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Recommended Board Games for a Wet Bank Holiday (And Any Other Day!)

I was going to call this 'The games people play'. And by people, I mean us. For this blog I want to talk about some of the games we enjoy playing, why we enjoy these games and enjoy playing games in general. This is not meant as a thorough review of them, but just an insight into some of the games that keep us entertained, and inspire us to continue trying to create more games for the Strong Point catalogue.


The first thing I should say is that there are hundreds, thousands even, of great board games out there, and we have only played a tiny number of them. There are games we have not played that would, in all likelihood, feature on many lists of the all time greatest games. I can't talk about them with any authority without playing them, so I can only talk about the games in our collection that we would happily come back to playing time and time again, because we enjoy them so much.


This is our 'shelfie'.



Simon Evans and Gillian Hauxwell's Board Game collection
Our Board Game Shelfie

Our collection in comparison to some of those seen on the Board Game Geek and The Boardgame Group social media pages is fairly small. But there are a number of games in the collection that I would consider almost 'essential' games in a collection. Here are my top 5 recommended games for new and experienced board gamers alike, though they are not in any particular order (mainly because what is number 1 at one time might not be my number 1 a few weeks later)!


First on the list, and one of the most gorgeous games to look at, is Azul.



Azul board game box showing design of Portuguese Tiles
Azul

Azul is almost a work of art in itself! Published by Plan B Games and designed by Michael Kiesling, Azul is a strategy/puzzly game for 2-4 players and can be played in around 30-45 minutes. It is all about filling your board with tiles to create a tiled wall pattern based on Portuguese palace walls! It is fairly quick and easy to learn the rules, but it requires a good deal of thinking, to both complete your own patterned board and occasionally prevent the other players from completing theirs. It has spawned a few variations on the theme, but if you are new to board games and you are looking for a fantastic game to get your collection started, the original Azul is a great place to begin.


Second on my list is Ticket to Ride. Pictured below is the Europe version, and we also have Ticket to Ride Berlin; there are many different versions and all have their own tweaks to a classic game.



Box front of Ticket to Ride Europe by Days Of Wonder
Ticket To Ride - Europe

Ticket to Ride is published by Days of Wonder and designed by Alan R. Moon. It is for up to 5 players, and the aim is connect different cities on a (beautifully illustrated) map by building train lines, or routes, between those cities. Another game with relatively simple rules that also requires a lot of thinking to win. Being able to pivot your strategy when someone steals the route between 2 of the places you need to connect your ultimate destination, is frustrating, satisfying and rewarding. A great game for beginner board gamers, as illustrated by the fact that Big Sheils (Gillian's mum by the way) had never played before and proceeded to kick my proverbial backside in her first ever game!


I should probably have said, that although I love playing games, I am almost universally bad at them, and pretty much never win a game, especially when Gill is playing!


Anyway, onto the 3rd game on my recommendations list: Undaunted Stalingrad. Again, there are a few variants in the Undaunted series, but this is by far and away my favourite.



Undaunted Stalingrad Box Images by Roland McDonald
Undaunted Stalingrad

Published by Osprey Games and designed by David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin, all of the Undaunted games (so far), pitch you into different World War 2 battles, from Normandy to North Africa to this one, Stalingrad. I think we can probably (hopefully!) agree that war is bad. As a theme for a game, war would not be on everyone's list. But there are hundreds of wargames, and they are incredibly popular because of the strategic and tactical thinking they bring to the table. And the Undaunted games do it fantastically well. They are based on building a deck of cards to allow you to take actions with your troops/counters on the game board. And the soldiers in your squads have names, and faces courtesy of some wonderful art by Roland MacDonald, so when one of them becomes a casualty, it feels personal! This is another game where once you get the gist of the way it plays, it is satisfyingly simple and brilliant. The Stalingrad version brings a full campaign mode, with your squads being upgraded or decimated by casualties, and the city map being reduced to rubble. The campaign can last up to 15 scenarios, so it requires a commitment of your time, but it is worth every minute of play. We are currently on our 2nd run through of the campaign, and true to form Gill is close to total victory!


Next on the list is Cascadia.



Box cover of Cascadia by Fall Out Games has mountain scene with Elk
Cascadia

Cascadia is designed by Randy Flynn and published by Flatout Games, and is a tile laying, ecosystem building spatial puzzle game that is simply brilliant. Each turn you can select a terrain tile (there are 5 types) and an animal to populate your environment (again there are 5 types of animal). The aim is to create the best ecosystem by fulfilling wildlife goals and creating the largest linked habitat terrains. This is another game with fairly simple pick up and play rules, but the level of 'thinkiness' is truly amazing. And it is another game where you constantly have to evolve your thinking as the terrain tile/wildlife combination you want to select is taken by another player. I just can't recommend it enough.


Finally, and this is a choice I went back and forth on for a while, is Heat: Pedal to the Metal.



Heat Pedal To the Metal Board Game with Racing Car cover
Heat - Pedal To THe Metal

There are a couple of reasons I 'ummed and ahhed' on this choice. Firstly, there are a few other great games I would like to recommend, but I don't want to outstay my welcome and overload you! The second reason is that we have played it with some of my family who just didn't think it was that great. It wasn't their cup of tea, and that is, I guess the beauty of games. Like music, film, comedy and TV, everyone has their own taste, their own flavour and what might be one person's thing might not hit the spot for others.


But we love it, so here it is. Heat is published by Days of Wonder and designed by Asger Granerud and Daniel Pedersen. It is a racing game that is all about managing your hand of cards, to push your luck at taking the corners at the right speed, avoid spinning off the track and ultimately achieving Formula One glory, albeit 1960s style F1. In the Championship mode you can upgrade your car, earn sponsorship deals, defy the odds when the weather turns, and turn on the style for the gathered press. A terrific racing game, that once you get beyond the first couple of plays with the basic rule set, has great depth, strategy, and raging competitiveness!


So there it is, five fantastic games that Gill and I love playing, and games that we would highly recommend to anyone who wants to expand the horizons of their games collection. You might notice, that whilst Strong Point is a trivia game that falls into the Party game category, none of these are part of that genre. We love those kinds of games that you can sit on your sofa and play after having had a fabulous meal with friends or family, and we designed Strong Point to fit that mould. But we also love games like those recommended here, more typical board games, though more modern than the classic games like Monopoly or Risk. Board games have evolved in the last 30 or so years, and the current trend is for games like these. And there are around 3000 new ones released each year, so there is almost certainly a game out there for you, even if the ones we love aren't it. There are games about almost anything: you want to be a winemaker? There's a board game for that. You love walking your dog? Yep, there's a game for that too. You love birdwatching? Yeah, there's a game that covers that...


And the beauty of playing board games is that you're not sitting staring at a screen, getting someone else's vision force fed to you. Games are interactive, they are social, they are inclusive and they are amazing fun, and you can create a new story every time you play. We are all tied to our screens for more and more of our time; phones, tablets, computers, consoles and TVs dominate our leisure time. Board games give us all an important opportunity to take a break from our screens, to reset our mental health in a small but significant way. Personally, I'd rather spend time playing a game, and even when I get frustrated by losing (which is most of the time), the interactive reset and time off my screen is time better spent than time spent endlessly scrolling through my social media feed!


That said, I'm off to finish watching Fallout...


Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts again,

Si


Some useful links if you want to learn more about any of the games mentioned:




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