Ancient Egpytian Board Game c. 1298-1235 BCE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Boardgames are a centuries old classic, a cultural go-to for fun. Almost every culture around the world developed some form of board game to amuse themselves once the work was done. From the far east we have such classics as Go and Mahjong. From Europe we have both Checkers and Chess. From the near east we have an entire category of games known as Mancala. In the modern day board games are still a wildly popular hobby, with clubs popping up devoted to playing the various types. But board games are also a mystery to some people. For most of the American audience, if you say board game, they think Monopoly and Scrabble and don’t get much beyond there. Maybe checkers and chess. But these days those are only the surface of a great and wondrous mountain of games. Games have fallen into 3 major categories: War Games, American Games and German Games.
War Hammer 40K, De Bellis Antiquatatis, Babylon 5 Wars and Troops, Weapons and Tactics are all examples of miniatures based wargames that take place throughout history, alternate history and science fiction futures. All of these games simulate large scale battles using the weapons of the age they take place in but tactics determined by the players. Some people like to set them up to start out like real battles and see if they can win where the great generals of history lost. Generally speaking, these games use lots of miniatures, detailed fields and lots of dice. Wargame miniatures can be acquired either pre-painted or unpainted to be painted by hand. For some players, that is a lot of the fun. Unlike a lot of other board game types, War Games aren’t designed to tell the same story or play the same way every time.
War Games are also the forebear to table top roleplaying games. It was a wargames ruleset known as Chainmail which Gary Gygax modified to create Dungeons and Dragons. For a comprehensive list of miniature wargames, you can look here. There’s something for everyone interested in taking up the hobby.
American board games have a strong tradition to them. Starting early on with handmade chess and checkers sets, they evolved only slightly over time. There are periodic booms of new games, but for the most part there are Parker Brother and Milton Bradley leading the charge. Most of their games are re-skins of the old traditional stand-bys. What kid growing up in America hasn’t played Monopoly? Scrabble? Chutes and Ladders? As far as the board game community is concerned, American games are this style, old games that have been around for decades, very few of which involve real skill. Take a look at Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders as some people know it). First off, the roots of the game are actually found in India, not 1950s America as most people would tell you. Second off, its purely randomized using either a die or spinner. The Milton Bradley version includes a spinner rather than a die since at the time of its production, dice were considered sinful. Out of all of the games considered to be American style board games, Scrabble is probably the best. My feelings about Monopoly…well, that’s best left for another post. I tend to find that this style of game is very hit or miss, with a lot of the old “classics” being dry. They do offer a wide variety of games for kids though, which does redeem them some.
German style board games are wonderful. High quality games, designed to require thought and skill with added randomness. There are also always new ones coming out. Its quite wonderful. Now of course, German style is something of a misnomer. The trend for these new style games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride started in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe. These games tend to be light on conflict and drama, don’t kick players out of the game before the end and emphasize strategy over luck. Another great thing about them is that they largely use symbols rather than words so they can be played internationally. This genre leads to lots of new games, with only a few continuing to be published. The style is also starting to get adopted in America now, leading to wonderful things like Arkham Horror from 2005 and Merchant of Venus.
For more information on this type of board games, you can check out the wikipedia page on the topic. Its a bit sparse, but helpful and contains a list of publishers.
I hope you find yourself more enlightened about board games in general. Consider starting a board game night with your family. Its a great way to have fun together and to work on math, logic and reading skills with young children. For even younger children, there are even games that teach colors and shapes.