Playing board games may seem quaint in this modern age of high-definition first-person shooters and virtual-reality headsets that can make you feel like Spider-Man, but the industry is experiencing a lucrative renaissance and attracting a fearsome, fervent fanbase.
"We look at hundreds of games, and it's always more and more," says Swiss journalist Tom Felber, who also serves as one of the judges of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards for the best new board games every year. "We already have good quality, and every year, we see more and more because people know there are already so many good games out there."
The industry made more than $3 billion in North America alone in 2016, according to a report from Euromonitor International.
"Everybody lives in a digital world around computers and smartphones," Felber says. "There are still some people who like social interactions with their games, and think they are more fun when everyone is at the same table."
Few groups know this more than the massive online community Board Game Geek that started in Dallas and chronicles and celebrates board games of all genres, ages
The spring convention a few weekends ago had at least 1,000 new board games on display, including some of the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres that the judging committee brought to Dallas-Fort Worth before announcing the winners.
We've narrowed down the best of the fest to a more digestible list for a broader player pool. If you're one of those people who fears modern board games as being too complicated to learn or too complex to be fun, here are 8 new, innovative games from the con that anyone can learn to play and find more than a few reasons to enjoy.
Let's start with something simple like the classic campfire game Werewolf. Bézier Games and game creator Ted Alspach have taken the classic deduction and subversion game of pretending to be something you're not by adding new and exciting dimensions to such a simple game. Their Werewolf games like One Night, Alien
This time, the "villagers" have to guess a secret "magic" word that only a "town mayor," the "werewolves" and a "seer" know by asking yes-or-no questions ranging in difficulty from "easy" to "ridiculous." The villagers win if they can guess the word before time runs out while the werewolves secretly try to throw them off the trail of questions that might lead to the word and the seer tries to steer the villagers toward it without revealing their identities.
Once the word is guessed or if time runs out, the game still isn't over. This is where the core Werewolf game kicks into high gear. The revealed werewolves can identify the seer to secure a win if the word is guessed, and the villagers can still win by identifying a werewolf if they fail to guess the word. It's like a road trip game of 20 questions that creates actual mirth and merriment instead of ruined family relationships and high-priced therapy bills.
Restoration Games, the Fort Worth-based game maker that revives long-lost but still popular board game titles, kicked off its unique gaming business model by resurrecting this thief-hunting adventure from the late '70s.
Stop Thief, created by and rereleased with the blessing of former NASA scientist Robert Doyle, turns board game players into civilian bounty hunters who chase down thieves as they commit crimes in a town square occupied by stores, a bank and a museum. The only hints that the thieves give them are the noises they make as they flee the scene, like broken windows, creaking doors
Players also have abilities that give extra moves or allow them to move their opponents back as they head toward what they believe might be the thief's location and collect enough reward money to win the game. It's a fun blend of cognitive deduction and frantic racing toward a finish line that's constantly moving.
Blue Orange Games
Buying a board game for kids can be a tricky investment when you're an adult. You desperately want to purchase the child's love by buying a game he or she wants to play, but you also don't want to be stuck with the monotony of an endless, droll, fate-driven march through a game that offers no entertainment value for anything older than a fetus. I'm looking at you, Chutes & Ladders.
Thankfully, board game companies are releasing some really interesting games that children and adults can enjoy playing together and still compete on a level playing field, so to speak. Panic Mansion is one of the Spiel des Jahres nominees for this reason.
Each player holds a rectangular layout of an eight-room house with objects strewn about, like oddly shaped ghosts, snakes
"It's fun," says Dave Honeycutt, who played the game at the BGG convention. "It's physically engaging and challenging, and I like how it gets progressively harder as you go along."
Cards Against Humanity is still fun on drunken game nights, but it's also spawned an overblown genre of party games where winning is determined by a single judge who laughs the most at your answer, so the fun varies by a wide margin from game to game. And most of those games are strictly for an adult audience — or at least adults who attempt to be good parents by not playing games with their children that use exploding animals and sexual identity terms as punchlines.
Vile Genius Games
Board games offer certain arenas and experiences for entertainment that interactive video games just can't, but the same can also be said for certain video games. You can't open fire with guns during a game of Monopoly like you could in Duke Nukem 3D or Doom.
This interesting concept from Vile Genius Games, under construction after a successful Kickstarter campaign, takes the basic roll and move gameplay of a fantasy board game and incorporates gun-aiming skills into the mix. Each player controls an army of trolls moving through a three-dimensional dark forest board as he or she tries to collect the most treasure using abilities and booby traps to slow down opponents. Each player also has a rubber band gun for use during certain turns to shoot down opponents' troll armies.
The shooters' opponents can sabotage the shooting by playing cards that force the shooters to do things like close their eyes, hop on one foot or spin around a bunch of times before firing.
Plan B Games
Gameplay can make a game unique, but vibrant art and design can also enhance the gaming experience.
This tile-placement game, also nominated at this year's Spiel des Jahres awards, takes its style from the azulejos ornamental tiles that the invading Moors introduced in Spanish and Portuguese architecture in the 13th century. The players draw tiles from one of seven circles that match up with the patterns on their playing cards and receive points based on how well they're able to fill out their cards before the tile offerings are emptied. Bonus points are awarded based on certain combination achievements while unused titles bring down the players' final scores.
"I think it's got a really interesting and cool abstract," says player John Spiher, "but as far as the greater design, the components are aesthetically pleasing."
Blue Orange Games
Some worker-placement games can easily fall into a mind-numbing mix of mental organization that's too close to the job the game is supposed to be simulating. That's why human resources training can't translate into good gameplay until HR mediators learn to incorporate mutant fighting powers or fantasy spell executions into their job requirements.
This nature-themed game from Blue Orange Games pares down this often overly complex genre of board gaming by replacing the workers with trees growing in a forest clearing and adding a sun into the mix. The players use acorns to buy bigger trees as they attempt to position their natural payoffs around a sun that rotates in one full cycle. The bigger the tree, the more of your opponents' mighty oaks you can block from the sunlight. Photosynthesis takes the cold, calculating rules of natural selection and turns them into a deep and fun strategy experience on a beautifully designed game board.
"There's a lot of strategy involved, but it evolves as the game goes on," says con attendee Shannon DeShazo. "It really keeps you on your toes."
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There are few things that can elicit more infectious waves of jaw-stretching yawns than the question "Anybody up for some word games?"
This new word-guessing game from Iello Games uses only four words per team and can last around 30-45 minutes per game, but the tension between the teams makes the time seem short and well spent. Each team has a series of four words that only members can see as each draws a three-numbered order card each round. The goal is for the clue giver to get his or her team to guess the correct order of words without repeating any of the previous clues. At the same time, players also have to come up with words that don't alert the other team to what the word might be as the rounds progress. The clues add up after each round and are recorded on ledgers. The goal is to guess the correct identifying number order.
Decrypto sounds like the kind of game that comes with an instruction book with warnings on the cover like "May cause skull-splitting migraines." It's not. It's really an infectious bout of fun once you understand the core mechanics of the game and get wrapped up in the addictive challenge of coming up with clever clues for your team and deciphering groups of clues drafted by the other team.