Terraforming Mars

Mars seems to be a popular theme in both popular culture and in board gaming. One of the most popular games to use that theme is Terraforming Mars. The game uses a huge variety of cards to make every game a little different. Different corporations also add some flavor as each player will have a little be different bonus to affect their play style.

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The start of the game and each round begins with players drafting cards until they have selected the 10 they want for the round. Choosing a card in the draft doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to keep them. As each card you keep will cost you some of your valuable money to add to your hand. You might draft a card you don’t want to buy in order to keep it from your opponent.

Play continues around the table with each player taking one action and possibly a second each round. If you don’t want to take that first action you have to pass, but then you are done for the round which is why you might stretch out your actions more so you can stay in the round longer. Some of the cards have requirements like how much Mars needs to be terraformed before use or possibly it might already be too terraformed for the card to be effective.

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There are lots of ways to get points but a lot of them are from taking steps to make Mars more habitable. There are three factors that determine how friendly the planet has been made for human life; water, oxygen, and temperature. Two of the other big ways to get points is by claiming one of the milestones if you have met their requirements. There are some end game ways to score but the players will choose over the course of the game which ones they want to activate - not all of them can be used in a game making end game scoring variable. Some of the cards you play also provide points to the players, especially some of the later cards where you are developing life.

Once three gauges marking the progress of terraforming mars have been maxed out then the game ends at the end of the round. Which adds another layer of variability as you never know how many rounds you have until the end of the game and you might not want to end as you have grander plans for the planet and its moons! With so much variability there is always something new to explore - and now there are even new maps to change the game up even more.

Next on our space adventure is Venus!

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is another modern classic both because of its simplicity and how the game can change based on how cutthroat the players want to be. On each player's turn they add a tile to the table slowing building out the area of Carcassonne. There are five different ways to score using your meeples. Meeples being, of course, the cute iconic game pieces that was first used in Carcassonne.

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The tile you place has to match all of the features already on the table which can reduce the number of choices available to you. You rarely won’t be able to play a tile in your hand. What's more likely is the only place to play the tile will help your opponent. You also want to make sure that placing a tile doesn’t it make it impossible to complete features on the board or use your tile to make it impossible for an opponent to complete on their features!

The second part of your turn is putting one of your meeples on the tile you just placed - not on any of those already in play. Meeples can be a monk in an abbey, a trader on the road, a knight in the castle or a farmer in the field. Each of them score differently but the important point is they can’t be removed from the board until the task they were assigned is completed. This can be a problem if you don’t have any meeples on your turn then you aren’t going to be able to add to your scoring possibilities.

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Carcassonne can be completely family friendly as players just try to use their tiles points and not interact very much and still have tons of fun. However, you can try to steal points from other players. While it is difficult to muscle in on someone's points, it is doable and that is where the game can really shine for a group of people going all out to win.

The simplicity of Carcassonne and how much fun it can be is why it is on many people's list of essential games to own. There are many expansions, modules, and reworkings of the classic which are fun as well. But to get your toes wet we recommend the original classic to see if it is the game for you.

Pandemic

Pandemic is not the first cooperative game that came out on the market, but likely the most well known. Still with new board gamers coming into the hobby regularly, we are always excited to introduce one of the modern board game classics. Players are trying to save the world from four different diseases that are ravaging the planet. If you can find the cure to all of the diseases before too much time has past or too many have died then the players win.

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On each of your turns you get four actions. How to spend those actions are completely up to the player. Although one of the complaints about Pandemic is that some players can far too often try to tell the other players what to do on their turns. The decision of what to do on your turn is divided between keeping the diseases under control and work on finding cures. Also once you find a cure it can be tempting to eradicate a disease from the board - a good choice but it does spend valuable time.

Each player has a special power that further aids in decision making. For example: the medic is better at treating diseases than the other players and the researcher needs a smaller set of cards to discover a cure. There are quite a few roles and each of the expansions added additional characters to change the way the game plays and strategies you might employ.

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The way the diseases attack the board is by random cards drawn from the deck, although each time an epidemic strikes the cards already drawn will be put on top of the deck. This means you will have some notion of what towns are at risk on future turns. But that also means any towns you had been ignoring since they were safe at the time can now be put in danger. You can’t have too many towns become overwhelmed with a disease or the players lose the game

The classic game of pandemic is lots of fun - which would be why an older game can remain popular. There have been lots of expansions as well adding new quirks to the game. Also there have been games that reimplemented the game mechanics. Pandemic: the Cure is a dice version of the game, Pandemic Iberia changes the setting and deals with treating disease before modern medicine. The most popular version of the game has been the 2016 Pandemic Legacy. While maintaining most of the aspects of the classic game, you play through a campaign where events during each game will alter future games permanently.

If you enjoy working with your friends to beat the game, you will enjoy a playthrough of Pandemic. And if it winds up being your first foray into the world of cooperative games we would be happy to recommend a great many more games that took lessons from the design choices of Pandemic and possibly even improved them!

Imhotep

Join Imhotep in building some of Egypt's greatest monuments while you are playing a game of … Imhotep. Using large tactile blocks you will try to get the most points by the end of the game using the five different scoring mechanisms. In the normal version of the game you are building pyramids, obelisks, temples, and crypts and lastly collecting relics.

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Each round there will be four different boats prepared for sailing. Since there are five different locations, one of them will not get visited each round. Turns move quickly while playing as you only take one action on your turn and there aren’t that many to choose from. You can place one of your stones on a boat with room. You can sail a boat to one of the unoccupied locations if the boat is full enough. Lastly, you can get more stone from your quarry if you are running low.

When placing stones on a boat, the order can be important. You don’t always want to be offloaded first. However, if the boat sails to a port earlier than you think, it might mess up your great plans. The ports all do different things but they all help you get points at end of the game.

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One place gets you cards so different things, special actions, immediate bonuses, or set collection for end game scoring. The rest of the locations you are building various structures. Building a pyramid gets you immediate points based on where your stone wound up. The temple is scored by whoevers stone is on top at the end of the round. The last two are just endgame points. The players get points based on how tall  your obelisk stands. Lastly, the burial chamber gets you points by having adjacent stones.

That might sound more complicated than we meant it to, but the game goes quite quickly since there aren’t too many choices to take on your turn. While you are playing the game it becomes more and more visually appealing, as well since structures are being built with the large chunky blocks.

Hanabi

Putting on a beautiful fireworks show can be a difficult challenge. Now imagine you can only say very limited instructions to your coworkers.  Then you are playing a game similar to Hanabi, a game filled with deduction and figuring out how best to communicate within the rules.

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Players are dealt a number of cards based on the number of players. Unlike almost any other card game, you put the cards facing away from you. The cards in your hand can be rearranged freely - you can never see the front of the cards you’re holding. However, that means you can see what everyone else is holding - which can help you figure out what is in your hand to some degree.

Each turn one action is taken; giving a clue, discarding a card, or playing a card. The goal of the game is to get the numbers 1 - 5 (in order) of each of the five colors before you run out of time or make too many mistakes. The group relies on players giving good clues with perhaps unspoken information coming along. The only things you can say are how many cards in one person's hand are a color or how many of those cards are a specific number.

Sometimes it can be very hard to not cheat while playing the game, but as long as everyone is there to have a good time they just become points of amusement. One of the most obvious ways players can unintentionally cheat is when someone goes to discard a card and the rest of the players flinch. We always try best not to but it's amusing when we can’t help ourselves. Some people can find the game stressful because sometimes you have to play hunches from your hand. Overall though it's always been a fun game that can be played almost anywhere!

Bohnanza

Growing fields of beans isn’t generally a theme that grabs everyone to come and play like high fantasy or other themes. But when a game is simple and fun enough, any theme can make a great game. Bohnanza is a game of set collection and trading cards between players. Sometimes you are going to have to make trades that are better for your opponent than for you as you really don’t want the card you are trying to trade away.

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During the game each player will have a hand of cards. Unlike any other game we can think of, the order of cards in your hand is super important and you can’t rearrange them once you receive cards. At the start of your turn you have to play the first card in your hand. Even if you have to uproot a field to do so (you only have two fields to start with). Then you can optionally play the next one, generally only if it matches one of your fields already in play.

The largest part of the game is next.  On your turn you get dealt two random cards from the top of the deck into the middle of the table. You have to plant these two cards unless you can trade them away. And everything traded for or with also has to be planted immediately. Players can even revolve cards in their hand in order to get them into a better order than they are in currently. Once you have a good healthy crop, you can sell off the entire field for coins which varies in value based on the type of bean.

At its core Bohnanza becomes a great negotiation game as you deal with the beans you draw and trade with other players. We have even had people offer to trade hugs for beans as they didn’t have anything else to offer. With its quick playing time it can be a silly trading game to play around the table.

Halloween Favorites!

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The first game that became a Halloween tradition for us was Betrayal on the House on the Hill.  It can be a great atmospheric game, that isn’t too time consuming.  All of the players are exploring the house at the beginning of the game finding items, spooky events, and scary objects. Once the game has progressed to a certain point a haunt begins! Normally this means one of the players reveals their evil plot of one of 50 different scary movie tropes. Sometimes unbalanced but always lots of fun.

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After a few years of playing Betrayal we discovered Mansions of Madness.  Based on the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, this game drops players into spooky scenarios to investigate without dying or losing all sanity.  Mansions was a more balanced game that added puzzle solving and a more engrossing strategy. Although one person had to run the story (which is complicated to set up) the other players felt more like a team. When the second edition came out it made the game even better, by having an app “run” the game. Now the game is fully cooperative, always changing, and even comes with thematic music!

One of the most complicated games with a Halloween theme is Fury of Dracula. But being complicated doesn’t mean to it can’t ooze with theme. One player is Dracula, trying to evade vampire hunters while trying to spread a reign of terror across Europe. One of the better hidden movement games made even better with dim lights, candles, and people playing up their roles as Van Helsing and other vampire hunters!

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But what if you want to have some Halloween fun without it getting too scary or thematic? Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters is a terrific cooperative game of getting some treasure out of a house before the ghost take over. Some people will have to fight off the ghosts while the others try to get the treasure out. With adult and kid friendly settings it can be a game for the whole family or a challenging game for a group of adults!

Lanterns

Setting alight countless colored paper lanterns on a lake must be a beautiful sight. And while this board game doesn’t glow, it still is quite pretty once you have arranged all the tiles. Players are building a lagoon with tiles showing lit lanterns in order to earn the most points from sets of lantern cards.

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How you get lantern cards is one of the interesting aspects of the game.  When you play a tile, not only are you getting a lantern card, but you are likely giving a card to all of your opponents. Playing tiles at the right time in order to benefit you the most and your opponents the least is one of the central strategies of the game. When a tile is placed the color pointed in your direction is the color that you receive (if there is any available). Also if you matched colors to previously placed tiles, you also get those colors as a bonus. Then starting with the player to your left you give people the colors pointing towards them if the color is available.

If one of the lake tiles that matched had a platform you also get a favor token. These favor tokens can be used during your turn to exchange one lantern card for a different color. This exchange can be helpful because this is the only way to change your lanterns cards before you make a dedication on your turn. Dedications range from having all the different colors to have multiple copies of certain number of colors. If you make a dedication, you have to do it before you play a tile so players will see what you will be capable to dedicate as the round goes around the table.

Simple, strategic, and pretty Lanterns has quite a few of the things we like in games. One of our favorite things to do is place a great tile for us that denies cards to our opponents. There is also an expansion that adds little tweaks to the game that are a great addition if you find that this game is lots of fun like we do!

Labyrinth

Do you like solving mazes? What about if they are constantly changing? If both of those sound interesting you should give one of our family friendly titles, Labyrinth, a try. Each player has a small deck of treasures that they are trying to collect before the other players. The only problem is there might not be a clear path for your character to walk to get to your current goal.

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On your turn you will take the one extra piece that is currently outside the maze and slide it into one of the slots on the side of the board, which will push all of the other tiles in that row until a different tile falls off. After doing so you move your pawn as far as you can in the direction of your goal. Hopefully as far as you can go is all the way to it! After you finish moving you just give the new extra tile to the next player in turn order and go round and round until someone has gotten all their treasures!

With such simple rules Labyrinth is very accessible for all ages. Easy enough for smaller kids to enjoy while also allowing for adults to not only use the tiles to get ahead in the game but also to make it more difficult for their opponents to reach their goal as well.

Starfall

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Sometimes all you need to make an enjoyable game is just a few simple choices. In Starfall, when it is your turn, you only have 3 choices you can do with your one action. Those three choices are putting out a new disc into the sky, decrease the value of one of the discs already in play, and then lastly you can use your stars to buy one of the available discs.

Each of the discs have different spacey elements shown that score different. If you get lots of comets each of them slowly grows in value. You can get some planets for moons but each moon has to have a planet. (Evidently no multiple moon planets in this galaxy!) Others are just worth stars that can be used to buy other discs.

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While the game has very few choices, deciding which one to choose can be a thinker. Putting out a new disc you want to buy might not last until your turn. The decision between making something cheaper or just buying it is one of the hardest to make. You have limited currency to spend on getting discs so you want to get your bang for your stars, but if you make it cheaper someone might buy it first. It doesn’t help that sometimes if there isn’t room in the sky you could be making it much cheaper than it already was.

Starfall’s simple choices that require thought is why it is one of our favorite games to teach. People can start playing in less than a minute and then have the fun of making those tough choices throughout the game. Just don’t ignore the comets - if someone gets a lot of them they can sneak in a victory!