I know I say this several times a year, but this time I’m actually right – the board game revolution is here. Modern board games have exploded in popularity in the last few years, and the year-on-year sales growth has been staggering. I know, I know, you’re not convinced, but try giving this a read instead of scrolling past. Maybe I’ll change your mind.
Since this is a video game website, I’ve decided to help you dive into this delicious hobby with some recommendations that (hopefully) cover all kinds of game enthusiasts. Except for people who like The Sims or Hatoful Boyfriend. Nothing can help you poor, lost souls.
Who for: The multiplayer conflict guy/girl
This one is a close contender for my favourite game of all time. If you don’t like bashing your friends’ faces in you can move on to the next item in the list, because Kemet is a bloodbath.
One of the best implementations of the unironically named “dudes on a map” genre, you’ll be sending little plastic Egyptian warriors out into the desert to take control of key points – and then hang onto them.
There are three things that make this game shine. Firstly, combat happens early and often, and losing all your map-dudes isn’t much of a blow – you can happily recruit them all back on your next turn. This means losing a fight isn’t the end of the world, and it allows people to take risks and get in each other’s faces without fear of tanking the whole game.
Secondly, the combat system is one of the best I’ve seen. Players sum the total force of their armies and then play cards from their hand which work along three dimensions – damage, strength, and protection from damage. Do you want to just win the area? Do maximum damage to your opponent’s forces and ensure a pyrrhic victory? Or maybe you know you’re ahead and just need to mitigate damage with protection. The mind-games and bluffing here make for some incredible battles, where even the loser can feel like they’ve won. It’s great.
Finally, and most importantly, the game gives each player access to 48 “power tiles”, which grant unique abilities, stats or even command of mythical creatures (complete with detailed plastic miniatures). This is the part that really appeals to the video gamer, as their army “levels up” over time with multiple different strategies and combos to explore and experiment with in different games. If you want a multiplayer combat game that doesn’t have a 30-page rulebook, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this one.
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilisation
Who for: The Civilization fanatic
This one, like most Civ games, is not for the faint of heart. If this is your first modern board game, this may be a little intimidating. That being said, if you’re not scared off by a rulebook and are happy to spend a bit of time learning the game’s mechanics, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best games ever designed.
This is a full civilisation game: you’ll be building an empire through the ages (heh), starting with bashing rocks with other rocks and ending with missions to space. It’s the kind of game that will have you coming back again and again to correct the several hundred misplays you managed in the previous game.
You’ll have to generate resources, feed your population, keep them happy, upgrade your technology, bolster your military in order to fend off attacks from your opponents (or launch your own attacks) and find time for religion and culture in there as well.
This is an incredible two-player game as well, but you’re looking at a few hours of playtime to get through a game. All that being said, it’s well, well worth it. If this kind of thing is your jam, you’ll be coming back to this again and again.
Lords of Waterdeep
Who for: Strategists / fantasy RPG fans
My favourite of the so-called “gateway games”, Lords of Waterdeep is a great entry-point into modern board games while still being strategically deep enough to hold a hardcore gamer’s interest.
With a pasted-on D&D theme that should appeal to the fantasy RPG crowd as well, Lords is a worker placement game that has players deploying their agents around the city of Waterdeep to recruit nefarious individuals to complete missions for points.
It’s accessible, it’s strategic, and it’s fun. There’s not too much direct conflict in this one, so it’s also generally a safer bet for people who aren’t into getting in each other’s faces.
Once you’re done with the base game, the expansion for this one, Scoundrels of Skullport, is so damn good that it’s borderline essential. It adds a ton more depth to the game without introducing all that much in the way of extra rules or complexity. Recommended.
Who for: Real-time strategy fans
Another one of the so-called “dudes on a map” games, Cry Havoc is a little different in that it plays out a lot like what I imagine a StarCraft board game would look like.
Unlike Kemet, which is all-out war, Cry Havoc is a more thoughtful and strategic affair, with limited actions and the ability to build structures, expand across the map and squabble over the control of valuable resources.
The best part of this game is that it’s entirely asymmetrical, with four unique factions that all play very differently. This is a game which rewards multiple plays, as it can take some time to tease out the nuances of good strategy with each race.
The second-best part of this game is its ingenious battle system, which has players fighting over three distinct objectives (region control, taking prisoners and killing enemy units). This is bolstered by card-play, which can crucially turn the tide of battle.
The whole package is capped off with a striking map, stunning card art and unique miniature sets for each race. Nice.
The Resistance: Avalon / Secret Hitler
Who for: Everyone
The gold standard of social deduction games, these two are pretty similar in design, but have some stark differences. Avalon is more “pure”, in that there’s no randomness and opens itself up for more intense deduction, while Secret Hitler introduces enough chaos that your perfectly innocent friend may accidentally appear guilty, and it’s up to the players to figure out who’s telling the truth. [I’m all about that sweet, sweet intrigue. – Ed.]
The reason these two make the video gamer-approved list isn’t due to its likeness to video games, but rather due to its unlikeness. This is a purely social experience, with maximum engagement, talking and betrayal. It gives you everything that modern video games generally don’t, and for that reason I feel like every die-hard video gamer could enjoy it.
While Secret Hitler isn’t yet available in South Africa, there’s a perfectly functional print-and-play that you can use to make your own set and try it out. This is one that’s been a blast with everyone I’ve played it with, and something I highly recommend for new gamers.
Any NAGanites out there closet board gamers? What are your favourites?