TOP 10 BOARD GAMES FOR NERDS
This year, put away Yahtzee, Monopoly, Scrabble, and Sorry. You are a nerd after all. You have a reputation to uphold and you can find all of those in the back of Grandma’s closet. Time to teach some new games.
1. Dungeons and Dragons
The great grand daddy of role playing games, Dungeons and Dragons is a staple of any nerdy book shelf. Set in a uniquely undefined and eclectic magical world awash with dwarves, elves, gods, monsters, and dragons, the game celebrated it’s 40th anniversary in 2014 with an elegant 5th Edition. Fueled by little more than the power of your imagination, D&D is often cited as the inspirational Petri dish where many of our favorite authors and screenwriters started their storytelling career. With a $13 starter set available at Walmart and Amazon, you would be hard pressed to find a reason not to gather your friends, roll some dice, and have some adventures.
Better yet, you don’t even technically need to own the books or even dice to play D&D 5th Edition. With the core rules available for free, free online characters sheets, and even free dice roller apps, the financial bar to entry is essentially nil. Don’t have a group of local nerd buddies with a free evening? Check out Roll20 or any number of social media outlets and find a group to play with online.
2. Magic The Gathering
Unlike most of the games on this list, Magic the Gathering managed to escape the confines of the gamestore a decade sooner than it’s nerdy neighbors. Available at the check out aisle at Wal-Mart and alongside the poker chips at the corner drug store, Magic the Gathering relies upon simple mechanics and endless strategic customization for it’s longevity. Featuring gorgeous and evocative art, the game represents what amounts to an old school wizards battle as players cast spells to summon creatures and effects in an attempt to outwit their opponent. Typically a two player game, a starter kit for two will run you anywhere from $12 to $20. After that, the skies the limit as you hunt for rare cards and optimize your personal strategy.
3. Settlers of Catan
One of the first of many Euro games to take off in the US, Settlers of Catan has become the Monopoly of nerd games. Played by most, loved by some, its ubiquitous, colorful hex tiles are a staple of conventions and tournaments around the world. Like most Eurostyle games, Catan’s popularity is derived from it’s combination of elemental simplicity and deep strategy. Melding the placement strategy of chess and resource management of Risk, almost everyone has a favorite way to play. Rebranded and released as simply Catan for it’s 20th anniversary in 2015, a new copy will run you right around $30, but identical used copies can be had for significantly less.
Like Dungeons and Dragons, Dominion stands apart as the progenitor of an entire game genre. The first of the non collectible deck building games, Dominion uses a fixed selection of cards from which you select each turn to add to and play from your hand. With ten expansions, Dominion is almost endlessly scaleable with a gentle learning curve. While numerous thematic tweaks and iterations exist, Dominion has aged quite well, with a second edition released in 2016. A new copy will run you around $30, but like Catan, a good used copy can likely be found for less.
Ready for something a little less cutthroat than Risk but no less challenging? Pandemic might be what you are looking for. A cooperative game, the first of it’s kind to really catch the limelight, each player takes on the role of a specialist tasked with battling the outbreak of a variety of diseases as they grow and spread around the globe. With variable levels of difficulty and a nice spread of unique roles, the replayability level is quite high. While several iterations exist (including a legacy version like Legacy Risk) a single copy of the core game can keep you busy for quite awhile. At $25 new on Amazon, it’s also pretty affordable as board games go.
Munchkin is the Monopoly of nerd games. Loved by some, despised by others, it comes in flavors for every palette (Zombies, Cthulhu, Steampunk, Space Opera, Western, Kung Fu) and has licensing deals with all your favorite nerd fandoms. Based on the core concept of a classic role playing dungeon crawl, the game is about collecting enough gear and treasure to survive a mad scramble for Level 10 at any cost. It’s fast paced, simple minded, and any attempts to strategize beyond two or three turns is probably ill advised. Each genre/version adds it’s own layer of additional gameplay (my personal favorite is Apocalypse) and most players own at least one or two versions with a few expansions each. With something for almost everyone, Munchkin is a nice opening game for a night of more intense gaming, or a gift for pretty much any nerd on your Christmas list.
7. Betrayal on House on the Hill
It’s a classic tale, told in the flickering lights of campfires and cinemas the world over. A group of misfits wanders into a mysterious mansion, only to find themselves confronted with evil and danger beyond their reckoning. But this is no harmless Scooby-Do shenanigan. Before the evenings over, one of your number will be revealed to be a murderous traitor scheming to destroy the rest. With a randomly generated mansion, a combination of erudite co-op (until it isn’t) mechanics and a book with 50 possible secret scenarios once the traitor turns, Betrayal is almost endlessly re-playable. It’s like Clue with more dynamite handed through a magic mirror to you by your future self which you then use to blow up the psycho cannibals in the dining room. If that sounds better than Colonel Mustard in the Library with the candlestick you would be exactly right. At $40, Betrayal At House on the Hill is well worth the investment and a nice entry point to similar, bigger scale co-op games such as Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Android, and the like.
Carcasonne is a game with a learning curve. Not steep mind you, and the climb is rewarding, but the first time you play, you are almost guaranteed to lose. For a game with relatively simple rules, that is a good sign. Using a disarmingly calming medieval landscape as a backdrop, Carcasonne has players creating the game board over the course of the game using 72 tiles. Like dominoes with a soul, players combine tiles to create roads, cities, and farms, and place workers to claim territory and add to their final score. Often considered the ideal entry level board game for those interested in something beyond Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders. With perhaps the exception of Dungeons and Dragons, Carcassone predates most games on this list and features the requisite plethora of expansions and versions. For $20 at Walmart or Amazon, it’s hard to go wrong with a classic.
9. Ticket to Ride
Ticket To Ride has been described as a combination of gin rummy and Risk, with all the cut throat conniving of both. Originally using a map of the United States, Ticket To Ride has players building color coded rail lines and to complete set routes across the country for points. Play continues until one player runs out of track. Like the best games on this list, by the time you finish your first game, you’ll be scheming the best routes and strategies for the next. Coming in a variety of editions usually focusing on a specific geographic area and each adding a unique mechanic to the game, Ticket to Ride Europe is often considered the definitive edition.
10. Smash Up
If you have ever wondered if your gun toting robot battle dinosaurs could defeat a horde of zombie pirates, Smash Up is probably what you are looking for. An iteration of the deck building game genre, Smash Up is relatively simple and asks players to combine two thematic decks (zombies, dinosaurs, robots, aliens, pirates, wizards, tricksters, etc) each game to overwhelm a rotating roster of “bases” in order to score. With each themed deck having it’s own play style, and each combination further adding to the strategic options, Smash Up is a nice middle ground between the automated mechanical functions of a game like Uno, and heavier card based games like Magic the Gathering. Clocking in right around $20 for a base game, it will not be long before you will be hunting up the expansions.