If this is your idea of a board game…
…you really, really need to take a trip to one of my all-time favorite stores in New York City, The Compleat Strategist – the perfect place to find a completely original gift for that special someone on your list:
Seriously, if game night at your house involves Monopoly and Sorry, it will literally be a mind-blowing experience as you step through the door and come upon shelf after shelf…
…stocked literally from floor to ceiling…
…with board games…
…and board games…
…and still more board games…
…and more board games…
…that you never, ever knew existed:
See, while most Americans know board games to be the same old titles Hasbro and Mattel have been putting for decades, an entire world of new and imaginative games has been flourishing well under the radar, much of it coming from Europe.
Best of all, there’s something for everyone. Have a son or daughter into war-themed games? There are PLENTY of war-based board games, historical or otherwise, that will take you well beyond Risk and Stratego:
Got a niece or nephew into the scary stuff? Ditto the horror genre, from vampires to haunted houses to zombies:
From knights to astronauts, you could pick a genre, walk into The Compleat Strategist, and find a dozen games that fit your interest:
Of course, if you’re looking for your run-of-the-mill Twister or Trivial Pursuit, they’re also for sale, though you’ll have to go to the back of the store to find them:
What a few suggestions? Here are my favorite games you’ve probably never played. Most are available at the Compleat Strategist, but are strangely missing from their website.
This. Is. The. Best. Game. EVER.
You and your friends are pirates in the Caribbean, fighting to be the most infamous buccaneers on the high seas. On each turn, you sail to islands to loot and pillage – but if a fellow pirate happens to choose the same island, you must fight it out to claim your booty. Improve your pirate ship, bury treasure, fight to the death – it’s all here in Pirate’s Cove.
The rules take a bit to digest, but after a round or two, I have yet to find a new player who doesn’t consider this one of the most fun board game experiences they’ve come across. Trust me – you will love Pirate’s Cove.
2) Ticket To Ride
You and your fellow players are turn-of-the-century railroad barons, seeking to create railroad lines linking the biggest cities in America. However, many of your desired routes overlap, and herein lies the challenge. For example, as you’re just about to connect Boston to Los Angeles, a rival baron suddenly swoops in and nabs the precious Salt Lake City to Las Vegas connection, requiring you to make a hasty detour before the game ends.
Unlike Pirate’s Cove, Ticket To Ride takes about five seconds to pick-up, yet offers unexpected possibilities with each new game. Highly recommended for players of all ages.
3) Carcassonne – Big Box Set
Set in medieval times, your goal in Carcassonne is to build the largest cities, fields and roads while warding off intrusion by fellow players. Included expansions introduce inns and cathedrals, abbeys and manors, and even dragons. By the end, you’ll have a sudden desire to book a trip for historic Europe.
Carcassonne is the game that made me realize there was something else in the world beyond Clue. I was living in Italy during college when a German roommate showed up with this and hooked me for life. Highly recommended.
4) Forbidden Island
You and your friends are on an Indiana Jones-style adventuring expedition, setting out for the mysterious Forbidden Island to recover four precious treasures before it sinks. This isn’t a competitive game – you’re all on the same team, and you either recover the four treasures, escape via helicopter and win – or, the island sinks and you all go down with it.
Forbidden Island is the first cooperative board game I’ve ever come across, and it’s amazing how the dynamic changes as you argue over what the best move is for the group to take, rather than duke it out for a single winner. For this reason, I’ve heard that it makes a great family game.
Gloom is set in a wonderful world of Edward Gorey-like depression and morbidity. Each player controls a macabre family, and the goal is to make them have the most miserable lives possible before finally killing them off. At the end of the game, the player with the most depressed family wins – but rival players can counteract the negativity by bestowing acts of kindness and happiness on opponents.
A card game, Gloom works best when you go beyond the card text and invent your own ideas of happiness and gloom.
Nearly all of these games can be found at the Compleat Strategist, located at 11 East 33rd Street, between Fifth & Madison in the shadow of the Empire State Building (at full retail price, FYI). Like a good bookstore, you could easily spend an hour shuffling through the games, and maybe discover a great way to pass a rainy Saturday.
If you come across a good game, definitely let me know!