Bored at home?
The best games to play during quarantine
Already going stir crazy? Kids out of school keeping you at home? Can't go out because everything is closed?
This Coronavirus is taking its toll...with all of the craziness going on across the globe, it can be easy to get discouraged. How can we avoid boredom? Oh, whatever will we do...?
Whether you're alone, with a few friends, or with your large family, there are a plethora of options within the world of board gaming that can satisfy your needs.
Read on for my recommendations based on player count. For each game I have included the: *difficulty* (Light/Medium/Heavy), *average length*, and *minimum recommended age*.
Jaipur - [L, 3o mins, ages 8+] a great little game of trading and set collection. This game is made for two players and it is loads of fun packed into a small package.
Carcassonne - [L, 3o-45 mins, ages 7+] A oldie and a goodie. This game has been around for 20+ years and still holds it's own. It can play with more players but I think it is best played with two. Setup is a cinch and it is different every time you play. One of my favorites. Add in this expansion (which is currently out of stock as of the writing of this post) or this one to really spice things up.
Suburbia - [M, 9o mins, ages 8+] Have you ever wanted to build your own city? There a lot of games that offer this premise but - in my opinion - none do it better than Suburbia. While it can be a little long, it offers nearly unlimited possibility for creating your very own suburb in hopes to attract more people than your opponent(s).
Terraforming Mars - [M, 120 mins, ages 12+] This has quickly become Cara and I's favorite game to play together. With a plethora of cards and options for terraforming, this game is always an enjoyable experience. As a bonus, everything in this game is based on real science (I'm not a scientist so I cannot confirm). Add in this expansion or this one for added enjoyment and longevity.
Pandemic - [M, 45 mins, ages 8+] To be honest, this is only here because I feel obligated to recommend it :) but it really is a good game. This OG cooperative game is great with 3 or 4 and is always fun. Work together with your group to eradicate the diseases that are ravaging the globe. For a quicker version of the game that's better with 2, check out this game. For a more involved version of the game that requires several sit-down sessions, check out the Legacy version (seriously, this is amazing if you have the time to spare).
Azul - [M, 30-45 mins, ages 8+] A solid 3-4 player game that is beautiful to look at. Easy to teach and play, Azul is different every time and is always an interesting puzzle to solve.
Splendor - [L, 30 mins, ages 8+] Another one that is easy to teach and play. It's an engine building game that plays in a relatively short time-frame and is a pleasure to look at with it's beautiful artwork. I'll never turn down a game and you shouldn't either.
Catan: Cities and Knights - [M, 90 mins, ages 12+] A twist on a classic. I bet most of you have heard of [and probably played] Catan, but I want to recommend an expansion for it. Cities and Knights adds barbarian attacks, movable knights, and an all new 'leveling up' system. The resources are more balanced, there are more paths to victory, and more ways to change up your strategy if the dice aren't going your way. If you don't have Catan, grab the base game - but if you already have it, pick up C+K. You won't regret it.
For Sale - [L, 30 mins, ages 8+] Short and sweet, this little bidding game is loads of fun. In the first round, bid for the most valuable properties. In the second round, attempt to sell them for the most money. This game plays quick and is always enjoyable for everyone I've play with. Highly recommended.
King of Tokyo - [L, 30 mins, ages 6+] Crazy fun that never disappoints. This dice game can last anywhere from 15-45 minutes, and you never quite know what's going to happen. Determine you strategy, claim special abilities, and always be ready to adapt if you want to win.
Bohnanza - [M, 45 mins, ages 8+] A unique combination of random fun and interesting strategy, Bohnanza is hilarious and raucous. Collect beans, trade for ones you need, and harvest your fields when the time is right.
Power Grid - [H, 120 mins, ages 12+] A much longer experience, Power Grid is a great game about building a network, collecting resources, and providing power to your cities to earn the most money. With great bidding, and lots of interesting strategic choices, this game is one of my all time favorites. Considering how much is going on in this game, it actually isn't too difficult to learn.
Sushi Go: Party - [L, 20 mins, ages 8+] A card drafting game with a fun theme and simple game play. It's super easy to teach and relatively quick to play - even at higher player counts. M, 120 mins, ages 12+
Decrypto - [L, 15-45 mins, ages 10+] For fans of Codenames, Decrypto is just a bit more interesting with much less down time. Get your team to guess the code - but be careful, you can't let the opposing team in on the secret or you'll lose the game!
Cash n' Guns - [L, 30 mins, ages 8+] What if I said there was a game where you aim fake guns at each other in an attempt to steal the most loot? It's your lucky day, because Cash n' Guns is that game. This is hilarious to play and always draws the attention of onlookers due its ridiculous premise. Easy to teach and always a good time.
Captain Sonar - [M, 45-60 mins, ages 12+] Boy are you in for a treat. Best with EXACTLY 8 players (but can be played with less), Captain Sonar is a game where two teams of 4 get in submarines and attempt to blast each other out of the water. The catch? It's played in real-time, meaning that there are no turns - once it starts, you better keep up. Your captain will be yelling orders and everyone else needs to be listening or be doomed to fail. You will not be disappointed with the unique experience this game offers.
9+ Players (You're supposed to be isolated so you shouldn't be looking at this category but alas - for those large families - here it is)
Dixit - [L, 30 mins, ages 8+] a classic guessing game of intrigue and artwork. Easy to learn but difficult to master. Nothing much more to say other than to recommend trying it yourself. Great game.
Monikers - [L, 30-60 mins, ages 16+] You've played Charades. You've played Catch Phrase. You've played Password. Have you ever wanted to combine them all? This game has actually taken many different forms but I haven't found one quite as good as this one. Not only are the cards absolutely hilarious, but they also award different point values based on difficulty which keeps the game interesting and adds a level of strategy not normally present in these types of games. Highly recommended.
The Resistance: Avalon - [L, 30 mins, ages 12+] Hidden identities, secret missions, backstabbing opponents - this game has it all. Several games have come before that do similar things but this one has perfected the formula.
Two Rooms and a Boom - [L, 7-20 mins, ages 8+] This is really not the best recommendation for such a list as it can play up to 30 people...but it's just too good not to mention. If for some reason you find yourself in a group this large that happens to not contain any infected subjects, pull this sucker out. Two rooms, two teams, one president, one bomber. The blue team wants the president to survive. The red team wants the president dead. If the game ends with the bomber in the same room as the president then BOOM, the red team wins - otherwise, the blue team has thwarted their plan. HIGHLY recommended. Unfortunately, at the time of me writing this post, it is unavailable for purchase on Amazon, but you may be able to find it elsewhere!
For those of you who find themselves completely alone during this time, no need to worry! There are a plethora of solo options you can look into. From this list, Terraforming Mars, Suburbia, and Pandemic are all playable solo. Other notable games that fall into this category are: Friday, Robinson Crusoe, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, Scythe, among many others.
Hope this list can help give you an idea of a game or two that may interest you or those you spend the most time with. Hit me up on social media if you are looking for something customized to your tastes!
Stay healthy and play more games!
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SCYTHE is a thematic engine building game set a fictional alternate-history 1920's time period. Through unique player abilities, resource collection, and area control, players are tasked with gaining the most power and influence among their opponents. It was designed by Jamey Stegmaier and originally published in 2016.
I have played the game twice and - while I did see the allure of the game - it just isn't my cup of tea and I will likely not play it again. That being said, this game is loved by a lot of people and you may enjoy it! Read on for my thoughts.
What does this game have to offer?
APPEAL (audience, length)
This is definitely a heavier game that takes a bit of effort to learn and play which will rule out some people but if you primarily play with people who enjoy heavier games (mainly GENERALS and MASTERMINDS) then you will have no problem getting it to the table and enjoying it. In regards to length, I feel like it was perfect. It took about two hours each time I played which didn't feel too short or too long.
VARIABILITY (re-playability, different setup/gameplay)
The game has decks of cards which are shuffled every time. There are multiple, unique 'mix and match' player boards which will change experiences and strategies every time. In the base game, the map remains the same each time but if you have the 'Scythe Modular Board' expansion, you can significantly increase the map variability. With all of these aspects, the game can change significantly.
AGENCY (Player choice, strategy/luck)
This game is highly strategic in most aspects and randomness is in only present to keep things variable and interesting (see the 'VARIABILITY' section). There really isn't much to elaborate on other than to say that you will not lose a game due to the bad draw of a card or a random event occurring. The game rewards strategic planning and utilization of the abilities you have at your disposal.
ESCAPISM (theme, artwork, immersive game play)
This section is a bit tough to review for Scythe. On one hand, it has great artwork and an intriguing setting but this 'theme' itself doesn't extend too far past the surface. The game does try to deepen its 'lore' with the encounter cards and - depending on the person - that may be enough. However, while they each have interesting thematic effects, they are completely isolated from the rest of the game.
Now, if you are not as particular about theme, this may do it for you and really give you a sense of escapism but for the NARRATORS out there, this will likely fall on deaf ears.
Despite the 'pasted on' theme of the game, Scythe does a decent job of immersing you in the game through gameplay. It is very easy to lose yourself in the interesting mechanisms the game employs through the balancing act required to maintain popularity among your people while also trying to survive and thrive in order to win the game.
It should also be noted that - for those looking to add immersion into the game, 'The Rise of Fenris' expansion may be something to consider buying. This adds a campaign mode as well as several modules that can be added and combined to change up the game play and immersion factor as desired. It should be noted that I have not tried this expansion so I cannot say from personal experience.
SPECTACLE (highs/lows, victory/defeat, laughter)
There are many opportunities throughout the game to experience highs and lows in various forms. The interesting combat mechanics, thematic encounter cards, and achieving a goal on the triumph track can all bring out highs and lows. The joys of victory and unfortunate consequences of defeat are abundant throughout which all contribute to a game that has great potential for excitement.
The strategy and combat is interesting, the encounter cards are fun, and the unique player abilities really help this game shine, however - as stated at the beginning - I am not seeking this game out to play again anytime soon due to several factors.
I don't typically mind when a game doesn't have too much theme - but I do mind when a game lures you in with great artwork and an awesome setting just to be let down by a game mostly devoid of a theme which had so much potential. Despite this, it isn't a deal breaker for me. The artwork is still exceptional and enjoyable to look at.
The real reason I dislike the game springs from its innate desire to be so many things at once. It is very clear that it wants you to focus on as many things as you can in order to do better than your opponents. Yes, you can omit things but this can lead to grave consequences in some cases.
This 'need' to focus on so many things throughout the game creates many opportunities to overthink your turns which also adds to its lack of immersion as you are spending so much time thinking about which thing you should focus on at any given time.
Another result of having too many things to worry about is that combat can ruin you. In each game I played, I lost horribly due to this factor. Now before I go any further, I need to be upfront about the fact that my main 'gamer type' is 'The ARCHITECT'. While I actually generally enjoy combat in games, I dislike it in Scythe. I like building something up and watching it thrive so when a game allows me to do this and then also allows someone else to completely wipe it out - that isn't something I want to voluntarily experience for 2 hours.
I am fully aware that this is the whole point of the game - needing to build up your resources and then protect what you have at all costs - but it just feels like work to me. However, I know that my dislike of the game is very specific to me and my tastes.
Because everyone is different, my recommendation varies depending on what type of gamer is playing. Descriptions for each type - including a quiz to figure out yours - can be found here.
GENERALS may love it
ARCHITECTS may like it
MASTERMINDS may love it
CONVERSATIONALISTS should stay away
BARBARIANS may like it
NARRATORS should be wary, but may like it (possibly more-so with 'The Rise of Fenris' added)
If you are able to, check your local game store for availability - otherwise, it can be found here for purchase online.
Hopefully you found this review helpful! Thanks for reading
-Pete, 4Fi Games
BOHNANZA is a card game of trading, planting, and harvesting beans (yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds). It was designed by Uwe Rosenberg and originally published in 1997.
I have played it over 50 times over the past 5-10 years with varying player counts and player demographics.
What does this game have to offer?
APPEAL (audience, length)
While the game does include some unique rules (forced playing of cards, can’t change the order of cards in your hand), the structure is relatively straightforward and easy to teach. The game length is not terribly long but it can feel like it overstays its welcome with less experienced players and with higher player counts.
VARIABILITY (re-playability, different setup/gameplay)
A game can’t get much more variable than this one - it is one large deck of cards that gets shuffled every time. You will always have a different starting hand with different cards coming out in a different order. Also, depending on the player count, you may have different beans available for planting in the game. It is safe to say that this game has a very high level of variability.
AGENCY (Player choice, strategy/luck)
Bohnanza is far from a pure strategy game but there is a significant amount of player agency throughout the game. Trading must be used strategically in order to maximize your points. How and when you trade is a very important decision that must be made throughout depending on the beans fields you currently have planted. Choosing when to harvest your fields is also a very important decision to be made. This can make or break your point earning ability. There are a lot of opportunity cost considerations to be made - do I harvest now to make way for a more valuable bean field? Or do I wait to harvest so I can get 2 extra coins next turn but forgoing the option to plant the more valuable bean?
ESCAPISM (theme, artwork, immersive game play)
There’s not really an immersive theme here but the negotiating, trading, and interesting decision making can really allow for a high level escapism. With the right group and the right pace, it is fairly easy to get lost in the rhythm and excitement that the game offers.
SPECTACLE (highs/lows, victory/defeat, laughter)
This is where this game shines. Harvesting a large field, obtaining that last card you needed to reach a harvest threshold, and yelling out a trade you need that involves saying ‘stink bean’ is always hilarious. The idea of trading and planting beans is simply outlandish and always causes people to laugh throughout. When a trade comes up or card gets flipped that you desperately need always causes reactions around the table - positive and negative. There are so many ways in Bohnanza to collectively experience highs and lows over the course of a game.
One thing to note upfront is that most people have to warm up to this game. Due to its unique rules, new players may struggle to grasp it which will not only affect their enjoyment, but also may cause the game to overstay it's welcome. Don't let this discourage you.
That being said, this game is really great. While it may not be my favorite game of all time, if I could only have a collection of 10 games to keep, Bohnanza would be in it. It has some of the most crossover appeal of any game I have ever played. There are interesting decisions, strategic planning, tactical adaptation, laughing, and excitement throughout each game. With all of these elements packed into a serviceable play time, relatively simple rules, and a variable player count, it’s hard to go wrong.
Due to the trading element, interpersonal relationships get brought into the game play as well - do I back stab them to help my cause right now, which may result in them doing the same later? Or do I help them while they’re down in hopes that they may help me out later? The strategy informs the trading, the trading informs your relationships during the game, and those relationships inform your strategy. This dynamic feedback loop is interesting and addictive every time I play the game and keeps me coming back for more no matter the group I’m with.
Everyone is different. Who we are and who we play with has a huge effect on how much we will enjoy a game regardless of how ‘good’ it might be to any one person. For this reason, my recommendation varies depending on what type of gamer is playing. Descriptions for each type - including a quiz to figure out yours - can be found here.
GENERALS should generally like it
ARCHITECTS should generally like it
MASTERMINDS should be wary, but may like it
CONVERSATIONALISTS should generally like it
BARBARIANS might love it
NARRATORS should be wary
If you are able to, check your local game store for availability - otherwise, it can be found here for purchase online. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
WHY DO YOU PLAY GAMES?
(Hint: there are 5 reasons)
Most reviews discuss games in terms of ‘building blocks’ that make up the game. This would normally include - theme, components, mechanisms, ‘fun’, strategy, luck, etc. These CAN be useful measurements but in my experience are not useful in determining, as a reader, if a game will be one that I - and others I play with - will enjoy.
All of these building blocks are not-so-much ‘pieces of a puzzle’, but rather ‘ingredients in a recipe’. That is, they all influence each other and not one of them can be taken out without impacting the rest of it. Flour tastes horrible on it's own but does that mean we should dismiss it as an ingredient? That horrible tasting flour is one of the main ingredients in a delicious chocolate chip cookie...
In a game, if the components are objectively great on their own, that may have no bearing (or a lot of bearing) on whether it impacts my experience. For this reason, it seems almost unnecessary to talk about the components on their own but rather as a part of how the game uses them. Objectively ‘bad’ components may sometimes be a better option in a game because they communicate more clearly what you need to know. Or it could simply be that it keeps the price of the game down to something you can afford to even purchase and/or play (or if it had much nicer components the game may not be ‘worth’ buying).
A better way to analyze a game is boiling it down to the core reason that keeps you coming back to it. Why do I like to play a particular game? What makes it interesting or fun? Who else also enjoys it? Considering this question, I have developed 5 categories that I think cover most of reasons why someone might play a particular game:
THE 5 CATEGORIES OF WHY
AGENCY - Does the game offer interesting decisions to the players that can impact the game to a significant degree? Luck can be present (and is sometimes a great addition) but should not be a determining factor in who wins or loses. You will likely lose interest in a game that doesn’t offer interesting decisions. If you feel like the ‘game is playing you’ then why should you play? If every action in the game is determined by the roll of a die or the draw of a card, then there is no reason for you to waste your time.
VARIABILITY - How different does it feel every time you play it? Does it offer something new each time? This can include the initial setup of a game or the game play itself.
APPEAL - can you get people to play with you? Is the game too long? Is the game too short? You may want to play it all the time but you can’t find people to play with you. This category is less important if you have a consistent gaming group or you mainly play solo.
ESCAPISM - how much can you immerse yourself in the game. This includes theme, mechanisms, and some level of complexity. There has to be enough ‘meat on the bones’ of the game to hold your attention and not get distracted. The artwork can also impact this.
SPECTACLE - How often does something happen that makes everybody experience a collective emotion (joy, awe, horror, etc)? This could be simply laughing or it could be opportunities for the players to do something amazing that other players react to. These moments could also be more subtle where you don’t notice them as much. We are all human, and [most of us] like to experience emotions (not negative ones - but unfortunately you can’t have the good without the bad :/).
I think these categories do a good job of breaking down why we like the games we do. Most importantly, we can apply this to newer games - that we may have only played once or twice - to see whether it may be something that we'll be playing well into the future.
It should also be noted that the game is only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is not just you, but all of the people who happen to be playing it with you. Gaming comes down to the ‘experience’ of each session when you sit down to play it or even after it ends which is influenced by the people you play with just as much as the game itself. Ultimately, a review can only do so much in helping you decide if it’s right for you - you won’t know for sure until you play it yourself.
In short, for the overall format of my reviews, I am planning to use the following structure:
- Introduction - introduce the game and the basic information about it including designer, publisher, player count, and setting/theme, etc
- What does the game have to offer? - evaluate the game in each of the 5 categories above based on my own experience with it.
- My thoughts in a nutshell? - based on the previous section, what do I think of the game as a whole? Is it worth the price to pay for it?
- Recommendation - Which of the 6 ‘gamer types’ will like or dislike the game? Considering yourself and those you may be playing with, who will want to play? Will you be able to get it to the table?
With these categories and structure, I am hoping that my reviews can maximize how much information readers can gain on the front end before purchasing a game to determine if it is right for them and those they play with.
For this first post, I wanted to lay out a few of the ideas and plans I have for the future of this blog. That being said, I am fully expecting that it will evolve over time.
Over the past several years I have played many games and I have many thoughts about my experiences with them. I am hoping to mine from these experiences and share the stories, thoughts, and opinions created from them as well as share from my experiences as they happen going forward.
Game reviews will be my primary contribution to this blog early on. I am still formulating ideas as to the format but I know that I want to make them as universally appealing and useful as possible. To achieve this I am planning to use "gamer type" categories to make recommendations as effectively as I can. After some research I have come up with 6 categories which are summarized below.
GENERALS play to win and like competition. They thrive on confrontation and combat but are very luck averse. They act strategically and respect aggression.
BARBARIANS are rebellious and seek out conflict. They enjoy outlandish scenarios and extreme randomness . They are tactical, unpredictable, and like fast-paced games.
MASTERMINDS like long term strategic planning and are highly luck averse. Interaction can be positive, negative, or non-existent - they just play for the final payoff.
NARRATORS like intricate themes and good looking games. They want to enter into the world of the game and feel like what they are doing impacts their character's story.
ARCHITECTS like to create, build, and expand. They are conflict averse and are only interested in their own success as long it doesn't interfere much in others affairs.
CONVERSATIONALISTS view games as a means to an end. The type of game doesn't matter as long is it isn't too complex. Win or lose - they just want to spend time with others.
(I am currently working on a quiz so you can find out what category you fit into)
I plan to use these categories to make very general recommendations to each 'gamer type' for every game I review. i.e. Conversationalists should stay away, Architects should be wary, Barbarians may love it, etc.
When I read a review, I rarely find them to be directly useful to me. This is partially unavoidable as a review is one person's expressed opinion about something. But with background information, experiential thoughts, and - hopefully - this rating system, I am hoping to create reviews that not only express my opinion but also be expressly helpful to those reading (otherwise why write a review).
Thank you for taking the time to read this first post. Stay tuned for more content!