The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. -- Robert A. Heinlein
Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Recently I've begun delving into the world of modern board games. A friend tried to get me into it a while ago with the classic Settlers of Catan, but while it was fun, it didn't do a whole lot for me. It was still a little too abstract for me to really get into it, and did not offer enough in the way of individualized rules tweaks for players (see below) to keep me interested. That was several years ago. On a whim, I recently picked up a remade classic (8th Edition!) called Wiz War, and that started me down the path of rediscovering board games.
As the title states, modern board games are far removed from "classic" Warner Brothers & Milton Bradley games. You generally won't find the good stuff at Toys R Us or Wal-Mart, though they can be had at Amazon for fairly cheap if you don't have a local game store. But by all means, you should go to your local game store if you have one (and any city of reasonable size does, especially if it's a college town).
Modern board games are fun, accessible, and great to play with family and friends. They're usually easy enough to learn that a 9- or 10-year-old could pick them up relatively quickly. So if you're looking for something to do with your family, significant other, or friends that doesn't involve drooling in front of the tube, give them a try.
Here are 3 recent picks that I've been having fun playing:
Wiz War's premise is simple: each player is a wizard in a dungeon shared with 1-3 other wizards (the other players). The goal is to steal the other players' treasures and/or kill them. Stealing a treasure is a point, killing a wizard is a point. First person to two points wins.
The game plays a lot like (and will appeal to fans of) Magic: The Gathering. It adds an actual map that you play on, but the drawing of hands and building of card combos felt very much like Magic. It's a very fast-paced game, and once it's set up (which can feel like a long process), the turns just blaze by.
Wiz War's main downfall is the time it takes to set up and the amount of card-sorting required to keep everything running smoothly. There are 8 different sub-decks of cards, of which 4 are used in a single deck during play. This means that after every game, unless you're going to use the same combination, you'll need to sort all the cards out by type in order to change the combination going into the main deck. It's not terrible, but it feels tedious compared to the fast action of the game itself.
Some of the rules could stand a little clarification as well, but neither of these points is big enough to be a serious detriment to the fun of the game. Taken together, they probably rate a one-point deduction on my 5-point scale, so Wiz War is a 4 out of 5. I think I paid $40 for it at the local gaming store, and it was well worth the investment.
Small World is a strategic world-domination game for 2-5 players. It was recently featured on Wil Wheaton's web show, TableTop, as the first game he played with some celebrity friends.
The mechanics are very simple: it takes 2 tokens to invade an empty space on the board. For every additional "thing" in a space, it takes one more token. So a space that has 3 armies and a fortress in it would take a total of 6 tokens. At the end of the player's turn, he receives one victory point for every space on the board he currently occupies.
By itself, that setup would not be very compelling. The way Small World makes things more interesting is by having each player choose a race that has been paired with a special power. Each race/power does something to tweak the rules. Some give extra victory points for certain types of spaces. Some reduce the number of armies required to take a space. Some prevent other players from attacking. Some do things that are too involved for this short review.
As of right now, with the basic set and the expansions I've purchased, I have something like 24 races and 32 special powers, all of which are combined randomly in every game, so the variation and replay value is staggering. There is also a 2-player version currently available on the iOS app store for the iPad, which is handy if you want to play with your significant other but don't want to haul out the pieces and board and everything.
The biggest downside to Small World is the vast number of pieces. Anyone who's ever lost a key component to a game will quail at the endless opportunities to lose stuff. A storage tray (and expansion storage tray) are included in the basic game and the "Be Not Afraid..." expansion, respectively, but even those don't really feel secure enough. I'm fairly certain I will wind up with an array of Zip-Loc sandwich baggies in my box before long, instead of the trays.
Beyond that, Small World has everything to recommend it, and very little to warn one away. It is the most expensive of the three games I've tried recently, at $50 for the basic game, but it should say something that I spent $100 of my guns & ammo savings on the basic game and 4 expansions without blinking an eye. It's just an incredibly fun time. 4.5 out of 5.
Pandemic is a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players. I was initially very skeptical about this game, because I just didn't think the cooperative style would be all that much fun. It turns out I was very wrong: Pandemic may very well be the most fun game I tried.
Diseases begin popping up all over the globe, and the players need to treat the victims while collecting resources toward finding cures. Each player gets a randomly-assigned role, which comes with a special ability. Some roles make treatment easier, others make research easier, others help people move around the board faster, and so on. If the players find a cure for all four diseases, they win. If there are more than 8 "outbreaks", events where diseases start traveling the globe, or if the players run out of cards, the players lose.
This game was intensely satisfying. My wife and I played following what felt like an obvious strategy, and easily beat it twice on "Introductory" level. We're ready to step up to "Normal" level and eventually "Heroic"... which hints at the game's replay value by virtue of tweaking the difficulty. We're both very intrigued by the possibility of playing with more people, and what could happen with certain role combinations, and with the idea of grabbing the expansion, which is almost sure to happen soon.
Pandemic is the cheapest of the three games at $30 on Amazon, and it is also the only one that my wife gave a glowing review. I think the cooperative nature of Pandemic really appealed to her, as wargaming against me in Small World and Wiz War probably feels intimidating given my experience at playing strategic and tactical games.
I also loved Pandemic, and was surprised by how much it appeals to me. I'm usually not one for "simpler" games, preferring as much variation and rules tweaking as possible (thus my love of Small World), but Pandemic has enough to keep my interest, and it is really rewarding to share my strategic side with my wife rather than attempting to crush her mercilessly with it. Pandemic is easily a 5 out of 5, and the low price makes it a no-brainer: you should run out and buy this game. Now.
Faced with the epic awesomeness of an Avengers Movie Marathon for a mere $25, culminating in the new movie written and directed by Joss Whedon no less, you'd think I'd be organizing a charter bus to get us all there.
Nope. All I'm hearing is "I can't handle that much awesome. I'd rather go to my job and do the same thing I do every day, which most assuredly does not include trying to take over the world."
Now that schools are peanut-free, latex-free and soda-free, parents, administrators and teachers have got to worry about something. Since most kids now have access to cable TV, the Internet, unlimited talk and texting, college and a world of opportunities that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, it seems that adults have responded by becoming ever more overprotective and thin-skinned.
Kids might be fatter than they used to be, but by most standards they are safer and better-behaved than they were when I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s. Infant and adolescent mortality, accidents, sex and drug use—all are down from their levels of a few decades ago. Acceptance of homosexuality is up, especially among younger Americans. But given today's rhetoric about bullying, you could be forgiven for thinking that kids today are not simply reading and watching grim, postapocalyptic fantasies like "The Hunger Games" but actually inhabiting such terrifying terrain, a world where "Lord of the Flies" meets "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior," presided over by Voldemort.
"What the doctrine of balancing budgets over a period of many years really means is this: As long as our own party is in office, we will enhance our popularity by reckless spending."
-- Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom p87