If there's one thing gamers love, it's recommending new games to people. Last week, I started that process by listing three games that make wonderful starting points for families who want to start playing together.
And that's where the almost-hate mail comes in. Several people wanted to know why I did not include their favorites in my list of starting games.
To my letter-writers, all of the games you mentioned are awesome for families. And yes, I'll write about them in the future. Sadly, they couldn't all fit last week.
But then again, that's why we have this week!
On a side note, I love hearing from you with questions, thoughts, ideas or simple pats on the head. Heck, you can even send virtual cookies … or real ones. But I digress...
This week, we're going further into the world of Eurogames with three games I consider to be "evergreen" titles. What's an evergreen game? It's a game that has so much replayability and engages you so well that you can't help but play it over and over.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great board games out there. Only a handful of those games, though, make my evergreen list. These games are the best of the best.
All three of the games in this week's column are on my evergreen list. They all also won the prestigious the German "Game of the Year," which we will talk more about in future columns.
Carcassonne from Z-Man Games and Rio Grande Games
As you open Carcassonne, you'll immediately notice that the game has no board. Instead, it comes with 72 square tiles which you'll use to build a map board as you play.
Each tile shows a cute cartoon of a fanciful countryside with roads, abbeys, cities and so on.
As you and the other players put the tiles together and build the map, you'll score points for tasks such as completing a road or finishing the wall of the city.
Of course, to score points you need a marker of some kind on the board to show what you've been doing. That's where the "meeples" come in.
Meeple is the name given to the wooden, person-shaped, markers used in Carcassonne. The term caught on so well that it took on a life of its own. These days, any small game piece that's made of wood and shaped like almost any familiar object is usually referred to as a meeple.
To score points in Carcassonne, you add one of your map tiles to the map so it connects with a tile already in play. Then you place one of your meeple on a feature of the tile you played. You might place it on a road, in an abbey, in a city or even in the middle of a green field. Exactly where you place it determines how that meeple will score points for you in the game.
You only have a handful of meeple, so you can't put them just anywhere. Choosing where to put your meeples plays a big part in the game's strategy.
Because there is no reading with Carcassonne, it makes a great choice for adults to play with younger kids. The artwork is very friendly, so parents have no worries at all about what a child might see.
The meeple pieces themselves are solid and chunky, making it easy for small fingers put them into place and pick them up for scoring.
The game plays very well for two to five players. If you need to add a sixth player, add the game's first expansion, Carcassonne Inns and Cathedrals, to your shopping list. Come to think of it, you should probably just put that on your shopping list anyway because it adds some great new elements to the game.
Carcassonne plays in 30 to 45 minutes, so nobody in the family will get bored. Since the tiles come up in random order, the game turns out very differently each time you play, giving it a very high replayability factor. My family started playing it almost 10 years ago, and we still enjoy it today.
Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder
This colorful game puts you in charge of building a railroad around the U.S. As you play, you draw a ticket cards which give you points for connecting to cities on the map.
To connect cities, you place train pieces onto rail lines marked on the board. Of course, you can't put your pieces anywhere you want, so you need to collect and spend the colored cards that allow you to claim different rail lines.
If you don't finish a ticket by the end of the game, you lose the ticket's value in points. Thus, a valuable ticket that requires a cross-country rail connection could turn into a big point loss at the end of the game if you can't finish the link.
Ticket to Ride is also a great example of how many Eurogames teach as well as entertain.
In order to play the game, you need to understand U.S. geography so you can find the cities on the map. But because the game is so much fun, you never notice that you're brushing up on your geography in your quest to build the best railroad.
Like Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride handles between two and five players easily. It takes 45 to 60 minutes to play. And the little train pieces are really cute. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Settlers of Catan from Mayfair Games
In fact, you may have already heard people talk about the game as either "Settlers" or "Catan" since the game's whole name is a bit of a mouthful.
Settlers won the German "Game of the Year" award in 1995, and then won the American "Game of the Year" award in 1996. Since then, it sold millions of copies around the world. The game's popularity keeps growing every year.
A couple of key things set Settlers apart from other games.
First, although Settlers resembles a typical board game at first glance, it doesn't have a traditional board. Instead, the players start each game by building the board out of a set of hexagons which show the resources available in the game.
Once the board is built, you and the other players find yourselves looking at a map of a hexagonal island surrounded by ocean and dotted with woods, fields, mountains and more.
In the game, the players are all trying to settle the island by vying for access to the right combination of resources.
But the task is daunting, so nobody has access to all of the resources they need. That sets the stage for the most interesting part of the game: trading with other players.
The interactions that develop as you trade in the game are what make memories of playing Settlers so much fun.
In order to get what you need, you literally have to give other people what they need. In the process, you're constantly trying to work out deals that help both of you.
And don't start thinking that hoarding resources might make a good strategy, because about the time you start building up a useful pile of goodies, the robber will visit and swipe it all in the night.
While kids ages 10 to 12-year-old catch onto the concepts in the game pretty quickly, be ready to go slow and give them advice if need be. There's a lot going on in Settlers, so younger kids may find the game overwhelming at first.
Finding these games
If you would, please take a little extra time to find the games at local game stores. Buying from a local retailer keeps your money in town and directly impacts other local families.
Yes, you might save a few dollars by shopping online or buying at a big chain store, but those few dollars will make a big difference if you spend them in town.
Next time, we'll take a look at the art of playing as adult/child partners with one of your kids. It's a great way to keep younger kids involved with the family, but can cause a ruckus if you don't do it right.
Until next time, keep on playing!