In my parents' day, there weren't a ton of options for tabletop games. I guess there were a variety of card games, but board games? They had Clue, Monopoly, maybe a couple other classics. When I was growing up, we had a few more than that -- my dad owned like 20 different versions of Trivial Pursuit!
Nowadays though ... wow! I'm seeing new games left, right, and center, and it's incredible! With the power of the internet, there are a fair few YouTube channels that review board games on behalf of the people -- telling us what we may or may not like about the game, before we try it/buy it.
Most of the games my boyfriend and I have in our games closet were discovered from watching a web series called TableTop. TableTop was hosted by Wil Wheaton; he invited three of his friends to play games with him, different friends for each episode (although some came back in future seasons). Most of the games took up one full episode, but there were a few that needed two episodes, and some games were so short that they actually fit in two or three games into one episode. In 81 episodes, Wil and his friends played 79 games. It is my mission to play (and maybe even own!) all of them one day, but of the ones I have played so far (25), here is my Top 11 list:
Special Mention: Zombie Dice
I've never played Zombie Dice with others, but I used to play on the app. I never liked zombie anything -- no zombie books, no zombie movies, no zombie TV shows (yes, I've never seen The Walking Dead). I recently watched a couple zombie movies, and I have to say, they weren't terrible. And I loved playing Zombie Dice on the app, so I would definitely be open to buying the game now to play with my friends and family. (It's a pretty easy game: roll the dice, try to get brains, avoid shotguns.)
11. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards
(Important Note: This game is not for everyone; most of the cards are fairly raunchy and/or gory.)
You are the wizard, battling against other players by creating spells. You are dealt cards with all sorts of different abilities, and the flavour is different depending on the expansion. Wil and his friends played Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, which I've played a couple times ... not my favourite. I like Panic at the Pleasure Palace (which features a new game mechanic: Magically Transmitted Diseases, or MTDs for short) and Hijinx at Hell High (my boyfriend recently bought this one; it's got some classic high school tropes, such as jocks, nerds, and cafeteria food).
10. Castle Panic
The thing I love about this game is that it's a cooperative game; my boyfriend and I play it together, defeating the game together. (We do also keep score, so if we win against the game we like to see who gained the most points, which you get by defeating monsters.) Our aim is to not let the monsters -- trolls, orcs, goblins -- destroy the walls and hit all the towers. A wall here and there is fine, as they can be rebuilt, but we want to limit how many towers take a hit; once the towers are all gone, that is when we lose the game. There are a lot of monsters to take down, and although we only usually add two at the end of each round, sometimes we are required to add 4 or 5 -- which can get VERY overwhelming!
This is a newer game in our collection, less than 6 months of playing. The major downside: if my boyfriend and I play just the two of us, we have to play with the dummy player, Dirk. (We nicknamed him Dirk the Jerk ... before we found out the inventor of the game is named Dirk. Sorry, Dirk!) Overall though, I've really enjoyed this game. We're building an alhambra, which I believe is a Spanish palace. The goals are to have the most of each colour (especially the greens and purples, as they're worth more points) and to have all of your walls connected (as you get more points for each wall that touches). There is definitely an art and strategy to this game -- I've had to "redecorate" my alhambra numerous times during a game to get everything to fit properly -- but as I said, this is an enjoyable game, especially with 3 or more players.
I'll be honest: I think my favourite part of this one is just the fact that Seth Green was on this episode of TableTop. But in all seriousness, who wouldn't love a pirate-themed game anyways? Well ... my mom. She's not a fan of Libertalia due to the high amount of strategy needed. You see, there are three rounds, each with 6 days. We're each given the same 9 of 30 crew members to start, and every crew member has their own unique ability that will help us get the treasure. (We're given new members each round.) The upside is that we can see all the potential treasure in advance (hence the strategy) ... but depending on which crew member you play for each day, and which crew member the other players play, your strategy might get ruined. There is so much more to this game that I can't even begin to explain, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun! (I think my mom's problem is that we didn't play it often enough, so she'd have to relearn the game every time we played. Even with her lack of interest though, she still won quite often!)
We're building cities and roads! ... That sounds like another game I'll be talking about later on, but this is more of a tile laying game. We start with either one tile (which has a piece of a city and a strip of road, so you can build off of either one of those) OR if you have the river expansion you begin by building the river first, giving you more places for cities and roads (oh, and monasteries!). Anyways, when you're officially set up, you take turns drawing ONE tile ... that's it, just one at a time. What you draw is what you have to work with. You place meeples to claim roads, cities, and monasteries, and you don't get them back until they complete their mission. The bigger the city, the more points you get. The longer the road, the more points you get. The monasteries ... well, if you finish them, you get 9 points (which is quite a lot!). There are SO MANY expansions to this game; my boyfriend and I only have four (plus a Safari Carcassonne which is its own thing; we don't need the base game for it). I can tell you #10 (Under the Big Top, a circus-themed expansion) seems to be the most popular among our friends and family.
Wil Wheaton describes Qwirkle as "it sort of plays like dominoes, and it sort of scores like Scrabble" -- and honestly, this is the perfect description! There are 6 shapes and 6 colours, a total of 108 tiles (3 of each colour/shape combination). A "qwirkle" is a row of all the same shape (but each different colours) or a row of all the same colour (but each different shapes). Example: Maybe you start with a red circle, a blue circle, a yellow circle, and three other random tiles. You play all your circles, you get three points (and you draw three new tiles, to get back up up to 6). Someone attaches a purple circle and an orange circle to the row you just started, and they get five points for it. That just set someone else up though; whoever plays a green circle on that row will get TWELVE points (basically, 6 for the six circles + 6 for completing a row). There will be a ton of branches, but it is quite easy for some rows to get blocked (meaning a qwirkle will be impossible in that row), just like in Scrabble when it becomes impossible sometimes to find a space for your letters.
(Side Note: I recommend investing in the travel-size version of the game, versus the big box; the tiles may be a little smaller, but it is so much cheaper.)
5. Unspeakable Words
I've only had the honour of playing this game a couple of times, at a board game café in another town. It's on my wish list of games to own, because as someone who adores words and word games (like Scrabble and Scattergories), I fell in love instantly with this one. The scoring is so unique: letters are worth the number of angles they have! So an S is worth 0 points, an L is worth 1 point, and a Y is worth 3 points -- meaning the word SLY is worth a total of 4 points. The player who plays the word must roll a 20-sided die (d20), and roll the exact number or higher in order to keep the points AND remain sane. (If the player rolled a 2, for example, they would still get to keep their 4 points ... but they lose one of their 5 sanity tokens.) But the cool thing about NOT being sane (meaning you're down to one sanity token): you can start making up your own words!
4. Five Tribes
This is a very intricate game, and not for the faint of heart; if you're not into heavy strategy, you very well may not enjoy this one. However, for those who dare ... this game is so cool! With its Arabian Nights-vibe, I get so inspired by the djinns every time I play. As I said though, it involves quite a bit of strategy; you pick up meeples and move them to another location, dropping the last meeple you pick up onto a tile with at least one meeple of a matching colour to yours. The colour you drop determines what you get to do that turn -- receive goods from the market, collect coins, assassinate a meeple, earn victory points, or have the ability to buy djinns later on. The more expansions you add, the more complicated the game gets -- but also the more exciting!
3. Settlers of Catan
I've been playing Catan for almost a decade now. My roommate introduced me to it, then I played with my sorority sisters one night ... and then I brought it home to my mom, and we started playing almost every day! It became our game, especially when we discovered the Cities & Knights expansion (far superior to the base game, if you ask us). The goal is simple for the base game though: collect resources in order to build roads and settlements, and upgrade settlements to cities, in order to get to 10 victory points first.
2. Ticket to Ride
This is a staple in our household! Every time we go to my boyfriend's mom's house for family dinner, his brother requests we bring "TRAINS!" Ticket to Ride is a game with a map, trains, and tickets with routes to complete. The base game is of the USA (with a little bit of Canada up top), so some of the routes to complete include Los Angeles to New York, Winnipeg to Houston, and Calgary to Salt Lake City. For our first Christmas together, my boyfriend got me the map for Africa. For our first anniversary, he gave me a hybrid map: Japan on one side, Italy on the other. For his latest birthday, I gave him the map for Germany. We have another hybrid map (United Kingdom/Pennsylvania) that my mom and I bought years before, and my mom has the Nordic map at her house. My dad also has a couple we don't have: Ticket to Ride Europe, and Rails & Sails. Each map seems to come with a unique twist of the rules -- which, to be honest, is hard to keep straight when we switch maps so often ... but at least you'll never get bored!
My personal favourite: a game that takes you on a trip through Japan. The aim is to have the most luxurious experience: buying the most expensive food, going to the hot springs, purchasing a bunch of souvenirs, encountering a variety of people. Japan was the first trip I ever took outside of North America (thanks to my Grandpa); the country and the culture hold a special place in my heart. I also believe it's a fairly easy-to-learn game for new players, and has two very fun expansions (Crossroads & Matsuri) to add to your collection when you become more familiar with the game. And, like most games: the more players you have, the more fun the experience.