Top “Modern” Board Games to Play This Holiday Season

When “board games” are mentioned, a lot of minds go straight to Monopoly, Scrabble and the ilk, and the negative connotations that come from those games.

The fact is, however, those games have been on the market for nearly 80 years, and surely there must have been some breakthrough in game design that has made board games more fun with lots of re-playability.

Thankfully there has.

Since running my board game meetup group, Meetings With The Board, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about board games, specifically “what are some good games I should play with my friends and family so that they will enjoy playing board games?”

With the Christmas season nearly upon us, people are looking for activities for the family to get involved with or just something people can play together on the quiet Saturday night in. Don’t cave in and bust out the dreaded Monopoly board. These board games are sure to please anyone who has never played a modern board game before.

Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe

Ticket to Ride board game

I may be biased here, because Ticket to Ride was the first modern game I ever played, and being quite reluctant to play initially (or just play any board game for that matter), but by the end I was having so much fun that I’ve never had a negative thought about board games since.

Ticket to Ride's board (via: Days of Wonder)

Ticket to Ride’s board (via: Days of Wonder)

This game is divine. You are drawing cards to be able to buy train routes across either USA (Ticket to Ride) or Europe (Ticket to Ride: Europe) and get points depending on how long that route may be but, while that seems kind of mundane, you also have objectives (aka tickets) to complete. For example you may need to create a connecting route from Los Angeles to New York, or London to Berlin, at the end of the game you get points for completing each ticket, but LOSE points for incomplete tickets. But with some connections between cities only having one or two available routes, another player may take that route before you can and you may have to go the long way around only to block ANOTHER player off from completing their tickets, where the chaos and fun ensues.

Ticket to Ride takes 2 minutes to teach, and it’s one of those classic games that you’ll revisit time and time again.

Jamaica

Jamaica board game

Jamaica is a bit of an obscure game, I’ll admit, but I’d be downright stupid if I didn’t include this game on this list. In Jamaica you are pirates on a race around the island of Jamaica, collecting Gold, Food, Gunpowder and, of course, Treasure. Roll the dice and move forward those spaces – a classic game mechanic, but it’s pretty old – Jamaica takes this game mechanic and gives it a new flavour. With one dice to denote an action in the “Morning” and another to denote an action for the “Evening”, players have limited cards in their hand that allocate what action they do in the Morning (move forwards, move backwards, gain Food, gain Gold or gain Gunpowder) and the Evening. Each player then has to decide, of the cards in their hand, which actions would best suit them this round according to what the dice say.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a pirate game if you weren’t able to fight each other! Use Gunpowder to aid in your battles and steal Treasure or goods from the losing ships holds.

Jamaica's board (via: Amazon)

Jamaica’s board (via: Amazon)

But while getting around the island ends the game, it doesn’t necessarily mean you win the game. Victory is earned by being the most proficient pirate: you get points for where around the island you ended up, how much much Gold you collected and adding points from the Treasure you collected along the way (and losing points for any Cursed Treasure!). I played a game once where the player that was dead last in the race, but ended up winning because they had collected so much Gold, and kept going back to pick up Treasures, that it won them the game.

If you want to play some that feels familiar to everyone but breaths fresh air onto the table? Jamaica is your game.

King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo board game

King of Tokyo is just a game that screams fun (as the poor, innocent Japanese population screams in terror). I’ve already done a review on King of Tokyo before, so I’ll spare you the details, but basically you are a giant monster rolling dice to attack other monsters, getting points, healing or gaining energy to use on getting monstrous abilities. Moving into the heart of Tokyo leaves you at the centre of attention, vulnerable to other players attacks, but you have the power hand – to attack EVERYONE around you at simultaneously!

King of Tokyo board game (via: Amazon)

King of Tokyo board game (via: Amazon)

The last monster standing, or the first player to reach 20 points (Tokyo has been turned to rubble) is the winner and is crowned King of Tokyo!

If you want to play a game that gets players playing as a giant monster wreaking havoc upon the city of Tokyo in a game that takes 30 minutes to play and 2 minutes to learn – King of Tokyo is it.

Pandemic

Pandemic board game

Not everybody wants to destroy the world, some people want to save it, and a few of those people would rather work together as a team to do their bit than to individually compete against each other to do so. Pandemic is a co-operative game where everyone is a disease-fighting specialist trying to find cures for virulent diseases across the world, trying to treat them and prevent epidemics from occurring. Pandemic is another game I’ve reviewed previously, so feel free to read that to get a better feel for the game.

The Pandemic board (via: Amazon)

The Pandemic board (via: Amazon)

With only one way to win the game and multiple ways to lose, Pandemic opens up an interesting gaming experience of strategically working together as a team.

The Settlers of Catan

The Settlers of Catan board game

Some of you might be thinking “why hasn’t Justin mentioned Catan yet?” The simple fact of the matter is that while Settlers of Catan is quite a unique game and I recommend it to anyone who wants to be exposed to modern board games and, like Ticket to Ride, is a modern classic, a game that while come out of the games cupboard time and time again – it’s just not the first game I recommend when I think great modern classics.

Players are collecting resources (Wood, Sheep, Ore, Wheat and Bricks) by rolling two dice, players use these resources to build roads, settlements and cities in order to expand their access to resources. And since you may not have the resources you need at the time (but a lot of resources you don’t need) you can also trade resources among players (it will test the maturity level of the group when there’s always someone who will ask “does anybody have wood for sheep?”).

Settlers of Catan board (via: divisbyzero.com)

Settlers of Catan board (via: divisbyzero.com)

With resource production is random and determined by dice rolling, trying to get the best deal out of a trade is what will get you far in the game. You can tell a player really wants some Wheat so they can upgrade their Settlement, but you don’t want to give them an even further lead so why trade with them unless you can get a good enough benefit out of it? (“I’ll give you Wheat if you give me a Sheep and some Wood”). Therein lies the crux of the game: while you can play games with people who are happy to just give 1 for 1 and don’t particularly care if they’re giving another player a further lead, there will be players who will play this trading meta-game, and that can either be a great thing or a bad thing, depending on the group.

For that reason though, Catan has a surprising amount of depth to it, and if you like playing games like Cluedo for that complexity of strategy/deduction, then Settlers of Catan will fit right at home in your games cupboard.

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Justin Hallam-Stephens

I am the founder of the former Melbourne-based board games meetup group, Meetings With The Board (currently inactive). I am an aspiring game designer, a feminist ally, and I like playing my ukulele. On rainy days I like to make pillow forts and watch Firefly. @JHallamStephens

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