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Ask HN: What are your favorite board games?
48 points by martian on July 31, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments
Hackers tend to have great taste in board games, especially ones involving complex strategy. So, what games do you like to play?

I can't believe that I'm the first to mention One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which has been the consensus favorite amongst my friends for a while now.

It has relatively simple rules but very solid strategy (rewards logic and duplicity). The games are short, so you never feel "stuck" on a long game and when you're a beginner, you can rapidly absorb new lessons and strategies and apply them to the next round. The replay value is tremendous.

I have observed/heard about the game not "clicking" for some players the first few times. You _can_ reason out substantial amounts of information by sharing claims and thinking hard about what you personally know, and you _can_ tactically disrupt other people. I think if you have a crowd of new people, it helps to have an experienced player sit out one round and emcee, encouraging certain lines of thought and discouraging others. One of my friends said he only really "got" it after the third round, when he saw me spin a story from start to finish so that I could pin a wolf on someone when I in fact was a wolf.

I also love Dominion, which others have mentioned. (That's my personal favorite; Werewolf is my friend group-favorite.) It is in a very different genre, but it also has fast-cycling games, deep strategy vs. simple rules, and huge replay value, which are three aspects of board games that I really value.

Seconded. One Night Ultimate Werewolf has been a workplace favorite for well over a year. Recently introduced it to my friends, who are into Mafia (though those games inevitably end up with people upset at each other) and it was a hit.

Some reasons ONUW is awesome:

- Each game can be completed in 5-10 minutes.

- Supports a very large amount of players. We've had 20+ players without any issues (with the expansion pack).

- As mentioned above, replay value is high. I still encounter new situations all the time.

- No need to have an individual sit out as an emcee due to an awesome mobile app that leads the round.

- Most importantly, does not seem to lead to interpersonal conflict the way Mafia tends to. Most likely due to shorts rounds and the fact that there's enough information to go off rather than pure speculation.

I totally agree with your point about the comparatively low conflict in ONUW. In addition to the points you mentioned that drive this, I'd add uncertainty about your own team membership, and the fact that "good guys" may also be telling lies, so it's not necessarily true that a liar is a bad guy.

These factors prevent people from identifying too heavily with one team or the other, and that issue, for me, is at the heart of why there is less conflict in this game than other Mafia-style games. Right before getting into ONUW we had played The Resistance a bit, a similar game which had some fun moments, but in which we found the conflict potential to be high. Some people would be just dug in on one view, in direct conflict with others, throughout almost the whole game.

I find Two Rooms and a Boom better than ONUW. Similar concept, but with a lot of great optional characters that you can add-in as desired.

I made a one night variation of werewolf in React/Node at https://onenightwerewolf.online . Not seeing much play because I haven't advertised it at all.. until um now. Check it out if you like lying to internet strangers.

Is it better than regular werewolf?

We play this all the time, but it's a bit ugly for people who get out on the first night.

I talk trash most of the time so some people just kill me on the first round because they want their peace :D

I've never played regular Werewolf, unless you are referring to what I know of as the informal party game Mafia (several nights, one killer, several townspeople, maybe one or two additional roles who get special abilities).

In that case, yes much better:

- Everyone is involved start to finish, and a free phone app serves as the emcee.

- People receive cards with (usually) unique roles that furnish them some special information in their own way. I think some Mafia variants have minor special roles, but the makers of ONUW really did a good job thinking of creative ones.

- Many roles involve moving cards around at night, so when you wake up you usually don't know for sure whether you're still the role you thought you were, or whether a card you saw at night is still where it was when you saw it.

All players stay in the game until it is over (hence One Night).

> One Night Ultimate Werewolf

This seems to be Mafia with cards.

Hard to go wrong with Baduk/Go. Doesn't really scale to groups though.

Terra Mystica[0] and Tzolk'in[1] are both low randomness worker placement game that require long term planning and fun mechanics.

If war-games are more your speed, Diplomacy[2] and Twilight Imperium 3rd Ed[3] are some of the best in class. Both take all day (or more if you play Diplomacy by mail). I personally like Exocus: Proxima Centauri[4] a lot in this genre.

[0] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/120677/terra-mystica

[1] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/126163/tzolk-mayan-calen...

[2] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/483/diplomacy

[3] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/12493/twilight-imperium-...

[4] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/122842/exodus-proxima-ce...

Baduk/Go doesn't scale well in groups but it also can impart a lot of important life lessons as you learn it.

      The enemy's key point is yours
      Beware of going back to patch up
      Don't chase what you can't kill
      Check escape routes first
      Big dragons never die
      Give your opponent what they want
      Don't follow proverbs blindly

Diplomacy is wonderful. I find it hard to get 7 people to commit to 4+ hours to make it through a game, so the mail option is good, but IMO in person is more fun.

- Codenames is a great party game. Easy to teach and works really well in larger groups. It is a word association game. One person gives a hint and the their team tries to guess all the right words on the board without hitting any of the other teams word, or the bomb that causes your team to instantly lose.

- Splendor another easy to teach game. 2-4 players its quick to play, around 20 minutes a game.

- Roll for the Galaxy. A much more complicated game although probably medium in complexity as far as the board game spectrum goes. You get to roll lots of dice.

- Dead of Winter. A story based secret information game. Everyone has a secret goal, and someone might be a traitor trying to sabotage the colony. Despite this you have to work as a team to try and survive the zombie apocalypse.

Hanabi: multi-player co-op, and you can see everyone's cards but your own. All about reasoning and inference.

Betrayal at House on the Hill: cooperative until it isn't, with a traitor arising halfway through the game. Many novel "haunt" scenarios for replay value.

Coup: Bluffing game, where you have a couple of hidden "role" cards, each role card has some abilities, but you can use the abilities of any role as a bluff, if another player doesn't call you on it.

Netrunner (note, not the new remake, the old out-of-print version): CCG with asymmetric sides, the "runner" trying to break in and the "corporation" trying to defend and advance their agenda.

Ascension: deckbuilding game with a large variety of cards. There are only 1-3 of any given card in the deck; every game tends to turn out differently, and any strategy has to adapt to the available cards.

Dixit: Interesting exercise in description, because you have to hint at the image on your card without being spot-on, so that some but not all players get it. Helps to know the other players.

And if you don't already watch Tabletop, I recommend it: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4F80C7D2DC8D9B6C . (Note: that playlist is sorted in reverse order, for some reason; start at the bottom.)

That's in addition to various tabletop RPGs, which I find even more fun when we can get a group together for them.

I'll second Hanabi. In addition to being inherently very fun, collaborative games are a great way to bring in people who aren't as into board games and are worried about getting stomped on by experienced players.

An interesting and much more challenging variation for experienced Hanabi players is to disallow people from saying a number or color. You point to a set of cards in another player's hand and that's it. Those cards share some attribute, and all the other cards in the hand don't have that attribute, whatever it is.

> An interesting and much more challenging variation for experienced Hanabi players is to disallow people from saying a number or color. You point to a set of cards in another player's hand and that's it. Those cards share some attribute, and all the other cards in the hand don't have that attribute, whatever it is.

Interesting! That breaks so many common reasoning rules, especially if you're playing multicolor. I can see how that would add a huge amount of challenge.

I'd be interested to see some of the reasoning based on that variant.

Seconding Dixit. Excellent game with fantastic art.

Simpler than many I expect to see listed here, but I'm a pretty big fan of Dominion. If the cards are always picked randomly, each play of the game is very different.

I used to enjoy Dominion, but it can become very mechanical. For any given set of 10 cards, you usually want to ignore all but a few of them.

For a while each successive expansion was getting more and more powerful action cards to address this issue. Not sure if they followed that trend past Prosperity though.

That doesn't solve the problem. For any given set of 10 cards, there's an optimal strategy, and it typically involves relatively few of the cards. And some cards are effectively never worth touching in any game.

I really enjoy Agricola[0], because there are no elements of chance in the game, only strategy. It's also a little more approachable to people averse to conflict-focused games, because the only victory condition is "everybody has taken all their turns"

[0] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/31260/agricola

There is quite a bit of chance in the game: The occupations and improvements you and the other players end up with changes the strategy you need to play successfully quite a bit. At least your cards are known to you at the beginning. The order the round cards appear are also somewhat randomized which can sometimes break your neck if you haven't planned sufficiently for the 2 or 3 possibilities.

If you like Agricola, I recommend Caverna. Sort of a spiritual sequel to the game, and done better in my opinion, which is saying a lot because Agricola was one of my favorites.

I find Caverna lacks in replayability. My group played it a couple times and everyone started doing the same thing. Eventually we just migrated back to Agricola. Haven't touched Caverna in over a year.

My family plays a lot of board games. Most recently we've been playing:

- Concordia https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/124361/concordia

- Istanbul https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148949/istanbul

- Lanterns https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/160851/lanterns-harvest-...

- Codenames https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/178900/codenames (this last one is more of a lighthearted party game, but still great fun)

- Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights - Caracassonne - Blokus - Chess - Risk (Luxor, complex maps) - Aquire

Curious why you specify the Cities and Knights expansion?

For me, it adds a good source of tension (barbarians) and competition (knights, defending or not), without being direct PvP combat. It also adds a variety of different special actions through progress cards (which replace development cards). Perhaps it adds a bit more randomness but it's fun to be able to drop a "power move" with a well-timed play of cards.

As someone who is a huge fan of the Cities and Knights expansion: The expansion is a huge expansion to where the entire game changes.

What I like about it the most is that instead of cities getting a second of a resource, they get a new type of resource that is used to "level up" three categories. These categories have three purposes: an opportunity for a couple victory points for each category, increases the chance of getting the new type of development card, and the most interesting purpose is that it gives you a superpower at level 3. One superpower allows you to power up knights and I can't remember another, but the last allows you to get a resource of your choice whenever you get unlucky on the die roll and don't get a resource. Easily the least fun part of Catan is when the die rolls make it so that you don't get anything, so I love this power that offsets it.

It also adds the concept of knights and barbarians. Knights are a new thing to build, and they need a grain to activate. (There's also a wall that increases the number of cards that can be in your hand before the robber affects it so the expansion adds three new things to use resources for). Barbarians attack every now and then, and the number of active knights will determine whether you win or lose. A loss means that the people with the lowest number of active knights get a city destroyed, while a win means the people with the highest number of active knights either gets a victory point (if one person) or a card (if more than one person tied). Active knights can also be used to move the robber or move or even eliminate another knight in very particular situations.

To add some detail: you roll a second die at the beginning of your turn. There's a half chance the barbarians move closer to attack, and the other three possibilities correspond to the three categories of the new type of resource and link each one with a development card. There are now three types of development cards that have different slants of capabilities. Your level in each category goes from level 1-5. Level 1 grants a development card if the first die is a 1 or 2 and the second die corresponds to the category, level 2 grants a card if the first die is a 1, 2, or 3, and so on.

The last detail is that the first person to level 4 in a category gains a couple victory points and is granted immunity from pirates on a city, but the first person to level 5 in that category can steal it for the rest of the game.

That's pretty much it, as you can see it really is a completely different game from the original.

My wife and I have 2 elementary school aged children, and we like playing Pandemic[0].

[0]: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/30549/pandemic

After hearing about Rithmomachy/Rithmomachia on HN six months ago [1,2], I recently laser-cut a board and set to try it out with. It sounds rather tedious from the description, but actually was pretty enjoyable. A nice feature is that the difficulty is very scalable--once you find a set of rules ([3] is one source), you can decide how many of them to actually follow before starting the game.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11003320

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rithmomachy

[3] http://www.gamecabinet.com/rules/Rithmomachia.html


Twilight Imperium

Through the Ages

Terra Mystica


7 Wonders

Lords of Waterdeep

I prefer simple games at the moment, so Carcassone, Bohnanza, and Lost Cities are currently my favourite.

But I've also enjoyed playing Puerto Rico, Dominion, Race to the Galaxy, among others.

Ticket to Ride is great with my family, because of the player interaction.

El Grande is an older, but great game.

The re-release of Elfenland just came out "Elfenroads" is a great buy. http://riograndegames.com/Game/1295-Elfenroads

There are others, but I'll let others pick their favorites. P.S Not a strategy game, but Concept has hit the table a lot for us with lots of different types if people.

My all time favourite is heroquest. I played that game (and it's counterpart, space crusade) to death in my youth, and then some more. Recently I've started making my own games for kicks, roughly based off the ruleset but with different themes. I made a zombie survival game and a space pirate adventure thing. Making board games is now my New favourite game

By category:

1) Heavy Strategy: Eclipse and Terra Mystica (tie)

2) Strategy Cardgame: Race for the Galaxy & expansions

3) Abstract: Arimaa. Runner up: tie between Go and Hive.

4) Real-Time Co-op: Damage Report. Runner up: Space Alert

5) Co-Op: Mysterium

6) Wargame: War of the Ring. Runner up: Twilight Struggle

7) CCG or LCG: Lord of the Rings LCG

8) Party Game: Time's Up Title Recall Runner up: Concept

9) Reaction time: Jungle Speed.

10) Most disliked game: Catan or any spinoff thereof

Forgot one:

11) Social Deduction: Two Rooms and a Boom

Catan isn't bad as long as you're playing with players of the same skill as you.


It's a good metaphor for life. You have to weigh up probabilities and likely outcomes, know when to take a risk and when to play safe. Sometimes the other player plays better than you, sometimes worse, and sometimes the dice just come along and kick your arse.

Strategy games which are simple to explain, but allow skilled players to compete without getting bored.

Go, Scrabble, chess... What modern games are like this?

Or, silly games where losing doesn't matter, it's fun anyway. My current favourites are Space Alert and Galaxy Trucker.

I commented it below too, but then I read your comment. I've found Hive is very enjoyable for a chess player (myself) since the strategy is different as the board is the pieces. If you want more level of skill, Terra Mystica was also very strategic balancing territory and resource control.

At the top my list, even if it might not technically be a board game: Mah-Jong. The most complex part of the game tends to be the scoring, and agreeing on a set of rule variants your entire gaming group don't object to.

After that, Scrabble and Puerto Rico.

+1 for Quelf, lots of fun with a group of people

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space [0] – you can get a print-and-play edition for a buck fifty!

[0] http://www.escapefromthealiensinouterspace.com/


And hive

My favorites: Power Grid, Terra Mystica, Dominion, Race for the Galaxy.

1. Settlers of Catan (with expansions) 2. Axis & Allies (standard edition) 3. Chess 4. Cranium 5. Scrabble 6. Monopoly (with modified rules that makes the game last about an hour)

A lot of people around here would do well just to read the official rules carefully and follow them.

All time favorite: Risk (especially Risk Legacy)

Others: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to ride, Dominion, Kingdom Builder, Civilization

I really enjoy Resistance, but you have to have the right group of people for it.

Top games:

1) Cosmic Encounter. Plays 3-8 (best with 4-6), about 90 minutes. It's a negotiation game where each person has an asymmetric way they alone can break the rules. Cosmic is a strange game where the entire game takes place off the table, but you use the table to keep track of what's happening in the game. The first one or two times you play, you probably won't understand how deep and subtle the game is, but stick with it. (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/39463/cosmic-encounter)

2) Memoir '44. 2 Player, as written plays in about 30 minutes, but typically we switch sides between rounds, so 60 minutes. Light WWII war game. Lots of expansions (Russians, Japanese, British armies), and lots of ways to play (expansions allow up to 8 players). This game is just so much fun if you dig the WWII theme. (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10630/memoir-44)

3) Kemet. 3-5 players, about 90-120 minutes (depending on player count). "Dudes on a map" war game with excellent fighting mechanics. Very well balanced, with every player being able to attack all other players. Fun little monsters you can buy in the game. (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/127023/kemet)

4) Railways of the World. 2-6 players (depending on the map), 60-120 minutes (depending on the map). Nice railway game. Simple rules (about 10 minutes to explain), but just a great game. (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/17133/railways-world)

5) Star Wars Rebellion. 2 players, 90 minutes to 270. Thematic Star Wars game. Imperial player tries to find the rebel base, while the rebels just need to last long enough to have their cause take hold in the galaxy. Incredibly well balanced, despite the asymmetry between the players. (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/187645/star-wars-rebelli...)

6) Party games: Love Letter, Codenames, Wits & Wagers, Can't Stop. All are great games. One game, For Sale, deserves special mention because it explains so fast, but has such depth.

7) Eclipse. 2-9 players (best with 3-5), takes about 45-60 min/player. 4X game where you explore the galaxy and try to accumulate the most points through science, research, economy, battles, negotiations, and exploration. You should buy the Rise of the Ancients expansion to fix a subtly broken part of the game dealing with missiles.

That's just off the top of my head. Last night I played Patchwork and Quadropolis. Patchwork might be a great game -- too early to tell, and Quadropolis is fun, and likely worth the money, but I don't think has the staying power of some others.



Zertz and Tzaar from GIPF project.

absolutely settlers of catan

In my group of friends we have more than 50 games, most of them involving complex strategy (as we do like that). Here is a list of my personal top 10:

1) Shogun. Archetypical Risk-like game of moving soldiers and conquering provinces, but with a unique twist that makes it outstanding in my view: instead of dice, it uses a cube tower to generate randomness. The outcome of fights is based in the number of cubes from each player that come out of the tower. If you get bad luck in a battle (because your cubes stay inside) then the tower will be loaded in your favor for the next battles (those hidden cubes can come out at any moment). I love this because, although I think some randomness is good in strategic battle games to spice things up and so that the game doesn't turn a chess-like prediction game, I don't like the winner being dependent on luck. The tower introduces randomness, but guarantees that no one will be too lucky or unlucky, which is great. Combine with a setting in feudal Japan, complete with rice farming and starving populace revolving against you, and you get an amazing game.

2) Imperial 2030. Another typical Risk-like game of moving soldiers and taking countries... except that it's not. You don't control the empires themselves, instead you are a banker that buys each empire's bonds. At a given point in the game, the banker that holds more bonds for a particular empire is the one controlling its politics. So maybe right now I control China, but I know that you have a lot of cash and are looking at Chinese bonds with greedy eyes, so I send the Chinese army on an unnecessarily painful military campaign to wither down its power in case you are going to control it in the next turn. This makes for awesome mechanics in a really strategic game. By the way, it doesn't have any random elements at all, so it's a good game if you are against that.

3) Galaxy Trucker. This game is great due to its sheer concept... first you use pieces from a scrapyard (competing for the pieces with the other players) to build a spaceship with its cannons, shields, cargo holds, etc. and then all of you have to fly them in a journey littered with space pirates, meteorites than can tear off pieces of your ship, merchant planets, smugglers and more. The feeling when one of your rival ships is tore in two by a meteorite is unbeatable.

4) Star Wars: Imperial Assault. When a friend of mine got this game, I thought "they have the Star Wars franchise so it will probably be a crappy game - they will sell anyway". But no. It's actually a very good tactics game with lots of choices, characters with very different styles, special abilities, and a set of rules that (albeit unspecified at times) go very well together.

5) Robo Rally. A classic from Richard Garfield, the guy that brought you MtG. OK, maybe this doesn't fit that much into "complex strategy", but it's also a game that hackers should like because it's about programming after all! You have to program your robot with randomly-dealt cards to try and survive pits, traps and the other robots' lasers. A huge strong point of this game is that the maps and missions are hugely customizable, supporting different sets of rules like races, capture the flag, deathmatch, and others that you can come up with. It supports up to 8 players, you can build different maps putting together map boards, and there are editors online to print your own map boards, so it's the ultimate customizable game. I think it's out of print but a new edition has been announced, although it only supports 6 players sadly.

6) Carcassone. One of the best known modern board games, together with Catan. But while Catan is IMHO too shallow and too random, featuring few meaningful decisions, in Carcassone every tile you place is a meaningful decision. The experience is very different in 2-player games (much more offensive) than in games with more players. Some expansions (the builder, the granary and pig, the mayor, the resources, etc.) really enhance the game although others are prescindible.

7) Discworld Ankh Morpork. A deception game: you have to work towards your goal and the other characters don't know what it is. You don't have to know Discworld to like it (one of my friends hasn't read any of the books and loves it). Drawback: unbalanced, it's easier to win with some characters than others. If you care much about that, it's probably not your game.

8) Goblins Inc. Similar mechanic to Galaxy Trucker (probably inspired on it), but with goblins that build robots of doom instead of spaceships, and with direct combat. Contrary to Galaxy Trucker, it's team-based (2v2) but it also gives you the possibility of being a traitor to your partner. Less flexible than Galaxy Trucker (this one only really works with 4 players) but loads of fun!

9) Power Grid. A classic game where you have to build a power network. Lots of strategy and decisions, although the beginning depends too much on player location and the endgame turns a bit too much into an arithmetic-fest counting to the last nickel IMO.

10) Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. A quite original board game in that it doesn't have a board, the board is in each players' head. Some players are humans and others are aliens, but they can't see where each other is, except with certain clues (people making noise) and items. The humans must escape the aliens. It's a lot of fun and it involves both abstract thought and psychology/bluffing/etc. The drawback is that some maps and situations can be unbalanced, especially if you play with the stock rules (a door to exit the ship can randomly work or not) a player can lose very unfairly. It should be pretty easy to customize the rules though.

Also go is awesome, but I don't think it's the kind of game you were looking for advice about (and it's difficult to compare to the others as it's on an entirely different category).

Pandemy is awesome.


Twilight Imperium

Through the Ages

Terra Mystica


7 Wonders

Lords of Waterdeep

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