Written by Rachael Cheeseman
Okay, maybe not literally. After all, the lifeless bodies of your enemies aren't going to teabag themselves. I don't expect anyone to start turning their backs on the golden era of video games that we're living in, and I'll be as excited as everyone else when Call of Duty: Modern Ancient Nuclear Sci-Fi Warfare 85 comes out. But what most people seem to be completely unaware of is we are also living in a golden age of board games. Now, I know that at the mere mention of the words board game some of you will be experiencing Vietnam style flash backs of being systematically and viciously destroyed in Monopoly, or of blazing family rows over how the answer on the Trivial Pursuit card can't possibly be right. Take a deep breath, we've all been there and we'll get through it together. I'm here to tell you that board games don't need to be like this. There is another way. So why not partake in some table top game therapy, as it were? Replace those traumatic memories with new vibrant shiny ones by playing some of these truly exceptional games.
I'm throwing you in at the deep end with this one but bear with me, because at it’s worst Gloom is a unique and quirky game. At its best it is dark, twisted, hilarious fun. In this peculiar and macabre game, each of the players will be responsible for a family of strange, gothic characters. You will take turns drawing cards that will describe horrific, ironic and unusual disasters that can befall your family members, as well as untimely death cards. The aim of the game is to steep as much misery on your characters as possible before killing them off. This can be fun in and of itself but when you then realise that you will occasionally pick up nice cards that you can use on your competitors families, things kick up a notch. One of your fellow players will have spent four turns making one of their family members unbearably miserable, their unhappiness score is through the roof and you know as soon as they can they will kill off said character and lock those points in. And then, smirking like the saccharin son of a bitch you are, you undo all that hard-earned misery by doing something so nice, so sweet, so infuriatingly altruistic that your fellow player will be forced to let that character live and begin their nightmarish campaign all over again. But the real brilliance of this game comes from the story telling you must engage in. You see it isn't enough to simply announce a tragedy has befallen your family member. You must explain how this unfortunate event came to pass, and given how deliciously ridiculous some of the events are, hilarity is sure ensue.
Keeping with the gothic theme here, but with a very different style of game. Mysterium is kind of like Cluedo, in that someone has been murdered and the players must work out the who, how and where of this horrific crime. That's where the similarities end though. You see, in Mysterium the players take on the role of psychics, each with their own back-story and unique skills. That is all apart from one player who must play as the spirit of the murder victim. The psychics are presented with a pool of suspects, potential murder weapons and rooms that could be the scene of the crime. The spirit's job is to send visions to the psychics in the form of beautifully artistic, but incredibly abstract, cards. The psychics must decipher the visions and solve the crime before the time runs out. There are a few aspects that make this game brilliant but, for me, nothing beats the stunning artwork and attention to detail that has gone into every single card. The game is beautiful. Even when you're on the verge of tearing your hair out because "how can it not be the cook? The vision card has a stove on it for crying out loud!" You still can't help but appreciate the stylistic design. Playing as the ghost is a completely unique experience that is both extremely entertaining and extremely frustrating as you watch the psychics bungle their way through your carefully chosen clues. If nothing else, this game offers you a little insight into how completely different your mind's workings are from your fellow players. You will be constantly baffled by the conclusions they draw and they will be equally mystified by you. The game offers a fun new take on an old format and is a must have, in my opinion.
Flux is nearly impossible to describe. I can tell you it's a card game and after that it gets a little complicated. Like my interpretive dance to the plot of Scarface, it must be experienced to be understood. You see the cards in your hand, the goal of the game and the rules are, as the name would suggest, constantly in flux. Every card you pick up changes something. The basic aim is very simple. You must be in possession of the two cards that make up the goal in order to win. However the amount of cards you can pick up, play and hold in your hand is always changing. Special rules may be added that allow you to take cards from other players, the goal will never be the same for more than two seconds and even if you miraculously hold the cards that match the goal you still might not be able to win because someone stuck you with one of the dreaded "creeper" cards and you can't win whilst you hold a creeper, or maybe someone laid a "surprise" card that lets them discard your entire hand. It's genius, it's mental and it will destroy friendships. Maybe the best thing about flux is that, by its very nature, no two games will ever be alike and this effect is only exaggerated when you discover that there are many different types of flux (Batman, Monty Python, Firefly etc.) and each type is subtly different and offers great new twists on the game. Not to mention that some of the quotes or goals on these cards will be enough to set your inner fanboy squealing like preteen girls at a... music concert of some description.... damn, I'm too old and out of touch to pull off this comparison.
4. RACE TO THE NORTH POLE
Have you ever wanted to experience the treacherous, competitive, unpredictable conditions of racing fellow explorers across the most formidable terrain on the planet? No? Just me? Oh... well this game is still brilliant. The first thing you need to know about this game is that the board moves. it literally moves. It spins so that you never know where your pieces will end up or what obstacles might be in their way. Now if you're like me, that feature alone would sell you on this game. Luckily, for those of you who aren't so easily pleased, Race to the North Pole has a lot more to offer than a cool gimmick. Each player represents a team of explorers, that range from the relatively normal Scots or Canadians to the, frankly sinister, anthropomorphized penguins. Be warned though, the different teams have different perks, so don't pick based on novelty alone. Some characters will have the igloo building skill which allows them to camp safely on a square where no other player may attack or displace them. Other characters have the snowshoes which will allow them to cross the cracks in the ice that other players cannot. But there will be more than the other players and cracked ice blocking your path. You will also face holes, polar bears and frequent storms that will spin the board and land you with your opponent’s cards. It's spectacularly manic and hands down one of my favourite games.
5. TERROR IN MEEPLECITY
At first glance this is a fun family game, but having played it multiple times, I can tell you it's the adults who get the most out of it.
Meeplecity is under attack by giant monsters that are knocking down buildings and gobbling up the inhabitants at an alarming rate. The heroes, damsels, reporters, armed forces, businessmen and elderly are in grave danger. But here's the fun bit, you and your friends play as the monsters. That's right, you are the ones wreaking havoc and mayhem across this awesome 3D board. You set up the game by building the city and carefully securing the poor townsfolk inside the structures. You then pick which monster you will play as and set about smashing the whole damn thing to pieces! Honestly people, what's not to love? You can toss vehicles into buildings to knock them down, use your monster to tear them apart or turn on your fellow monsters to stop them from chowing down on your victims. What stops this game descending into total chaos (and I'll be honest with you, a lot of the time the chaos will happen anyway) are two very important rules. Firstly, you can only eat the people of Meeplecity whose bodies land in your playing area and there are major penalties for knocking them clear off the board. Secondly you don't win by devouring the most inhabitants. You win by devouring the most sets of inhabitants. You must have one of each of the six different kinds of characters to make up a set. In other words, to win this game you have to be the mad rampaging monster with a discerning appetite. And the more you play, the more you realise that this requires a certain amount of finesse you simply weren't expecting from the game. You do, in fact, find yourself playing quite tactically after a while. Still, when all's said and done, the real majesty of this game comes from the sheer, primal release you get from utterly obliterating everything in your path. And the game doesn't end until every building is reduced to rubble
I honestly feel like I could keep this list going for hours, there's so many excellent table top games out there: Machi Koro, Tsuro, 221b Baker Street, Munchkin, and Cosmic Encounter, to name but a few. And I urge you to go out and try some of them. It's different and sociable and just plain fun.