Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

2009: Board Games


I love board games. I love them so much, I would marry them if I could. They’re fun, they’re social, and the good ones make you think in all sorts of great, brain-stretching ways. If I’m ever made supreme ruler of the world, board games will the universal pastime.

Oh, yes, to the point of this blog entry. I linked to a great game called Ticket to Ride on Twitter the other day, and have since been thinking about which games I’d recommend as Christmas presents. Here are 10 that came to mind right away. (I’m gearing these suggestions toward casual gamers, since hardcore board gamers already know about all the good stuff.) I buy my games from — they have great info, reviews, and ratings from a vibrant and diverse gamer community.

Jenn’s Top 10 Board Game Gifts for 2009

Basic Board Games

Ticket to Ride Settlers of Catan Carcassonne Tayu

1. Ticket to Ride: Awesome train game. Simple to learn, but with endless replay value. And hey, tiny plastic trains in fun colors! There are several expansion sets and variants available. (Ages 8+, 2-5 players)

2. Settlers of Catan: This game is so basic and awesome, it should have replaced Monopoly and Life decades ago. Could be easily modified to give younger players an advantage. Lends itself to classic lines such as, “Can I get a sheep for my wood?” Many variants available. (Ages 12+, 2-4 players)

3. Carcassonne: One of the rules is a little complicated at first, but after you get the concept behind “farmers,” it’s easy sailing. Tons of replay in this tile-placement game. (Also, the origin of the word “meeples.”) Hunters and Gatherers is a fun variant. (Ages 8+, 2-5 players)

4. Tayu: This is a very simple game that I find very easy to teach and play. I especially like that you can play in teams. The version I have is covered with Chinese-style dragons and has heavy majong-style tiles. I haven’t played with the newer version yet, but it still looks beautiful. Most board gamers wouldn’t put this on their lists, but it’s on mine anyway. (Ages 7+, 2-4 players)

Card Games

Once Upon a Time Guillotine Bohnanza Citadels

5. Once Upon a Time: The quintessential game for writers and storytellers! Using special fairy-tale based cards, players try to steer the story toward their personal “happy ever after.” (Ages 6+, any number of players)

6. Guillotine: The tagline reads, “The revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head!” You play an executioner trying to collect the best heads in your bag. Downsides: special cards makes play less intuitive than I like. Upsides: we have a house rule that you must make a guillotine noise when it’s your turn. (Ages 12+, 2-5 players)

7. Bohnanza: You’ve got to play this one once or twice before you get the hang of it, but it’s really quite fun despite the subject matter. (Yes, that would be bean farming. You Iowans will feel right at home.) (Ages 12+, 2-7 players)

8. Citadels: I’d just like to say up front that I’ve never won a game of Citadels, and I would still recommend it. It feels very different from a regular card-based game because each round, you take on the role of a different character at court. It’s an interesting (and occasionally frustrating) mechanic. Good for large groups, especially large groups of ex-D&D players. (Ages 10+, 2-7 players)

More Advanced Games

Puerto Rico Acquire

9. Puerto Rico: This game is a lot more complex than the games in the first group, but beloved by gamers everywhere. If you can get someone experienced to show you how to play, all the better. If not, just muddle through the first game and you’ll pick up the strategy. It’s never the same game twice. (Ages 12+, 3-5 players)

10. Acquire: The rules are simple, the strategy and tactics are not. I love this game for it’s almost complete lack of chance as a factor. I love the way my brain shifts into overdrive when I play this game! (Ages 12+, 3-6 players)

So there’s the list. I’ve played each of these games dozens of times. (And I’ve probably played Settlers of Catan hundreds of times.) When you’re ready for your next hit, I’ve got plenty more great games to recommend.

Have you got some favorite games? Please add them to the list!

About the author

Jenn Reese


  • The most recent addition to my standard gaming repertoire has been Lost Cities, a simple yet interesting 2 person card game.

    Tayu and Acquire are the only ones you’ve listed that I haven’t experienced yet. I would kill (metaphorically) to get a weekly gaming night going again.

  • Great choices! I haven't heard of Tayu (and will have to check it out), but I can give a second endorsement to the rest!

    Here's a few more favs:

    2-Player Games

    Lost Cities – Simple to grasp, very re-playable, pseudo-archeology themed game.

    Kahona – Kind of a mini-Risk. Take over the archipelago, but with no dice/luck and a more reasonable playing time (1/2 hour).

    Group Games

    Pueblo – You're a pyramid builder, but culture demands that you don't take credit for your work. Neat concept, 3-D puzzle-like building tactics. Much fun!

    RA – Awesome Egyptian auction game. A little advanced for beginners, but should be on everyone's list eventually.

    Modern Art – a simpler auction game, but also a standard.

    Dang, I could go on and on. Taj Mahal, Hive, LOTR, Devil Bunny Needs a Ham…

    I wish the kids would hurry up and grow up so I could play! (Not really.)

  • Just gave my nephew "Settlers of Catan" – heard tons about it, but never played it before. Turns out to be an extremely well designed game.

    And if you haven't picked it up yet, I suggest you find "Dread Pirate;" very simple, but it just lends itself well to treachery and a whole host of cheating options… arrrgh. Just like the good old days.

  • For humor’s sake, the original Munchkin card game (there are several expansion sets which IMHO are overkill). After all, nothing promises a fun night more than a game whose tag line is “Kill the monsters. Steal the treasure. Stab your buddy.”

    I also highly recommend Kill Doctor Lucky and pretty much any other game made by Cheapass Games. Every one of their games that I’ve played can be learned almost instantly but the winning strategy is not always so obvious.

  • Thanks for all the comments and suggestions, everyone!

    Tom S – I mostly like Munchkin, but I don’t find it a good game for beginners because the cards are so specialized. A person who knows the cards has a big advantage over a beginner. Not enough pure strategy for me.

    I, too, love most Cheapass Games! Kill Doctor Lucky, Lord of the Fries, Devil Bunny Needs a Ham… too many to list!

    Rick – I’ve played most of the ones you mentioned, but I must have played RA incorrectly, because I really didn’t like that one! I might do an archaeology-themed game roundup sometime soon, just so I can talk about games like Tikal and Maya.

By Jenn Reese
Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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