Like any niche hobby, getting started in board gaming can be a daunting prospect. There are so many differing opinions on what makes a good game, or what makes an appropriate game for someone new to the hobby. I do speak from personal experience here, as it has only been in the last two years that I have really started to explore board games and build my collection. Today, I am going to make a few suggestions for those starting out in the hobby. I will not be telling anyone what to buy, but will offer advice on building a starter collection that suits your individual tastes. These suggestions will be organised by category, in which I will make a few suggestions and identify my own personal choice. Let’s get started.
1. The Gateway Game
Gateway game is a term used to describe any game which brings new people into the hobby. These games are relatively simple and can be explained easily, allowing new players to quickly grasp the core concepts of the game and get right to the fun. Here are some of the games I would suggest to fill this role in your budding collection:
- The Settlers of Catan – the game that captured my interest right from the start.
- Carcassonne – straightforward tile-laying game with simple, easily explained rules.
- Ticket to Ride – fun and engaging game of buikding rail routes across America.
- King of Tokyo – a fun dice game that can be quite random, but has room for choice and strategy.
For me, the obvious winner has to be Ticket to Ride. I think a year ago I would have said Settlers of Catan, but I have had so much success with this game over the past year. One friend who had never been into tabletop games went into Stirling the morning after we played this and immediately purchased it. My game group enjoys this game. My partner enjoys this game. My parents and my in-laws all enjoy this game. It’s pretty much a guaranteed winner with new players and, crucially, I love it too.
2. The Next Step Game
Once you’re hooked and you’ve grasped some of the basic concepts from a couple of gateway games, it’s time to try something a little more challenging. Perhaps your next step game will be a longer game, more abstract, or have more complex rules. There should not be a huge jump from gateway to next step, and some of my recommendations are games that others may describe as gateway games:
- Dominion – the game that started the recent trend of Deck Building games.
- Pandemic – a great, challenging cooperative game with some really good expansions.
- Lords of Waterdeep – a nice introduction to the worker placement genre.
- Smash Up – an interesting card game with lots of opportunities to come up with good card combos and chains.
This is a far closer call for me, with both Smash Up and Lords of Waterdeep fulfilling the role of next step game. I think that recently, I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of Lords of Waterdeep, a game in which you take on the role of one the lords vying for control of the city of Waterdeep. You do this by sending out agents to fulfil tasks including recruiting adventurers to work for you, accepting quests, constructing new buildings in the city, making money and engaging in shady shenanigans down by the docks. In terms of actual complexity, the game is on par with some of my gateway games, such as The Settlers of Catan, but it just looks more intimidating with the large board, several decks of cards, colour-coded cubes, factions and coin tokens, agent meeples and building tiles. Lords of Waterdeep brings in a lot of different mechanisms and it’s a great choice for expanding your experience after the gateway games. I have recently picked up the expansion to this and am really looking forward to giving it a go.
3. The Party Game
Most of the games we play are built for two to five players, but there are situations where you will have groups of six, eight, twelve, twenty four or more eager players. In these situations one can turn to the party games genre, usually consisting of lighter games for a larger number of players:
- Werewolf – a classic social game that will play groups as small as six, right up to groups of several dozen players.
- Dixit Odyssey – a really cool game that encourages empathy and can play groups as large as twelve.
- Wits and Wagers – a trivia game that does away with the need to actually know things. Unsure about your own answer? Bet on someone else to be right!
- Cards Against Humanity – this is one for adults only, and even then, only those who are not easily offended. If the Daily Mail hates it, it must be doing something right.
- The Resistance – A game of lies, deception and deceit for five to ten players. One of my favourite games.
Whilst it’s not a game I would play with every group, Cards Against Humanity is a great game for an age-appropriate and easygoing group. It is very similar to another game, Apples to Apples, in which one player asks a question from a card and everyone else chooses a suitable an answer card from their hand. The player who gives the answer that the questioner finds most amusing wins that round and takes the question card as a point. The fun in this game really comes from the hilarious and often offensive nature of these answers. Some, I would not feel comfortable posting here, but I will give a small sample of the less offensive answers:
- Jimmy Saville
- A windmill full of corpses
- Leaked footage of Kate Middleton’s colonoscopy
These answers and several others recently drew the ire of tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mail. I am sure that I am not the only person who considers the disapproval of this ‘esteemed’ organ to be a selling point, actually encouraging sales rather than deterring potential customers. I only hope that the article raises awareness of this game and drives more sales their way.
Serving suggestion: around a table, with alcohol.
Next time, I will look at games that your significant other might like, some heavier games, and games that involve cooperation.