Are you looking for a new game to challenge and amuse your family and friends? Why not try bean farming? Or mixing paint? Or building power plants? Admittedly, none of those activities might sound like much fun, but sometimes game descriptions don’t do games justice. This list, put together based on suggestions from gaming enthusiasts, can introduce you to a whole host of games you never would have tried if you’d simply read the box.
If being a peasant farmer in the Middle Ages was fun, we ‘d still be living that way, right? But Agricola, from Z-Man Games, makes subsistence farming enjoyable. Players are farmers living in wooden shacks with their spouses, collecting building materials, building fences and striving to expand the farm (and the farmer’s family). Since there are a lot of moving parts, more serious gamers may enjoy this more. Still, for a game set in the Dark Ages, it’s much lighter than you might expect.
9. Stone Age
Stone Age, from Rio Grande Games (which made a number of the games on this list), is a game about gathering resources. If you think collecting corn and wood sounds boring, you’ve never played Stone Age. Players work as hunters, collectors, farmers and tool makers, seeking to grow their population by collecting important resources. While the road to victory may seem clear, sneaky players can collect less obvious victory points by collecting special cards. Make your own bonus entertainment by talking like cavemen, but remember to use more sophisticated vocabulary as your civilization grows.
8. The Castles of Burgundy
They say not to judge a book by its cover, and The Castles of Burgundy (by German game-maker Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH) is a good example. Judging by the washed-out looking board and pieces, it would be easy to believe this was a ho-hum game. But even if building cities in the Burgundy region of High Medieval France doesn’t sound like party time to you, give this game a chance. Players collect tiles to settle regions, with dice rolls dictating the actions they can take. In addition to building settlements, players practice trade along the river, exploit silver mines, and use the knowledge of travelers, for multiple ways to win. The element of surprise is strong in this game: watch out for the quieter players who may be finding creative ways to undercut you, while you’re distracted elsewhere.
As a wholesaler in 1900 Hamburg (Z-Man Games), players unload goods from ships to put them in storehouses. How exciting! But acquire the right goods and sell them at a profit, and you can be on the path to winning. Invest in fire protection, though, because an unexpected warehouse fire can foil all your plans. Just in case you think this game is all about acquisition and strategy, the auction aspect of the game can amp up the excitement, as players vie for the best deals.
6. Ticket to Ride
While three-year-olds would clap their hands at the prospect of competing to build railway systems, many adults would simply roll their eyes. Yet, Ticket to Ride (by Days of Wonder) combines strategy with luck for unpredictable play. The players choose routes they plan to build, then collect the correct cards to build different lines. Those who complete their routes control them, causing other players to have to reroute. This easy-to-learn game provides plenty of opportunities for scheming, strategy, and sabotage.
If you’ve ever described something as being “as boring as watching paint dry,” Fresco from Queen Games might make you change your expression. Players are master painters, mixing paints, choosing what time to get up, and directing a team of apprentices. You score points by completing frescoes, which require that players vie with each other to obtain specific paints. The game comes with several expansion modules, so if the basic game whets your appetite for wet paint, you can increase the decision-making and difficulty.
Just imagine the looks of delight when you tell your friends and family you’re going to introduce them to a game about bean farming. Yet, Bohnanza (Rio Grande Games) is quick to pick up, even for beginning or casual gamers. A card game with quirky rules — such as the fact that you can’t rearrange your cards but must play them in order — Bohnanza encourages players to negotiate and make deals to obtain playable cards that meet their goals. Depending on the group you’re playing with, this game can become lively, silly and/or cutthroat. More fun than a hill of beans!
3. Thurn and Taxis
Just what you’ve always wanted: a board game about the formation of the German postal system! In Thurn and Taxis (Rio Grande Games), players compete to build post office routes across Bavaria, collecting bonus points in a variety of ways. The play combines cards with a board showing a map of all the towns, with players scheming to add cities in order to complete routes. Look for plenty of fun reveals as plans either come to light or are skewered by rival players.
2. Power Grid
Unless you’re an industrial engineer, the prospect of building power plants and bidding on garbage probably sounds as exciting as … being an industrial engineer. Let me introduce you to Power Grid by Rio Grande Games. Surprisingly, the strategy demands, coupled with the intense auction rounds, can make you care an awful lot about acquiring raw materials, upgrading for maximum efficiency and expanding your network. Something tells me the U.S. Department of Energy would be pleased.
1. Hansa Teutonica
For those who are not history majors, the Hansa Teutonica, known in English as the Hanseatic League, was a confederation of merchant guilds that dominated trade in Northern Europe from the 13th through 17th centuries. In the game that bears its name (from Z-Man Games), players become traders, earning victory points by building offices, controlling cities and collecting bonus markers (sort of like rent) from other traders. No wonder the medieval merchant on the box looks bored! Surprisingly, this game is challenging and well-designed, making all this bureaucracy entertaining. Someone should tell the dude on the box.