• Board game round-up: Small World, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne

    As I've gotten older, I've found that at some point you will grow out of going out every weekend. It happens for a variety of reasons:

    • sick of paying for 2 pints and getting no change from a $20 note
    • have reached human limit for number of times you can hear a drunken crowd yell the lyrics to Summer Of '69
    • enjoy talking more than grinding on dance floor to Sorry For Party Rocking (Extended Overdrive Dubstep '13 Megamix)
    • doing abusive things to your body now ends in sickness, fatness or temporary mental breakdown

    At this point, you may wonder what else is out there to enjoy with your friends of a weekend. Allow me to offer something I think all of my friends have recently re-discovered & have agreed is great board games.

    Board games are excellent entertainment for a variety of reasons. Firstly, you can still imbibe (your own, cheap drinks) while you play. You don't have to, but you can.

    Secondly, lads & ladies alike can enjoy a board game. A lot of my friends were into playing FIFA on the PlayStation 3 on a Friday or Saturday night. Fun for everyone playing, but if you've got ladies in your group you're most likely boring them to tears, which sucks.

    Third, you can either buy board games on your own, or get everyone who wants to play to chuck in 5 or 10 bucks. Then at the end of the game, don't argue over who 'owns' it; the winner takes it home for next time you play. Next time, do the same again. It's overall still far cheaper than going out.

    Now, I'm not talking about those pansy regular board games everyone owns like Monopoly, Scrabble or Connect 4. I'm also not talking about the stupid, life-altering variety of board games like Risk, that are specifically engineered to end friendships. No, I'm talking about board games that have been released in the last 10 years or so that are actually fun to play, interesting, and don't end in Minimum Distance Enforced Restraining Orders. Allow me to suggest some I've been trying out.

    I'm also going to say that many of these games were choices inspired by Wil Wheaton's great YouTube series Table Top, which I highly recommend.

    Small World

    Small World has to be the best board game I've played in years. If I had to describe it, I'd say it was kind of like a 5-player Mario Party crossed with Risk. Your goal is to amass as many Victory Coins as you can, by conquering territories on the map with a "race"; including types like Giants, Orcs, Ratmen, Ghouls & many others. Each race has their own unique benefit, and is also randomly coupled up with an additional special power. So you could get Flying Ratmen, Dragon Master Dwarves, or Diplomatic Amazons; there are hundreds of combos.

    The best part of the game is that the map is always far too small to sustain every player on it, so battles over valuable territory happen almost straight away. Which is hilarious.

    The real strategy comes a few turns in; when you over-extend your army, or are crushed by someone else, you can elect to "decline" your current race, and skip a turn. Next turn, pick a new race, and start rampaging again!

    Don't rampage near me though. Look at that guy over there, near the mountains, amassing tons of free coins! He's turned us against each other! Why are we even fighting? Go rampage near him. YES. CRUSH HIM.

    Here's a Table Top episode of the game in action:

    You can pick up a copy of Small World for around A$56 from Milsims Games, or even dip your toe in with the 2-player iPad version for A$7.49.

    Settlers of Catan

    A great 4-player intro board game for all ages, Settlers of Catan is incredibly fun, and has surprising amount of depth built into the seemingly simple gameplay. There's no killing or smashing stuff, but instead it's all about getting & spending resources. The game revolves around amassing a variety of different resources (like lumber, ore, wheat or wool), to build roads, settlements & cities. Each of these things are worth Victory Points, of which you need 10 to win the game. You can also get points by having the largest army or biggest road.

    The key to victory lies in being able to making beneficial trades with other players; nobody is going to have everything they need. There's also a Robber, who can steal a bunch of your cards or prevent you from picking up additional resources.

    Here's a Table Top episode of how it goes down:

    You can pick up Settlers of Catan for A$45 at Milsims Games or the iPad app for A$5.49.


    Carcassonne is a another game of construction, in which up to 5 players create a medieval map, one terrain tile at a time. It comes complete with roads, castles, cloisters and fields. The trick is to put down those little star-like doodads called "meeples", which earn you points when you complete a construction around a meeple'd object.

    It's all really about knowing when to throw down a meeple, and when to put down tiles in order to retrieve it. Throw them all down too early, and don't find a way to complete objects? No points for you. And that's not even getting into the tactical play involved in stealing other people's roads or castles & hijacking their points.

    Carcassonne is available for a mere A$27 from Milsims Games, or A$10.49 for the universal iOS app. I highly recommend the app actually; it's an incredibly polished experience.

    So the next time you're over weekend benders, or want a bit of cheap fun with your mates? Kick back, bust out the homebrew and enjoy a nice quiet night chuckling away as you repeatedly ask players if they've "got any wood?" Tee hee.

    James Croft runs Go Make, a business helping education with technology in a post-PC world. He's on Twitter, Google+ & even LinkedIn from time to time.

    Small World, Settlers of Catan & Carcassonne images courtesy of wired.com's brilliant GeekDad blog.
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