Game on: The best of the boards

What can I say; I’m a bit of nerd when it comes to board games.

Whether it’s the excitement of watching my hotel empire grow in Monopoly or the rush that comes when my armies finally break through Kamchatka in Risk, I find that board games provide some great, memorable moments despite their inherent silliness. The author Bernard Suits defined play as the “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles,” and I agree with him. There is no reason why a group of people should be trying to figure out if Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum committed the murder by asking each other when the answer is in the envelope but we still do. I think the answer lies in the inherent social aspect of board games.

Board games force you and your fellow players into a shared set of constraints in an attempt to achieve the same goal. It creates a communal experience that produces shared memories and allows you to see aspects of your friends that may only come out under the “unnecessary obstacles” you have all “voluntarily attempted.” While I claim to be no expert, I have noticed that really great board games can draw out these shared experiences in several key ways. Below I highlight three games that I feel exemplify some key aspects of good game design.

First, a great game allows each player to approach winning in his or her own unique way.

Smash Up by Alderac Games
Want to fight as pirates and aliens? How about as wizards and robots? Smash Up allows you to do just that. The game is defined as a “shufflebuilding” board game where each player chooses two factions, shuffles together their respective decks, and then competes against the other players to win bases. Bases are won by sending more minions to a base than an opponent before the base reaches its threshold of minions. Every base scored gives you points and the first to reach 15 wins the game. This seems straightforward enough until opponents start vaporizing, moving, resurrecting, and bouncing minions all over the board. Each of the eight game factions is unique and full of flavor and Alderac continues to release expansions, making sure that no two games play out the same. Each of the cards is illustrated with detailed, vibrant art that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game designers have allowed each faction to feel unique in play without any one feeling too overpowered. Smash Up struggles slightly when playing in groups larger than six as there is so much to keep track of and little provided to help keep track of it all. Despite this, the game is fun and engaging and definite must play for those looking for “total awesomeness.”

The author Bernard Suits defined play as the “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles,” and I agree with him.

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