(That You May Have Never Heard Of)
My family loves board games and movies. All 4 kiddos have their favorite type of movie, and might not agree on what to watch, but when it comes to board games, anything goes. We’ve owned many different genres, but these 3 games are the ones we reach for most often.
1. Settlers of Catan
This game has somewhat of a cult following. I actually have a car decal for this one. Many gamers have heard of or played this game, but I still meet people who have no idea what it’s about. There is a bit of a learning curve to play this one, but after a couple rounds, it’s fairly easy to strategize. Basically, the idea is to gather resources from the land around your pieces and use the resources to expand and branch out across the board, which increases the amount of resources you gather. It has an accumulative effect if you’re fortunate enough to get near good resources.
The pieces are simply designed hexagons and when I first played, the way I was taught is that each game is completely random. You place all the hexagons face-down and then place your first pieces and only after you’ve decided where you want to start can you see the resources you’re touching. There is another way to play (found in the rule book) with predetermined and evenly spaced resources, but the random game-play adds so much excitement and makes every game unique.
My husband I owned this game before the tornado, but since our oldest was still very young, we didn’t play it often. It’s a fairly expensive game (around $50) with many important, small pieces, which meant we usually only played when the kids were asleep. The tornado destroyed our board game collection, and the following Christmas, my oldest child actually bought it for us with his own money (the car decal came with this copy he picked out, so we let him decide where to place it), and asked to learn to play. He fell in love with the game so much that he built his own model with cardboard tiles and pieces, so he could play whenever he wants. He even lets his younger siblings play, without worrying about lost or broken parts.
The game can last about 20 minutes with experienced players. It takes about an hour to teach to new players; there are many rules to follow. One of my favorite things about it is that there are multiple expansion packs that not only add players and pieces to the original board, but they also add complex dynamics to the gameplay. When we got our first expansion pack, we’d been playing for over a decade and it still took a couple hours to work out all the new rules. We played 3 or 4 times before we really figured out how to play, and even now, months later, we occasionally have to break open to game guide to find answers. There are entire online communities dedicated to Settlers of Catan strategy, and those of us who enjoy it often bond over our own unique game-play techniques.
Catan is popular enough that when it comes up in conversation, we can entice people to try another game in our collection that no one I’ve met in the US has ever heard of:
This game is unlike any other game I’ve ever played. The idea is similar to Catan, in that you need to expand through the board, but you do not gather resources. In Carcassonne, there is only one piece that starts the game off and that piece has a field, a road, and a city. The other pieces in the game are all upside down and you randomly draw any of them. The piece you draw will have a field, or a road, or a city (or a church, but that’s connected by a field or road and adds another level of complexity to the game), or any combination of the above.
You have to decide where to place your tile piece so that it matches up, field with field or city with city or road with road, etc. then you may place a little wooden person (Meeple!) of your color (you have a limited number of these) on one of those and “claim” it until it is completed. Your opponent plays a piece, adding to and building the board as you go and when an object (road or city or church) is “complete”, which means a road that has 2 ends or a city that is bordered on all sides by a field, etc, then you may pick up your little wooden person and claim something else with it.
It’s a relatively simple game and fairly quick gameplay, once you get the hang of it. My husband and I can play a complete game in about 15 minutes, but when we’ve played with friends (up to 6 players), it can take 45 minutes or more.
The game is intriguing because the strategy you use depends on how the random board unfolds. Every single game is completely different, but each player has an equal opportunity.
I remember buying this game for the first time. We were at the Galleria in Houston and there was a board game shop, which I’d never seen before. All of the coolest board games in one place! It’s like a bookstore, but more expensive! Jesus, take the checkbook! On a shelf near the entrance was Carcassonne, and it had a sticker stating “Game of the Year”. The box was quite plain and we had no idea what the game was about. Since it was relatively inexpensive, under $25, we said, “Let’s just get it and see what happens.” Game of the Year can’t be bad, right?
I’ll be honest, the first time I played, it reminded me of a tile game we played in school where you had to line up 9 tiles and 1 was different and it was a puzzle that if you didn’t start off right, was incredibly frustrating to finish. I didn’t think I would like Carcassonne at all. Derrick loved it though. After a couple games, it really grew on me. Our youngest 2 children play it regularly and it’s one we can pull out with friends over, and they can learn it quickly.
Fun Fact: The German-style game is actually based on a city in France, which was geographically vital and changed owners for thousands of years. The landscape was uniquely affected by different rulers throughout history. Also, this game has spawned dozens of expansions and inspired additional games and even has a PC version.
As fun and interesting as Carcassonne is, there is one game that has completely rocked my world this year:
Trains Across America (oops I mean) Ticket to Ride
I cannot get enough of this game. I’ve only briefly owned this one, and by far it’s been the one I’ve played the most. I saw it advertised for the past few years, but it’s a train game, and honestly I thought it would be stupid. In June of this year, I went to visit my sister for our birthdays and she had it. We played a couple of times, and now I’m completely addicted.
The object of the game is to complete routes across a map of the US and part of Canada. Some routes are incredibly short and easy and worth only a couple of points. Other routes cross from sea to shining sea. You gather colored train cards on your turn, or you can draw for new routes, or you can place your pieces (cute little trains!) on segment trails along your route. The main reason I think this game is an absolute blast to play is that you can only do one thing on your turn. There are 3 options, but you have to choose 1 thing to do. As soon as you make a move to start doing it, the next player knows what you’ve chosen, and they can begin their turn. If you draw one card, the next player can throw down train pieces. It’s so intense!
With 2 players, the game can be set up, played and finished in less than 10 minutes. With 4 players, it might take 40 minutes or more.
This game is super easy to learn, only has a few rules and is so bright and fun! Every game is different, of course, because you never know what destinations you will draw and how you’ll have to build your route of 45 train cars. If you miss a destination, it counts as negative points against you, and the game ends when any one player gets down to their last 2 train pieces. So you have to watch them!
We played dozens of times in the 3 days we were with my sister, and then after we got home, we bought the game for ourselves. In 3 months, our family had played enough games that our colored cards were bent in the middle from so much shuffling and were basically falling apart. We bought the expansion pack recently, adding 35 destinations to the deck. The expansion also replaces the smaller, harder to shuffle cards from the original game, with full-sized playing cards.
Ticket to Ride is so popular, there is talk of it becoming its own reality TV show. In just a few short months, we’ve shared this game with many friends and a few of them had to get their own copy so they could play at their house.
My sister and I joke that we cannot remember the name of the game, and as soon as we do, I get the song stuck in my head, so our pet name is Trains Across America or simply Trains. We’ve not only had hours of fun playing this one, but also so many jokes and pictures and late-night texts back and forth about destination choices, times we got cut off by our husbands, staying up way too late to play just one more, and pictures of high scoring routes. This game was the most expensive of games that I’ve purchased, with the board and expansion pack totaling $70. That sounds high, but when I think about how much it costs to take my family to see a movie at the theater, and then I think about how many hours of joy we’ve gotten out of it, I know it’s worth every single penny.
We are a board game loving family. I want my kiddos to grow up knowing what it means to win and being able to accept a loss. I want them to stretch their minds with strategic planning and have fun along the way. I believe the gift of quality time is one of the best gifts I can give to them, and I look forward to playing board games with them and their future families for decades to come.