The best board games ever
There's nothing like a few days stuck in an inescapable family Christmas lock-in session to really keep ones hatred toward the world of board games alive and well for another year. Watching Auntie Doreen's shit-eating grin spread across her face as you land on Mayfair for the 17th time is enough to ruin anybody's festive season. I mean, you had the greens! And the purples! How is Doreen winning? She couldn't even win her husband back!
It's a scene as old as Christmas itself. But I'm here to tell you that 4-hour games of attritional Monopoly, fire-starting rounds of Pictionary and expletive heavy bouts of Articulate don't need to haunt your existence any more. Because there is a whole world of well-designed, richly imagined and intellectually rigorous games out there, just waiting to be explored! Including:
The Starting Point – Settlers of Catan
Summary: Terrible name, excellent game.
If you're anything like me, you basically assumed that board game design stalled somewhere around the mid-1960s, around about the same time that family board game nights were replaced by family acid freak out sessions. (Or so goes my understanding of late 60s society.) And, to be fair, for most of the world that was true. But not for the Germans. They go mad for board games. Like, it's next best thing to their national past time. Maybe it's something to do with all the rules...
Settlers of Catan is the work of a man with the appropriately Teutonic name of Klaus Teuber. First released in 1995, it did the rounds in Germany for a number of years before inexplicably becoming popular in America and kick-starting an entire boardgame revolution and, in a sense, this article. Based on the mythical island of Catan, players take on the role of settlers trying to establish a foothold and build up their own societies while simultaneously ensuring that their competitors remain stuck in the dark ages, fossicking for grubs in the dirt and worshipping their technological superiors as gods.
The beauty of Settlers is in the comparative simplicity of it all. I mean, it's not "put the designated limb on the designated colour" simple, but the dynamic is still pretty straightforward – dice are rolled, resources are collected, things are built. But what makes Settlers particularly ingenious is that it is built around an ethic of surplus rather than scarcity. Every dice roll gives resources to every player, so unlike, say, Monopoly where it becomes obvious within a few rounds who's going to win and the rest is just brute, grinding financial warfare, in Settlers each player constantly feels like they're moving toward something substantial. It's often not clear who's the frontrunner until just before they win, and even then there's usually at least two players who could have won that turn. That might not sound like much, but as a way of keeping everybody engaged, it does wonders. It also rarely takes longer than an hour. This is an achievement that many of the games on this list cannot boast (see Thrones, Game of).