favorite non-heavy boardgames
March 23, 2010 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend your favorite non-heavy boardgames.

Non-heavy means it doesn't take 4 hours to play and it doesn't have a 36 page rulebook in fine print.

It can be solo player or anything up to 7 person player. Not interested in computer games or electronic games--board games only please.

Yes, I'm familiar with Boardgamegeek but they generally emphasize heavier games and I want your recommendations, not theirs. And yes, I've read the other posts here on Askmefi on boardgame recommendations but there's new members here and new games out since those posts.

Games I own and love:
Ticket to ride series

Games that are good:
Settlers of Catan
The Great Dalmuti

Games I hate:
Monopoly, Clue, Life, Risk, Pictionary, etc.
posted by luvmywife to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (51 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
It's old, but we always loved Journey Through Europe.
posted by Go Banana at 7:39 AM on March 23, 2010

Apples to Apples is a fantastic 4-8 person game. Just a lot of fun.
posted by unixrat at 7:40 AM on March 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Blokus is a great recent game I've recently started playing. Lots more strategy than initially meets the eye. Pretty much always takes the same amount of time because there are a finite number of blocks that can be played on the board.
posted by ORthey at 7:40 AM on March 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by sallybrown at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are interested in "party" board games at all then Say Anything is the best one I've played. There are a lot of similar games, but the guys who designed it did a superb job of getting all of the details right to make it fun.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:44 AM on March 23, 2010

Thebes (2-4 players. Players are archeologists researching and digging for loot.)

Ingenious (1-4 players. A little similar to Blockus.)

Kill Doctor Lucky (3-7 players. Like Clue in reverse. Was just recently reprinted)
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:52 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Puerto Rico
In The Year of the Dragon
Race For The Galaxy
Power Grid

If you've got 5 people, the Battlestar:Galactica boardgame is really great, especially if you're a fan of the show. It's a "coop" game like Pandemic, but with the secret subterfuge/paranoia of Werewolf/Mafia.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on March 23, 2010

El Grande and Löwenherz have both aged pretty well.
posted by Citrus at 7:53 AM on March 23, 2010

Pandemic has an expansion out now called "On The Brink" - I've not tried it but it adds extra game modes and characters to the original game to give it new twist or three.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:53 AM on March 23, 2010

Oh and don't forget free party games (not really board games, but light fun social games):

Eat Poop You Cat

posted by Dr-Baa at 7:54 AM on March 23, 2010

If Pandemic isn't too heavy for you, then I recommend Power Grid. The full game can take a few hours, but I usually play the alternate "short game" described in the rulebook and it almost always takes exactly an hour.

I don't know if you would count tabletop card games as board games, but Chez Geek, Bohnanza and For Sale are all fun, fast, and really easy to play.
posted by 256 at 7:54 AM on March 23, 2010

Seconding “Apples to Apples” - it’s awesome. And you don’t need to buy the whole game. You can buy an expansion pack and play with those cards just fine.

“Things in a box” is a pretty great game too, though you need a group of 4-6 (or more) for it to really work.
posted by terpia at 7:55 AM on March 23, 2010

Jamaica (note: very light on strategy, but incredibly fun because pirates)
Stone Age
San Juan
Small World
posted by jeather at 7:55 AM on March 23, 2010

Seconding Chez Geek and Bohnanza - I dislike super-involved board games but I always enjoy those.

It's been over ten years since I last played it, but I remember really loving Lunch Money.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:57 AM on March 23, 2010

I really like all of the games I've played in the Gipf Project series--they're all two-player abstract strategy games laid out on triangle- or hex-based grids, but other than that, they all play differently. (There's another game in the series besides the six shown in that first link, Tamsk, but because the imprecise design of its components--specifically, the variable amounts of sand placed in the timers during their manufacture--meant that the game couldn't be used at a competitive level, Tamsk was replaced in the sequence with Tzaar, the only game in the series I haven't tried yet. But if you're not playing in a championship, Tamsk is just fine.)
posted by Prospero at 7:58 AM on March 23, 2010

Manhattan (with Godzilla option)
Modern Art
Ab Die Post

Ab Die Post is not in the same league as the others but it's still fun.
posted by chairface at 8:01 AM on March 23, 2010

I just got and really like Lost Cities
posted by heyforfour at 8:04 AM on March 23, 2010

Apples to Apples is great fun for a party activity, but it's barely a game; don't try to be competitive at it.

Based on your current picks, I would try:
San Juan
St. Petersburg
Power Grid
posted by demiurge at 8:09 AM on March 23, 2010

Cosmic Encounter hasn't gotten mentioned yet. That's a fast game, easy to learn, and different every time.
posted by jozxyqk at 8:15 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fluxx (and especially its variants, Zombie and Monty Python Fluxx) are pretty awesome (works best for three or more players.) It's basically Uno, but with a ruleset that evolves as the game is played.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:18 AM on March 23, 2010

Acquire! It's originally from the 60s but the reprints are decent, and the game is great.
posted by hungrybruno at 8:22 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a Pickle, for when you get burned out on Apples to Apples!
posted by ifjuly at 8:32 AM on March 23, 2010

And I haven't played it, but some people like Wits and Wagers...noticeably people who hate the free-form aspect of games like Apples to Apples and In a Pickle, hee.
posted by ifjuly at 8:33 AM on March 23, 2010

My friends and I came up with a great game for at least 4 people (ideally you'd have 6 or more) that we eventually started calling Poetastrophe. The "Poetaster" (which, btw, is an awesome real word that means "inferior poet") comes up with guidelines for a poem that everyone has to write. It can be any sort of guidelines - "Write a haiku about burritos" or "Write 4 rhyming couplets starting with the phrase Jesus, it turns out, was a Buddhist" or "Write a limerick with only near rhymes" or "Write ten lines about your face in free verse" or "write the first two lines of a sonnet about butt plugs" and on and on and on. You can be endlessly creative with your prompts; there really is no limit to what can be assigned to the group. When you ask the group to write a type of poem that has constraints (haiku, sonnet, limerick, etc) it's a good idea to explain those.

Anyway, everyone then has a certain amount of time to write their poem, including the poetaster. The Poestaster collects all the poems, shuffles them, reads them aloud in random order while people listen and take notes. The poems usually get read a few times and then everyone guesses who wrote which. Points go to those who guess correctly. We used to have everyone write their scoring down, but eventually switched to a more "discussion-based" endgame where people try to convince each other of who wrote what (a little bit like Apples to Apples, but with poems).

Anyway, with funny people, or even perhaps serious people, it is a very, very fun way to spend an evening.
posted by ORthey at 8:42 AM on March 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

Everybody's really enjoyed Saboteur every time we get together to play it.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:57 AM on March 23, 2010

Games that my friends and I enjoy:
  • "Niagara". A light game that's relatively short. Nicely social, since you can steal gems from other players, and since the space you end up on the board depends on how other players move. Can be frustrating.
  • "Munchkin" and its descendants. A card game that parodies Dungeons & Dragons. The jokes gradually lose their amusement value, but the gameplay is still well-designed and compelling even after you've battled a Large Angry Chicken for the tenth time. And if you want new jokes, there are umpteen expansion sets available.
  • "Scotland Yard". This one is unique in that it's one person (playing as a fugitive running around London) against everyone else (detectives trying to track him down). Difficulty for the fugitive depends greatly on how many people are chasing him/her; in my experience, one fugitive vs. four detectives makes for a fair fight.
Also, I'll second the nominations of "Blokus", "Ingenious", "Bohnanza", and "Fluxx". "Stone Age" is fun, but is comparable in complication and intensity to "Settlers of Catan". "Puerto Rico" is a fantastic game, but is even more complicated and intense.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:58 AM on March 23, 2010

I just want to go on record saying that I loved Munchkin when it came out because the theme was so clever. After a few plays, the failings of its mechanics come to light and it turns into an endless game of "gang up on the leader" that can easily fail the OP's "4 hours or less" requirement.

If you like TTR, give Thurn & Taxis a try.
posted by mkultra at 9:05 AM on March 23, 2010

One of my favorite games is Strange Synergy. It's basically capture the flag with superpowers and awesome weapons. A little bit complicated the first time you play, but afterwards very straightforward. It can give you really long games, but it depends on a lot on what cards you draw. I've seen games won in under an hour. It's 2-4 players.

Bang! is a fun card game using a specialized desk. It's basically Mafia, but with cowboys and with a lot more luck and strategy needed, since who you can kill depends on what kind of cards you have.

I enjoy Race for the Galaxy (mkultra's recommendation) but it's a bit rules-heavy. I've played it a dozen times and I still have to consult the symbols chart and remind myself the order of the 6 (and a half!) phases per round. So that may not be what you're looking for.

Gloom and The Big Idea are both card games which draw on your imagination more than anything else. Both are very straightforward and can be played in under an hour.

Gloom is Edward Gorey-themed and winning means making your opponents' characters happy while keeping yours miserable. My friends and I play that you have to provide a running narrative for everything you do.

The Big Idea is kind of Apples to Apples-esque, in that you're drawing random cards and matching them up together, and trying to sell or "pitch" the product that they make. It can be hilarious if everyone's into it.

Okay, I've already rec'd four games, so I will try to restrain myself from any further.
posted by shaun uh at 9:05 AM on March 23, 2010

nthing "Race for the Galaxy" based on your mention of liking Dominion.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:14 AM on March 23, 2010

posted by keep it under cover at 9:19 AM on March 23, 2010

Incan Gold
Thurn and Taxis
PitchCar (possibly stretching the concept of "board game").
Liar's Dice (be sure you agree on the rules first, especially if you have people who have played with other groups, as this is one of those games that has many many different rule variations).

Yes, I'm familiar with Boardgamegeek but they generally emphasize heavier games

You're aware that their advanced search allows you to limit a search both by "gameplay weight" and by "max playing time," yes? In fact, here's a search which produces many of the same recommendations already made in this thread, along with some others you might want to investigate. (Criteria: rating 7-10, min. 50 ratings; weight 1-2, min. 5 weight ratings; exclude expansions; max play time 2 hrs.)

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:24 AM on March 23, 2010

Sidebar to mkultra:

I just want to go on record saying that I loved Munchkin when it came out because the theme was so clever. After a few plays, the failings of its mechanics come to light and it turns into an endless game of "gang up on the leader" that can easily fail the OP's "4 hours or less" requirement.

I'll grant the fun/tedium ratio of this game depends greatly on how the group chooses to play. (To those who aren't familiar with it, the game allows for a fair amount of backstabbing between the players, though you need some amount of resources to do so.) In a lot of the games that I've played, there's a certain laissez-faire that prevails; not much backstabbing occurs until someone is about to win, at which point the knives come out. Since players have been accumulating resources for this purpose for much of the game, the bonuses and counter-bonuses can become epic, and this means that the first time or three a person gets into a position where they can win, they almost never actually succeed; but eventually someone does. However, screw-the-other-guy-for-the-hell-of-it-with-a-cackle-and-an-evil-grin tactics in the earlier stages of the game lead to revenge attacks, with the net result that nobody progresses as quickly and the game drags on. If you're thinking about buying this game, it's worth contemplating which of these styles of play the personalities of your likely opponents would lend themselves to.

posted by Johnny Assay at 9:33 AM on March 23, 2010

Personally, for cheap games, I love 1000 Blank White Cards. I guess it's not technically a board game, but it plays like one. Essentially you and your friends make it up yourselves (but it's not at all labor-intensive or anything, you just draw on cards) - really fun if you have creative friends.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2010

I'm a huge fan of 6 Nimmt!, which is a German card game. It has a US version called Slide 5.

I found it on eBay for cheap, and a game usually takes about 30-45 minutes.
posted by reenum at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2010

One of my favorite board games is a free, print it out, do it yourself called Zombie Plague.
A few of you play humans, a few of you play the zombies, and let the brain munching begin!

Their page on Board Game Geek has tons of photos of modifications, figures, etc. Check the files section for all the variant rules, etc.

It's fun to get all arts and crafty, put it together and you can learn it in about 5 minutes, most games take about an hour.
posted by willmize at 10:01 AM on March 23, 2010

Thunderstone is a pretty new game that is similar to Dominion, except that your goal is to level up heroes and defeat monsters in a dungeon, rather than creating a kingdom. The cards are uniformly dark and a bit hard to read, but it's a blast to play, and as fun as Dominion, while being different enough that it doesn't feel like more of the same.
posted by explosion at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2010

A simple game you can play for free is one my girlfriend's family called "the dictionary game." Wikipedia has it as Fictionary. I think it fulfills the same easy to play laid back feel of Apples to Apples, but it a great deal more enjoyable because actual cleverness and creativity are involved.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2010

I like Gobblet as a game I can play with an 8 yr old or an adult. It takes a bit of forward thinking, like chess, but doesn't take ages to get through, so you can play "best two out three" if you like. And it's cool looking.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:27 PM on March 23, 2010

You can search by weight at Board Game Geek. BGG tends to weight things a little heavier than I generally would, and a lot of games that may seem heavy on first play really aren't.

Here's some of the stuff BGG considers light-medium that seems play in our group:

Race for the Galaxy
Small world
Ticket to Ride
Formula De
Wiz-War (out of print, though it looks like a new edition is in the works)
posted by jjb at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2010

Mastermind and Options. Both by Parker Brothers. OOP, but Ebay turns them up from time to time.

Options is a scrabble variant where you could flip the tiles to make new words. Surprised it never took off.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:58 PM on March 23, 2010

One of our favorites is what we affectionately call Betrayal House Hill.

It's a relatively quick game and it's different every time you play it.

Premise: You and a party of friends are in a spooky house together, finding various spooky items in assorted scary rooms. Then, one of the party betrays you in a wicked plot (determined by which item you find in which room) and tries to lead the rest of the party to its doom! Can you stop them before it's too late?
posted by chatongriffes at 1:33 PM on March 23, 2010

Go is one of the oldest of board games, a game for two players that is noted for being rich in strategy despite its simple rules. Sensei's Library is a collaborative web site about and around the game of Go.
posted by finite at 4:27 PM on March 23, 2010

I second the Battlestar Galactica game -- it's a blast, even if you don't know or don't like the show. The "some players are secretly on the other team" play mechanic is loads of fun. Most games take around 2 hours, and while it seems rules-heavy initially, the gameplay is simple enough that new players can sit down with someone who knows how to play, and they'll pick everything up by the end of one game.

There's an expansion out for it which is also good, especially since it comes with fancy plastic pieces, but it also introduces more complexity. I'd suggest it once you've gotten the hang of the original game.

Other game-night favorites of mine include Power Grid and Fist of Dragonstones (that one is a fast, light game, perfect when you want a quick break from the heavier games and/or can't find enough people for one).
posted by vorfeed at 4:40 PM on March 23, 2010

One fairly recent game I've been enjoying is Wasabi!

You might also pick up some Icehouse pieces and try Zendo. (More about Zendo.)

Small World, maybe, as others have said.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:13 PM on March 23, 2010

I would say you should try more card games! Most card games allow for long or short playing times, and they tend to be less complex rules-wise while still allowing for a reasonable amount of strategy. I like and Tichu, and most games that you can play with regular cards.

For actual board games, Hare and Tortoise is pretty simple and relatively quick, and allows for 2-6 players, which is always good. Can't Stop is a family favorite which is extremely easy to pick up, but not so much strategy- as luck-based.
posted by that girl at 6:12 PM on March 23, 2010

Hey that's my fish!

Attika is one you might like, might be tricky to find
Probably too obvious but: Puerto Rico? If you haven't tried this, you must.
Tigris and Euphrates
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 PM on March 23, 2010

On the Underground! Love this game.

Tikal I've only played once but it was pretty fun; nice mechanic of opening up the board as play goes along.

if you like auction-style games,
I know people who have really enjoyed Princes of Florence, though I've never played it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:09 PM on March 23, 2010

AND Through the Desert! plastic pastel camels in a game that plays sort of like Go.

Alhambra is another one that's easy to get people into during a game night, but rewards thinking.

For two players, Battle Line and Lost Cities are sort of similar and popular favorites.

(although really, boardgamegeek is going to be your best source here - don't worry about the numerical ratings, look instead at the way they describe the mechanics that the game relies on, and look to see if the game is included in geeklists with other games you like. For the light or medium games, you can sometimes find good ones by looking for geeklists of couples or family games, or "gateway" games, help me convince my friends to play with me games. Another name for these games is "Euro" games.)

On the more classical front, Titan is a classic monster fight game, might be of interest.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:33 PM on March 23, 2010

I recently discovered a local coffee shop that hosts game night on Saturday nights. There are regulars who sit around a large table and at first glance look like they're playing something like poker - but it's Uno - and they look like they're having a blast. As with many others, Apples to Apples is my favorite. I should mention that neither game is a traditional "board game."

I never liked the old game of Life, but you might want to try a version called Life's Twists and Turns - BIG improvement over the original.
posted by kbar1 at 11:24 PM on March 23, 2010

You're bound to be inundated already with recommendations, and by all means, everything suggested here is worth checking out; however, I'll suggest a few that not only meet your requirements, but have not been mentioned here yet:

Tales of the Arabian Nights: This is simply unlike any game you have ever played, or that is in your collection. It's a storytelling game, and whether you "win", or "lose", you still win, because you come away with an awesome story to tell about your character. The latest printing by Z-Man Games is superb. I've played it with just my girlfriend, and it plays in under 2 hours, and I just recently played a 4 player game that was just as fun. Can't recommend it enough. Do yourself a favor and play this in a comfortable environment, and possibly with a glass of wine in hand.

Key Harvest: This is a lesser known game from a fairly well known designer (Richard Breese), but has wonderful art, and in my opinion, scales very well from 2 to 4 players. It plays in less than 90 minutes, has a small amount of player interaction, and even a slight puzzle aspect thrown in for good measure. And oh yeah, it can be had on Amazon for $20 (though I snagged a copy when it was $10).

Notre Dame: This was probably my first "somewhat more complex" (than say, Carc or Settlers) game, and I still love it, as it's a great two player game, but can handle 5 just swimmingly. While there's not a *ton* of player interaction, I don't always want that in a game, and what this game lacks in player interaction it more than makes up for in a unique modular board design, clever card drafting and role selection, and a playing time of around an hour.

Aton: Quite possibly one of the best 2-player-only Euros out there and simply a great bang-for-your-buck experience. It's an area majority/influence game, and for its relatively simple ruleset, it's got a surprisingly good amount of depth. While the theme is rather thin, it plays in 30 minutes, is small enough to travel easily with, and can be had for less than $20 at many online game stores.

Roma: From the same designer as Notre Dame, and in the same line of 2-player-only games that Aton is in, this game uses dice in a pretty unique way (you've probably heard that before), and it too plays in 30-45 minutes. The number of different cards involved means there's a bit of a learning curve in just learning what they do, but there are great aids to be had on the 'geek that can mitigate that. There's also an expansion for it called Arena that I'm told is a good addition to Roma.

Dixit: This game should arrive to me on Monday, but from everything I've read, it should be a wild ride as far as party games go, as there is no text on the cards you play, simply crazy-ass, beautiful illustrations. Check out Tom Vassel's Dice Tower video review for more info.

As for others mentioned here that I'll Nth:
In the Year of the Dragon
For Sale
San Juan
St. Petersburg
Zombie Fluxx
Wits and Wagers
Incan Gold
Thurn and Taxis
posted by mrhaydel at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2010

I bet you'd like Witch's Brew and Zooloretto.
posted by miskatonic at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2010

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