Take a Break From D&D, Play a Board Game

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 11, 2012

The announcement that Wizards is working on the next iteration of D&D has created a lot of churn in the gaming community, the online forums and the blogosphere. In light of this flourish of activity we’ve decided to take a step back and look at something a completely different toady – board games.

In addition to being a huge D&D nerd I’m also an avid board game enthusiast. Where my RPG circle tends to include “just the guys,” board games have a much broader appeal. I’ve never been able to get my wife or brother into RPGs, but they love board games. Likewise, I’d never dream of asking my parents to play D&D, but they’ll make a trip to my house for board game night. Board games are generally very easy to learn and don’t have the nerd stigma that a lot of people associate with D&D. It makes them appealing to everyone.

A lot of FLGS in my neighbourhood actually have a slew of board games that you can play in the store. This is a great way to try some new games before you buy them. Purchasing board games from your FLGS (as opposed to a toy store) is yet another way you can support them after you’ve purchased the PHB and DMG.

The next time your gaming group doesn’t have enough people to play D&D, or a critical member of the group is absent (the DM, perhaps), resist the urge to cancel. Get together with your friends and have a good time playing board games. There are a lot of great games on the market today so don’t limit yourself to just Monopoly or Risk. For something different, check out five of my favourite board games below. They’re all easy to learn, fun to play, and well worth the investment.

Ticket To Ride

“Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America.”

This is my absolute favourite game right now. I play the board game version and the online version. It took only minutes to learn, but I’m still trying to master it. Last year I participated in the Ticket to Ride tournament at GenCon, but was eliminated in the semi-finals. I prefer Ticket to Ride U.S.A. because the cities and routes are familiar, but there are many new version that include Germany, Scandinavia, Europe, Asia and India.

Official Days of Wonder / Ticket to Ride website.


“Blackmail the printer. Threaten the innkeeper. Bribe the priest. Welcome to Revolution! Secretly bid against your opponents to gain the support of the people, win territory… and collect more Gold, Blackmail, and Force for the next round of bidding!”

I first played this game when I was at the D&D Conference in Seattle last month and after playing it one night I had to own it. It’s a wildly different experience depending on who else is playing since you’re constantly bidding against the other players. New opponents will play using different strategies, so you have to constantly change how you prepare for the Revolution each time you play. The game is designed for up to 4 players but you change get an expansion pack for 5-6 players.

Official Steve Jackson Games / Revolution! website.


“Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.”

This was one of my first experiences playing a cooperative board game. You’re not playing against the other players; you’re playing with them to save the world. It’s up to all players to come up with a strategy that will stop the pandemic. Each player takes on a role, but with more roles than players, one is always missing. This brings new challenges and forces you to adapt every time you play. The end of the world has never been so much fun.

Official Z-Man Games / Pandemic website.

Forbidden Island

“Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise.”

Another cooperative game, this time you’re trying to recover treasure rather than save the world. Like Pandemic, there are more roles than players. However in this game the configuration of the island (made up by tiles) constantly changes. Although it seems like such a simple game it is incredibly challenging and a lot of fun.

Official Gamewright / Forbidden Island website.

The Settlers of Catan

“Players are recent immigrants to the newly populated island of Catan. Expand your colony through the building of settlements, roads, and villages by harvesting commodities from the land around you.”

I doubt that this game needs much explanation as it’s been a round longer than any of the others on this list and has spawned so many variation and iterations. The random distribution or resources, location of your settlements, luck of the dice and ability to wheel and deal with your adversaries will all factor into your chance of success. It’s the perfect blend of luck and skill. The original game is designed for up to 4 players but you can get an expansion pack for 5-6 players.

Official Mayfair Games / Settles of Catan website.

Have you played any or all of these games? Which one is your favourite? What other games would you recommend?

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1 Quirky DM January 11, 2012 at 10:15 am

I’m a big board gamer myself and our gaming group did exactly what you said. We meet every 2 weeks no matter what. If RPGs are off the table, board games are on.

I’ve played most of these. No real favorite in there.

I will just point out 2 additions. First, the latest D&D board games do quite well at hitting the gaming itch most D&D players have. They’re pretty well done, if a little too easy in our group’s opinion.

As far as cooperative games go, I really enjoy Space Alert. It’s hands down my all time favorite board game, cooperative or otherwise. It is a cooperative, real-time game that some gamers don’t enjoy because of the stress. But the real time element forces everyone to play as an actual team and not fall into a follow the leader syndrome that most cooperative games suffer from.

2 Svafa January 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

Hadn’t even heard of Revolution!, I’ll have to check it out.

Lately our game nights have involved a lot of Quarriors, which is a dice pool building game similar to Dominion (only Dominion uses cards). It’s fun and fast, and you get to roll a lot of dice. The only down side is that it’s limited to four players.

We also play Carcassonne on a regular basis, which is a lot of fun and pretty easy to learn and play. It’s also much more heavily strategy than something like Quarriors or Dominion. I definitely recommend its expansions as well, especially the River (adds new pieces and changes the starting layout) and Inns and Cathedrals (adds a sixth player).

Red Dragon Inn is one we played this past week. It’s a card-based game centered around adventurers drinking and gambling in the tavern after a long day of dungeon delving. Each player has a different character with their deck and plays cards from their hand to try and get the other players drunk or swindle all their gold. It’s currently up to two “expansions” with a third on the way, but the great thing about RDI is that the expansions don’t require the base game to play. Each expansion includes four new characters with everything you need to play. I don’t recommend this game with more than six people, but you could theoretically play with twelve currently (if you possess the base game and both expansions).

Small World is a fun game centered around area conquest, but it can be a little difficult to learn. It’s a little similar to Risk, but has more strategy and less randomness. It plays very well in three players, but can play up to five.

Finally, I should probably mention A Game of Thrones. I hear it’s all the rage nowadays or something. Our group hasn’t played it in years, but back in 2005 or thereabouts we were playing it so often that we made a nine-player variant you can still find online. The base game only supports five players, but the first expansion adds a sixth. I also hear there’s a new edition just out or almost out that makes some improvements on the original and includes the sixth player by default.

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) January 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

Some of the games that didn’t make this article but are in my regular repertoire include Carcassonne, Zombie Dice, Scategories, Saboteur and Yhatzee. I’ve only played the D&D board games a few times and they didn’t exactly “wow” me, especially given their steep price point. My only experience with Small World wasn’t great, but many of my buddies swear that it’s an excellent game and I should give it another chance.

4 Taed January 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

We have a lunch board/card game group, so I get to play something every day! We’ve gone through a lot of games, but I’d have to say that our favorites are (in approximate order with absolute favorite first): 7 Wonders, Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Bohnanza, and San Juan. There’s about 10 other games that we’ve played that didn’t work out so well or only appeal to a few of us (including Small World, Carcassone, Race for the Galaxy, Mag-Blast, Fluxx, Chrononauts, Gubs, etc.). When our group was just beginning, we also spent a lot of time on games such as Othello, Blokus, and Pente (6-player Pente is crazy!).

5 Black Campbell January 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm

If you’ve got a lot of time, Supremacy.

My favorites are the new and truly excellent Fortune and Glory, Zombies!, or Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa — or whatever it’ll be called next.

6 donalbain January 11, 2012 at 4:20 pm

yeah but it does make me mad when i cant just fight the policeman instead of going to jail dang you monopoly.

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) January 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm

When I play Monopoly with my D&D friends we equate rolling doubles to making a Thievery check and escaping from jail.

8 Dan January 12, 2012 at 12:18 am

If card games are “on the board” as well, then I must mention Munchkin! The D&D spoof is a favorite of my gaming circles. Nothing beats playing a game that encourages you to argue and stab each other in the back… Loads of bad-natured fun.

9 Greg January 12, 2012 at 8:46 am

Just started playing Forbidden Island in 2012 – great game. We’ve been playing the D&D board games, Settlers, Carcasonne, and Small World for some time. I’m checking out Space Alert, as it sounds cool.

Another game that’s great is Castle Panic – we discovered it at Pax East 2011, and it’s a favorite of ours. Going to pick up the new expansion soon.

10 Taed January 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

Our group has also played Castle Panic (after our experience with Pandemic, we wanted to try other co-op games), but just thought it so-so. There’s not enough complexity to it for us.

11 Taed January 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

We’ve also played Munchkin, but it’s too random for our group. My son likes it, though (he also plays D&D, so he”s familiar with the tropes). Same goes with Fluxx and Gubs — no real skill or thought. Family Fluxx is actually a decent game to play with kids, though. Chrononauts is a great idea for a game, but the implementation just devolves into pure luck. Nuts! is just a crappy game.

As good card games go, our group does like San Juan, Dominion, 7 Wonders, and Bohnanza.

12 Greg January 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

I play Castle Panic most often with my 4-year-old daughter, and she’s very good at it. She’s got the gameplay down and usually predicts where the pieces will be on future turns when deciding what cards to trade. We play Forbidden Island together as well, and I’m now looking at Ticket To Ride, although I wish it wasn’t so pricey.

13 Lahrs January 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

We play many of the games listed above (Ticket to Ride and Catan being my favorites), but lately we (family) have been playing a lot of Apples to Apples. Easy, fun and social. Our last session lasted six hours on Christmas day.

14 Tony March 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I have played a lot of the games mentioned here. One of my faves not mentioned is Runebound. Its D&D lite!

15 Norcross March 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I just got my youngest gamer (4 years old) interested in HeroQuest this weekend. He already likes roleplaying with (and as) the various monsters much more than fighting them, so he’s well on the way to being a (non-D&D) gamer!

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