‹ Alex Wiltshire

Board games I have played

Feb 19, 2012

Game designer Soren Johnson (Civ IV) has put together a mega-list of board games, some of which I’ve actually played! Mostly, I must admit, on iPhone, which has become a fantastic platform for board game conversions. Something of a follow-on to my thing about games for parties, here’s my take on what I’ve played on his list.

Dominion

Really big in gaming circles, Dominion (pictured above) is simple enough to appeal much wider, too. The aim is to amass a hand of cards, with the hand with the greatest value at the end winning, but you’ll need to balance your collecting, from buying value cards to earning the coin cards that allow you to buy them, as well as choosing cards that give you special abilities each turn.

I’m not quite sure about what Johnson means about the game only requiring you to take a single strategy – in fact you’ll need to switch strategies as a game progresses, from building up coin cards in the early phase to rushing to gather value cards at the end, while deciding whether to take an aggressive or defensive stance. That said, maybe Johnson’s right in that it’s hard to switch strategies once you’ve committed to a general stance.

The one thing that does give me pause is that at its highest levels, Dominion’s about card counting. But that’s about a billion miles off mine, so I guess I’m safe from that. There’s an iPhone version, but it’s not awfully pretty and besides, Dominion’s best played quickfire at a table.

Ascension

Johnson rates this over Dominion – Ascension’s a very similar game in the sense that both are about deck building, but it's a lot more complicated. Rather than Dominion’s clear and limited number of card types, Ascension features huge numbers of one-off cards, each with specific effects and abilities. As a result, it doesn’t really have Dominion’s broad appeal, a point exacerbated by its fantasy setting. Lots to master, though, if you’ve the inclination. I’m not sure I do.

That’s the cluttered but detailed iOS version.

Battlestar Galactica

I’ve gone on about this before and think it’s really good, but Johnson feels the great aspects of this game are buried under busywork that takes up the bulk of the playtime. I can see what he means, but I fear his solution to remove it would wipe out an aspect of the game I really enjoy – the sense of working together in the face of awful threat. Fun!

Samurai

Johnson says this game’s a masterpiece, and I agree. Aside from an obtuse scoring system, it’s brilliantly simple, played on a map consisting of hexagons. Dotted over it are figures of three types – peasant, warrior and Buddha. You get dealt a hand of tokens of different values and types, each of which can help capture certain types of figure when placed on the map. When a figure’s surrounded by tokens it’s captured by the player whose tokens add up to the highest value, and the winner is the player who has captured the most figures.

Well, sort of – as I said, the scoring’s convoluted. But the rest of the game is incredibly elegant. Every turn has you wrestling with various options – attack, defence and what to focus on – a feature of any great strategy game.

It might not be as perfect-looking as Carcassonne, but the iPhone version of Samurai is great. Online, my name is Roto.

So there we go. I’d really like to also try Ghost Stories, for its cooperative nature, and No Thanks!, despite its Germanic wacky name, sounds fun, too. Oh, and The Resistance, mentioned in the comments, which is promised to be based entirely on traitor mechanics like Battlestar Galactica’s, could be ace. Board games!