The First Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Telestrations
I mean, of course the first game is Telestrations. I have said many times it has the smallest distance between ‘opening the box’ and ‘having fun’ of any game of this site. It has the acceleration of a Ferrari in that respect, and I’ve never known it to fail. At least, I’ve never known it to fail if you have at least six people with which to play it.
Some new friends of ours in Gothenburg expressed some reluctance to give it a go when we brought it along to a games day. One round in, and they were hooked. It might look like something your parents would play, but make no mistake – this is an incredibly sharp and funny game that you’ll find reason to bring out again and again and again. It’s not a bad idea to buy some backup pens – you’ll probably need them. This is the first party game you should get, and for a lot of people it’ll be the only one you ever need.
The Second Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Rhino Hero Super Battle
I no longer own a copy of Rhino Hero Super Battle, but not because I stopped loving it. It was just a game that I thought would bring so much more joy to a family with young children. I wanted the game to see more table time than I could justify. It’s easily the silliest game I’ve ever owned, but also one of the best.
The great thing about this is that there’s virtually nothing you need to learn to play it well – or as well as you ever can. It just needs the basic understanding of physical forces that most of us have intuitively. It has a great tempo too – starting off easy and gradually becoming ever more challenging at exactly the same pace that the structure you build becomes most visually impressive. Constantly having to move the heavy meeples around creates lots of interesting stress points that lead everyone constantly into risking calamity. So raucous and good natured, it’s the dexterity game that easily offers the greatest return on your investment.
The Third Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Dixit
Next up – you should definitely get Dixit. Telestrations and Rhino Hero Super Battle will show, pretty convincingly, how much fun board gaming can be. Dixit will be the first brush a lot of people have with how clever game design has gotten. And also, how beautiful they often are these days. Stunningly gorgeous and evocative art coming together in a game that feels like it was designed by a mischievous elf from a fairy tale. A game that is just radiant in its whimsey.
It’s not that Dixit isn’t a funny game, because it often will be. It’s just a game that reaches out beyond comedy into territory that you may not think as rich ground for game design. It’s game of empathy, of connection, and of exploring the contours of shared relationships and understanding. At the end of a game of Dixit you know your friends better than you did at the start, and you’ll have lots of fun in the process. And when you’re tired of what Dixit has to offer, you’ll find endless variety in the expansion packs that are available. Simple rules and a magical experience.
The Fourth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Sheriff of Nottingham
Okay, the thing that has really defined the games we’re recommending so far is that they’re pretty collegiate. Technically all three are competitive, but in a way that doesn’t actually matter. So Sheriff of Nottingham is a nice change of pace where you spend a fair bit of your time simply turning angrily on your friends and accusing them of base treachery. And then, because you’re a good person, maybe if they grease your palm with a little bit of coin you’ll be happy to look the other way for their betrayal.
Here, most of you are playing the role of smugglers trying to get contraband past a corrupt Sheriff The other player is the Sheriff, and everyone will get multiple cracks of the law-enforcement whip. The game hinges on risk and reward. The sheriff can inspect anyone’s bags at any time for any reason, searching for illicit and counterfeit goods. If you’re only bringing through legal goods the Sheriff has to pay you a kind of ‘inconvenience fee’ for the challenge. If they find contraband, you lose it and then you have to pay a fine. From that simple premise you’ll find a game of such social complexity that you’ll walk away with a new found appreciation for your friends. Did you know your mother is the greatest liar in your social network? Did you know that your brother is incapable of lying without giggling, and that he knows that you know that? You’ll find out, because Sheriff of Nottingham is a wonderful masterclass in deceit and betrayal.
The Fifth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Wavelength
If Dixit is a game that lets you build a sense of understanding as to how your friends think, Wavelength will be an extended deconstruction in the inherent unknowability of minds that aren’t ours. It’s a Hegelian nightmare in a box that somehow manages to be one of the most smartly designed games out there. Every round, one of you will draw a card that indicates a spectrum of some kind. ‘Hot versus cold’, ‘Good versus Evil’. ‘Underrated letter of the alphabet versus overrated letter of the alphabet’. They’ll have in front of them a target area on the game’s plastic console. They give a clue that will direct the rest of the table towards that region. They’ll hide the target area, and rotate the box around so everyone has access to the dial in the middle. And then they’ll fall intensely silent.
They’ll then sit and listen to some of the weirdest table-talk of any game I’ve ever played. Sure, you said ‘a microwaved ceramic dish ’ for your ‘hot versus cold’ clue. You thought they’d dial it all the way towards hot but then someone reasonably points out that, as painfully warm as that is, it’s still nothing compared to, say, the heat from the sun. And someone else points out that, on a linear scale, a few hundred degrees is close enough to absolute zero that they may as well be the same thing.
Your friends don’t know how your mind works, and that’s the alarming mystery within which the game thrives. And it’s really, really easy to play.
The Sixth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, there was a dragon that lived in a forest. The dragon was lonely, because he had no other dragons with which to play games. So he went down to the river and blew a stream of flame into the water to create steam, and he used his dragon magic to bind that steam into a friend. He breathed life into the steam boy, and said ‘You are now my son, a prince of dragons’. And the steam boy said ‘Ha, I have a prince card so I get to take control of the story now.’
That’s Once Upon a Time – a game of competitive story-telling where you’re all playing out story-beats to take control of the narrative with the intention of getting rid of all your cards and bringing a story to the conclusion that you have been given. It’s such a clever idea that stresses the creative parts of your brain a way few other manage. It’s wild and confusing and magical and full of the momentum of bravado. You gleefully grab control of the tale with a card or a correction to the story only to lose it when you find that you’re completely unable to continue it in a helpful direction. I often recommend this over games like Cards Against Humanity because this lets people be funny and creative, rather than the cards. And the thing about it being based on fairy-tales is… those things can be dark.
Once Upon a Time is one of the simpler games on this list, but I have it here because it’s also considerably more challenging than the other games mentioned so far. It’s like an improv class in a box, and not everyone is going to warm to that theme the first time. Make no mistake though, this is an outstanding game that you’ll return to again and again.