Date Posted: 2017-10-31
Board games are gaining popularity and hopeful event hosts are hurrying to buy the very best of the latest board games. But not all board games are made equal so here are some of the things to note before splurging on that next big game.

The Who

How many players?

Player count is important as it affects the strategy, the length of a session of play and replayability of a game. If your group of friends is small or if you are only playing it with 1 other person, then choose games that are suitable for that size. Some games may claim to be suitable for a small number of players but the game experience may be suboptimal. For example, Codenames can be played by 2 to 8 players and the game requires players to split into two teams. Each team will then have a 'Spymaster' that will give clues to the rest of their team members. If you have 4 players, it means that only 1 player is really engaged at any time and the turns take almost 2 minutes or more. Furthermore, the modified rules for 2-3 players face a lot of criticism.

Player count affects game length so if you have a small player size and prefer longer games, choose 'heavy' games that take 1 to even 3 hours per game with just 2-4 players. However, if you have a large group of friends, choose 'light' games as it might take almost an hour per game due to the size.

What type of gamers?

Different people like different types of games. The following are the popular classifications:
(Do note that this is not an exhaustive list and the classifications may overlap)

Creative Games:
These games require players to think out-of-the-box and are usually considered 'light' board games. For example, in Dixit, players are given 6 cards with all sorts of weird and interesting imagery in their hand and they have to place 1 of them face-down. They then give a short phrase or a word clue and other players can put 1 of their cards face-down. All the face-down cards are shuffled and revealed and players have to choose the one that was originally placed. However, fewer points are given if all players choose correctly. Therefore, the trick is to give a clue that is not too detailed but also not too vague.

These kind of games are suitable for most people and occasions, although less suitable for hardcore gamers that prefer longer and deeper games.

Bluffing Games:
Bluffing games often give all the players a common goal, such as completing 5 missions, collecting a specific number of resource and finishing 10 quests. It then introduces a twist where some players are given secret objectives that often impede the common goal. The way to win is usually for the normal players to trust and cooperate with one another while the 'betrayers' bluff their way to break their teamwork. The Resistance, Spyfall 2 and Secret Hitler are good examples.

Bluffing games are more suitable for players that know each other pretty well as its accusatory gameplay nature may cause newcomers to feel uncomfortable.

Cooperative Games:
Cooperative games are usually similar to bluffing games but without the betrayal element. Players will ideally discuss on the best way forward as games are usually won by all players or by none. These games normally have an 'Artificial Intelligence'. For example, in Pandemic, there is an infection deck where players shuffle and flip to infect different cities. The 'intelligence' part comes from mechanics and in Pandemic, the flipped infection cards are regularly placed back to the top of the infection deck, causing infected cities to be infected again. This plays with the theme where cities that are already infected are increasingly dangerous and vulnerable.

Cooperative games are suitable for most players. However, 'quarterbacking' is common where an alpha player will dominate the game and commands all other players to simply follow his instructions. To mitigate this, always ensure that players are allowed to give their opinions first if it is their turn before anyone can chip in.

War Games:
War games are directly competitive and usually supports only between 2 to 4 players. Players often have to think medium to long-term on what resources to collect, what weapons and forces to amass, and when or how to attack the opposing player or players. Typically, a game takes over 2 to 3 hours, requiring players to plan out a multiple-turn strategy.

Expectedly, war games are more suitable for experienced players who are willing to invest a great deal of time in board gaming sessions.

Euro-style Games:
If you feel like playing war games but prefer to 'start small', try Euro-style games. These games generally have indirect player interactions and focus more on conflict based on resource management rather than head-on collisions. They allow for long-term strategic planning as they downplay the element of luck, usually adding luck merely to keep different games fresh for repeat players. Furthermore, in general, these games last for 1 to 2 hours, longer than casual games but shorter than heavy ones.

Therefore, these games are very popular and they include Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan.

The What

Making your Purchase

When you have decided on your next board games, where should you buy them from?

New Sets from Online Stores:
It is pretty difficult to buy board games from a mainstream gaming stores as they usually stock mass-marketed games such as Uno, Monopoly, and Risk. Instead, try to purchase new games online. A Reddit post gave a few suggestions to those who live in the United States:

However, if you are buying less than $100 worth of games, buying simply from Amazon is good enough; especially if you are on Amazon Prime.

New Sets from Kickstarter:
Kickstarter has rocked the industry, allowing smaller publishers to reduce the risk of manufacturing games. This has allowed for more interesting games to launch. However, backing a Kickstarter project carries a higher risk, ranging from getting the product late to seeing your hard-earned money disappear.

Follow these few steps before handing your money over:
1) Research on the developers
Check out the developer's other games on Kickstarter and the reviews of their published games. Observe how responsive they are on their previous backers' comments and whether the products they delivered have met the backers' expectations. Make sure that the biography they wrote is professional-looking.

2) Gauge the feasibility of the product
Do you think that they are asking for too little and promising too much? Are they promising a hundred custom-made components and free delivery to everywhere in the World? Are they adding on to their stretch goals too frequently?

If it is a 'yes' to any of them, they might be over-promising. In such cases, read their project updates carefully to see how they are adapting to their ever-increasing demand as many backers will often ask. Else, it is better to give the project a pass.

3) Value-for-money
Kickstarter projects that are looking into launching into the retail space often promise exclusive add-ons to justify the risk that backers take. However, since they are planned to go to retail, a lot of their prices are more likely to drop in a month or 2 after launch. Plus, waiting for the retail copy allows you to read more reviews before purchase and if they somehow fail to get it to retail, you might have just saved money from buying a terrible game.

The When


Some players will measure the utility of their board games by the total cost divided by the number of plays or length of play. For example, if I bought a game for $50 and played it for 10 times, it is $5 per play. I might say that the game is more worth it than another one that cost less but played much less, maybe $10 per play.

Replayability with different group of friends is different from replayability with the same group of friends. Some games have ever-changing goals and components such that playing with the same group of people will yield different gameplay. Some examples:
1) Sushi Go!
2) Dominion
3) Dead of Winter

However, some games have static goals and they differ between plays merely by random deck draws.

1) Pandemic
2) Carcassonne

Setup Time and Space

Not all of us have a large board game-friendly table. Some of us have to resort to small Starbucks tables while others just have to play them on the ground. Some games can be fun but their large number of components, personal player boards, main game boards, deck 1, deck 2, deck 3 and so on take so much space that you really can only play it rarely.

Power Grid takes me almost 10 minutes setting up and that is considered to be short for a Euro-style game. On the other hand, Carcassonne takes almost none as it is a tile-building game and different-sized tables just add to the variety of gameplay. And... Arkham Horror might take 15 to 20 minutes, so beware.

That sums up the things I consider when buying a board game. Have fun at your next gaming session!