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Reliving my youth, this time through board games

November 7, 2007

First it was the Wii downloadable games. I burned through the summer on those. Next, it was the BMW I bought as a celebration of a midlife without crisis. Now, it’s all the board games I played when I was younger and a whole bunch more. It was a game of RISK that started it all.

As a gamer, and like many game designers, I started out on board games, and I was deeply in love with the things. This passion transfered to pencil and paper games, most notably D&D, Paranoia and Rolemaster. Somewhere back there, the amount of video games I played began to exceed the number of non-digital games I played until it eclipsed them entirely. When I moved off the continent to the Caribbean, I actually (and stupidly) gave away the great majority of my games, both digital and non-digital. Moving stuff to the Caribbean was expense, and I didn’t really foresee myself having a second round of obsession. (Yes, it was stupid, and I’ve regretted it a thousand times.)

Obsession’s here again, though, and I’m both buying and playing a lot of board games and having more fun with games than I’ve had in a long time. This will naturally translate into me modding some games in some way or creating whacked games of one sort or another just to experiment with particular mechanics. Most recently, I modded RISK so my 6-year-old could play the game and feel engaged in it and rewarded by her own decisions (as opposed to mine on her behalf).

Non-digital design is immensely rewarding to designers because a) it’s quick to prototype and b) you can actually finish a game by yourself without programming and art. Note that I didn’t say it would be pretty, but the core of a game isn’t about looks anyway. Sadly, I’ve met a number of game designers and want-to-be designers who have next to no experience with board games excepting the ol’ family faves like Monopoly, Scrabble and Sorry. I believe knowledge of and experience with non-digital games is critical to video game designers.

In fact, Greg Costikyan has an article on the subject: Don’t Be a Vidiot. In it, there is this particularly eloquent quote:

If your sole experience of games derives from the arcade, the console, and the home PC–particularly if your sole experience derives from games published within the last five years–your imagination will be constrained. You will see only what exists in the here and now, and you will naturally be inclined to ring the changes on the apparently possible, rather than exploring more interesting alternatives. Your palette of techniques, your grasp of the possible, will be limited. You will be, if you will pardon the term, a “vidiot,” a person whose sole understanding of games derives from video games.

If, on the other hand, you explore that weird and mutable thing we call “the game” in all its manifestations, you will see that the universe is large, that the range of technique is enormous, that this truly is a medium of great plasticity. You will have a bigger grab-bag of ideas to draw on, a wider range of ideas to steal, a broader set of shoulders on which to stand.

And it’s profoundly rewarding to play these games, too. In the last few years, some amazing games have been released: Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Carcassone and RISK 2012. For me, this is seriously the tip of the iceberg. Fellow game designer Noah Falstein recently told me about Cosmic Encounter, and through the magic of eBay, I will own that soon. It’s also available online if you can’t wait.

So, expect to hear more about board games. Feel free to suggest some, too. It would be interesting (and enabling of my present obsession) to bring RISK to GDC.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2007 4:45 pm

    From my trips to GenCon and so forth, I would recommend investigating the Days of Wonder board games (if you don’t already know of them). I’ve played most of the titles they have, including:

    Ticket To Ride
    Shadows Over Camelot
    Pirate’s Cove
    Cleoparts and the Society of Architects

    They have to be some of the most engaging, innovative board games I’ve ever heard of. They’ve made quite an impression on the GenCon crowd, and that is testimonial enough. You can check them out and even play online Shockwave versions at their site:

  2. November 8, 2007 6:53 pm

    I’ve had the pleasure of playing Cosmic Encounter with a seasoned game designer who not only owns an original copy of the game, but copy of all of its expansions. He’s played the game so much that he actually *removes* a whole bunch of alien races from the game, and only leaves in the ones that are the most interesting and most broken, and therefore the most balanced (when everyone has a broken power, no one really does). It’s actually incredibly fun that way.

    I have to admit, until I started playing board games, I had a very limited view of the way games worked, and even less of an understanding of how to analyze them. The past few years of playing games like those you mentioned, and those mentioned by the previous poster, have really opened my eyes to some interesting ways to construct mechanics that digital games have been slow in adopting (Shadows Over Camelot is actually an excellent example). I’m hoping some enterprising designer will do more than just port these boardgames sometime in the future.

  3. November 9, 2007 7:20 am

    Hey Brenda

    Nifty post.

    “This will naturally translate into me modding some games in some way or creating whacked games of one sort or another just to experiment with particular mechanics.”

    Immerse yourself in these terrific games, all laid out in front of you, rule books open to you, components and counters and pieces…jogs the brain, gets you thinking, gets the creative juice flowing…how could one not start tinkering?

    “Non-digital design is immensely rewarding to designers because a) it’s quick to prototype and b) you can actually finish a game by yourself without programming and art. Note that I didn’t say it would be pretty, but the core of a game isn’t about looks anyway.”

    For sure. Here’s a pic of the very first version of a boardgame I made with a friend recently.

    Grubby ain’t it? ; ) But that’s all you need. We spent about 4 hours designing the thing while playing it and drawing stuff up. Spontaneous, a good mental exercise for the afternoon and very rewarding in a “hey we made this and it’s fun” way.

    “I believe knowledge of and experience with non-digital games is critical to video game designers.”

    Agreed very much. And so do others besides Greg C.:

    What We Could Learn From Board Games
    by Steve Meretzky

    “In the last few years, some amazing games have been released: Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Carcassone and RISK 2012.”

    Truly. It’s a new age of boardgaming that’s been going on. So many interesting new titles. I’m into older games but thanks to intervetion –tough game love from others– I caught up again fast.

    Okay, here’s some fave games, mostly old ones, that might be worth searching for. Check them out at boardgamegeek and see what you think.

    Btw, I definitely second Ticket to Ride. Devilishly simple and great for kids and adults. And Cosmic Encounter. It’s not for everyone but it is a classic. (Jeff, cool…you were lucky. Most have to just bash it out for a while.)

    Misc. cool games

    Sanctuary* (Mayfair) – based on “Thieves World”
    221B Baker Street (H. P. Gibson & Sons) – better than Clue
    Diplomacy (Avalon Hill/WotC) – legendary
    History of the World (Avalon Hill)
    Shogun (Milton Bradley/WotC)

    Adventure/”story” games (various genres)

    Tales of the Arabian Nights* (West End) – legendary
    Star Trek: The Adventure Game (West End) – Costikyan
    Voyage of the BSM Pandora (solo – Ares magazine #6) – a personal favorite
    Sorcerer’s Cave (Ariel) and its bemusing sequel, Mystic Wood (Avalon Hill)
    Barbarian Prince (solo – Dwarfstar Games) – free online
    Source of the Nile (Avalon Hill)
    King Arthur’s Knights (Chaosium) – seminal
    Runebound (Fantasy Flight Games)

    Fantasy strategy

    Titan (Avalon Hill) – the king of monster battle games – strategic game zooms down to tactical maps for battles
    The Lords of Underearth (Metagaming)
    Valley of the Four Winds (Games Workshop)
    Borderlands (Eon)
    Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (Fantasy Flight Games) – simple, stratego-like

    Science fiction strategy

    4000 AD (Waddingtons Games) – dirt simple, diceless, invisible movement (hyperspace)
    The Creature That Ate Sheboygan (SPI) – Costikyan
    Stellar Conquest (Avalon Hill) – seminal

    *Gamers who would not ordinarily play fantasy boardgames generally really like these.

    Happy boardgaming, Brenda!

  4. bbrathwaite permalink
    November 9, 2007 1:23 pm

    Rich –

    Thanks so much for that list of games, and for the link to Steve’s article as well.

    “And unlike the enormous teams required today for game development, board games can still be created by one or two people at a cost of next to nothing. (Admittedly, board games have a higher cost of goods.) As a result, board games are relatively free to experiment and innovate.”

    Isn’t that the truth? I have more fun trying to create games out of things that have absolutely no business being games, from a traditional point of view anyway. Sometimes I come out with fun prototypes, and other times, they’re just laughable. Still, the process of design and creation is the real fun for me, and if a fun game comes out of it, so much the better.

    In my own designs and in some of my classes in which students are required to constantly prototype non-digital games, I’ve been trying to push them toward innovation – no pirartes, ninja, zombies, prostitutes, gangs or space marines. I have had students create a game about cooking, robbing temples, bees, female Irish pirates, disgruntled cowboys with mechanical and modifyable sidekicks, as well as a host of “pure” games with no story that are fun to play.

    Thanks again for the list. Just in time for Christmas, too.

  5. ai864 permalink
    November 9, 2007 1:59 pm

    The field of boardgames is so vast. There are just so many offline games, classic and recent, that are worth playing as a designer. At Brenda’s direct request, here’s a list just off the top of my head, in no particular order, and I’m sure I’m forgetting many:

    * Chess. Even if you think it’s “too brainy” or whatever, at least take a look at the mechanics. They’re incredibly simple, only 6 pieces and two special moves! And yet, look at the depth you get from the dynamics… and then tell me again why you need another twenty character classes for your MMO?

    * Spades. It’s popular, it’s free with Microsoft Windows, and it’s a great introduction to the genre of trick-taking card games with trump.

    * Bridge. Once you’ve mastered Spades, this adds just one extra mechanic in the bidding, and from that you get this explosion of depth that comes from bidding conventions.

    * Brawl (by James Ernest). This is not the only card game played in real-time, but it is one of the best, and it makes for a great comparison to Street Fighter 2.

    * Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Puerto Rico. Mentioned in the original blog post, I consider these to be the Holy Trinity of Eurogaming. In all three cases, note how you never have to sit idle while waiting for your turn; in Settlers you’re trading with other players constantly, in Carcassonne you’re kibbutzing on where the other players should place their tile (it actually TELLS you to do this in the rules), in Puerto Rico you take a turn at pretty much the same time everyone else does.

    * Pit. Another amazing real-time card game, worth playing for its aesthetics. The same way that Guitar Hero makes you feel like a rock star even though it’s nothing like playing a real guitar, Pit makes you feel like a professional stockbroker on the floor of the NYSE even though it’s nothing like it in real life.

    * Knizia’s Lord of the Rings. One of the few purely cooperative games out there: you all win or you all lose, period. Yes, this means it’s really just glorified Solitaire (you may as well have the best player at the table make everyone’s decisions for them), but in practice that’s not what happens. One of the expansions adds a player to serve as an opponent to all the others, which impacts the cooperative level a great deal (all “table talk” is overheard by the enemy, for one thing).

    * Advanced Civilization (by Avalon Hill, I think). This is one of those games that you only get to play once every five years, because a single game will take about 20 hours of game time (i.e. an entire weekend) and it’s not worth playing without the full complement of 7 players. But oh, is it so worth it. There’s a tech tree, in a game that predates Diablo II by decades. There is trading, which is simultaneously risky (you might receive something nasty in the trade that you didn’t want) and necessary (you simply can’t produce enough goods on your own without doing some trading). There are all kinds of dynamics that come into play during different stages of the game. The first couple of turns have practically no conflict, letting new players ease into the mechanics before it gets too bloody. Incredibly complex but it all fits together so nicely. Important to video games since Sid Meier’s Civilization was based on this.

    * Diplomacy. Another one of those seven-player, all-weekend games… but with extremely simple rules, and a brilliant “support” mechanic that basically forces you to make (and break) alliances with other players; victory goes to the best diplomat, not the best tactician, unlike most RISK-style games. I’ve seen friendships dissolved over the bitter backstabbing that happens in this game; play only with people who you are EXTREMELY close to… or people who you will never see again. But play, by golly, play.

    * Set, and/or Ricochet Robot. These two games have the interesting property that they can be played by an infinite number of people, and players can arrive or leave in the middle without disrupting the game.

    * DOOM, and/or Warcraft 3, and/or World of Warcraft. These are some rather well-known video games that were translated into boardgame form. It’s worth seeing what happens to a realtime action game when it turns into a turn-based strategy game, and all three games are quite good in their own way.

    * Blokus. It’s simple, abstract, colorful, and extremely vicious. A full game plays in about 10 minutes, and then after the first game people usually want to play again… always a good sign.

    * Citadels. Like Puerto Rico, you choose one of several available roles each round. Unlike Puerto Rico, the roles interact with each other on multiple levels, requiring a fair amount of bluffing.

    * Poker. (Speaking of bluffing…) A long time ago I thought this was just a game of luck, and didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand that over the course of many hands, everyone will statistically get about as many winning hands as anyone else, so the winner is not determined by luck… but by who maximizes the value of their winning hands.

    * Liar’s Dice (aka Bluff). If you’ve seen the second Pirates of the Carribean movie, this is the game that they played there. It’s almost a pure bluffing game: you have a handful of dice that you roll in a cup so that only you can see them; you’re trying to guess how many dice among ALL players have a certain face showing. When it gets around to you, you have to either raise the last player’s guess, or call them a liar; you’re only at risk of losing if you challenge or are challenged, so you ideally never want to challenge (and neither does anyone else), which makes the bids tend towards unlikely. An interesting addition here is that you can show some of your dice and reroll the rest, possibly increasing your chances of making your guess.

    * OGRE/G.E.V (by Steve Jackson, back in the days when he actually did innovative stuff). There are precious few asymmetric games out there, and this is one of the more interesting. One player controls a whole fleet of military vehicles. The other controls a single, massive, final-boss-sized tank. Imagine trying to balance something like this!

    * Any of the “Crayon Rails” games (Eurorails, Nipponrails, Iron Dragon, etc.). The components themselves are interesting here: you have a wax-coated gameboard, and you lay train track by taking a crayon and drawing on it. When the game ends, you simply take a paper towel and wipe it all off. Gimmick aside, the gameplay is solid enough to make this a relatively large genre in the boardgame industry; for PC gamers, these games were the inspiration for the Railroad Tycoon series of video games.

    * Bohnanza. The best bean-farming game you’ll ever play (strangely, this is not tautological). It’s a game of trading cards to make matching sets; some cards are more common than others, but you need more of them to get fewer points. Since you can rarely use all the cards in your hand (and the ones that you can’t use will actively hurt you), you’re essentially forced to trade with others constantly, making this a highly collaborative game in spite of the fact that you’re all trying to win.

    * Modern Art. This is probably the purest Bidding/Auction game you’ll ever play, and it has distilled the fun of auctions down to its essence. It features four different kinds of auctions, and you can either make money as the auctioneer or as a speculator (you must do both during the course of the game). Given the art theme, the cards are also quite aesthetically pleasing to look at.

    * Apples to Apples. An extremely social game that gives a different experience from just about any other game I’ve played. Anyone studying emergent gameplay should take a look at this game; by setting up random conditions, you practically guarantee some emergent situations in every game.

    * Republic of Rome (Avalon Hill). Be warned: it’s out of print, it takes 4 to 6 hours to play and basically requires 6 people, the rules are the most horribly written I’ve ever seen in a published product, and there is an awful lot of die-rolling and card-drawing randomness in a game that should be a lot more skill-based for its length. But I include it here because it does something that I’ve seen almost nowhere else: forces players to cooperate because they can ALL lose together… but meanwhile, there can only be one winner, which means the players must also compete. Too much competition and everyone loses; too much cooperation from you personally and YOU lose. It’s a brilliant dynamic that should be explored in future games.

    * Betrayal at House on the Hill. This recent Avalon Hill game is not even remotely balanced. But it is fun regardless, and just about every time you play you can be sure that there will be some moment of great enjoyment shared by everyone at the table, due largely to the game’s theme and its ability to cause these kinds of weird situations. Given that there are some 50 scenarios, it also lends itself well to modding; “create a new scenario” would be a great class assignment.

    * Memoir ’44 and/or Battlecry and/or Battle Lore. All these games are pretty much identical, except for the theme (WW2 / Civil War / Fantasy). They are old-school chits-and-hexes wargames, reinvented for the modern gamer. It’s interesting to compare the simplicity of these games with some of the more complicated SPI games from the 70’s. These also come with a scenario booklet and lend themselves well to “level design”.

    * Six Nimmt and/or Diamant. These are the two examples that my favorite guest lecturer, Alex Yeager of Mayfair, has brought to my class. Both are incredibly simple, can be played with up to 8 players, and have a series of simple choices (yes/no, or pick-a-card) that end up leading to some very tense moments when the choices are resolved. Six Nimmt is something like the classic card game Hearts in that you’re trying to play safely to avoid points, but you play simultaneously with everyone else so you’re never QUITE sure how safe you are; Diamant is a classic Press-Your-Luck game, where you get rewarded for staying in if everyone else chickens out, and you get rewarded for chickening out when everyone else stays in.

    * Mother Sheep. We’ve got to support our own people 🙂

    * Chrononauts, by Looney Labs. The game itself is horribly broken and quite random, and I don’t like it. But the model of time travel that it provides would be a wonderful mechanic to use in an RPG (tabletop or computer) that dealt with time travel.

    * Once Upon a Time. A competitive storytelling game, if you can believe it. You’re given a bunch of cards that have fairy-tale-themed words on them; when you’re the storyteller, you spin a tale of your own invention, and when you say a sentence containing one of your words you can play the card. If you say a word in someone else’s hand, they can play out of turn and become the new storyteller, picking up where you left off. The object is to rid yourself of cards and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion that matches your secret “happily ever after” card.

    * Wits & Wagers, a game that was just released last year, is interesting for anyone who has read the book “Wisdom of Crowds” — it’s basically proof of the book, in game form. The group of players is asked a trivia question that no one is expected to know the answer to; you have to guess a number. The guesses are placed in numeric order, and then players place their bets on a betting chart — where the middle number pays 1:1, ranging to the extremes that pay 5:1.

    * Munchkin and/or Chez Geek (by Steve Jackson, after he lost his desire to be innovative). I actually hate these games. They’re horribly unbalanced and random, the jokes on the cards are funny but only the first time you read them, and the game has very little strategic depth and takes far too long. But I’ve also known people who weren’t gamers — people who, in fact, had never played D&D and didn’t even get half the jokes in Munchkin — who played REGULARLY. I don’t get it, but I’m not going to argue their popularity. And I’ll keep playing until I figure it out.

    * Hare & Tortoise (aka Hase und Igel). This is actually an abstract math game that teaches triangular numbers, but it manages to do so in a way that totally fits the theme. There is just barely enough randomness to keep the game from being solvable, allowing for a great deal of strategy.

    * Carabande (I forget the English version name of this). A car-racing game where the movement mechanic is physically flicking a disc. Designing a boardgame with a physical component is analogous to designing a video game for use with a dance pad (or Wiimote), and Carabande is a great example of how to make it work.

    * Stonehenge. The box is confusing, calling this a “game anthology”. The more accurate term is “game system”, but the best way for a video game developer to think of this is the boardgame equivalent of a game engine: it’s a bunch of component parts that can be used in a variety of games (much like a deck of cards can be used to play many games). Creating a game for the system is a great designer exercise, as is looking at the user-submitted games online and critiquing them.

    * Piecepack ( Another game system that predates Stonehenge (har), and it’s in the public domain. You can purchase nice wooden sets from them, or you can print your own (making it nice for a student budget).

    * Magic: the Gathering. Every designer alive has probably already played the heck out of this game, but the one or two that haven’t should absolutely take the time to learn it. It is one of the three games that has had a profound effect on the boardgame industry in the US, and as such is deserving of study (the other two games are Settlers of Catan, and Dungeons & Dragons).

    * Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, it’s highly derivative of Tolkein… but a huge proportion of video games (particularly RPGs, but even fantasy-themed FPSs and RTSs) pay homage to D&D.

    * Spellcaster ( This game has a relatively high learning curve despite its simplicity (not unlike Chess), but it is incredibly well-balanced and it is in the public domain. Best thing about it is that it has no gameboard, cards or other material components; all you need to play is a pencil and paper for each player (although a printout of the spell list would be nice). As far as I know, it’s also the most realistic simulation of a wizarding duel ever made 🙂

    * Ghost ( ). Here’s a challenge for you: design a game that can be played with no components at all. Ghost is one such game; players add letters to a growing word, one at a time, the object being to avoid completing a word while forcing your opponent to do so.

    * Nomic ( This is a game that is also a metagame. It starts with a set of rules that do little other than describe the methods by which players can alter the rules of the game (including the methods of altering rules given in the first place). Object of the game is to modify the rules in such a way that they declare you the winner. Even if you don’t have the stomach to play, you should at least be aware of the game and read its rules, because it is referenced in many texts and articles about game design. There’s also a game called “Fluxx” which is an extremely light version of Nomic in the form of a card game.

    * Double Fanucci ( Okay, it’s not actually a game you can play, and it technically comes from a video game, but it beautifully demonstrates how adding complexity is not the same as adding depth to gameplay.

    * Junta. This game has you play a high-ranking official in a corrupt banana republic. Each turn the players make and break alliances with each other, and in turn decide whether to support or revolt against the current regime, which gives rise to dynamics similar and yet entirely different from Diplomacy. The biggest draw of this game to me is its color; the theme of the game practically forces everyone to roleplay for comedic effect, even if it has no direct bearing on the gameplay. I think a game is pretty powerful if it can do that. (For another example of a game that encourages roleplaying through its theme, see the more recent “Ca$h ‘n Gun$” that is basically a boardgame version of the final scene in the movie Reservoir Dogs… making it unsuitable for a class, unfortunately.)

    * Werewolf. This game goes by other names (Mafia, Salem Witch Hunt, etc.) but Werewolf is the commercial title, not that you need to buy it. A great social game where no one has any useful information but you all have to make a decision together, anyway (that decision being, which one among you is a werewolf). The crazed mob logic that people come up with in this game is worth seeing, and it’s one of the few games where getting eliminated early is possible but you don’t mind: if you’re killed then you get complete information about the game and get to see everyone else struggle to find what you already know.

    * GIPF Project. There are six games under this heading; all are abstract 2-player strategy games, most play in just a few minutes, and all are brilliant. TAMSK in particular is interesting in that your game pieces are one-minute hourglass timers, and you move by flipping them over (which can give you either more or less time, depending on whether they’re more full or empty).

    * Samurai Swords (aka Shogun). If you’ve already played RISK, this game is worth playing simply to compare the two designs. Both have a similar capture-territories objective, but they implement this in very different ways.

    * Scotland Yard. Another game that is referenced often in game design books and articles; it is an asymmetric game that pits one individual player against a team four others. Note that in one-vs-many games, the individual is essentially taking the form of a GM.

  6. James permalink
    November 9, 2007 7:48 pm

    I agree with all the games in the above post, some of them I was going to recommend, but here is my list any way;

    Descent: Great game especially if you like DnD, because its just like it but with out the role playing part. Basically one player is the Dungeon Master and controls the monsters, and the rest of the players are working together to beat the dungeon. It takes a long time to play, but its worth it.

    Twilight Imperium: Another long game but well worth it. The game is different every time due to the many races each with there own unique abilities, and the board is built by the players at the beginning of each game. Its allot like Axis and Allies, in space. One of the best things about this game is it has many optional rules that will make the game more or less complex so different skill levels of gamers can play this game.

    Axis and Allies(Avalon Hill): Of all of the World War 2 board games that I have played, this would have to be the best. Its has rules for your standard old WW2 Alliances, or you can play your own alternate history games like the US and Germany allied or what ever you want. A very good game if you like Risk.

    All of those game take a good long time to play but they are all worth it to play for any game designer.

  7. Chris Schmidt permalink
    November 10, 2007 8:21 am

    I had thought i may have missed out on making a contribution to this list, however there are a few i would like to add to the already excellent listings i’ve seen.

    King Me, Tsuro – perfect examples of games which can be learned in minutes and replayed endlessly. tsuro being a tile based movement game where the way to win is simplty not to collide with each other or a wall, but in which you must always move to the end of your path. king me on the other hand is a game of intrigue and bluffing, wherein your goal is to get the nobles you support into the highest ranking positions you can, with the king being the highest. the twist is that the other players also have a list of nobles that they support, and should even one opponant disapprove of the king they can vote to remove them from the game rather than become king through a limited card based voting system.

    other games of note include

    talisman, a suprisingly fun game of adventuring whose legend is recently reborn thanks to wizards of the coast
    advanced civilization, an amazingly well balanced and orchestrated empire building game revolving around, as you may have guessed, early civilizations

    blue max, an excellent simulation of early WWI dogfighting, complete with random, and sudden deaths! good times are had by all.

    Robo Ralley, all i have to say is this: Robot. Death. Race. you program your robot 5 moves at a time and watch as you fail to accurately predict the moves of either the enemy robots or your own! the results? an excellent way to spend about an hour, and a new respect for spatial recognition skills.

    arkham horror, if you like cthulu, and you like betrayal at house on the hill then this game is generally for you. with a significantly different gameplay expreience each game due to the vast quantities of componants, as well as the sense of everpresent impending doom this game is simply fun.

    power grid, an excellent resource management game, where players try and control, suprise suprise, the power grids. players purchase power plants and fuel and try and expand to as many homes as possible while competing with the other players for resources and space, it’s definately in my top 10.

    x-machina, a fun creative card game wherin the players take cards marked with various diffenternt object such as zamboni machines and klein bottles, and try and rationalize how they can make these objects work together to form an invention to solve a problem, to be judged by the player whose turn it is to play the “client”. a great icebreaker game, and fun all around.

    fluxx. if you have not played fluxx, go get a copy. games range from 30 seconds to hours long, and can be played and be fun at all levels of sobriety. i mean the rules are on the cards, but they are always changing, as are the goals, in fact the only rule that cannot be changed is draw one play one. that rule can be superceded if the players play other rules…. lets’s just leave it at you should play this game, it’s mensa approved.

    honrorable mention: world in flames, the ONLY board game which scares me to play. clocking in at $120, 1000 minutes AVERAGE PLAY TIME, 1200+ pieces, and god knows how many rules, this game makes twilight imperium seem like tiddlywinks. this is for the gamer who feels that axis and allies is simply not accurate enought for their needs

    i’m sure there’s more i can find, but most of the bst ones have been covered already, i hope i added some gems to the list, though now i have a strong desire to get together a game of iron dragon…

  8. Brian permalink
    November 11, 2007 8:09 pm

    My dad is most likely my roots for why I have inevitably fallen into game design. Although he won’t do video/computer games as he’s technology-phobic, he has a rather epic collection of tabletop games. In fact, an entire room of our house is devoted to nothing but tabletop gaming. I’m not kidding. Floor to ceiling shelves of games.

    I wouldn’t say I started gaming through board/tabletop gaming. My earliest gaming memories I can think of were me and my sister playing games on that TI-99/4A I brought into class, you were impressed by (and yes, I STILL play games on that, on rare occasions.) I’m pretty sure that predates any tabletop gaming I would have done by a few years.
    That said, I’ve been playing non-digital games from very early on, on top of all the video games throughout my youth.
    Actually, as much as you chided me for not knowing a certain D&D game mechanic, my dad is the reason why – he was my introduction to D&D, and made a terrible, terrible DM. As brilliant as the man is, a creative imagination and storytelling ability are not even remotely among his strong points. That campaign he ran was so terrible I was turned off from D&D for many years. I finally have picked it up again in college, though with a group that was extremely casual and thus I’m not yet terribly in touch with the mechanics of the game.

    Sadly, very few games of my father’s collection I have played. Ironically, I’ve read the rules to some of them without having ever actually played the game in the end.
    Now that my paths in life have changed and I’m serious about designing games, I’ve been meaning to play some of these with him. Some much needed father-son bonding before his health turns for the worst AND it helps my career. Double bonus!
    Your thoughts, as well as those of Costikyan and Meretzky, are all the more inspiration to do this.

    So it’s handy to have this compiled list right here right as I’m about to go home for the holidays and will have over a month of time with my father. Most of the titles people have suggested I know are among my father’s collection.

  9. Casey permalink
    November 14, 2007 5:33 am

    Hi Brenda,

    First off, fantastic blog! (I’m excited to find a blog written by a SCAD faculty member, as I hope to study game design at SCAD myself in the near future.) Please continue the good work!

    Your post on board gaming has struck a chord with me, as my friends and I — avid video-gamers all — have just this year returned to board gaming as a group, and we are having an absolute blast. I find that a lot of our video-game experiences are constrained as we play single-player titles, but board games are inherently multi-player experiences. There are social dynamics that come up during our game sessions that make the board games more interesting, too, particularly table talk and the politics of influencing player decisions. (Although one could argue that headsets provide “table talk” for online console gaming, usually these games are so fast paced that diplomacy gives way to trash talk.)

    A few games we’ve been enjoying as a group, all of which can be further explored on the excellent site:

    – Puerto Rico: my personal favorite board game has almost no random element (player seat positions are randomized, as is the plantation tile draw) and variable role choices. The game is a fine balance between earning money, shipping goods, and constructing buildings. Player scores are not public information, so leader-bashing is avoided. The most difficult thing about Puerto Rico for experienced players of the game is trying to determine who is in the lead, which dramatically affects end-game strategy. This was mentioned in the OP, and so if you’ve had the chance to explore its mechanics, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

    – Lifeboats: we just picked this up, and it’s been a hit with my friends who do not like deep strategy games like Puerto Rico. Players have to work together and form alliances to get their sailors to safety after a shipwreck. The twist in this game is that every game action is decided by secret ballot, so diplomacy is paramount.

    – Mr. Jack: a two-player only game pits one player as Jack the Ripper against another as the detective who must unmask Jack. Players take turns controlling four of eight characters on a board, each of whom have special abilities that affect how they can move or block other characters. One of these characters is Jack in disguise, of course! Once characters have moved, the detective asks, “Is there a witness?” If the secret Jack character is under a lamppost, or near another character, then there is a witness, and characters who do not meet this criteria can be eliminated from the suspect pool. After eight turns, Jack gets away. What I really, really like about this game is that the deduction is matched by the craftiness of the opponent. While playing, the detective must often second-guess herself, thinking, “Why would he do that? That suggests Miss Stealthy is Jack, but that’s obvious, so maybe he’s bluffing…” This play experience is incredibly rewarding and satisfying, as there is only one piece of secret information, and all other game events are public — that is, you know everything you need is before you, only you have to put it together.

    Some of the others we play regularly have been mentioned above, such as Power Grid, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Blokus, Robo Rally, etc. All are fine games (I particularly like the flavor and modular board of Betrayal, though Last Night on Earth has a similar concept with more refined rules).

    I also whole-heartedly agree with your point about prototyping board games cheaply and quickly. I recently picked up a copy of The Very Clever Pipe Game, which is a CheapAss Games release, for a few dollars. The bits are very simple — not much more complicated than something I could churn out in an afternoon — but that’s not the point, obviously. The game is fun, and I can imagine many prototypes were made to arrive at the final design, which likely wasn’t a far leap from the final prototype candidate in terms of presentation. There’s also the benefit of reusable bits: given enough wooden cubes, “barrels,” cards, and chips, a designer has a toolkit of pieces at her disposal with which to very quickly prototype any board game concept.

    Oh yeah, and for robbing temples, give Tikal a try. =)


  10. bbrathwaite permalink
    November 20, 2007 5:19 am

    Played Scotland Yard tonight, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll do a post on it at some point when I play it a few more times.

  11. November 20, 2007 8:34 am

    See, I knew I left out a few games 🙂

    Comments on some recent games mentioned:

    * Arkham Horror fits the same category as Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, in that all players are cooperating against the game system and you win or lose together as a group. I suppose in theory you only need to play one or the other, depending on whether you prefer Tolkein or Lovecraft…

    * Power Grid brings to mind that the themes of many Eurogames are rather… boring. There are games about farming. This game is about managing a power company. These do not sound like particularly interesting things to do. But this makes it that much easier to separate mechanics from theme/story.

    * From the mention of World in Flames (1000 minutes average play time?), I remember a couple of boardgames that would be considered “hardcore”:
    – Empires in Arms (Avalon Hill). It says on the back of the box: “Playing time: 2 to 200 hours”. Yikes!
    – Advanced Squad Leader. This is an old-school chits-n-hexes wargame. For some, it is THE wargame, because there are rules that let you do just about anything that’s physically possible. It has a steep learning curve, which is a nice way of saying that a complete set of rulebooks for this game is larger than the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    I’m not sure I’d recommend playing EiA or ASL, but it’s worth knowing their reputation if nothing else.

  12. January 17, 2008 9:02 am


    For some people online flash games are a passing distraction to fill the hours between lunch and home time. For others online flash games are a passionate hobby that keeps glued to their monitors while they try and beat their last score. We’ve put together a list of the top ten best flash games ever, in no particular order. From simple animal cruelty to complex platform puzzles, these should keep you entertained all day long.

    1. Beejeweled


    Originally called Diamond Mine, this classic flash game involves moving multicoloured gems around in order to create sets of three. It’s simple, but incredibly addictive.

    2. Chimgam


    We’re not sure where this game came from — and we’re not sure we want to know. This is one of the craziest games we’ve ever played and one of the funniest. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but we can’t stop playing it.

    3. Bow Man


    Set in a time when a bow and arrow was the best way to stick it to the man — as opposed to playing silly games on company time — Bow Man challenges you to shoot your enemy by calculating the correct angle and power of your bow. Robin Hood eat your heart out.

    4. Desktop Tower Defense

    You’re sitting at your desk, avoiding work, on your fourth cup of tea when suddenly you’re attacked by a group of creeps. What do you do? You set up canons of course, and blow them to smithereens. Desktop Tower Defense is a personal favourite of ours and a must-play game.

    5. Neopets Hasee Bounce

    Dodging dung might not sound like fun, but as you’ve already found out playing Chimgam, it can be a blast. Hasee Bounce sees you control cute creatures that bounce in the air and eat doughnut fruit. If only doughnut fruit was real. Sigh.

    to be continued.


  1. Christmas Shopping List « Applied Game Design

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