I know, the title is a bit click-bait-y, but I'll express now that one of the goals of this blog is to get people to think of board games in ways that move beyond the mass-market classics like Monopoly, Risk, etc. While my main board gaming group is just my partner and myself, I know that family game nights aren't super uncommon, especially during pandemic times. So, without further ado, let's get into some games that might be new to you to check out. I was going to do just five, but I couldn't help myself.
Ticket to Ride: Europe -- Perhaps the king of all gateway games other than Catan, Ticket to Ride has sold millions of copies worldwide, but my favorite iteration of this beloved modern classic is the Europe map. It adds just a little bit to the rummy-style set collection of the original by adding train stations, --which allow you more flexibility on those longer routes at higher player counts -- as well as tunnels, which simply require you to plan ahead a bit more in terms of spending your cards to place trains. Both rules add just enough spice and are still easy to teach.
That's Pretty Clever! is an amazing roll-and-write that, for me, definitively replaces Yahtzee. This game uses the same basic mechanism of rolling a set of dice three times on your turn, but each turn you're selecting one of the different colors to activate spots on your board and chaining bonuses for more points, rather than simply rolling for that Full House with your last remaining die. Plus, you're always paying attention to what your opponents are doing because you'll get to pick from their leftover dice at the end of their turn. It's simple, brilliant design.
Splendor -- This might be a nearly perfect family game. The rules overhead is almost insignificant: get chips or buy a card. But the strategy and tactics that evolve over the course of this modern classic are still entertaining to new and experienced gamers alike. I've played it at all player counts, and it's a great package for 30-45 minutes of pure thinky fun as you build up your own personal engine.
Kingdomino -- This was my partner's gateway game. If you're looking for a great, interactive puzzle that you can play in about 20-30 minutes, this is pure perfection. Warning, though, that the two-player variant just isn't all that great; it's definitely best to play with 3 or 4. I can't say enough about this game. The components are super charming, and the presentation is wonderful to go with simple, streamlined (yet dynamic) gameplay as you lay domino-style tiles around your starting castle. It's great for kids and adults. Just amazing.
Takenoko is, in a word, adorable. The gameplay is rich, and the theme is great -- building up a bamboo garden to take care of the royal panda. Amazing. But it's also sharp game design. I can't say enough about it other than it's a must-own for family game night. Great presentation as well. It's also one of the first games I ever encountered that specifically references color-blindness and addresses it in the rulebook as well as on the components themselves.
Point Salad is amazing fun in a small package. It's just a deck of cards in a box, but it's imminently re-playable, and there's some great math teaching involved as you count up final scores. I highly recommend this game for younger players.
Space Base -- This one gets on here because my mom adores this game. She's a gamer, but she likes to stick with Backgammon, a standard deck of cards, Scattergories, etc. I firmly believe that you can teach this game to most anyone, but it's a fair jump in complexity compared to the others on this list. I will say, though, that if you're looking for something to replace Monopoly, this is the game.
Codenames -- This is the party game / word game to end all party games / word games. That's really the pitch. It obviously excels at 4 or more players, which might be a drawback for some, but for those who are interested in word association and hilarity, combined with some interesting strategic choices, this game simply cannot be beat. It's a classic for a reason.
Credit: All images come from Boardgamegeek