Well, this is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a conquest/strategy style board game, so therefore not to everyone’s liking. But the people who chose to play really enjoyed it. Since there were four of us we played with a larger board, but there is a smaller board for 2/3 players.
One reason everyone liked it was the comical setting. Each player chooses a race to start with, with a randomised skill set. So, for example, I began with Commando Elves, whereas my daughter had Seafaring Ratmen. You play with this race for a few turns, before choosing to go into Decline, and selecting a new race. Put simply, the more you conquer, the more points you score.
Another reason is the short time frame. The game we played had 8 turns, so it didn’t drag at all.
Despite this, there is definitely some strategy for those who enjoy that. When to Decline, which Race to select, who to attack, all effect outcomes. Some of us got through 3 races in one game. I stuck with the Elves all game because I was enjoying them a little too much. My daughter won with only 2 races deployed. In addition, because new races can change the dynamic, it’s not clear who the winner is until the end.
Small World obviously has its fans, because there are a number of expansion sets now. I can see why.
Pros: A short strategy game; combinations of races and skills, with random order, plus multiple boards, means that every game is different; comical races make it fun to play for non-strategists
Cons: Playing with armies rather than individual characters is not fun for everyone; it’s still a strategy/conquest game, making it too complicated for some
This is an old favourite in our family, enjoyed by all generations. It’s quite free-form, allowing fantasy-style characters to roam about a detailed board having adventures. We had a Troll, Dwarf, Elf, Ghoul and Assassin. Events, objects and followers allow characters to increase their strength and craft. Once strong enough, they can attempt to win the game by ascending to the Crown of Command. They must own a talisman to do so.
There’s no doubt that it can be long, with a laggy middle, as some characters who have not been so lucky wander aimlessly around in the vain hope of improving their position compared to stronger characters, who are free to beat them up and steal their objects. This can be quite upsetting if other players around the board are ruthless in their play. Only one character can win, by killing all the others. Another aspect that I find frustrating is rolling dice for movement. But there’s no doubt that funny moments abound, as you watch your nearest and dearest get beaten up by hobgoblins, get drunk in a tavern, or turned into toads.
We have played this many, many times over the years, which is a testament to its enduring appeal. Expansion sets and a computer game do too.
Pros: Huge range of characters, adventure cards, strategies, allow for replay-ability and allow players to express their personality; easy to pick up the rules (roll a dice, do what the square tells you to)
Cons: Lengthy; can be less fun for unsuccessful characters, though they can always fill the time by complaining about their bad luck
Adventure Time: Card Wars
I am assured by my son that this is a game actually played by Finn and Jake in the cartoon series Adventure Time. It is a two player strategy game that reminded me of playing Swords and Wizardry or Stratego with my Dad, though it has a different dynamic to those games. We used the Finn and Jake decks, but there are other decks you can buy for the other main characters that feature in the series.
Each player has four landscape locations to deploy their creatures on, meaning that fights occur across four ‘lanes’. Shuffle your deck of cards, and send in your bizarre Adventure Time creatures to fight for you. Your deck also contains buildings and spells. You have 2 actions on your turn, which you will usually use by deploying a card or drawing new ones into your hand.
The rules take a bit of time to figure out and are not written that well. It’s not a game for very young kids. Indeed, I think there is quite a lot of strategy to it if you want to take it seriously.
We just enjoyed fighting with our creatures. In the end, I took 25 points of damage, making me The Dweeb and my son The Cool Guy. It took a while for the game to end, and younger players might be better off with a lower victory score to aim at, or they may lose interest.
I enjoyed this game and it makes a nice change from video games when you are after a bit of 2 player game time.
Pros: Nicely balanced 2 player game; crazy Adventure Time creatures; infinitely repayable, especially with other packs
Cons: 2 player only; harder to learn and longer to play than you might expect
Ticket to Ride
Another new one for us, but everyone really enjoyed this, and it’s perhaps the most accessible of the bunch.
We played the original US version of the game. Each player builds train routes between cities, scoring points each time they do. Routes are built by collecting the right cards, e.g. 3 black car cards, or 5 red etc. In addition, each player receives destination tickets. These contain pre-mapped routes, and if you successfully link these cities, you are awarded bonus points. Finally, there are bonus points available for the longest route.
This was easy to play, but the strategy really kicked in about the half way stage as the board filled up and routes became unavailable, forcing detours. Some players started to add extra destination tickets: this can lead to a huge reward in bonus points – but if you fail to complete a route by the end of the game, these points are deducted from your score.
This is nice and quick to play, especially individual turns – you either draw cards or place a route, so the pace is good.
Pros: Quick to play, easy to learn; simple, elegant rules, but allows for strategic choices
Cons: Placing railway tracks on a map may not get everyone’s pulse racing