The Seventh Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Sushi Go Party
People love 7 Wonders, and it’s often recommended as a perfect introductory game for newbies. It’s a very enjoyable game with a proud pedigree. The problem is that you need to play it at least twice to really understand what’s happening, and at least three to stand a reasonable chance of success. That’s a lot of plays where the only real outcome is ‘mostly bafflement’. Sushi Go Party on the other hand gives you almost everything you’ll get out of 7 Wonders in a much more approachable package. We’ve only reviewed Sushi Go, as opposed to Sushi Go Party, for the site. What Party offers though is much greater value and replayability.
Each round, you take collection of the hand of cards that was previously possessed by your neighbour. You look at what you’re trying to get, what everyone else is trying to get, and pick a single offering that hopefully scores you points while denying them to someone else up the buffet conveyor belt. You score based on sets, and so does everyone else – so you’re often choosing between denying someone a big payoff at the expense of your own score. Those decisions are surprisingly consequential. You’ll be amazed at how much game the designers pack into the choice between a tempura and a sashimi. It’s an adorable game with a surprising amount of heft.
The Eighth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – One Night Ultimate Werewolf
You couldn’t get away from a list like this without a hidden role and social deduction game, and there are loads of good ones to choose from. The Resistance and Secret Hitler are particularly good examples of the form. Neither of them are quite so learnable as One Night Ultimate Werewolf though, and few others offer such a vibrant taphestry of consequence. You don’t just play a round of One Night Ultimate Werewolf and forget about it. You brood on it. You all do. Lynchings and brutal murders are just the backdrop of this game – it’s really about the shared history you’ll construct with your friends.
Oh look, Pauline claimed to be the Seer. Again. You know that gambit – she’s a definitely a werewolf because that’s how she always opens when she is. Except in those circumstances where she actually is a seer. Oh look, Roz is claiming to be a seer too. Well, one of them is lying and it’s always Roz except in all those times where it’s not. And you all know what everyone else knows, because this is a game that gains wrinkles and contours through familiarity. Some games get stale with repetition. ONUW only gets deeper and it’s fun from the very first play. Quite a remarkable achievement.
The Ninth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Modern Art
Modern Art is one of the cleverest games of bidding that I have in my collection, made more clever by how approachable it is. Every round you’re selling and bidding on modern masterpieces for the benefit of the table. The more of a particular artist sells, the hotter that artist becomes. The hotter they become, the more their paintings are worth now, but also the more they’re worth in later rounds of the game. You’ve got a variety of different auction styles to contest with, and the winner will be the player that best manages the propaganda of popularity. It’s the inuitiveness though that really makes this shine because you don’t have to learn a weird ‘in game’ economy. Value is an emergent property of the table and all you know about worth in real life can be brought cleanly into the experience.
‘Hey, I have a lovely Ramon Martins painting here. I mean, it’s hideous but let’s be honest – you only want it for its cash value. He’s an up and coming artist – not a lot of buzz right now but I can tell you that there will be a lot of his paintings appearing in the next short while. Get in while it’s cheap’
I mean, maybe you’ve got an attic full of them? Maybe you’re bluffing. Maybe you’re not even collecting paintings of your own – maybe you’re just wanting the money. Modern Art is a wonderful satire on the value of hype, and an excellent game to boot.
The Tenth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Splendor
Splendor has been a perennial favourite in our social groups. Easy enough for novices to understand, complex enough to be something over which experts can obsess. A game of precise engine building and mounting momentum where slow, ponderous starting turns rapidly pick up speed until it all finishes in a satisfying crescendo of climatic conclusion. The rules are streamlined and easily communicable. The strategy for success – not quite so much.
You and everyone else are collecting up gems you’ll be using to purchase cards, and these cards will be giving you a passive income of gems you’ll use to buy further cards. Maybe it takes you five turns to buy your first diamond mine but eventually you’ll be merrily picking up rubies and opals wholesale without ever needing to sully yourself with anything as sordid as cash. Develop a mixed enough economy and you’ll draw the lucrative nobles that can win you the game at a stroke. I’ve played this hundreds of times and I still enjoy it immensely every time it hits the table.
The Eleventh Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Star Realms
I couldn’t not have a deck-builder on this list, and the one that has proven most sustainably engaging for me (and for others) is Star Realms. It’s a game of building up a deck of complementary cards and then simply drawing them out and seeing what happens. Lots of deck-builders have a complexity that comes from card synergy – they present you with decisions, and that can make them difficult to play. You need a lot of game literacy to play a deck builder effectively even without complex effects to parse every round.
Star Realms dispenses with all of that. Your decision is ‘what cards do you add to your deck, and which cards do you get rid of’. Your job is to curate a deck that is lean, mean, and filled with synergistic effects. Draw two cards of the same faction and you’ll almost always get a powerful faction bonus. Enough synergy in your deck and you can direct all its compressed aggression against another player and destroy them utterly. Dominion may offer more variety. Clank may offer more depth. Quest for El Dorado may offer you an easier experience. Star Realms though hits the sweet spot between all three elements and makes an excellent addition to your game library.
The Twelfth Best Board Game You Should Get to Start a Collection – Parks
[ review (to follow)| teardown (to follow) ]
Parks is, by quite a margin, the most mechanistically complex of the games on this list. But it’s here because I honestly think it’s an absolutely gem that has one of the most satisfying learning curves I’ve seen. It’s also absolutely stunning. That’s not surprising – the art is based on a series of prints commissioned by the National Parks system of America. The game theme itself is likeably low-key. It’s the opposite of geeky nonsense. You’re just hikers, enjoying a nice stroll around beautiful places. Appreciate the weather. Take a picture. Visit a park. It’s a holiday.
But it’s more than that.
You’ll spend your first season in Parks confused about what on earth is supposed to be happening. Two hikers move along a fixed trail at whatever speed you want, with the only restrictions being that they always move forwards and they can only share a space with another hiker if they have a lit campfire they can expend. Every entry in the trail lets you do something simple. Pick up some sun. Fill a canteen. Enjoy a mountain vista and collect its token. And then you spend those tokens to buy visits to the parks arrayed in front of you. It’s so idyllic that you almost can’t imagine a game in there.
Why did Staffan pick that space? I wanted that space, because I needed the sun tokens on it. And look, Marco is on the ocean so I can’t go there unless I spend my campfire. The only free location is five spaces away and that means I need to miss out on so much scenery. But wait, there’s some equipment I can buy that means I wouldn’t need to worry about the sun tokens so much. But then…
If you spend the first season of Parks in pleasant bewilderment, the second begins with a very different energy. It all just clicks together in a way that doesn’t so much resemble the sound of an expanding tentpole as it does the cocking of a hunting rifle. Parks is the perfect bridge of a game – once you’ve mastered this one, the whole vista of this hobby is opened up to you.