In the final part of this series, I’m going to look at heavier “gamer” games and lighter “filler” games.
6. The Heavier “Gamer” Game
The games covered thus far have all been reasonably straightforward and easy to pick up and play. This category looks at games that are slightly more complex. These games tend to appeal to more established gamers who have some experience in making sense of game mechanisms. Here are some of the heavier games I have enjoyed playing:
- Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) – a dungeon crawl in the spirit of classic games such as Heroquest. One player is the dark overlord controlling the monsters whilst the rest try to complete quests for fun and treasure! Loads of options. Very modular gameplay.
- A Game of Throne: The Board Game (Second Edition) – this is a bit like Risk but more detailed and challenging. The game encourages player interaction in terms of pacts and threats, and rewards forward planning and adaptability. Good theme too.
- Caverna: The Cave Farmers – a huge eurogame. Loads of choices to be made as you develop your farm and your mines to build a life for your dwarf family. Takes a little long to set up and put away, but very good.
- Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) – A huge space opera of a game. If you have played 4X strategy video games such as Civilisation or Galactic Civilisations, then you know what to expect. Lots of options. Fierce conflict over resources. Huge scope.
- Twilight Struggle – area control game covering the period of the Cold War. Pits the USA against the USSR as they try to sway other countries to their side through diplomacy, force and other factors of influence. Event card cover all of the major happenings, such as the space race, Cuban missile crisis and the rise of Thatcher. Complex, long, satisfying.
Although I have described the games above as heavy, A Game of Thrones is probably the lightest of them. The game looks intimidating, with a lot of moving parts and things to keep track of, but once you get into the nitty gritty of it, it’s actually quite straightforward. Just this week I played this with a very mixed group of gamers and only mildly interested spouses and, after a slightly shaky start over the first couple of turns, it all went rather well. I think what made this possible was having someone like myself who is used to reading and interpreting rules and able to explain them in a reasonably clear way. I feel that coming in as a new gamer and seeing the sheer amount of stuff going on and feel a little overwhelmed. This has certainly been the experience I have seen with games such as Caverna. A game of Thrones is a generally well-balanced game that depicts the struggle between six of the most prominent houses in Westeros as they all lay claim to the Iron Throne. As with Twilight Struggle, this is essentially an area control game and victory comes from controlling the lion’s share of strategically important castles and strongholds. This is complicated by the scheming of your rivals, the ebb and flow of your influence, random event cards and frequent Wildling attacks. The game plays best with six players, but is perfectly playable with four or five. I have been told it can also work with three. There are scenario packs available to add variety and address slight balance issues in four player games, but to be honest, I’ve not had much trouble the game as it comes. Maybe over repeated and more regular play, the issues become more obvious. All in all, I would heartily recommend A Game of Thrones as a solid, heavier area control game which would fit well into anyone’s fledgeling collection.
7. Filler Games
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a gamer in possession of a good collection of deep, complex and satisfying games must be in want of lighter fare. There are so many great, complex, satisfying games out there, but many do take a significant chunk of time to play. I’m planning to play A Game of Thrones tonight with some friends, but I know going in that it will take several hours to get through the game. Often, I simply do not have that time to spend. Maybe it’s late, we’re waiting for someone to show up for a longer game, or we are waiting for others to finish the game they are playing. For such occasions, all gamers should have lighter, shorter games at their disposal. Here are some personal favourites from this category:
- Gloom – a card game that sees you trying to make each member of a family deeply depressed before ultimately killing them. Not one I would play with every group, but can be a lot of fun.
- The Resistance – a quick game of deduction and deception. Great, short game for five to ten players. lots of accusations flying around.
- Jungle Speed – essentially a slightly more complex version of snap. It’s basically a reflex game where yo look for matching patterns ad race to grab a wooden totem.
- Dancing Eggs – another reflex games, this time definitely aimed at children but still fun for adults. Catching and holding rubber eggs to secure points whilst doing a range of little physical challenges.
- Hive – as mentioned in the 2-player section, a small strategy game that takes just a few minutes to play. Very competitive.
It’s difficult to pick a single recommendation for this category, since you never really know how many players you’re going to have, how much time you have, or what sort of mood you’re going to be in. As such, I have chosen two recommendations for this category. The Resistance is a game I have written about before and remains a firm favourite in our group. It’s a great little game for killing some time with a larger group of five to ten players. I enjoy this game so much that I now own not only the game itself, but a custom, Adventure Time themed version that I designed myself. Most games last less than half an hour, give every player the opportunity to be involved and presents a real challenge to the players. Crucially, the rules are simple and very easy to pick up, with most of the fun coming from player interaction rather than the actual mechanics of the game. Great as a short filler, but also playable over and over again throughout the course of a session.
My second choice is Hive. Hive is a simple little game of placing and moving black and white hexes with pictures of insects on them. Each one moves differently and the goal is to surround the enemy queen. The fact that the hexes form the dynamically changing board keeps the game fluid and constantly moving. The game is, like The Resistance, very easy to pick up, but once you have grasped the basics there is actually a lot of depth and strategy involved. There are a couple of small expansions which add some different bugs to your game, but I have yet to try these. On a final note, the designer of this game, John Yianni kindly sent me 6 copies of this game to use my pupils. This was a very generous gesture and the game has gone down very well with the children.