Ask the grumpies: What is your favorite board game?

Leah asks:

What is your favorite board game?

#1 doesn’t play board (or really any) games, and #2 does but I’m not sure what she likes.  Pretty sure they’re mostly Eurogames– she played Settlers of Catan when it was still only known as Die Siedler.

Here’s pictures of my DH’s board games.  I just made him order another game along with other paraphernalia (from family funds) in order to support his favorite game store in The City since who knows when we will be able to return to The City again.

Back when I did play games, I preferred card games, particularly the kind where there’s a lot of short games played in a row and there are penalties or rewards to having won previously.  In high school I played a LOT of three person spades, and in college I replaced that with The Great Dalmuti.

Update:  You may also be wondering about children’s games.  We have those too.

Update 2:  DH told me I’d missed some of his.

So if anybody is still wondering why DH gives himself an allowance.  This is why.

47 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: What is your favorite board game?”

  1. gwinne Says:

    We play board games as a family several nights per week. We’ve been playing chess (LG taught Tiny Boy and me), checkers, Clue, Scrabble, and Rummikub. Tried Upwords (LG hates it). Also a homemade mashup that was Wits and Wagers style with Trivial Pursuit Family Edition questions. The kids are actually inventing a board game which is a complicated affair involving a train theme and a carnival; it feels something like Life.

    • Rumpus Says:

      If you’ve been enjoying chess and checkers, I recommend you try Go (aka baduk) if you haven’t already. You can play with your checkers set. Instead of putting the pieces on the squares they go on the 9×9 intersections, but you’ll need more pieces so grab some coins/beads/chips in two colors. I really like Go because it has a simple handicap system so both players can be challenged even if one is better than the other, you can change the feel of the game dramatically by playing on larger or smaller boards, and it has a broad decision-space so there’s lots to explore. Or for a different recommendation, Blokus is a multiplayer abstract game that is nice.

      That’s great that your kids are inventing a game.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    Boggle. Except no one will play with me.
    Othello.
    Connect-4 (my kids can regularly beat me at this, unlike Othello or Boggle, so they will actually play with me).

    • Leah Says:

      My mom was amazing at Boggle. I often didn’t want to play because I always lost horribly. I don’t mind losing, but it was pretty comical how poorly I’d do compared to her. But it is a pretty cool game.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I play Boggle with my mom. She’s convinced she can only beat me if she keeps me awake late enough! I don’t know what the official rules are for non-words, but when we play with poor spellers, we just say to put everything you think might be a word, and if it’s not, then we cross it out. Some people look up the word in a dictionary, which actually gives poor spellers an advantage, because they might accidentally have spelled a word they’d never heard of. But I prefer to just use the knowledge at the table. Miser Mom, maybe you can figure out a way to handicap yourself, like cut your score in half and round down?

  3. Natka Says:

    Aggravation. Ticket to Ride. Clue. Charades (we have a kids version). Sequence (kids edition). Kids love “crazy 8”. Connect 4. Labyrinth. Our youngest (6) really has really liked Little Red Riding Hood by SmartGames since she was about 4. Kids also like checkers and chess.
    We are also trying out “Scotland Yard” – I like the concept, but somehow it has been more stressful than I expected.

    • Debbie M Says:

      For playing with little kids, I like “There’s a Moose in the House.” It’s silly, and the non-little-kids can work to make sure the little kid doesn’t lose too badly. I haven’t had to play it millions of times, though. It’s a card game where you add rooms to your house and opponents can top them with a moose-filled version of that room, but there are ways to defend yourself from moose invasions.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        For truly little kids I recommend snails pace race — there’s no winners or losers and the pieces are cute and each person gets two pieces. Saves a lot on tantrums.

      • Rumpus Says:

        HABA games are good with kids too, like Animal upon Animal, or that orchard game. They’ve got nice chunky pieces and simple rules but they aren’t boring.

  4. Leah Says:

    There’s no picture. I’d love to see DH’s board games. Our favorite board games:

    – Ticket to Ride
    – Blokus
    – Ubi (like trivial pursuit but also requires geography knowledge — the questions all involve where something happened)
    – Hanabi — a card game about building fireworks. It’s cooperative and really fun.

    We have tons more. We really enjoy playing board games, and I’m looking forward to doing more as our kids age.

  5. Steph Says:

    If you like Settlers of Catan, you may like Ticket to Ride. It’s also gathering resources to build things, but you don’t have the trading dynamic (good or bad, depending on your preferences). I like to play games repeatedly, so I like games where it takes time to develop strategy and learn how the game works. Ticket to Ride has been great for that during the pandemic – I bought all the expansions in a Steam bundle, and each new map needs different strategies so it keeps me occupied. I can host games for friends, too.

    I tend to either buy classic/basic Eurogames (TtR, Dominion, 7 Wonders) or games that I’ve bought for their Aesthetic. Sagrada, a dice-drafting game, turned out to be a great purchase – you’re trying to gather dice to build a stained glass window according to various rules. A friend also put me on to Stellar, a 2-player card game that’s strategic and competitive but relaxed at the same time – you’re trying to collect different space objects, and place them in your “telescope” to maximize points relative to your opponent.

    If you’re up for a very active card game that you can play repeatedly, Dutch Blitz is very fun – it’s like multi-person solitaire, at high speed, with cute Amish playing cards. You can also play a version called Nerts/Nertz. with just a regular pack of cards, but I personally like Dutch Blitz better. If you enjoy back-stabby type card games, there’s Coup, Munchkin, and Fluxx.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Now that the pictures are up– see the lower left for Ticket to Ride. DH has tried to get rid of my copy of Fluxx many times because he’s not crazy about it and I have to keep reminding him that it is NOT HIS COPY (Fluxx is in that box next to Apples to Apples). (Similarly the Cheapass games– have to remind him they are not his to get rid of, and even if he’s overplayed Lord of the Flies, kids still like it).

      • Steph Says:

        Haha, yeah, I should have waited for the pictures! I also see Dominion hiding back in there. I can still rec the online version of both, though; I doubt I’ll buy any more physical expansions of Ticket to Ride because they’re actually easier to play electronically.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My fault for forgetting to take them!

        DH has also been doing a lot of playing electronic versions of boardgames lately. He and DC1 have been doing Spirit Island electronically. (Not to be confused with board-game versions of what should be video games: see Pandemic Legacy or Time Stories.)

    • Debbie M Says:

      Stellar sounds fun. I think I will check it out when I can buy it from one of my local game stores again. Thanks!

    • Rumpus Says:

      It’s been over a decade now, but Puerto Rico was the first game that blew my mind in terms of learning how the game works. My group played it for weeks and kept thinking we were figuring it out, only to have it demonstrated to us that we still didn’t really understand the consequences of each player’s actions. Finally, we went to the internet in search of bigger nerds, only to find that the game was even deeper than we had been thinking.
      These days I would say Go, Twilight Struggle, Twilight Imperium, maybe Gloomhaven, Through the Ages…many of the top games on BGG’s ranking have nice depth and give me that joy of discovery. It’s an amazing turn-around compared with the days when Monopoly, Risk, and Axis & Allies were basically all I had to play.

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    DH just said to me: If you’re documenting the sprawl (of games), there are also the ones under the goodwill closet, and in the drawer under the RPGs

  7. monsterzero Says:

    I like chess, Go, and Othello, mostly. My sweetie and I came up with a pretty good two-person variant of Settlers of Catan where we each play two colors. You have to really limit trading between the colors played by each person, though, or one color’s resources get sacrificed so the other can win, and that’s less fun.

    We have a couple other Eurogames that we haven’t got around to trying yet, does anyone recommend Dominion or Castles of Burgundy?

    • Steph Says:

      I enjoy Dominion – I know some folks who are obsessed with it, and I’m not quite there, but I like that the available cards change every time, so your strategy can’t always be the same. (You can play the same setup repeatedly too, of course). You can also play the base game online for free, too – probably easiest to play with someone who knows what they’re doing, initially, though.

    • Debbie M Says:

      For your two-person Settlers variant, maybe you also change the rules for winning. The game ends when one person has 10 victory points as usual, but the winner is whoever does NOT have the color with the fewest points. If both players’ lower-point color is tied, then whoever reached 10 points first is the winner.

    • Debbie M Says:

      So far, I haven’t liked Dominion as much as I think I should, because generally I really like card drafting games. The problem is that the stuff you need to get good cards is not the stuff you need to make points and win the game. You have to time when to make the switchover, or do it as soon as an opponent does. I prefer games where you don’t have to switch over–all the stuff you’re doing can help you get points.

      • Rumpus Says:

        I too really like card drafting games, and I used to really enjoy Dominion, but after many (many) plays, now I tend to avoid it. I would still recommend it to people who are somewhat new to card drafting, though. So if one has not played games where the game revolves around putting new cards into your deck, so that you end up playing them later, I would go for it.

        Once the novelty of Dominion finally wore off, I didn’t find that the card drafting was a very deep decision space. The more expansions that were published, the more variety, but once the table sees which cards are available in any given game the options are narrowed back down. I think half the fun of the game is over before the game even starts because you’re arguing about which cards to put in so you can drive some wacky pairings for a fun combo. So I agree that Dominion has a strange feeling because in the middle of the game everyone is just trying to figure out when to flip that switch and buy your victory points.

        Card drafting as a pure mechanic has really blossomed though, Terraforming Mars, Through the Ages, Mage Knight…there are a lot of good board games where the card drafting adds a delicious area of specialization and strategy while still keeping the excitement of randomness.

    • Leah Says:

      If you’re looking for two player games, my husband and I love Morels. It’s a mushroom collecting game that seems simple but is quite nuanced.

      Jaipur is also fun. It’s more complicated to learn but depends less on chance. Another good one with longevity.

    • Rumpus Says:

      I have never played Castles of Burgundy, but it’s very highly rated.

      Converting Settlers in a two-player game will still keep the strategy/tactics side of the game interesting, but without the 3-4 player trading complexity I think I’d look for another game.

      Agricola has the resource/building aspect ala Settlers. Lost Cities has the out-thinking and just enough randomness. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is a good two-player game (ala Stratego) since you like chess and go. Oh oh oh! Have you tried Hive? And did you see that there’s now an actual game of Tak (from Kingkiller Chronicles) at playtak.com ?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Lost Cities is a good two person game (for people who like logic-y games… if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require any thinking it’s not as good a choice). That’s probably the last game I stopped playing back when I stopped playing games. Man, I’m feeling a bit of an itch right now. But I shouldn’t because I need to actually do work and take care of grown-up stuff (like children and food etc.) this summer.

  8. Dana Says:

    Dominion is great! We have many, many of the expansions and really enjoy playing it. My son and I have played a LOT of dominion and Uno this spring.

  9. CG Says:

    Labyrinth and Carcassonne are the ones we play most often. We like Catan and Ticket to Ride but sometimes we’re not up for that long of a board game session. We also like Citadels, which is more fun for our youngest than Catan. The more the game relies on strategy (as opposed to luck) the less I win against my super strategic-thinker DH and oldest son. But that’s okay. Our first grader has been really liking Mastermind lately. They’ve taken this slogan off the box, but when I was in college the edition we had said, “Easy to learn…Easy to play…But NOT so easy to win!” We used to go around saying that to each other.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I grew up on mastermind so it has a special place in my heart. I’m not sure what happened to our copy—it should be in one of the kids’ rooms.

      • CG Says:

        Oh, I forgot Forbidden Island, which is a cooperative game and results in less fighting than some of the others, and The Secret Door, kind of a cooperative memory game that my kids have all loved–great for younger kids.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My kids much prefer cooperative games– one of those shelves is just cooperative games (the little post-its say how many players and what style of game/game play so DH can make quick decisions back when we had people over)

  10. Debbie M Says:

    In my house, our favorite is Betrayal at House on the Hill. This starts out as a cooperative haunted-house exploration game. You each take a character with a slightly different balance of powers (speed, strength, knowledge, and sanity), and explore by turning over new tiles as you reach the edges of the board. Most tiles let the discoverer draw a card to make something interesting happen (like spiders land on you or you find a crystal ball), and some let you improve one of your powers if you end your turn on it. Then after a certain amount of time, one of the players turns on the others (this is the “betrayal” in the title) and the haunt begins. There are tens of different scenarios, which are chosen at random. For example, maybe the betrayer now controls a two-headed snake and you have to kill both heads before it eats all of you. The betray reads what they need to do from one manual; the others read what they need to do from the other and discuss their strategy (while the betrayer is out of the room reading their manual). I play with a house rule that if you turn out to be the betrayer, but you don’t want to be it (either because you don’t like being mean, you prefer having more teammates on your side, or you’re new and unsure of yourself), you can trade places with another player who is willing.

    Or maybe our favorite is Wingspan, which may still be hard to get because it was the highest-rated boardgame on Boardgame Geek last year. Everyone has a lovely piece of land with forest, grassland, and wetland habitat. And you collect food and manage eggs to attract birds to your land. The birds are cards with a big realistic painting of the bird and lots of interesting information on it. Each bird is worth a certain number of victory points. There are four different goals everyone is competing for, one per round, such as having the most eggs in a certain kind of nest or having the most birds in a certain habitat. But you will also have at least one secret personal goal, such as collecting a certain number of birds with colors in their name (if you’re the photographer) or collecting birds that eat rodents (if you’re the rodentologist). As you attract more birds, it becomes easier to get more resources, but you never have as many turns as you want. At the end of the last round, whoever has the most points wins. We have a house rule that when you play a bird card, you have to say something interesting about the bird. This is especially good when you play with bird-watchers. But if you’re like me, you can just read the fact at the bottom of the card. With this rule we are actually learning things about birds.

  11. middle_class Says:

    I have never heard of most of these games! I like Monopoly, Clue, Life, Scrabble, othello, battleship and basic games like that. I love chess but not sure that counts.

    I have never played role based games like Dungeons and Dragons. I looked up Dominion which was describes as a card deck building game. No idea what that is. Games where people get magical powers look really confusing to me. Am I missing something?

    • Debbie M Says:

      You are missing that there has been a revolution in board gaming! Once you’ve played the new Euro-style games, the old best games will seem kind of boring, because you don’t have as many choices in what you can do, and they are more luck based. (Except Scrabble and chess. And I still like Careers anyway.) Well-loved new classics include 7 Wonders, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Splendor. I recommend trying one of those out sometime, just to see. After the pandemic in a couple years, you can probably try one for free at a game store (from their library) or a public library. (Or you could try the cooperative game called Pandemic that’s pretty good, if depressing. A lot of the cooperative games are depressingly difficult to beat, in my opinion. You all take turns attacking the germs, and they get turns attacking the planet!)

      A deck-building game is where you start with a bunch of useful but low-level cards that give you powers to achieve game goals when you play them. During the game, you get the opportunity to add more, better cards to your deck, and perhaps cull the less valuable ones. As you go through the deck over and over, you can do more and more powerful things.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Most people start with settlers because it was really the first of the new style eurogame to make it over. It’s not my favorite because a person can get into a situation where they can’t make any moves for many turns in a row which is no fun. DH has recommended Agricola (base game) or Puerto Rico as good starting games in the past, but his current recommendation is to see what boardgamegeek recommends as a eurogame for beginners. He says a lot of people recommend ticket to ride as a first, but he just doesn’t enjoy it as much as other games. Catan is probably better than Agricola if you’re interested in the social aspect instead of gameplay because it has trading and you can make jokes about squishing sheep into bricks whereas Agricola is more solo play. Though if you want a party game, eurogame may not be the direction to go. (Catan came to the US in 2000 — we played Die Siedler the week before my wedding!)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I am so glad DH and DC1 beat pandemic legacy BEFORE this pandemic. So depressing.

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I am informed that that Whole Foods bag contains mage knight and stratego legends and there is a big box somewhere with starfleet battles.

    • Leah Says:

      Ahh, Stratego! I just got all my childhood board games from my dad (Stratego, Ghosts, Risk, and Dinobones). Excited for my kids to play more as they age. I’ll post later about the kids games we like.

  13. Omdg Says:

    That’s a lot of games! I don’t play a lot of games these days, but in the past I’ve enjoyed spades, hearts, spit. My husband has an Italian card game with a special deck that is also fun. Daughter LOVES games, but I just cannot play life one more time. Oh, I do like connect four.

    • Leah Says:

      How old is your daughter? Get some new games. So many options these days. Favorite kids games here are Rhino Hero, Yahtzee (math skills!), The Little Orchard (for younger kids), and Hoot, Owl, Hoot.

  14. Lisa Says:

    We love Ticket to Ride, which even my 5 year old can play (although sometimes the attention span isn’t long enough to finish the game). We’ve been enjoying the Harry Potter version of Trivial Pursuit. I bought Scotland Yard a year or so ago but haven’t played it much – I can usually only get 1-2 other people to play a game with me and I feel like that game could be better with 4. I think we need to have a board game marathon this weekend! I’ve heard good things about Wingspan but it’s super expensive on Amazon, I’ll need to look around for it. We’ve also liked cooperative games with the younger kids like The Hidden Door (a memory matching game) and Race for the Treasure (mostly luck but a bit of strategy and OK to play a few times with a little one).

    We’ve been trying to do online game nights with family during this time – JackBox games work OK and we’ve had luck with Drawful (esp with custom words b/c the Jackbox prompts can get weird) with all ages. Most of the other games are better for older kids (10-12+?). Anyone else had any luck with online games that can be played with an intergenerational group?

    • Rumpus Says:

      Online game nights can be tough. I don’t have any experience with “all-ages” online gaming, but I think I would try either one of the sandboxes like Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator with some game that will keep their interest, or I would go for something like Minecraft with everyone on the same server…videogames seem easier to do online, and all-ages, and hold everyone’s interest.
      If you do try out one of those sandboxes, you may be able to try out Wingspan. I know there’s a mod for it in the Steam workshop for Tabletop Simulator.

      Scotland Yard is a great game. And if you look on boardgamegeek, it’s actually recommended for any player count from 2-6, though it feels like a different game with different numbers of players. Fewer players will be less cooperative and more calculated.

  15. Peter Says:

    If anyone is looking for a 2 player game, especially for parent-child or 2 differently aged children, I highly recommend Qoridor.

    Like Chinese checkers, the aim is to get your counter to the opposite side, but in this game you have 1 counter but multiple blockers.

    The interesting point is that each game only takes 5 minutes, but when you win, you give a blocker to you opponent (and the advantages stack – there are 20 blockers in the game and at the start of each game they are shared between the players based on the previous starting position and result)

    This means that after the first session, both players are equally likely to win, thereby finding a game that can be played competitively where the difference might be the starting player or who finds a new angle on an existing strategy.

  16. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    JB and PiC are currently on their hundredth game of mancala and fiftieth of Uno. It’s lucky for JB that PiC is the primary parent, I’m not at all so fun inclined. I haven’t personally enjoyed board games in ages… as a kid, I used to love Monopoly because it centered around money! Of course.


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