Don’t forget to check out my other tabletop roundups!
The big-time, AAA video game release calendar may be in a bit of a down part of the year (Bloodborne wasn’t for me) but that just leaves more time for board and card games. Time to dive in!
Commonly referred to as one of the gateway games, Dominion is a deckbuilder set in the middle ages. Players each start with seven money and three victory points. Each turn consists of ABC – action, buy, cleanup. You can play one action card on your turn, which can mean drawing cards, forcing other players to discard, gaining money along with an extra action, etc. You can use any money you have in your hand for the turn to buy a single card unless your action phase resulted in extra buys, which can be other action cards, money cards, or victory points. Cleaning up means discarding your hand and drawing five new cards. The player with the most victory points wins the game.
Dominion is fun for many reasons, chief among them being the nearly endless combination of action cards. Each game is played with 10 action cards, but over 20 come in the box, along with some suggested setups for newcomers. It’s fairly easy to pick up, as each card’s instructions are clearly written out, and incredibly fun. Dominion is a good time, without a doubt.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
I’ve played my fair share of tabletop games over the past year or so, but One Night Ultimate Werewolf is right up there with Coup for my top spot. It’s the shortened version of the party game Werewolf, which you may know as Mafia, and rounds only take about 15 minutes to play. Players are given a role face down and close their eyes. The free narrator app will call out each role in order, telling that player to open their eyes and what to do. Werewolves, aka the bad guys, wake up first and see who their possible partners are, as there can be between zero and two werewolves in a round, before going back to sleep. The Robber switches his card with another player and looks at his new role while the Troublemaker switches two other players’ cards. After each player has gone, everyone opens their eyes, does not look at what their card has become, and have to determine who the werewolves are at this point, after all of the card switching has taken place. Each player votes and the player with the most vote dies. If a werewolf dies, the villagers win. If no werewolves die, the werewolves win.
Deception and lying are the names of the game in ONUW. Simply coming out and saying “I started with X and I did Y” may not be the best approach, because if someone else says you are lying because they claim to be role X, now what? How do you convince the other players that you are telling the truth? If you are a werewolf and someone says they swapped your card with another player’s, do you come clean and say that other person is now a werewolf? What if they said that to bait you and you out yourself, drawing the votes right to you? You could claim to be a simple Villager, but that’s an easy thing to say. If you actually are a Villager, should you say you are something else? If you are playing with the Minion, whose death means victory for himself and the wolves, you have to be wary of someone who might be trying to get votes, too.
I’ve played ONUW in multiple five-hour sessions. My favorite setup is two Werewolves, a Minion, Seer, Robber, Troublemaker, and three Villagers. ONUW is an incredible game. I can’t recommend it enough.
Settlers of Catan
If you’ve heard of one board game outside the typical family games like Monopoly and Clue, it’s probably Settlers of Catan. You have to build settlements and cities, connected by roads, on an island. Each turn, a dice roll determines which numbered tiles produce resources. There are five different types of resources: brick, lumber, wool, grain, and ore. These resources can be used to build the settlements, cities, and roads I talked about earlier, or traded in at an exchange rate of four to one for another resource. Connecting to a port on the edge of the map can earn you a better exchange rate on a certain type of resource. A robber token moves when a seven is rolled, blocking a tile from producing resources until it is moved again. Players with more than seven cards also have to discard half their hand when the robber moves.
Victory points are scored not only by building cities and settlements, but by completing goals like having the longest road and the largest army (playing the most knight cards). Development cards can also be purchased and may score you victory points.
Catan has been an enormous success for 20 years. It has a lot of common tabletop elements to it: hand and resource management, map awareness, trading with other players and also screwing over said players. I’ve only played Catan once, but I hope to play it again soon.
The second of two hexagonal tile games on this list, Takenoko involves a farmer, a panda, and some bamboo. Players take two different actions on a turn: place a new tile, add an irrigation path, move the gardener, move the panda, or draw an objective card. Moving the gardener means growing bamboo on the tile he lands on along with all of the same-colored tiles neighboring it. The panda eats bamboo sections, giving them to you. Bamboo can only grow on irrigated tiles, so irrigation is also important. A weather die also comes into play, changing how your turn plays out. Rain means instant bamboo growth while wind allows you to perform the same action twice.
Objective cards are how you score in Takenoko. These cards are drawn face down from three piles: plot, gardener, and panda. Plot objectives involve building a specific configuration of tiles. Gardener cards require you to build bamboo to certain colors and heights on certain types of tiles. Panda cards, as expected, need eaten bamboo sections to be completed. If you finish a card’s objective, you score the points on that card.
Takenoko is definitely fun and incredibly beautiful. Each tile is very detailed, as are the gardener and panda pieces. Sections of bamboo stack on top of each other and grow upwards, giving the game an added 3D element. The instructions even come in a comic book format. How cool! I like playing Takenoko, but there is a lot to it. My friend who owns the game has played it a few times and continues to learn rule nuances during each play.