#FridayFive: 5 Favorite Tabletop Games Currently on Our Shelf

We’re gonna mix it up for this month’s #FridayFive’s, so instead of links to Medium posts, I wanted to share some of my favorite “Fives.” Enjoy!

Until around 6 years ago, my table-top game experience was mostly limited to the usual suspects: Monopoly, Risk, chess, maybe a few others. Some friends tried to teach me Settlers of Catan once, but I became overwhelmed by the rules and, to no one’s surprise, got destroyed by the other players. However, the discovery of a board-game cafe during a weekend trip to the coast opened up a new world to me, and I discovered a love for table-top games: board games, card games, dice games (sometimes…), strategy and deception games, even party games. I was hooked.

Now, board games are part of our holidays, vacations, and family gatherings. We are always trying to introduce our friends and family to more of our favorite games, hoping to inspire the same level of enjoyment.

Like any hobby, board games can be addictive and expensive when you’re trying to build your collection. There are lots of games we don’t own or haven’t played yet, and I feel a small twinge of jealousy when I see other players’ “shelfies.” Nevertheless, we are slowly growing our collection, while at the same time trying to play regularly the games we currently own (using the “10×10 Board Game Challenge,” a strategy I first heard about here).

So here are 5 games from our collection that I love playing as often as I can:

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Star Realms

Star Realms is a 2-player “deck builder” game with a space-battle theme. Each player has his or her own player deck, and you can “purchase” new cards and use the combination of the cards in each hand you draw to attack your opponent and/or complete objectives. Because a lot of our game playing is on “date night,” my wife and I love games that are either designed for 2 players or can be played easily with just 2 players. This is one that I had to convince my wife to try (she wasn’t jazzed about the theme), but she enjoys the competitive nature of the one-on-one format. The only downside is that the length of each game varies widely, so it could be 10 minutes or an hour to finish, depending on which cards you draw. I would also recommend investing in some of the expansion packs, like the mission objective cards, so that that you can achieve victory without always needing to grind down your opponent’s defenses. That said, Star Realms is a pretty light deck-builder and easy to learn, even if you’re not familiar with that style of game.

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Lost Cities

If you weren’t convinced that I’m a nerd already, this will do it. Lost Cities is another 2-player game with a thin veneer of “adventurer/explorer” theming plastered over what is essentially a math and probability game. The strategy of this game is to gauge the risk of “embarking on a new expedition” versus your ability to collect and play enough cards (in ascending order from 2 to 10) to offset the “cost.” So there’s a lot of “Should I discard this one now, or wait to see if a lower card in that suit comes up soon?” This game, like most of the ones on this list, can be played either diplomatically or in a cut-throat-style. You have the option, if you are so inclined, of discarding cards that your opponent needs to help them avoid disaster, or hoarding them like a dragon until the end of the round and laughing maniacally about keeping the other player from breaking even. (If you don’t want to sleep on the couch, you know which path to choose.)

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Splendor

Splendor is a set-collection, point-scoring game in which each player is a jewel merchant acquiring and trading sets of jewels for even greater treasures, with the goal of reaching 15 victory points first. The trick to this game is you really have to plan several moves in advance, without giving away to the other players which gems you are saving up to acquire, so they don’t swipe them first. My wife is VERY good at this, while I tend toward tunnel vision and quickly find myself way behind. Nevertheless, I like the strategy of this game. No two plays are the same, since the jewels in the “market” are randomly-drawn cards. If you like strategy games like chess, Splendor is worth a try.

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Tikal

Tikal is a territory-control game for up to 4 players. Each player controls an expedition of explorers traveling through a Central American jungle, discovering ancient tombs and collecting artifacts. (And if it’s okay with you, let’s just acknowledge and table the unavoidable discussion about the game’s colonialist theme.) The game has a built-in timing element, so that points are calculated only at certain intervals. This requires the players to be mindful of what sections of the map they control, so that they can maximize their point totals when these scoring rounds come up. Tikal is considered a classic (it was released almost 20 years ago!), and my wife found an open but unused copy at a thrift store for $2–still her best thrifting find to date. It plays just fine with 2 players (if I use the same “play nice” overlay I mentioned with Lost Cities!), but having more players totally changes the dynamic, as each player is elbowing for more territory.

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Pandemic

I love this game, y’all. I love it. But I think it’s a little broken for me now. Let me explain.

Pandemic is a cooperative game for up to 4 players, as you work together to find the cures to 4 viruses spreading around the globe before the “timer” (one of the game’s 2 card decks) runs out and it’s too late. Everyone wins and loses together, so it’s in the best interest of the players to cooperate, each using their character’s unique skill to collect sets of cards to discover each virus’s “cure.” While the cooperative gameplay can be mucked up by one player trying to quarterback everyone’s turn, if your group can find the right balance of making suggestions and shutting your yap, it works just fine.

This game can be extremely hard, depending on whether you get a tough deal of the cards. There are “epidemic” events scattered throughout the player deck that ratchet up the game’s difficulty level as you progress. It’s incredibly intense and stressful and a whole lot of fun.

In the last few years, Z-Man Games has released 2 “seasons” of Pandemic: Legacy. “Legacy” games are a relatively new animal in table-top gaming. In “Legacy” games, every play-through fundamentally changes the components and play of the game itself, so that you can’t play it the same way again. In Pandemic: Legacy, you play through a set “storyline” over the course of 12-24 plays, and new challenges and twists are revealed all along the way. It’s incredibly fun and makes the game that much more challenging. I’ve played through Season 1 of Pandemic: Legacy with friends, and I have to admit, going back to “vanilla” Pandemic is a bit of a let-down now. That said, whenever I have the chance to introduce someone new to the game, I always do it, because it will definitely make a lasting impression.

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I suspect that these games will be in heavy rotation at our house over the holidays. If you’ve never played them before, I recommend checking them out!

You can find lots of great board game resources online, including reviews, videos, and information about game cafes in your local area. (One of my favorite board game sites is Art of Boardgaming–if you stop by, tell them The4thDave sent ya!)

Your TurnWhat are YOUR favorite table-top games? Are there any you haven’t played yet but are dying to try? Do you have any questions about the games I’ve mentioned above?

Let me know in the comments!

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