Picky jerks need a new game
February 19, 2008 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Board game filter: What's a good strategic board game for 3-4 players with moderate attention spans?

My board game group has been cycling the same games over and over: Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Munchkin, and occasionally Illuminati, Robo Rally, and even Talisman. We still like them but are looking for something new.

As you can see, we're not casual gamers, so no Taboo or Scattergories. At the same time, we're not hardcore enough for super-meticulous war games like Advanced Squad Leader or The Russian Campaign (we couldn't even get through reading the introductory rules for that).

Basically, we're looking for games that:

- Reward strategic thinking to a degree
- Do not have overly long turns
- Take about 1-3 hours to get through a game
- Will play decently with three players (and divides the time evenly between the players - no awkward splits like three-player Axis and Allies)

We like the idea of some kind of tactical battle game, but most of the ones we've seen are too fiddly and busy. Most of us liked the Game of Thrones board game, as an example of the level of complexity in a war game that we're OK with.

I know we sound like (and kind of are) picky jerks. Don't let that make you shy about suggesting something, though!
posted by ignignokt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
While you will get suggestions here, what your gaming group really needs is to go to Board Game Geeks for suggestions, reviews, forums, game tweak ideas, ratings, reviews, and everything else you need.
posted by hindmost at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2008

Formula De is a lot of fun if you like car racing. There's plenty of strategy involved, but there's also enough luck with the die throwing to keep things interesting.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:34 PM on February 19, 2008

posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:43 PM on February 19, 2008

If you like Puerto Rico, try San Juan.
Also, Bohnanza!
posted by jozxyqk at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2008

My personal favorite is Zug um Zug (aka Ticket to Ride). But yeah, hindmost has it with Board Game Geek.
posted by nat at 4:50 PM on February 19, 2008

Seconding Board Game Geek for finding new games.

I really like Tigris & Euphrates, which happens to be the #4 ranked game on BGG. I think it fits your requirements, but read the many reviews as well.
posted by Durin's Bane at 4:50 PM on February 19, 2008

I'm also continually in search of games with reasonably short turns, and 3 is often an awkward number to design a game for. Caylus is excellent with 3 players, but if there's a skill gap in your group it will quickly become too apparent. Race for the Galaxy is great with any number of people. Attika is great with 3. Arkadia seems to do well with any number of people. Torres is popular with my group but I wasn't a fan. Ticket to Ride might be too simple, but does have fast turns and is strategically based. RA seems practically made for 3 players.

If you really need a battle game, Nexus Ops is decent, but any 'battle' game with 3 players is almost necessarily fundamentally flawed (the player in last place often getting to choose the actual winner).
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2008

I second Carcassone.
posted by albolin at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2008

Munchkin is fun; also, seconding Carcassonne.
posted by blenderfish at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2008

Seconding Formula Dé, Bohnanza, and Carcassonne. Also, check out Alhambra, Ticket to Ride, Café International, and Web of Power (the last one is out of print, but crops up on eBay from time to time.) Finally, most of the Cheapass Games catalog is pretty damn good, and has a lot of strategy involved.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2008

Nthing Carcassonne.
posted by pravit at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2008

Well, I can see I'm not the first one here who thought of Carcassonne immediately upon seeing this post. I've only played it once, and when it was first explained to me I thought it would be too simple, but it turned out to be quite fun.
posted by bigtex at 5:10 PM on February 19, 2008

Have you tried Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights expansion? It adds a lot to the game!
posted by mattdini at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: There's a good list of 3-player games on BGG. I agree with those who've suggested Carcasonne, but I would also recommend Samurai, which doesn't fall into the Risk/Axis & Allies team-up trap you often see with 3-player games.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:25 PM on February 19, 2008

Give Metro a shot. It rocks. For something a little lighter, there is Blockus, Blockus Trigon and Rumis.
posted by onhazier at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2008

Titan. There's strategic play (move and recruit, and then hunt) and tactical play (when stacks come into contact).

Unfortunately, it went out of print ten years ago when Avalon Hill bit the big one, so it may be difficult to come up with a copy.
posted by Class Goat at 5:49 PM on February 19, 2008

It really only kicks in properly with 4+ players, but my friends and I (very similar tastes to yours) love Cosmic Encounter. The best version is out of print, so I would suggest getting the currently-in-print Avalon Hill version and supplementing it with cards from The Warp.

It is nearly impossible to describe the freewheeling nature of this highly chaotic, but not overcomplicated game. (Well, it can be as complicated as you want it to be, but the basic rules are not tough.) I have never played two games the same, and I've been playing it for years.
posted by Paragon at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2008

Defective Yeti is a great site for games. This link is his game reviews and posts.
posted by vito90 at 6:21 PM on February 19, 2008

Carcassone rocks. Another great game is Tikal. Explore the amazonian jungle and dig for treasure.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:29 PM on February 19, 2008

Antike. It is sort of a mix of Settlers and Risk, but not. No dice, excessively short turns (no longer than 3 minutes, if you have a hard thinker and you're trying to maneuver or figure out where to place armies). Works well with 3, has a few strategies to try.

I do second Defective Yeti as a good source.
posted by that girl at 6:38 PM on February 19, 2008

Nthing Carcassonne -- I prefer it with the Inns and Cathedrals and Traders and Builders expansions. Also worth a try are Ticket To Ride (I prefer Europe), Power Grid, and Notre Dame. My group plays Settlers, Puerto Rico, and Robo Rally regularly, so our tastes should be at least semi-aligned.
posted by j.edwards at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2008

Citadels is great and scales well all the way up to 8 players. As everyone else has said, Carcassone and Ticket to Ride are also fantastic.
posted by Nelsormensch at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2008

2nding Cities and Knights expansion for Settlers. So much fun!
My friends and I always play with a black ship hit = drink rule
Boardgames that create their own drinking games are great!
posted by Arbac at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2008

Cosmic Encounter- one of the inspirations for Magic: The Gathering. There's even a flash version you can play on-line. Every player is involved in every turn, so there's no boredom. The rules change every game, and there's tons of things to add in as you get more experienced (multiple powers, kickers, reinforcements, flares, moons, lucre). I started playing it the same time that I played Talisman and I enjoyed CE much more. It's the only game that I've played literally form sunup until sundown.

I also recommend Nuclear War. Make sure to get at least 1 expansion. Simple, fast fun, and frequently nobody wins (just like the real thing).
posted by Four Flavors at 8:30 PM on February 19, 2008

I really like Elfenland, affectionately referred to by me and my friends as "The Boot Game" because every player is a different color boot. I have played with hardcore gamers and noobs alike, and we all enjoyed ourselves.

The game definitely rewards strategic thinking, in that you have to figure out the best path to get all your tokens, but also how you're going to afford it. There are really only three "rounds," which makes the game seem to go a lot faster than it is. I think this game probably is more exciting with 4 players, but I've played with three and had a lot of fun.
posted by sarahnade at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: Tigris and Euphrates (Probably my strongest recommendation for you -- includes combat, brings out serious aggression -- but the pieces are abstract, not little soldiers; incredibly elegant mechanics even if the rules seem a little convoluted at first)

Beyond that, I will just recommend some of my favorites. These are all in the 1-2 hour category, play well with 3, and are interesting and strategic. Most of these don't have combat per se, but have resource-management and area control mechanics that bring players into conflict.

Attika (on the shorter end, but always ends with tight decisions)
Through the Desert (pastel camels; very much area control, Go-like)
On the Underground (looks like it would be a cheapo rip-off bit of tourist junk, but is actually a fantastically simple and well-balanced strategy game, leading to lots of tight cut-offs and "screw YOU" moments. Just a great game.)
Titan would be great if you could get a copy -- combat with monsters, plays very well with 3. But impossible to get a copy of.

A few more...
Wings of War is a card game that you play on a tabletop, laying out your airplane cards in "real time" to represent a dogfight. *Totally* fun, combat, cool WWI planes, lots of making sound effects like in Formula De (which is also great). This one can be long or short depending how many missions you do.
Ra is auction, no combat but fun and hotly competitive
Power Grid is resource-management and logistics in a complex, longish (more than 2 hours) strategy game; always very competitive
Caylus for a substantially-more-complex game reminiscent of Puerto Rico
Coloretto is a light, fun card game with that "oh goddammit" factor that you might enjoy. Also cheap to pick up.

Samurai is supposed to be good but I haven't played it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:48 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Blockus, though I've only played the travel version with my girlfriend. The 4 player version must own!!
posted by starscream at 10:38 PM on February 19, 2008

Battletech, using standard mech record sheets. You can be up and playing in seconds.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:06 AM on February 20, 2008

I'll pick a few newer and different ones, just for variety:

The mechanic du jour in board games is Puerto Rico-esque building and trading. There's a wide variety of games using these sort of mechanics. Princes of Florence is a nice implementation, where players are trying to build impressive cities with great works of art, having to deal a limited supply of parts and artisans as well as physically laying out their city. It takes about 90 minutes.

Cuba is another in this line, but the emphasis is on selling and shipping goods. There's a nice parliamentary mechanic in which players battle to pass bills which reward or penalise certain behaviours. It's a fairly rich game, with lots of different strategies, not all of which are obvious on the first play. It takes about 90 to 120 minutes.

Shadows over Camelot is my current favourite, in which the players collectively try to defeat the game. Knights go on quests to defeat various threats against Camelot that if left unattended will overwhelm the kingdom. Thus players have to decide which threats need to be handled, when to team up and how much damage they can take without getting killed. In addition, you can play a traitor in the game who is secretly working against the team. It takes about 60 minutes.
posted by outlier at 2:31 AM on February 20, 2008

Have you tried Arkham Horror?
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:39 AM on February 20, 2008

Three players? Might I recommend koi-koi/go-stop? Addictive card game ideally for three, played with Japanese hanafuda cards. You can get cheap plastic cards for like two bucks at a decent-sized Korean grocer, or you can go full-on and pay like $30 for a deck of Nintendo cards (not that they bear any resemblance to what you'd think of when you hear "Nintendo" -- they just got their start making playing cards).

sloperama.com/hanafuda (or something like that) should have some pretty good info.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:55 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's hard to overstate how much the Cities and Knights expansion to Settlers adds to that game. I'm never going back.

Also, I played El Grande last night for the first time. In spite of the fact that I lost miserably (I AM SLOW.), I got a very Settlers-y sense of enjoyment from it.
posted by speedo at 10:41 AM on February 20, 2008

Best answer: Hi, this is Matthew Baldwin from the aforementioned defective yeti.

Three is a tough number, but there are lots of good suggestions in this thread. Off the top of my head, reading your criteria, the first thing that popped in my head was Nexus Ops. Medium-weight wargame that plays fast and gives the players distinct goals to shoot for (beyond the generic "wipe out your opponents). Antike covers a lot of the same ground and is, objectively, a better game, but I enjoy Nexus Ops more with three.

For more abstract / European-style board games, I'll affirm that Through the Desert, Ra, and Ticket To Ride (I prefer the newest "Marklin" edition) are great. Similar to the latter is Thurn and Taxis, which I find a little more satisfying than Ticket. Carcassone is well-regarded but, given that you've already cut your teeth on Puerto Rico, probably going to strike you as too light, in my estimation; Caylus is a fantastic game in the abstract, but has too much downtown and takes too long to complete in practice (though, if you are going to play it, three is the ideal number).

Good card games include San Juan (though this is really more of a boardgame in disguise), The Bottle Imp, and Bohnanza. Tichu is considered by many (including me) to be amongst the best card games ever designed, but only works with exactly four.

As for longer, more "American" fare, Fantasy Flight Games have a few that work great with one person playing the "dungeon master" and the other two working cooperatively to defeat him; Doom, Descent, and The Fury of Dracula fall into this category. Also, Age of Steam (the base game) works well for four, and you can pick up expansion maps that make the game more suitable for three. The current edition of Steam isn't pretty and will never be accused of elegance, but a third edition--with improved components, streamlined rules, and a reworking of some cumbersome mechanisms--is due out later this year.

Lastly, consider picking up a copy of Twilight Struggle or 1960: The Making of A President, for those times when you find yourself with only two.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:37 AM on February 20, 2008

Nthing Powergrid, i play this game almost weekly with my board game geeks.
We also play a lot of Peurto Rico, and Settlers.

If you like odd card games, Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx are quite fun and perfect for 3 players (there are only basic rules to start with, draw one card, play one card; every card played after that changes the rules.)

Pirate's Cove is fun, but we played with 4 players and haven't played again yet, so i'm not sure if 3 players is a good number (it might be even more fun).
posted by schyler523 at 12:07 PM on February 20, 2008

(Pirate's Cove does not work well with 3, IMO. The fun in the game comes when two or more people select the same island to sail to, and this is much less likely to happen with fewer players.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 12:10 PM on February 20, 2008

I'm a Carcasonne freak, so yes, I immediately thought Carcassonne. But it's only about 1 hour, and maybe too easy. Good for those less intense games - and the expansions are interesting. I like the Count/City - it changes up the game play a lot, because altruism is rewarded.

Citadels is awesome - it's building a city, memory/logical deduction and assasination all in one game. And if you get bored of the first characters, you can get expansions with new ones with new powers. There are 2 and 3 player variations included with the basic rules.

I've also really liked the game Indominable Citadel, but I don't know whether that is available widely.

There is a very good soldier game I've also played, and now I'm blanking on the name - maybe some one can help. You are trying to conquer Italy, and you fight battles with medieval/early modern soldier cards - footsoldier, musketeer - I remember a warrior queen and a courtesan as well, and winter and spring cards.
posted by jb at 6:34 PM on February 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. There's a lot to explore here! Pretty much all of these sound like good suggestions.

We've actually played Carcassonne and thought it was good but not compelling. We might go back to it. I've heard of Cosmic Encounter, and it sounds awesome, but I haven't been about to find a reasonably priced copy. I'm leaning toward San Juan, Ticket to Ride, Power Grid, or Samurai as the first new game to check out.
posted by ignignokt at 11:49 PM on February 20, 2008

San Juan is Puerto Rico but simpler. That's great, I often like it better the PR because it takes out some of the fussiness, but just to set expectations: it's not going to be a major departure from Puerto Rico.

Ticket to Ride is fun but very simple. I find it to be like playing gin rummy with a map -- which is fun, and makes a great gateway game, but again much simpler than the games you've been playing. The original (North America map) is the simplest, the subsequent versions (Europe and Marklin) have more strategic elements.

Power Grid is substantially more complex than these other games. If you like Game of Thrones and other complex games, you're absolutely ready for it, but just noting here the difference in complexity level.

Have fun!
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2008

Thirding Tigris and Euphrates. Many places call it the "gamer's game" and, well, I totally agree. By far my favourite board game. Lots of different strategies to be used, very balanced, can be very confrontational (if you're into that sort of thing -- most of the negative reviews generally point to this, but for me it's a positive). It doesn't take too long to play and it can be be played with three people without any problem (though four is ideal as it crowds the board more.) Just an awesome game.
posted by mkn at 10:04 PM on February 21, 2008

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