A Love for Board Games

Then and Now

Ever since I was just a child, I remember loving board games. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve making double-jumps in checkers, or racing to the finish in Trouble and Candyland. Then, the unforgettable dramas involved with Monopoly or Yahtzee (and the smallscale wars that sometimes followed) immediately come to my mind from my adolescence. But as I approached my late teen years, I started drifting away from most board games because I found them too simple. They lacked the need for complex strategy in most cases, and many games just didn't make me feel as if they required any real skill. I started to dismiss board games as "something for little kids." 

Boy, was I wrong about that!

Over the past year or so, I've had the opportunity to expand my horizons and discover a whole new world in board gaming. I've played several board games that offer a more advanced experience, with more complex rules and gameplay that will exercise the mind and offer hours of enjoyment. Here's a list of 3 relatively new, extremely fun board games I've been playing, and why you should play them, too!

1. Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) -- 2012

Descent is what is referred to as a "dungeon crawler." In this game, 2-4 players team up to fight aDescent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)Credit: http://lghttp.12309.nexcesscdn.net/805B35/magento/games/media/catalog/product/cache/7/image/66ffab2fe682907a17e1679a1175a522/d/e/descent_2nd_front.jpggainst an evil Overlord and his/her army of powerful monsters. Each player controls a unique hero, with their own abilities and stats that affect all the gameplay. One player is determined to be in control of the Overlord, so the other players must cooperate as a team to defeat them.

The game is set up in such a way that the Overlord is very powerful, and for the heroes to have any chance to win, they must pool their abilities, items and minds in order to find a way to overcome the odds and beat the evil standing (or sitting) before them. The way that the game is played is in a sort of campaign. The game has a booklet of various scenarios with different maps (which you piece together from the box), goals for each side, and even plot overviews for them. It is intended that there will be 3 scenarios, an epic interlude, 3 more scenarios in which the enemies and player equipment become stronger, and then the final battle. Each one will take around an hour, but you can always pick the game up at another time to play the rest.

Throughout the campaign, heroes will come across treasures and earn new skills to help them in their difficult quest. And when I say difficult, I mean it. The game is very complex, with deeply integrated abilities for both heroes and the Overlord's minions. You should be prepared to need to plan out each of your turns together, every step of the way. This makes the game very time consuming, and coupled with the fact that heroes are often at a disadvantage, sometimes quite frustrating at first. 

But if you can accept Descent for what it is--an epic battle against overwhelming odds--it offers an experience like no other. You and your friends will grow in strength and trust from the first scenario to the climax of your story, and that's something rarely offered from a game played with cards and dice.

Descent: Journeys in The Dark Second Edition
Amazon Price: $79.99 $55.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 2, 2016)

2. Arkham Horror -- 2007

For you horror fans out there, Arkham Horror is based on the works of the grandaddy of sci-fi horror himself, Mr. H.P. Lovecraft. That means you can expect a number of things, not the least of them being aliens, supernatural monsters and an early 20th-centuryArkham HorrorCredit: http://oyster.ignimgs.com/wordpress/www.ign.com/3358/2011/12/arkham-horror.jpg setting. This game is unique in that every player is working together, and the main enemy in this case is the game itself.

Basically, each game centers around an "Ancient One;" a gigantic alien creature that is stirring in its slumber. As it stirs, the city of Arkham is suddenly filled with mysterious and spooky events and dangers to those unlucky enough to be there. Players get to choose from a selection of many characters, each complete with their own backgrounds, stats, starting items, and unique abilities. They must work together to try to seal various portals that open in the city throughout the game before the Ancient One awakens and brings about the end of the world.

In the case of Arkham, there are usually two ways to win: seal all the interdimensional gates on the board, or if the Ancient One awakens, fight and defeat it. What sets this game apart is that each experience with it is bound to be different. There are several Ancient Ones to choose from and even more characters (and this is without any of several expansions). The board is large, and all events in the game are determined by randomly shuffled cards, which there are a LOT of. You can pretty much guarantee you will never have more than one Arkham game that plays out the same way.

The text of the game is its biggest claim to fame. Nearly every event card contains a storyline entry that explains what is causing abstract things to happen in the game. For example, a card won't just tell you you lose 2 health points if you fail a dice roll; it'll tell you that "you round a dark corner only for your nostrils to sting with the stench of something horrible. You find that the scent originates from a great monster, which leaps from the shadows and embeds it's tentacles into your eye-sockets in an attempt to steal your brains. Roll a dice to see if you lose 2 health." Okay, that was an exaggeration. But only a little is the awesome thing!

While there is a seriously impressive attention to detail and design in Arkham Horror, it's awesomeness is somewhat dampened by the fact that these games take a long time. A really long time. I've had games of Arkham Horror lasted well over 3 or 4 hours. The game is also a lot more complicated than I've made it seem. It took me and my friends quite some time before we finally understood the rules. We're still getting used to some of the new ones from the expansions we've obtained for it. But trust me when I say that the time doesn't drag on by any means. You'll be drawn into Arkham as if you were living the plot of a Lovecraftian horror story. Better yet, you'll be playing one!

It's definitely worth the money for a game that is challenging and well-made. There's a reason we keep going back to it; it's addicting once you have a good grasp on the mechanics.

Arkham Horror
Amazon Price: $40.50 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 2, 2016)

3. Eclipse -- 2012

If you're looking for a game that is very complex and interesting but also relatively quicker than the previous two entries, Eclipse might be for you. If you're also someone who tends to enjoy the sci-fi space genre, I'd go as far to say it's a must-buy.

Centered around a futuristic space-race scenario, Eclipse offers a unique form of gameplay based on evolution, development, diplomacy and space exploration. The map literally expands based on the choices of the players, and they must colonize different kinds of planets in order to increase their resources. Players can work together and form alliances, or they can destroy each other with superior military power and technologies that they purchase as they go. The choice is really up to you. It's another game where you never know how things will play out.

EclipseCredit: http://jjcards.com/shop/images/Eclipse.jpg

The game also has a set turn order (at 10), which means this game tends to go much faster than some of the others on this list, especially when players get used to the rules. The rules seem complicated at first because the game uses a phase system that is unique, so it may take a bit of practice to figure it out. My advice? Just start playing the game with the book open and figure it out as you go. Even if you make a few mistakes at first, you'll have too much fun building ship blueprints or fighting over space territories to care.

Just be sure to have a lot of space available, and try to play the game on a stable surface. There are a TON of small pieces to keep track of, and someone accidentally moving them could be a real cause of frustration when you attempt to remember where it all was. That being said, there are a number of different "race" play mats to choose from, and every one of them can be turned over to play a human. Alien races all have differences in ship design, starting technologies and other things, but all humans are the same. It's best to learn the game with every player starting as human, just to keep things simpler.

Eclipse players rely on three different resources to do things in the game. Science allows them to research new technologies, material allows them to build ships, and money is used to pay off debts every turn. The more actions a person takes the more they must pay at the end of the turn, thus forcing the player to carefully plan based on their resources. It sounds complicated and at first, it is, but the game mats for each player make it easy to keep track of these things. The game is actually much simpler once you start playing it, despite the daunting appearence of a lot of different plastic pieces and rules.

One other thing. Eclipse has been a favorite among board game fans in the past year, and is frequently well-reviewed. It's a really unique game with interesting group dynamics and complex gameplay that is also fairly easy to pick up and relatively fast to play. Especially for sci-fi fans, it definitely won't disappoint.

Eclipse Board Game
Amazon Price: $56.01 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 2, 2016)

Don't be afraid to try a new board game!

You might be aware of common conceptions such as that adult-themed board games like these are for "nerds," or people with poor usage of time. But the fact is that these games offer real innovative mind exercise. Games like Descent, Arkham Horror and Eclipse are more than just cards and dice; they are addictive portals into another world. Better yet, all three are portals to another world that will strengthen bonds with your friends and offer an experience that will be new every time. You'll want to play them because of the satisfaction of seeing your strategizing pay off, yes, but also because you'll feel a certain suspense in that you'll never know what will transpire in the next turn.

Think about picking up one of these games for the next time the power goes out or you and your friends just want to start a new, fun hobby on your days off. Any one of them will beat rolling the dice with any traditional board game experiences without question.