I know, I know, technically today is Boxing Day. But board games come in boxes, and I’m a nerd.
While I normally talk here about books and writing and story-telling more than anything else, it’s the holidays, and for my husband and I, that often means board games. We adore board games, and have had decent luck at finding some really awesome ones lately. Mostly that’s due to Tabletop, a Geek & Sundry Youtube series where Wil Wheaton plays games with fellow geeks.
Also, there are board games that do a damned fine job of telling stories.
One of the down sides to most board games is how they become much less fun with two players. Partly, that’s because many game dynamics work better with three players (trading, for instance, becomes pointless when there’s only one other player—why would you help your only opponent?) And when it’s a game won by one person, that’s even less fun between two people, as generally speaking, if I’m honest, my husband is a much better player of games. He’s got the math mind to figure things out better than I do.
That said, there’s one kind of game we truly love: the co-operative sort.
Pandemic is a game where you’re trying to save the world. Y’know, no biggie. It’s actually a difficult game to beat, but as a co-operative game, you either win together or lose together, so there’s that. And the story-telling is present here: the notion is you’re trying to stop four deadly outbreaks from wiping out the world, and your various characters had different skills to make that happen. I personally love being the medic (I know, I know, once a cleric, always a cleric), and my husband loves being the researcher (it occurs to me these games are basically Rorschach tests). We’ll sometimes play with two characters each to give us more options, but given that you’ve got one play through of all the cards to work with, the number of players doesn’t necessarily make the game more doable, as it limits the time you’ve got to solve the problem. This is also an easy game to teach, and everyone working together means that there’s much discussion about what might be the best move for any given character on any given turn. We played a tonne of this while we were trapped in the office and the library during the home renovations, as it’s also quite a quick play-through.
Another co-operative save-the-world game that we love to play is Arkham Horror. This one is far less simple to play (and for many many play throughs we realized we were doing it wrong one rule at a time, and still occasionally realize we’ve misread a rule somewhere), but the depth of storytelling to it is over-the-top awesome. Basically, you’re playing in a Lovecraft world, in Arkham, and trying to stop one of the awful big bads from waking up and eating the world. So, again, no biggie. The character range here to play is brilliant, and you definitely have to work together. It’s also another game that isn’t easy to win, and one where we’ll sometimes double-up on characters (playing two each) to give us more breathing room for options. But again, more characters does mean you have less time (in a way; there are mechanics about how much evil can be on the board before things go awry, and it’s less evil the more characters you’ve got in play). Setting this one up isn’t quick, and the game itself can run very long. It’s definitely an evening’s entertainment, not just something you’d play quickly. (Though there’s Elder Sign for that—a quicker, dice-rolling version of Arkham Horror that’s faster but still holds a lot of the same thematic awesomeness.)
Those are our two (three, if you count Elder Sign) favourite co-operative games. What are yours? Did you score any awesome board games from underneath your Christmas Tree this year?