If you are a parent today then it is highly likely that your experience of board games as a child yourself back in the eighties and nineties was very limited, although seemingly excessive at the time.
We grew up on a few mass market staples such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo, Game of Life and the revolutionary (for the time) Trivial Pursuit. You may have dabbled with Yahtzee or Boggle, or sought global conquest with Risk if you had a few spare days to finish it, but despite the toy stores having a never-ending display of games it is usually the same five or six that grace that cupboard in most people’s homes and this is why most of us in our thirties and forties are bored of board games!
Such little variety is often on display in our homes considering how much variety is available. Maybe the cream rose to the top, hence the success of Monopoly et al?
Maybe the escalation of technology has killed off board games in the last twenty years as we find our entertainment through on-demand TV or social media?
Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth as the growth of board games has started to really pick up in recent years and is gathering quite a head of steam.
Monopoly still has something of a monopoly over sales, but there is a grass roots revival that is bigger and more exciting than the continual churn of mass market titles of our youth and beyond. The independent games publishers have truly come of age and if you haven’t played some of these exciting modern classics then you probably know someone who has.
And I link this to parenting because our social wings have been clipped. The child-free days of going out whenever we fancied it have faded away. For many of us the evenings are the same. Put children to bed, finally, then watch something relatively soulless on television and head off to bed. Rinse and repeat, day after day.
I applaud those of you who manage to fill your evenings with personal goals achieved and I envy you, but how many households run on social media and Love Island after the kids go to bed? I’ll hazard a guess at bloomin’ millions!
A night on the tiles is an epic mission as a parent of young children, but staying in can be the new going out and the insertion of a new and monumentally great board game can be the making of a great evening.
It all comes down to what the Danish have called ‘hygge’ for centuries. Now, before you roll your eyes at the prospect of yet another article on hygge, this isn’t that. Buying some new cushions, throws and lighting candles instead of turning the lights on isn’t hygge. Serving meals on square wooden plates from Selfridges or pieces of slate isn’t hygge. Neither is baking your own cinnamon rolls.
Hygge doesn’t translate into English. It’s one of those great words that languages sometimes have where there is no other word for it to translate to in other tongues. Hygge, to me, is the warmth and contentment that comes from companionship and friendship, whether you have the big light on in the room or are squinting because of candlelight.
From where this very geeky dad is sitting, hygge is staying in, with friends turning up and just chatting and playing a game.
Remove the pressure of cooking for guests while the children run riot by inviting them around after the kids are in bed and brief them fully that they need to eat before they arrive…the night is drinks and gaming only. Well, maybe a tube of Pringles, or organic hand-crafted artisan root vegetable slices if you really can’t put that ‘Little Book of Hygge’ down.
So why is the game necessary? Can’t we just have friends around to visit?
Well….yes…you can, but then the potential shared experience evaporates. We talk about work, we talk about the children, we talk about what was on television and before you know it we are all sneaking peeks at our smartphones and it is just another evening.
The board game is the focal point, and the point of the gathering. Friends become opponents, looking each other in the eye across the dining room table. There are rules to concentrate on, so no time for mundane ‘how your day went’ trivialities. We’re all here to have fun with a game…it’s a serious business!!
Ha, well, that’s a notch too far. No-one likes a board game bully, but if you haven’t tried a good old-fashioned game night in a long time then I urge you to give it a go. If you must specify some rules such as no smartphones on the table then do it because the outcome is worth the strictness. Trust me.
You might be wondering which board games are guaranteed to not bore the backside of you all.
Well, there are no guarantees in life and people are different, but if my life depended on you and your friends trying a new game out and having a fab time then I’d offer the following three suggestions:
1. Ticket To Ride
A competitive board game where players collect different train car cards to try and claim railway routes between major cities. Players earn points for themselves by successfully completing routes between cities, with longer routes being more valuable (and more difficult to get!). It all sounds very simple, and it is. One of the joys of Ticket To Ride is that you can learn how to play it in just a few minutes and crack on with your first game, but don’t let the simplicity of rules fool you into thinking that it is not a complex or strategic game. A multi-award winner, Ticket To Ride made the games industry sit up and take notice when it won the coveted Spiel Des Jahres (game of the year) award in 2004 and has been opening people’s eyes and delighting players all around the world ever since. I am yet to find someone who has played this and not had a great time doing so.
Carcassonne began life waaaayyyy back in the 2,000th year of our lord, and centres around the medieval fortified town of the same name in southern France, which is famous for its city walls. A 2001 Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) award winner, Carcassonne has gone from strength to strength since its launch and has sold well over 10 million copies since then.
The basis of the Carcassonne board game is to create a landscape of farms, roads, cities and cloisters by laying down the land tiles. Players place their Meeples to take the roles of knights, thieves, monks or farmers on these tiles in a bid to score the most points at the end of the game. There are no dice, no rulers or character cards, just some attractive square tiles, little wooden followers and a score board.
Carcassonne is a very simple game executed beautifully and although simple there is more than enough strategy involved to make it an in-depth experience (without being too heavy).
Pandemic is rather fascinating in that it is a ‘co-operative’ game, which means that the players work together against the game rather than competing against each other. You and your teammates join together to play as members of a disease-fighting team who have to travel the globe fighting outbreaks of four deadly diseases in a bid to discover cures and save the world from yucky biological end times. The game board shows all the cities that are likely to be ‘attacked’ by the diseases. Initially all is peaceful in the world, but during the setup phase before you start to play you will use the freshly shuffled Infection Cards to randomly determine where the diseases have started. This will generate different levels of disease outbreak in 9 cities around the world which are indicated by the placement of Disease Cubes on the map. Suddenly things start to look ominous! The games builds slowly and ultimately goes crazy. You and your teammates are highly likely to lose the game the first time around, but you will want to play again. You can finish a game in under an hour, so a couple of goes won’t make the evening drag on too much.
I have chosen those three because the rules can be grasped quickly enough to allow you to open the box and get your first game underway within around fifteen minutes and they can all be played in around an hour, but I guarantee you will want to play another game right away.
Honourable mentions for other games to investigate go to Settlers of Catan, or Catan as it has now been repackaged as, Cash & Guns which is an incredibly fun game and one that you can easily play with young children too and if you and your buddies are Game Of Thrones fans then the epically brilliant Game Of Thrones board game by Fantasy Flight Games is unmissable, but you will need to allow around two or three hours to complete it.
Finally, for another game that works brilliantly with adults and children then look no further than the Exploding Kittens card game. A simple yet fiercely competitive little game, and if you are looking for something small to take on holiday with you then this is a must have.
Games are a great social experience and as well as being the catalyst for a different and enjoyable adult evening they can also be a compelling reason for older children to put down their tablets and consoles and be reminded that spending time together as a family is pretty good fun. Try one of the above out and be bored of board games no more…