Carcassonne is the only board game I can stand

carcassonne.jpg I don't like playing board games. I used to like playing them (Chess, Risk, Scrabble, Monopoly, Tactics II) but for some reason I don't understand, I became bored with them in my early 20s. So I'm surprised that I like playing Carcassonne so much. (I should make it clear that I've never actually played the physical board game of Carcassonne; I've only played the iOS version of the game on my iPad and iPhone.

I bought Carcassonne for my iPad ($9.99 and it runs on the iPhone and the iPad) over a month ago, and my wife, our seven-year-old daughter, and I play it together at least three evenings a week, and we haven't grown tired of it yet. The object of the game is to take ownership of villages, roads, and pastures that you piece together with tiles randomly drawn (the are 70 tiles in the game). The rules are simple enough that my seven-year-old caught on immediately (it helps her, and my wife and I, that the iOS version doesn't let you place a tile in a forbidden spot, and that it automatically keeps score). The graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is smooth, and it has a nice guitar soundtrack that has a Pavlovian effect on us when we play it. A typical game lasts about 30 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for a board game. It also seems to be bug free - not once has it crashed on us, which is pretty remarkable, considering most iPad games I've played crash from time to time.

A couple of friends have told me that boardgames made in the last 20 years or so are much more fun than the ones that I used to play, and that I ought to give them a try. They recommend Ticket to Ride and the Settlers of Catan. I just bought Catan HD for the iPad but haven't played it yet. I'll wait for Ticket to Ride to show up on the iTunes store before I try it.


  1. I would add “Pandemic” to the list. It’s co-operative, but very entertaining. Catan will likely be a board game classic in another 10-20 years, if not already.

  2. I’d recommend picking up a physical copy of Catan before the iOS version. Computerized versions just don’t convey the spirit of the game correctly. Catan is best played like poker, when you can look your opponent in the eye and negotiate for stuff in person. It’s an entirely different animal from Carcassonne, which I would argue is more casual. Catan is good with 3 players, awesome with 4. Gotta have that human element.

    1. Agreed. Mark, Catan is great, we play several times a month with a rotating list of friends and besides the game itself it has a fantastic social aspect with trading.

      And while touchscreen games are cool, there’s something about the tactile nature of a physical game that makes it more fun–plus you’ll be playing with real people in 3D!!! ;)

    2. Why would you lose the human element with the iOS version?

      He’s talking about playing it with his family, an iPad is just an electronic board-game in this example – he won;t be shut away in another room :p

  3. Mark, you need to get the physical version with some expansion decks. It makes it a lot more fun when playing with friends that know the game.

  4. Your friends are correct. I _hate_ most of the old mass-produced board games, especially Risk, Scrabble and their ilk. In the 1990s German-style board games began to have influence on American gamemakers, bringing novel concepts such as balance and the capacity to have something meaningful to play for even when you’re in dire straits. So the recent games are much better, and the ones they recommended are exactly the ones I’d recommend.

  5. Carcassonne on the iPad is GREAT. Perfect, really, they just hit it out of the park. On the tabletop, try to find Carcassonne: The City, which is the same thing, basically, but totally gorgeous. Here’s a shot of the game at the end, after filling in the castle walls:

    How cool is that? The rules are even a little easier for kids, as you only have to match up roads. Love this.

    I would pass on Ticket to Ride–it’s glorified Rummy. There’s not a lot of game there beyond what you know. Pandemic is fun though, the co-operative element really makes that one feel unique. All the players play against the game. That can be a ton of fun.

    If you want a solid Monopoly replacement, look for an old copy of Acquire. Great game from the 60’s/70’s and still in print. The older ones use plastic tiles and are hardy as hell. You can find them at flea markets and thrift stores all the time. The newer editions are cardboard, but still fun.

    1. Oh man, the XBLA version has me completely addicted. Don’t get me wrong: I love the physical version with the tiles and whatnot, but the automatic adding of scores at the end makes it easier to play more rounds in the same amount of time.

  6. I suspect you will enjoy Catan and a couple of the basic expansions (there are some outrageously overcomplicated expansions). Thanks for the lead on this one.

  7. I was going to recommend Catan and Ticket to Ride (The german board), but since that’s been taken care of… just started playing “Small World.” Good stuff.

  8. Until the River expansion comes out for the iOS version, the physical game is better. However, I do like easily knowing when I can place a piece to make a square unplayable, trapping an opponent’s guy for the rest of the game. That’s just a pain to figure out in the physical game.

  9. Mark, if you’re interested in trying Ticket to Ride without buying the physical board game, you can play it online while waiting for an IOS version of it. Limited plays to start, but free forever if you ever do buy the physical game. I gotta say I like that in a company.

    I love the game. I play it often with my two boys (7 and 5), and I brought it into work over the holidays and converted several non-gamers with it. It’s a fun game with lots of replay value.

  10. Out on a limb here and away from these more cerebral games, you should give The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game a go. It’s great fun and is what Totopoly should have been i.e. FUN. You get to gamble on each others horses over 6 races, and it actually does get nasty. Sure there’s a big amount of luck involved but it’s so much fun being horrible to each other that it doesn’t matter.

  11. Mark, yeah, the Eurogame scene has been thriving for a couple of decades now, and the best ones are NOTHING like the drawn-out, tedious, random family board games you’re probably used to. Eurogames as a genre emphasize simplicity, speed, and strategic play — great family gaming material — and I’d say Carcassonne is fairly typical of them.

    Other titles you might go for: Puerto Rico, Agricola, Power Grid, Web of Power, Thurn and Taxis, Le Havre, Caylus, Small World, El Grande, Ra and (believe it or not) Battlestar Galactica. Also, is an excellent resource, if a little hard to navigate. Go straight to Browse -> Games from the bottom of the top bar to get to a ranked list of popular games.

  12. I have been getting into the new board game Renaissance myself lately. Yo might try out Pandemic which is a very fun cooperative game (although probably a bit much for a seven year old), Small World which is a like a more approachable, fantasy version of Risk, or Bang, which is an enjoyable wild west style card game.

  13. Catan is great, but the iOS versions suck. The graphics are crappy and indistinct and the interfacce sucks.

  14. Ticket to Ride it’s so simple yet so engaging (actually simplicity should be the core of every good board game) and extremely fun.
    It’s very hard to put a curb on your laughter when you get one of your opponents routes blocked.

  15. What a trip. I briefly visited and enjoyed amazing food and wine in Carcassonne in the South of France about 7 years ago with some Lebanese friends. It’s a very beautiful place, despite being a former Crusader town. ;)

  16. In my experience, Boardgame=Massive Family Fight, only worse, as it comes with a rulebook, exceptions and, occasionally, adjudiction based on precedents. There’s an African Safari-based boardgame of fiendish complexity and unplayableness still at my dad’s house that hasn’t been opened for nigh on thirty years, the memories are that traumatic.

    Improved them, you say? More fun, eh? We’ll see this Christmas…

  17. Think of board games this way: if video games have come a long way since the Atari 2600, why wouldn’t board games also evolve from Monopoly and other familiar, well-worn titles? They have experienced a “renaissance” in the past 15 to 20 years, spreading from Germany to the rest of the world. Their quality and success allow some of them to unfold into iOS versions, for example. Feel free to immerse yourself in the variety that specialty sites will present to you — look up (possibly the world’s foremost repository on the matter) and for a sampling.

  18. Another great gateway game is Stone Age. Check out for all kinds of board game goodness. I’ll second the idea that Catan is best played with a physical copy face to face. The Catan app is a huge letdown compared to Carcassonne’s iOS implementation. I’d also recommend that you look for Ticket to Ride online at I kind of doubt it will will make it to iOS anytime soon since it’s already so well done there.

    1. Since you’d mentioned Stone Age, I’ll pimp Yucata, where the game can be played online, for free.

      Though sadly, Carcassone is one of my less-favourite games, despite the fact that I own a copy and a bunch of the expansions.

      (current favourite? Race for the Galaxy. Oh, if only there was an online version!)

  19. There are a LOT of truly great board games out there, and they’ve evolved well past Monopoly and Clue.

    Jeblucas is right that Ticket to Ride is not a very complex game, but it’s good as a light party game, and it would be excellent to play with your 7-year-old daughter.

    I can’t recommend Dominion highly enough. It’s a card-based game with lots of opportunity for deep strategy, but it’s easy enough to learn that you can pick it up very quickly, and the rules aren’t especially complex. It plays quickly because you get a new hand of cards every turn, so every decision you make is based on what you can do that turn, which means you don’t have to spend time extensively planning out what you’re going to do in future turns. The expansions add a lot of neat things, but there’s plenty of play value in just the base game.

    Race for the Galaxy is a superb game, but it has a really steep learning curve, so I wouldn’t recommend trying it until you’ve tried several other games. It’s very tightly written, so you won’t find ambiguity in the rules, but there’s a lot of iconography to learn and the mechanics aren’t intuitive unless you’ve played other games like it.

    If you want a silly simple game, the Cheapass series is often great, especially Give Me the Brain. Zombies in a fast food restaurant with one brain to share – what’s not to love? Best if played entirely in zombie voices.

    1. Can’t agree more. For playing IRL (I know there are some online versions as well), Dominion is THE game. Period.

      Also great is Citadels. Very simple, easy to get a handle on, but very deep game play.

      Carcassonne is fantastic, too. Settlers is classic.

      One german-style board game I absolutely hate is Agricola. So complicated for a 20-minute game. So much setup. Not particulary interesting.

      1. Hmmm. Alternatively, I could say that Dominion is far too much set-up and not particularly interesting for a 20-minute game. Whereas Agricola is not a 20-minute game by any stretch of the imagination, and has depths that Dominion can only dream about (I could argue that after a while you realise that the whole game is about analysing the card pool at the start of the game, picking a strategy and hoping it comes off. Clearly that’s an unfair generalisation but it’s no worse that your comment about Agricola.)

        My major issue with Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride is that they have two modes of play – casual and competitive. And, like the poster-child for this problem, Scrabble, if the players aren’t all playing the same game then it will rapidly become hell…

        I notice that a couple of people have mentioned that they find “luck-free” games to be too dry for them. I think that’s a very valid concern – but not necessarily relevant. Being dry doesn’t make them bad games but you do have to be careful what you are looking for and expecting. The board game hobby is now broad enough to mean that just because a game is popular doesn’t mean it will suit you. This is a very good thing, of course, but it can catch newcomers out quite badly since even friendly recommendations can backfire.

        Mark, welcome to a whole new world. Just be aware that it’s a bigger one than you ever dreamed of…

        1. Granted, I’ve only played Agricola three times, and only with 4 players, but it’s never taken longer than 20 – 30 minutes for a game. Mind you, we weren’t playing with the interactive or the complex decks, and we were all beginners.

          And yes, absolutely, Dominion (especially if you’re always playing with the same 10 action cards) becomes about deciding a strategy before you begin and implementing it. But the game compensates with attack cards and randomisation. Also, the cards are well balanced enough that you can guess what your opposing players’ strategies are and play against their weaknesses if you wish.

          1. The idea of finishing Agricola in 30 minutes seems totally impossible to me. Assuming you are able to do the between turn upkeep in 30 seconds and pull off harvest in a similar amount of time, with four players each taking in the neighborhood of 40 actions a game, that means taking an action every 8 seconds. Are you sure you didn’t hit daylight savings time in the middle of the game?

            Also, Dominion cards are extremely poorly balanced. A good number of them are terrible and some of drastically overpowered. I love Dominion when you get an actual interactive set of cards that allows you to attempt different strategies, but quite often you end up playing with cards that have no significant interaction, and the best strategy is just to buy silver -> gold -> province (with one of the best action card available, a second one at the 19-21 card mark depending on the action in question).

          2. LOL, nope. Maybe it just seemed shorter because we were having more fun than we realised?

            Or maybe we were all playing the game wrong. Dunno. I might just give it another shot.

  20. My favorite of the Carcassonne line of games is
    Carcassonne: The Discovery
    . The new feature here is that regions, instead of scoring automatically when completed, score when you remove your follower from them, which takes an action. And you only get four followers (not including the one used for the score track). This actually makes the game a bit simpler, but also strategically deeper.

  21. A friend of a friend introduced me to this game a few years ago, and I was instantly enthralled! I recommend it to lots of people, of which several have become huge fans as well.

    1. you read my mind. i have a very precious five year old boy. the challenge is that he’s very smart but also has a short attention span. games like CandyLand bore him but a lot of more advanced games require too much focus/strategy.

      i’ll check this out.

      other suggestions by anyone for good board games for smart but impatient five year old?

  22. I can’t say enough positive things about Carcassonne. Foremost, it works with two players. You can’t say that of many board games. Second, I too hate just about every board game and can’t quite explain why this one is so much fun.

    So, after research, the best expansions are: Princess and Dragon (but we modified the ‘fairy’ rules to simplify its use*). Inns and Cathedrals. River 1 & 2.

    I thought for a while that the “farmer” aspect made it too unbalanced, but no, it just makes you use your head more.

    *Whenever you finish an abbey you gain control of the ‘fairy’ and can use it to protect any tile you wish from the dragon until the next abbey is completed, then it goes to that player.
    **Another good rule mod: A teleporter can be used to remove one of your meeples from the board, this encourages risky farm plays without committing a player to the farm until the end.

  23. I also hate most of the “classic” board games but am totally addicted to the “German Style” games like Catan. Carcassonne is one of my current favorites but I agree with Amphigorey that Dominion cannot be praised highly enough.

    The great thing about these games compared to the “classic” ones (with the exception of chess) is the lack of randomness and luck. The game Puerto Rico takes the cake for this as the most prominent piece of randomness in the whole game is deciding who goes first. After that, with a minor exception, the entire game is played out based on player choices. It’s another one I would highly recommend, although it requires three people, takes a couple hours to play in person and is kind of complicated.

    1. “The great thing about these games compared to the “classic” ones (with the exception of chess) is the lack of randomness and luck.”

      But, the tile you pick up in Carc is random. Dice are rolled every turn in Catan. And Dominion has you shuffle cards over and over again to ensure randomness.

      There’s still luck in these games–that’s what appeals to a lot of people. There’s an element of chance that makes them compelling, whether you benefit more than your share, or you apply yourself and overcome when the deck goes against you. Games that suck all the luck out, like Puerto Rico, Stone Age and Agricola (mentioned above) strike me as dry in the extreme. Not everyone has to embrace the Euro ideal of brief playtime, simple rules, and no luck.

      As for saying games are complicated–they are /games/. I have played Arkham Horror (as bad as it can get rules-wise) with my five-year-old. The biggest hurdle for him is that he can’t read well. The biggest hurdle for me is feeling uncomfortable about him shooting a Cultist with a Shotgun (family values?). My eldest is seven and she’s a total /shark/ at California and Acquire. Her favorite game right now? Descent. These are awesome fun and all, but kids are better at following and remembering rules than most adults. Don’t sell them short.

  24. I’m sure I’m not the first one to say this… but there have been a lot of really good board games made recently.

    Do yourself a favor and check them out. Personally I love Arkham Horror and the new Mansions of Madness. Although the complexity of either game may scare casual gamers.

  25. Carcassonne is, after a few plays, a tedious exercise in card-counting. Whoever remembers which big major farm-breaking and -joining cards are left wins.

  26. I am not a gamer, I like freeciv. I think they should make a better multiplayer client for it and clean it up, get some of the developers from Sid Meier should tweak it, make it a fuller representation of the first or second game, still freeware, and still a stripped down version of the game, just fuller.

  27. >>Chess, Risk, Scrabble, Monopoly

    Jeez, no wonder why you hate boardgames. There are about 1000 games way better than all of these out right now. You won’t find them in Walmart, however, except for Settlers of Catan which is the only ‘Euro’ style board game to break into modern retail.

  28. Love Carcassonne as well. Never played any of the expansions.

    I used to play board games with my parents all the time when I was younger but grew out of it. I start playing again recently with a friend and I was amazed.

    Board games have changed enormously in the last 10-20 years.
    They’re suddenly completely balenced, fun and creative with chance only coming into play to spice things up.

    This is one of the reasons I love and hate Catan. Phenomenal game but when your territories don’t come up for 15 turns? Rage inducing.

    I highly recommend the following games:

    Formula-D – Car racing board game. Amazingly balenced, surprisingly fun.

    Forbidden Island – You and your fellow explorers work together to retreive treasure from the island while it sinks.

    Pandemic – Work together to cure disease on a global scale.

    Battlestar Galactica – Work together to overcome fantastic obstacles and reach your destination. Only thing is one of you may or may not be an evil robot.

    Betrayal at House on the Hill – Just about every horror story Ever will at some point be presented in this game. Explore a spooky mansion until the haunt begins, at which point one of the people playing turns out to be a traitor…

    BANG! – Wild West Shoot up em up card game. So. Much. Fun.

    1. Oh yes, Betrayal at House on the Hill is fun. And that’s another game (like Dominion) where you can play it repeatedly, because the game itself changes randomly each time, with the nature of the haunt, and the layout of rooms.

  29. A little bit late to the game? (pun intended) I wish I could get my friends to play Monopoly but they find it so boring and tedious compared to some of the other stuff we have on hand- today’s board games are to Monopoly as The Xbox 360 is to the Atari.
    I agree with some of the above comments that you really should get some physical copies. There is something special about handling the actual pieces and moving them around that a screen can’t capture. My friends and I play Catan all the time and it is a great game for sure, because even if you are losing you don’t feel left out and you can still change the outcome of the game. Plus games are relatively short so you can play again quickly.

    Some of my favorites (and also good for kids): Catan, Forbidden Island (tile game where you work together with the other players to get 4 treasures before the island you are on sinks into the sea), and Galaxy Truckers ( a tile game where you build spaceships and then send them on a race through an asteroid field with space pirates and lots of space loot!)

  30. I’m just going to come out and say it, even if it makes me a hater: Settlers of Catan is a lousy game. The key gameplay skill is tricking other people into make bad trades with you, and the person in third can almost always choose which of the top two people win, regardless of how those two played relative to one another. It’s a king-making game, pure and simple.

    @Jeblucas: I don’t think the “Euro Ideal” includes brief playtime. Some games are relatively short but other take many hours. I also think that most of these games incorporate some random element to prevent the game from being the same every time. Agricola does it through professions and minor upgrades, Le Havre through the building stacks, and so on.

    I think the ideal is that you need enough chance to force people to have to think through new situations, but not so much chance that you feel like you win or lose purely on a throw of dice (unless the game was very close before that).

  31. I eleventy-third the idea for playing Catan as a physical board game. If you really want to splurge, get the 3D version of Catan. (It normally sells for $300, but due to an Amazon glitch, I got it for $12! My friends have much envy of me for this.)

  32. I will add my voice to the Settlers of Catan chorus. That game is wonderful.

    Also, Betrayal at House on the Hill, like says, is a lot of fun.

    Some friends and I have been playing Last Night on Earth and a similar game, Invasion from Outer Space recently. They’re both pretty easy to learn and great in teams.

    Oh, and if you like big long epic 2-4+ hour games, give Talisman (and expansions) a try!!

  33. I personally enjoy many 30 minute length board games, I also quite enjoy complex, 4-8 hour long simulation board games.

    But yes, Carcassonne is a especially well implemented iOS game. The first time I played, I was commuting on the train on my iPad, and ended up playing a kid in Germany on his iPhone. Great fun. Smallworld is pretty well done for the iPad. Many other Euro board games have been ported; but not always as well done.

  34. Haven’t played Carcassonne for years, but the board game industry has boomed in the last decade or so, with many, many good games out there.

    Race For The Galaxy has long been a favourite with my group – as someone else said, it has a steep learning curve, but it’s good fun once you’ve played a few games. It’s quite good in terms of there never being a clear winner until the end – someone may seem to be dominating, but as often as not, someone else sneaks in as all their strategies come together (or they’ve just drawn the right cards) in the last turn or two.

    Dominion – I’ve only played that a couple of times, but yes, it’s very good. The rules are simply enough that new players can come up to speed quickly, but the random factor of which sets of cards are in play mean that the actual play varies greatly between any two games.

    Pillars of the Earth is fun – we play that a bit – though it tends to be much clearer who’s actually winning at any point. BSG is fun, though I find I’m tiring of it – the result may vary, but each game tends to play out much the same.

  35. Oddly, the religous version of Carcassonne is much better. Try Ark of the Covenant, it adds a lot that Carcassone is missing. Now, before you hate it, you don’t have to do anything religious to play. But it adds better gameplay elements to the basic idea. A much better play.

  36. Might want to try Tikal. Nice randomization of gameplay through initial board set-up. Good art. Good theme.

  37. Well, since someone’s gotta be the token Debbie Downer, it may as well be me.

    I can’t stand most euro board games. Perhaps it’s the red-blooded American in me, but the smarmy, passive-aggressive type of “friendly competition” they engender just rubs me the wrong way. I much prefer cooperative games, or just classic active-aggression: “here are some dudes, they’re gonna kill you now k?” I can deal with that. It’s honest. It doesn’t make me want to punch you across the table.

    Catan is alright, if you can find a group of players who aren’t complete assholes it turns into more of a race than anything. Dominions is terrible, the expansions are worse, although I really like the card mechanics. Diplomacy will ruin friendships all on its own.

    Munchkin lies in a strange semi-acceptable region. Smug dickery is all the game’s about, but it’s so brazen about it that you just can’t stay mad at the thing. It’s called Munchkin fer chrissakes. Ironically it’s also not as bad as some; most of the mechanics support building up for a mad grab to the end more than they do dicking over everyone else.

  38. I’m betting the game Gilbert Wham mentioned above was “Source of the Nile”. Players organize their expeditions, start on the coast of Africa, and then explore inward filling in the blank hexes. Part of what makes it endless is that if you don’t make it back out to report your findings, all the hexes you explored are erased :(

    Check out Fortress Ameritrash for some other viewpoints about some different categories of games.

    And finally something else from the app store you might want to check out, Neuroshima Hex.

  39. If you want a quick summary of decent family style games, look at the “Spiel des Jahres” winners from the various years. Carcassonne, Settlers, and Ticket to Ride have all won…you’re generally going to see family-style, relatively non-dense rules, and decent gameplay.

    The Wikipedia entry has a consumable list.

  40. The problem of course is the writer of this review doesn’t realise that boardgaming has exploded and moved well beyond the likes of Risk, Scrabble, Monopoly etc, mass market titles. In fact, he need only head over to Boardgamegeek to see that there are literally thousands of fantastic games available now catering to all styles and tests, and all levels of complexity and intelligence. Carcassonne is among the quickest, lightest and easiest of them, but still fun for what it is. Perhaps if you tried some of the more modern board games you would change your view of them accordingly!

  41. I think the title of the article is a misnomer. Carcassonne isn’t the only board game you can stand. It’s the only board game you’ve ever played. This is like saying that you really didn’t like any of those stupid Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown books and so you stopped reading. And then now that you’ve happened to pick up, say, The DaVinci Code on your Kindle, it’s the only book you can stand. And maybe you’ll read Ender’s Game once it’s a digital download. OR, how much you always hated Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears and so you stopped listening to music. And now you’ve heard Coldplay, and it’s the only music you can stand.

    That said, there is a whole world of wonderful, well-made games with modern mechanics that are out there now, and have been for a while. If you like Carcassonne, then try out any of the things arboretum.ind is recommending. Also consider Shadows over Camelot. Or, and most simply, go to Board Game Geek and look up Carcassonne. Find the games that are like it and try those. Or look at the list of top rated games for things that sound interesting.

  42. This list could go on forever but currently I really enjoy quite a few “euro” board games. I would highly recommend Carcassone, of course, but I would also recommend Small World and Ingenious. For more “card” style games (other than Fluxx which is really simple), Dominion is excellent. Race for the Galaxy is absolutely amazing, but it isn’t for people who don’t like complicated games.

    I’m really interested in cooperative games (what can I say, I’m kind of a socialist) and Pandemic is really excellent. However it can be complex as well, and I’d recommend Forbidden Island (same creator) for those who want something fun with less pieces all over (and stuff trying to kill you). I’ve also recently picked up Cash and Guns (its silly but fun) and Castle Panic (cooperative tower defense game).

    However, my new favorite simple “euro” game is Dixit – imagine balderdash and apples to apples mixed in with amazing artwork and more open storytelling. Its fun and you can teach it in about 15 seconds.

    I never liked Monopoly. Ever.

  43. I’ve just started getting back into boardgames after abandoning them in my late teens. With a little help from the host of the fantastic podcast, The Little Metal Dog Show, I was introduced to the Battlestar Galactica Boardgame last week. It’s a great co-op competitive game that I’m now desperate to play more of.

    1. I agree, BSG is a great board game… That drives people to suicide.

      Seriously, this is the most depressing, nerve-wracking game I’ve ever played — and I play Arkham Horror on a regular basis. There’s pretty much no way to not lose *something* every single turn — and on the rare occasions when you don’t lose a bit of resources, or a fighter, or a crew member — you still don’t gain anything. The best you can hope for is that you’ve not ceded any ground to the toasters.

      I love the game, it’s a lot of fun, but I can’t play it more than once a month or so without needing a visit to Kitten War

  44. Mark, welcome to the world of modern board gaming, already well inhabited by a large posse of happy mutants! Good to have you! For larger groups and still kid friendly, try Bohnanza Ticket to Ride and Bang. It’s a struggle to find games that work on both levels (luck and skill) that can please both kids and competitive types. Games like Puerto Rico and Ra are probably out for a 7 year old. We found that, in addition to Carcassonne, the three games I mentioned work well.

  45. Catan for iPad is a thing of beauty. It’s like having a travel edition you can play in the back seat of your car in the dark. My 7 year old daughter is now officially addicted to both the virtual and physical versions of the game!

  46. I’m not a big boardgame player, at all. I’ve dabbled in these new types of games a bit but they didn’t catch my interest. Played a lot of the old-school games growing up, but you grow out of those.

    Enter Risk. The very mention of Risk sends shivers of horrors down the spines of many people, even those who otherwise like board games. But if you’re interested in the strategy aspect and have the right group of people who are also interested and competitive, it’s fantastic. I’ve probably actually only played it under ten times in total, but as each game is an epic multi-hour struggle for world domination, it sticks with you.

    Nowadays, my thirst for world-scale strategy and domination is quenched by Civilization on the computer. This is great to play with people you know. There’s a lot more to it, but it comes down to basically being the same mechanics as Risk.

    One person I know who detests Risk really enjoys Civilization, but I think there generally are distinct categories of game players. Those that enjoy the new European board games as are being discussed, those that enjoy Risk and Civilization type games, and those who like the simple classic games. I think Monopoly is a cross between the old-school and the Risk type. If played with the right mindset and an understanding of how to bend the rules to your will, it can be even more epic than Risk, although I think it’s less interesting.

  47. One very nice thing about playing Catan on the computer is that it automatically keeps track of point totals, so you don’t have to go around counting up roads/armies/settlements/etc.

  48. How can you not like GO? It still amazes me that such deep complexity can arise from such simple rules.

  49. Enough people have recommended Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride that I’ll instead plug the idea of physical copies of the game. Good for parties and family get-togethers.

    I have the games to my sister’s family. My nieces are old enough to be bored with the kiddie junk that is peddled as “family” games, but not geeky enough for D&D or Munchkin or the like.

    They’ve taken the games to the electricity-less family cabin in the Adirondaks.

  50. my 11 yr old nephew the other day told me the reason they call them board games because the are boring!! clearly he didn’t want to play monopoly with me. :(

  51. I love Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne. I have also (like many people commenting here!) had a fantastic experience playing Pandemic.

    There’s a great Demetri Martin joke that goes “There’s so many board games with so many different titles, but I feel like they could all have the same title: Which One Of My Friends Is A Competitive Asshole?” and the great thing about Pandemic is that it eliminates that problem, because it’s cooperative, but it’s also a blast to play.

    I also highly recommend Scotland Yard. It’s semi-cooperative, in that one person plays a criminal and the rest of the players work together to catch them. It’s played on a map of London, and it’s also lots of fun. I have friends who HATE all board games, but have admitted to having a good time playing that one. A seven year old could probably pick up on it and enjoy it as well.

    And if you’d like to try Ticket to Ride and have an xBox 360, there’s a fantastic arcade version available in the xBox arcade. That’s how I discovered it. There’s also an excellent version of Carcassonne there as well.

  52. Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions! I’m going to be checking out some of these games. I already bought Small World based on the comments I read here.

    By the way, Ender’s Game was the worst book I ever finished. I liked Encyclopedia Brown, though! Recently bought the complete set and read them to my daughter. Fun!

    1. By the way, Ender’s Game was the worst book I ever finished

      Aw, man, Mark. Why did you have to go do that to yourself, to your family? There are going to be a lot angry sci-fi geeks with torches and pitchforks outside your house tonight.

  53. Have you had a look at a game called Legion (not the Roman one…)? I’d be curious to know what you think of it. I’m not a fan of board games either but a lot of people I know seem to be addicted to it and the interface isn’t bad.

  54. Mark, I know you are a devoted techie. But please, please consider buying the physical Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. It is so much fun to sit across from others, to team up or negotiate in person, and especially if you are drinking wine. Really the social experience is essential to Settlers, and what makes it so much fun for my daughters, my wife, and our many friends who play.

  55. I agree with previous commenters that Catan is best played in person, and Carcassonne best on the computer. With Catan, I found the games to be much more entertaining with four players. With three players, it was doable, but the board was kind of wide open, and a lot of the interesting interactions, races for a particular spot, and so forth, didn’t happen. Not to mention the trading.

  56. For a totally different gaming experience, try Tales of the Arabian Nights. It’s sort of like the biggest choose-your-own-adventure book you can possibly imagine, played out through little vignettes on each player’s turn.

    To the person above that called Agricola a 20-minute game, I must be doing something wrong – at our game night it takes at least 2 1/2 hours with 4-5 players.

  57. There are lots of board gaming groups in the LA area where you can try out tons of new games without having to buy them. A few options: SoCal Games Day is every few months (the next one is this weekend actually); SoCal gamers play at stores all around the area (and have a yahoo group); there are several public groups too. There are obviously groups elsewhere as well … I just happen to live in LA.

  58. Mark, I’m glad you’re enjoying Carcassonne. And I think you and your family would enjoy many happy hours playing Settlers of Catan.

    I would, as others have, recommend the physical version for family play. The designer of the game (Klaus Teuber) has an interesting website where you can play the basic game online (or vs computer) for free, but unfortunately that version is a little clunky. For online play, Big Huge Games has put out a very well-designed version which is available on xbox arcade.

  59. Mark, I dunno if you read this far down, but I urge you to pick up a board game version of Ticket To Ride.

    My 6 and 10 year old play this with me and we have a TON of fun. The rules are simple enough, but there is deep, amazing strategy in it, and the company that makes the game is awesome.

    I am resisting buying Carcassonne on the iPhone, because $10 for an iPhone game, especially an 11-year-old one, is steep. I paid for the iOS Catan, and it satisfies my desire to play that game only so much. As others have pointed out, these games are best played in person.

    Good luck and have fun. German-style board games are the antidote to the stultifying American board games us GenXers grew up with.

    When your daughter is a teenager and learns that people can’t be trusted, you should introduce her to Diplomacy. It’s excellent training for life.

  60. I’m a proud Nexus One owner, but I’m seriously considering going iPhone when the 5 comes out just so I can play Carcasonne whenever I want.

  61. Up above someone mentioned Puerto Rico, Agricola and Power Grid. You should listen to that person. Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan are great too.

  62. It sounds like you hate board games because you’ve been playing terrible board games. There’s far better games out there, of which Carcassone is just one!

  63. Playing it on iPhone is as much fun as playing football alone!
    The real fun starts when other people on the table try to get into your castle or dominate the grassland. Yay, THEN the arguing and shouting begins hehe.

  64. I’ll echo Sam D up there for Scotland Yard. That game is great fun on either side of the law! :)

    And wasn’t there a post a few months back about re-purposing existing boardgame infrastructure to make a more interesting game?

  65. Does anyone have a recommendation for a Dungeons & Dragons “like” board game that isn’t as complicated to get setup and play as a traditional D&D game and made for more casual (but still geeky) players?

    Carcassonne on the PlayStation Network is fantastic…

    1. The new WotC D&D board games
      are probably worth a look – they seem to have found a nice balance between the RPG experience and a short ruleset.

      Personally, I still love DungeonQuest
      Although it is flawed and largely random, it is perhaps the closest you can get to the experience in a very short timeframe. And it creates an amazing level of tension and a fair amount of laughter which is all you can ask for really…

  66. For a fun but ‘simpler than D&D’ dungeon crawl, with lots of great components, try Descent.

  67. I play ticket to ride with my kids. The 8 and 10 year olds are able to play by themselves and we really enjoy it. I can imagine it would be a little dull with other adults though!

  68. Someone suggested that Mark has an aversion to complexity. He may, but the games he mentioned don’t say anything about that. They’re all badly balanced in that gameplay gets long drawn out times when nothing happens, most are badly balanced in that certain starting positions have an insane advantage, and the final battle for the win can be mind numbingly boring. I love(d) Risk, but the standard game is boring, custom rules are required.

    Anyways, I find Catan somewhat limited, as has been mentioned above. And Carcasonne has its problems as well. Haven’t tried Dominion or some of the other games.

    One tile based game I rather enjoy once in a while is Zombies (and the sequels/additions), mainly due to the central goal of messing with the other players. Simple rules and mechanics, gameplay focuses on survival and reducing your opponent’s chance of survival… Frequent shouts of “you utter bastard!” ;)

    On the other pole of complexity there’s Arkham horror, which needs a few runthroughs just to be able to play properly, and needs good cooperation and strategy if the players are to stand a chance. Interesting game.

    Non-virtual games for the win, sitting around a table with your choice of unhealthiness surrounding you and each of your friends/family is just wonderful.

  69. Mark, look at these physical board games as a chance to reinforce the fact you can be entertained and socialize without the help of a screen. Your kids are growing up in the screen age. A little math and cleanup is worth it. I second Ticket to Ride. Also try “bang” the card game – it’s portable and great for playing at picnics or stops on car trips.

  70. Carcassonne and Settlers are nice lightweight intros to Euro games, but if you want real intellectual stimulation and strategic depth, try Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Agricola/Le Havre, Dominion, etc. Have a look at the ranked list at boardgamegeek. Most of the top games have no element of luck (or very little) and a lot of theme.

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