Board games have undergone a renaissance in the last decade or so. These aren’t the haphazard games of chance you grew up with or that boring time warp you always got sucked into at Grandma’s house. The new generation of board games focuses on light strategy and a social experience. People are even playing in bars now; you’re not too cool for it. You’re also not too broke for it either. A game might cost around thirty dollars, and a board game is something you can easily split with your friends. You can get a lot of hours out of entertainment from just one game, so it passes the “cheaper than a movie” test. (Although with movie prices today, that’s not quite the standard it used to be.) Here are a few games that are good to play as an introduction. Getting one is a solid investment.
Settlers of Catan
Price: Starting at $19.99
To misquote Archer, Settlers of Catan is the Dane Cook of board games. But it has to be mentioned, because it’s the gateway drug. It got a lot of people into playing something more complicated than Monopoly and less time-consuming than RISK. It also kicked off a fad of having hexagonal spaces. Hexagonal spaces supposedly make things more interesting because of bees and math. Go ask one of your friends in a STEM field for a condescending answer as to why this is.
Settlers is a game of strategy, but there’s just enough luck that anyone can win on their first time playing. You play as a band of vaguely Northern European colonists on a fictional island conveniently free of indigenous peoples, and scramble to control supplies of bricks, sheep, lumber, ore and wheat, which pay off in varying frequencies based on the configuration of the board and dice rolls. It has been called the Monopoly of our generation, probably because it makes you hate all the other players with a fiery passion for ruining you.
Price: Starting at $29.99
A global-scale plague has never been this much fun! Unlike other board games, where everyone plays against each other, players in Pandemic are all on one team and playing against the board. And it’s surprisingly difficult. Things usually start out looking pretty good for the humans, then a few turns in there is a crisis which you narrowly avoid. It looks like you’ve turned the tables on the pathogen, but then you draw an outbreak card and everything goes south real fast. Each space on the board represents a major world city, connected to other cities nearby. Each player also has one of five abilities, as determined by role cards at the beginning of the game. Strategy involves using these abilities, as well as some spatial reasoning and calculated risks, to contain the outbreak from spreading between spaces.
Price: Starting at $27.50
This is another game with the perfect balance of luck and strategy. There’s no proper board for this game. Rather, each player gets a stack of tiles, face down. A turn consists of flipping one of these tiles over and placing it on the board. Each square tile has at least one of, or sometimes a combination of, pieces of roads, fields, cities, and cloisters. You get points for completing roads and cities, and claiming cloisters and farms. The real fun comes from screwing other players out of their points, either by blocking their projects or by stealing projects after they’ve already done most of the work.
Ticket to Ride
This one is for the inner mustache-twisting industrialist. In this game, you compete against other players to create a network of railroads across the United States. (There are also editions with maps of Europe, Asia, Germany, or the Nordic Countries.) Like all good board games, the fun comes from blocking your opponents and grinning as anguish crosses their pathetic faces as you drive the Golden Spike completing the Transcontinental Railroad straight into their heart. Or you could play casually and amicably, but where’s the fun in that? If you’re not willing to lose friends, disown family, and generally burn every bridge in sight, you’re not playing hard enough.
Price: $45.30 on Amazon
Surprisingly, this is considered the greatest game ever by board game aficionados. And what do you play as? Tycoons of industry? A brilliant general bent on world domination? No! This game is about 17th century Northern European feudal agriculture! Never has worrying about having enough food to feed your family been so much fun. You have fourteen rounds to grow crops, raise livestock, and grow your family before the Industrial Revolution makes your way of life obsolete. But make sure you have enough to feed your family after the harvest.