Board games and card games have been in something of a golden age over the past decade, aided by the ability for more people with an idea to get a prototype out there for less.
If you want to make a card game, for instance, all you need to do is design and print flash cards online, see if the game works and keep tweaking until you have a winning idea.
As well as this, crowdfunding has allowed more people than ever to get funding directly from the niche group of players that will enjoy it most, to the point that even major manufacturers such as Hasbro have used it to gauge the interest of games such as the Hero Quest revival.
The best board games teach us a lot about how and why board games work so well, but there is also a lot to learn from games that were less fundamentally sound.
Here are some of the best and worst games out there, and what they taught us about playing and designing great games.
Betrayal At House On The Hill
One of the greatest ever justifications for modular board tiles, Betrayal At House On The Hill is a horror-themed game driven by the tension of exploring a mansion together, facing the random, often ludicrously designed floor plans before the haunt begins and the game changes completely.
One of the players becomes a traitor and you must figure out their plan and stop it before it is too late and they win.
The lesson to be learned here is that variety is a great component of a game so long as the game is just complex enough to not feel overbearing. Whilst there are a lot of game elements, it is easy to learn as you go and incredibly rewarding.
Go For Broke
The worst board game come in one of two forms: a game with a terrible concept, or a game with terrible execution. Go For Broke is the latter, in that the concept of a board game that is the opposite of Monopoly is inherently intriguing, especially with the interactive board elements in the middle.
The problem, which is incidentally also the problem with Monopoly, is that the opening part of the game is a lot of fun, but the last part where everyone is trying to grind out the last few thousand to finally go broke takes far too long.
The key to a great game is to avoid having this middle, boring period, either through clever game mechanics or by increasing the pace at which major game events happen.
What better place to learn about good game mechanics than the top-ranked board game on popular aggregate site Board Game Geek?
Initially launched as a Kickstarter campaign that would raise well over £4m, Gloomhaven is a cooperative story-driven game that is a huge, formidable prospect, filled with legacy mechanics, branching paths, a random storytelling system and an intuitive card-based battle system.
The lesson behind its ultimate success is not just its overall complexity, sheer size and scale, but also how important it is to ensure that a game of that scale is accessible, fun and not out of the reach of new players.
Let’s Be Safe
Board games can be an avenue to discuss sensitive issues and teach important lessons in an environment that is more comfortable and safe, but it requires a level of sensitivity to do right.
When done wrong, as in the case of the board game Let’s Be Safe, it can feel very uncomfortable, especially if the game mechanics do not suit the ultimate lesson.
A game about bird watching and wildlife preservation does not sound like the makings of an award-winning card game, but Wingspan takes a relatively mundane subject and makes it magical through great mechanics, beautiful artwork and mechanics that start simple and become more complex over time.
Compared to the thematically similar but completely awful Gone Birding!, Wingspan shows that as long as the gameplay and ideas are strong, it is possible to make less exciting topics the subject of very fun games, and that should be the goal of every game.
Board games often contain a message, and that is not inherently negative. After all, Monopoly initially began as a game that criticised landlords.
However, Capital Punishment combines a fairly unpleasant message delivered via blunt instrument rules to create a variation of Ludo with extra steps.
The lesson to be learned is to focus on fun rules first and do not let your message or ideology get in the way of the game.