Aaron Tan's Blog

28 Oct 2017

Bored? Nah, board games

I’ve already talked a bit about why I love to play board games, so I thought I would make another listicle. Listicles are great, aren’t they? Everybody loves listicles! Includes board games that I’ve played recently and what I’ve thought of them, as well as some of my other favourite board games.

No more of this Monopoly crap! It’s time to find better things to kill time with.

I play board games with a variety of people, including sometimes pretty big groups and down to a two player strategy-fest, so this list should have a mix of all sorts of games that I enjoy.


2-4 players, 30 minutes-1 hour

Innovation was the (card?) game that got me into playing hobby games. Shoutout to Mr Hughes for playing this and also Edward for dragging me to board games club!

In the game, players are civilisations that use technologies to score points. To do this, they steal other player’s techs, make their techs stronger, or a variety of other actions. Every card has multiple uses: being a technology, providing icons to make another technology better, points, and also as an achievement tracker. Icons on each card are used for a variety of purposes; it’s sort of like analog polymorphism!

Innovation scales from two to four players relatively gracefully, and assuming all players are familiar with the rules, plays in under an hour. It’s a perfect little filler game that still racks your brain a little bit for that tactical itch.

The reason why this game remains one of my favourite games is that it’s a good balance between strategy and luck, in a way that beginners aren’t immediately crushed before they figure the game out. Plus, by the end of the game, there are massive combos that completely change how players do, and seeing the entire board completely shift to somebody’s favour is always a sight to behold. Watch out for the drunk Protestants…

Admittedly, the game is sort of ugly (especially this second edition one that I own; the third edition seems to be sport a few visual enhancements), but it’ll remain near and dear to my heart for a long time. I bust it out only when I think the people I want to play with have the patience to deal with the long and tedious rules explanation, which sadly limits the appeal of this game to a select group.

Link to BoardGameGeek

Power Grid

2-6 players, 1.5-2 hours

This game was my introduction to Euro boardgames - board games where players don’t compete directly against each other and eliminate one another, but rather build and score points for a final tally. Although the dreary cover doesn’t inspire much confidence in the game, it’s definitely stood the test of time! Expansions such as bonus power plants and the huge inventory of maps help a lot too.

Each player plays as a power company, supplying electricity to some region in the world (the default map is Germany/USA). You compete against each other by buying up resources and power plants, and also expanding to new areas, thereby gaining points by powering cities that you have a power plant in. Every turn, newer more efficient power plants are introduced, and resources in demand dry up quickly, so you’ve got to plan your company just so to win! With map expansions, you get variations in the rules that keep the game fresh too: for example, the North Korea/South Korea map has two markets, but they are separated and you can only buy resources from one during a turn. The Chinese map has a “government regulated market” so the power plant rules are all funky. And there are at least ten other maps to explore…

I really appreciate the design decisions in this game. When players are behind, they get first pick of resources, first pick of city expansion, and get to auction, making it cheaper for them to get better products. This balancing makes it so that even though beginners might not be able to grasp the game quite so easily, it balances the playing field just enough for them to catch up and be competitive. Not only that, it brings out the passive-aggressive side in everybody when buying just enough resources to screw over the next person over.

Link to BoardGameGeek

Secret Hitler

5-10 players, 20 minutes-1 hour

Aaron: I think you’re a fascist. Spell NDP backwards.

Stephen: Um…

Stephen: …

Stephen: DPN? WAIT

In the same vein as The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon, it’s all about bluffing and lying to everybody else with a straight face. The Fascists are trying to take power in Weimar Germany and that’s basically all you need to know about this game before you start playing!

The fact that this game has such an outrageous theme makes it sooooo much more entertaining than a lot of the other ones that I’ve written about here. It really shines especially when playing with people who haven’t played board games before: as soon as you tell them that somebody might be Hitler, their interest is immediately piqued. Add to that the fact that you have to accuse people of being fascists, and even skeptics end up hooked by the second game.

Fun memories with Secret Hitler: our high school debate club once got stuck at a Greyhound station for two hours because we missed a bus. Picture this: two teachers, with an assorted group of high schoolers, sitting on the ground. We end up yelling “YOU’RE A FASCIST, AREN’T YOU” and “I KNEW YOU WERE HITLER” super loudly at one in the morning. At cadets: we had a fun basement, and during senior’s weekend, we played so many games of Secret Hitler that our voices were completely hoarse by the end.

Good times. Assuming you aren’t Hitler.

Link to BoardGameGeek

Betrayal at House on the Hill

3-6 players, 1 hour+

Imagine this: you and your friends have entered into that creepy house up on the hill that everybody says is haunted. Suddenly, the doors slam shut, and you can’t seem to get out, no matter how hard you try. The only thing left to do is venture into the shadows and try not to die…

What makes this game in particular unique compared to a lot of other board games is that it’s semi-D&D without the complexity. There’s a booklet of 50 haunts (and there’s an expansion that has even more, written by some semi-famous people too), and almost every time you play, you get a different storyline happening in the house. Getting a group of friends into it and roleplaying a bit brings the characters and the story to life; this is especially great for Hallowe’en!

One time it might be an astral spirit trying to take over your character’s body. Another time, it’s probably a demon lord in the basement trying to start the zombie uprising. There’s one where the house tries to digest you in different rooms as it becomes more alive.

Super cool. Love this game.

Link to BoardGameGeek

Captain Sonar

8 players, 30 minutes-1 hour

Granted, I’ve only played this once but I really want to play it again.

In Captain Sonar, you have two groups of four managing their submarine. One person is the Captain, who gets to direct everybody else around and also tries to sink the other group. One person is the First Mate, who makes sure that systems are up and running to you actually have weapons to sink the other person with. Somebody else is the Radio Operator, who tries to locate the other sub based on what the other team is yelling. The last person is the engineer, who tries to fix things because everything is breaking down and moving so fast but there’s no time so let’s just use some duct tape.

Interaction is great with this game. There’s so much yelling in the real-time game - there are no turns here! - it gets hard to hear yourself thinking let alone trying to strategize while absorbing all the information. Teamwork gets stretched to a max while people desperately coordinate in order to get their ship running. It’s frantic, anxiety-inducing, and full of pressure: perfect.

The only downside is that you need exactly eight players to play this game. That’s a little hard to do with the busy life at Waterloo, and that’s probably why I’ve only played this game once so far. :(

Link to BoardGameGeek

Anyway, talk to you all soon! Ranking and matching day for interviews is November 1-3 so that’s probably when my next post is going to be.

aaron at 21:13