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Posted by Brackstone (764 posts) -

So as someone who plays a lot of board games, I can actually see where the Bombcast crew are coming from, while still disagreeing. I think board games have an issue with publicity and accessibility which might be responsible for the crew's perception of them. If you want the short version, skip down the page a bit.

COMPLICATED BOARD GAMES AND ME

For context, any time I talk about designer board games, I'm talking about board games that fit into the non-Hasbro, non-Parker Bros. category. Basically the modern board game, as broad and unwieldy as that category is.

Arkham Horror, from an Ars Technica article aptly titled
Arkham Horror, from an Ars Technica article aptly titled "700 Pieces, 5 Hours, 1 Elder God".

The way I see it, the bombcast's perception of board games dates back a number of years ago to roughly when designer board games started getting big again. For me, it's marked by the era when Fantasy Flight products really started showing up all over the place. When you look back then, and the type of games that have remained massively popular (despite massive design issues, in my opinion), the games were often very complicated. Lots of fiddly decks, lots of fiddly rules. Big bloated games going for theme and amount of mechanics rather than strong core mechanics. Basically, what were getting the most attention were lavish, complicated thematic american games, like Arkham Horror, or the complex, almost athematic, economics heavy euro games, like Ora et Labora.

That isn't to say that's all that was out there, but it was the most common stuff by far outside of the usual monopoly/life/risk fare. This was my experience discovering designer board games. My friends and I went through the typical ones: Arkham Horror, Catan, Battlestar Galactica, Dominion and others. This was because there weren't really many places selling these "designer" board games, and those that did focused on these, the most popular ones. It should also be noted that researching board games in much harder. They don't work in video reviews/previews nearly as well as board games, and the flaw of board game cafe's is that you'll spend a chunk of time in the restaurant reading the rules before you can actually play. The best way to find new board games is honestly to know a guy to walk you through them.

Cthulhu Wars, my opulent Kickstarter game of choice. Not pictured: 25 different expansions. You basically need a second house and a third mortgage to own it all.
Cthulhu Wars, my opulent Kickstarter game of choice. Not pictured: 25 different expansions. You basically need a second house and a third mortgage to own it all.

Back to the main point, recent years have seen a much broader interest in board games, so availability of everything is greater. That said, there's still a tendency for board games coverage to focus heavily upon the lavish, complicated, expensive stuff. Fantasy Flight, one of the biggest companies in the industry, still very much puts out those lavish theme and component heavy games. Likewise, Kickstarter has been both a great boon and a great detriment to board games. On Kickstarter, every game now comes with 12 different expansions and 14 different Kickstarter exclusives, all with unique mechanics, in addition to the complexity of the base game. That isn't to malign anyone who backs these things. I've certainly backed multiple, obscenely opulent board games for questionable reasons (Dark Souls, Cthulhu Wars, Banner Saga Warbands). But there is still a problem with the perception and expectations of modern board game audiences. Complex rules and miniatures are to board games what tacked on multiplayer and concerns about hours per dollar payed have been to video games. They are audience expectations both real and imagined that can, but not always, diminish the game in question rather than improve it by establishing an ill-fitting standard of what games should be.

THE SHORT VERSION/CONCLUSION (still kinda long though)

Kickstarter: Where restraint goes to die.
Kickstarter: Where restraint goes to die.

In other words, many of the most famous early designer board games, essentially the modern board game, were mechanically rough and complicated due to a focus on theme (Arkham Horror), or were mechanically heavy European style economy games with little player interaction (Ora et Labora). Both are complicated, both are unsuitable for a fun night with friends and beers regardless of actual quality. Recently, board game exposure has expanded greatly, and like the surge of indie games in the video game space, there is something for everyone coming out constantly, and I'd even say the average quality of a board game is much higher now than it used to be. However, the rise of board game Kickstarters has added additional problems. These games often get tons of buzz and coverage, as Kickstarter projects do, but due to how stretch goals work and the expectations/investments of the fans, they often become bloated far beyond the initial design in terms of mechanics, components and expansions. Again, there is something new for everyone coming out constantly and the old stuff is pretty good about sticking around, but a lot of what gets the publicity is the really fancy stuff. Even the issue of publicity is getting better though.

So while I cannot agree with what they said on the Bombcast, I also completely understand where they are coming from and why they feel that way, as I have often felt similarly. Keep in mind I'm no expert, just someone who's been paying attention to board games during this big modern resurgence, so it's more of a quick and dirty summary of what the situation has been for me. Experiences may vary.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Since I have argued above that discovering board games can be an issue, here are some suggestions. Some of these games I don't actually like all that much, but I view as the perfect intro to where board games are currently at. Also, to address Ben's issues, all these games have good player interaction, because like him, I think silently staring at cardboard adjacent to friends isn't much fun.

The Resistance: Get this if you want to lie to your friends for fun and profit. The base game is easy to wrap your head around, and there are excellent expansions if you feel like getting deeper into it. I'd recommend it over Avalon because Resistence starts simpler but can get more complicated than Avilon if you want it to.

Portal: The Board Game: Yes, that Portal. It honestly feels like a classic style game but with fresh, modern mechanics. It's a great transition between the Hasbros and Parker Bros. of the world to the modern board game. It doesn't play anything like the video game of course, but uses it's theme quite well.

Catan: It's famous, it's everywhere, good intro to negotiation and economy stuff. Again, good expansion selection. It's the monopoly of designer board games in many ways, some good, some bad. Also, it's the weird exception to a lot of what I said above. An early designer game, not fully a euro game, broad appeal, random chance, loose theme, simple mechanics. It's exceptional popularity definitely reflects the interesting space it occupies.

Look at this guy! He hates murder!
Look at this guy! He hates murder!

The Bloody Inn: A hidden gem about running a murder hotel to loot and bury corpses before the cops catch you. Not a graphic game by any means, but thematically not for kids. Simple in that almost every action in the game is accomplished by spending cards from your hand. For example, spend any 2 cards from hand to murder a level 2 "guest", spend any other 2 to bury the corpse and steal his money.

Sushi Go Party: Great intro to the concept of drafting card games (choose a card from a deck, pass to the next player). Simple, affordable, it basically comes with expansions for free, so it has good value.

Forbidden Island: Great introduction to co-op games. Very simple, small, affordable. It's about finding treasures on an island before it sinks. If you find it too simple, it's very easy to step up to the widely available Pandemic from here (NOT Pandemic Legacy), as they have a number of mechanical similarities.

This game is like cocaine but cheaper, legal and not ingested nasally.
This game is like cocaine but cheaper, legal and not ingested nasally.

Hanabi. Very small, very cheap ($10), very simple. Basically a co-op card puzzle, where you can only see other people's cards and never your own. The entire game is about communicating what's in other people's hands. It's honestly one of the coolest, most addictive games I've ever played and an instant recommendation to everyone.

Finally, since Brad mentioned it with Hungry Hungry Hippos and Operation, here are some dexterity games!

Catacombs: It's a longer (1.5-2 hours) 1v4 dungeon crawl game, but the gameplay is entirely about flicking wooden elf disks into evil wooden orc disks, kind of like Crokinole but with ghosts and wizards. Super fun combination of dungeon crawl mechanics and hands on gameplay. A bit more on the complicated side, but still fairly accessible. Also, it really stretches the premise of flicking disks at other disks to its limits in all the right ways.

Junk Art: It's a game about stacking objects that definitely should not be stacked. There are various game modes, and it offers similar thrills to Jenga (wooden towers falling down) while still being very much it's own thing. Basically Jenga with irregularly shaped blocks (and orbs, and pyramids, and so on).

Thanks for reading my insomnia-induced stream of consciousness. And sorry for any mistakes/ugly formatting. I've never made a blog post before, but had been thinking of making one about board games for a while. The Bombcast gave me an excuse to give it a shot.

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#1 Posted by YoThatLimp (2448 posts) -

Pandemic is always my go-to for fresh faces in board games. When I played that for the first time I realized how much possibility was in that space and how well games are being designed these days, especially up to that point Monopoly and Risk were my only benchmarks for game design. I would probably recommend Forbidden Desert in place of Forbidden island as it's only slightly more complicated and has way more depth.

The Resistance is a really good pick - it's the perfect drinking game! I would highly recommend Secret Hitler if you know you like the social deduction/get drunk and lie to your friends type games.

Also for a short intro to worker placement games that only takes 60 minutes to player - Lords of Waterdeep is awesome! Simple, straight forward, but a lot of fun.

For Ben - it sounded like he didn't like the lack of interaction you get from a worker placement game, I would probably recommend Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre. Stupid name, but high in interaction, easy enough to pull out when drunk and pretty goody overall.

I think like with video games, you just need to figure out what genre works for you. Do you love tactical combat? Do you need high player interaction so you can fuck over your friends? Do you hate card games? Do you hate dice rolls? There's so much out there!

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#2 Posted by redwing42 (455 posts) -

I'd add that this trend predates even where you started from. Axis and Allies, Talisman, and Supremacy were all games released in the Early 80s that featured complex rules and (in the case of the latter two) multiple expansions and additional rules. Still, nice write-up.

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#3 Posted by Brackstone (764 posts) -

@redwing42: I completely agree. Arkham Horror and Fury of Dracula date back to the 80s, and Cosmic Encounter, Dune and Ogre to the 70s. However, the increased interest in and, more importantly, widespread availability of these games is much more recent, and often caused by publishers like Fantasy Flight republishing these games with rules overhauls and updated artwork.

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#4 Posted by j_unit2008 (301 posts) -

Oddly enough as I've gotten older I've started playing local multiplayer games far less and instead started playing board games quite a bit instead. Through a lot of trial and error I've grown my little collection into various genres that my friends and I play depending on time commitment/mood/etc. And I think that's really the key to your enjoyment is deciding the following when choosing board games:

  • Time
  • Theme (e.g. fantasy, horror, historical, licensed stuff)
  • Genre(e.g. strategy, party, deck-building game, co-op etc.)
  • Player count

I'll echo the recommendation of Pandemic cause it's bloody great (and I'm a public health nerd), and if you really like it go for Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. It has all the same rules to start as original Pandemic but evolves and has a story with new objectives over the course of your games. Also, Betrayal at House on the Hill for a horror co-op story driven game that takes a turn with different scenarios halfway through where someone becomes the villain. And for something a bit shorter I like 7 Wonders which has all the resource management of games like Catan but is much snappier, doesn't require long setup (cause it's mostly card based),

Lastly, I feel bad for Ben cause a good board game night host should never pick a game that no one has played before. It's no fun to have to go over rules the entire time and figuring out what the heck is going on. This is something that I've been guilty of in the past and have since never done again.

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#5 Posted by j_unit2008 (301 posts) -

@brackstone: Catacombs sounds really neat and I kinda want to check it out. Thanks for the rec, duder!

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#6 Edited by BisonHero (11443 posts) -

@brackstone: I have absolutely no hard data to back this up, but I've always been under the assumption that the board game resurgence was due more to stuff like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride (and maybe a couple of others I'm forgetting), games with manageable rule sets, reasonable number of components, and a 30-90 minute play time. The mostly random chance card games like Munchkin, BANG!, and Machi Koro also seem anecdotally popular among several different groups I know, but I don't enjoy them as much.

I agree that the complexity of Fantasy Flight board games is definitely the kind of thing that gives Jeff the bad impression of designer board games he has, and certainly many Kickstarters aspire to that level of complexity because apparently everything has to be a miniatures game with a zillion tiles and tokens instead of something with a little more elegant simplicity. But I think your overall defence isn't that necessary, because (in my experience) the Fantasy Flight stuff is still kinda niche, and something I expect people to play only once they're more committed to the hobby. If the GB staff would stop being big babies about board games and criticizing the medium for its most complicated and not-really-suitable-for-beginners games, there are plenty of middle ground games that are a reasonable length and complexity. I think their whole complaint is a false premise based on a few bad experiences they've had.

If I'm hanging out with confirmed super nerds and/or it's a lot of overlap with the guys I play D&D with, then sure, we can bust out some Cosmic Encounter, Fury of Dracula, Eldritch Horror, etc. But if it's more of a mixed crowd where not everybody is an old hand at board games, we tend towards the more straightforward games I mentioned earlier, or a Jackbox Party Pack or something. I don't know the circumstances of Ben's board game night, but it sounds like the host misread the room if they busted out Ora et Labora when everybody in the room wasn't already a pretty big board game aficionado.

I miss Austin. He fucking got it, unlike just about everyone else on the GB staff.

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#7 Posted by mellotronrules (2417 posts) -

i have a feeling @benpack would like Diplomacy (simple rule set based entirely on social engineering/manipulation/interaction); but since you need 7 people and a healthy chunk of time it is a bit of a pain in the rear. also you need to play with people that are willing to not take it personally when you betray them in the coldest blood.

Online
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#8 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3653 posts) -

@bisonhero: I love me some big "Ameritrash" FFG games. With loads of components and tiles and rules. They're great. They're not for everyone and I know that. But for people who enjoy them, they're very worthwhile investments. Talisman - is not a good game, but it's a game I enjoy with the right people because we set it up for the day with several expansions, get some beers and snacks and spend the day rolling dice and having a good time.

Not everything FFG do is big and bold. They have a game called "Hey, That's my Fish!" in which 2-4 players play as penguins moving around a tiled map collecting fish. Whoever has the most fish at the end wins. When a player leaves a tile, they remove it, so you end up segmenting off entire sections of the map and if you're not careful you can essentially lose a penguin to a couple of tiles because he gets blocked away. It's both incredible simple and incredibly strategic.

And lots of the other stuff already mentioned here is pretty great. Even something like Risk - which is fine - became amazing when you turn it into Risk Legacy.

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#9 Edited by Rodin (347 posts) -

a little over a year ago I found my self burning out a bit with games so I wanted to change it up and found myself looking into board games, I started with catan on the 360 and slowly spread my wings. Very recently I've started introducing my family to board games, we'd all played monopoly etc. and I had them try ticket to ride pretty simple, but not to simple and it went over great, I brought out pandemic and while it took a little bit to explain the rules after our third attempt we finally won and everyone said they loved it, I don't know how much further I can take them down this hole but were we are at is great. I can then go of with my mates and play anything from pandemic to gloomhaven.

I feel kinda weird when I heard them talk about board games. Since I feel like the complexity curve of board games is pretty similar to games, I can introduce someone to something like an early Mario or something then, they should have an easy enough time. If they keep at it maybe one day you eventually move down the line, hitting games like dark souls, maybe they even hit stuff like eve online, who knows. These are tons of complicated games that someone who plays just board games could point at and say the same things that they said on the bombcast. Like anything you need to take it slow and introduce things bit by bit, no ones first game should be crusader kings 2 just as no ones first board game should arkham horror.

I love board games because they have a great sense of physicality that games just don't.

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#10 Posted by redwing42 (455 posts) -

i have a feeling @benpack would like Diplomacy (simple rule set based entirely on social engineering/manipulation/interaction); but since you need 7 people and a healthy chunk of time it is a bit of a pain in the rear. also you need to play with people that are willing to not take it personally when you betray them in the coldest blood.

The online version of Diplomacy (playdiplomacy.com) is even better than the in-person version. You don't have to sequester yourself in a room with 6 other people for 8+ hours, and conversation is much more secretive because it is all done through PMs in their system. It is a great way to play the game, but you have to make sure you have 7 people committed to play, because the game fall apart if even one person slacks off.

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#11 Edited by mellotronrules (2417 posts) -

@redwing42 said:
@mellotronrules said:

i have a feeling @benpack would like Diplomacy (simple rule set based entirely on social engineering/manipulation/interaction); but since you need 7 people and a healthy chunk of time it is a bit of a pain in the rear. also you need to play with people that are willing to not take it personally when you betray them in the coldest blood.

The online version of Diplomacy (playdiplomacy.com) is even better than the in-person version. You don't have to sequester yourself in a room with 6 other people for 8+ hours, and conversation is much more secretive because it is all done through PMs in their system. It is a great way to play the game, but you have to make sure you have 7 people committed to play, because the game fall apart if even one person slacks off.

right- yeah i've played a few variations of diplomacy and diplomacy-esque (neptune's pride, etc.) online games- and you're right, it works incredibly well! according to wikipedia it kinda put play-by-mail on the map fairly early on.

however i will say there is something special about playing in a house with friends. the spontaneous paranoia that erupts when you catch your co-conspirator talking to your rival in the kitchen is particularly entertaining.

the time commitment is pretty unreasonable- but we used to do other things like make a meal together or take breaks to make it a little less intense.

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#12 Posted by ShaggE (9056 posts) -

I really need to find a local board game meetup or something. I feel like I'm missing out on an entire fascinating subculture of gaming that seems right up my alley.

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#13 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1016 posts) -

@shagge: Check around to see if you have any local board gaming (they might be listed as "hobby" stores) or comic book stores around you. They often have space available for board gaming, and many places will demo board games or let people advertise groups.

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#14 Posted by ShaggE (9056 posts) -

@bladeofcreation: Unfortunately, there's not, but I might hit up the city Facebook group and ask around.

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#15 Posted by fox01313 (5254 posts) -

As a game demonstrator & somewhat ambassador to the hobby (fox01313 on boardgamegeek too), agreed with this on how we are in a game renaissance for tabletop gaming as well as video games.

If wanting to get into the hobby more, as others pointed out, Meetup or local game/comic stores might have something plus look on facebook as there could be local boardgame groups too (if not there's two big ones that are US to find people more local). Also Cool Stuff Inc. & Miniature Market are some of the bigger online US places to look for finding game stuff online if a local store isn't around. There are a few good conventions like Boardgamegeek Con & Origins for finding out more in the US game scene plus Essen Germany has a huge one (as well as UK Game Expo) for the fine folks across the pond.

For websites Boardgamegeek & Dice Tower are the big ones on lots of reviews & information. Check out Tabletop on youtube for Wil Wheaton (from Star Trek Next Generation) getting together with friends to play a lot of games, many mentioned here earlier that are quite easy to learn & lots of fun. Youtube user Watch It Played has been doing a great job too at teaching games so if curious about a game you can see how to play it & some game sessions up there too so you can skip through the rule book. Tabletopia up on Steam is a good way for people not nearby to sit down & play games.

https://boardgamegeek.com/

http://www.dicetower.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/WatchItPlayed/featured

http://geekandsundry.com/shows/tabletop/

https://tabletopia.com/

http://www.miniaturemarket.com/

http://www.coolstuffinc.com/

As for games to add to suggestions to get into if looking for something though some of these can get a bit more depth to them, most have videos up on Boardgamegeek & Watch It Played to see more of it.

Marvel Legendary - take Magic the Gathering, remove the collectible aspect, put everyone together with a simple deck of Shield agents then with your friends, recruit other heroes to defeat the supervillain & scheme as your deck of cards gets bigger & better

Near & Far - designed & art from the same person who takes a simple storytelling aspect to where you are traveling the world with this strategy game & going on different quests. Lots of ways to play this as you can play a simple arcade mode to a longer campaign in the search for ancient ruins.

Concordia - a lot of simple strategy in this game with only one simple rule, play one card. You work as a Roman noble to build up the empire. Depending on the card you play, you find that the cards will elegantly give you different abilities to build up your influence & power in the ancient world.

Terraforming Mars - Everyone building up Mars to a point to terraform it & live there, trick is that everyone is acting as a different corporation & each generation the players will see how the world builds up.

Flick Em Up - More of a dexterity flicking game with wooden pieces & the old west. Different scenarios & some expansions to play out as you test your skills at shooting at opponents with wooden discs.

Terra Mystica - This and Terraforming Mars & maybe Concordia are three that have a bit more to them if looking for more of a challenge but not too bad. Terra Mystica is a fantasy game where everyone is going for different territories, trick here is that each fantasy race can only build on one kind of territory so with the map, you have to change the lands to build up your empire. All the races play a little differently as you try to outwit your opponents.

Unfair - This and Near & Far came out fairly recently. In Unfair, it's like Roller Coaster Tycoon where everyone has a simple park to start & the goal with the themed decks is to build the best theme park around. With only 5 attractions to build the trick here is to outwit your opponents as you play events to help yourself to some good things or hinder your opponent (each card has 2 choices). All the themed decks of Gangsters, Ninjas, Vampires, Robots, Jungle & Pirates all operate a little differently from each other & the timer is counting down to see who can get the most points.

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#16 Posted by huser (1421 posts) -

When Ben was talking about his game having FOUR separate rules book I just really wanted someone to chime in with, "Well no wonder you were bored. You were playing a baby game for babies."

Did you have to take into account local barometric pressure? That the previous Tuesday fell on an odd day of the month WITHOUT being a prime number day of the year? Are you sitting near a taller person? But is THAT person sitting near a person wearing glasses?

That said Ben's game does sounds kind of crazy in its granularity, even if my tabletop games are of the RPG variety that actually require a minimum of 4 rules books often enough.

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#17 Edited by Radish (163 posts) -

Catacombs has some big problems from what I've played of it. At its surface it's a light hearted game about flicking wooden disks to kill monsters. The problem is that it has WAY too many special rules for monsters and characters. So people that I thought I could get into a lighter board game were turned off because there's tons of effects and abilities that modify stuff that slowed them down and the rules are written somewhat poorly. My more board game loving friends on the other hand found the flicking part of the game kinda boring after a few tries so I've found it really doesn't appeal to anyone and just sits on the shelf.

Board games like Ben described that have way too many complicated systems have been around forever. Avalon Hill has been pushing those since the 50s. If anything there has been a resurgence of light hearted games that still have some complexity to them so it's more than just rolling dice and moving a pawn. Arkham Horror comes from the Fantasy Flight Games era where they tried to have as many tokens and cards as possible and games took four to eight hours to play. The Android game has like six different systems going on concurrently. Thankfully they've learned over the years and their modern stuff is much better.

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#18 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1016 posts) -

@shagge: Good luck! I hope you find something in your area! It's entirely possible that something is there and you just don't know about it. A lot of places like this are small, independently owned, and rely on word-of-mouth rather than any kind of dedicated advertising.

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#19 Edited by SloppyDetective (1490 posts) -

I have some friends that are super into board games--they just recently moved into D&D--and I never wanted to play with them after the 1st try. Trying to learn a super complex game where UI is spread out across all sorts of things vs. a screen, while also trying to drink and joke just wasn't a good time.

I'll look into some of your beginner stuff and see if they or another friend group wants to give them a try. Resistance has been in my Amazon saved items for a while now.

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#20 Edited by Brackstone (764 posts) -

@radish said:

Catacombs has some big problems from what I've played of it. At its surface it's a light hearted game about flicking wooden disks to kill monsters. The problem is that it has WAY too many special rules for monsters and characters. So people that I thought I could get into a lighter board game were turned off because there's tons of effects and abilities that modify stuff that slowed them down and the rules are written somewhat poorly. My more board game loving friends on the other hand found the flicking part of the game kinda boring after a few tries so I've found it really doesn't appeal to anyone and just sits on the shelf.

Board games like Ben described that have way too many complicated systems have been around forever. Avalon Hill has been pushing those since the 50s. If anything there has been a resurgence of light hearted games that still have some complexity to them so it's more than just rolling dice and moving a pawn. Arkham Horror comes from the Fantasy Flight Games era where they tried to have as many tokens and cards as possible and games took four to eight hours to play. The Android game has like six different systems going on concurrently. Thankfully they've learned over the years and their modern stuff is much better.

Yeah, Catacombs is the most complex game I recommended by far. I've found that the game works if you have someone to chaperone people through a first play, and more than most board games, watching a video of it played really helps. Also, the flicking mechanic is a good gateway for people I find, and it's probably the most complex game I've seen that still works in a loose, drinking beer with friends situation. In the base game at least, the only truly unique monster (with his own rulebook section) was the Gelatinous Cube, but some of the chain shots can be definitely be difficult to parse on a first play.

You're right about Fantasy Flight getting better. Eldritch Horror is a push in the right direction, and the 2015 Fury of Dracula was a great improvement over the previous version, but a lot of their most widely available games still have that fiddly nature, though to a lesser degree. If you walk into an Indigo or Chapters, the Fantasy Flight games you see are Game of Thrones and Star Wars Rebellion, mixed right in with Catan, Pandemic and Ticket to Ride. Those are most your options without going to dedicated board game stores (which aren't exactly everywhere), and I think that somewhat does consumers a disservice. They are there because of the license, but they are rough games to start with, and still a real leap from Catan.

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#21 Edited by martinc6 (8 posts) -

I think Ben's game host made the classic mistake of picking the wrong game for the group. Although they did warn Ben first at least. Board game nerds (myself included) tend to forget how daunting a rules-heavy game can be for newer players.

Everyone has differing opinions on what games are good, just like video games. Here's a brief list of games I like that I think have a lot of diversity and would be good for beginners. I definitely have a type of game I like though, so YMMV.

Starter games:

  • Bohnanza (~1hr): Simple game, great player interaction, designed by Uwe (who designed Ora et Labora, to really bring home the diversity in board game design). You're...uh...bean farming. Impress your friends by telling them that the card art and names are puns that only make sense in the original German.
  • Codenames (~20min): Super popular game. Fun, quick word game in the vein of $10,000 Pyramid.
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (~2hr): Amazing story-based cooperative game in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Very laid back, easy to play while drinking.
  • Cosmic Encounter (~1hr): There should probably at least be 1 player who has played this before helping out to set this up. There are ways to customize the game to make it simpler for beginners. Probably not a great game to completely start out with, but still something that can be played by newer gamers. A game about different aliens battling to control the galaxy. Endless hilarious combinations of player powers, always a good time if people don't take it too seriously.
  • Patchwork (~20min): 2-player starter game...also designed by Uwe actually. Really simple, Tetris-like gameplay. Build a pretty quilt!
  • Lords of Waterdeep (~1.5hr): I'm kinda sick of this game because the theme is very uninteresting, however I 100% recommend this over Catan as a beginner game. Light introduction to some euro game mechanics to see if they interest you or not.

Some more advanced games:

  • Space Alert ("10 minutes" more like ~30min-2hrs): My favorite game. Real-time cooperative game, comes with a CD soundtrack that's necessary (you can find the mp3s online or download a bootleg app instead). Very complicated but an amazing rulebook that would probably change Jeff's mind on the awfulness of board game rules. You're a crew on a spaceship trying to fend off incoming threats for 10 minutes until your warpdrive powers up. It's very light-hearted and incredibly fun and hilarious.
  • Captain Sonar (~1hr): Another real-time coop! This one pits 2 submarine crews against each other as you try to find and sink the other team's sub. It's actually very easy to learn and play, but it's an expensive investment in terms of money, time, and people required (6 is ok but 8 is definitely the way to play). Therefore, maybe not for beginners.
  • San Juan (~20min): You could also substitute Race for the Galaxy here, kind of similar games although San Juan is much simpler and more streamlined. Probably easier to teach to beginners. Good introduction to engine building which you may or may not find out you enjoy. Only reason I consider this "advanced" over starter is because the theme isn't gonna sway anyone reticent about board gaming.
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#22 Posted by Maluvin (749 posts) -

It's interesting to think about the complex board game issue then compare it to large swath of mechanically complex video games are out there. Something like your more complex strategy games or flight sims definitely aren't for everyone but if you're into that particular brand of things they're pretty amazing. Same thing with your complex modern board games - they often provide a depth and flavor that you're not going to get from some of your more common or standard board games that have a broader appeal.

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#23 Posted by martinc6 (8 posts) -

@maluvin: I would argue that the "standard" board games would be better compared to Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja in terms of relative complexity. There are much better board games available that wouldn't really be the video game equivalent of a complex flight sim.

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#24 Edited by BisonHero (11443 posts) -

@martinc6 said:

@maluvin: I would argue that the "standard" board games would be better compared to Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja in terms of relative complexity. There are much better board games available that wouldn't really be the video game equivalent of a complex flight sim.

I think something like Snakes & Ladders or Battleship is like the Angry Birds or Clash of Clans of board games. Monopoly is like the Game of War of board games, where it's aggressively terrible and wastes hours upon hours of your life and no one is having a good time, yet it continues to make money. Agree with others in this thread who have said that jumping right into Arkham Horror would be like jumping straight to Crusader Kings 2 or any of Drew's flight sims, with little gaming experience to ease you in.

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#25 Posted by csl316 (14737 posts) -

My girlfriend's friends are way into board games, and sitting around for 5 hours with various games exhausts me more than a game of basketball. They're just not for me.

They seem to buy 1 or 2 a week, so there's always more rules to learn. IT'S AWESOME.

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#26 Posted by BisonHero (11443 posts) -

@csl316: I propose that we find some sort of witch or ancient Chinese mystic to put a Freaky Friday curse on you and me, because that whole tons of avid board gamers situation sounds pretty alright to me. In return, you can do whatever the fuck is happening in my life. I dunno, there's a cat.

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#27 Posted by Captain_Insano (3382 posts) -

For all things board games on Giantbomb: (has been quiet for a bit admittedly)

https://www.giantbomb.com/forums/off-topic-31/board-games-1775193/

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#28 Posted by FrodoBaggins (1733 posts) -

I wish one of the crew were into board games seriously, if love to see the site do more with them.

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#29 Edited by mellotronrules (2417 posts) -

all i hearing here is that when they're under one roof for GOTY we need a a return to giant bomb unplugged.

that avalon vid was great fun, and I'd love to see those meddlesome millennials in the mix!

Online
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#30 Edited by Hayt (1600 posts) -

Maybe as someone that has played Pen and Paper RPGs my experience isn't the same as others but I've been playing a lot of Eldritch Horror which from what I understand is the modern Arkham Horror and I've been finding it nice and simple and fast. There are a lot of decks to unpack from the box but really if you can read a card, roll a die and pull from a deck you're good to go.

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#31 Posted by CheapPoison (1101 posts) -

Great, I came here specifically, knowing there would be a topic about the slander directed at boardgames in the recent bombcast. Ben did get throw into the deep end with a niche of a niche i'd say.

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#32 Edited by Radish (163 posts) -

@brackstone said:
@radish said:

Catacombs has some big problems from what I've played of it. At its surface it's a light hearted game about flicking wooden disks to kill monsters. The problem is that it has WAY too many special rules for monsters and characters. So people that I thought I could get into a lighter board game were turned off because there's tons of effects and abilities that modify stuff that slowed them down and the rules are written somewhat poorly. My more board game loving friends on the other hand found the flicking part of the game kinda boring after a few tries so I've found it really doesn't appeal to anyone and just sits on the shelf.

Board games like Ben described that have way too many complicated systems have been around forever. Avalon Hill has been pushing those since the 50s. If anything there has been a resurgence of light hearted games that still have some complexity to them so it's more than just rolling dice and moving a pawn. Arkham Horror comes from the Fantasy Flight Games era where they tried to have as many tokens and cards as possible and games took four to eight hours to play. The Android game has like six different systems going on concurrently. Thankfully they've learned over the years and their modern stuff is much better.

Yeah, Catacombs is the most complex game I recommended by far. I've found that the game works if you have someone to chaperone people through a first play, and more than most board games, watching a video of it played really helps. Also, the flicking mechanic is a good gateway for people I find, and it's probably the most complex game I've seen that still works in a loose, drinking beer with friends situation. In the base game at least, the only truly unique monster (with his own rulebook section) was the Gelatinous Cube, but some of the chain shots can be definitely be difficult to parse on a first play.

You're right about Fantasy Flight getting better. Eldritch Horror is a push in the right direction, and the 2015 Fury of Dracula was a great improvement over the previous version, but a lot of their most widely available games still have that fiddly nature, though to a lesser degree. If you walk into an Indigo or Chapters, the Fantasy Flight games you see are Game of Thrones and Star Wars Rebellion, mixed right in with Catan, Pandemic and Ticket to Ride. Those are most your options without going to dedicated board game stores (which aren't exactly everywhere), and I think that somewhat does consumers a disservice. They are there because of the license, but they are rough games to start with, and still a real leap from Catan.

I really like the new Runebound. I find that it fixes my main problem from 2nd edition where it felt like it took forever to get your character good and if you got unlucky and got poor events early on you might as well not be playing for the next four hours. The token system with the gear is really interesting and last time we played everyone was involved and there were decisions to be made but it wasn't overwhelming.

T.I.M.E Stories is a really cool thematic board game and not very complicated but you will never experience it the same after the first try so replay value is very limited.

I personally really like Space Cadets since it's everyone playing minigames independently then consolidating their success or failure into the larger game but a lot of my friends hate it so maybe I am weird.

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#33 Posted by csl316 (14737 posts) -

@bisonhero: Well, my body's allergic to cats, so it'd be interesting to switch and see what hanging out with a cat is like?

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#34 Posted by Bakaneko (84 posts) -

Yeah, there really is such a spread and depth to board gaming in terms of complexity, type of gaming, theme, and such now, with hundreds if not thousands of games coming out each year to appeal to such a wide variety of people, that it was sad to have Jeff and Ben rather flippantly dismiss the whole genre because of Ora et Labora, which is frankly one of Uwe Rosenberg's lesser games. And not everyone should like Uwe Rosenberg games anyhow. And its 6 years old...

Mostly just wanted to say "people who live in glass video game houses probably shouldn't throw stones" since every comment made about board games in the podcast I've probably heard applied in some fashion to video games, and equally fallaciously.

BTW, since this is post has become about new board games enjoyed recently:

Dice Forge - Customize dice with lego-type face pieces as you go on quests to defeat monsters.
Sentient - Mathy little dice/card puzzle type game where you're trying to get all your AIs to work.
Roll Player - Roll up RPG style characters, trying to get the best stats and equipment, all while trying to keep yourself in the right alignment.
Flipships - Defeat the space invader like aliens rushing towards you in a dexterity game where you have to flip a ship piece onto them to destroy them and earn powerups.

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#35 Posted by Big_Denim (628 posts) -

The real question here is when the fuck does Mech Deck come out?

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#36 Edited by Captain_Insano (3382 posts) -

Just listened to this section of the Bombcast. If Ben's host chose Ora et Labora for their game, no wonder they had a terrible time! Not that Ora et Labora is bad, but you need a group who enjoy heavy euros to play that type of game. It'd be like having non-video game players and saying "Here you go: Dark Souls or Crusader Kings II".

There a plenty of lighter gateway games with plenty of player interactivity (I've listed many previously in the Board Games Forum thread):

Incan Gold

Machi Koro

Bohnanza

Colt Express

Codenames

Telestrations

Mysterium or Dixit

I'd even chance something like El Grande for area control. If worker placement is the go, then Lords of Waterdeep would be a far better introduction than Ora et Labora. I have a lot of friends who aren't board gamers - one couple had even played games on 5 or 6 occasions, yet I've still held off of the 'heavier fare' because I don't want it to intimidate too much. Sounds like Ben's host just really wanted to get Ora et Labora to the table but may have pushed those friends away from any future board game sessions.

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#37 Edited by Welding (319 posts) -

Inis is the best boardgame ever made.

Short, tactical, thematic, beautiful art, tons of interaction between players. Get it, play it, love it.

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#38 Posted by Bakaneko (84 posts) -

Yeah, I see the "never played a hobby board game? Let's play Ora et Labora!" pretty much the same as "Oh, never played a modern video game? Let's play a hot-seat game of Hearts of Iron IV!"

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#42 Posted by fledeye (228 posts) -

Board games are s big thing in our family and extended family. And by board games I AM talking about Parker Bros, Milton Bradley and Hasbro type games.

When I was young we had a big stack of games that would come out every Saturday evening and if we had people staying, they’d come out in the day too.

Monopoly, Go For Broke, Trivial Pursuit, I even had the Thomas The Tank Engine game as a kid.

Now as an adult, with a family of my own, we still have a big stack of games that come out from time to time. But it’s Christmas when they get used the most. My (to use a young person’s phrase) BFF grew up in a family like mine and lives board games, so when our two families join up at Christmas there are about 50 games waiting to be played.

We’ve now got to the point where we’re making new cards and maps for old games to extend their life. We have a game called Where is Moldova? which we bought in a charity shopping hoping to improve our geography skills. We got bored of the European map, so last year for Christmas, I made a new map of North America so we can finally try and learn where all the states are and what is a state and what’s a city.

I find board games great for encouraging interaction, ice breaking and just kicking back and having fun with people you love that have never held a controller.

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#43 Posted by TheFlamingo352 (303 posts) -

I'd recommend anything from Vlaada Chvatil, he's got a wide range of complexities in design, and a lot of his stuff has been mentioned in this thread already.

On that topic, I'm playing his game Mage Knight next weekend, it's apparently ridiculously long and inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic...

I couldn't be more excited.

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#45 Edited by matthewgm (297 posts) -

I love a broad swath of board games. I generally prefer stuff you can knock out in two hours or less. My reigning fave for the past decade is Betrayal at House on the Hill as a semi-co-op game / light RPG. My favorite short game is Tsuro (a tile based strategy game), and my favorite long (non-legacy) game is the Masters of Orion-esque Twilight Imperium (4th ed)

I'd highly recommend getting together a board game group, and weasel in some local multi video games as warm-ups as you wait for the inevitable stragglers to get there. I'd have never enjoyed Samurai Gunn or Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes or any of the Jackbox games if not for the board game crew I've assembled.

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#49 Posted by Retris (370 posts) -

@theflamingo352: Mage Knight is pretty good from the times I've played. The end can drag on for a while though, depending on the scenario.