Around five or six years ago, a work colleague invited me to join a board gaming club. He was setting it up as a social thing for after work, using the offices as a place to gather together and grab some pizza and games. Intrigued, I came along. It was here that I was introduced to the infection vector of games, which has now fuelled a love and a mild addiction. (I can stop anytime I want… just one more…) Now I sleep atop a pile of games. It still counts if they’re in an ottoman, right?
I remember the games I was introduced to which started me on this path. Those early weeks and months of being inducted into the gaming community. Some of them I have used myself to get my family interested in games other than Monopoly, Scrabble, and Pictionary. Others will have their own favourites for this, but these are the ones that sit in my mind as the games that got me going.
Walks In The Spring
My first introduction into the world of games was a beautiful little title. One that gently pulled to my competitive nature, with great replay value, and the sweet premise of having a nice holiday. Yes, it’s the Antoine Bauza classic, Tokaido. This game holds a very special place in my heart. Not just because it is the first European style game I played, but also because my paternal grandfather loved Japan. It is one of the places on my bucket list. Taking a meeple on a walk from Kyoto to Edo scratches the itch in its own small way.
The gorgeous artwork and the simplistic gameplay makes the adventure a delight. With a host of characters to choose from, you’ve got some excellent replay options. Your strategy will never be the same in two games because cards change. The only downside I find with Tokaido is that you really need three players to make the game interesting. You can play with two, but with the ghost player, it changes the game from being “who can have the nicest journey” to “how can I screw my opponent over the most?” The ghost is a bit like the robber in Settlers of Catan. Only there to get in the way. And it goes against the aesthetic of the game, in my opinion. Still, it’s worth getting to the tavern, where you can enjoy a delicious bowl of udon noodles. Talk with your fellow travellers about the people you met on the way, the art you’ve painted, or the souvenirs you’ve picked up for friends back home.
You can read a full review of the game here.
And Spring Be-Train The Summer
I’m sticking to the puns, and I’m not even sorry about it.
If the mangling of Neil Diamond wasn’t enough to give away the next game, then ALL ABOARD! It’s Ticket to Ride! Alan R Moon’s train-based gem has been gracing the board gaming tables since 2004. With a choice of three options on each turn, it’s so simple to explain to anyone who wants to play it. And with the bonus scoring at the end, everyone is kept in the game throughout. Pick up some train cards, claim a route between two cities, or gamble on the bonus routes to extend your lead. And that’s pretty much all you need to know to play Ticket to Ride. Don’t forget to connect your Destination Tickets! This game was honoured 23 times in six years, including being the 2004 Spiel des Jahres Winner.
You do need a bit of luck to get some starting routes that connect well together, but this isn’t always an issue. Even the worst routes can make the longest train, scoring you those sweet bonus points at the end. Ticket to Ride can be slow to start, like a heavily laden goods train, but here’s a handy house rule you can use. Let every player start with six train cards. It just gets the game going a little faster. And if you don’t want to reveal how bad your American geography is, you can look at any of the alternative maps. Options include Europe, London, Asia, Nordic countries, the heart of Africa, and many more. You can really rail your way around the world with this game.
Check out the review here.
Who’d Believe You’d Have To Nom
OK, I’ll prune away the puns and reveal the adorable panda that exists within Takenoko. Antoine Bauza takes us to Japan, where the emperors of Japan and China have met to exchange gifts. The Chinese Emperor gifted a giant panda, much to the chagrin of the imperial gardener. In Takenoko, you manipulate the gardener, the panda, the land, and the weather to please the Emperor.
Most of this game is designed to let players take control over their own destiny. The only truly random elements are the weather die, as well as the possible tiles and objective cards. Luck plays a hand too. You can pick up an objective tile that happens to be exactly what is already played on the board. It’s not just your tiles or choices that impact how the scoring may happen. The other players will also influence the board, so you have to be careful of that “gotcha” element. But if you’re looking for a game that feels calm and is not aggressive to your opponents, I really would suggest Takenoko. The little minis are adorable, the game is very replayable. And with the Chibi expansion, you get some real variance and strategy into the game. Did I mention how adorable the panda is? LOOK AT HIM!
If you want to know more, check out the review.
Hands, Reaching Out, Touching Me, Pass Sushi…
I’m getting hungry now, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. Just let the conveyor belt bring the next game to me. Yes, it’s Sushi Go! The adorable artwork and simplistic gameplay is a great entry to the drafting mechanic. You deal the cards out; pick one, and then pass it around to all other players. You choose your strategy depending on the cards that come up and the cards you see your opponents play. I’m a big fan of this style of game. Since I was gifted Sushi Roll and Sushi Go Party, I've played them so much just to try the different combinations. I definitely think that Sushi Go Party is better for an overall experience. But if you want simplicity, I can certainly recommend Sushi Go! As an introduction game, or even just as a warm-up each time you want to play some big games.
It’s also a game that requires more players, much like Tokaido. If you only have one other hand you’re looking at, you know what’s coming each round. A dummy hand is a good option if you only have two players, but if you have up to the maximum of 8, you should give it a go! Tracking each other’s cards is a fun minigame to play in your head (if you’re like me and you’re into that) and more players make this game much more of a challenge.
Go read the review for Sushi Go!
Sweet Carcassonne (Bah Bah Bah)
This game… this game is responsible for so many board gamers introducing their families to the meeple. The humble meeple has been with us for 21 years, released at the turn of the millennium. Signalling new intentions of the gaming world in the 21st century. Carcassonne comes from a humble concept. Based on the ancient Roman settlement in France by the same name, it is a tile-laying, area control game. It also has some elements of worker placement. I loved, and still do love, how simple the game is. It is easy to teach and get people playing. You can play and give pointers throughout the game and it doesn’t completely reveal your strategy. It’s no wonder that it received the Spiel des Jahres in 2001.
So popular the game remains, a 20th edition version has been released. Half a dozen expansions are also available to keep the game expanding and let you play over and over again. Meeples have also become synonymous with board gaming. I've got a couple of t-shirts with meeples on them, and at least one escape room company has the Escaping Meeples on their team lists. If you like a game with a luck element and a fair amount of strategy, get yourself a copy of Carcassonne. One day, I’d like to play Carcassonne in Carcassonne… but am I then the meeple?
To get away from the existential crisis, check out the Carcassonne review here!