Besides the TARDIS, nothing brings nerds more box-based joy than board games. They’re more interactive than movies, more accessible than sports, and require far less creativity than your yearly Comic-Con costume. We’ve already looked at some of the best games you can play (and the shitty childhood tortures they replaced), but there are way more than six good games. Like, at least 11. So let’s enjoy some more!
#5. Trivial Pursuit
Trivial Pursuit is the Mensa of board games: a load of fiddly questions which claim to prove how smart you are, but are only taken seriously by smirking assholes who’ve already read all the answers, probably. These are people who consider sitting there re-rolling a die until it gives the right number physical fitness. Players collect six wedges by answering questions on different subjects, but have to land on the right colored space first, then land exactly on the final square.
“The small plastic cube says five, so I will intelligently march right past the green square I need for the seventh time.”
So they keep randomly rolling back and forth like they are trapped in the tenth circle of Hell. You’d enjoy more intelligent oscillation by masturbating. At least then you wouldn’t be insisting that others be forced to watch this family-friendly fun. Actually, that is the perfect image for this game, because a correct answer gives you an extra turn. So it is in fact possible for someone to just publicly play with themselves and win while everyone else sits there, just to show how smart they are. And it’s always that person who suggested playing.
What You Should Play Instead: Spyfall
Spyfall is the exact opposite of Trivial Pursuit because it’s fun and doesn’t take so long that it’s interrupted by players’ funerals. (Which would still be a welcome break from Trivial Pursuit, to be honest.) In this game, you’re always listening to friends instead of demanding they bask in your pointless knowledge, and enjoying paying attention instead of staring at your phone until it’s your turn. It’s everything good about talking to people at parties, with added espionage and space stations. The final triumph over triviality is that when people start to remember the cards, it gets even more fun instead of making you look like a dick with the world’s worst facts.
Genuine ad for Trivial Pursuit: (Total) Master(bator) Edition
There are 30 locations, like Casino, Space Station, School, Submarine, etc. Each player gets a card showing the same location and has to find the Spy. Except the Spy, who has a card saying “Spy” and is trying not to crap themselves too obviously while working out where they are. Players take turns asking each other questions within a time limit, and can answer any way they like. It sounds simple, it’s easy to start, and it’s the greatest generator of “Oh shit!” moments outside of a laxative factory.
You can’t answer too obviously or the Spy will win. You can’t answer too obscurely or people will think you’re the Spy. The game forges new pathways through your brain as you try to deal with an interesting and ridiculous problem you’ve never experienced before, but it’s fun even if you lose. Which is everything games are supposed to be.
Ludo is also known as Sorry, Aggravation, and Trouble, but only because Fuck You To The 83rd Chinese Hell Of Bastards is higher than many players aged four and up can count. It’s nothing to do with the swearing; you could give this game to unborn souls on a nirvanic plane of innocence, and they’d invent curses faster than you can say “BLUE’S AHEAD OF BOTH OF US, YOU PRECONSCIOUS DICKHEAD!”
“THIS IS HOW YOU’LL LOOK WHEN I’VE RAMMED THOSE COUNTERS UP YOUR ASS-CHAKRA!”
The basic idea of the game is rolling dice to move counters along a predetermined path to an inevitable destination. So if you’ve ever wanted to reduce your brain power to a single sodium pump in one of your neurons, now you know what to play. The interactions are where it turns into Maxwell’s Bastard, converting random motion into endless dick moves. If a player’s token lands on someone else’s, their victim is sent back to the start. Note that “sending you back to the start” is to game design what visible genital sores are to a Tinder profile: a sign that someone can only enjoy themselves by making other’s days as shitty as their own.
And yes, on the home straight, you have to roll the exact amount to land on the final square. This is how games reveal that they’re not just out to kill time, but to excruciatingly torture it.
What you should play instead: Avalon
Ludo is no more than pointlessly screwing each other over. Avalon is Game Of Thrones on fast-forward. (Play with your family to include siblings screwing each other.) Everyone’s either a loyal knight or a traitor, everyone loudly insists they’re trustworthy, and a Monty Python-style anarcho-syndicalist queen or king takes turns sending teams on missions. Players vote on the teams, traitors can sabotage the missions, and everyone enjoys evolving every world government in two minutes of accusing and counter-accusing each other to deflect blame for personal gain. And when someone tries to solve the personnel problems with pure logic, they learn the most important lesson a nerd can about society.
“According to these calculations, everyone stopped listening an hour ago.”
It’s one of the most accessible games I’ve ever played. One night in my local board game bar, a group of football fans arrived, possibly because it was the only drinking establishment with a spare table, and within an hour they were cheering and booing each other like 11 competing World Cups. It’s brilliant for beginners, because just like the real world, math can help, but in the end it’s all about the other people.
We shouldn’t mock anything people enjoy that doesn’t hurt others, but solitaire happens when someone gets the gift of consciousness and is too shy to ask for a receipt. Solitaire isn’t a game; it’s an algorithm. We invented computers for this in the same way we build robots to deal with toxic waste and nuclear devastation: It’s the awful result of our ingenuity gone wrong. The fact that people use computers to play solitaire is why Skynet will insist it’s doing us a favor.
“We spend our entire existence counting to one, and even WE’RE bored of this.”
There are no meaningful choices. There’s a strict rule about where you can put cards, and the only way to intelligently choose between options is to peek at the upcoming deck. But the only thing sadder than losing at solitaire is cheating at solitaire. Even if you win, your only reward is “Well done, you didn’t fail at a random process which didn’t really involve you. Now you have to think about your own life again.” Which is why the rustle of a reshuffling solitaire deck is the exact sound of a soul’s disintegration.
What you should play instead: Agricola
Solitaire proves that a life more luxurious than an ancient Pharaoh’s wildest dreams can still be awful. Agricola shows that the most awful existence of a past peasant can be a fun game in our modern world. The medieval farmers of Agricola only wish they could sit around listlessly lifting cards without begging for food, but instead they’re racing each other to arrange farms, have children, and curse the rival farmer who emptied the local pond of fish before them. Which isn’t filthy sexual slang for peasant orgies. Though you do always have lots of interesting choices affected by what your neighbors are doing.
You’re also really excited when you get cattle. This analogy’s turning into a real party!
It’s an excellent multiplayer game with an equally excellent solitaire mode. Unlike regular solitaire’s algorithm — intended to reduce the human brain to a boring flowchart — you’re playing a real game in which you always have multiple choices. Best of all is how every game ends with a score, so you can see how well you’re doing and think about how to do better. Which is the exact opposite of playing solitaire, in both gaming and real life, and much more enjoyable than solitaire’s usual end of “you have failed at yet another pointless task, thereby compounding the feeling that started you playing this.”
#2. Mouse Trap
Alchemy finally created gold from plastic and the tears of children.
You spend the whole game trudging along assembling this shaky collection of parts pumped out by the lowest bidder, then you’re caught in cycle going ’round the same actions over and over again until it finally completes its function and destroys you. Forget Monopoly, this is Capitalism: The Game.
What you should play instead: Pandemic Legacy
The original Pandemic is already a classic cooperative game about fighting infectious diseases and the word “exponential.” Legacy makes it even more fun by building an even bigger game with permanent consequences, making it the first time doing something fun with friends having “permanent consequences” has been a brilliant idea.
Even though it’s still based on spreading diseases.
In Mouse Trap, you had a shitty time when you lost or broke bits of the game. In Legacy, you do it on purpose. The rules tell you to rip some of the cards, and the tensile strength of paper psychically increases in direct proportion to how long you’ve been playing games. It’s not just a new experience, but game-based transgressive art. You get to add stickers, modify rules, even permanently write on the board. It’s truly ridiculous how amazing it feels. Especially when you first name a disease “Chris’ carbuncles” so that all players must constantly whine about Chris’ carbuncles, especially when they’re playing with Chris. Which I assure you never stops being funny, Chris.
#1. Cards Against Humanity
What you should play instead: 7 Wonders
Our choices are “Every embodiment of human achievement” or “Laughing at ‘chunks of dead prostitutes.'”
Every turn, you get a hand of cards, but can only pick one before passing them to the next player. So each move is a functioning Stargate, building pyramids and stealing another civilization’s future. This one-choice-at-a-time mechanic is genius. Total beginners can play without feeling overwhelmed, experts always have room to improve, and they can play at the same time without feeling held back or overshadowed.
Zoroastrianism used to be one of the biggest religions in the world, but their idea of heaven had a slight twist on it: to get there you’d have to cross a bridge. Sometimes rickety, sometimes wide and sturdy, if you fell off you’d go to the House of Lies for eternity. Fun! Not terrifying at all! This month, Jack, Dan, and Michael along with comedians Casey Jane Ellison and Ramin Nazer as they discuss their favorite afterlife scenarios from movies, sci-fi and lesser-known religions. Get your tickets here and we’ll see you on the other side of the bridge!
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