Five Board Games to Play With Friends-The Five by Five Challenge
by Chris Palermo
A common concern at many board gaming events is the indecisiveness of players to choose a game. “I don’t know; what do you want to play?” happens all too often.
And, as the board game industry experiences a renaissance – not only in terms of innovative new designs, but, for the first time, mainstream media coverage – games are being released every day. Fans of the Cult of the New are most certainly happy.
However, focusing entirely on new games means many of the elegant classics are forgotten. A brilliantly designed game like El Grande, for example; may not see the table for a number of years, while newer games occupy its space.
One of the hallmarks of my gaming group – the Long Island Boardgaming Organization (LIBO) – is that each month, games are planned out and scheduled in advance. You might think this solves the problems; but not all of them.
There are people who love to only play new games; and others who want to play the same games over and over – to master the game.
A recent movement in the board game community involves setting up a challenge to play X number of games X times in the year. For many it’s a 10×10 challenge – 10 games played 10 times each. For LIBO, our first year, we decided to halve that, and play five games five times each. Of course, there was no guarantee we’d even have the same players in each game; but the group – as a whole – would strive to accomplish this goal.
The games we chose definitely lean on the heavier side:
Age of Steam
The standard game combines route-building with an economy system that subtly promotes a level of meanness and cutthroat behavior rarely seen in newer games. Each game is different, based on the initial distribution of goods, and – aside from the replenishment of goods, which is done by dice roll – there are no other random factors in the game. In and of itself, that would be a game worthy of playing five times in a year; but where Age of Steam shines is through its expansions.
Nearly 100 expansion maps have been released for the game; each changing the goals, rules and – of course – the strategy for each new scenario. Analyzing the new map and victory conditions means no two games are ever the same.
The second game in the 5×5 Challenge was Brass, designed by Martin Wallace (who also designed Age of Steam). Whereas part of the appeal of Age of Steam is due to the significant changes of the various maps, Brass has only the base map.
But, the gameplay is quite deep. Like any good Euro, you can’t do everything you want to do. There are multiple paths to victory – do you pursue a building strategy (building high-victory point buildings), do you pursue a shipping strategy (producing and shipping goods).
There are a fixed number of turns in the game, and each turn, players can play two cards, taking the actions depicted on each card (although, you can also play both cards together to take a single action not on the cards, which reduces your overall actions for the game).
It’s a game about tough choices.
Dead of Winter
Co-Op and traitor games are typically lumped together, but unlike games that offer only negotiation (Intrigue, Mall of Horror), Dead of Winter is more thematic, with the traitorous element more nebulous.
Each player has his own, special, victory condition. And pursuing that victory condition can make that player *appear* traitorous. But, not every game is guaranteed to have a traitor (that’s decided randomly as roles are passed out).
So, while the group has a common goal (which, at the very least, involves surviving the attacking zombie horde), there is also a larger goal – perhaps collect and commit 10 fuel cards to a common pile.
However, one player in the group – as his personal victory condition – may have to have three fuel cards in his hand at te end of the game. By never committing fuel cards, he may appear traitorous.
Even still, the innocents can’t simply accuse over-and-over; there’s a limit on the number of accusations/exiles you can make. The tenseness of the game is real.
Nations is a streamlined, shorter implementation of Through the Ages – a lengthy, involved and complex civilization-building game.
In Nations, players purchase cards from a tableau, spending resources to add them to their nation, which gives each civilization a unique identity.
Cards are used to represent leaders, colonies, production buildings, military and wonders to be constructed. Each card bestows a benefit (and, in some cases, a determinant) to the nation. The game lasts for 8 “rounds” and final scoring is, functionally, a comprehensive summation of everything collected throughout the game.
Although it’s exclusively card-driven, it isn’t a card management game. It’s all about Return on Investment (ROI) in this game. There are a limited number of actions and resources. How you maximize your return completely determines your success.
Additionally, because each game only uses approximately one-third of the total cards for each era, the game is more tactical than strategic (since you can’t count on a particular card being available in a given game).
Power Grid – for many – has similar features to Age of Steam (route-building, primarily). And, like Age of Steam, there are multiple expansion maps (although, largely, those maps don’t truly change victory conditions; the changes are smaller).
Inherent to Power Grid is route-building, but resource management is vital, since making the connections on the map is only part of the victory condition (you also need to power those connections, which is where the resources come into play). And, of course, resource management leads directly to ROI: Do you buy that resource now; how much will it cost you? How much will it be later?
One of the primary elements of Power Grid is the bidding for power plants – some would argue that *is* the game, as the plants you acquire (and you can only ever hold three) need to grow in conjunction with your acquisition of connections and resources. In other words, the goal is to be able to buy connections and right away have the power plants and resources to power that connection (which gets you money, which you’re able to reinvest to purchase more connections).
Of course, like most games, things rarely go exactly that way for everyone.
We did in fact complete the 5×5 challenge (with the final game concluding at 4:10am after our GameDay). I’ll cover the games selected for 2017 in the next article.
What five games do you plan to play five times (or more!) in 2017?
Keywords: Board game; Age of Steam, Brass, Dead of Winter, Nations, Power Grid, 5×5 Challenge, Euro game