I suppose I've always enjoyed board gaming, having played a quite number of games as a wee lad like Monopoly, Stratego, Guess Who?, and Fireball Island. After my introduction to video gaming though, I sort of fell away from board gaming. It was playing The Settlers of Catan at Angelbiscuit's aunt's house many years ago that rekindled my love for the medium. I've since played and acquired dozens of board games, and here are some (not all, certainly) of my favorites.
I learned of Colt Express thanks to Hatman. When we were attending Geekway to the West 2015, we must've played it a dozen times with friends and new people. In fact, we frequently played the 'play-to-win' edition, and when we didn't win the drawing on Sunday, I immediately ordered it from Amazon on my phone. So Ludonaute, thank my good buddy Hatman for that sale!
Colt Express is unique game, quite unlike anything I've played before. Not only does it feature little cardboard-built train cars and locomotive that constitute the playing board, but the card-playing mechanic is wholly new to me and my friends. Let me explain. Each player has a little merson that they move between and atop the train cars. Each player also has a hand of action cards they they play to make their merson move left and right, move up or down, pick up loot, punch another player, shoot another player, move the train's marshall, and other actions. The mechanic that really pushes my buttons is how the actions are played. I don't know the technical term for it, but everybody plays their cards without actually performing the action just yet. All the actions are played sequentially onto the table, some face-up and some face-down. Then, once everybody's cards have been played, the stack of played cards are picked up and the actions are implemented in order. Trying to keep track of what other players are playing is really hard to do, and results in some really funnily coincidental actions interacting with each other. The goal of the game is to pick up as much loot scattered about the train as you can, and not to lose it to other players before the end of the game.
The card-playing mechanic was a bit difficult to grasp at first, but once I got it, I absolutely loved it. I've neither played nor heard of any game with a similar mechanic. The quality of the cardboard-punch-out-train is really quite high, and I feel that with careful handling ours will certainly last a long time. The box innards are individually segregated to hold each little train car, and there's an empty one to hold the meeple and miscellaneous bits; I like it. It's not fancy or awesome, but it works and is nice. I've never considered myself a fan of Western-themed media, but then again, I love Firefly like nothing else, so maybe it's the train heist itself that appeals to me. If you like any of these, and enjoy the unique card-playing mechanic as I've tried to explain it, then I highly recommend Colt Express.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a must-mention. Many thanks to Abernathy for introducing it to me and my friends many years ago. It's ostensibly a horror game, but compared to games such as Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, I'd call it horror-lite. We've played it more times than I can remember.
Betrayal has two phases. The first is the exploring phase where players walk through doorways, draw random room tiles, and resolve the actions required by that particular room. This random room drawing allows for the House on the Hill to be different every time you play the game, which is a definite boon. Some room tiles have an 'omen' icon on them; each time an omen is drawn, the likelihood of 'the haunt' happening draws ever closer until it inevitably happens. Once the haunt (the second phase) has happened, the rule book is consulted and a scenario is chosen based on a combination of the last omen drawn and the room in which it occurred. Then, one player is typically revealed to be in league with the forces of evil and goes into another room to read his or her winning conditions while the rest of the players confer with their scenario book and discover their winning conditions. There are fifty different scenarios in the game, which also works to keep the game fresh every time its played.
A review (if that's what this is) of Betrayal cannot go by without mentioning the poor job the little coffin-shaped markers do at tracking your stats. They don't make good contact with the cardboard, and slide about at the slightest movement. If you're playing Betrayal, I cannot recommend this site enough; it's designed for use on your smartphone, and it keeps track of your character's stats in lieu of the little markers that come with the game. Speaking of troubles, some of the scenarios are ambiguously detailed, requiring some leaps of intuition on players' part. They're not game-breaking, but are out of place when everything else has been so specifically detailed. On the other hand, the box is very well designed. There're slots and depressions for most of the significantly-sized components, and the baggies of little chits and tokens lay atop everything else well enough.
I love Betrayal. The house-building mechanic and the random scenarios keep it fresh every time you play, and the characters are all unique enough to throw another variable into the game. I've yet to play it with a group where it didn't go over well. In fact, we've played it so much, its the most-worn box in our collection of board games. Give it a whirl when Angelbiscuit and I are around, because if we're visiting with games, we've invariably brought Betrayal.
I first played Hollywood at MidSouthCon 34 this past March 18–20 with Angelbuscuit and Melibrad. It was recommended to us by a fellow who went by the handle "Dr. Grant"; he not only recommended Hollywood, but it was his own copy that he'd brought to the convention to share with the attendees. Hollywood is a Russian board game that went to Kickstarter to fund a worldwide release and localized translations. I missed out on the campaign, but after playing the game at MidSouthCon, I managed to snag a complete, unplayed version on eBay.
The game's premise is that each player is a movie studio (each a pastiche of a real company) charged with making the highest-grossing films of the year. Each round represents a production year, and the player with the most net income after three years is the winner. A film requires cards for a script, a director, and at least an actor or actress (having a 'leading duo' nets more moolah), though there are many additional cards to modify the film and possibly garner more awards or income. A number of cards are initially drawn, and the player selects one to keep and then passes the rest to the next player (akin to the mechanic of Sushi Go). This is repeated until all players have a complete hand of cards. Then, using those cards and some bidding mechanics for special cards, the players make one or more films.
The theme is fun, the art is very clean and unique, and we had a blast playing it. We cracked up naming our films, and discussing exactly what types of films we were making; if I remember correctly, Melibrad won thanks to putting together Oscar Bait: The Movie. The interior of the box is rather sparse, and not specifically carved out for its bits like I like, but everything fits nicely enough in baggies that just rest in a concavity. I can't recommend trying to get your own as they're pretty rare and can get expensive for that reason (I got lucky with my copy). What I do recommend is to hook up with me and Angelbiscuit and play it with us when you're around.
image credit: "Dice" by Daniel Dionne (CC-BY-SA)