Friday, July 6, 2012

Board Games

It's been altogether too long since I last posted. When your 16-year-old brother points that you've dropped the ball, you know you probably have...

As a quick update - I passed my qualifying exams for my PhD program the first time around, my research is rolling along, I play lots of board games with friends, and I managed to muddle through the longest dating relationship I have been in so far in my life: 2.5 months. Recently, we mutually decided that we weren't a great match for each other. I suspected that would be the case the moment I saw his three shelves of Star Wars books (I'm a mild to severe Trekkie), but I suspect he had other reasons as well.

Speaking of board games, I have identified what I think is a key factor in determining whether a certain board game will appeal to a given person: the balance of luck vs. skill.

All Luck:
War is a game completely based on luck. There is absolutely no way that you can change how your cards play out. Trouble is another game that depends solely on luck. 

All Skill:
On the other side of the spectrum, chess and checkers depend completely on skill. If you can be good enough at strategy and possibly anticipate the moves of your opponent, then you are guaranteed to win. I suppose you could make an argument that 52 Pickup also falls under this category, but I've never known anyone that has made it their life goal to be a 52 Pickup champion.

Mostly Luck, Small Amount of Skill:
This category would include games such as Life, Egyptian War (also known as Egyptian Ratscrew). Fun when you're young or when you need to teach a large group of people a new game quickly. Apples to Apples I think would probably go here, unless you're one of those who like to "read people" and "figure out their styles." I personally think that's expending too much effort, but then again engineers are not normally known for being interested in "reading people."

About an equal amount of luck and skill:
These are my favorite types of games. There is a significant amount of skill involved, but the skill comes in being able to play well with the random hand you were dealt. For example: Spades. Or, the domino equivalent of Spades called either Moon or 42, depending on whether you live in College Station or not. The friends that I play board games with most often have a game called Joker, which is a combination of Sorry and Trouble. The concept is to get the five colored marbles belonging to each member of a team out of the starting position, around the board, and into the home location before the opposing team does. There are two teams and either two or three players to a team. The number of spaces that you can move is dictated by the cards in your hand. Each player has five cards in their hand, so every turn he or she has five different moves to choose from. If you land on an opposing team member's marble, they return to the start. If you land on your OWN team member's marble, they go to right outside their home space. Once a player has all of their marbles in the home position, they are able to play on behalf of their other team members. I love this type of game because the cards are dealt from a communal pile, so the challenge is to subtly play those random cards in the most skillful way possible - not only for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of your entire team.

Also on this list can be trivia games that are not too difficult and include the ability to work the game in your favor - Bezzerwizzer is one I've recently been introduced to. Rummikub, Phase 10, Scrabble, and Monopoly could be included as well, but depending on how long you've played some of those they could shift into the next category.

Mostly skill with a small amount of luck:
Settlers of Catan. Enough said.

No, but really, Settlers is also a game that my friends LOVE to play. I'm not such a huge fan, simply because the only luck is in one roll of the dice per turn that dictates how many resources everyone receives. However, each player gets to strategically choose which resources they will receive before the game even starts! And to cap it all, the players can bargain with each other and trade cards after the dice roll. So, in my opinion, this game is almost entirely skill.
I think Trivial Pursuit would go here (at least for me). Finally, Axis and Allies (more complicated and much improved version of Risk) also requires IMMENSE skill. Dice rolls determine the fate of battles, but if you've planned well you can sometimes recover from a pummeling. Particularly if you've taken Russia down early (don't ask me how I know that).

What is your favorite type of board game? Do you agree/disagree with my categorizations?


  1. A few games you may or may not find interesting:

    In the mostly luck with some skill category: Fluxx. It's fast-paced, and both simple and complex at the same time.

    In the equal amount of skill and luck category: Ticket To Ride.

    1. We actually play Ticket to Ride quite a bit as well, I just didn't include it because I figured the majority of the population wouldn't know what it was! I prefer the Europe version, but that's just because I have a fondness for Europe...

      I'll have to check out the other game - thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I like your analysis!

    I think that for me, there is one other way to categorize games: by whether or not information is hidden. Chess and checkers, Risk, Settlers of Catan, no information hidden. Clue, nearly all information hidden and your job is to figure it out. Spades, you share information with teammate and hide information from the opposing team. I find it much harder and slightly irritating to play games where all the information is hidden - I always feel like I am missing something, and that surely everyone else has figured things out and I am the last one in the dark.

    So maybe that's just another variation of "engineers don't like to read people"... :) Glad you are finding some fun new games to play, in any case!