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Beginner's Guide to Modern Board Games

Board games have changed enormously over the last thirty years. The 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of the new type of board game – the ‘designer game’. They are often called Euro-games or German games as they first appeared in Germany. These games have been carefully designed and tested to provide a satisfying and enjoyable experience when playing them. The people behind them are experts in this field and some earn their living just designing games. Many of these titles are now available as apps for smart phones and tablet computers.

Most Euro-games involves gathering resources and using them to develop your position in the game. There is usually very little direct conflict between the players, although indirect conflict is often possible (getting in someone else’s way).  The players are often allowed to trade and the score will be kept in Victory Points (VPs). Euro-games often have a clever ‘catch-up’ mechanism designed into them, stopping one player from running away with the lead (a common criticism of Monopoly) and allowing trailing players catch up.

Catan  (previously called 'The Settlers of Catan', and often just called ‘Settlers’) was the first of these games to appear outside of Germany where it is a household name. Millions of copies have been sold and it has been described as the ‘Monopoly-killer’ as it is overtaking sales of its rivals. There are many variations of Catan, but all have the same basic playing mechanism of the original game.

The game is set on a fictional island of Catan, made up of hexagonal spaces. Players start with a single settlement and harvest resources from the hexes that surround their starting position. Using these resources, they build roads, more settlements and upgrade to cities. A larger network of building earns more resources with which to build. Players can also buy development cards that grant them bonuses or additional Victory Points at the end of the game. The catch-up mechanism is the dreaded ‘robber’ that can be used to steal a resource from a player (usually the wealthiest) and can block an area from producing its resource. The game ends when one player has reached 12 VPs.

Ticket to Ride is an American creation and has sold over three million copies. The game is simple: players must complete secret tickets - representing journeys across a map - by collecting coloured train cards and using matching sets to claim routes between cities. Plastic train carriages are placed on the board to marked a claimed route. A ticket is completed when you have built an unbroken line from the starting city to the end. The challenge lies in the fact that there are a limited number of times a route can be claimed (usually only one or two). If the route you need has been taken you’ll have to find another way around as you can complete your ticket using any combination of routes. Once you’ve completed your starting tickets, you can take some more. If your new tickets can be fulfilled by re-using some of your existing routes, so much the better as you’ve got a head start. During the game, points are scored for placing trains on the board, but the final score, based on the ticket values is kept secret until the end.

The original game, Ticket to Ride, is the easiest to learn and play, although the map of the USA isn't the easiest to find your way around when you don't live there. Ticket to Ride: Europe contains a map of Europe, but does add a couple of extra rules. Both of these are suitable for 2-5 players. For a smaller number (2 or 3-players), the publishers have designed Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries and the Switzerland map expansion (included in the Ticket to Ride: India pack).

Carcassonne is another German-designed game that came out of Germany in 2000, winning the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) in 2001. On the surface it appears to be a simple game about building the medieval city and its surroundings by laying tiles and placing small wooden people to score points. However, once you play it a few times you realise that there is more thoughtful game involved. For this game we've written a Beginner's Guide to Carcassonne

These titles and other suggestions can be found in our Beginner's Guide They are titles that we sell (and play) regularly because they are very good games for discovering a whole new world of board gaming.