Because let's face it--Monopoly is pretty horrible.
Sure, you might have fond childhood memories of finally getting that hotel on Park Place, of narrowly avoiding jail only to watch someone land on your railroad, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Do you know why you enjoyed Monopoly as a little kid? Because you didn't know any better. A game that takes forever, where one player is pretty much going to win, but they force you to keep playing until they've taken your very last brightly-colored dollar isn't a game--it's a way to ruin friendships. And Monopoly isn't the only offender in the old-school board game arena (an arena made out of Lincoln Logs, Ki'nex, and Legos, in case you were wondering), I'm also lumping in games like Risk, Life, and Chutes and Ladders here--which, granted, is a kid's game, but still.
There are plenty of games out there that are actually fun and require more than the gods of Luck smiling upon you to win. Here are 5 that I personally enjoy.
1) Settlers of Catan
Ah...the king of modern board games...I heard of Settlers of Catan long ago in college, but I'd never played it, or even seen a game until I watched it on Wil Wheaton's YouTube show TableTop. I was curious to see what it was like, since I'd never played, and thought it was really cool. Fast-forward one Christmas, and I'd gotten myself a copy and immediately got my friends and family to play it with me. Settlers of Catan is a game where you and your friends settle...Catan. OK, so there's more to it than that.
Each hexagonal tile represents a different source of resources: forests produce lumber, pastures give sheep, mountains give ore, etc. You roll two dice and whatever number they add up to tells you what hexes produce resources this turn. (In the picture above, a 10 would produce wheat and sheep.) Whosoever has a settlement or city adjacent to those hexes gets those resources, and then the fun begins! You see, no player can win (unless they are crazy, super lucky) a game of Catan on their lonesome. The key to Settlers is trading with other people, and since I'm someone who actually thinks economics is pretty cool, that makes it even more fun for me.
There will be one ore two resources that, for whatever reason, you're not going to be able to produce regularly over the course of a game, so you're going to have to rely on other people to get you those sheep you desperately need to build a new settlement. (It almost always comes down to sheep for me. Sheep, or wheat.) Another nice thing about Settlers of Catan is that the win condition (first player to reach 10 points wins) means that everyone gets to play the game all the way to the end, unlike Monopoly or Risk, where the 3rd, 4th, or 5th person gets picked off and then just kinda hangs out until the game is over. Plus, Settlers of Catan has all kinds of amazing expansion packs that really adds to the game without taking too much time to figure out. (I'd personally recommend Traders and Barbarians. Fish = an incredibly underrated resource.)
2) Star Fluxx
Star Fluxx (from Looney Labs) is actually a variation on a card game called (you guessed it) Fluxx. The game starts off simple: Draw one card, play one card, but then it quickly gets more complicated. Unlike most games, some of the cards that you draw and play affect the way you draw and play cards. You might end up with everyone having to draw seven and playing two, or drawing one and playing five, or any other odd combination thereof. You also have keepers (some of which grant you cool specials), and creepers (which cause problems for you and are difficult to get rid of). Some of the rules you can play affect how many keepers/creepers you can have at a time, which can be irritating, and I'll explain why. Star Fluxx is also different from most games in that how you win the game is always changing. Just like the rules, keepers, and creepers, players can lay down goals. The first person to meet this goal (which are almost always "Have Cards X and Y") wins the game. But since anyone can play a new goal almost at any time, that makes long-term strategy a bit of a tricky thing. Not impossible, mind you--just tricky. The game can be a bit of a challenge to learn, but once you have, it's a quick game that can be a lot of fun. Plus, geeky sci-fi references abound, so if you enjoy Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe (and I could go on), you'll like Star Fluxx.
3) Elder Sign
Do you like the works of H.P Lovecraft? Would you call traipsing through an evil museum fighting the forces of evil, "a fun way to spend a Friday night"? Ever wanted to forestall the coming of Elder Gods whose very visage would reduce you to a gibbering wreck? Then check out Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games. They describe it as "A card game of dice and insanity for 1-8 players." Now, I know what you're thinking, readers. (I have ever since I installed that mind reading application in your browser.) How can a game be for one to eight players? How does somebody play this game by themselves? I'd like to say that the foul forces within the cards have warped the perceptions of that lone player so that they think they're playing with friends, but are actually in an empty room, rolling cracked dice by themselves, but that's not the case. (It's also kinda creepy.)
You see, the cool thing about Elder Sign is that you (and/or your friends) are actually playing cooperatively against the game. You begin the game by selecting the big bad boss, and your choices go from everyone's favorite eldritch abomination, Cthulhu, to other classics like Yog-Sothoth and Hastur (Hastur Hastur). Each of the big baddies have a card with a number of spaces on them, and that number is (roughly) how many days you have before they rise. Each day consists of four turns, and on players' turns, they explore and defeat rooms of the creepy museum. You roll dice to interact with the creatures and situations in those rooms (which are cards you lay down, so the layout is always changing),and if you win, you get cool treasures and elder sign--tokens you need to keep the big bad from waking. If you lose, you suffer physical and mental damage. But even if you die, you get to pick a new character, so it's not all bad (and you will die, trust me).
I played the game with my girlfriend, and even with just two people, Elder Sign is a ton of fun. We defeated a relatively low-level Elder God, but since there was one dice roll between victory and failure (seriously, it got down the wire there), and I successfully rolled what I needed, it really did feel like we'd just pulled off something amazing. There's a lot more to this game than I have time to tell you (like how your characters each have special powers, and what happens at midnight), but part of the fun of Elder Sign is experiencing its unpleasant surprises for yourself. And if you run into the Curator card, give him a smackdown from me, yeah? (He knows what he did...)
Another classic game like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne is a game for 2-4 players that's pretty easy to play, but there is a bit of strategy to it. Carcassonne is the name of a fortified French city, and in the game version, cities are just one of the features you'll find on the game tiles. It's difficult to tell you how to play without actually showing you how you place the tiles, but in the picture above you can see the board. Each player takes a tile on their turn, and then places it down so that it links up with the other tiles already place. Roads have to connect to other roads, fields to fields, cities to cities, etc.
You get points by putting your meeples (your little wooden people) down on your tiles, and they collect points different ways. Put your meeple on a road, and when the road has two endpoints, you get one point for each tile of the road's length. Put your meeple in a city, and when the city is completed, they get two points for each section. Place your meeple on a monastary, and you get nine points when all the tiles around the monastery have been placed. You can also do farmers, bu they're a bit tricky to explain. The game ends when all tiles have been placed, and then final points are tallied up. Whoever has the most points wins.
Again, like Settlers, part of the fun of Carcassone is that everyone gets to play until the end of the game. Nobody loses after ten minutes and then just chills at the table until the game is over. Like I said before, there's a bit more strategy to Carcassonne than first meets the eye. You only get your meeple back, for instance, once they've achieved their method of getting points. Place a meeple down on a city that never gets finished, and they have to stay there until the end of the game. Place a farmer in a field near the beginning of the game, and some clever tile-laying by your opponents might hem them in early, netting few points while lowering your available meeples for tiles that would have worth more points. Finally, I just like saying the word "meeple." You try. "Meeple." It's delightful!
Another awesome card game, Munchkin comes to us from legendary game designer Steve Jackson, and it is tons of fun. (Full disclosure: I played this game at a game night with my friends--many of whom had played it before--and beat them all, so that probably colors my opinion of it a bit.) Now, the name of the game comes to us from tabletop RPG parlance. A munchkin is someone who doesn't care about role-playing or story; they just want to find the biggest pluses they can get (whether it's for their armor, weapon, or special abilities). They're not above writing things down on their character sheet when no one is looking, not telling the DM that they're carrying more than their weight limit would allow, or backstabbing their friends if it means they'll get something of value. In Steve Jackson's Munchkin, all of the above is encouraged.
The game isn't terribly complicated--draw cards from one pile to get your hand--these cards include gear, special abilities, curses you can lay on your friends, etc. The other pile of cards is the Door pile. We're imagining ourselves as heroes looting a dungeon, so each door card is like a new room you're bursting into. The door cards usually hold monsters or curses, and defeating a monster gets you a level--first one to reach 10 wins. But many of the monsters you face will be too powerful you to defeat alone; (the monsters have levels, and you figure out yours by adding up all the pluses on your cards). That's where your friends will come in.
There's quite a bit of negotiating in Munchkin, many exchanges of treasure for help. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from backstabbing your friends later (and believe me, when a few people are at level 9 and only need to defeat a measly level 2 monster to win, all the curses come out of hiding). Munckin is a game that requires playing your friends as well as you play the cards you're dealt, so think of it like nerd poker and you'll have a good idea of how you need to play. Also, if you like fantasy/Dungeons and Dragons jokes, this game is for you. (For example: The Broadsword can only be used by female characters. There's also an eleven-foot pole.)
So there you have them, folks: 5 modern board games way more fun than Monopoly. I encourage you to try them all, though I warn you, you will get hooked. If you find some you'd like to tell me about (or perhaps you're already writing me about my lapse in forgetting your favorite game), don't hesitate to let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @ColinOBoyle. Also, I'm in the process of creating my own board game, so if you're interested in games that features cards, counting, and fluffy buffalo check me out on Facebook and on Twitter @FluffaloRun. I'm looking to do a Kickstarter for it this October, so I need to spread the word near and far.-By Colin O'Boyle