Video games are easily the most popular form of interactive entertainment today. 49% of U.S. households have a gaming system, with an average of two in each household. Nowadays, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a gleek, farmboy, or stoner who doesn’t brag about how many times they’ve prestiged in CoD, how they rock out hardcore in Guitar Hero, or the illusion skill of their Altmer Arch-Mage Cokkenbalz. Video games are the mainstream now, not the sole domain of nerds as they were a couple decades ago.
But tabletop games still have a stigma attached to them. They are considered the fancy of children or the pastime of ‘real nerds’. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t all Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders anymore. I’m here to tell you, just like Harry Potter, tabletop games have grown up with us. I’m here to tell you that everyone should play more games.
First off, they are loads of fun. I obviously wouldn’t be talking about them if they weren’t. However, they go well beyond that. Nowadays, most multiplayer video games offer fast and engrossing matches, while concentrating on online play. On the other hand, tabletop games offer slower and more strategic play. This allows time to socialize, relax, trash talk, double-cross, and, most importantly, drink. Whether it’s with family or friends, some of my best memories are playing tabletop games.
The physical aspect of a tabletop game also offers something that is a lot easier to gather around on a regular basis. Whether it’s the Board Game of Thrones, with the commands of House Stark becoming more and more suspect as the hours go by, a quick game of Munchkin, with plenty of backstabbing, a game of Settlers, with plenty of jokes about whether anybody has any wood: The games on this list are must-haves for any young adult who plans to entertain or parent who wants to spend more time with their kids.
Type of Game: Deck-building game
Number of Players: 2-4 (up to 6 with Intrigue expansion)
The best deck-building game on the market, Dominion puts each player in the shoes of the ruler of a small kingdom with grand ambitions. The players all start with the same 10 cards and nigh unlimited options from there. The way to victory is to acquire the most land for your kingdom. However, you only start with a pittance of copper, meaning you need to acquire action cards and better currency in order to make your kingdom (deck) more powerful. Every game only uses 10 types of action cards, while the standard box contains something like 23 different types, so the replayability is high.
Best Part: Really, REALLY easy to pick up. There are only three things that you can do (draw a card, play an action card, buy a new card), but the endless combinations of plays and purchases makes a great beginner game and one that you will keep coming back to.
Drawback: Soooo many expansions, after you get hooked you’ll want to buy them all.
Price: $30 for the standard game, about $30 per expansion, $70 for the Big Box (standard game and the Alchemy and Prosperity expansions)
Number of Players: 3-6
Type of Game: Dedicated deck game
If you like slaying the dragon, grabbing the gold, and then stabbing your buddy to keep it all for yourself, Munchkin is the game for you. A roleplaying game in a box, filled with humor, pop culture references, and innumerable ways to screw over your friend, this game is the definition of irreverent. The goal here is to get to level 10 first by defeating monsters and gaining treasure. However, you’ll have to watch your buddies while you fight the monsters, because you never know when they’ll turn on you (or throw a dragon at you). Also, they have loads of themed expansions, with genres such as science fiction, western, apocalypse, horror, pirate, vampire, and on and on. So don your Boots of Butt-Kicking and grab your Chainsaw of Dismemberment and get to work.
Best Part: The rulebook literally encourages you to cheat.
Drawback: You will probably lose some friends over this game. Eddie, I still hate you.
Price: $20 per full game and expansions, $10 for the smaller expansions
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game
Type of Game: Strategy board game.
Number of Players: 3-6 (3-4 if playing Storm of Swords scenario)
Take command of one of the great houses and fight for control over the continent of Westeros. Choose between the Starks, the Greyjoys, the Lannisters, the Baratheons, the Tyrells, or the Martells and use their special abilities and characters to start expanding from there. And with the expansions, you can start as if it were different points in the book. Order your troops to attack, support, pillage, defend, or collect taxes and spend that influence to gain a better position in King’s Landing. Winter does not hear our fury growing unbroken.
Best Parts: It’s Game of Thrones. And you have the choice to play as House Stark. And Eddard and Robb are both playable cards. Also, sending ravens (text messages) to the other players, asking for alliances or supplying false information. IT’S LIKE I’M REALLY THERE!
Drawbacks: Quite complicated, so it takes awhile to pick up the rules. And no Targaryens.
Price: About $40 for the second edition and $15 per expansion
Settlers of Catan
Type of Game: German-style strategy board game.
Number of Players: 3-4 (up to 6 with expansion)
If you haven’t played Settlers yet, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life. I’ve heard it called the german version of monopoly, both in terms of its gameplay and its popularity. The players are settlers of the fictional island of Catan, and are competing to build the dominant civilization. Acquire resources such as wheat, ore, brick, wood, and sheep and use these to build. You also have the option to trade with other players for what you want. Avoid the robber or fend him off with your knights, build the longest road or raise the largest army, or declare a monopoly and take the resources right out of your friends’ hands. Being as popular as it is, and with easy to learn gameplay, this is a great game for someone looking to get back into gaming.
Best Part: Sometimes trades involve favors outside of the game. Or dares. Which at best are funny and at worst are humiliating. But I got my longest road, so who’s laughing now?
Drawback: None. Not one. It’s perfect.
Price: $30 for the standard game, about $20 to expand to 5-6 players, and about $40 per new expansion
Warning: Only proceed if you have played everything above and wish to descend into the Inescapable Pit of Epic Nerdiness. These games are for the hardcore gamer only.
Type of Game: Tabletop miniature war game
Number of Players: Variable (normally 2)
Best Parts: There is so much customization here it’s almost overwhelming. From which army you want to play, how you assemble the models, to how you paint them, to how you equip them, to how far they move, whether they shoot, to whether they charge, to what gun, to what terrain you put on the table…I could go on. You literally are the general in charge of an army of which you control nearly every aspect. You can also play games of any size, just a few squads each, or you can get all of your friends together and just throw your entire army on the table.
Drawbacks: You can literally not get any more nerdy. And beyond expensive. The company behind the game, Games Workshop, does not have a great sales plan, constantly raising prices which drives away customers (which makes them raise the price more). Also requires dedication, as there is a lot of building, painting, and money required. You better be single or have a rock-solid marriage.
Price: About $100 to get an army started. Can, and will, quickly become a lot more than that.
Type of Game: Role-playing game
Number of Players: Variable
Best Parts: All you need is the book, a friend who’s a good storyteller, and your imagination. Sounds corny, but so much fun once you get into it.
Drawbacks: This one is a major time-sink. If you want to play a truly epic, LotR-style campaign, you will have to have a night set aside for it. And you will officially become an uber-nerd. And you will have to have some dedicated friends.
Price: The core three rulebooks will run you about $20 if you buy them used.
Magic: The Gathering
Type of Game: Collectible card game
Number of Players: 2 or more
Best Parts: Cheap, quick to learn, quick to set-up, quick to play. Could get a game of this in on a lunch break. An experienced player also has a lot of strategy available to him. Hence it being the first and still the best CCG.
Drawbacks: Standard game is only two players. They also come out with new decks and special rules each year which can be hard to keep up on.
Price: About $20 for a starter deck and $4 per booster.