At the risk of repeating ourselves for the millionth time, Best Play is about making board games more accessible. To appeal to the board game curious with simple, digestible and engaging gaming experiences. Some games just don’t fit the bill. But they’re so damn good we can’t help but talk about them anyway.
It’s actually something of a split, here at Best Play. It’s the same with video games. While Glenn likes the occasional saga (like Metal Gear Solid 5), he’s generally not got the interest levels to reach the end of games like The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4. You’re more likely to find him trying out the latest PSVR experimental title or a bite-sized offering from an obscure indie developer. So while he loves a bit of Spartacus, you wouldn’t hear him lobbying for another round of Twilight Imperium.
I’m different. I’m all about pouring countless hours into the same experience. I can’t move on from most things until I’ve completed them. And so it is with board games. I love the challenge of anything intimidatingly complicated and immersive.
What’s so good about them? Well, I talked about how much I like Twilight Imperium, the insanely detailed space epic that typically takes over eight hours to play. I foolishly tried to distill it into 60 seconds too.
There’s also Archipelago, the game about colonial powers competitively trying to build Caribbean civilisations with some wonderfully creative twists. Not only is it a relatively fiddly set of mechanics to master, but at different periods crises will strike – meaning players must abandon their rivalries in order to team up and resolve them. If they fail to collaborate, everyone loses. Except, of course, the secret sympathiser than may or may not be in play. Clearly, this level of diplomacy and realpolitik can only take place in something as dense as a three hours session of Archipelago. It also featured in our podcast, if you’d like to hear more.
Then there’s Battlestar Galactica, the topic of another podcast episode. I really love this game, and it follows a similar path. This time, there is no competition at face value. Players simply must work together to survive the onslaught from the evil Cylons. As disasters continually strike, the ship will slowly start to fall apart and problems begin to escalate. The objective for players is to reach Earth before one of the many fail states happens – running out of food or fuel, failing to protect the civilian fleet or even the Battlestar itself getting boarded or destroyed.
This would be a fine game if we left it there, but once again there is a twist. One or two players are secret undercover agents trying to sabotage the mission, but they will have far more success at doing so if they remain concealed from the others, lest they get thrown in the brig and are rendered less effective. Of course, this presents the opportunity for mistrust and deception; made all the more funny if the amusing but unlikely situation emerges where none of the players are drawn Cylon cards at the start.
Another complex favourite is Twilight Struggle. This title sits right by the summit of best-rated games by users on Board Game Geek, and for good reason. Taking players over five decades, Twilight Struggle asks two players to assume the role of either of the global superpowers during the Cold War. Much like real life, the game focuses on asymmetrical warfare, granting the US and USSR with different bonuses and nuances in their capabilities.
The game is impeccably well-researched, with historical events unfolding periodically throughout each play session, which are somehow perfectly crafted into meaningful actions within the mechanics of the game. You can win diplomatically, aggressively or even by beating your opponent in the space race. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel clever just by playing it. Best enjoyed late at night under nothing but candlelight, ideally over a bottle of rum.
You might like Diplomacy too, sticking with the historical theme. Set in the early 20th century, this is the only game that I know of that avoids luck and chance altogether. No dice, no card drawing: just pure, balanced warfare. Once again each side has different strengths and unique characteristics, and is at its best when six players are present in the game’s imperial European setting. Fascinatingly, this lengthy epic involves private, organised meetings among players between rounds. These clandestine meetings involve bartering, lying, promising, bargaining and otherwise maneuvering to get ahead. Just like in global politics, the snakes will quickly get culled so it becomes truly gripping to witness the game unfold.
I could go on. I wrote about Victory or Death before. Glenn wrote about the fantastic Spartacus. There’s also Dead of Winter, Agricola and Through The Ages: all games many would consider a little too complex to be fun. I love them. Maybe one day I’ll even give the insane Campaign for North Africa a go, which apparently takes thousands of hours to finish. Anyone want to join me?