It's simple - this entry is about games that are played on boards, usually with tiny pieces and a die (more commonly referred to nowadays by its plural - a dice).
You want more? Oh. Okay.
Remember those great board games you played when you were a child? All those arguments because you always seemed to land on the snake right in front of the winning square, or because you couldn't afford the rent on your opponent's hotel in Monopoly's Mayfair? The joy of adding that last letter to an existing word and claiming the triple word score. The air of petty victory as you trounced the opposition in... whatever that game with the pop-a-matic die in the centre of the board was called...
Here then is a cross-section of just some of the greatest board games known to man, woman, child and mouse.
Was there ever a game that took less time to play than to set up?
MouseTrap is a fantastic little game which involves four plastic mice racing around to get a piece of cheese. The fun of the game is the incredibly elaborate and complex Mousetrap of the title, which slowly builds up as the game progresses. This involves rolling balls, a see-saw, and a man diving into a bath, amongst other things. Sort of a 'Mouse-related Temple-of-Doom', rather than MouseTrap.
The following explains how this intricate game all connects together:
Player turns crank (A) which rotates gears (B) causing lever (C) to move and push stop sign against shoe (D). Shoe tips bucket holding metal ball (E) Ball rolls down rickety stairs (F) and into drainpipe (G) which leads it to hit helping hand rod (H). This causes bowling ball (1) to fall from top of helping hand rod through thing-a-ma-jig (J) and bathtub (K), to land on diving board (L). Weight of bowling ball catapults diver (M) through the air and right into wash tub (N), causing cage (O) to fall from top of post (P) and trap unsuspecting mouse.
One of the more cerebral board games, it doesn't require the devotion of chess, and still introduces the random element that makes board games fun, although good players should still be able to win over the odds. Invented in 1948 by the wonderfully-named Alfred Mosher Butts of Poughkeepsie, New York, the game was at first known by a number of names, including 'Lexico', 'Crosswords' and 'Wordsquare'. Butts then sold the game to James Brunot, who re-named it 'Scrabble' and began to realise its commercial appeal, firstly through the store Macy's, and then through games manufacturers Spears. Scrabble has remained a best-seller for 55 years, and has an increasingly growing competitive contingent who spend their lives trying to memorise arcane three-letter words ('Zax', anyone?).
I played Scrabble once for my county and was utterly, utterly woeful. I can still regularly beat part-time players, though, and retain a memory of all the two-letter words.
Just to show off, my highest ever single-turn score is 293, for 'JEZEBELS'.
Scrabble is now sold in 121 countries (over 100 million games!) and in 29 languages.
The first world championship Scrabble competition was held in London in 1991, the second in New York City in 1993.
Brunot didn't live to see this level of success, but Butts lived until April 1993. He died at the age of 93 and is said to have enjoyed playing his game up until the end of his life.
My own Scrabble anecdote is about the frustration of having Travel Scrabble on a camping holiday in France, but no dictionary. It was OK if participants agreed the word placed existed, but what if it was challenged? We ended up with little lists of 'It is a word, honest', to be checked later. The compromise at the time was removal of the disputed word, if the player placing it couldn't give a convincing case for its acceptance.
I think players should always be able to define the words they use when challenged. It allows you to learn more than 'oh, it is in the allowed Scrabble Words list' - even if it is spurious extemporisation (which is also a useful skill to pick up).
There have been a number of games mostly released by German designers that have taken the serious gaming world by storm. Although they're fairly recent, they place heavy emphasis on strategy and are considerably more 'meaty' than most popular board games. In fact, 'German' games have become a style of board game in their own right. The good news is that they're still fun to play. Indeed the capacity of German companies to release award-winning games is nothing new - possibly due to the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year). This prize first awarded in 1979 has long rewarded innovative games. This is what the founders of the award have to say:
Founded in 1978 by a group of German game critics to promote awareness and to increase the cultural value of games, the award recognises outstanding games based on: originality, playability, and educational value of the game idea; organisation, clarity and understandability of rules; packing and layout of the game board and the game rules; and functionality and overall quality of the game materials included.
It is worth noting that the first winner, was by a British designer, but it was the German version that came to the attention of the judges, and the prize that gave it the impetus to become much more popular. That game was…
Hare and Tortoise
This game for two-to-six players doesn't use dice, instead having a slightly complex card-based system of paying for moves with carrots. The further you choose to move in one turn rapidly escalates the carrot cost (one space = one carrot, four spaces = ten carrots). Obviously there are also ways of earning carrots - including moving backwards. So you can plod (slow but sure - and cheap) or race (fast but so expensive - you'll have to earn many more carrots).
There are other elements to the game (such as having to eat cabbages, reduce your carrots to ten or less before finishing, and opportunities to try your luck 'jugging the hare' - where the result of picking a card numbered from 1 to 6 also depends on your position in the race).
The game was first published in the UK in 1974, but achieved much wider popularity in 1979 when it won the first Spiel des Jahres after being republished in Germany as 'Hase und Igel' (Hare and Hedgehog).
Designed by Tom Jolly of Jolly games, Knots takes place on a board of 6x6 squares. The playing pieces are 36 square tiles with an image of a section of rope on. Each tile is similar but different, with two entrance/exit points for the rope on each side, and these will link to each other in a multitude of different ways. Some bits loop back on themselves, others turn left or right, or go straight across the tile, some bits just end and some bits splice out into two different paths.
The tiles are mixed and placed face down. Each player takes a hand of three tiles. They then take turns to lay a tile on the board, picking up a new tile for the one placed. One player will play across the board and the other up the board. Tiles may be laid anywhere. The first player to make a continuous rope from one side of the board right across to the other is the winner.
Simple to play? Yes and no. It is an easy game to learn, but tracing all the rope lengths as they wind their way around the board can be hard, especially as with the splicing it is possible for you and your opponent to be using the same rope to cross the board. However it is watching as your carefully-laid rope is cut short, or looped back onto itself, or driven off the edge of the board by ugly play that will bring you back to reap revenge on your opponent. Games can last between five and 55 minutes, but the feeling as you not only slice your opponent's rope but advance your own rope is one of the better ones in this life. And for a fiver, why not?
Chess is thought to have originated in what is now northern India or Afganistan sometime before 6OO AD: the oldest written references to chess date from then. Interest in chess followed early trade routes out of India. One variation of chess (called Shogi) is now popular in Japan; another variation is played in China. Many local variations in chess rules persist even today in isolated rural areas, for example in India. The variation familiar to Europeans and Americans travelled through Persia to the main commercial centres of Italy and Spain by about 1000 AD. From there seafaring Vikings carried the game into Scandinavia and Iceland. By 1100-1200 AD, the game became known in central Europe, and was well-established across all of Europe by 1400 AD, with the game rules which we use today.
Chess remains a great game and can eat up hours of your time, or hardly any time at all. There are many variations on chess, including a time limit, meaning that each player has a maximum time to win the game in. If a player takes too long on all their moves and their time runs out, they lose the game. Although time limits are usually set to 20 minutes for each player, the game can become fast-paced and mistakes can be made near the end of the match.
Some internet variations of the game have had time limits as low as one minute, where the name of the game is completing your moves as quickly as possible and surviving so that the other player times out first.
Kung Fu Chess
One of the strangest variations of chess is a version of chess called Kung Fu Chess. Kung Fu Chess works differently to normal chess, as all pieces can move at once. In this, both players are moving pieces at once, with the first person to take the King being the winner. After a piece is moved it has a waiting time where the piece cannot be moved. Both the speed of the pieces moving and the waiting time are set by the players.
With Kung Fu Chess you also have the option of a four-player mode, where the objective is the same, and there are pieces on all four sides of the board. For the four-player mode, two rows are added on each side of the board for the pieces to start on.
Two other variations of chess have appeared using Kung Fu Chess. The first is called 'War', and can be played by two or four players. In both, the players set up the game between themselves so that they each have four Queens, one King, one Bishop, one Knight and one Castle. Each player then sets up their pieces in any arrangement they like on their side of the board. Once all players are ready, the game starts and is played like normal Kung Fu Chess.
The second Kung Fu Chess variation is called 'Frog'. This is a four-player-only variation. In this, the players are only allowed to move their knights. The game is played in the same way however.
The game of chess can be varied so easily, whether it be using proper pieces, or online versions. Either way, the game of chess is no longer a simple basic game, but a game that can have a lot of varieties and styles to keep you interested.
Described succinctly by one Researcher as 'the ancient game of capturing the most amount of space by placing stones on a board', Go originated in China under the name Wei Chi almost 3,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest strategy games in existence. Its popularity eventually spread to other countries in the area, like Japan and Korea. In fact, Buddhist priests from Japan took the game over the sea about 1,400 years ago.
It was even more popular in Japan. Japanese warriors learned it well and it really became a serious game for Japan, where important techniques and rules were developed. The Japanese version is slightly more complicated than the Chinese version because of this.
Meanwhile, in China, the philosopher Confucius dismissed the game, and so did many as a result. But much later, Chairman Mao would use the game to teach tactics and he made his leaders play and study the game. At the time, it was the pastime of intellectuals.
Today, Go is absent from popular culture in English-speaking countries. There are still several societies that play Go, for instance the American and British Go Associations. About 120,000 people play Go in Europe and America. It is still very popular in the areas of Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. These countries send representatives to the China-Japan Super Go Tournament to compete.
This game was created by Milton Bradley more than 50 years ago and is billed as 'every pre-schooler's first game'. It is colour-themed and aimed at children between the ages of three and six.
There is no counting involved which is why it is so perfect for little ones. You draw a card and move your marker to the colour indicated. Players take turns moving their pieces through an enchanted 'Candy Land' to reach King Kandy's castle. There are also special cards which can move you ahead or backwards to encounters with the denizens of Candy Land like Grandma Nut who lives in a peanut brittle house. And there are a few trouble spots like the 'Molasses Swamp' where players must wait until someone draws a red card.
Largely due to the colours of the game, 'Candy Land' has also become an adjective of sorts in the USA, meaning something on which the pastel colours are overpowering. For example:
Look at that lavender house with the mint green shutters and the pink door - have you ever seen anything so 'Candy Land'?
A game for those who find Diplomacy just not Machiavellian enough, Junta! is set in a very poor banana republic where the players represent members of the ruling elite, whose sole aim is to embezzle as much foreign aid money as possible during the course of the game. The players assume various positions (ooer) such as El Presidente; the Head of the Secret Police; Commander of the Air Force etc. El Presidente receives the foreign aid every turn and doles out a proportion of it to the other players. This is fun because:
Only El Presidente knows exactly how much foreign aid was received that turn as he receives it face-down from a shuffled pile of notes of various denominations.
El Presidente has very little power apart from the right to appoint the cabinet and hand out the money, so he has to try to appease at least some of the other players with generous handouts (while of course diverting as much money as possible into his own Swiss bank account).
If El Presidente does not keep enough people happy, the other players tend to immediately oust him in a Coup and have him shot (this is not as painful as it sounds and he can even carry on playing). If El Presidente is very skilful and manipulative, he may last as much as three turns before someone tries to pull off a Coup (or have him assassinated, or both).
When it comes to negotiations between players, pretty much anything goes. There's nothing really wrong with promising the General of the First Brigade a huge increase in the next budget in return for their support this turn, while forgetting to mention that someone else will be commanding the First Brigade after the next cabinet reshuffle. Assassinating your rivals is not considered bad form and should be resorted to whenever possible. Players can change sides in the midst of a Coup, or even after it appears to have been resolved. And there are always plenty of excuses for a Coup - from a budget crisis to the annual street fiesta...
Junta is a great game, although it should not be played with oversensitive people who resort to physical violence after a couple of back-stabbings. Highly recommended.
Talisman was the alternative game published by Games Workshop in 1985. It had loads of fiddly bits of card, but a relatively simple rectangular board. You had a character card, an alignment (which could change), cards for spells or purchases (if applicable), little squares for bags of gold and your various strengths. Each turn you threw the dice to move your figure card around the board and pick up Adventure cards, aiming to head for the centre once you had a talisman.
I remember Talisman! My then husband and I used to take it down the local pub and play. We had the expansion pack and even had lead figures that we had painstakingly painted. It was good with four people - a thoroughly enjoyable game. Unfortunately when we split, he took it and all the figures and you can't get it here anymore...
Money, money, money. It makes the world go round, and it's the driving force behind all would-be landlords who play the great game of Monopoly. Here we've collected a few tips from those who (think) they know best...
... I watched a news interview with the world champion Monopoly player a few years back. He said that to win, it's best to buy the cheaper plots, Old Kent Road etc, as you can build them up cheaply (and therefore quickly) but still get sizeable chunks of money back in rent. It's always worked for me...
... The orange group (Bow Street, Marlborough Street, Vine Street in the London edition) are usually quite useful - chances are that someone will land here straight after getting out of jail...
... cards can advance you to Pall Mall (magenta group) or Mayfair (Dark blue group). In my experience though, I have to agree that the Orange group tend to give the best opportunities for efficient investment/returns potential...
... I find the top end of each side works best - houses cost the same as the cheaper properties, but you get more cash back...
... The mistake most people make is to think that buying the purple set will bring you the most rent. Yes, but the plot and houses are all more expensive, so building up the site is slower...
... But if you do get the holy Mayfair and Park Lane, and manage to bung even one house on Mayfair - you've practically won. Watch in super smugness when your opponent picks up a Community Chest card that says 'Advance to Mayfair'...
Interesting Local Versions of Monopoly
Since Monopoly continues to be so popular, local non-profit groups sometimes create their own versions of the game, highlighting local businesses and well-known locales. In 1989, the Family Services organisation of Dedham, Massachusetts, created a board game which they called 'Dedhamopoly'. Sales of the game went to help pay for some of Family Services' programmes such as counselling troubled families.
The board on which the game was played featured local businesses such as Dedham Savings Bank, Dedham Travel Agency, McGolf, etc. Instead of putting up houses or hotels on properties that the players controlled, the players were permitted to buy customers for the businesses that they landed on. For the Olde Irish Alehouse, for example, it cost $150 to obtain each customer. If other players' tokens land on Olde Irish Alehouse with no customers, they must pay the owner $22. If one customer, $110. With four customers, $975. To win, the game, a player must be the only one not to have declared personal bankruptcy.
Does anyone remember Mancala? These Researchers certainly do...
The name Mancala brings to mind a long board with two rows of dimples into which you place beads and move them around by some arcane rules - is that the one?
Yes. Mancala is an old African game that used to be played with sea shells. There are several variations of the game but here are the basic rules for one that's designed for kids:
Three stones in each cup.
First player takes all stones out of one hole on his side and deposits them one at a time going clockwise in each hole until they run out.
Players alternate doing that until one side is empty.
There are six holes on each side and one on each end, so the stones that go into the hole on the left end are yours to keep.
If you end in your end hole, you go again.
If you end in an empty hole (side, not end) you get all the stones in the hole opposite it.
When one players is out of stones on their side, the other player gets all the stones left on their side, and whoever has the most stones in their end wins.
There are other variants, though, and there's also a version called Warri. The board has no end pockets and you have four stones per pit. The rules are very similar to Mancala.
One Researcher's mother, who is from the Caribbean, says that the fishermen used to play it using large seeds or smooth round pebbles. The game is definitely African in origin though.
The version I know is the one found on Nokia phones! I was in London with some friends who had a board several months ago and we all found we had so many different variations on how the game was to be played that eventually we decided to play 'Nokia Rules' because most of us were most familiar with the version on our phones.
In Africa they play it with stones or seeds using a board made of circles scratched in the dust. Their hands move so fast you feel as if they have been playing it from the day their tiny hands were big enough to grasp a stone.
It is actually highly addictive and endlessly fascinating. Varying the number of stones you start with gives a different twist to every game. It is possible to play aggressively or defensively and there are a variety of strategies. It is a game that definitely needs more press.
Cluedo (England), or Clue (America) is definitely a great board game. It requires a lot of skill in deciding what cards to show people, where to go on the board, and figuring out the murder, the murder weapon and where the murder took place.
Cluedo is an exciting game that is a lot of fun to play. It can be played by two to six people, with six definitely being the number of choice. A game of just two people is less skillful and less exciting.
The only variation I know of Cluedo is a computerised version. It is basically the same as normal Cluedo, except it provides the option of both 3D and 2D views, and you can have computer opponents to play against. For computerised opponents, you can set each opponent at a different difficulty level.
While Cluedo is a undoubtedly the definitive detective game, there is also 221b Baker Street. This is a game played around the streets of Olde London Town with Sherlock Holmes helping you look for clues at various locations. You must track down the criminals, solve all the elements you need, and hand over everything you know to the Bow Street Runners, before your opponents do so.
If you're a fan of the UK TV show Bargain Hunt (and let's face it, which student isn't?) you really should play the board game! You have to buy antiques and then auction them (all using cards with pictures, and comments from the Duke himself, on them) and it's really fun! Dice are involved too (well, auctions are based on the luck of the day really) so you can go from winning a game with a profit of £200, to losing the next one with a loss of £50. It doesn't really need any knowledge of antiques, but it can't hurt to watch the show!
Favourite of Big Brother 4 UK legend Jon Tickle - who claims to have once taken over the whole of Asia and Australia in one move - strategy game Risk was highly recommended by many of you. You liked the fact that the game could be played in so many ways, with different people trying to achieve a multitude of aims, and as a result helping or hindering each other en route. A full game with six players should take about half a day, and one Researcher shared strategy with us:
Start off by taking Australasia and jam up any chance of attack via Indonesia.
However, Researchers were not unanimous in admiration for the game.
It's also the most tedious game ever and 99% of games end with a toppled board.
Axis and Allies
In a similar vein to Risk, we have Allies and Axis, which is a board game based on World War II, using dice and strategy. Designed by Larry Harris in the early 1980s, the game has evolved into several versions since introduction, including Axis and Allies Europe and Axis and Allies Pacific and many expansion packs are available. Again, this is not a game to while away a few idle minutes with:
Personally I have played twelve hours in one sitting, but I have heard of many much longer. To cram the most rounds in, do not allow alcohol.
Balderdash is a game of spurious extemporisation about word meanings, using a similar premise to Call My Bluff TV gameshow hosted for many years in the UK by Robert Robinson.
Players take it in turns to be given a card with an unfamiliar word on. Also included on the card is the 'true' definition. All the other players have to quickly concoct a definition of the word on paper. The slips of paper are given to the card-holder, who adds another slip with the true definition on, and they shuffle them and read out all the definitions.
Then each player has to vote on which one is the correct definition. Players score for voting for the right definition, or providing an accurate definition, or for having their definition voted for. If no-one guesses correctly the card holder gets points. The game can be played with three players but works best with four to six.
Settlers of Catan
This game is wonderful enough that I just had to shout out the news
This is a thirty-year-old game involving nineteen hexagonal tiles representing different types of terrain - desert, mountain, hill, plain, forest, and pasture - and eighteen hexagonal sea tiles, half of which are ports. In addition there are four sets of roads, settlements, and cities in red, orange, white, and blue, resource cards (ore, brick, wheat, wood, and sheep) and development cards (victory points, soldiers, building cards) along with eighteen number tiles - two to twelve, excluding seven. Finally, there is one robber and two six-sided dice. The board is generated randomly by placing the tiles together to form the island of Catan, and the number tiles are placed randomly on the resource tiles (the desert hex is barren and produces nothing).
Each settlement produces resources when the die outcome is equal to a number that appears on a hex adjacent to a settlement or city. Thus, a settlement that is on the juncture of a mountain hex with a five, a plain hex with an eight, and a forest hex with a two, will produce one ore on a roll of five, one wheat with a roll of eight, and one wood with a roll of two. Cities produce two resources. Note that the statistical probability of rolling a two or twelve is low, while six or eight are the most commonly producing resources. Seven has the highest probability of being rolled, but brings the robber into play rather than producing resources. The robber is scary and evil unless you are the one who rolled the dice (except if you have to discard) because the robber is placed on a resource hex which cannot produce until the robber is moved. Playing a soldier card also gives you control of the robber.
The point of the game is to build new settlements and expand your settlements into cities until you have twelve victory points. Settlements cannot be built next to each other, so you must expand with roads, and all of these are bought with resources. If you don't have enough resources to build something, you trade for that resource. This is the interactive part, because you have to talk people into helping you win. This is also the part that makes the gameplay take a long, long time.
Known either as Reversi or Othello, the game is incredibly simple to learn, but hard to become an expert. Othello used to be sold with the tagline 'A minute to learn, a lifetime to master.'
Othello is played on an 8x8 board - the squares are all the same colour. Each playing piece is black on one side and white on the other. At the start of the game, four pieces are placed on the four squares in the middle of the board. two pieces are black side up, placed diagonally, and two are white side up. It looks like this, with o as white and x as black.xo ox
Players can flip a coin to decide who starts. The first player places a piece such that at least one of his opponent's pieces is caught between one of his and the piece just placed. For example:xox ox
The piece that was 'caught' is turned over or 'reversed' (hence 'reversi'). This gives:xxx ox
Play continues with the players alternating. So white moves next, then black, then white, and so on. It may happen that one player has no legal moves, in which case he misses a turn. Play continues until neither player has any legal moves, or the board is filled. The winner is the player with the most pieces showing his colour.
Nobody knows where Othello/Reversi originated, although both America and China have been suggested. The modern rules were devised by a Japanese, Goro Hasegawa, in 1970. These rules are now used all over the world.
Escape from Colditz
... a long time ago in a place very far from here I recall playing this. As a prisoner you had to escape from Colditz, sneaking around, picking up tools, rope and costumes. Unfortunately it was a very long time ago and I do not remember much more, except that it did seem to be based on the Colditz layout. If anyone else can remember it, convince me it isn't a figment of my imagination, it would settle my mind.
Invented by Major PR Reid (MBE, MC) and inspired by the infamous German prisoner-of-war camp, Escape from Colditz consisted of a game board, 16 pawns, 96 assorted playing cards, two dice and a rulebook. Although it is possible to play it as a two-player game, the more players the better. While one player took the role of the prison guards, the others tried their best to escape via various means. 'Escapes' occur when a player reaches a safe zone on the board, with the overall winner being the one who has effected the most escapes. Though it possibly wasn't one of the most reliable history lessons children ever had, it was nevertheless very exciting and challenging - especially if you ended up the poor soul playing the German officers as the other players would usually rejoice in hurling anti-German abuse at you.
There are various histories of Ludo and its development. One Researcher unearthed the story of the 'Epic of the Kings' - a medieval Persian poem that tells the story of the reign of one of the Persian kings who had an exemplary and wise minister. The king was due tribute from one of his conquered kings in Bactria, or some such place. This king also had a very clever first minister. One day the King of Persia is sat doing whatever Kings of Persia do when they're not hunting, fighting or dealing with affairs of state (and it is suspected that given the amount of concubines they had it was always the same thing) when a package arrived from the King of Bactria.
'That'll be my tribute,' thought the king. But no it was not - instead it was a strange black and white chequered board with an assortment of pieces some looking like soldiers, others like kings etc... and a message.
If you can work out the rules of this game I shall pay your tribute.
The king called his minister and said: 'You have three days to work this out or I shall cut off your head.'
The clever minister went off and for three days and nights he worked solidly in his tower. At the end of the third night he came out and went to the king. 'My king,' he said. 'I have discovered the rules for this game, which I call Chess. So you can have your tribute.'
The King was pleased but the first minister then said: 'When you send the message to the King of Bactria, can you pass him these and say "If you cannot work out the rules for this game I shall demand double the tribute."'
The King looked at the board, which had many triangles on it and the pieces which were plain and round. He was very, very pleased with his first minister. Some time later, the King of Bactria sent back double the tribute... and his first minister's head.
When I was a child (about 12 years old) I was given some gift tokens for Christmas. I bought a backgammon set and I've been hooked ever since. I play against my computer, but not online, and I know that the computer cheats. It doesn't matter what software game I play, freeware, shareware or purchased, the computer always throws doubles at just the right moment to get itself out of trouble and stop me getting gammon/backgammon.
I did have a very good book on the rules but I lent it to a friend who wanted to learn the game and haven't seen it since. As for the history, backgammon-like games have been played for centuries in places like Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Roman game was known as 'Tabulae', which became 'Tables' in English. Reference to players sitting at 'Tables' has been found in documents dating back to the 11th Century.
Backgammon goes by different names the world over, some of which (Tablas Reales in Spain and Tavole Reale in Italy) hark back to the Roman Tabulae. Nobody is sure where the English name comes from - it could be Welsh for 'little battle' or, more likely, Saxon for 'back game'. One point to note. In European and American backgammon sets you will find a 'doubling cube', which is used for gambling. This item is missing from sets bought in Muslim countries such as Egypt where gambling is forbidden.
These are just a few of the h2g2 Community's favourites. Why not share your thoughts of great board games in the Conversations below...