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On board games

November 10, 2011

In crowd sourcing ideas for the hotdog (patent pending), I found that almost no one had the same ideas for me to write about. On the one hand, that’s good, because apparently I show some range, but on the other, it’s bad because a jack of all trades is the master of none. Certainly you want to have a niche, and among my friends and family I certainly do–the niche of the gamer.
Gamers come in several different shapes and sizes, to be sure, and these days the term is most often associated with video gaming. That’s not the kind I’m talking about….I sold my play station upon getting married and I haven’t looked back. However, the desires that I fulfilled playing video games still yearned to be satisfied. Luckily, there was another outlet.
I find it to be of inestimable value to enjoy the same leisure activities as one’s spouse. That’s whymy life has been on an upward trajectory in the leisure sector. This clearly became apparent when mine loved me enough to purchase the Settlers of Catan for my birthday, We play a game together at least three time a week, building memories and sharpening our competitive edges as we go. Sure, I could be on the xBox 360 honing my marksmanship against pre-teens from Korea, but I’d rather hang out with her. Call me crazy. Even better, board games are more fun than video games. They’re more challenging, more social, and provide more bang for your buck.
Now, I am sure that several of you are reading this and wondering why anyone would spend a few hours a week playing Monopoly or Life with their spouse. I can’t answer that question; I wouldn’t get caught dead playing those. Thankfully, in the past fifteen years or so, the world has flowered with cardboard creations that engage your senses and challenge your mind. No longer must you roll the dice and move at the mercy of the whims of fate. No, in these new style games, player control is emphasized leading to a greater challenge intellectually and fairer competition among the players. These games are truly a puzzle in a box to be enjoyed alongside your friends and loved ones.
Since I love games more than anyone else I know, board games seemed like a natural topic for my new blog. In fact, one of the most successful bloggers I know encouraged me to start one. (that’s Aaron over at the Terminal Podcast, for those of you keeping score) After all, I am a card-carrying member at boardgamegeek.com, proud owner of an avatar and level one posting badge! But as board gaming is an increasingly popular hobby, there are several superior blogs out there (like this one) that I choose not to compete with. Playing games is an escape that I enjoy; I don’t want to make it like work. Also, if I was typing about playing games I think I’d rather just be playing them!
But since Dana (@theswellife) suggested it, I figure games deserved at least one post. I’m sure they’ll get more than one eventually, but, for now, this will have to suffice. Of course, when I launch the much-anticipated ESPNboardgamez, you’ll all get your fill.

But wait–there’s more! You can’t get off that easy! You still need to sift through my top three current games and the one that headlines my wish list.

1. Agricola Agricola can be summed up thusly: awesome. In this game, each person attempts to develop their own personal farm, struggling to fend off starvation* while growing their family, improving their home, growing crops, and shepherding animals. Perhaps farming seems a bit dry to you, but trust me, one play and you’ll be sucked in. And if the regular gameplay wasn’t enough, the box comes stuffed with 300+ cards to tweak, twist, and explode the game play. I am simultaneously proud and ashamed to have played this over a hundred times. I’m sure that it will get at least that many more. See also Le Havre and the forthcoming Ora et Labora from the same designer.
*In an earlier version of this post (and by earlier I mean unedited), “fending off starvation” was incorrectly called “fending off salvation.” I suppose that is a different game altogether.

2. Race for the Galaxy RFTG, acronomically speaking, is a card game about developing your galaxy. What could be better/dorkier than that? (nothing, actually!) This game combines clever card play with bluffing and deduction as each player’s choices are revealed simultaneously. The player who benefits the most from the opponents’ choices will prosper, with just enough direct confrontation thrown in to satisfy or frustrate, depending on which end of the stick you are left holding. Since a game lasts a mere half hour or less, we have logged about 257 matches over the past four years, approximately.

3. The Resistance While the above two choices are only for enthusiasts and expert players, the Resistance is for everyone. It’s sort of like Mafia, but it doesn’t suck. It removes the annoying player elimination and fruitless guessing and replaces it with clever deduction and skill, while retaining the paranoia and arguing that Mafia fans cherish. Playing up to ten, this title is the perfect choice for a larger gathering of more casual gamers. I’ve only had it about two months, but it seems sure to stay in the rotation for a long time to come.

? Urban Sprawl Topping the wish list is Urban Sprawl. Mimicking the development of a small town into a metropolis, Urban Sprawl combines clever strategy with powerful events. It has more luck factor than Agricola while also being full of deep and difficult decisions. For you Santas out there with $60 to spend……call me.

So this one is for you, Dana. What were you thinking asking for this?

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