Everything you Need to Know about Board Games

Board Games: Take it from the Top

Board games have come a long way from Monopoly, The Farming Game and Life. The world of board games is so immense, it can be intimidating and overwhelming. "Where do I start? What games are good? What's a meeple? Why are games so expensive? 'Deck building?' What are you talking about?!"

Two things to keep in mind as you venture down this road...

First and foremost, you should have fun. If you're not having fun, try a new game (or get new friends. We're pretty awesome.). Everyone likes something different and looks for something different in a game. It's completely subjective, and your opinion isn't wrong nor is ours better. You may hate a game we love and vice-versa.

Second, if you don't understand something, ask! That's the beauty of this world. Everyone in it is willing and eager to chat games and help each other out.

So, let's get rolling.

Where should I start?

If you want to get into the board game world but are overwhelmed by options and information, start small. The information below seems extensive, but it's a good breakdown to help you know where to start. If you don't feel like doing a lot of reading or shopping, try a board game cafe. They have a relaxed atmosphere, coffee, snacks and  (usually) well-informed staff who can answer questions. The best part about a cafe is you can try before you buy. You may need to pay a sitting fee for taking up the table and using the games, but costs are pretty low.

Table Top Cafe in Edmonton, AB​

You may want to review "Board Game Boxes" below before you go, though, so you have a jumping off point.

Speaking of jumping off points...one of the most popular and well-known gateway games is Settlers of Catan also known as Catan (see our review here). If you're really lost, try Catan. It's pretty straightforward​ and easy to understand. If you're stuck, you'll find someone in spitting distance who knows how to play. If you are looking for a list of other good Gateway Board Games For Beginners, we have you covered.

Board Game Boxes: Your Cheat Sheet

Board game boxes are your cheat sheets. Detailed explanations are below this list, but every box will tell you: 

  1.  How long an average game takes.
  2. ​ The recommended starting age.
  3. ​ How many people can play.
  4. ​ Whether the game is a base game, standalone or expansion.
  5. ​ The company or designer.
  6. ​ Game contents.
  7.  What the game is about or its purpose​.

Before we get into too much detail, here are a few examples of what your board game boxes might have on the side:

King of New York Box

Agricola Box

Catan Box

1. How long does the average game take? Well, the first time you play a game, you should allot anywhere from 10-30 minutes (depending on complexity) to figure out the rules, setup and game play.

What you are looking for on the box is usually a clock with a time below it. Dominion's looks like this:

Some games have few rules and take very little time to learn, like Exploding Kittens, Coup and Splendor. Some games are a little more complex or have fairly detailed rule books like Betrayal at House on the Hill and 7 Wonders.

Reading the rules once through is always a good idea, but sometimes you need to setup and play as you read, or do a test run to gain a good understanding. Another great option is to watch videos on YouTube (searching "How To Play ________ " is your best bet).

The game box always provides an average play time, but keep in mind this is based on the designers and testers--people who know the game well or who play games often. Some games really are that quick, but expect it to take a few plays before your game time lines up with the suggestion. (That said, if your group is like ours, a 30-minute Avalon game often averages 45-60 minutes because we spend so much time yelling at debating with each other.)

2. Recommended starting age is the age the designers or creators think you should be to understand and play the game. Sometimes these numbers are there because of adult content. Remember that these are recommendations and your child may be able to understand things at an earlier age.

For instance, the depiction on Dominion's box looks like this:

3. How many players is important. If you like to play in teams, large groups, or as player vs. player, the games you can play will change. Not every game is suitable for or can be adapted to play for two players (or even solo play for that matter), and many games max out at five players, so if you have a huge group, you may need an expansion or a totally different game.

This will be depicted on the box in a couple of different ways.  For example:

Protip: If your game is five people and your group is six, you can take two people and pair them together--sometimes an experienced player and newbie together makes the most sense if the rest of your group is experienced.

4. Many games have expansions so you need the base game to play. However, you don't need the expansion(s) to play the base game. For instance, Flash Point has several expansions including Extreme Danger, 2nd Storey and Urban Structures, but you can play Flash Point by itself without these additions. Some games are standalone, meaning they don't have any expansions or require anything else to play, like Sheriff of Nottingham. 

A 5-6 player expansion for Catan. You need the base game of Catan to use this expansion.​

5. While you may not initially care about designer or game company, you may find as your collection grows, you gravitate to the same company because you've enjoyed everything you've played so far. Indie Cards and Games for instance includes The Resistance Universe like Coup, The Resistance, Codenames and Avalon. Asmodee includes everything from Dixit and 7 Wonders to Takenoko and ​Werewolves.

For example:

6. Contents tell you what's inside the box. Some games have a full list and some don't have a list at all. It is always a good idea to reference this the first time you open the box and pull out all the pieces. It is rare, but there is a chance you are missing some pieces and may need to contact the company. 

Catan contents. (Click to enlarge).

7. There is a description/overview on every box. This is where you will understand the theme and/or game play. You may find that these don't entirely help you decide as they can be vague. It is a good idea to look through some reviews or how to plays to get a better idea. See below for Catan's overview.

Catan Overview. (Click to enlarge).

What board game should I buy?

​This is a tough question. Everyone looks for and enjoys different things about board games. Some, like Tito, love party games (Time's Up, for instance). Some, like Ryan, love strategy board games, and some, like Charlene, love co-op. Think about yourself first. Do you HAVE to win? Do you like to play as a group facing a common enemy? Do you prefer cards? Do you hate long games? Maybe you want to teach your kids some math with board games? Your interests and likes will drive your initial purchases. Below are some of the popular and common board game types which will help you get started.

Deck Building Board Games

In deck building/builder games, you use cards to "build" your hand/deck throughout the game in order to win. It's not always as easy as it sounds, but there's always variety and a lot of fun. Check out Dominion or Splendor for examples.

Looking to learn more about Deck Building Board Games? Check out​:
Our Guide to Deck Building Games Here​

We have also compiled a Favourites List for you.
Best Deck Building Games

Co-operative Board Games

In co-operative games, you work with teammates--sometimes everyone, sometimes only a few other players--to beat the game. Think of the game (or board) as another player working against you, evolving and adapting to win. Some compare these games to video games where the board is the final boss you have to beat.

Check out PandemicBetrayal at House on the Hill and Flash Point: Fire Rescue for examples.​

​Check out our favourites!
Best Cooperative Board Games

Party Games Board Games

Party games are designed for large groups, often as team vs. team, and played in rounds to accumulate points in order to win the game. These are perfect if you have rowdy, competitive people who are looking for a lot of laughs. There isn't usually a lot of strategy in these games. Some examples here are Time's Up!, Wits & Wagers and Cranium.

We have you covered here if you are looking for some recommendations.
Best Party Board Games

Two Player Board Games

Two player games are adapted or created for two players only. Some games allow you to create a "ghost" third player​ so two can play together, like 7 Wonders, while others are specifically designed for two players only, like 7 Wonders Duel. Unlike other 2+ player games, the two player only games don't expand for more people. These can be great games for couples.​

We have made a list of some of the top rated two player board games.
Best Two Player Board Games

Solo Board Games

Like two player games, these one player games are adapted or created for one player only.  The difference here is that there are very few games that are for only one person, but there are many games (especially Co-op Games) that can be played by yourself. 

These games are great for people that want to get into the boardgame world but don't have the time to meet with groups of people and/or just enjoy challenging themselves. Again, these can be a good replacement for video games. Good examples here are Friday (1 player only) and Agricola (1-5 players).

If you are looking to try out some games by yourself, check out...
Best  Solo Board Games

Tile Flipping Board Games

These games start as a blank slate and change every turn. Each player takes a turn, turning a tile right side-up, and places it on the game to benefit themselves or their team. Strategy is usually a little lower on these games since you can't plan too far in advance what you want to do. Check out Carcassone and Saboteur for examples.

Cards and Dice Games​

Evolved from Yahtzee and Go Fish, these games rely on dice and cards to achieve your goal, whether that's gaining the most points or killing off other players to be the last person standing.​ Check out Bang! The Dice Game and Exploding Kittens for examples.

Worker/People Placement Board Games

Players have a limited number of game pieces they can place to gain points or achieve goals. These pieces all have set roles and impact the game differently. Usually these games are player vs. player. Perhaps the most famous worker placement game is Settlers of Catan (a different type of people placing game), but other popular games include Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep.

​Check out some of our favourites:
Best Worker Placement Board Games

Card Drafting Board Games

Players are given a choice of what cards they would like to select or use in the game. This can be from a common pile vs. drawing randomly, or from a set of cards in their hand which will be passed on to another player after choosing one, or somewhere in between. Some of these games can involve a board, and some don't. A couple of good examples in this genre are 7 Wonders and Citadels.

We have compiled a list of some of the top games in this genre. Check out:
Best Card Drafting Board Games

Social Deduction Board Games

Everyone has a role, usually secret, and players gather information throughout the game to figure out who's who. Players or teams are often pitted against each other to achieve a common or individual goal, and this goal helps them win the game. Logic, bluffing, strategy and often some kind of special ability or skill help you along the road. Avalon, Coup and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong are great examples.

We have compiled a list of some of the top games in this genre, check out...
Best Social Deduction Board Games

What are some terms I need to know?

Back before good strategy games, games used little plastic markers like Sorry! tokens--or maybe you remember being the boot in Monopoly (sorry, that's now a thing of the past!). These tokens have into more sophisticated markers including miniatures, picture cards, and even Meeples.

"What in the world is a Meeple?!" you ask.

A Meeple is a little wooden cut-out shaped like a person.

Carcassonne Meeple Stacking

There are a few other words that come up with people start talking about board games. While we can't cover all of them in this article, read on to get an understanding of the more common ones.

  • Victory Point​ - This is simply 'points' in the game. There is almost always a way to collect/buy/steal (depending on the mechanic of that particular board game) these through out the game, with the winner being the person who has the most of these at the end of the game. 
  • Heavy vs. Light Game - This normal describes the difficulty of or involvement needed to play the game. Heavier games usually take more time, brain power and general effort to play the game. Think of strategy games. Lighter games are easier to play and to get into. These are usually micro-games or party games.
  • Engine - This refers to a mechanic in the game. Usually you are building an "engine" which means you are setting up your hand/cards/player with a way to generate or buy some commodity in the game (in order to achieve victory). This could be food, victory points, energy, etc.
    An example here is a "food engine" in Agricola where you set up your farm so that every harvest, it produces enough food to feed your people.
  • Crib Sheet - This is also known as a "cheat sheet." It's a card or board that every player can see or access as a reference, be it for points, available items, actions, etc. See picture below.
  • Pandemic Shuffling - This is a way of shuffling cards so that things are distributed evenly.  If this is needed, the instructions will explain it to you. See full definition here.
Coup Cheat Sheet

Coup Crib/Cheat Sheet (Click to enlarge).

There may be more that come up, but all games will give you the information you need to understand the terminology. If you really want to learn all the slang then just ask someone. As we mentioned at the start, people in this community are super friendly and love to help one another out. Another option is to ask below in the comments. We (or someone else) will jump in and answer.

Costs and Other Factors to Consider

Back in the "good ol' days," you could get a board game for family game night pretty cheap, say $20 or less. Today's games can be considerably more than that.

Board Games can range anywhere from less than $10 up to over $100, or even more if you are buying lots of expansions.

​Pandemic Legacy costs upwards of $90

Why are they so much?

A lot more thought goes into the creation of these games, including making the components higher caliber than you'd find in Trouble and Sorry.

​7 Wonders Duel tokens and cards.

Don't let the price discourage you. The replay-ability of these games can be huge and they should be considered an investment. Unlike simple games that get boring over time, you will find yourself pulling these off the shelves for years to come.

A good way to look at worth is calculating cost over time or the cost per hours entertained. Unlike a movie (or other activities) where you pay for a couple hours of entertainment, these will entertain you for hours every time you bring them out.

You'll probably want to look for games with good longevity or replay-ability (like Codenames or Pandemic). And lest we remind you to make sure that you take care of your games so they last longer!

Consider your Mindset

Sitting down to play a new game can be an intimidating thing, so you need to have a certain mindset going in to help you relax and have a good time.

One of the first things you should know is that you might not win the first time you play, and that's ok. Chances are, you are competitive like us, but you must remember there is a learning curve to every game, some bigger than others. Sometimes, an experienced player advantage occurs. If you go into the first (and every) game with the mindset that you are playing to have fun and learn new strategies, you'll have a much better time.

You should also note that the first time you play a new game, even if someone has played before, you may need to reference the rules. Yes, this can slow down game play, but it is worth the time to make sure you are doing things properly. Even we are guilty of playing a full game before realizing we missed a crucial rule.

In some rounds of playing a particular game, nothing will go your way. It's frustrating, but it happens. A good rule of thumb is to give a game a few plays through before giving it the ultimate thumbs down and selling it.

As mentioned at the very start of this article... REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!!!​

Wrap Up

There is a lot to take in and it can seem overwhelming, so hopefully this guide to getting started with board games will help you on your way. It is a deep and vast world to explore, and it can be addictive. You have been warned!

Remember it is best to start small and work your way up to the more complex games as you get more experienced. Having a good group of friends helps in this world, but isn't necessary. Experienced players are usually willing to help you on your way, and it is a great idea to play new board games with people who have played them before to help speed along the process of learning. 

Now go get your Meeples and have some fun!

About the author


We are the HexaGamers. Six good friends that love all things game related that gets us together to enjoy each other's company.

Click here to add a comment

Leave a comment: