When I was introduced to modern board games, aka not Monopoly, one of the main things I was overwhelmed by was the variety of games that were out there. And honestly, it stills shocks me. New games are constantly coming out, old games are being reprinted and gaining attention, and I played Concordia once and I still have to play that again!
In a world with thousands of board games to choose from you can always count on top 5 lists on the interwebs to help you make your choice. There are a ton of lists to choose from and they are really helpful in finding easy to learn games that you are certain to have fun playing. And yes, Dixit and Codenames and Ticket to Ride are super fun to play. But there is a HUGE amount of people that, from the get-go, want something with a little more strategy than those games offer.
This list is for those people.
When you’re being introduced to board games I honestly think it’s best to play things with different mechanics. By entering the hobby this way you will learn what you like and what you don’t like in board games. And once you know that it’s much easier to filter through the thousands of games that are on the market. Find what you enjoy to play and find games that compliment that mechanic.
If you’re unfamiliar with what board game mechanics are I can break it down very easily. Mechanics are essentially the different parts of how a game is played, and there are usually a few different mechanics in each game. Here’s an example:
The easiest, and one most people are familiar with, is Roll and Move. In Monopoly, you roll a die and move that many spaces. That entire process is a mechanic called Roll and Move. Monopoly also has Auctions and Trading, which are mechanics in and of themselves.
So…let me break down 5 board game mechanics I think all new and old gamers should be familiar with.
Now to be clear, there are more than 5 board game mechanics that I love and think people should play, but these are the 5 I think people should start with to get a good variety of game play.
Set collection is a mechanic that is based around scoring as opposed to actual game play. You score points based on sets that you collect during the game. Really, it’s that simple. A popular example of this mechanic is Go Fish, where you are trying to collect pairs of cards. Set collection is a great mechanic to seek out as it is found in a lot of games, of all levels and with many different themes. Ask your local game store what they recommend and what great intro option are.
Best to start with:
- Sushi Go Party!
- 7 Wonders
Deckbuilding is very often confused with collectible card games. Let me make this very clear, DECKBUILDING IS NOT MAGIC THE GATHERING. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, good. There is no need to fall into the world of MTG. Trust me. It’s a bullshit money pit that you will never find your way out of. Deckbuilding games come with everything you need and no other purchases are necessary.
ANYWAY…deckbuilding is a very popular and talked about board game mechanic, and one that can seem kind of complex at first. But it’s really quite simple. You are creating your own deck of cards. There is usually a “Marketplace” that has different cards that are available for purchase, and these cards will have actions, money, or victory points on them that will bring you closer to the goal of the game.
Each player starts the game with their own deck of cards that is the sameish for all players (based on theme), usually a small amount like 7-10. You draw a specific amount into your hand, usually 5, and those are what you will be playing with for this turn. You always start with some sort of money cards in your deck, which you will use to purchase one (or more) of the action cards in the Marketplace. All of the cards you started your turn with, and the new card(s) you purchased on this turn will go into your discard pile at the end of your turn. You then grab 5 more cards from your deck and proceed like that until your draw pile is empty. At that point you will shuffle your discard pile, which has all of those shiny new fun action cards you have purchased, and that becomes your new draw pile. You will now start seeing, and using, those new action cards and fun things will start to happen.
Deckbuilding is a great mechanic to start with because these games tend to be very quick. After the 2nd or 3rd turn in the game things start to move faster as the game play starts to feel less clunky and your synergies start to work. When you find games that have to do with Deckbuilding you will find that it’s usually the most prominent mechanic. It’s all about what you think will work well together and is a great place to play around with different strategies, in an intro setting. It’s also a great way to learn how to shuffle quickly. Pro tip: do not shuffle your cards in the typical waterfall/fan way. It will ruin your cards.
Games to start with:
- Harry Potter The Deckbuilding Game
- Valley of the Kings
Area Control games are all about…well…control. Control and power. Area control games award those that have control over certain areas of the board, which is usually a map based on the theme. How do you gain control over these areas? Well, that’s different in every game. Sometimes you bid for areas, sometimes you build when you have the resources, and sometimes you trade and negotiate your way there. No matter how you do it, power is constantly shifting around the board and you do find yourself starting to think like a war general.
If you are looking for games with a low level of player interaction, these games are not for you. You will need to be confident enough in your strategy to go into an area with a lot of conflict, bump other people, or cut them off when you’re ready. There is usually politics and conversation involved in decisions at the table, and it’s important to keep an eye on everything that’s going on. There are no small moves.
Best to start with:
- Small World
Whenever I start to explain mechanics, most mechanics are understood from the title. But Worker Placement doesn’t really make sense until you’ve played it.
Worker placement is found mainly in what we call European games, which are more focused on economics and resources as opposed to combat and attacking. Usually you will start the game with a few meeples, mini-people, and those will be your workers. You will take turns sending your workers out on the board to get stuff that you need and to take different actions. The board will have different locations on it and each location will denote a thing that you get. You can get stuff like money, specific resources, become first player, placing a new location with new stuff, taking actions, and any other elements that theme will have.
Each player takes a turn placing one worker on a location until all workers have been placed. Once all workers have been placed each player takes a turn getting whatever that location has/doing whatever the action is. Now the trick is that you cannot place your worker on a space with another worker. Some games have spots for more than one worker, but most often it’s just one space. Meaning someone else could take the action/space that you wanted to and now you have to alter your path to victory.
This mechanic is really fun to play, but people don’t usually find it until later in their gaming hobby. The strategy is usually a long term one a very direct path to what you need. “Ok, I need to get this to get this to then get this to get that many VP. Or I can get that and then that and then that to get this many VP. Well, the orange player is going there this turn so I’ll try and go here and get that.” It only takes a few turns to figure it out and is a great option for those of you that don’t like a lot of player interaction.
Best to start with:
- Lords of Waterdeep
- Stone Age
Trading and negotiation games are highly political games filled with alliances and lies. Friends become enemies then allies, then friends, then enemies…and so on. I have found that the majority of people either love or hate these games, and few fall in between. Especially for those of you new to the hobby. Give these a try early on to see if they are your cup of tea.
These games are mainly trading games that also involve negotiation. You need to trade to get the resources that you need and you will be negotiating with other players to make these trades. If it doesn’t benefit you it’s usually not a good trade.
It’s a pretty easy mechanic to explain.
Best to start with:
Card drafting is found so often in board games that it was hard to keep it off of this list. The reason that it’s not listed in the Top 5 is because it’s usually found along with more prominent board game mechanics, like set collection and trading.
Card drafting is commonly found in games without an actual “board” are are mainly card based. Even if there isn’t an actual board being used, some sort of information about each players strategy is out in the open for all other players to see.
The drafting is a way that players select the cards they will be putting into their hand. Everyone is dealt the same amount of cards and selects one that they want to keep in their hand. That card is kept a secret and everyone passes the rest of the cards to the person next to them, in the same direction (everyone passes their cards to the person on their left or everyone passes to the person on their right). So on and so forth until those dealt cards have been passed out to everyone.
Card drafting is a really fun mechanic to play with as it gives a bit of strategy to the randomness of dealing cards. If I know that I’m going to be passing cards to the person on my left, and I can see that part of their strategy involves getting combat cards, I’m going to keep that combat card so I’m not just “handing” it over to them. It’s a super common mechanic that takes about 2 or 3 rounds to click. Pro Tip: If you’re not playing Terraforming Mars with drafting you’re not playing Terraforming Mars.
Great to start with:
- Sushi Go Party!
- 7 Wonders
The Loaded Die has most of these titles spread out all around Metro Detroit. Check out our Game Locator to see where the closest title is to you! And you can always stop into your friendly local game store (FLGS) and ask what their favorite titles are for your favorite mechanic!