In my previous article I looked at three categories that should be considered when starting a board game collection. Today I will look at a further two categories. I feel that I covered the preamble in the Part 1, so I’ll just cut to the chase and get into it:
4. Games for Two
There should always be room in your collection, even at this early stage, for a good two player game. This could be a game designed specifically for two, or it could be a game that scales down to two very well. Most of the examples I give will be the latter, which have the added advantage of being able to fit more players as needed. Flexibility is an important factor in a fledgeling collection. In my own case, two player games tend to be mostly played with my partner. She prefers lighter games and this influences my purchasing of two player games. Here are some of the games I would recommend in this category:
- Android: Netrunner- an excellent, asymmetric two player card game. A little heavy, but very good.
- Summoner Wars – a strategy card game where your cards move on the grid as attacking units.
- Carcassonne – the classic tile laying game plays five players comfortably, but I think it really shines with 2
- Dominion – again, a game for four players that really scales well for two. Loads of options once the expansions are mixed in too.
- Hive – petite little strategy game that has elements of Carcassonne, Chess and Checkers. The designer, John Yianni, kindly sent me six copies to use with my students.
Although Hive is a current favourite and Summoner Wars has a really satisfying level of depth and strategy, I’m going to have to give my recommendation to Dominion. Dominion is the daddy of deck building games, where you spend your turns playing and buying cards to add to an ever-growing deck, making a sort of engine to buy yet more cards. The cards you obtain may be:
- Coins, allowing you to buy more cards.
- Actions, letting you do special, specific things, like obtain extra cards or mess with other players.
- Victory points, which do not contribute to your deck in any way during the game itself, but are counted at the end to decide the winner.
This is a game that works well with three or four players, but I really like the quick pace that the game takes on with just two. You can get through a game in half an hour and the scores are usually quite close. It was a big hit with my partner and it got a lot of play on our last caravan holiday! There are other deck building games out there – there are probably better deck building games out there – but this is a game that I can teach to just about anyone. As an aside, I actually prefer the stand-alone expansion, Dominion Intrigue, to the original set, but the cards are a tad more complex. Your own mileage may vary.
5. Cooperative(ish) Games
Cooperative games are an interesting category. Most board game are competitive experiences which see you facing off against a group of friends. Sometimes you’re even still friends at the end. Cooperative games see you team up with your would-be opponents to take on the game itself. I often feel that many cooperative games are like puzzles to be solved, and this can be a positive or a negative depending on your view. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of “fully” cooperative games, preferring instead the intrigue that comes from a cooperative game with a traitor mechanic. I like the process of trying to work out who is the double agent, working against the collective. I also enjoy being the double agent, undermining the efforts of my friends and trying not to get caught. My picks for this category are:
- Forbidden Island – a simple, fully cooperative game where you work together to rescue relics from an island that is slipping beneath the sea. Good game to play with kids. The sequel, Forbidden Desert, is also available and supposedly very good.
- Pandemic – from the same designer as Forbidden Island, Pandemic is a game that sees you collaborating to wipe out a number of deadly diseases before the diseases wipe out the human population. The On the Brink expansions allows you to switch from fully to semi cooperative play, letting one player to take on the role of the bio-terrorist.
- Battlestar Galactica – work together to guide the human refugee fleet to safety before they run out of air, food, fuel or human refugees. One or more players are secretly Cylon agents looking to sabotage the fleet. Accusations fly back and forth in this game!
- Castle Panic – you must each use the resources at your disposal to help defend the castle from marauding orcs and goblins. This can be played in a fully cooperative way in which everyone wins if the castle is defended, or competitively where you must still defend the castle, but the winner is the player who kills the most enemies. This means that you must still work together, but changes the dynamic significantly as you try to balance necessary defence with abject greed.
It probably is not my objective favourite game on the above list, but if I were to get only one of these games, it would have to be Pandemic. Actually, it would have to be Pandemic with the expansions. The expansions bring in an extra layer of complexity and challenge to the already solid formula, and the addition of the bio-terrorist in On the Brink fundamentally changes the nature of the game. This allows you to have both a fully cooperative and a semi cooperative game in one attractive package. There are also a lot of nice cosmetic touches added by the expansions including petri dishes for the disease cubes and little bottles of coloured liquid to represent the diseases you must cure. The game just feels more complete with expansions.