Saving Money by Board Gaming

On Twitter lately I’ve noticed more than a few people casually remark that they saved money by staying in for a quiet night with the family playing a few board games. I absolutely love it. A $20 investment capable of providing virtually endless nights of entertainment. Interaction with friends and family is so much more meaningful with a bottle of red wine and some mild competitive camaraderie when compared to the usual, tired fare of binge drinking microbrews at the usual, tired locations.

Problem is, most of the board games that we grew up with are complete, unrepentant trash. The game of Life? Please. It should be subtitled “spin the dial a few tens of times while you want to dig your eyeballs out with spoons.” Monopoly? A game fully dictated by luck with stupid house rules ($500 Free Parking?!?) where half the table will sit there patiently annoyed as they are out of contention by the second journey around the board. Lame.

There are so many better options out there for ‘board game night.’ The three games in this post are modestly priced, easy to learn, and have been tremendous hits with every group that’s ever played them with us.

Boardgaming Night In America

I’ve made setting up a board game night into an awkward art. It starts at some kind of kids event like a soccer practice or a bounce castle birthday party (side note: need to blog about destroying the evil bounce castle cabal soon). Inevitably we offer the “sooooooo, we like to play board games, maybe you guys would like to come over some time and play?” Usually I pawn the awkwardness off on my better half. A few beers and a few bottles of wine later and you’re out the door for a cheap evening of entertainment.

With kids that play together that are at the age old enough to be reasonably self sufficient, but young enough to still result in some random emotional breakdowns reflecting the pre-adolescent angst that all of us once no doubt suffered, the adults get a break, some conversation, and a light mental workout. What’s not to love.

Pandemic: Iberia

Not really feeling too cutthroat? Pandemic: Iberia is a cooperative game where up to 4 players play against the game system rather than against each other. Set in nineteenth century Spain, 4 disease epidemics rage across the Iberian landscape. Through a rather clever deck mechanism, each turn the diseases continue to spread from their host communities and demand immediate response.

Players must balance the immediate pressing need of treating the epidemics with the longer term strategic goal of researching cures to all 4 diseases. If the epidemics are left untreated, they will spread with ever increasing virulence, ultimately costing players the game. Since all players are on the same team, the inherent short-term vs long-term tradeoff makes for a collaborative 1 hour of table time where all players are constantly engaged with no down-time irrespective of which player’s turn it currently is.

“Iberia” is a reimplementation of a much older, generic version of “Pandemic”. However, the Iberia variant is recommended as it adds a couple of elements which lower the element of luck to the game and give the players some added tools to mitigate against poor card draws. As the design is extremely robust, the difficulty can be tweaked easily at the time the game starts for beginning, normal, and advanced levels depending on how intense of a game is desired.

Dominion

This is the first of the ‘modern’ board games I ever acquired, and it’s become the most played game in our household. Furthermore, its been a hit with the few dozen other people to which I have introduced it over the past few years.

Dominion is a card game with very simple rules. Each player has a deck of cards that they draw from and will constantly reshuffle during the game. During a turn, players play from their hand in order to try to boost the value of their hand enough so that they can buy either victory cards (which are otherwise useless except at the end of the game) or more useful action cards. Whenever cards are acquired, they become a permanent fixture of the player’s deck.

During each game, 10 of the 25 included types of cards will be available for purchase, with each one doing something different. For example, cards might allow you to draw more cards or permanently discard cards. Since the 10 cards may synergize well with each other, each game then becomes a unique experience with a virtually infinite number of permutations. A lot of expansions since the original game was released have further boosted the available content. The puzzle then becomes to look at the available cards, work out a tentative strategy, and figure out how to balance the acquisition of new cards with the worthless (but game winning) victory cards. Each game takes about 30 minutes and is going to be well perceived by anyone that likes a mental puzzle.

Power Grid

My personal favorite game, this is the dream game for the numerically inclined. The premise of the game is intimately focused on markets and competition. Over a map of the United States (or Europe), each player attempts to connect cities to their power grid. Each turn, different types of power plants are auctioned, with each player bidding against the others. The plants differ in their fuel source, fuel efficiency, and number of cities that can be powered. Players will constantly upgrade their power plants as their network of cities grows.

Each power plant needs a fuel source, and the commodity markets for coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium depend on supply and demand. If multiple players are using coal plants, for example, the price of coal will be high and it will cost more to power each city. Accordingly, the goal of the game is to try to assess what each other player is doing, anticipate their moves, and try to position your own mix of power plants and fuel accordingly. At the end of each turn, players convert their fuel into electricity and get paid by each city they connect to.

The auction mechanic makes the competition indirect. This is not a “Take That!” game like Monopoly where players pay each other directly for the use of their properties, but rather a game where players compete with each other in terms of positioning, transmission rights, and in commodity markets. Sub-optimal play will result in only a slowly but surely widening disparity in the outcome. It is a game where luck plays a role but is not the only determinant of eventual victory, and a game that requires a fair amount of mental calculation. It is approximately two hours in length.

So there it is. My recommendations for 3 fantastic games to bring people into the modern boardgaming era. And if you don’t like them, you can always sell them off on eBay or re-gift them to your in-laws that you really don’t like.