Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Gateway Games Roundup - If You Like _____, Try _____
(Part 2)

You can be cool and play Dominion, too!
I began a comparison of some popular traditional games and modern alternatives that have similar mechanics, themes, etc. in my If You Like _____, Try _____ (Part 1) post a few weeks ago.  There I covered such classics as Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Life, Candyland, Clue, Yahtzee, Sorry, and more.  Here I'm continuing that list in Part 2, where I'll cover more classic games, like Uno, Hearts, Spades, and Rummy, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Win Lose or Draw, Chess, Checkers, Scattergories, Balderdash, Taboo, Apples to Apples, and more!

Uno is a classic group game where chaos ensues as players try to empty their hands.  It's a great family game and there are tons of house rule variants (it seems everyone has their own slightly different rules).  But after a while you might want something just a tad different.  In that case, check out these alternatives to Uno.

Fluxx - changing rules, take that, randomness - Fluxx is a game that, like Uno, is played more for the fun of the game than for any depth of strategy.  In Fluxx you play the other players as much as the game.  And similar to how Uno has so many house rule variants, in Fluxx the rules are always changing, but the difference is that's part of the game.  Fluxx is a card game where the rules are described on the cards that are played.  There are four types of cards: Rule Cards, Keeper Cards, Goal Cards, and Action Cards.  A basic turn consists of a player having three cards in their hand, drawing a card, and playing a card.  Keepers are placed in front of the player, Goals are played for everyone (and a player wins the game if they have the Goal required Keepers in front of them), and Actions make players do something.  But the Rule cards are what make Fluxx chaotically fun.  Rule cards can change everything up.  They get added to the game as it progresses and can make players draw more cards, play more cards, discard cards, and all sorts of crazy stuff.  And if you don't like the basic game's theme (there really isn't any) there's sure to be a version of Fluxx that will appeal to you - zombies, science fiction, monsters, nature, Monty Python, Oz, you name it, there's a version for you.  And they can all be combined for tons of crazy variety.

We Didn't Playtest This At All - fast thinking, changing rules, hand management, player elimination - We Didn't Playtest This At All (also called WDPTAA) is one of the oddest games I've ever played.  The point of the game is to outlast everyone else.  On your turn you'll have a few cards in your hand and you'll get to play one.  Then everyone has to do whatever it says on the card.  Some cards add effects to the game that remain in play until the game is over (e.g. requiring players to say "Ahhh Zombies!" before taking a turn) and some are resolved immediately (e.g. on the count of three all players show between one and five fingers, if the total value is prime you win!).  The game is almost completely random.  There are only a few things you can do to really affect the outcome of the game, particularly when it's not your turn.  But the actions and scenarios presented by the cards are crazy, chaotic, hilarious fun.  Rounds play in less than five minutes, often times less than 30 seconds, so the player elimination aspect of the game isn't a problem at all.  And since there really is no overall goal the game can go as many or as few rounds as you like.  This is a great super casual game for 3-30 people (it works best with 4-8) and can be taught to just about anyone in 30 seconds.

Spot It and Get Bit are discussed here,
Zombie Dice is in Part 1.
Spot It - speed, matching, game system, pattern recognition - Spot It is marketed as a kids game, but it's great for families with members of all ages.  There are a number of different themed versions of Spot It so you can find one that's perfect for your family.  Spot It is actually a game system that consists of a deck of cards that can be used to play a number of casual games.  Each card has a number of small pictures on it and any two cards only have a single matching picture.  The general basis of each game is trying to find two or more cards with matching pictures faster than the other players.  It's a great game that plays quickly, can easily be changed up to be more or less difficult, and is great for all ages.

Hearts, Spades, Rummy, etc.
Trick taking and traditional card games are great because they are very well known, generally easy to learn, and use a standard deck of cards, which nearly everyone has.  If card games are your cup of tea, but you're looking for something different, give these games a try.

12 Days - hand management, trick taking, set collection - 12 Days has a Christmas theme, but the game is great to play all year round.  It is a simple game for 3-6 players that really has the feel of classic card games, but with gorgeous holiday themed artwork.  The art on the cards look like stained glass windows featuring all the gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas song, plus Santa and Mrs. Claus.  There are the same number of cards as the number on the card, so only 1 partridge, but 5 golden rings, 8 maids a milking, and so on.  The Santa and Mrs. Claus cards are valued at 0.  Each player gets a hand of 12 cards to start.  A game plays over the course of 12 rounds (one for each day in the song).  In each round, all players draw one card from the draw pile, pass one card to their left, and then play one card.  The lowest card takes the trick and scores the points for the day (1 pt for the first day, 12 pts for the last day, etc.).  All played cards are discarded (and shuffled if necessary) and then the next round begins.  At the end of the game players earn points for the tricks they won plus points for having the most cards of any particular value in their hand.  This means it's pretty easy to score one or two points for having a partridge or turtle dove, but pretty difficult to earn 12 points for the drummers drumming.  This is a fun, very easily accessible game that will be easiest to get played around the holidays, but it offers enough strategy so that it's not just a holiday game.

We blinged up our version of Splendor with
some acrylic gems and gold coins.
Splendor - engine building, resource management – Splendor is one of my family's favorite games.  it made the #1 position on my Top 10 New To Me Games for 2015 and I talk about it a bit more in my Family Favorites post.  I also think it's destined to become a Modern Classic.  Splendor is a very fun engine building game where players collect gems that can be used to purchase gem mines, which in turn can be used to purchase gem traders, which can purchase gem merchants, which attract nobles. More valuable cards are worth more points and the first to 15 points wins. This is quite a bit different than traditional card games, but I've found it resonates well with people that are familiar with traditional card games.  There are beautiful poker-like chips and lots of cards with gorgeous artwork.  The game has simple mechanics, fairly deep strategy, yet is easy to teach.  It's a great all-around game for introducing people to engine building and resource management without taking them too far from what they're already familiar with.  Be sure to check out my previous review of Splendor.

Diamonds - hand management, trick taking - Diamonds is a game I haven't played, but have heard a lot about.  It has a reputation for being a great game to introduce to people that are only familiar with traditional card games.  In Diamonds players are not only trying to win tricks, as in a traditional Hearts or Spades game, but they're also trying to collect diamond gems.  As players play cards of different suits (or can't follow suit during a hand) they get to complete different actions, based on the suit.  They can take gems from the pot, take gems from other players, and add gems to their vault (where they score double).  So there's more going on than just winning tricks, but it's just a small enough step beyond traditional games that people familiar with Hearts, Spades, Euchre, etc. will feel right at home.  Plus the diamond gems are pretty impressive, so it's a great introduction to games that have components other than cards and poker chips.

Red7 - hand management, set collection, player elimination, changing rules - Red7 is another game I haven't played, but it's on my wishlist as a game to get so I can play with people who are used to traditional card games like Rummy, Poker, and Canasta.  In Red7 the goal of each player is to be winning at the end of their turn.  They can play cards from their hand on their turn that either add to their own sets so that they meet the rule requirements for winning (e.g. have the highest value card) or play a card that changes the rule for winning requirements (e.g. changed to have the most cards of one color).  Or they can do both.  The object is to be the last player winning.  If you can't play cards that make you the winner at the end of your turn you are eliminated and play continues until only one person is left.  Red7 combines aspects of deduction (trying to figure out what cards your opponents are likely to play), hand management (deciding when to play cards from your hand to provide the greatest long term benefits), and set collection (making sure the cards you've played make required sets).  It's a fast playing game that is mechanically pretty simple, but has a surprising amount of depth.  It's great for families and people new to modern games.

Love Letter - microgame, deduction, hand management - Love Letter is one of the most well known micro games, quickly becoming a modern classic.  I talk about it a bit more in my Modern Classics post.  Love Letter is a great game to bring out with people who are used to bluffing and deduction card games like Poker.  During each round players will have two cards in their hand and will choose one to play.  Through careful deduction skills they'll work to eliminate other players by guessing what characters they have.  The goal is to either eliminate all other players or end the round with the highest value card.  If the theme of sending love letters to a princess isn't your cup of tea there are plenty of other themed versions of the game, including Batman, The Hobbit, and Letters to Santa.

He's a bit disappointed that his robot has to
swim with no arms and no head in Get Bit.
Get Bit - hand management, bluffing, deduction - Get Bit is a great family game that can be played by kids as young as 4.  In the game each player has a hand of cards with numbers 1 to n where n is a value 1 greater than the number of players.  Each player also controls a robot swimming in a line.  That line of swimming robots is followed by a shark.  Each round players play a number and then the robots are rearranged in line according to the numbers (with any tied numbers not moving their robots at all).  Whichever robot is last in line gets a limb eaten by the shark and then the player gets to pick up all the used cards.  Other players' cards are left out until they either get eaten or use their last card.  The last robot to survive wins!  This is great game of bluffing and deduction that is a ton of fun with older kids and adults as each player tries to figure out what number is the best to play to keep their robot from being eaten.  But even younger kids can have a blast and provide an extra element of chaos and unpredictability just by playing random cards.  Be sure to check out my previous review of Get Bit.

Trivial Pursuit or other trivia games
Trivial Pursuit is a classic trivia game.  There are tons of other trivia games out there that all follow pretty much the same format - answer questions in various categories and if you get the answer correct you earn a reward.  But the problem with most trivia games is that you either know the answers or you don't, and it's no fun to play the Seinfeld trivia game with someone who has seen every show fifteen times and can recite entire episodes line for line (and that's the person who probably has the Seinfeld trivia game).  There are a few trivia games that throw a spin on that traditional format, and they're all the more fun because of that.

Wits & Wagers - trivia, wagering - I haven't played Wits & Wagers, but I know it is a unique take on trivia games.  In order to win you don't necessarily need to know the answers.  Instead everyone answers questions and then everyone bets on which answer they think is correct.  So it is possible to score by knowing the answers, making educated guesses, playing the odds, or betting on what you think your friends might know the answers to.  Wits and Wagers makes an excellent group or party game, playing 3-7 players or even up to 20 players in teams.

Sometimes it gets pretty difficult to pinpoint
the year things happened in Timeline.
Timeline or Cardline - trivia, educational, hand management - Both Timeline and Cardline have a number of games in their respective series.  In Timeline the concept of the game is simple.  Players each have a hand of four cards and the first to empty their hand is the winner.  The fronts of the cards show an event in world history and the back of the card shows the same event and the year it happened.  Players take turns adding one card from their hand each turn to a timeline that forms on the table.  As more players play cards the timeline grows.  Players can add a card to the beginning or end of the timeline, or between any two cards in the middle.  Once they place their card when they think the event occurred they flip the card to see if they were correct.  It they were they've reduced their hand by 1 and they leave the card there, year side up, to add to the timeline.  If they were wrong the card is discarded and they have to draw a new card to add to their hand.  Cardline, which I haven't played, is a similar concept, except the cards represent animals, dinosaurs, countries, or even super heroes depending on the set.  And each card has several sets of information on the back, e.g. the length and weight of animals.  Like Timeline, players try to empty their hands, but this time they're placing their cards in numerical order from the smallest to the largest of whatever measurement is selected to play with.  Both games play with 2-8 players and different sets can be combined (especially with Timeline - with Cardline only certain sets are compatible).  There are tons of themes, like Scientific Discoveries, Movies and Cinema, and American History for Timeline and Animals, Dinosaurs, Globetrotter (countries), and Marvel Superheroes for Cardline).  And if you're up for something a bit more competitive there's Timeline Challenge, too!
Timeline -
Cardline: Animals -

Geek Out - trivia, wagering - Geek Out is a trivia game for those that aren't all that current on sports, history, pop culture, or cinema... unless it's related to typically geeky things like super heroes, board and video games, comic books, and science fiction.  In Geek Out each player (or team of players) will roll a colored die to determine which of 5 categories of questions they'll have to answer (plus one wild side of the die).  Then they get to draw a card and read the question off the card.  It'll be something like "Name four wizards."  Then they'll get to say if they can do that, or maybe even name more than is required.  Say they claim they can name 5 wizards.  The next player (or team) can up the bid or pass.  This goes around until no one thinks they can out do whoever bid the most.  Then the player that won the bid has to prove their ability and answer the question on the card, naming all the items they said they would!  This is a fun game that still requires a deep knowledge of the pertinent subject matter, but for those that fail at Trivial Pursuit, Geek Out might be more in their wheelhouse.

Pictionary or Win, Lose, or Draw
These are classic games that many people remember playing with their families.  There was even a TV game show about Win, Lose or Draw.  It's always great fun trying to draw silly stuff and have people guess what it is you are drawing.  But Pictionary and Win, Lose, or Draw definitely show their age (I have a copy of Win, Lose, or Draw that mentions The Rockford Files, Kool & the Gang, and Top Gun), so if you're looking for a newer game that incorporates drawing and sketching, check these out.  I admit that this category isn't one I have much experience with, and I haven't played any of my recommendations, but these are all on my to-play list and come with high accolades.

Telestrations - drawing, humor - Telestrations is pretty much everything that Win, Lose, or Draw and Pictionary isn't.  In Telestrations you are drawing, but unlike those other games, the worse you are at drawing the more fun the game is.  Telestrations is basically a mashup of the games Telephone and Pictionary.  Each round a player starts with a word.  Then, taking turns, players either have to draw the word or guess what the previous player drew.  A guess at what the previous player drew becomes the new word that the next player has to draw.  In the end everyone compares drawings and guesses with the original word.  Sometimes the original word, or a close variant of it makes it all the way to the end.  Other times you end up with really crazy mutations, like Heaven turning into Superman, or Saxophone turning into the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man.  Telestrations plays 2-8 players, or the Party Edition plays up to 12 players!  And if you want your party to get a little risque there's Telestrations After Dark, which has words intended for 'mature' gamers.

I really wish I had a photo of friends and
family playing this...  Someday =)
Bunny, Bunny, Moose, Moose -  - Bunny, Bunny, Moose, Moose is by the same designer that created Pictomania below (Vlaada Chvátil) and both games are a far cry from his usual deep, strategic games (like Tash-Kalar - see further below).  In BBMM players take on the roles of animals in the forest trying to avoid the Hunter by making him think they aren't the animal he is looking for (no Jedi mind tricks here though).  The Hunter is actually another player who is the narrator of the game. T he narrator gets to read a silly poem a few times while drawing cards that have pictures of bunnies and moose (mooses?  meese?) on them with different shaped and positioned ears and antlers.  Players have to use their hands along their heads to match some or all of the animals in the pictures, and when the Hunter card comes out everyone has to freeze.  Then points are scored based on the players' last ear/antler positions and the cards revealed.  After each round the role of narrator changes and everyone acts silly again.  There's a bit of strategy in the game, but it's mainly about having a silly good time for 3-6 friends.

Pictomania - drawing, deduction - Pictomania is another game by designer Vlaada Chvátil and is another drawing game.  However, whereas in Telestrations the scoring is kind of an afterthought and really isn't necessary to have a good time, the scoring in Pictomania really drives the game.  In Pictomania drawing is important, but it's not the only skill necessary.  There is also an element of deduction and logic required, too.  All players will randomly be assigned one item to draw from a selection of 42.  There are six cards, each with 7 lines.  Each player will have an item on one card (no two players will be using the same card) and one line (no two players will have the same line).  Then all players will start to draw their item at the same time.  They'll not only have to draw their item, but they'll have to be looking at the other players' drawings, trying to figure out what everyone is drawing.  Players earn (or lose) points based on guessing other players' drawn items correctly, having their items guessed, and completing their drawing quickly.  Even poor artists have a chance to earn points because they can guess the better artists' items, plus, after identifying others' items it's possible to use elements of deduction to narrow down the possible items remaining.  So, if you're looking for a fun party style game for 3-6 players, but with a bit more of a competitive edge, give Pictomania a try!

Chess, Go, Checkers
Chess, Go, and Checkers are classic abstract strategy games.  They've been around for hundreds of years and pretty much everyone has played at least Checkers.  I'm not sure I know anyone that doesn't have (or has never had) a Chess and Checkers board.  And Go is such a classic that it's spawned a number of similar games, like Othello/Reversi, Pente, and even Connect Four takes its inspiration from Go.  But there is a whole world of interesting abstract strategy games out there.  There are so many that I'm going to include a special entry just about some of my favorites, but in the mean time, here are a few to give you a break from the classics occasionally.

Rise! looks great, too!
Rise! - abstract strategy, action selection, area control - Rise! was my favorite abstract strategy game for quite a while, until it was supplanted by Bullfrogs.  In Rise! two players try to out maneuver each other and position workers on a growing playing area so that they can build three towers, while at the same time capturing opponent workers and preventing them from building their own towers.  The game is quick to learn and plays fairly quickly (usually, although sometimes you can get into a game that lasts quite a while).  Rise! will appeal to anyone who likes games where two players are really matching wits.  Be sure to check out my full review of Rise! here. (Get it while you can, I'm not sure if it's going to be reprinted or not.)

Bullfrogs - abstract strategy, area control - Bullfrogs is my latest favorite abstract strategy game.  It plays equally well with 2, 3, or 4 players and takes about 10 minutes per player.  In the game each controls a faction of frogs battling over lilypads and a log in the pond.  Each turn a player plays a lilypad card and then places (or moves) a number of frogs as indicated on the cards.  Each player has the same set of ten cards available to them throughout the game, although that is randomized a bit since each player has three to choose from at a time.  Once a lilypad's available spaces are filled up the lilypad sinks and frogs leap off onto adjacent lilypads, occasionally causing chain reactions where multiple lilypads sink in one turn.  Sunk lilypads are worth points to the player who had the most frogs on the pad and after all players have played all of their cards the points are totalled.  The game is simple to learn and teach and great for families, yet has a depth to the strategy that can appeal even to the thinkiest of gamers.

Tash-Kalar feels like a game that would look
awesome as an app, pc, or console game.
Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - abstract strategy, asymmetrical player powers - Tash-Kalar is another game by the same designer as Pictomania and Bunny, Bunny, Moose, Moose above, but this is more like Vlaada Chvátil's other game designs in that it's not a funny party game, but a deeper strategic game.  Tash-Kalar is like a combination of strategy games like Go, Othello, Reversi, or Chess mashed up with combat card games like Magic the Gathering, Epic, or Netrunner.  In Tash-Kalar 2-4 players each represent a magician that is summoning creatures to do battle in a central arena composed of a grid that will look familiar to players of Chess or Checkers.  To summon creatures tokens are added to the grid (kind of like in Go or Othello/Reversi) and when those tokens form specific patterns creatures are summoned to the board.  These creatures rampage across the board, destroying the other players' carefully positioned tokens.  The game is an intense tactical back and forth between players trying to get an edge on their opponents.  As a 2 player game there is a little bit more tactical strategy, but in a 4 player melee the game is a riotous bloodbath where each turn is played in the moment.  Though the rules are pretty easy, this can be a challenging game for some people to grasp initially because the ability to recognize patterns requires a good sense of spatial awareness that comes with practice and players' first games can be a bit long, but it is a very rewarding and fun game once the patterns click.

Octi - abstract strategy, area control, resource management - Octi is like super powered Checkers.  Players start with several pieces guarding their starting bases.  Each turn players have a choice of several actions they can take, ranging from moving pieces to adding new pieces to allowing their pieces to move in new directions.  Through careful planning and strategy players can out maneuver their opponent, capture opponent pieces by jumping over them, and take over their opponent's bases.  A 2 player game of Octi can be an intense battle of wits that can match any Chess or Go game strategically, and a variant even allows for 4 player team games.

Scattergories, Balderdash, Taboo
There are a ton of different kinds of party games.  Usually they don't require a whole lot of strategy though.  Most incorporate social interaction, silly phrases, and creative word use.  And I still enjoy a good game of Scattergories, but these classics aren't where party games stopped.  In the last few years there are some really great party games that incorporate some really interesting mechanics and even add some layers of strategy.

Pssst...  What's your Codename?  Are you Atlantis?
Or the Wall?  ... The Princess?!?  Oh, darn.
Codenames - deduction, teamwork, word association - Yes, here we have another gateway game from designer Vlaada Chvátil, who also designed Tash-Kalar, Pictomania, and Bunny, Bunny, Moose, Moose above.  Codenames, again, goes in a completely different direction than any of his other games though.  In Codenames players split into two teams and then from those two teams one player becomes the spymaster and the others are operatives.  A grid of cards is laid out with a word on each card. The job of the spymaster is to get his operatives to make contact with the other spies in the network, who are only known by their codenames.  So the spymaster will give a one word clue to the operatives and then a number of spies whose codenames fit the clue.  The first team to find all of their spies, without revealing opponent spies or stumbling upon the assassin wins.  Codenames is a fun partyish game that works well for 4 or more players, although there are 2 and 3 player variants as well.

Dixit - image/word association, humor, voting, storytelling - Dixit is first, and foremost, known for its artwork.  The cards in Dixit feature incredible, surrealistic art by Marie Cardouat, and expansions also include art by Xavier Collette, Pierô, and other fantastic artists.  In dixit each round a different player is the storyteller.  The storyteller will choose one of the six cards from their hand and say a sentence, phrase, or word about the card.  Then everyone will choose one card from their own hands that also matches what the storyteller said.  After all cards have been selected the storyteller shuffles and reveals all the cards.  Then each player votes on which card they think was the storyteller's card.  Players receive points based on having other players guess their card and/or by correctly guessing the storyteller's card.  The game is a visual feast, easy to teach, and casual enough for even the most non-gamer family and friends.

Concept - word/image association, critical thinking - I haven't played Concept, but it is on my to-play list.  Concept is basically Charades, but without the silly acting.  In Concept one player or team draws a card that gives a list of words or phrases in several different difficulty levels.  The player then chooses one of those ideas to express by placing tokens and cubes next to different icons on a game board.  Each icon represents a different idea or 'concept'. Once the player has indicated the various concepts that make up his chosen word or phrase the other players try to figure out and guess what the word or phrase is.  The biggest complaint I've heard about Concept is that the rules are pretty lackluster.  But they're mainly meant to be a guideline for new players.  The rules themselves state that once you have the concept behind Concept, you should come up with your own rules and variations (e.g. instead of teams working together, each player plays independently).  The game says it is for 4-12 players, but there are variants for 3 players and probably 2 if you search, too.

Spyfall - social deduction, bluffing, storytelling, role playing - Although I haven't played Spyfall, its a game that I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to play.  In Spyfall each player is a character in a location, and one player is a spy at that location.  The spy doesn't know where she is, but she can't reveal that she is the spy.  Players all take turns asking each other questions about their location and have to answer the questions as best they can, all without making it too obvious to the spy what the location is, and without appearing to be the spy themselves.  You see, the spy also will be asking and answering the questions, trying to figure out where she is without making it too obvious that she is the spy.  A round ends when either the spy figures out where she is or when the other players become suspicious enough to accuse someone of being the spy.  Points are scored and a new round begins in a new location with a new (maybe, or maybe the same) spy.  This is a great social game for 3-8 players that can play as quickly or as long as you like.  If you've even played games like Mafia or Werewolf, this is a great alternative that doesn't have any player elimination.

Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity
Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity are basically the same game, just one is family friendly and the other is about as unfriendly as a game can get.  Depending on your tastes and who you are gaming with, you may prefer one over the other.  But both have a huge following and have spawned numerous lookalike games over the years.  Most of them use the same tried and true format and don't feel very fresh or interesting.  But there are a few exceptions.  So if you're looking for something to play the next time the family wants Apples to Apples, give one of these a shot instead.
Snake Oil - I think a fur mug is just what a bus driver needs to
keep her coffee warm in the winter.

Snake Oil - creative thinking, storytelling, role playing - Also listed in my Family Favorites post, Snake Oil takes the familiar formula of party games like Apples to Apples and makes it a fun, unique gameplay experience.  Each turn one player takes on the role of a customer, as defined by a card they draw. They may be a camper, cheerleader, scientist, toddler, or any of dozens of other roles.  Then each player will select two of the six cards in their hands to create a product that they'll try to sell to the customer.  The wilder the sales pitch the better!  Have you ever tried to sell a cookie lake to a dog?  Or a fur mug to a bus driver?  Snake Oil will give you that opportunity, so give it a try now!  This offer just won't last!

Sheriff of Nottingham - bluffing, role playing, social deduction - In Sheriff of Nottingham, another family favorite, each round someone takes on the role of the infamous sheriff, guarding the gates of Nottingham, and trying to both prevent contraband from entering his city and line his pockets with a
Yes, we found out that in Sheriff of
Nottinghamit is legal to bribe the sheriff 
by writing down the proper spelling of
little extra cash.  The other players are mere merchants trying to bring their goods (and maybe a little of that contraband) into the city to sell.  Players fill their bags with goods and then pass the bags off to the sheriff for inspection.  But a bribe and some sweet talking may let your bag pass through the gates without inspection.  If you're caught lying there'll be a fine to pay, but if the sheriff searches your bag only to find that you were telling the truth you'll earn a bit of cash for the inconvenience.  This is a great game of role playing, bluffing, deduction, and just a bit of blatant white lies for 3-5 players.

Exploding Kittens - press your luck, take that - While I haven't played Exploding Kittens, it does deserve some mention on this list.  The game is very simple, basically Russian Roulette with a bit of a twist, but the game was an incredible success on Kickstarter last year.  Its Kickstarter campaign brought in over $8.7 million and had nearly 220,000 backers.  All this for a $20 card game that featured the artwork of Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal.  While the gameplay is very casual and only offers a touch of strategy, this style of game is great for parties and social get togethers.  Plus, while the base game is pretty family friendly, Exploding Kittens has a NSFW deck that is quite a bit more 'adult' themed for those kid-free nights.

Magic the Gathering, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh
If your family is anything like mine, you have Pokémon and Magic the Gathering players in it.  But I'll be the first to admit that those games aren't for everyone.  Collectible Card Games require you to spend a lot of time and money collecting cards, constructing decks, and learning the incredible number of intricate card interactions.  And then there are different playing formats, competitions, and events that can seem overwhelming to someone just looking at that style of game for the first time.  Here are a few games that play similar to those collectible card games that are a bit more accessible and don't require a lifetime investment in cards.

Epic - combat, hand management, take that - Epic is probably the closest thing you'll find to Magic the Gathering without having to get involved in the collectible aspect of the game.  For $15 a single box of 128 cards if able to play up to 4 players.  Each box has the same cards, so there's nothing to collect (although I'm sure they'll come out with expansions over the years), no booster packs, and no buying and selling individual cards like there is with MtG.  Also, each box can be played with 2-4 players in a number of different formats that MtG players will find familiar.  Balanced decks can be created randomly, by dividing up the four factions, selective deck construction, or through drafting.  And multiple boxes allow for even more formats for up to 8 players.  The general gameplay is very similar to MtG, except there is no need to build up lands in order to use the cards in your hand.  Each turn players have 1 gold coin to spend to play cards and all the cards cost either 1 or 0 gold coins to use.  The concept is simple, keeps the game balanced, but allows for powerful cards to be played right from the start, making the games epicly fun!

Dominion - deckbuilding, setup variability, card combinations - Dominion is a modern classic, the grandfather of deckbuilder games.  There were a few that came before Dominion, but they used very basic forms of deckbuilding as a part of a larger game rather than the main mechanic.  In a deckbuilding game all players start with the same set of cards in a draw deck.  Each turn they draw a set number of cards and then play those cards, which give them special actions and/or let them purchase new, more powerful cards from a common stockpile.  Then the cards are discarded and a new hand is drawn from the draw pile.  When a player's draw pile is empty the discards, along with the newly added cards, are shuffled to become the new draw pile.  This repeats until a certain end game condition is met and then players compare scores, usually based on victory points they were able to build into their deck during the course of the game.  Dominion is one of the simplest to play deckbuilders out there, but the sheer number of cards allow for an almost infinite number of game combinations, especially when you include the numerous expansions.  Dominion is a great game that makes deckbuilding accessible to just about anyone, but offers enough depth and variety to keep the game interesting even for veteran gamers.
The card art in Star Realms is fantastic!

Star Realms - deck building, combat, symbiotic abilities - Star Realms is another family favorite game by the same creators of Epic.  Star Realms pits two players against each other in a grand space battle.  Four different factions of ships all have different abilities and can trigger additional ally abilities when played with other ships of the same faction.  Bases add to defense capabilities, and battles can be fierce.  The game plays quickly, is very easy to learn, and can be addictively fun.  Check out my full review of Star Realms here.

DC Comics Deck-Building Game - deckbuilding, asymmetrical abilities - In DC Deck builder the theme is the draw.  Players take on the role of classic DC superheroes, like Superman,
DC Deckbuilder is a ton of fun for anyone
that likes super heroes!
Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and more, battling classic villains like The Joker, Metello, etc..  There are a few thematic hiccups, like why heroes get to ad villains to their selections of abilities, but overall the game is simple, accessible, and fun, especially for fans of super heroes.

Valley of the Kings - deck building, set collection, market manipulation, sacrificial scoring - I've played Valley of the Kings: Afterlife, but not the original Valley of the Kings, however they are essentially the same game, just with alternate cards.  Both games can be mixed and matched or combined for hugely epic Egyptian madness.  Valley of the Kings packs a 4 player deck builder into a pretty small package.  The game features really cool Egyptian artifacts on the cards, with some flavor text about each item, so it's somewhat educational, too.  An interesting crumbling pyramid market mechanic and the fact that you need to sacrifice cards with abilities in order to score points give this game some very interesting strategic depth, while keeping the core game simple enough for newcomers to pick up. (Don't be scared of the price, Afterlife is more reasonable and Valley of the Kings will come down once the reprint is available.)

Well, there you have it.  An extensive collection of games worth playing to introduce people to if they're only familiar with the traditional classics.  There are tons of other great alternatives, too, but these should cover all the main ones.  Maybe someday later I'll tackle this again for other games, like Battleship, Jenga, or Twister!

Happy gaming!

Gateway Game Roundup

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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