I’ve shared this information with the local meetup group I organize and a few other folks, but it probably is the sort of thing I should try to share more widely. So for my fellow board gamers in need of a fix during this time of social distancing and self-quarantines, you may want to check out some of the great free boardgaming websites I’ve found over the years.
My username on all of these sites is mitcharf. Send me a message with your username if you are looking for a game. (Or add me as a friend or start a game with me)
I think all of these sites are geared toward turn-based play (with time limits for each turn that can range from hours to days) except for Boardgamearena, which has both turn-based and real-time options..
https://boardgamearena.com – Has a big selection of games including: Terra Mystica, Through The Ages, Race For The Galaxy, Tzolk’in, Puerto Rico, Russian Railroads, Troyes, Keyflower, In The Year Of The Dragon, Caylus, & Madeira. The site is free but some games are “premium games” which you can only play if you’re a premium member or a premium member invites you to a game. Premium membership costs a few dollars a month. I’m a premium member and am happy to start a premium game with you, if it’s one I like.
http://www.boiteajeux.net – A free site (there is premium membership that gives you some perks but you can play everything without it) with a lot of games including: Ginkgopolis, Castles of Burgundy, Dungeon Lords, Dungeon Petz, Trajan, Concordia, Agricola, & Tzolk’in.
https://yucata.de – A free site which can be a little confusing to navigate at first, but has a good selection of games including: Terra Mystica, Glen More, Castles of Burgundy, At The Gates Of Loyang, Carson City, El Grande, Egizia, Macao, Luna, Navegador, Pax Porfiriana, Russian Railroads, Saint Petersburg, Oracle of Delphi, & Voyages of Marco Polo.
https://terra.snellman.net – The original online implementation of Terra Mystica. It isn’t flashy and the interface takes getting used to. That said, I think it does a better job of concisely conveying the game state than any other digital implementation I’ve seen. It is completely free.
The following two images (generated by the fantastic BGStats App) provide a good summary of my board gaming endeavors in the past year.
In 2019 I want to continue both getting repeat plays of my favorites (Keyflower, Gaia Project, Madeira, AquaSphere, Scythe, etc) and learning the large number of games that we own but have not yet played. As much as possible I’d like to acquire games through trades rather than purchases, in order to stop the game collection from using all available space in our house.
Fellow fans of Keyflower, you may or may not be aware that the latest game in the Key- series was released this year: Keyper. We demoed it in Essen, liked it, and bought a copy. It comes in two editions — the standard edition and the “Character Edition”. The latter comes with nicer keyples and a 6 tile mini-expansion.Fellow fans of Keyflower, you may or may not be aware that the latest game in the Key- series was released this year: Keyper. We demoed it in Essen, liked it, and bought a copy. It comes in two editions — the standard edition and the “Character Edition”. The latter comes with nicer keyples and a 6 tile mini-expansion.
Right now neither edition is available at retail. I anticipate that the standard edition will be available next year sometime, but the Character Edition is a limited edition that may or may not be available later. And based on his posts on boardgamegeek, the author of the game doesn’t plan to offer the mini-expansion separately in the future. Of course, that could always change.
But there is good news! If you want the Character Edition (or just don’t want to wait for the game to get to retail), it sounds like the author has a few copies left that he’s selling. He didn’t mention a price in his post, but I can’t imagine it will be less than $50, and possibly close to $75 or even $100 — plus shipping from the UK to wherever you are. Still, it may be your only chance to get the Character Edition. Details can be found here.
If you need more info in order to make up your mind:
Boardgames. I like them. Do you like them? You should like them. They’re fun!
What about helping out others in need? Do you like that? You should like that. It’s, well, not so much fun as, I guess, rewarding. And the right thing to do.
Assuming you answered yes to at least one of the above two questions, then you probably should check out the The Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction 2017 on boardgamegeek.com. The short version is that it’s a charity auction used to raise money for members of the gaming community who are suffering a personal hardship. It’s a community auction, meaning that anyone is free to offer up things to be auctioned. And lots of cool stuff is being offered up. You should go through the list yourself, since your idea of cool and my idea of cool may not overlap, but here is just a sample:
For some of these (especially the more hyped items), you won’t be getting a great bargain — but you can feel good about overpaying, since it all goes to charity. Also, be sure to read the description an item carefully before bidding on it — sometimes the thing being auctioned isn’t actually the game itself, but instead something related to the game.
I’m currently backing 4 active Kickstarter campaigns. I’m sharing them to spread the word:
Detective: City of Angels – All players are detectives except one player, who is working against them. It’s not a hidden role game, though. From what I can tell, the players go around trying to solve a case, and the antagonist player has some control over whether witnesses lie or tell the truth. In general I like solving mysteries, and I’m curious about the idea of the player antagonist role.
(Already funded. Only 34 hours left in the campaign!)
Coma Ward – A horror-themed game in which the players are amnesiacs who come to their senses in a hospital. The game seems to have a lot in common with Betrayal at House on the Hill, so your feelings about that game may govern how you feel about this one. There’s enough here to intrigue me, particularly since I am always looking for good horror-themed games.
(Already funded. Only 22 hours left in the campaign!)
Sidecar Astronauts – A side project of Storm DiCostanzo (from Paul and Storm). He started this project as an outlet for his non-comedic musical leanings. What I’ve heard so far sounds good to me!
(Halfway to its funding goal — needs another $10k. 10 days left in the campaign)
Church of the SubGenius: A Documentary – “You’ll PAY to know what you REALLY think!” A documentary about J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion with which I became fascinated in my rebellious teenage years. Even now I still think it’s a brilliantly funny idea, and I’d love to see a documentary about it (whether it turns out to be sincere or parodical itself). “Eternal salvation or triple your money back!”
(More than halfway to its funding goal — needs another $80k. 6 days left in the campaign)
If any of the above interest you and you’d like to follow me on Kickstarter, you may do so here.
While I have you here…
If you’re into nerdy stuff (board games, nerdy music, sci-fi/fantasy, books, podcasts, science, math, role-playing games, computer games, video games, etc), then you owe it to yourself to check out the JoCo Cruise. It’s like nerd heaven, but on a cruise ship. Trust me, you’ll like it. Johnna and I have gone the past 3 years and are booked to go next year as well.
And if you’re into board games specifically, you should trek to Essen, Germany in October for the annual Spiel. It’s the world’s largest board game convention, and you cannot believe it until you experience it. Your days are filled wandering the exhibition halls, demoing board games, and your nights are filled playing board games with new friends in the lobbies of hotels. It’s also a great excuse for a trip to Europe. Johnna and I have gone to this 4 years in a row now. The convention runs Thursday through Sunday. We usually arrive in Europe the Saturday before, visit other places until Wednesday, then travel to Essen, and spend the remainder of our trip there. That way our vacation is split between a more traditional vacation and board game madness. :) Oh, and I should probably mention that not speaking German is no impediment. At the convention, everyone speaks English as the de facto common language, since people are there from all over the world. And elsewhere in Germany, we have found that most people speak English quite well. When that was not the case, we’ve been able to get by using Google translate and charades.
If you have any questions about any of the above things, feel free to contact me!
Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe ($14.95) – I haven’t actually played this game, but based on how many of my friends love it, I’m comfortable including it in this list
Oh, and I also noticed that Pandemic is on sale for $25.99. It’s not a hidden role-game — it’s a cooperative game about trying to stop global plague — but it’s a great game that you should pick up if you don’t already have it.
For the next 13-ish hours, Amazon has got some good prices on strategy board games. Here are ones I can personally recommend as being great games:
Dixit ($17.49) – Light, fun family game, kind of like Apples To Apples but with pictures. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone who doesn’t enjoy this game (or just enjoy looking at the gorgeous card art).
Dominion: Intrigue ($24.99) and/or Dominion Big Box ($51.99) – The game which launched the deck-builder genre of games is still one of the best examples of its kind. If you ever played Magic but were frustrated by the relentless “pay to play” model, you should give this game a try. On the other hand, even if you don’t like Magic, I’d still suggest you give Dominion a shot. I played a game of it last night, and just writing about it makes me want to play again now.
Bora Bora ($22.92) – If you’ve played Castles Of Burgundy, this is another game by the same creator (the talented Stefan Feld). If you like strategy and planning in your games, this is a good choice. It’s not super heavy, but it is deeper than the above two recommendations.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue ($19.54) – If you’ve played Pandemic, you’ll find this game to be in the same vein. Instead of saving the world from contagion, you are trying to rescue people from a burning building. Like Pandemic, it’s a cooperative game (as in, all players are working together to win, rather than competing with each other) and can be stressful. I’ve only played it once, so I’m not as familiar with this one as the others, but if what I’ve said sounds interesting, check it out.
Milles Bornes ($8.99) – I remember loving this car-themed card game as a kid. If you’ve got a child, take a look and see if you think they’d like it.
In addition, there were some games listed which I’ve heard good things about but not personally played. Since the prices were so good, I figured I’d list them here too:
Lost Cities: The Board Game ($29.90) – This seems to be a multi-player board game based on a favorite 2-player game of mine (Lost Cities: The Card Game — only $14.99 itself). I definitely recommend the card game, and by association, tentatively recommend the board game.
Both Johnna and I enjoy playing games of all kinds, and for a while now we’ve been playing board/card games regularly. In the course of this, we’ve tried a bunch of new games, and have a list of others that we plan to try next. Recently I was talking to my friend Zook after a softball game, and the subject of good two-player games arose. I told her I’d send her a list, but I decided to turn it into this blog post instead, so that hopefully it will be helpful to others as well. Up front I want to state that I owe a big debt to Keith Law, since one of my major starting points in my game search has been his 2012 top board games list (and I see that he JUST posted an updated list for 2013!).
I’m going to make three lists:
Games we’ve enjoyed that are specifically designed for only 2 players
Games we’ve enjoyed playing just the two of us, but which permit more players
Games on our list to try with two players
I’ll provide links to buy the games on Amazon and, where applicable, I will try to note any available expansions.
Carcassonne – It has lots of expansions. If you buy the base game via the first link, it includes The River expansion. Alternately, you can buy the Carcassonne Big Box, which includes a bunch of expansions (but oddly omits The River). Johnna and I have only tried the main game and The River. I’ve heard good things about the Traders & Builders expansion, and plan to try that one next.
Gloom – More of a silly game than a strategy game. Each player controls a family of people. The goal is to make your family as miserable as possible before they die, while making your opponents’ families as happy as possible. There are four expansions: Unfortunate Expeditions, Unhappy Homes, Unquiet Dead, and Unwelcome Guests. There is also a Cthulhu-themed Gloom game, which is a standalone game. It has its own expansion, Unpleasant Dreams. Johnna and I have only played the main game and the Cthulhu base game, and have not yet tried the expansions. This quickly became one of Johnna’s favorite games.
Guillotine – Another game heavy on the silly. You play rival executioners, competing to execute the most valuable nobles during the French revolution.
Pandemic – Another cooperative game, like Forbidden Island, but slightly more complex. It has two expansions (which Johnna and I have not yet tried, but plan to): On The Brink and In The Lab. NOTE: Pandemic has two different versions — 1st edition and 2nd edition. They are the same game, but the cards look different. If you don’t yet own Pandemic, buy the 2nd edition. If you already own Pandemic, when buying expansions, make sure they are for your version of Pandemic (otherwise the cards won’t match, which will give you a clue about which card you are about to draw).
Pente – The only “traditional” board game I’ve included on the list. You take turns placing tiles on a grid. The winner is the first player to capture 5 pairs of opponents’ tiles or getting 5 tiles in a row. Very simple to learn, but there is a lot of strategy to it.
Ticket To Ride – This game has a lot of expansions, several of which are actually standalone games (including Europe, Nordic Countries, and Marklin). Some of the expansions I’ve heard good things about are India & Switzerland (include new maps and cards, but require the game pieces from the base game), 1910 (an expansion to the base USA game), and 1912 (an expansion to the base Europe game). All of these are not just new maps, but also include new rules. Johnna and I have only played the base game, but plan to try these others. There is also a good version of this on Steam, Google Play, and iTunes. For the latter two, I recommend only using it on devices with displays at least 5″ in size (preferably larger). Sadly, it currently only supports live games — no ability to play a game at your own pace over an extended period of time.
Since posting this, Johnna and I have played a few more games which were good for two players. Specifically…
Jambo – This game is a two-player game in which the players are competing traders in Africa. In some ways it’s a more complicated version of Jaipur (although still not especially complicated). It is fun, although based on limited playing it does seem like luck plays a relatively big factor. Depending on your preferences, this may or may not be a bad thing.
Small World – A very fun game for 2-5 players (soon to be 6 players, with an upcoming expansion). Over the course of the game, each player will control one or more races, each of which is paired with a special power. The fun of the game is in the various combinations of races and powers (since they are shuffled and dealt randomly for each game). The game has a number of expansions, but the ones I can personally recommend at this point are Be Not Afraid, Cursed, and Grand Dames. Each of these adds more powers and races to the game. Johnna and I recently purchased Tales and Legends, but have not yet had the chance to try it. Finally, they recently released an excellent implementation of this game (called Small World 2 for some reason, even though it’s the same game) on Steam, Google Play, and iTunes. For the latter two, I believe it is only supported for tablets, not phones. Or anyway, it wouldn’t let me use it on my Galaxy S4.
Terra Mystica – This game is 2-5 players, and is probably the most complicated board game I’ve yet learned. If you learn it from someone who already knows how to play, I suspect it wouldn’t be too bad, but it took Johnna and I several hours to read through the rules and figure it all out. That said, it has rapidly become one of our favorite games. The players control competing factions, each of which has different special abilities. The goal is to get the most victory points, which are granted for various things during and after the game — founding cities, building structures, terraforming terrain, controlling the most contiguous territory, having advanced knowledge of different cults, etc. It sounds overwhelming until you learn it, but then it all fits together very nicely and makes sense. Johnna and I have only played 2 player, and we’ve really enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to trying it with more people, though, as we’ve heard good things.
Tobago – This game may be out of print (or anyway, an online search does not turn up a place to buy new copies of it). Amazon has it listed, but right now the only copies available are from third party sellers. Johnna and I have played both 2 player and 4 player, and both were great. The players are all treasure hunters on an island. The thing which is unique about this game is that the players play clue cards which narrow down where the treasure can be located (for example, “the treasure is in the largest jungle” or “the treasure is within 1 space of a hut” or “the treasure is not on the coast”). Eventually, the clues combine to reveal the exact location of a treasure, at which point it may be excavated. The player who does the excavation gets a bonus for having done so, but players are rewarded based on how many clues they contributed toward that particular treasure. Also, some of the treasures are cursed, but there is a way to defend yourself against that. The game is pretty simple and fun. If you are able to find a copy, I recommend picking it up.
And also, if you are looking for more cooperative games and/or enjoyed either Forbidden Island or Pandemic, I just learned that a sequel to Forbidden Island was released not too long ago. It’s called Forbidden Desert (every time I type it, I want to type Forbidden Dessert, because that sounds much more delicious). I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds like it’s kind of a hybrid of Forbidden Island and Pandemic — the mechanics and theme are more like Forbidden Island, but the complexity and difficulty are more like Pandemic. Based on reviews I’ve read, it also introduces some new things which make it different from either predecessor.
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