Play Board Games

So, you want to play board games. Maybe you're new to the hobby or maybe you've played a few and want to play more; either way, this article will help you get deeper into the hobby.

Here's where to start:

  1. You need a group of interested friends. Board gaming is a social hobby; single-player board games are very rare and are inferior to single-player video or computer games. Most boardgames work best with between 4-6 players, so if you can get a group of six players, that's optimal, as it allows a couple people to miss each session and still make gaming good. If you can't find 6 players don't worry, you can still have fun with fewer.
    • If you don't have a group of friends that want to play board games with you, then you need to find some. Your local game store will likely have game nights where you can meet players or they'll know of some local groups. The internet can be a useful tool; Board Game Geeks Game Groups forum or Meetup may have a group in your area or a google search might suffice.
  2. Before you first start playing any board game, make sure on of the players has read the rules carefully and explained it to the other players. Don't worry if not all the rules aren't fully understood, it usually takes a game or two to get used to a rules set.
    • You will make rules mistakes on your first few (or possibly many) playthroughs of a game, but don't worry. If you start play with a rule and find out it was wrong, don't worry. Finish the game with the incorrect rule and play your next game with the correct rules. It's more important each game has an internally consistent rules set, then being fully accurate to the rules by changing rules mid-game.
  3. Make sure to set aside enough time to finish a game. Most games will say on the side of the box how long it takes to play.
    • If it's your first time playing a particular game or there's a new player add another half hour or so to explain the rules.
    • When playing a newly opened game for the first time, add an extra twenty minutes or so to punch out pieces, sort cards, etc.. Having someone read the rules while the others punch out pieces can save time.
  4. Avoid starting with "classic" American games (sometimes called Ameritrash), best typified by Monopoly and Risk. Most gaming groups avoid these types of games as they generally have inferior game design and can end up being slow and tedious. Once you've played some other games, you may want to come back to these for a game or two, but will often find them lacking.
    • Newer, updated versions of some of these games, such as Risk: Legacy, can have vastly improved play and are well worth picking up.
  5. Most popular games have (numerous) expansions. These can often add significantly to the base game, extending replayability and enhancing enjoyment. Some expansions will be stand-alone (they don't require the base game), some will require the base game. Make sure to check if the base game is needed before you buy an expansion or non-base game. In some cases, the stand-alone expansion will be better than the original game.
  6. If a game looks interesting to you, check out reviews online. Board games can be expensive, and buying a crappy game is a waste of both money and an evening that could have been spent on a better game. Board Game Geek has one of the largest collection of board game reviews available. Their board game rank is a good way to find the best games.
  7. Settlers of Catan is a good game to start with. It was the game that launched the re-popularization of board gaming, is popular with most gamers, and is a good introduction to what are often referred to as Euro Games.
    • Play a few games of the simpler, non-expanded version first to get a grip on the rules. Note: If you're playing with an experienced group, there's a possibility they may have played Settlers out and are sick of it.
    • Once you've played a few games add the Cities & Knights expansion. Settlers is best played with this expansion.
    • Settlers is best played with 4 players, but can be played with 3. There are 5-6 player expansions for the base and expanded sets. These expansions allow more players, but are slower and don't play as well.
    • There are two other expansions and loads of spin-off games if you want more Settlers, but none are as good as the original with Cities & Knights.
  8. Some other good games to start with are Ticket to Ride and Small World. Both are easy to learn, well-designed, well-respected, and enjoyable.
    • There are numerous versions of Ticket to Ride, start with the Ticket to Ride - Europe, as it's the best designed version. If you need a game for a smaller group (2-3 players), Nordic Countries is recommended. If you enjoy Europe and/or Nordic countries, you can try the original, some of the other versions, or the map packs.
    • Small World will introduce you to more directly competitive game play, rather than indirect competition of Settlers or Ticket to Ride. Start with the original Small World. If you like it, you can try Small World: Underground, it has more options and is more complex but is not necessarily more entertaining for it. There are numerous expansion packs if you wish to add more replay value.

After playing these games a number of times each, you'll know if board gaming is a hobby for you and you'll want to expand to the many other games out there. Here's a few key games that will introduce you to popular game types and mechanics. All are worth playing to decide what kind of games interest you.

  • Good two-player games are rare, board games usually work best with more players, but if you are looking for two-player games, Twilight Struggle is the best two player game out there.
  • Agricola is a very well-designed, tight game that will introduce you to the popular worker placement mechanic. Carcassone is a classic in the worker placement genre which has since been eclipsed (if you play with an experienced group, it's probably been played out), but it's still fun. The Big Box comes with all the expansions and is a good gaming purchase.
  • Dominion is the standard for deck-building games. Try Dominion:Intrigue first as there's more player interaction. If you enjoy that, get the Big Box, which will have the original game and two expansions. Race for the Galaxy is another very popular deck-building game. Thunderstone is another good game based around the deck-building mechanic and it adds some combat elements to the mechanic for those who are more combat oriented. Start with Thunderstone Advance, it streamlines the rules after the numerous expansions and the board provided is moderately useful.
  • Most of the games suggested so far are longer. Sometimes, you won't have time for a longer game or will have to kill some time between longer games , so you want a few shorter games in your collection as well. 7 Wonders is a wonderful card game which only takes a half hour. San Juan, based on the popular Puerto Rico, is another good, relatively short game.
  • If you enjoyed the direct competition of Small World, then other direct competition games might be your style. Risk is the classic in direct competition, but it can sometimes suffer from being exceedingly long and tedious. Risk: Legacy vastly improves on the original and Risk 2210 can be a fun experience.
  • Empire-building games are large, long (often 4+ hours), epic, direct competition gaming. They can provide some of the most enjoyable gaming experiences, but are also a large investment of time. Civilization, based on the classic computer game series, is an enjoyable introduction. Get the expansion to play with five players. Through the Ages is an excellent empire game, which does not use a map as is usual for an empire game. Twilight Imperium is the Empire building game, but can take a long time to play. The classic Civilization (or the updated Advanced Civilization) offer an epic gaming experience. It is not in print though, so be prepared to pay heavily for this game. Starcraft, based on the popular computer game, puts a very heavy emphasis on war for the combat-inclined.
  • While not really either a wargame or an empire game, no introduction to board games could be without the classic Diplomacy. Based around, well, diplomatic maneuvering this is a must play classic. It's 7-players (it's not as fun if there are fewer than the maximum) and takes a whole day, but is well worth it. A similar game that will give you a somewhat similar feeling but with less investment in time and effort is Imperial. It's an excellent game in it's own right, but is not as epic as an day-long game of Diplomacy.
  • There's also the war game; these can be incredibly complex and time consuming, and some of the miniature wargames can cost hundreds of dollars to play. If you're interested in them, you may need a special wargaming group outside of your regular board gaming group, as not all board gamers enjoy wargames. Axis and Allies is a classic in strategic wargaming and is on the simpler end of the wargame spectrum. Memoir '44 is relatively simple introduction to tactical and miniatures wargaming. Give those a try if wargames interest you before you begin to invest heavily in time/money.
  • If competition isn't your thing, there's cooperative games, where players work together to win against the board. Pandemic is the big name in cooperative games. Arkham Horror is another popular cooperative game, with numerous expansions.

From this guide, you should have a fairly good introduction into the world of board games. Happy gaming.