People who know me know that I love strategy games. Yes I love board games, but not just any board games. There has to be some sort of strategy mechanic that allows for planning, decision making, and then reaping the consequences of those decisions. Games where you are just rolling dice and moving your token based on the outcome are pretty boring in my opinion.
Strategy games can teach valuable lessons. Settlers of Catan is a great game to help teach basic economics. Carcassonne is another great game that teaches basic map building skills. Dominion is a very strategic deck building game (that’s deck of cards, not a deck on the front of your house). These three games represent the best in Euro-gaming in my opinion. Euro-gaming involves some luck, but more strategy than most American classics like Monopoly, Payday, and Life. Euro-gaming also involves shorter play time, such as 45-60 minutes, and a high rate of variability, such as a board that changes each time.
There has been a new trend of games that I am excited about. Cooperative games can be quite refreshing because instead of, say, four people competing to win and one person coming out a winner because of strategy and maybe a little luck, you will have four people all cooperating to win the game together. The reason why cooperative games can be so great is that they help people to work together and teach them basic team work skills. Each game will have a basic mechanic that has to be overcome by the people playing the game. If those playing can work together by pooling resources, brainstorming, and using special abilities, they can all be victorious together and share the glory.
Pandemic has helped this trend greatly. This is a board game where four deadly diseases have broken out across the world. 2-4 players play the roles of different characters such as a Scientist, a Medic, a Researcher, a Field Operative, or a Dispatcher. The players must cure all four diseases by saving cards of matching colors. However, at the same time the diseases are spreading across the board (map of the world) and must be treated and contained before outbreaks occur. This is represented by cubes on the board in different cities. Since only a maximum of three cubes can be in a city before it outbreaks and spreads to every adjacent city, players must act quickly when they see an outbreak threat. So how will you win? You must coordinate with other players to save cards, but you also have to contain the effects of the diseases as they are out there right now. And let me tell you, if you do not work together, the diseases will spiral (viral) out of control. You can play a level 4, 5, or even a 6 if you are feeling up to a real challenge. The expansion On The Brink added many more roles, more special event cards which help players, and two more types of challenges for those who wanted to go to the next level. This game will have you interacting with your teammates, pointing out where outbreak threats are, sharing who has which color card to cure which disease, and brainstorming about where a research station should be built. I highly recommend getting this game.
After the success of Pandemic, two other games were released by its main designer, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. Forbidden Island plays a lot like Pandemic. Each person has a special role as teammates cooperate to rescue treasures off a sinking island. Be careful that you don’t get stranded on a part of the island where you can’t make it back because that part has sunk into the sea. This game is also a lot of fun and you will find yourself working with your teammates so you can all make it back alive. I haven’t played Forbidden Desert, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. It is also cooperative, but has different game mechanics than Pandemic or Forbidden Island.
Castle Panic is another cooperative game. There is a castle at the center of the board with forests all around. Monsters come from the forest, advancing one level at a time, closer and closer to the castle at the center. Archers can pick off the monsters that are further away, while knights can fight the monsters up close. Players must trade cards, talk about how close the threats are, and basically strategize to keep the castle walls standing until the end of the game. All players either win or lose together, but this game has a mechanic whereby one player will claim the title of Master Slayer. When I played, we didn’t track that portion of it, but simply played cooperatively.
Space Alert will take teamwork to a new level. This fast paced game will keep you on your toes, or you won’t make it back alive. You have to have a CD player to run the soundtrack. During this time, players must coordinate to decide who will take care of which threat. After those decisions are made, then the time for a drill is over and you go through the scenario in live action and see if you planned ahead for every bit of danger, or if you overlooked one little detail and doomed the mission to failure. The Space Trek crowd will love this game, but it is a bit intense even though game time is 30 minutes tops, and that includes set up.
New York City Chase is sort of cooperative, but you have to have one person to be Mr. X. Mr. X is a bank robber and everyone else is chasing him around New York City. Whoever plays Mr. X will have to step out periodically so that others can strategize without fear of having him overhear their plans. Mr. X sort of “disappears” off the board, but whoever plays him is writing down his location each turn as he surreptitiously moves from point to point. The other players are brainstorming trying to figure out his possible location, discussing where to set up roadblocks, and deciding who will cover which territory just in case he slipped this way or that way. Whoever plays Mr. X is in for a thrill, but those who work together to catch him also have a fun time strategizing.
Finally, there is a fairly new game called Sentinels of the Multiverse that is just a blast to play. This cooperative game is so much fun and is kind of the reason why I’m writing this blog post. It sort of plays like the Avengers movie. Anywhere between 3-5 Heroes take on a Supervillain in a certain environment. Many of these heroes are blatant rip-offs of popular comic book characters. Take The Wraith, for instance. She is a vigilante by night, rich girl by day, has lots of gadgets including a utility belt, well, you get the idea. Tachyon is a hero who goes faster and faster and faster, and may be in danger of burning herself out. Bunker has a big iron combat suit with lots of weapons. I’m sure all of these sound familiar to those who know comic book heroes.
The Supervillain has a deck of cards that randomly turns up different things to attack and destroy the heroes. While each hero starts with 25-35 hit points, a Supervillain can sometimes have up to 200 hit points, but is usually between 60-100. Heroes will have to strategize to deal with threats from the Villain, especially considering their powers and how they interact with each other. Legacy and Tempest seem to always be a great combination because their powers work so well together. But there are many other examples too. In the base set, you get 10 heroes, 4 villains, and 4 environments. The environment is the location where the battle is happening. You could be battling in Insula Primalis which is back in the age of dinosaurs. T-Rexes and Velociraptors are running around along with a volcano that could erupt. Will these work for the heroes or against them? Megalopolis is in the middle of the city with Trains Derailing, Hostage Situations, and maybe Police Backup.
The game is simple enough to explain for someone playing it for the first time. On your hero’s turn, you play a card, use a power, then draw a card. As you get into the game more, you understand the particular hero you are playing, their strengths, their weaknesses, and which other heroes you can boost or even be a detriment to. The Villains have different difficulty levels. You can start off playing a level 1 villain just to get the feel of the game. There are also levels 2, 3, or 4. Then if you really want a challenge, each Villain has an advanced level, which is usually not balanced. It is quite difficult to beat these Villains on advanced. The more difficult the Villain, the more players will have to talk and strategize about who will take care of which threat, and how. When you take down that level 4 Villain on advanced, your whole team will feel so victorious.
So, for a family game, or a game you play with friends, think about getting a cooperative game. It builds team work, relationships, and basic strategic thinking. Instead of one person being able to brag about their victory over everybody else, everybody gets to share in the victory. For starters, I recommend Pandemic and Sentinels of the Multiverse. A great expansion for Pandemic is On The Brink. In The Lab is also good, but only for the hard core Pandemic crowd. For Sentinels, Rook City/Infernal Relics is the first expansion to get, and then later you could get Shattered Timelines. Other expansions can be considered after getting those.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman