Are We Board Yet?

I’ve always been fascinated by board games. Over the past three years I’ve acquired quite a nice collection of clever and colorful modern games. We’re not talking Parcheesi, Risk, or Monopoly, though I do have a few classic games on my shelf.

I’d love to have a weekly game night at my house. The trick is finding a few people who are keen to be there. If you’re not into board games as a hobby, you may not know what to expect. Somehow an email invitation doesn’t quite convey the essence of what awaits.

With that in mind, I’m assembling a few photos. If something here piques your interest, you know where to find me.

Let’s start with games that you could learn and enjoy pretty quickly — no massive set of rules to memorize. First up is Nova Luna.

Each turn in Nova Luna you acquire a tile, which you place on the table in front of you adjacent to one or more tiles you’ve already placed. Each tile has a few “tasks” on it, which tell you what tiles this one would like to be adjacent to. A task might be, for instance, one gold and two dark blue. When you complete a task, you put one of your markers on it to show it’s complete. The first player to place all 20 of their markers on their tile layout wins. The usual playing time is no more than 30 minutes.

Sounds almost too simple, right? But there are a couple of wrinkles. For one thing, the turn order is not fixed. The players have turn order markers on the central round, and whoever is in last place takes the next turn. Each tile has a number between 1 and 7, and the more desirable tiles have larger numbers. When you take a tile, you move your marker ahead on the round by that many spaces. So if you grab a really useful tile you may have to wait while a couple of your opponents take two turns. If you take a cheap tile, you might get to take two turns in a row.

Another of my favorites is Century Spice Road:

In Century Spice Road you’re collecting and upgrading your collection of “spices,” which are represented by the colored cubes. Saffron, turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon? It hardly matters. Each turn, you can play a card from your hand to improve your collection of spice cubes — trading in one brown for a green, a red, and a yellow, for instance. As the game goes on, you’ll acquire more powerful cards from the central row and add them to your hand. A lot of strategic thinking is involved, but the things you’re manipulating — cards and cubes — are easy to understand.

Soon you’ll be able to trade some cubes for one of the cards in the left-side row. Those are the cards that are worth points, but their value is variable. Some are easy to acquire and are worth only 6 or 8 points. Others are worth as much as 20 points, but you’ll need a hefty set of cubes to grab one of them. When someone has acquired five point-value cards, the game ends.

A recent addition to my game shelf is Momiji:

The idea in Momiji is that it’s autumn, and the leaves are falling. You’re strolling through the Imperial Garden in Japan, collecting beautiful fallen leaves. There are six types of leaves — that is, cards — and you have to add them to your collection in a certain order, following certain rules. You can also collect acorns (the little coin disks) and spend them, utilize your landscape abilities, and acquire task tokens that will be worth points if you fulfill the task. There’s a fair amount of competition for the desirable leaves in the offer pile. Very satisfying game, and not long or drawn-out.

Instead of cards, Azul uses satisfyingly chunky tiles:

In the first phase of a round, players acquire tiles from the central market and place them on the left side of their mat. In the second phase, tiles are moved over to the grid on the right side, and points are earned. The game ends, usually after five or six rounds, when someone has completed a horizontal row of five tiles on their grid — but if you’re behind in points you may want to choose different tiles from the market so as to avoid completing a horizontal row until you have a chance to catch up.

The rules for how you acquire tiles and how you place them on the grid are easily explained, but planning is essential. There’s some competition, because you can see what tiles your opponents are trying to acquire, so you may be able to pick up some tiles that will thwart their ambitions. Simple procedures, satisfying game-play.

These four games are easy to learn and not too long, but challenging and fun. In a few days I’ll put up some pictures and descriptions of games that are slightly more complicated. Stay tuned for more!

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