Ultimate 6er | Board Games to Combat Boredom
Year 2020 A.D: Society has found itself desperately in search of new forms of “entertainment.” Stuck in our living spaces with little variety in scenery or human contact, we’ve completed push-up challenges, donned our finest pillow-dresses and allowed ourselves to be entertained by a mulleted tiger murderer, all in desperate attempts to relieve our boredom. While I’ve plundered the depths of Netflix as a good quarantiner should, I’ve also managed to find both mental stimulation and escape through the world of board games.
Board games encourage us to be creative, use strategic and critical thought, and they occasionally create rifts between those closest to us, causing a decrease in dialogue for weeks. The good news is that, similar to craft beer, there’s a huge world of games out there with a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. The more you explore, the more apparent it becomes that there exists an endless supply of options, both in beer and in gaming.
Luckily for me during this quarantine, my local game store has been delivering fun right to my front door. This article aims to help you find a new source of amusement, as I’ve tried to line-up some new options for you based on old favorites. If you’re like me and finding it harder and harder to come up with excuses for your weekday beer binges, I’ve included some optimal beer pairings to go along with celebrating your new entertainment endeavors.
In an Avatar-esque “I see you” gesture, WeldWerks Brewing and Bottle Logic Brewing seem to know exactly where I’m at in life and have heroically collaborated to release Resource Hex. A game-inspired double IPA that I would definitely trade 2 wheat and a wood for (nobody wants sheep), this beer is a perfect sergeant-in-arms for your strategic endeavors.
If you like Settlers of Catan… try Concordia
Supplication | Russian River Brewing Company
Players: 2-5 | Difficulty: 3/5
Catan is many people’s gateway into “Eurogames”, or competitive, strategy-driven affairs that involve a little more thinking than your Chutes and Ladders. It’s the Chimay Blue of board games, something from Europe that knocks your socks off the first time you encounter it. I’ve played and enjoyed many a game of Catan, but there are sometimes when the poor roll of the die ruins your evening, or you have that one player who is hoarding sheep and driving everyone nuts. Enter Concordia, where dice are absent and cunning is king.
Similar to Catan, you are exploring and settling a map, in this case a map of the Roman Empire. You also are managing resources, which are used to buy new action cards, settlements, and additional colonists in an aim to acquire the most victory points by the end of the game. The dice are replaced by your hand of action cards, each giving you one specific action per round while increasing the ratio of strategy to luck in the game. You race the other players to settle prime real estate and acquire the best new cards for your hand as you plot your path to victory. It’s like Catan if you take out the luck factor, and add in more possible paths to victory. One of the resources you will be producing in bulk is wine, which encourages me to recommend a great wine barrel-aged sour while playing. The complexities of the grape and funkyness of a beer like Russian River Supplication pair perfectly with your equally complex strategies. Plus, the wine flavors affirm your imaginary life as a Roman elite, flirting with Dionysis as you traverse the Mediterranean.
Bonus game: With increased complexity and an established competitive community, Terra Mystica has been one of the top games out there for almost a decade. With 14 different Tolkienesque races to choose from, each game forces players to adapt to the board and the strengths of not only their own characters but their opponents’ characters as well. This is a perfect choice if you have a competitive group that will play regularly, who will find joy in outwitting each other in each new game.
If you like Backgammon or Chess… try Quarto!
Qualify Pils |Suarez Family Brewery
Players: 2 | Difficulty: 1/5
Playing a nice two-person game on a patio table with a crisp beer on a balmy afternoon is how I’m imagining 90% of my time in utopia/heaven/The Good Place would be spent. Chess and Backgammon are the classics, entertaining friends and foes for hundreds of years on the streets and in the parlor rooms of the sophisticated. If you like that type of intense one-on-one battle with simple rules, then why don’t you shake things up with a game of Quarto?
In essence an amped-up version of Connect Four, Quarto has you aiming to line up a row of pieces all sharing a singular characteristic. Pieces are defined by their height, shape, color, and whether or not they have a hole in the top, giving eight possible ways to win. If you can match four with one of those identifiers, you win, and more importantly, your opponent loses. The catch is that you are always choosing what piece your opponent has to play. There may be no better feeling than giving your opponent the piece they must place which will lead to certain defeat. This game is perfectly portable for taking outside on a nice day, and I recommend a tall, fresh Pilsner (or six) as refreshment. My favorite right now is Suarez Family Qualify Pils, but there are plenty of great Pilsners out there right now thriving as an alternative to the haze craze. pFriem’s GABF-gold winning Pilsner, Live Oak Pilz, and the original Pilsner Urquell are great companions to a day of games as well.
Bonus game: If you don’t mind some insects (in tile form) crawling around your tabletop, Hive is another fantastic two-person option. There’s a fantastic travel version of the game that I always have in my bag for brewery visits and airport lounges.
If you like puzzles… try Carcassonne
Westmalle | Tripel
Players: 1-5 | Difficulty: 2/5
It’s December 2019, and you are laughing at time-traveling me as I list for you the things would skyrocket in popularity in the next four months. Your responses are succinct and dismissive. “Michael Jordan hasn’t been a part of regular public conversation for two decades!” “Nobody has time to bake their own bread!” And you chuckle hardest when I tell you to buy stock in puzzles. Alas, by April puzzle sales have jumped over 300%.
Being stricken with slight colorblindness means puzzles become frustratingly puzzling for me, but I do like the idea of building something together with friends. Carcassonne satisfies that urge while giving you an easy to pick up gaming experience. Each player takes turns contributing to a medieval map of cities, roads, and churches, adding a singular new piece to the expanding map until your table is covered with your new land. You strategically have to decide when to claim map tiles with your limited worker pieces, angling for the best cities and longest roads.
Carcassone emphatically hits three positive board game descriptors. It’s easy to learn, making it easy for people of all ages and experience levels to pick up quickly. The map building is highly interactive, with most turns lasting seconds rather than minutes, meaning you can’t switch off from engaging. Lastly, it’s quite portable, so you can take it to a friend’s house or your nearest brewery with a large table and play anywhere. Carcassonne’s feudal map-building can stir up a great thirst. Why not pair this game with some of Europe’s grand “ancient” beers and tick off some of the wonderful Trappist breweries? A refreshing Westmalle Tripel or a deep and rich Rochefort 10 would be an appropriate cheers to the monks in your game’s high-scoring monasteries.
Bonus Game: Castles of Burgundy may just well be the result of Carcassonne and Catan going hard at some beer festival and making some irresponsible decisions later that night. You race to fill out your own map with pieces from a variable communal board, making tough decisions about when to take or place pieces while your opponents struggle with the same. Endlessly replayable with a good balance of interaction and simple, but deep, mechanics, it’s probably the most often played game in my humble home.
If you like Dungeons and Dragons or RPGs… try Gloomhaven
The Bruery | Black Tuesday
Players: 2-4 | Difficulty: 5/5
For those who love fantasy epics, who’ve watched the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions in full at least twice in the 2020 calendar year, for those who aim to complete 100% of Skyrim: Gloomhaven needs to be a part of your life. I luckily acquired this right before Coronamania set in, and by this point it’s provided hundreds of hours of joy in lockdown life.
Rated as the #1 game on boardgamegeek.com with good reason, Gloomhaven will provide you hours and hours of entertainment in its dense, borderline-farcically gigantic box. Seriously, the box weighs over 20lbs and will not fit in most standard suitcases. But the high investment cost and the weight-lifting training you need to transport the box are more than worth it for this engrossing cooperative epic.
You start out as a team of lowly mercenaries, building your reputation and gaining loot and experience by completing one of 95 missions included in the box. You travel the world of Gloomhaven, encountering all sorts of miscreants and monsters in a compellingly scripted choose-your-own adventure quest. 17 distinct and eccentric characters are available to join your party, each one with its own unique play style and a full backstory to accompany its delightful miniature. Battles are determined not by dice, but by your character’s unique deck of cards, with an ingenious system of initiative and resting to keep the fighting intense.
This scope of this game is epic, and best enjoyed with a committed group of adventurers who are willing to put in time on a regular basis to progress through the chapters. An epic game needs an epic beer pairing, and I suggest bringing out your baddest barrel-aged stout for this one. A beer like Black Tuesday from The Bruery is perfect for this game. These beastly beers are best shared with friends, and the stout flavors will continue to express themselves differently throughout a long scenario, with the high ABV aiding the camaraderie. If you didn’t get a chance to stock up on BT during the yearly October sale, try out one of the widely distributed BA beers from Firestone Walker (Parabola, Sucuba, etc.) or Founder’s (KBS, CBS, etc.)
Bonus game: If you love the cooperative aspect of Gloomhaven but want something more approachable, and you can handle the all-too-real theme of trying to contain an epidemic, then I highly, highly recommend Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. You might be familiar with Pandemic, a game where you team up to rid the world of deadly viruses, but the Legacy game improves upon the original in every way possible. An engrossing storyline with permanent game changes implemented after every round, this is another one that demands a group of friends commit to playing through in its entirety for the best experience.
Also, the first time you literally rip up and destroy a game piece, never to be used again, it tears at the moral fiber of the universe like nothing you’ve experienced. Give it a shot.
If you like Monopoly… try Terraforming Mars
Tree House Brewing | Green
Players: 1-5 | Difficulty:5/5
As soon as the world Monopoly comes tumbling out of your mouth, anyone in earshot is likely to experience an increase in blood pressure. We’ve all been a part of a never-ending game, rife with cheating and shady deals that leave family dynamics in ruin. But if resource management and property building are your thing, and you’re still shunning Hasbro for replacing the iron, why don’t you make like Arnold in Total Recall and “get your ass to Mars!”
Terraforming Mars is admittedly much more complex than Monopoly, but it’s also much more enjoyable. Everyone starts out as a corporation who is intending to turn the Red Planet into a… less red and more inhabitable planet. Each player’s corporation gives them a unique advantage as they purchase and play cards to increase their personal resource production, as well as the global oxygen, heat, and ocean levels. After many generations of building cities and greenery on the communal Mars map, you will terraform the planet and end the game. You are competing for map real estate with other players, while choosing from new cards every turn that will help you gain victory points or foil your opponent’s plans.
This game does require a good amount of concentration, but the variety in corporation strategies paired with the huge pile of cards to draw from each round give this game a lot of nuance and a lot of replay-ability. I recommend pairing a series of beers from your favorite brewery with this, taking notes on the difference between each new brew. Recently I did this with a bevy of IPAs I stocked up on from a visit to Tree House, but could easily see myself doing the same thing with other experimental high volume, high variety brewers like Other Half, Monkish (insert “they all taste the same joke here”), The Bruery, WeldWerks, Tired Hands, Modern Times, etc.
Bonus game: Scythe is another excellent, extremely popular game right now that requires a good amount of thinking to best your competition. It isn’t as card-centric and encourages more actual in-game fighting, which can turn off some of those whose real-life feelings are hurt when they are inside-the-game attacked by a friend. I love Scythe for its exceptional alternate-1920’s-with-mechs theming, it’s non-reliant-on-chance game mechanics, and the ability to expand and have up to 7 players battling it out with robots.
If you like Risk… try Star Wars: Rebellion
Other Half | All Together
Players: 2-4 | Difficulty: 5/5
Want to turn the intensity and, dare I say it, the nerdy-ness of Risk up a few notches? How about jumping into the war fought a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away! That’s exactly what Star Wars: Rebellion offers, as players insert themselves into the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion, controlling their favorite heroes and villains while each game playing out a new script for the original Star Wars Trilogy.
Where this game differs from Risk is that the two sides, the Empire and the Rebellion, have two very different end goals. It is not the objective of the Rebellion to overpower the Empire, but rather win small victories and gain favor among the planets while avoiding detection from the all-powerful Imperial forces. Once the Empire finds and destroys the Rebel base, the heroes lose, but not if they can weaken the Empire and finish enough objectives before that happens.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, the theming here is going to drive you wild. Yes, there is a large-sized Death Star miniature, and yes, you can blow up planets with it. A scenario where Lando is captured by the Empire and turned to the Dark Side? How about Chewbacca and Leia leading a mission to destroy a Super-Star Destroyer? All among countless possibilities. The fact that each side plays so differently adds more play variety than Risk, as the different factions and objectives force you to redevelop your strategies.
This is not a short game (most I’ve played have clocked in around 4hrs), so you will need plenty of blue milk, or better yet beer, to get through a session. A good, crushable IPA should do the trick, and the recent All Together beer releases, led by Other Half, is a great choice. Plus, All Together may help remind you reconcile to your differences with the bitter losing side. If you can’t get your hands on one of these limited releases, Bell’s Two Hearted or Modern Times Fortunate Islands go down easier than a Stormtrooper in a blaster fight.
Bonus game: If you want to stay more in the realm of realism with your war games, then go for Axis and Allies. Here you will battle as the five major WWII military powers, playing out the war on a global scale. A small warning: I’ve played games of A&A that have taken days, literally 20+ hrs of play time, to complete against worthy adversaries. But, then again, what else do we have on our schedules right now?
Additionally, here’s an extra 6-er some of my favorite games. If you start picking up this addictive habit and decide that board games are way classier than books on bookshelves, these are great additions to any gaming collection:
Ticket to Ride | 2-5 players | 2/5 difficulty – one of the classic games that anyone can immediately sit down and enjoy. Ticket to Ride may also have the best app version for mobile and online gaming.
Puerto Rico | 3-5 players | 3/5 difficulty – another game that is a great entry-level option for Catan/Eurogame fans.
Targi | 2 players | 3/5 difficulty – Easy to travel with two-player competitive game that’s great for playing over a flight at your favorite brewery.
Wingspan | 1-5 players | 3.5/5 difficulty – Maybe the most beautiful game I’ve played from an art and design standpoint, and definitely gets bonus points for all the random bird facts you learn.
Brass: Birmingham | 2-4 players| 4/5 difficulty – It was a real close call between choosing this and Concordia for the original list, but I think I am partial in these summer months to exploring the Mediterranean rather than Industrial Revolution-era Britain.
Robinson Crusoe | 2-4 players | 5/5 difficulty – A co-op game with great design and theming, but be forewarned: this one is HARD!
Did we leave out your favorite games? Let us know in the comments!