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Board, Board, Board

What are the ten best board games?

The Gaurniad’s list is actually called ten of the best, so one might think that they are just claiming that these are among the best. However, the caption is a reference to six of the best or more generally n+k of the best, a reference to corporal punishment, or more broadly to whipping, the sort of wink at hipness and oh-how-comfortable-we-are-with-the-idea-of-B/D-sex that I rather like about the newspaper, even while being aware of how intolerably bourgie it all is. Sigh. Anyway, Anna Tims claims that these are, in fact, the ten best, in the caption to the first, so that’s all right.

Here’s the list, for those of you who can’t be arsed to click through: Backgammon, Pictionary, Cluedo (what we here call Clue), Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, Alhambra, Mouse Trap!, Othello, Acquire and Scrabble.

First of all, Pictionary is not a good board game. I know you can purchase an edition with a board, but seriously. Not. So that’s out.

Second, I haven’t played Alhambra, so it’s off the list. No, I don’t care. Whatever other criteria there are (influence? popularity? education? long-term playability? The ability to implement House Rules for the MFQ?), one criterion must be that YHB has played it, otherwise what’s the point of having the list at all?

Third, I’m taking Diplomacy off the list. I just am.

Now. We have two dice-around-the-board games, neither of which is Parcheesi. My inclination is to replace Backgammon with Trouble, which is Parcheesi, only with a Pop-O-Matic, so that takes care of both the inclusion of a Parcheesi-like game and the inclusion of a game with some sort of magnificent-in-the-abstract-but-unfortunate-in-reality mechanism. It’s not as good a game as Sorry (the game of sweet rewengi), but it is Pop-O-Matic, and Sorry, alas, is not.

About filling the Diplomacy spot, then. The obvious choice is Risk. The problem with Risk as a board game specifically is that the movement of pieces on the board is the main flaw in the game. It’s a better game on the computer than on a table, and that seems to me to knock a game off the list. Perhaps that’s harsh, but I think I’m going to leave Risk off the list even if that’s harsh. Which leaves us without a war-and-strategy kind of game, so I’m going with Chess. Sometimes the easy answer is the right one.

And the Pictionary parlor-game-with-a-board spot goes to Cranium. Not a hard choice.

The last empty spot is going to APBA, on my list. APBA, for those who don’t know, is a table top baseball game (the letters theoretically stand for American Professional Baseball Association), and I can’t really defend the choice of APBA over Strat-O-Matic or Pursue the Pennant or any of the other tabletop baseball games, except that I like APBA better and still have the boards. And I think the list really needs to have one simulation game; some folk will choose a railroad game, but they will be wrong.

Before I finish my list, I’m just going to consider: Othello or Blokus? Well, Othello, I guess, although I might go a different way tomorrow. Mouse Trap! or The Game of Life? Life, clearly. Is there any way to put Sequence or Mancala on the list? No, not really.

I think that’s my list: Trouble, Cranium, Clue, Settlers of Catan, Chess, APBA, The Game of Life, Othello, Acquire and Scrabble.


Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Boggle. Othello. Anagrams-as-played-by-my-family.

Hrm. Those are the ones I like to play, anyway.

And, well. Anagrams-as-played-by-my-family doesn't have a board, per se, unless you count the table as a board. There are tiles, though.

Timeless: backgammon, chess, go.

Classic: Clue, Scrabble... hm, sure, Acquire, why not.

Big Strategy Game: Civ (Advanced Civilization)

Kid-playable (including nonreaders) but adult-interesting: Genial (Ingenious)

Hm. My current desert island game, Dominion, does not actually have a board. Nor does Apples to Apples, my "seriously everyone can have fun at this, even somewhat confused elderly relatives" game. So...

Backup desert island game, involving a board: either RoboRally or Ticket To Ride

Game I personally have played the most games of and will always still want to play: Connect Four

I am somewhat surprised that Careers does not make the list, but what could it displace? It lacks the "race to the finish line" game like The Game of Life or (iirc) Mousetrap, but its victory conditions are like The Game of Life, but more interestingly flexible. So I'd submit it for consideration as a replacement for The Game of Life for that spot in a generic list. I'd at least be curious to know V's reasons for leaving it out of consideration.

Personal favorite games that would be on _my_ list include Cosmic Encounter, Empires of the Middle Ages, and Kremlin (best game, silly accents category). I might take Pente over Othello.

Wow, I am out of touch with board games! I fancy that will change for the better over the next ten-fifteen years or so as a young one grows up.

Two long Avalon Hill games: Diplomacy and Titan. I also love Advanced Civ, but it has serious flaws as a game: The combat mechanic causes the game to bog down horribly, if you play it with the sort of people who believe that you need to attack the player in the lead once the endgame is underway. This is not a crazy idea in general, but in Civ, it causes the endgame to take eight hours instead of three. Fail.

Lighter weight games: Settlers is fantastic, a great combination of trading and buy-and-build with enough player interaction to be interesting but not so much that the game is *just* about fighting the other players. RoboRally with a couple of house rules is very good, with a lot of replay value, and the unusual feature of being very rewarding to both wacky play and serious strategizing. The original Wiz War is terribly inconsistent, but heavily edited, it also offers a great combination of wacky and serious, with tremendous replay value once you get a few hundred cards. Magic: The Gathering is borderline, but is an incredible game, so I'm gonna count it. And if Magic counts, Dominion is a contender, but it's new enough that I'm not ready to back it yet. Five years from now, though, I might put it ahead of Magic -- it's definitely more accessible, and has a lot of the same features.

Family games: I don't personally like any of Acquire, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, or Sorry as well as I like Rummikub. Clue scores points for having a nifty mechanic, but I think it loses on replay value -- can you really imagine playing Clue four times in a row? Careers scores very high on the family scale, because you can handicap it by giving different players different numbers of points to go for -- we did this when I was a kid, and it worked really well.

Traditional abstract games: Chess and Backgammon are hard to ignore. Backgammon teaches you a lot about probability and risk-taking -- much more than, say, Risk. I don't know if Go is a better game than either of those, but I don't know how to play.

So, hmm, my list: Diplomacy, Titan, Settlers, RoboRally, Wiz War, Magic, Rummikub, Careers, Chess, Backgammon.

Amy and I talked about the card game vs board game distinction, and my claim is that Magic is a board game because you put down cards onto the table, where they remain for the duration of the game, and the presence of the table is a vital part of the game. You could not, for example, play it on an airplane; leading me to wonder if that's the defining feature of card vs board game, and to ask "What's something that's cearly a card game that you can't play on an airplane?" Her answer: "Pit!"


1) Magic: The Gathering is a card game, not a board game. At least that's the way I come down on it. I know three or four solitaire games you can't play on an airplane (some of them you can with those little bitty cards, but I suppose you could play Magic on an airplane with little bitty Magic cards and a strong magnifier), and none of them are board games. I do think that the border is a bit fuzzy (is King of the Elves a Board Game? You place the cards to make a notional track that you travel around, but there's no actual moving of a piece from card to card.) (is Cribbage a board game? There's a board and a track and pieces, but that's just for keeping score, right?) (is Tantrix a board game? it fits the duration-of-the-game, can't-play-on-an-airplane criteria, but I would put it in the card game category, rather than the board game) (is Boggle a board game? It's a dice game, like Yahtzee, but unlike Yahtzee, the dice do form a sort of board where the layout affects the game) but I can't include any games that use only cards of whatever kind (or even cards and counters/written score), so no Magic, no Dominion.

ii) Today, I am willing to replace Life with Careers. Careers is an awesome game, and if it's less iconic than the Game of Life (and lacks the little cars and the side bets), it is terrifically adaptable and has Peruvian Mines. So that's all right.

C) I wouldn't want to play Settlers four times in a row, either. But I could imagine playing Clue with the same group four times in a week, and same with Settlers. I think the only one on my list I could play four times in a row is APBA, really. Although I have played chess four times in a row, and it wasn't all bad.

Also) nobody likes trivia games anymore, right?


Lots of good thinking, here, though.

I forgot the adapted Wiz War, which I really do quite like, and also its bastard lovechild, Kill Mr. Wizard (a cross between Wiz War and Kill Dr. Lucky). That might just be one of those things where you had to be there at the time. On the other hand, it has been perpetrated on two separate occasions.

The sole purpose of a cribbage board is to keep score, and it is not a required component of the game. Pencil and paper work just as well.

Anagrams-as-played-by-my-family really does require a table; stealing each others' words without one would be awkward.

I could play Boggle all afternoon and have done so; I have played Anagrams three or four times in a row quite happily.

Re multi-playability:

For all the awesomeness of board games, if I ever found myself forced to choose a single piece of gaming equipment on which to subsist (not counting pencil and paper), there would be no contest. It would have to be a deck of cards. There are lots of card games that I could play for hours at a time, and shifting among card games, I doubt the freshness of play would ever be exhausted. I don't see any board game that has nearly that potential for sustained interest. I suppose I can see people being able to play chess or go or even Diplomacy like that, but, myself, I'd take the deck of cards.

Oh, crap, I don't have time for this temptation right now.

1st. I will happily teach anyone here to play go. It is a beautiful game and my teaching method follows a very gentle learning curve. Send me a message at the commercial service run by yahoos, where I'm known by my first name, then an underscore, then my last name (which ends with ercival).

2nd. "Diplomacy [...] playing time: 1 to 6 hours". THIS IS A LIE.

3rd. Introduce yourself to Hey, That's My Fish. Seriously, do it.


So. Don't tell anyone, but as it happens a deck of Pit was purchased and will be unwrapped as a gift for a family member sometime in the next four weeks. At the end of that four weeks, our family will be getting on an airplaneā€¦


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