Covid-19 Bored At Home: Try Board Games

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The kids are home from school because the schools have been closed. The adults are home from work because work has been closed. You’ve done all the binge shopping you can afford, and now you are sitting at home with your stash of toilet paper and children’s medicine (oh, and shame on you for that), wondering what to do with yourself other than binging on Netflix and playing Minecraft for hours on end.

You might consider board games to fight the boredom.

We have tried out several board games recently. Some of these were suggested by Jim, Jan, Julia, and Rachel (you’all can identify yourselves in the comments if you like). They are among the top games out there. I knew they were good, but when I googled “best board games” and all of them showed up on the various lists, I figured, well, there you go. These are good games.

Some are new, some are classic. Most interestingly, some are not games in which a particular player wins, but rather, all the people playing either win or lose.

Choose carefully. To get all these games is going to put you out a couple of hundred bucks. Also, some of the games have multiple version and add in packs.

Hyped UP Tic-Tac-Toe

One of the simplest games ever invented is Tic-Tac-Toe. You can play that, oh, five or six times before getting bored out of your mind! But Otrio is to Tick-Tack-Toe what a proton is to organic chemistry.

It is played like tic-tac-toe but instead of writing into a space an X or an O, you just put the O. No Xs. But the O’s come in three sizes, and nest, and there are multiple ways to win. The total number of possible moves is very large. This game is a blast, and you will play it several times as you start to get a sense of strategy.

Ticket to Ride is a classic game that we only recently discovered. There are many versions. When we got this game a while back, we picked the Ticket to Ride – Rails & Sails version. The idea is that players build routes, including train and boat segments, between cities. When the game ends, the player with the mostest and bestest routes win (it is a bit complicated). The various versions of this game have a variety of differences, but mainly, the map you play on varies. This version has a world map on one side of the board, and a map of the Great Lakes on the other side.

This is a game that is fairly simple to play if all the players are novices, but that gets much more complicated as players gain experience and figure out that certain somewhat more complex strategies are required to win.

Stratego is one of my favorite games from my youth. Each player has a number of tiles, representing a range of soldiers, some bombs, a spy, and a flag. You set them up in a way in which you can see how your pieces are arranged, but your opponent only sees the blank side of your pieces. You then attack each other. Lower numbered pieces take higher numbered pieces, but any piece that hits a bomb is dead, except an 8 (the bomb defuser). The Spy can take a Marshal (the highest value piece) but can be taken by any other piece. So, there is room for a great deal of strategy in Stratego. Which is probably why they call it that.

While on the subject of 19th century rooted war games, consider Risk. It is a classic you certainly know about.

Codenames involves all the players against the board. The concept is simple yet diabolical. Two players face off over a set of 25 words. Each player says a word (not among the 25) and a number. The other player then chooses which of the 25 is conceptually linked to that codename. The number supplied with the codename tells the recipient of the clue how many words are expected to match. So, for example, if among the 25 words on the table we have dog, cat, bird, and stroke, I might say “pet, 4.”

That sounds pretty simple, but if the recipient of the clue guesses certain answers, the game ends instantly and you all lose. There are other complexities as well.

There are different versions of this game, mainly depending on how many players you normally would have.

There is also a Harry Potter version. This one is difficult unless all the players are fully briefed on the Harry Potter mythos. Otherwise it becomes an awkward version of a Harry Potter trivia game and, essentially, can’t be played. Our house rule when playing this version is: You can ask Google to define or describe a particular item (ie, “OK Google, what is a Norwegian Ridgeback?”).

Arboretum is a pretty new game that uses cards. The cards have trees on them. Using a rummy-esque pattern of choice and discard, you lay down the tree cards in a pattern that will form a path through a hypothetical arboretum. A set of simple rules define what makes a valid path. At the end of play, everyone declares what paths they have. There are moves one can make that invalidate the best laid path of another player. The scoring turns out to be complicated, and this is when new players realize that the strategy is deep, despite the simple surface appearance of the game.

Naturally, no panoply of board games in this day and age would be complete without Pandemic. We just got turned on to this one. It is one of those games in which all the players work together to beat the board and, sadly, usually don’t. But you do have fun all dying in a pandemic, so that’s good.

I have a suggestion for a house rule for this game, which you will appreciate once you play. Each player is randomly assigned a “role.” The role is a particular set of abilities, like a researcher who can cure a disease, or a field worker who can stop a disease, etc. My suggestion is to choose, as a group, which role to assign to each player, instead of having random chance decide which roles are even being used. Once you play the game you’ll see how this can add to the fun, but at the same time, not make it ridiculously easy to win. You still won’t win. You will still all die in the Pandemic.

Happy boardgaming!

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3 thoughts on “Covid-19 Bored At Home: Try Board Games

  1. As a microbiologist, I highly recommend Pandemics, in its various iterations (card game, dice game, Reign of Cthulhu, and Rising Tide where, instead of fighting epidemics, let’s keep Holland dry). But note it’s a cooperative game. I know from experience some gamers could have difficulty with this concept. It’s also the type of cooperative game where leader types will naturally take over and suggest what to do to everybody. Coordination is needed, but again, players not liking to be bossed around will resent it.

    Codename is fun, too. Better if you are more than 4.

    The creators called ‘Space Cowboys’ have a series of games of various types, from deck building to worker placement, which I found either original, easy to learn, enjoyable, or all of that.

    As for Ticket to Ride, word of advice: I found the Rails & Sails more complicated than the other versions. The others are family games, this one is more for veterans of Ticket to ride looking for an extra challenge.

    @ Joseph

    Ah, Risk. Remember, never invade Siberia.

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