When most people think of board games they probably think of luck based games like Sorry or Monopoly or else social games like Trivial Pursuit or Cranium. At the other end of the spectrum, there are also lots of “hardcore” strategy games that people like me played as kids (most famously associated with companies like Avalon Hill) that have huge manuals and require hours to setup and sometimes days to play and aren’t really practical for people with busy lives.
I think what a lot of people don’t realize (and I didn’t realize until recently) is there is a whole other class of board games that seem to have mostly come out of Europe in the last decade or so that have the benefits of being very simple to learn but have extremely interesting and rich game play. Two popular games from this genre that I’ve come to really love are Ticket To Ride and Modern Art.
Modern Art the most interesting economics game I’ve ever played. While the game takes just a few minutes to learn and has very few pieces (some cards, some chips for money and a small board for counting scores) the potential strategies are as varied and complex as real competitive markets. The author of this game, Reiner Knizia, actually has a trilogy of auction games (in addition to over 200 other games he designed!). Probably the only other economics game I think rivals this is my old favorite Atari 800 game M.U.L.E.
Ticket to Ride
Ticket To Ride is the premier “route building game” which in Germany apparently started a whole genre of similar games (apparently they take board games very seriously in Germany). Like Modern Art, Ticket to Ride involves playing cards that add an element of luck but also has a lot of interesting strategies around which routes to build on the map. It is known for having what on Board Game Geek they call a high level “brinksmanship.” As one forum commenter describes it: Do I quit while I am ahead? Do I try for more? What is my enemy’s strength? Are they bluffing? It is a game of playing the player, in addition to press-your-luck, but the press-your-luck factor comes in playing the other person…I have not seen another game like this. Poker comes close, but the gambling aspect of that is not for me.
The great thing about both of these games is they are really intellectually stimulating, are highly social and are generally liked by hardcore and non-hardcore gamers alike.