Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Board Games

We’re wrapping up this series with one last installment — to finish it up, I’ll be talking about my top 5 favorite board games. As Peder mentioned, we both did a similar list a while back, so I’ll refrain from looking at my previous list so that this one can stand on its own. In any event, I’m pretty sure that at least a couple of my choices have changed since then, so I’ll be treading some new ground no matter what. So without further ado, my new and improved list of favorite board games!

5. Marrying Mr. Darcy

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Let’s be honest — a good portion of my love for this game stems from my pre-existing love for all things Austen. But I happen to know from first-hand experience playing this game with non-Jane Austen fans that you don’t have to be into the source material to get a ton of enjoyment from it. The game allows for up to eight players, and you play as the ladies of Pride & Prejudice (or Emma, if you have the expansion). You are competing to (what else?) attract the attention of the eligible men of P&P, in hopes of securing an advantageous marriage. To do so, you collect cards with different types of points, such as charm, wit, and beauty. Different suitors value different things, naturally, so you’ll have to get the right combination to be attractive to the bachelor of your choice.

You can angle for any of the gents you like — however, true to canon, some matches are more advantageous than others. For example, Lizzy naturally receives the most points by pairing off with Mr. Darcy, but if she gets stuck with Mr. Collins, she’ll only get a few points. And if you don’t play your cards right (literally), your character could end up as an old maid, and you’ll have to roll the dice in hopes of getting the least dismal fate that comes with that result.

This game is quick to play through, the turns go around the table pretty fast, and it has that mix of strategy and luck that I find crucial to a good game-playing experience. Add to that the fact that the theme is one of my favorite worlds of fiction, and you’ve got a game fit for any sporting young lady or gentleman.

4. Splendor

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This lovely game first drew me to it for primarily aesthetic reasons — and no wonder. It’s an absolutely gorgeous game, with the painterly artwork on the playing cards and pieces, the satisfying weight and sheen of the gem chips (think poker chips, but with jewels on them), and the general historical feel. It’d be delightful to play just for tactile reasons alone, but the gameplay experience is well worth it, too.

The premise of the game is that you and your fellow players are gem collectors, doing business sometime around the Elizabethan era (judging by the costuming of the characters in the artwork). The object is to invest in smaller jewels in order to buy more and more precious ones, thereby becoming the wealthiest gem collector in the land. The first to 21 victory points is the winner — at first, the gems don’t cost much, and it’s easy to pocket several of them quickly. However, the gems in the early stages don’t have high point values, so in order to afford the higher-value gems and beat your fellow players to 21, you’ll have to do a lot of clever maneuvering.

Splendor also features the optimal (in my opinion) strategy/luck combo that Marrying Mr. Darcy has; it feels accessible and easy to pick up, while still being challenging enough to keep me thinking. It never feels beyond me in terms of strategy; I’m generally able to plan far enough ahead to be a real contender in the game, which I have to admit is pretty rare for me. This is one of those games I want to start playing again as soon as I finish a round — and if you know me, you’ll know that that’s about the highest praise I can give to a board game. It’s one I know I’ll keep coming back to again and again!

3. Sushi Go! Party

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I was introduced to this game a few months ago, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to love it. Yet again, the exterior of the game is what first drew me in — the artwork features little cartoony sushi characters that are just so cute that it hurts. Beyond the surface, though, this game has almost everything I love most about my favorite board games — that luck/strategy sweet spot, a really fun theme, great artwork, and fast-paced gameplay.

I’ve only ever played the party version of this game, so I can’t speak to the original, but I can highly recommend this amped-up version. In the party game, you have a board with slots for the different sushi tiles, which you can switch out to either create one of the combos given in the rule book, or devise one of your own. These tiles show which cards are in play, which the players will combine in hopes of amassing the most points. SG!P is a deck-building game, with a card-passing mechanic similar to the one in Seven Wonders. As the card hands go by, you’ll have to choose wisely in order to gain the most points (and avoid losing any) when the totals are tallied up.

As I mentioned, this game is a delight in just about every way — it’s great for smaller groups and larger ones, and can be a great warm-up or cool-down game, or just a fun one to pull out when you feel like something snappy but still low-key. It has that addictive quality I mentioned with Splendor, and so much variety and possibility that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it (or of looking at those adorable sushi faces!).

I have to say — the only real downside (though maybe it’s an upside, depending on your perspective), is that this game makes me crave sushi like nobody’s business!

2. Lord of the Rings: The Board Game

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From the title alone, I think it’s pretty obvious why I love this game. A board game modeled after my favorite fictional world of all time? Yes, please! Better yet, it’s cooperative, my favorite style of board game. I find that working together to win against the board rather than trying to beat your fellow players is a much more enjoyable gaming experience for me — it means that even if the game gets serious or tense, the players rarely take it out on each other, and that since all players are involved the whole time, nobody’s sitting around getting bored as they wait for their turn to come around again.

In the LOTR game, you play as one of five hobbits (the four from the Fellowship, with the addition of Fatty Bolger, a character from the books who didn’t make it into the movies). Your goal, naturally, is to travel through Middle Earth to Mordor, on the quest to destroy the One Ring. You’ll travel through Bag End, Rivendell, Lothlorien, and a couple of other spots to gather supplies, and you’ll move on to play through multiple scenarios staged on several separate boards — Moria, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair, and Mordor, in the base game; you may have others if you choose to pick up certain expansions. As you go, you must succeed in a series of events to keep moving, and to keep the eye of Sauron from spotting you before you get to Mount Doom.

Though I love this game dearly, it is almost punishingly difficult to win, with several ways to go down and only one narrow path to success. Many a gaming session has ended with us getting overtaken by Sauron, spelling the end for our characters (and turning Middle Earth into a land of subjugation and despair…*cries*). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to re-set the board and try again every time that happens. I love everything about this game — the fact that it came out before the movies and is based only on the books (and features Alan Lee’s glorious artwork), its cooperative nature, the excruciatingly high stakes that manage to be serious and exciting at the same time, the mechanics of the game, and just the undeniable feeling that you’ve somehow been transported to Middle Earth and are now personally responsible for saving it. It’s a heart-pounding, exhilarating gameplay experience, and it’s one I plan to engage in many, many more times.

1. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy

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It’s a close call between Pandemic (and its legacy spinoff, Pandemic Legacy) and the LOTR game when it comes to my top pick, but at least for now, Pandemic wins the day. It was my first foray into the world of cooperative gaming, and there was no looking back. Finally, I’d found my type of game — the type I could enjoy playing no matter what. Put simply, it’s one of the first games that showed me just how amazing board gaming could be, taking what I thought I knew about gaming from playing the tired old classics, and completely re-forming my perspective. Suddenly, board games were a world I not only could engage with, but wanted to.

Dramatics aside, Pandemic is widely recognized among gamer circles as one of the best co-op games out there. It’s been around longer than a lot of other currently popular co-op games, and it’s no wonder that it’s stood the test of time. The object of the game is simple — keep four deadly viruses from spreading across the world for long enough to totally obliterate them, thereby saving humanity. You play as a range of different medical, tactical, and scientific specialists (such as the medic, the dispatcher, or the researcher), and you must work together to keep the diseases at bay until you can cure them and clear them out.

Pandemic is a little more strategy-heavy than some of my other choices, but because of the cooperative aspect, I can bring whatever I’ve got to the table, and even if I’m not at the top of my game, I know the other players will fill in whatever gaps I can’t bridge.

Like LOTR, Pandemic is a super challenging game — there are many ways the world can be lost to disease, and only one way to save it. But due to the pacing and tight, well-laid out mechanics, it remains a ton of fun to play no matter how many times you’ve lost. This extends to the legacy version of the game, as well. In that version, you play through 12 “months” and increasingly difficult and complex scenarios, trying to beat back the diseases under narrowing odds. You’ll almost certainly make some grave mistakes and have your best plans go awry as you play through, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling and satisfying to play. I’ll definitely be returning to the base game for many more replays, and can’t wait to see what future version of the legacy game have in store.

So there you have it — my all-time (so far, at least) favorite board games. To close out, some honorable mentions: Five TribesCastle PanicTicket to RideQuirkleBetrayal at House on the HillDead of Winter, and Phase 10.

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