Calling all board game geeks.
October 5, 2006 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a hankering for some old school dorky fun, but neither me nore my nerd circle of friends really have the time to spend on a D&D or Warhammer binge. I've been eyeballing a few games over at I wanted to see if anyone could steer me in the right direction.

My friends and I used to do RPG/Table Top gaming back in the day. Since we all have more or less real lives now, we can't devote the same amount of time to gaming as we used to.

I was hoping to find a self contained, relatively quick fantasy/sci-fi interactive gaming experience. By quick I mean something that can be finished in one night, as opposed to a D&D campaign that could take weeks to prepare and complete.

I don't even want to think about any MMORPGs, we want real face to face casual interaction, where we can drink and chat as we play.

I've found a few games that look interesting. Most specifically I was looking at Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Heroscape, and Twighlight Imperium. I know that they're different games, but they look pretty easy to set up and would definitely interest my friends. I really want to to stick with a fantasy or sci-fi setting with lots of action.

I tried to get my friends to play Settlers of Cattan, but the resource trading and colonial settlement theme really turned them off.

What do you guys recommend? I want a fun game with good atmosphere. Presentation is kind of important, nice packaging/figurines would help me promote some interest amongst my friends.

I don't have a problem with complexity, but there might be some girlfriends involved. While they're open to giving games a shot, too much number crunching might turn them off. At the same time, something a few notches beyond Risk would be welcome.

I want to avoid the obligation of buying mutiple sets, expansions, boosters, supplements or figurines. I don't mind throwing down a good chunk of money initially, but I want to avoid a full on hobby.

posted by Telf to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops, sorry about the typo in the question. It's bugging me too.
posted by Telf at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2006

Would Risk be too simple for your taste?
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:55 PM on October 5, 2006

You could LAN-party Neverwinter Nights.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:57 PM on October 5, 2006

Settlers of Catan (and it's assorted add-ons) seems like the best call. It completes in a night, has real strategy involved, is a few notches beyond Risk, doesn't alienate the girlfriends, and involves both alliances and swcrew-your-neighbor tactics. Plus it's dorky and fun.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:59 PM on October 5, 2006

Wow I didn't read the end of the question. Risk rocks, though.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:59 PM on October 5, 2006

Twilight Imperium is a lot of fun, but has a pretty steep learning curve. I usually have to designate an entire day to it, rather than just an evening (although that includes stopping for food and such). It's hard to keep everyone together till the end, and if the girlfriends aren't gaming fans, then it's probably not the best choice.

I haven't played the other two you suggested, though I've seen the Heroscape stuff and wasn't impressed enough to pick it up. Citadels is pretty fun and easily playable in an evening, although it might not be action-y enough for you. El Grande is my personal favorite, but has no direct fighting (lots of sneakiness though). Duel of Ages is all about fighting, but it's extremely slow in the beginning (I don't recommend it but others rave about it, so it might just be me).

*cough* So yes. Board Game Geek is a good place to check out and get more suggestions.
posted by coffeespoons at 2:03 PM on October 5, 2006

Oops. You already mentioned BGG. Carry on then.
posted by coffeespoons at 2:04 PM on October 5, 2006

Best answer: I have played Lord of the Rings: The Boardgame (the Reiner Knizia one), Shadows Over Camelot, Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill, and Zombies, and could recommend any of those, although they're all very different games. (Well, OK, Shadows is not "very different" from Lord of the Rings, but different enough.) LotR is probably the best of that bunch. The upcoming Marvel Heroes from Fantasy Flight looks like quality might be good if that kind of geekdom intersects your own. Doom the Boardgame is, no lie, quite well-respected among the hardcore crowd. I tend to not play things that are as protracted as Risk or Twilight Imperium, though clearly there are people that love 'em.
posted by blueshammer at 2:06 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The best thing for game nights is to have a few games to choose from, here are some of my favourites:

Munchkin - a really funny game that pokes fun at all things D&D-ish, if you like the basic set then go out and buy the expansions but stay away from the non-fantasy ones (Space Munchkins, Munchkin-Fu, etc.), the fantasy sets are much better than the others. For about $100 you can get the basic set and all 3 expansions, enough to keep you playing for years.

RoboRally - in this game you are a robot in a race across a trapped filled factory floor, good mechanics and easy to learn. Features laserguns and other gadgets too!

I could suggest a bunch more, but in the fantasy/sci-fi genre those two games are some of the best, and still in print and easy to get.
posted by Vindaloo at 2:06 PM on October 5, 2006

(There are a lot of other things I would recommend, but on that theme, that's what I've got. Although RPGers loooove the Munchkin games.)
posted by blueshammer at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2006

Matt Baldwin (who I think may be a contributor here) regularly posts really great board game reviews on his website Defective Yeti. You might find something there.
posted by web-goddess at 2:10 PM on October 5, 2006

This isn't the best fit for your question, but...

For a fast fix, try the card game "Nuclear War", or the game "Paranoia".
posted by browse at 2:13 PM on October 5, 2006

Best answer: My friends and I are D&D geeks and we love Arkham Horror. The collaborative aspect is a huge plus, every person has a unique character to play, and there are loads of opportunities for creative house rules. It's also very action-oriented.

My biggest advice, though, is to try to find games of varying gameplay length. My friends and I started with just RPG/RTS style games (another vote for Twilight Imperium), but all our games were these 4-6+ hour monsters. We've since picked up some smaller, more abstract games to allow for shorter gaming sessions.
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2006

I second Roborally, though the new sets suck in physical quality to the old ones.
posted by drezdn at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2006

I agree with Vindaloo on two points:
1) Munchkin rocks.
2) Game nights work best with a few choices.

I especially agree with having more than one game because you mentioned "girlfriends"-- by which I presume you mean non-gamer girlfriends. It might be good to have a few games that are lower activation barrier for those who haven't played games as much-- you don't all have to play the same game.

Also you mention some anti-number folks- in this case, I'd suggest word-based games, like Apples to Apples, or Scrabble (and variants, I'm a big fan of Take Two myself).

Another great game is Carcassone. Doesn't require lots of numbers but I think it's similar in feel to Settlers, so YMMV.
posted by nat at 2:27 PM on October 5, 2006

When my brother and I were younger, we had a blast playing HeroQuest.

I can't say for sure how easy it is to find anymore, but I know eBay is definitely a viable option.

It's relatively easy to pickup, and the game is divided into about 20 quests or so, so you could easily do a couple a night or something. It's good for up to 5 players (a DM type role plus your four character staples - dwarf, barbarian, wizard, elf), and has miniatures.

It also had a fair amount of "expansion" quest sets, but I'd venture to say that those are even harder to come by then the original game itself.

Certainly worth looking into, as well as its even harder to find and even more expensive cousin Advanced HeroQuest.
posted by mrhaydel at 2:31 PM on October 5, 2006

It's a Catan game, so there is resource trading, but it's got a Sci-Fi theme, and lots of cool gizmos in the package: The Starfarers of Catan.

I think your perception of complexity will vary with your background--I don't think it's nearly as bad as the reviews on that site make it seem. But maybe I'm just weird.

And remember that giving games a trial run, with just one or two other dedicated participants, can make the game go a whole lot smoother when playing in a larger group with less experienced players.
posted by IvyMike at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2006

Another vote for Roborally!
posted by pompomtom at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2006

Best answer: Hey there. This is the aforementioned Matthew Baldwin, of defective yeti.

Check out Descent: Journeys in the Dark. It's basically a fantasy dungeon crawl board game, similar in feel to Herosquest. It uses the same basic engine as Doom: The Boardgame, but is more balanced. It's not "short" by boardgame standards (a single game may take up to four hours), but it can be finished in one night.

I've recently been playing a lot of War of the Ring, which is, at its heart, an epic war game built around the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but has enough chrome (as we like to call it) to give it a RPG feel.

I'm also a big fan of the game Return of the Heroes. There's a number of these "wander around and have adventures" fantasy games, and everyone has a favorite. Other's swear by Runebound, but I find that game to be fairly inelegant.

Finally, if all you're interested in is the combat, Days of Wonder (a company known for well-designed games with wonderful components) is soon to released a fantasy wargame called BattleLore. Think: mintaures game playable in an hour. This game will use the same engine as Memoir '44, which is one of my favorites.

If you have any more questions, just let me know.

(And I'll point this out before anyone else does: all of the above links are affiliate links, which means I'll get a little store credit if you buy a game through one of those URLs. If you feel like I'm being a weasel by including my affiliate tag, just remove the "~affil=YETI" part and purchase the game that way.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:17 PM on October 5, 2006

Light, fun games:
Munchkin is an extremely light and silly and fun card game. No need to statr with expansions. Girlfriends will have no trouble picking it up. I don't see playing it for more than an hour or so on any regular basis, though. Definitely get it, but don't expect it to hold a regular group together all by itself. There's a space-and-lasers version too.

Zombies is super-light, dice-rolling and moving your guy to gun down an army of plastic zombies shambling through town. No real strategy, just a good excuse to say "braaaaains!" over and over.

Monkeys On the Moon would be good with a more mixed group - no combat, some strategy, silly space-monkey card game.

Empyrean Inc is a light interplanetary industrialist card game -- mine different minerals on different planets and struggle to build the biggest space-business.

Chrononauts - the heaviest of the light games. It's the time-travel card game. You lay out a timeline of real events, and each person has a mission to change the timeline in certain ways (assassinate Hitler, prevent the sinking of the Titanic, etc). Fun, intuitive, good with a mixed group, deeper than some of these other light games.

Heavier, longer games (all easily finished within 5 hrs), with some comments on ones other people mentioned:
Monsters Menace America! - My best recommendation. Dice-rolling combat with cool figures of B-movie monsters like Godzilla, Giant Eyeball, Lobster Man, etc. Awesome, hilarious, long enough to be satisfying, light enough to play while drinking beer, cool figures, etc. Not really bloody, not hard to pick up. I think it has recently been discontinued, so you can get a set for cheap if you act soon.

Starfarers of Catan (the sci-fi version of Settlers) might work; it's on the expensive side, and will probably run something like 3+ hours...?

Arkham Horror is good for the Chthulu fan, but check out the comments and rules-corrections at There have been a lot of complaints about its rules being a mess.

Game of Thrones is great, strategic and a bit like Diplomacy, with a fantasy theme.

Twilight Imperium is huge - big rulebook, big expensive box full of pieces. It's impressive, but probably not the first title to get.

LOTR The Boardgame (be sure you're looking at the cooperative one where you're all fighting Sauron together; there are several others including War of the Ring and LOTR The Confrontation) and Shadows Over Camelot are nice, cooperative-but-with-possible-backstabbing, slightly role-playish games. (Arkham Horror is also cooperative.)

RoboRally can be frustrating, because there's a lot of "now you fall into a pit and die".

If you like Risk, there's a fantasy version (Risk Godstorm) and a sci-fi version (Risk 2210 AD).

It's not sci-fi, but conspiracy theory: Illuminati. Hilarious if you like conspiracy theories, not that hard to pick up but hours of strategic and back-stabbing fun. (Not to be played with people who are sore losers or who don't like the back-stabbing element)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:22 PM on October 5, 2006

You might also want to try the Mutant Chronicles, which is an old game from the 90's that is a sci-fi boardgame incorporating some simple elements from RPGs (persisting character stats, equipment, a single guy who runs all the baddies). It's quite simple to play and it usually takes no more than five or ten minutes to set up.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:25 PM on October 5, 2006

I thought Lord of the Rings: The Boardgame was too complicated to pick up in one night. After a couple play-throughs, the basic strategy seemed easy, with too much reliance on chance.
posted by muddgirl at 3:26 PM on October 5, 2006

Oh, one more: Dungeoneer, a fantasy dungeon crawl card game. It has a ton of expansions but you don't need them -- the base game is quite clever and fun.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:26 PM on October 5, 2006

Sorry, once I get rolling ...

Last one, honest: Dungeon Twister. It's a two-player game, but does a remarkable job of straddling the American-game / German-line. It's like the lovechild of D&D and chess.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:29 PM on October 5, 2006

A few more:
Colossal Arena - mythological monsters fighting in the Colosseum. I haven't played this but it looks great adn has good reviews.

Titan is an out-of-print favorite. Dice-rolling, monsters fighting. Just something to look at online, for now, but maybe someday.

Age of Mythology is another fantasy themed Risk-like game with monster minis.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:33 PM on October 5, 2006

Colossal Arena is great fun. My review.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:42 PM on October 5, 2006

Are you familar with Cheapass Games? They sell simple, yet amusing board and card games at very low prices. While they're not engrossing in the way more complex games are, they're good for a few laughs, and cheap enough that you can buy a bunch. I enjoy Exploding Cow, but that's just me.
posted by Alterscape at 3:56 PM on October 5, 2006

Another vote for Zombies. I've never had a bad time playing it, and there's plenty of backstabbing. I've had games last between half an hour to several hours at a stretch - just as one player is about to win, someone plays a card that sends him back to the center of town, surrounding by brain-eating, shuffling undead. Expect a lot of expletives from your friends.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is also quite good, but the enormous scenario books can be a little daunting.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:19 PM on October 5, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the results so far guys. I've been checking out but it's almost too extensive without some point of reference.

Matthew, thanks for all the suggestions, I'm going to read up on all these choices.

Keep them coming if you guys can think of more.
posted by Telf at 4:51 PM on October 5, 2006

Sounds like you might enjoy Nexus Ops. It has lots of sci-fi alien-killing goodness packed into only 1 hour of play. If you decide you like it, then great, and if not, you only lost an hour. Some of the other games mentioned above are good, but require a certain, ahem, commitment to the sport. Also, beware the trap of letting nostalgia trick you into forking out good money for an old chestnut like Axis & Allies or Risk then getting dissappointed. There's a reason you don't play those old games any more. And there's a reason that new "designer/euro-games" are gaining in popularity.
posted by markhu at 5:31 PM on October 5, 2006

Telf, check out their "Geeklists" as a starting place. You'll need a free membership to search them, but it's worth it. See if you can find ones for the number of players you anticipate having; for monster-fighting games; space combat games; "games my girlfriend will like", etc. That's another useful way to get leads.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:34 PM on October 5, 2006

I've always had a fondness for Castle of Magic. Games usually take a couple hours. Each player has slightly different objectives and generally must negotiate with other players in order to achieve them, bringing in some minor role-playing elements.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:37 PM on October 5, 2006

Go is the only boardgame worth a damn.
posted by phrontist at 7:32 PM on October 5, 2006

Go is a 2-player game with none of the features the poster has asked for. I agree it's the best game there is, but please.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:49 PM on October 5, 2006

I wholeheartedly second mrhaydel's recommendation of HeroQuest. This is a nice looking game, w/ enough speed to finish one if not two games and keep most parties intersted for a night. I used to go hang out w/ my brother and his gf when he was in college and I was in highschool and play this game.

And this is coming from a girl who would rather read a fashion magazine and go to a party rather read some than some geeky fantasy book or watch Star Trek. I have never played DD in my life ever. So, if gf's are involved, I can almost guarantee they will be pleasantly surprised at how fun and entertaining this game is.
posted by lannanh at 8:28 PM on October 5, 2006

How about Paranoia in Zap mode?

And, may I please object to the assumption that women don't game. I learned to game at a women's college. Finding out that men gamed was a shock.
posted by QIbHom at 11:13 PM on October 5, 2006

A good fun "board" game (board in quotes because the board is played from cards and not in a fixed orientation) would be the Order of the Stick board game found here:

It is heavy on humor, but there are strong elements of suspense as well and being able to overcome the monsters placed in your way in order to beat the game. Also for a more space themed thing the great space race by kenzerco ( is really fun, and while it isnt a dungeon crawl, it comes highly reccommended.

posted by koolkat at 9:18 AM on October 6, 2006

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