In 2016 I became a tabletop gamer. Or rather, I expanded my tabletop gaming horizons far beyond the mainstream I had become accustomed to. Anyone already in tune with the goings on here at Lizard Lounge will already be fully aware of the positive impact this has had on my time spent playing. For those not in the loop, well, it’s been pretty incredible.
It dawned upon me that much like I had my eyes opened to the hobby by fellow LL writer, Stew, perhaps I could lead some folk down the path to similarly glorious nights around the table that I’ve experienced over the past ten months or so.
And, on the back of that, here, in no particular order, are the ten games that really cemented my new love for this most wonderful of hobbies.
- King of Tokyo.
King of Tokyo, a game about leading your Godzilla-sized beast on a destructive, powered-up, dice-throwing escapade through downtown Tokyo, where you get to face-off against other over-sized monsters in a bid to be last beastie standing, really found a home at our table.
As a newbie to non-mainstream board games, and a father keen to see his clan assembled at the oak dining table, King of Tokyo, proved an absolute Godsend! The beautifully streamlined action, simplicity of rules, and great eye-catching colours of the creatures and brilliantly chunky dice, made it an instant favourite. The theme ticked all the boxes my six-year-old son needed, and the fact that after just a couple of rounds he was playing unaided made sure the game was here to stay.
Now, a few months down the line, the game still makes regular appearances. Sometimes as a family favourite, and sometimes as a means to bring a game to the uninitiated, but it never fails to raise a smile.
Ahh, Dixit. The very first game I bought that strayed from the norm. Incredibly easy to learn, nice use of imagination, great artwork, and always a crowd pleaser.
Dixit not only became the first game I bought, it was also the first game I bought an expansion for. How could I not add further longevity to a game that gets the whole family to the table, and then has the ability to deliver curiosity and laughter in equal amounts? For those looking for a welcoming and uncomplicated entry into the wilds of this tabletop gaming land, few are as open armed as Dixit.
- Sushi Go!
Much like the previous two entrants on this list, Sushi Go, is blessed with many of the same qualities. Simplicity of play and the speed with which you can ditch the rulebook are always most welcome, and here it takes next to no time to become a fully-fledged Sushi warrior of the Go variety!
The card collection game has a little layer of strategy sat within its fast, fun gameplay, but is primarily about playing safe or pushing luck and hoping for the best, and my whole family love it!
The ever shifting decks of cards that move clockwise around the table bringing joy and despair to the gathered players is a great touch and was the first time I had encountered such a mechanic. In combination with cute artwork and a game that can be played by even the youngest members of the family, Sushi Go, quickly found a place in my heart.
- Dead of Winter.
This one is not the most obvious of choices for those taking those first tentative steps into the hobby, however, despite the adult theme and number of moving parts during each round, Dead of Winter is surprisingly easy to learn, easy to teach, and an absolute blast when played.
Upon opening the box, I recall this being the first game I was genuinely daunted at the prospect of tackling. So many cards, dice, pieces and locations spilled out from the beautifully decorated box, and for a moment I did wonder if we’d ever actually play the game. Yet, within just a single round of action, the game was underway and everything ran like clockwork.
For once, the zombie theme didn’t feel overused. In fact, the undead threat almost runs parallel with that of the elements and of the desperate scramble for supplies. Some might say that Dead of Winter is not a game suitable for newcomers to the tabletop gaming world, but, I was a newcomer myself when I opened this one up. My wife and children were also newbs, and yet the game not only proved one of our most played and most anticipated to play again, it also made us understand we could widen the scope in our search for the next game.
- 7 Wonders.
I wrote an article a little while ago for Lizard Lounge about the Christmas game. I questioned whether a game needed a Christmassy theme to be considered a Christmas game, or to stoke the festive fires in your belly whenever you’re reminded about it.
I eventually drew the conclusion that the theme has little relevance in igniting some fond memories. This absolutely rings true with 7 Wonders…a game I opened on Christmas morning. Not only will this game always make me smile fondly at the memory, and scents, of a cooking turkey filling the air as I sat at the table for our inaugural journey into 7 Wonders, it also proved one of the most fantastic gaming experiences to date.
The ease of play as we each vied to build our city to unreachable heights of glory was wonderful. 7 Wonders is another game that delivers easy to understand rules as the foundations for some brilliant strategic play, but equally doesn’t allow the strategy to bog down the pace of the action. The game didn’t immediately grab me because I was unsure the theme was right for our table, I can only thank the gaming gods that this one now resides in my collection, because it’s a fantastic game that has quickly become one of our go to games when competitive family fun is on the agenda.
- Ticket to Ride.
If ever a game managed to surprise me, it was Ticket to Ride. A game about trains, about building railroads across USA (and later various other countries), and, you know, a game about trains…how could this possibly be anything but deadly boring?
Ticket to Ride is very possibly my favourite game. How did that happen? And how wrong I was to have written this off and delayed buying it for so long. It’s quite difficult to actually explain the allure of Ticket to Ride, I mean on the surface it is just a game about building railroads, trying to reach destinations, and outdoing your opponents, but for some reason it is an absolute masterpiece!
It’s rare that a game which takes roughly an hour to play gets an immediate, “let’s do that again!”, response from all at the table, but with this railroad epic, it happened twice at the first play.
I think what elevates the game so high is something that has been evident throughout much of this list so far, a perfect weighting between the simplicity of the ruleset, and the added layers of strategy. You see, Ticket to Ride, does offer a really solid strategic element, do you try for that cross country railroad and score big, or, do you play safe and run a number of little branch lines in the hopes of accumulating a good amount of smaller points? The game is full of neat little moments of celebration and despair as railroads reach destinations, or get stopped in their tracks by other players, and more than any other, this is generally the game I first suggest to those asking about their first purchase.
- Colt Express.
Cowboys, loot, gunfights, and erm, another train…still, Colt Express is an absolute riot of hilarity, cunning and slick gameplay.
This game offered two firsts for me as a player. One, it was the first time I had encountered a 3D board. The train and carriages that act as the stage for the action look brilliant on the table and offer the sort of immersion in this game a standard board simply wouldn’t have delivered. And two, it was my first taste of pre-planned actions. Basically this amounts to players playing cards to determine what their character will do throughout the coming round of play, be it trying to nab some loot, firing their gun, or even racing along the carriage roof in an attempt to escape the flying bullets. And it all works like a dream!
Colt Express is crammed full of great ideas and every single one of them works a charm in elevating the game to something very special. Again, and I feel importantly for this list as a whole, the rules are easy to understand and allow for play to move unhindered within the first few minutes.
The planning stage is littered with tactical thinking, and then the action stage is just an absolute blast, full of great moments where player’s best laid plans unravel before everyone’s eyes and the table falls about in fits of laughter.
- Dream Home.
Dream Home is one of the newer games on this list, but it definitely ticks the boxes as a welcoming, fun, and very good looking game. To be honest I never imagined my time spent gaming at the table would be about considering the best layout for my house, and then I certainly never expected it to be so much fun!
Thanks to a nice mix of colourful cartoonish looks, and simple but solid gameplay, Dream Home works like a…I’m not saying it…works like a thing that works well…there we go.
The game uses a card drafting mechanic where players have to choose wisely which rooms to take for their three-storey property, where the big points are, and which special cards will prove most useful. Like many others here, the learning curve is gentle and there’s very little downtime during play, two things that almost always make for great family gaming.
- Forbidden Island.
I have within my collection, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. Based upon the fact that the Christmas pounds have recently been piled on, in my fridge I also have Forbidden Dessert, but that’s another story.
Of the two games I went for Island as the best option. Both games play in a very similar way. The game is co-operative where the players are searching for artefacts before escaping the location. In Desert it’s the pieces of a flying machine, in Island it’s treasure.
The main reason I chose Forbidden Island as the pick of the two for new gamers is purely based on my own experience with both. As much as I thoroughly enjoy both games, Island just nicks it. The gameplay is quick and interesting, things can go wrong very quickly and leave the team battling great odds, but with teamwork even the most difficult challenge is possible to overcome. The game is played across tiles rather than a traditional board, and the horror as these begin to flood and face the possibility of being washed away, with the treasure, is just fantastic.
Every time you play it will be a different experience, and Forbidden Island is slightly more straightforward than Forbidden Desert. Based on that, it should be one of the first games to grab for your collection.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill.
I love a strong theme in games, and I love a good story. Betrayal at House on the Hill has both in abundance.
This is one of the first games I bought for my collection. The idea of exploring a haunted house, tile by tile, with a group of friends absolutely ticked every box. Throw in that one of the group will eventually become the traitor and turn on the rest, and I’m bouncing with excitement.
Betrayal is a game that comes with many moving parts, each room generally requires cards to be picked and actions to be followed, there are numerous dice rolls, and character abilities to keep track of, but somehow, it comes together in such a way that the rulebook can be cast aside within the first couple of rounds. The game oozes atmosphere and adventure, and the stories that unfold offer numerous outcomes, almost all of which are a ton of fun to get to.
The game is a simple, move and hope for the best sort of thing, but thanks to great little touches like the traitor mechanic, the brilliant little painted figures, and the varied storylines, every play can deliver something completely different, and that is worth its weight in gold.