Beyond a Theme: Choosing the Right Game

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Board games occupy a unique place in today’s technology-rich society. Many of us grew up playing Monopoly and Uno, but later abandoned them in favor of flashier video games and other digital entertainment.

However, the board game boom of the last several years indicates that the world may not be ready to let go of their cardboard yet. Whether driven by a futile attempt to recapture fond childhood memories, or simply a desire to experience a different form of entertainment, millions are flocking to the world of designer tabletop games.

With literally thousands of titles on the market choosing a point of entry can be a bit intimidating. Conversely, you also have to show restraint, otherwise you may end up with a pile of bad games.

A purchase may hinge on any number of variables: a player’s taste, mechanics, price, designer and even box size may influence your decision. Most importantly though, and most easily marketed, is the theme.

Theme is often the first thing that greets you when considering a game for purchase. The look of the box art and flair in the description on the back cover can make or break a sale. It also gives an idea of how well the gameplay emulates a game’s theme. For example, the alien powers and card battles of Cosmic Encounter do a great job of simulating space battles and reinforcing the space theme. A seemingly endless variety of themes await the prospective hobbyist, from zombie survival to civilization simulators and many more.

A particular theme plays a significant role in choosing a title, but it is more important to consider whether or not you’ll actually enjoy playing it. Space combat is exciting, but all the lasers and explosions in the galaxy mean exactly squat if it’s not a style of game you enjoy. Mechanics and genre are central to any gameplay experience, and it is important to do your research before pulling the trigger on any purchases.

Do you like bluffing your opponent? Maybe Sheriff of Nottingham is up your alley. Want to build up an self-sustaining points engine? Give The Manhattan Project a look. Want to potentially ruin your most cherished friendships and blow 10 hours at the same time? Pick up Diplomacy

Just like video games, movies and music, board games can be divided into genres, with different styles to suit each taste. There are few things as satisfying as a successful game night where a game engrosses everyone at the table. Some of my group’s most memorable sessions have ended with us remaining in our seats long after the victory points have been tallied as we discuss the strategies we employed and what we think might work better next time.

The best way to ensure a game is a proper fit for your group is to do your research. Board Game Geek is a database that contains any game you can think of, and divides them into genres. There also are a number of YouTube channels that demonstrate how games play. My favorites are Rahdo and Watch it Played.

Board games are a fantastic hobby, but the overwhelming number of titles available can be daunting. Luckily there are a number of resources to help you make an informed choice. If you’re willing to put in a bit of research, tabletop gaming can be just as rewarding as any other form of entertainment.