The Dell House, Malvern

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Modern Boardgames

This is a very brief introduction to modern board games intended for our guests who are, or were, unaware this hobby existed as a serious adult pastime.

Where to start?

An Austin 7 car

It is remarkably difficult to convey the 'idea' of modern board games.

If I were to say the word "car" you'd picture something from the last ten years, yes? Reasonably fuel-efficient, comfortable, good brakes, maybe even ABS and SatNav.

If I were to say the word "boardgames" I'd wager that you're now thinking of games from the time when cars had starting handles, bench seats and pop-up indicators.

Consider the modern Peugeot 206 and the 1930's Austin 7. The Peugeot is a small runabout car, it has a wheel at each corner, steering wheel, brakes, lights, seats. It gets you from A to B. In this sense the Peugeot and Austin are the 'same' but I doubt you think of them as the same thing at all.

Now lets take a couple of board games from comparable eras; Power Grid (2004) is a board game, it has a board, players, money, even little wooden houses but, and this really should not be a surprise, it's as far from Monopoly (1935) as the Peugeot is from the Austin.

To us, choosing to play Monopoly (and the five other games you can think of) is like choosing to commute in an Austin 7. Come with us and drive in comfort, especially if you want the trip to only take an hour...

Pick a Car, Any Car...

We've around 250 board games at the Dell House and that's a pimple on the ocean of what's out there. In 2015 roughly 5,000 games were published worldwide. Like books (where it's 180,000 for UK alone), many deserve to vanish quickly into obscurity but a fair few hundred are worthy of attention. However, this isn't much help to the newcomer, a rabbit in the glare of a few hundred headlights. Hopefully this is where we can help.

If we've the opportunity to introduce you to a 'modern' game we'd probably pick from the following. These are games that are still in print, are a long way from "roll the dice, move the top hat", are easy to learn and will play out in an hour or so.

There are also a few notes here in case you want to rush out and buy a copy (which would be fantastic, and I know some of you have done just that!)


Carcassonne in play

This is a tile-laying game where you turn is to pick a face-down tile and add it to the growing array of tiles to your best advantage. You optionally place a person (a "meeple") on that tile to claim that part of the world; scoring it when that part is completed. For a first game we'll play it without the 'farmers' which is the more complex part of scoring.

There are many, many expansion packs available. We'll always play it with Inns & Cathedrals which adds a little more depth to the basic game. Some, like Princess & Dragon, make wild changes to the game.

Ticket To Ride (Europe)

Ticket-to-ride in play

This is a route-planning / race game. Your turn is to either add a card to your hand of colour cards, or to play a set of matching cards to allow you to place a length of track on the European railway map. You score more for making longer connections, and score at the end for the much longer 'secret' routes that you were given at the start.

There are a few variations to this game - all under the name Ticket to Ride. Don't assume that it's just a change of map, as different variations actually have slightly different rules.

Pandemic - A cooperative game

Pandemic in play

In Pandemic, diseases spread across the world map and it's everyone's job to find cures while keeping a lid on the spread of disease. If we create cures (by getting the right cards to the right player in the right place) we win; otherwise the world loses!

There are a few variations and expansions available.

Note that there is also Pandemic Legacy which is very different. It starts the same as ordinary Pandemic but then the game changes - permanently. It's designed like a TV series: you don't know what's coming in the next episode, and after 12-24 episodes, it's all over.

Codenames - Team game

Codenames in play

On the table is a 5x5 array of words. One person from each team can see the 'solution' card that says which word belongs to which team. They have to try to guide the team to the team's cards. They can only give a one word clue plus a number. (For example, the clue "Clock, 2" might be used to try to get the words "Tick" and "Hand" selected). The team now tries to identify which cards the clue-giver meant. Picking one of the opposing cards ("Spring" perhaps) ends your turn and helps the other team.

There's a "Codenames Pictures" variant using pictures rather than words, and an "After Dark" version which is not one to play with children around.

Where to find out more

There is now a multitude of shops both online and 'real', websites, clubs, Facebook groups, conventions and several 'Boardgame Cafés'. A few of these are listed below.

Some comments before you go exploring

Price: Games such as Monopoly are mass-produced in the millions and are therefore cheap. Unfortunately this sets a perception that a board game costs a tenner. Modern board games typically cost significantly more. Weigh up the price against the hours of entertainment it'll provide, and consider how much an hour at the pub / cinema / restaurant costs.

Player Count: You may be assuming that all these games need, say, 4 players. That's reasonable as many do require 3-5 players, however, there is a substantial number that play well with two and some are specifically designed for two players. Indeed, there are a number of really good games for solo play.

Duration: Most of the games we like take between 60-90 minutes but there are some great games that only take a few minutes; so much so that playing two or three games in a row is common. The duration given on the box will be for those who are familiar with the game: budget somewhat longer for your first run through and even then it may be optimistic.

Jargon: A Meeple is a character-shaped piece, traditionally shaped like those in Carcassonne (see photo above) even though that game called them "followers".
Your FLGS is your Friendly Local Game Store.
A Eurogame is a game that tends to involve managing limited resources, has little luck involved, doesn't eliminate players and tends to be an hour or two in length. The name originates from the many German games that followed this style in the 1990's.
BGG is the website which is a global repository of boardgame-related information. If you want to know more about any game look here first, but beware it's as navigable as the Worcester one-way system.

Online Groups: Some of the discussion groups do occasionally debate whether hairs are best split on the left or the right but, as a rule, will try their best to be helpful to anyone venturing into the hobby. They will, however, have forgotten what it was like when they first found it, which leads to the next point...

The Shiny New Thing Problem: It is more than likely that someone will recommend you buy the current 'hotness'. Terraforming Mars was that game in 2017. It's a great game but rather more Boeing 747 than Peugeot 206, and might be more than you want to leap into at this stage.

Where I go

This is a list of sites and suppliers that I frequent. I'm one who looks for service over price so others will have a different list to this:

Games Conventions, etc.

Games conventions are gatherings, typically over a weekend, of gamers from around the country. There should be a library of games and most people bring games along but it's not a requirement. There should be some associated overnight accommodation available. Typically there'll be a hundred or so attendees but some are huge (UKGE is tens of thousands and amazing) or tiny (DellCon is 16 and relaxed).

Gather two gamers together and they will publish a list of conventions. This will be incomplete and out of date before they've left the pub and merely add to the list of lists of conventions that is far longer than any accurate list of conventions.

I'll point you at a subset that I think will suit a relative newcomer and that have a board game focus (as opposed to role-playing games) and I'll just give a name to search for rather than details that will almost certainly be outdated before you've finished reading this.

In no particular order. Well, I might put ours first...

In addition to conventions you'll quite likely find game-playing groups in your area, probably meeting in a pub's function room or similar, on a very informal basis. Google your location for "boardgamers".

A Final Note

This page has a natural bias towards the type of 'tabletop' games that we enjoy. This is very much only one facet of the boardgaming picture so go out there and explore; others may well give you a very different picture, so go try their games too.

Have fun!