me tell you.
It's an educational game about communism! Hooray! And it was also produced by Poland's National Remembrance Institute, so it's accurate. In Poland in the 80s, people would queue up to get things like food, furniture, electronics, and clothes - and people would have to stand in line for hours and even days. People with small children got priority, but even then one wouldn't know if that particular shop would even have enough to supply everyone in the line. This is real life! This actually happened, and my husband who is 31 remembers standing in line with his brother and sister. His little brother, who is now in his mid-twenties, had to stand in line before holidays for bread.
My Polish family all remember standing in line, and this game makes them laugh with some of the things that are in it, because it hits so close to home. The cards represent some things they did actually queue for, and while it sounds like a pretty dismal time, it makes for an interesting and pretty educational game.

Anyways, back to the fun part. You get a list of items you need, and not knowing which store will have a shipment, you choose lines to stand in hoping to get something you need. If you can't get something you need, you hope that you can get something else that you can trade at the Bazar.

Each player gets cards which he can play to try to change the outcome of the line. For instance if you line up for furniture, but there was not a furniture delivery - you can play a card allowing you to switch lines.

Also there's a card that allows you to take an item of shipment as soon as it arrives if you're the first person in the line, there's "mother with a child" which allows you to go to the front of the line, making it more likely that you'll collect your good. There are "misdirected deliveries" and "stroke of luck" cards too, so no need to despair if you're not first in line!

Since this game comes in Polish, we've decided to leave it that way (it also comes with little English stickers that you can place on the cards to cover the original Polish text), and so far it's really helped my Polish. We do have a cheat sheet in English though, just in case I forget something.

You can get any of these games (and more!) through Amazon, and of course at local board game shops. Have a look!
What are your favorite games?


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