During the last few weeks, I set myself a challenge – to dust off the board games I didn’t play too often, look at some new games and revisit a few old favourites. The plan was to play at least one game of a sequential letter of the alphabet over 26 days. I completed this at the end of April. This article is my reflections of those 26 days and summarises just one game for each letter of the alphabet. (Plus a 27th game for those beginning with a number.)
I have tried to give a balanced game list. I am not saying I would like to slim down my game collection to just 26 (or 27), but sometimes it is good to think about the board games one collects. There is nothing better than playing a heavyweight Euro game on a wet Sunday afternoon, but a collection of A to Z containing only these thinking games is rather one-dimensional. For the sake of balance, and to choose just one game for each letter, I have had to side-line some fantastic games. This was a rather mammoth project, so we'll be publishing this article in three parts. Today's Part 1 covers games from A to I. Click here for Part 2. Then click here for Part 3.
Nathan's Alphabet Soup of Board Games
In taking on this challenge, I quickly arrived at my first question. Listing board games by initial letter shows that there are many beginning with B, C, P, R, S and T. What is wrong with games beginning with the letters D, E or N? Indeed, my games collection contains a few letters with just one game.
For the sake of completeness, I have included a brief synopsis of each game. I have deliberately included a variety of genres including strategy, word games, co-operative, area control, hand management and even dexterity. All of these games are fairly “mainstream” so it should be easy to find a thorough review of each on the Zatu Games site. I hope this wets your appetite.
Tile laying, Set collection, Drafting
Azul, the first in my alphabet soup of board games, is a familiar game to most. Like a comfortable pair of shoes, or an old friend, it just feels right. In this game, players collect small, square tiles to add to their collection and build a mosaic-like wall. Certain rules dictate where these tiles might be placed. Points are scored if tiles are played adjacent to existing tiles or if rows, columns or sets of colours are generated. The tiles in Azul have a lovely tactile feel to them. As the pattern develops, the board has a pleasing quality. This game is easy to teach, suitable for families and plays well for up to four gamers. Although there are two other Azul titles, I personally feel this original Azul game has a simplicity that makes it the best of the three.
Words and Language, Bluffing
Balderdash is a word game for three or more players. You can play in teams but it's best with five or six. Players take turns to read out a word or phrase from the card. There are five categories: what, who, initials, movie synopses and bizarre laws. For example: What is a niddynoddy? Who was Don Spector? Complete the following law: In Nashville TN, it is illegal to live in a penthouse unless….. [You can find the answers at the end of the article.] The players come up with meanings for the words and their responses are read out alongside the true answer. Each player chooses the answer they think is correct. You score points for correct answers or if other players are fooled by your spoof meanings and choose yours. Balderdash is a funny game for teenagers and adults. It takes between 30 and 75 minutes.
Bluffing, Deduction, Worker placement
Curios is a quick game involving hand-management, worker placement, and bluffing. Each player has a team of archaeologists to deploy between four ancient sites, in order to unearth buried treasures. However, the value of these treasures is unknown. A card is hidden for each ancient site, Cluedo-style. The card indicates the value of any gems there. The remaining value cards are dealt to the players, letting you infer some information about whether to deploy your workers early. However, it becomes harder to claim treasure as each site becomes more crowded. Here's the dilemma: should you deploy your workers early to get easy pickings, taking the chance that the “treasure” may be worthless? Or should you wait until you know the value, but risk letting other players deplete the site before you? Most games take 15 – 20 minutes. Although up to five can play, it's best with three or four players.
Observation, Real-time play
Dobble is a fast, frantic, family game which comes in a handy little tin. The game consists of 55 circular cards, each containing nine different pictures. The clever part is that subsequent cards always have one picture in common. The challenge is to identify which object that is. There are different ways to play Dobble but, at its simplest, each player has a deck of cards that they need to play onto a central stack, calling out the matching objects each time. Of course, if someone else places their card before you, the pictures change and a new match will be needed. I had great fun playing this with ten international friends where we called out the matching picture in our mother tongue. All was going well until we found out there is no word for snowman, igloo or snowflake in Madagascar. A fun game for all ages and tastes.
Hand management, Card drafting, Strategy
Evolution is one of my heavier selections, by North Star Games. It plays well for 2-6, where each player collects a group of animals. By selecting certain cards, players can alter the traits of these animals to make them better at evading predators, or responding to changes in the climate or famine conditions. Every turn, your herbivores need to be fed - you'd better hope that climate change hasn't affected the watering hole too much. You might decide to create carnivores or scavengers, allowing you to prey on other players’ animals and reduce their stock. In return, they might develop defensive traits like horns or armoured shells to protect them. This is one of the cleverer board games, illustrating the natural balance of life and how animals adapted to different environments. Playing with a full player count of six takes about 75 minutes and will fill the whole table.
Auction/bidding, Mancala, Worker placement
Five Tribes, by Days of Wonder, is for 2-4 players. It's a step up in complexity from other board games like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne. This is a strategy game set in the land of 1001 Nights. Players aim to become the great Sultan by summoning genies and placing camels and palm trees to gain influence. The board is a series of tiles, randomly placed each game for plenty of variability. The movement of the meeples around the board uses a mancala-style mechanism to collect and distribute the different tribes. Each of the tribes has their inherent benefits. Five Tribes also has an interesting system where players can bid for the right to go first each turn. Sometimes, this can lead to a little analysis paralysis as we work out the optimal strategy. This is a medium weight strategy game that usually takes 60-75 minutes to complete.
Go is an ancient strategy game for two players. The aim is to gain territory and surround the opponent’s pieces. This Chinese game is around 2500 years old - perhaps the oldest of all the board games on the Zatu site. The black and white stones are played on the intersections of a 19 x 19 grid. Whilst the rules are extremely simple, the sheer number of possible moves can make Go extremely complex. In our house, Go has been banned in the name of marital harmony. Every time my wife thought she had a winning move, I would play a single stone, capture territory and change the outcome of the game. Go remains a superb strategic game. Although most games take about an hour, most professional Go players take considerably longer. With about 2 x 10170 legal moves in any game, there's plenty of scope for analysis paralysis.
Card drafting, Hand management, Area influence
Hanamikoji might be compact, but it's no lightweight. This little gem for two players sees each player vying for the attention of the Geisha. The artwork is exquisite, reflecting the skills of these ladies. The game involves hand management, bluffing and predicting your opponent’s choices. Hanamikoji introduces seven Geisha, each of whom prefers certain favours. The gameplay is like a “tug-of-war” with each Geisha being drawn to one player or the other, depending on the gifts they have received at the end of each round. Each player is dealt a series of item favour cards that must be played strategically to catch the eye of the Geisha. Each round has four distinct phases: dealing, action, scoring and refreshing. In the scoring phase, each player’s secret card is revealed and added to the line. The player who has given the most favours (cards) receives the attention of that Geisha. The game continues until one player has the attention of the majority (four) of the Geisha. Most games are a very close tussle, taking around 20 minutes.
Hand management, Area Control, Strategy
The last of the board games in our Alphabet Soup Part 1 is Iron Curtain. This is an intense two-player game that recreates the tension of the Cold War. The players take opposing sides and aim to become the strongest superpower. They do this by gaining influence over regions and areas. Some countries are naturally aligned towards one power, but that does not mean that they cannot be turned. Iron Curtain involves area control and hand management. For just 18 cards and a few dozen influence cubes, there is plenty of strategy and thinking to be had. This tug-of-war tussle for power usually takes 30 minutes to play out and the winner is often decided by the narrowest of margins.
The List Goes On...
That concludes Part 1 of our Board Games Alphabet Soup! Keep your eyes on the Zatu blog for parts 2 and 3 coming soon...
P.S. Balderdash Answers
Sometimes life can be stranger than fiction. The answers to the Balderdash questions are:
- A niddynoddy is a handheld tool for winding wool.
- Don Spector invented a bathing suit that changes colour in response to body temperature [like we all need one of those!].
- In Nashville TN, it is illegal to live in a penthouse unless you are the janitor.