Not Cardboard Children: Two’s Company

By Quintin Smith on June 26th, 2011 at 12:04 pm.

YOU! SHALL NOT! PASS! I THINK! Hang on let me do the maths

Last week I said that this week’s Not Cardboard Children was going to be a roundup of great board and card games that work great with just two players (and then I taunted you with a game that needed more friends and a bigger table than you’d need for a respectable wake).

I wasn’t even lying! Come, take my hand. We’re going on a magical cardboard tour. Wait- what are you doing?! Don’t actually take my hand. What are you, eight years old?

Seeing as over the last few decades more fantastic, imaginative two player games have been released than I could even be bothered to name, let alone describe, I’m going to talk you through three relatively new ones and then close with a shortlist of even more relatively new ones you might want to investigate further. If you gents want to share some older ones in the comments, do it! Let’s make this web page the definitive resource for people who wanted to be pointed towards a two-player game and told “s’pretty good!”

I’ll kick things off with The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this is one of those knob promotional games like Babylon V: The Card Game or Twilight: The Card Game. Stop thinking that! In fact, stop thinking in general. This’ll be a lot easier for both of us if you just let your brain go slack for a bit.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is actually a co-operative game, making it the obvious choice for those of you who’d rather play nice instead of spend an evening snarling at your friend across a table like the hungry boardgaming beast that you are. Each player takes control of an intrepid (read: doomed) band of up to three heroes, and working together you’ve got to overcome one of the game’s quests. In the base set (which is all that’s been released so far) that means either a journey through the forest of Mirkwood, a trip down the river Anduin or a raid on an evil Necromancer’s tower to rescue an imprisoned friend.

So, a co-operative journey through dangerous territory… that’s not a board game, but a card game? How does that work? The short answer is that no matter how high your expectations are, it works even better than you might be hoping. This game is genius.

The long answer is as follows:

You are and your friend each have a deck of cards that you draw from each turn, allowing you to drop allies, attachments or positive events into play at the cost of resources generated by your heroes. In the same way that Magic: The Gathering lets you build decks based around one of five elements, LoTR: TCG has you building decks around four heroic aspects- leadership, tactics, lore and heart.

Leader players will be helping everybody else out, fighting at the front lines and, more so than anyone else, flinging themselves on the sharpened pikes and into the gaping jaws of monsters. I am saying they die a lot. Tactics, meanwhile, are actually good at fighting and can defend other players. Lore players will be mothering everybody else, healing them and cancelling out horrible events. Then you have heart. My deck of choice. The stout-hearted heroes of these decks push on with the quest no matter what. No, they’re not very good fighters. No, they’re rarely able to help other players. But they… they have a redeeming feature, I think. Hell if I can remember it, though.

But there’s also another deck set in the middle of the table- an encounter deck that contains all the dangers you might face on your journey. Each turn yourself and your friend will have to choose which members of your party to quest with – to push forward with – while keeping other characters in reserve to defend yourself from any enemies that might show up.

It’s all actually pretty complicated, but basically the quest deck is constantly coughing out potentially lethal events, locations that must be travelled to and monsters that’ll sit there on the horizon, and yourself and your friend are expected to deal with all of these horrors while always devoting as much of your party as possible to pushing onwards with the quest.

The one mechanic I will talk about in detail are the Threat meters, which are a set of gorgeous cardboard dials (the presentation of the entire game is stunning, mind) given to each player that show just how much of an interest the dark forces have in you. If you start off with powerful heroes, you dial your threat meter upwards. If you ever fail to quest (meaning your party stays put), you dial your threat meter upwards. If you’re spotted by Mordor’s scouts, you dial your threat meter upwards. If that threat meter ever hits 50, that’s it. Game over. It’s hugely sinister and totally fits the theme- the hostile Big Brother eye of the threat meter is always staring up at you, hungry for your death.

But by far the biggest achievement here is how all the cards you’re playing with fit snugly together to tell a story. You might think a card game would be more lightweight and abstract than a more heavy-duty board game, but it’s isn’t.

When myself and my friend took on the river Anduin quest, we were relieved to find that in the middle stage of the quest, when you’re simply rowing your boats down the river, monsters that emerge from the encounter deck can’t engage you. We were elated. For two entire turns we simply rowed, watching worgs and orcs and swarms of bats mass on the banks of the river, unable to touch us. Bliss.

We must have both been gangsta tripping on fig rolls at that point, because what happened next took us completely by surprise. The final stage of the quest saw us landing on the shore and being ambushed. Not only did we have to fight all the monsters that had been stacking up in the centre of the table, we also had to draw two extra cards and add them to the staging area in the middle of the table.

The following battle was epic, with Aragorn taking wound token after wound taken, and the two of us dropping everything from forest snares to spear walls to keep the creatures at bay. As the dust settled Beravor the ranger lay slain, and we did mourn, but I had the Horn of Gondor attached to someone so I blew that and that gave me an extra resource token so it was all ok in the end.

Other great things about Lord of the Rings: The Card Game include the fact that it scales down to a solo game or all the way up to four players, although you’ll have to argue for a bit about who gets the fancy threat dials and who has to write their threat down on a bit of paper like a loser.

Oh, and on the subject of that “The Card Game” suffix- this isn’t a traditional collectible card game. Like Warhammer Invasion, it’s one of Fantasy Flight’s “Living Card Games”, meaning that rather than releasing randomised booster packs and pre-assembled decks that may or may not be entirely useful to you, Fantasy Flight will be releasing preset packs of cards that all act as miniature expansions that are always entirely relevant, and in this case will each offer an extra quest. A much classier way of doing business.

All in all, a fantastic game. A classy game. Buy it.

Next up is Tannhauser!

Tannhauser, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, although I kind of do, is the single most retarded game in my collection.

Set in a fictional world where WW1 is still raging and the Germans have started meddling in the occult, Tannhauser is “a board game of eldritch horror and heroism in the Great War”. That’s me quoting the game box, but I’d much rather quote our Rab’s own review, so here I go: “It’s an FPS”.

You can play Tannhauser in Story Mode, Deathmatch Mode, King of the Hill or even Capture the Flag, but ultimately you’ll be doing the same thing- swearing moving your little pre-painted miniatures around the board, using their special abilities, taking shots down long long corridors, throwing grenades or hacking apart your foes in hand to hand combat.

Or rather, I should say that you’ll be trying to do all this stuff. Tannhauser is the Ameritrash genre of boardgames personified- it’s pretty to look at, absurdly macho, doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful play and ultimately that big, fat rulebook boils down to the two of you throwing dice around.

Here’s an example of the kind of move that happens in Tannhauser. It’s the second turn of the game. Your opponent runs his demonically augmented super-soldier into a room where you’ve got a guy on overwatch. Cool as a cucumber, you’ll take a shot at him with you submachine gun. You’ll hit. Your opponent will make his shock roll. The demonic guy will get a comedically high number of successes, reducing your attack to nothing. He’ll run this guy up to you and, following another bout of hatefully one-sided luck, cut your brave little man clean open like a big red pepper. The next turn you’ll roll a bundle of dynamite into that same room to get your revenge, and the hateful figure will emerge unscathed again, like a tiny plastic Captain Scarlet, and one-shot one of your troops again. All of this will happen and the word “unfair” will be balanced on the edge of your lips like a pea.

I don’t know why there were so many vegetable similies in that paragraph. The point is, all board games that feature dice have the occasional roll where everyone around the table bursts out laughing at the miserable result. Tannhauser has that every single turn. And it’s not funny.

Watching your plans constantly crumble under a handful of dice might sound miserable, but what you need to remember is that one man’s bad luck is the other player’s fantastic luck. That player actually controlling the demonic super-soldier is having the time of his life. He’ll think back on this game and smile, every single time.

That’s Tannhauser. It’s an FPS. It’s chaotic and full of guns and smarter in theory than in practice. If it weren’t for the game’s price and the fact that it’s now shipping with a “revised edition” of the rules that render the very important reference sheets that still come bundled with the game completely useless, I’d cheerily recommend it. As it is, that’s a lot of money to be asking for a game that’s really about the simple thrill of throwing dice around (or at each other).

Have a think. If you’re a monied individual then there are an absolute ton of expansions that pour even more colour into the game without affecting its incredible, lightning-fast pace.

For our third game, let’s move away from expensive and mad. Let’s go cheap and smart. Let’s go to Summoner Wars.

I adore this game, and you will too. Or else.

No, seriously. It’s an astonishing bit of design.

Summoner Wars is one half tactical battle and one half card game. Each player gets a small deck of cards unique to their chosen race, and in this deck are spells you can cast and servants you can summon onto the board. You play these cards using magic points which you amass either by discarding cards out of your hand or killing cards on the board. The objective is to kill the enemy summoner, a tough card that starts the game on the board.

There are three reasons to love Summoner Wars. The first and least important is its compactness. The rules take perhaps two minutes to explain, the game takes up no space whatsoever and the starter set containing two races will only set you back twenty quid. Note that I said compactness, not size. I’m a guy who likes grand games with a large scope for tactics and imaginative plays, and Summoner Wars scratches that itch like some kind of compact itch-scratching machine. From the future.

The second reason to love it is the vast asymmetry of the races. The Guild Dwarves sit back and erode enemy defenses. The Cave Goblins swarm the enemy with cheap, disposable goblins, but they have no staying power- them taking on the Vanguards, temple knights who are designed to out-last the enemy (by surviving until the enemy deck runs out), is a sight to see. The Fallen Kingdom are all about manipulating the board so that their undead soldiers are pop up like weeds. The Jungle Elves just blitz the board with cards that move the entire length of it, slapping all the way up into the enemy zone like falling Tetris blocks. I hate the Jungle Elves even more than I hate the Cloaks, who are an entire deck of thieving bastards designed to steal cards out of the enemy’s hand and his deck.

It’s not just that each of these races demands different tactics and makes for a different experience for the player. It’s that each pairing of them makes for a completely different game. I don’t even own them all, and I’ve still got a dozen more games of this to play before I’ve explored all the possibilities.

The third and most important reason to love Summoner Wars is that it’s just a beautiful game to play. A side-effect of its simple design and the small deck that you start burning through the moment the match begins is that every decision matters. Every dice roll matters. So you’re watching everything your opponent does, and fascinated by every decision and potential play laid out in front of you.

The design’s also shot through with risk/reward mechanics. By discarding lots of cards into your magic pile each turn you speed up your deck’s depletion and can potentially throw away a card you’ll need next turn, but you can also summon that much more onto the board. Then there’s your summoner himself or herself- the king and queen from chess combined, your summoner can make a big difference in a fight, but as you slide them away from you and towards the enemy, you’re making them more open to attacks.

A beautiful, beautiful game. Did I tell you to buy the Lord of the Rings card game up there? Screw that. Buy this. Or buy the other one. I just don’t know. Summoner Wars does have the solitary disadvantage that the starter set only comes with a sheet of paper to use as a board, with the premium board you can see in the above picture setting you back some extra money, but you could live without it. I couldn’t, clearly, but maybe you’re a stronger human being.

If you can bear waiting for a little while, a Summoner Wars premium box will be arriving in Europe any week now (I think it’s already out in the US) that comes with a whopping six new races as well as a premium board, so that might be the best investment.

Phew! OK. I said I would talk you guys through some runner up 2 player games that also came out recently? Let’s do that.

STRONGHOLD: If you’re looking for a grander, more complex strategy game than anything mentioned here, Stronghold could well be your boy. I haven’t played it, but I’m desperate to. I’ve heard only good things. Course, if you’re looking for something REALLY grand, there’s aways

HORUS HERESY: The big boy. The big cheese. This is a grand wargame that lets you and a friend go head to head in the single most important battle of the Warhammer 40K universe with the single, incredibly annoying flaw that certain section of the board can’t hold all of the plastic troops you’ll be putting down, so you have to pile them on top of one another from time to time. Still, a great game. A huge game. An expensive game. Rab has something to say about it, too.

LABYRINTH: THE WAR ON TERROR: Maybe you want a heavy duty strategy game with a theme that isn’t space marines dueling in the far future. That’s OK. How about a well-researched game that lets one side play the Americans and another fundamentalist Muslims in the war on terror? Would you like that?

RACE FOR THE GALAXY: Or maybe you want a game that’ll let you comprehensively best your friend without playing a game that swallows the entire day like a tic-tac. Race for the Galaxy is a massively deep, yet colourful card game about expanding your holdings in a hostile universe. You can’t interact directly with other players (without buying the expansion, anyway), but anything you decide to do (colonise, explore, develop, trade, etc.), your opponents will get the chance to do to. Sounds simple? Yeah. No. No. Just. No.

As always, Find Your Game Store.co.uk is ready and waiting to help you, ladies and gents. You should always buy from your local game shop, you know. You should. They’re an endangered species. Like the Irrawaddy dolphin. Imagine your local game shop as a beached, sad Irrawaddy dolphin, crying out for help as it chews weakly on a discarded KFC Zinger burger. That’s no kind of a life for a dolphin. So help out your local game shop.

Until next week!

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98 Comments »

  1. leeder krenon says:

    “How about a well-researched game that lets one side play the Americans and another fundamentalist Muslims in the war on terror? Would you like that?”

    no, i don’t like to play fantasy games.

    this game has had a good reaction, and i am sure it is a good game, but man, what an odd subject to write a game about, especially when they real story won’t be known for several decades.

    • cramen says:

      I’d say to anyone who also feels this way, try Twilight Struggle instead. It’s a tighter, less sprawling design with less contentious subject matter. Probably.

    • liquidindian says:

      Alternatively there’s 1960: The Making of the President, which predates Twilight Struggle and shares a designer. It uses some of the same mechanics, in particular the shared deck of cards and the same choices between operations/campaigning points and events. Also, for some people, Kennedy vs Nixon is a much more appealing theme.

    • Mammux says:

      I completely agree that Twilight Struggle is missing in this article. It’s not only the best two player game out there, but the highest ranked *game* on boardgamegeek. It has great game mechanics, an interesting setting and good presentation.

      -Magnus

    • son_of_montfort says:

      Yes, Twilight Struggle is certainly missing, as is 1960.

      I love TS but very much disliked Labyrinth, which I found overly fiddly and with a gigantic learning curve made even more gigantic by the fact that both sides play pretty much completely different. Too many exceptions, IFs or BUT THEN type moments and some of the terror of having an opponent’s card in your hand that appears in TS is mitigated by too many pre-requisites in Labyrinth.

      I’m surprised Earth Reborn didn’t get a mention.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      @Mammox @son_of_montfort
      I do say right there in the article that I was going for recent releases. At 2005, Twilight Struggle was a little outside my radar. :)

    • 2ds says:

      Havings owned twilight struggle and labyrinth, I’d really hesitate to recommend the latter to anyone. It’s like someone took an excellent game formula and then wrapped it up in red tape, the rules and requirements border on incomprehensibile half the time, like a window into the public service.
      Did you actually play it Quintin?

  2. Davie says:

    This is basically unrelated, but the cover illustration of Gandalf wizarding at those spiders is by Daryl Mandryk, pretty much my favorite artist ever. So that’s awesome.

  3. paco says:

    I went out and bought pretty much all the Descent stuff thanks to last weeks review, and played it with my wife and kids and it was great. We’re working on setting up a road to legend campaign now, trying to come up with a schedule to play it weekly and all that. Its really a fantastic game.

    Anyway I guess my point is: Thanks RPS for these weekly columns I really enjoy reading them, the Descent column wasn’t the first I”d read, but it was the first that compelled me instantly to buy something. Keep em comin’!

  4. Bilbo says:

    I’ve been tempted to buy the Horus Heresy board game since I first gazed upon its trailer (a board game with a trailer!) on amazon. Crazily expensive, though, and somehow I feel like I’d probably only play it once. That review is thoroughly amusing, though.

  5. Decimae says:

    On the topic of two-player games, you should also check out the “Gipf” series. They are abstracts, but they’re very fun to play, very high quality, and easily explainable to a non-boardgamer. I think Tzaar is the best of them.

  6. NaiveMelody says:

    I know it’s not really what this column’s ever been about, but it would have been nice to see a few more games for non-board-game-geeks, more along the lines of Carcassonne. I’ve been looking for a two-to-four player game to play with my less-nerdy friends for a while now, to replace our well-worn copies of Scrabble, Monopoly, and Pente. Any suggestions?

    • JB says:

      Settlers of Catan =)

    • Hikkikomori says:

      Scrabble, Monopoly, and Pente are “less-nerdy” now. Memes mutate so marvellously over time.

    • Decimae says:

      As I said in the comment before you, the gipf series, and especially Tzaar are amazing to play with non-geeky friends. They’re abstracts, though, but very fun and very well made.

    • Spacewalk says:

      I’ve gotten a few people to enjoy Ticket To Ride. Very nice game, that.

    • Kaira- says:

      I’m going to second Ticket to Ride. Very good game, that is. Also, if you happen to have lots of times to play, Roborally can also be lots of fun.

    • NaiveMelody says:

      I’ve been meaning to get around to playing Catan and Ticket to Ride for ages. Thanks for reminding me of them. The GIPF series sounds interesting too, thanks for that recommendation. And Hikkikomori, notice I said “less-nerdy”, not “not nerdy” ;)

    • Lilliput King says:

      A game about train management is less-nerdy?

    • NaiveMelody says:

      Compared to orks, elves, stats sheets, rulebooks, and trading card games? Actually, yeah :p

    • Hallgrim says:

      I’d recommend the game Dominion to anyone looking for a non-fantasy/sci-fi themed game. I find the setting pretty bland (medieval europe), but its a wonderful game. It is competitive (rather than co-operative), but its more like a marathon and less like a hockey game in spirit.

      Oh, and FWIW none of these are “trading card games”. You buy a box with a fixed set of cards in them, and everyone gets the same stuff. No buying dozens of booster packs looking for rare cards.

    • Warth0g says:

      Definetly second Settlers, but also try Pandemic. The theme is less off-putting to non-gamers, it’s co-operative which goes down well and it’s a beautiful piece of game design. Highly recommended.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      I was making social commentary rather than replying personally. :)

      How about giving them a nice push from behind towards full-nerdy then? Mansions of Madness which is in the Cthulhu mythos might do the trick. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/03/06/cardboard-children-mansions-of-madness/

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      n+1 for Settlers and Ticket to Ride (which isn’t actually about train management at all – the only Trainy thing in the game are the pictures).

  7. Hikkikomori says:

    I was looking forward to the 2 player feature since we are loners at home and really got convinced to buy the LOTR game but I can’t find it anywhere in the UK. Out of stock across the board.

    If anyone has any luck finding it in the UK please let me know so I can spend my money.

  8. DrGruu says:

    Although strictly 2-4 players, Earth Reborn is currently my fave 2-player game. Probably better the Tannhauser (they have the same premise of a skirmish FPS like combat) but I’ve never played that. Just going by what other people have said.

    • liquidindian says:

      Earth Reborn is the closest I’ve seen to something like X-Com or Laser Squad in a board game.

    • DrGruu says:

      Actually, yes, that’s a much better comparison. X-com is what came to mind as read the rules for destroying the board scenery!

  9. Spacewalk says:

    Heart but no wind, water, earth and fire? Some heroic aspects those are.

  10. JackShandy says:

    Ok, this is an honest-to-god travesty. You left out (Let me say this in big capital letters so that I can attract as many commentors as possible):

    YOMI! YOMI! YOMI!

    It’s Street fighter: The card game, it’s the most fun two people can have without uncomfortable sweating, and you can print out the whole set of 10 characters for 15 bucks. Give me a minute to evangalise.

    So behind a lot of high-level e-sports is this awesome meta-game based around “Yomi” – the japanese word for reading the mind of your opponent. You see it in everything from street fighter to Starcraft: figuring out what your opponent is going to do and devising a counter, then realising that they know that you know what they were going to do and devising a counter to their counter, then realising that you know that they know that you know they know what you know and collapsing in a sobbing brainy mess.

    You and I never got that far because our flabby hands couldn’t work up the button-mashing skill required to reach the higher level of strategy, but Yomi tosses out all the speed and combo-memorising required in favour of a game entirely about the mind games.

    You’ll understand the rules in fifteen minutes flat, play through a game in half an hour, and think it’s rock paper scissors. Go through a few games, though, and you’ll see the marina trench worth of depth. It’s perfect to play over and over with a select few: you’ll start to get into their strategies and they’ll start to get into yours until each match is pure mental makeouts.

    You can try it out online here:http://www.fantasystrike.com/dev/
    I wouldn’t suggest it for a first-time player, though. Personally, I got the print N play version, but that requires a lot of cardboard and cutting out; Next best bet is Ebay.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Ah yes! Yomi is definitely on my must-play list, along with Gosu. Another heavily themed two player card game I’ve heard great things about. Yomi! Gosu. Yomi! Gosu.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    The last 2-player only thing play is LORD OF THE RINGS: THE CONFRONTATION, which is a pretty neat Stratego-esque riff.

    KG

    • Sabin says:

      I’ll second that recommendation. It’s like Stratego meets Chess. Plus the Deluxe version is awesome. Pretty much two versions in one, as each unit (say the Black Rider) has two sides. Sometimes it’s the same unit on both sides with different health/abilities, or sometimes a completely different unit. And you can play with either the standard version, the deluxe version, or mix between the two.

      Sadly my wife isn’t that much into strategic/competitive games, so it doesn’t come out nearly as much as I wish it would.

  12. ohrus says:

    I think you’ve sold me on Summoner Wars. Looks like something the missus and I would really enjoy. Thanks for the write up!

  13. Jody Macgregor says:

    “…a game that swallows the entire day like a tic-tac.”

    Quinns, you win at similes, and I didn’t even realise we were playing.

    • Tunips says:

      This one is my favourite: “Cosmic Encounter is more like a tumble drier full of knives and dreams.”
      This subthread is now the Quinns simile appreciation thread.

    • Jody Macgregor says:

      “…cut your brave little man clean open like a big red pepper” is also amazing.

  14. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I really don’t have the resources to acquire/indulge into table top games, but I always read these features because the cards and figures are so pwetty!

  15. infovore says:

    Race for the Galaxy works with 2, but is infinitely better with 3 or 4, IMHO.

    But ANYHOW enough negging, my twopenneth to add to the list thread:

    Lost Cities is a marvellous, sublimely simple card-game for two by Reiner Knizia; a tale of risk and reward, with lovely cards, lightning play time, and (because it’s scored – and you just play an odd number of games, of your choosing) ideally suited to sitting in a pub and playing over beer and chat.

    The Rivals of Catan (formerly “Catan Card Game”) is also lovely – quite complex, and turns the economic game of Catan into something a little more like Civilization. There’s less focus on trading – because why would you trade with your opponent? Instead, it focuses a bit more on cities and buildling; it’s a lovely piece of design, and the expansions (which you get seven of in one box) each add a thematic extension to it. The low-point is the magic expansion, which is bobbins; the high point, the science/learning and espionage themed ones, that really bend the game around. I think I like this far more than the 3-4 player game.

    Oh, and Blue Moon, which is Knizia’s take on Magic-style combat; each deck is a race, you don’t merge/build decks, but they all play very differently – so buying a new deck gives you all manner of match-ups. Couple that with push-pull scoring, the odd bit of lovely character art, and some weird mechanics, and it’s just delightful. I’ve played so much of this, and it always surprises me.

    • amandachen says:

      http://keldon.net/bluemoon/
      http://keldon.net/rftg/
      Play Blue Moon and Race for the Galaxy against a pretty good AI.
      Lost Cities is a cool, simple game, yeah. Didn’t I see it on one of the consoles?

      Kosmos has a pretty good series of 2 player games.

    • malkav11 says:

      They also did a two player game based on Starfarers of Catan, which lacks the depth of the Settlers card game, but is still pretty enjoyable – Starship Catan. Each of you has a starship that you are upgrading for various powers (and the highest upgrade level in each category can only be obtained by one player), and you explore one of four decks each turn (which are reshuffled after you’re done with the turn, turning it into a sort of memory game as to where to find the planets you’re needing that turn). There’s settlement, trading, pirates, etc. Good times.

    • amandachen says:

      Yeah, there’s a computer version of that. I think only in German. And of course a computer version of the Settlers of Catan card game.

  16. OrangyTang says:

    Can we have less fantasy / space marine games please? It’s hard enough getting a bunch of non-gamer, non-geek friends around to play a board game in the first place. Trying to explain rules like “orges have a racial hatred of elves and so their miniature can move twice as fast” or whatever, you can *see* their eyes glazing over as they think “why are you still playing with dolls you sad, sad, man”.

    You and I know that’s it’s all just flavour and there to provide a setting for what would otherwise be an arbitrary set of rules. You and I know that it’s the mechanics that matter, but newbies don’t get that (yet) and the deeply nerdy settings and pomp instantly turn them off.

    Settlers and Ticket To Ride are the only games that it’s possible to get others to play for precisely this reason. But man cannot survive on Settlers alone.

    Also, for the inevitable person who will say “get more nerdy friends”: fuck off.

    • Shadowcat says:

      The stereotype seems to be that the European games are more abstract and therefore more broadly appealing, and the American games are more your fantasy / space marines types, so I can only suggest focussing your attentions on the former. If you’ve never played it, do check out Carcassonne. And if you have four players, have a look at Dixit, which is good fun, keeps you thinking, and is quite different to anything else I’ve played.

    • Hallgrim says:

      See: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/36218/dominion
      Also: every euro game ever.

    • JackShandy says:

      Your friends seem to be the absolute opposite of my friends. You’re saying that you can’t play a game about nazi’s and demons because they’ll go “The theme in this is just too rich! Can’t we go play something about train lines, or maximising the efficiency of a power station?”

  17. Shadowcat says:

    “Space Hulk: Death Angel” is an entirely decent co-operative (or solo) card game which works with up to six players.

    I’d recommend either of the original Carcassonne or the Hunters & Gatherers variant as a two-player (or more) game. It’s a popular one for good reason. Do some research if you’re thinking about getting any of the expansions, though. Some of them change the vibe of the game pretty dramatically, or they can increase the mental calculations needed to evaluate the state of the game by a fairly unpleasant extent, which slows the game down.

    Castle Ravenloft is good fun if you want a semi-random fantasy dungeon crawl with lots of miniatures, and it works fine with two players (which is all I’ve played it with myself, although I suspect more would be better — boardgamegeek says 4 is the optimal number).

    • MartinNr5 says:

      I second the “Space Hulk: Death Angel” recommendation. It’s quite fun once you get into it and the variations are enough to keep you at it for some time.

      There are some rules that I feel could use a bit more explanation and on the whole it takes a couple of rounds to learn the rules.

      It takes a lot more rounds before you start playing as a team though but when you do it feels great.

    • malkav11 says:

      I -love- Death Angel. It’s cheap (I I think $20-25 or so) and on the face of it has fairly simple rules and interactions…but in -practice- it’s nerve-wrackingly tense and full of tough decisions. Victory is never cheap or easy. It scales pretty well, also, although I think it’s probably slightly better as a 2-3 player game simply because life is cheap and in the 4-6 player range each player only has two space marines to work with. Which is still a lot of killing power, but it makes it much easier for individual players to lose all their marines and thus their role in the game.

    • jaheira says:

      Fourthed. Death Angel is great fun.

    • Warth0g says:

      Yes Death Angel is very good. But absurdly luck based and IMHO has been outclassed by LOTR the card game.. It’s a very definite upgrade in terms of mechanics

  18. Shadowcat says:

    Oh, and for a faster and much simpler two-player tile-laying game that you could play with absolutely anyone (kids or adults), “The Legend of Landlock” is a little gem IMHO. It certainly doesn’t have the strategic depth of the bigger games, but it still makes you think and plan ahead, and it plays so quickly that you can easily knock out a few games when there’s no time to play something longer, or you’re not in the mood for anything more complicated.

  19. DisBeSrsBsns says:

    I enjoy these board gaming posts very much. Please continue posting them!

  20. TooNu says:

    I own horus heresy. It’s a great game, it’s a long game, it’s a game that looks impressive and delivers. If you find it, and you can afford it and had the slightest thought about playing it…get it.

  21. Jubaal says:

    Damn you all. Just bought Agricola and Lord of the rings – Card Game! When I am penniless and begging you for change in the street to feed my kids, it will be YOUR FAULT!

  22. Buttless Boy says:

    Race for the Galaxy is amazing. It’s also a total bitch to learn. I recommend starting with San Juan, which has similar mechanics but explains things with words instead of a stupidly complex system of obtuse symbols.

    • malkav11 says:

      I found the symbols very intuitive and elegant, but I know at least one person who entirely refuses to play the game because of them. YMMV, I guess.

    • Lilliput King says:

      They’re great, but they need a little time to learn, I think. You’ve just got to get new players to stick with them long enough for them to become intuitive.

  23. brog says:

    Race for the Galaxy works with up to 6 (with expansions), but is at its best as a two-player game, IMHO.

    Just thought I’d throw a conflicting opinion out there! There’s definitely a fundamental difference between 2p where you control half the action phases and so it’s possible play quite aggressively, and >2p where you have to rely on others actions much more.

    • brog says:

      (was meant to be a reply to infovore, obv)

    • malkav11 says:

      Which is why I think it works better as a 3 or preferably 4 player game. The phase selection mechanic is a brilliant bit of game design (which, to be fair, originated elsewhere) that’s significantly watered down by being able to select more than one.

  24. Chunga says:

    I am still working up towards getting Arkham Horror, so I am at the slow end of things. Descent looked really nice, too… And I didn’t dare looking at the Horus Heresy clip, for fear of getting another urge to quell. So, yes, I think I’ll skip next installment of the NCC, in the interest of keeping my sanity.

    • Hallgrim says:

      I would give Arkham Horror a miss, personally. Descent, especially with Road to Legends or Sea of Blood, is a superior adventure/monster game. Mansions of Madness (latest Cthulhu themed game from Fantasy Flight), is a superior horror game. Both have the downside of requiring one player to be the ‘bad guy’, but even with that advantage I think Arkham Horror is too slow to be a good monster game and too mechanical to be a good horror game.

    • jaheira says:

      It’s the crazy layering of mechanics that make AH the game that it is. If you’re looking for a game that is flavourful, co-op and complex enough to constantly generate interesting decisions there is nothing better.

    • malkav11 says:

      Descent is a completely different sort of game. It’s a dungeon crawl, with an antagonist player. Arkham Horror is a purely cooperative game with much less emphasis on combat and more emphasis on exploration and random encounters. Also, while Descent has plenty of toys to play with, an expansioned up Arkham has so many swappable moving parts that you will never play the same game twice unless you absolutely insist on it. I like both, but they suit different needs and I would drag out Arkham much more regularly.

    • Chunga says:

      This is what makes RPS great! – thanks a lot gentlemen, for the input on the two board games. I see now that I mistook Arkham Horror for being the Mansions of Madness games reviewed earlier on here.

  25. amandachen says:

    Some people like to play these on the computer, right? There are several computer versions of Carcassonne (and the various expansions), but JCloisterZone is a good free one.

    http://jcloisterzone.com/en/

  26. Severian says:

    I’ve been playing the hell of out of the LotR LCG lately and loving it (both solo and 2-player). For those who have it or purchase it, I’d strongly recommend trying out these scenarios by a NinjaDorg:

    http://ratdorg.blogspot.com/p/lord-of-rings.html

    The only problem I’ve found with the base set is that it only includes 3 scenarios. The first is fun, and can be challenging when you start out, but eventually gets beatable. The 2nd is massive step in difficulty, and the 3rd is nigh on impossible. NinjaDorg’s scenarios, which are easy to print and play, fill a nice gap between the easy and hard.

    Definitely a recommended game.

  27. thehollowman says:

    I really like this feature. Labyrinth is an excellent game. To tie it all in to computers you can play a lot of them online with things like http://www.vassalengine.org . Though you will still need the game for the rules and stuff, and in most cases still need friends to play with.

  28. Duke of Chutney says:

    ahhh if only i knew people who liked board games, and would play games beyond scrabble, monopoly, and the ever tedious risk.

    so when’s the next Not Cardboard Children Social? preferably further north than London

  29. Level85nerd says:

    This looks really cool, a friend of mine just bought some cards.

  30. BrettW says:

    Holy crap, only two people have recommended Dominion? Dominion is awesome. Works excellently for two players, it has a lot of depth and replayability, even if you don’t have any of the numerous expansions. It’s easy to learn and games are a good length. I can’t recommend Dominion enough.

  31. Hybrid says:

    I picked up The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game relatively soon after it’s release but have not yet played it. Shame on me I suppose!

  32. gulag says:

    So, more of this sort of thing.

    Is the video game/board game cross-over a PC-centric thing, or do console people also enjoy a bracing game of Memoir or Puerto Rico?

    Also, (I can’t be the first person to ask this) What has become of Rob Florence? He never updates Downtimetown anymore, and seems to have had some success with his comedy show, but really; No time for his first love?

  33. Daiv says:

    I read this post and suddenly I had the strangest feeling. As if dozens of dollars in my wallet cried out at once – and were silenced.

  34. Tagert says:

    Aww. I wanted to hold Quin’s hand. :(

  35. Vexing Vision says:

    Stronghold is fantastic, and even approaches something like balance with the new undead expansion!

    It’s still a lot of fun and pretty much the prime example of how to do asynchronous gameplay RIGHT.

    Just make sure you check Boardgamegeek for the real rules – as someone who bought the game the day it came out (on Essen’s amazing Spiel), I can confirm that the original Polish-to-English translation left a lot to be desired. A lot.

  36. Noir Designs1 says:

    very nice and good information too :)

    http://www.noirdesigner.com

  37. Dawngreeter says:

    I can confirm the sentiment expressed in regards to Tannhauser. The theme is kinda-sorta cool. I like the system where you don’t have to measure or calculate who sees who and where. But I have never, ever played a game where one of the two players didn’t feel like the game screwed him over.

    I didn’t play with revised rules, the game lost my interest long before they came out. I understand it’s a bit more fair now, although I can see the improvement isn’t huge. Don’t play the game with people who don’t like to lose, losing in this game is infuriating enough for regular players. Don’t play the game with people who are bad winners, it’ll annoy you all the more when they win because they got a lucky roll that killed everyone on your side. Don’t play the game if you don’t mind losing at all as long as you did your best and formulated a plan that just happened to not work. You will never get to the point where you can formulate a plan.

  38. mechabuddha says:

    My wife and I have been playing a 2-player cooperative variant of Thunderstone that works wonderfully for just the two of us. We never would have heard of any of these board games without RPS, so thank you guys so much for opening our eyes.

  39. Persus-9 says:

    Well I finally bought Lord of the Ring: The Card Game based on this article. I bought it for my fiancée since she’s a massive Lord of the Rings geek and we’ve been having a lovely time. We’re neither of us experienced board game players so we’re dying startlingly quickly but we’re definitely enjoying ourselves. Last game I ended up on my own after her threat meter turned 50 and mine turned 49 at the end of a round. I had 4 location cards totaling 8 points counting against me in the questing phase but no enemies to fight but a ton of allies so I just threw everything at the quest just to try to survive till the end of the round and get some more progress points. 11 points! I was confident, cocky even. “Do your worst!” I cried defiantly as I drew my encounter card, it read something to the effect that each enemy card gained 1 point. 12 vs 11, one point to my threat dial, one dead set of heroes. Fair to say my fiancée was amused. Thanks Quinns! :-D