I’ve told you a lot about how to run tabletop RPG games, but there are certain things that happen, whether we will them or not. You know how it goes – a week before the game, someone tells you they can’t make it next week because they’ll be at a Shower-Ring Salesman Seminar. Then, at the 11th Hour, someone calls to say they have Whooping Cough, and they can’t make it. Now you’re two players down, and maybe one of them was the person who’s personal plot you planned to develop tonight. Suddenly, you’re left with a choice…cancel the game, or do some last minute rewriting.
Now, I pride myself on being able to pull out a new storyline at the last-minute, but sometimes in a situation like this, I’ll say, “Why don’t we resume the game next week? We can play a board game this week, if folks still want to come over.”
This is easy for me to say, as my husband is a raving board game fanatic, and he has an extensive collection. So I thought I’d glance around the game room and tell you about 5 games you may or may not know about that I think are well worth playing.
Wrath of Ashardalaon
I’m a big D&D fan, so I’m sure it’s not shocking that one of my choices is a board game based on D&D. Wrath of Ashardalon is a fun, fast-paced game that simulates taking a party of adventurers down into a dungeon to fight monsters, reclaim treasures, and, ultimately, slay a dragon. It’s a very boiled-down 4th Edition D&D experience. It’s a cooperative game, so everyone is working together, but everyone also has to play the monsters, so it makes for some funny moments. There’s another game with the same rules, Castle Ravenloft, and that’s fun, too, but I prefer the classic Dungeon feel of Wrath to the gothic horror theme of Ravenloft.
Plus, it comes with lots of plastic miniatures of monsters, which you could paint and use in your D&D game! It’s like a double-win!
I have never felt more intense pressure when playing a board game than when I’m playing Pandemic. It’s another cooperative game, in which you play researchers trying to find cures for various illnesses plaguing the globe. Sound boring? It’s not. You have to race around the world while disease is breaking out all around you, working together to find the cures. If the diseases have too many outbreaks…you lose. If you run out of disease markers on the board…you lose. If you run out of cards in the action pile…you lose. Get the idea? The pressure is really on!
This game really does make you feel the pinch of time and terror as things are falling apart all around you. Just when you think everything’s in the bag, something happens, and the whole thing falls apart. The handful of times we’ve won, we’ve really felt the victory!
Betrayal at House on the Hill
This is simply one of the best horror games I’ve ever played, board game, RPG, or LARP. The board is built as the players explore it, using cards to create the sprawling grounds of the mysterious House. The first part of the game is cooperative, until, all of a sudden, the Haunt begins, as dictated by a random roll of the dice. When this happens, one of the players becomes the Traitor, and the game becomes suddenly and shockingly adversarial. There are numerous scenarios that may occur, depending on the exact circumstances that triggered the Haunt. The Traitor might now be controlling plant creatures intent on consuming everyone. Or perhaps the Traitor needs to sacrifice one of the others in the Pentagram Chamber. Or perhaps there are zombies. The game has been different almost every time we’ve played it.
For some reason, we seem to get combinations of cards in the game that work in a creepy fashion. Like when you’re walking in the gardens, and you find there’s a corpse buried under it. Or when you’re in the chapel and you’re confronted by a ghostly bride. It just works out that way but it seems to add to the creep factor of playing the game.
I absolutely love Thebes. You play archaeologists who’ve digging around the world for buried treasures. You build up research, attend lectures, and do other things to garner support, then launch your expedition. Each time you lead an expedition into, say, Egypt, you draw tokens from a bag based on the amount of research you did. Some tokens have fabulous treasures on them, but others have sand. Treasures are worth different points, but sand is worthless and goes back into the bag representing that country. So you end up weighing the risk of finding nothing but sand or finding a valuable treasure that another expedition may have missed!
There’s a small educational portion to the game as well, as a fact card tells you about the treasures, including when they were found, what they represented, and more. But mostly, Thebes is just damned fun.
On the surface, this game seems like the dullest thing in the world. You play a plantation owner in Puerto Rico, trying to get rich. You build buildings, harvest crops, enter trade agreements, and such. Trying to explain it, however, belies the free-wheeling fun of the game, which is actually surprisingly entertaining. Reversals of fortune make it hard to predict who will gain victory points, and there are a few “screw with the other players” mechanics that make it feel cutthroat and vicious.
I know I’ve only mentioned 5 board games here…obviously there are many other fantastic ones. Is there a favorite game you would put forward as one of the best? Share away. I’d love to hear from you.