Board Game Basics – A Closer Look at Heavy Games
When you get someone into the board game hobby who doesn't have much experience with them outside of childhood games there is a tendency to be overwhelmed. A lot of the time a new gamer will start looking into games and be a little intimated when they find games that are super complex and seem like they take days to play. Well today I'm here to tell you not to panic as I demystify heavy games. First let me get out of the way that the term “heavy game” is somewhat broad and nebulous. There's no hard and fast rule to determine if something would be considered a heavy game but I generally judge by two factors. For me a heavy game has to be low on luck and high on strategy and planning. In addition, heavy games tend to have more rules and take longer then other games. However, even this isn't always the case, especially since length can vary depending on who's playing and if they've played before. I've chosen five games that I love and would consider to be heavy. If any sound interesting I encourage you to check them out. Just take your time to learn the rules (www.heavycardboard.com is a great resource for this), let your friends know they'll be playing for a while, and most of all don't be intimidated! Whenever I sit down to play a game I will always choose to play a heavy game if possible. In my opinion, heavy games offer the most robust and rewarding experience you can get from the hobby!
What is it: Agricola is an exciting game that lets you raise a farm in medieval serfdom! OK, I know the theme is a little dry but the game itself is a well oiled machine. This is a worker placement game where each player has their own personal farm board that they have to build up over 14 rounds. Each turn players place pieces representing family members on a central board to claim resources or use those resources to add to their farm. In addition player must stockpile food for winter every few turns or risk losing points.
Why I love it: There's something very fulfilling to building your own personal farm over the course of a game. It's nice to score your perfect little farm at the end of the game, just make sure it's more perfect then your opponent's! This is also a game that reward tight planning and punishes a lack thereof like no other. There is a need to not only grow your farm board but also build and engine so you don't starve. You only forget to feed you family one time!
Pros: Rewards planning, many paths to victory, great art design
Cons: Difficult to win if you're bad at making multiple plans, some may find the need to not starve your family stressful
What is it: On the verge of the Ice Age, each player take control of a different class of animal, such as mammals, insects, and birds, vying for dominance. During the game players score points by having the most species on chosen hexes during scoring rounds, placing new terrain hexes on the board, and controlling the ever increasing tundra. This is a worker placement game but there are no personal boards only a a track that allows players to affect the central board throughout the various stages of each turn.
Why I love it: This one is a true brain burner. Your actions affect literally every aspect of the game, from how many species are on the board, to how adaptable the environment is, to how the board actually grows and progresses. The game also has a unique twist on scoring. When you use a scoring action you choose a hex and score points based on what terrain it is and who has the most species there but then the player who's class of animal matches the element tokens on that hex gets to play a powerful dominance card. Sometimes you may even choose to score far less points just to get a bonus ability.
Pros: Fantastic graphic design, easy to teach, lots of options each turn
Cons: Long play time (2 – 3 hours with a seasoned group, 4 – 5 with new players), can be cut-throat depending on the group, possibility for large swings if you plan poorly
Age of Steam
What is it: Possibly the most bland looking game in my collection, Age of Steam is also one of the richest play-wise. Players are rival railroad companies who take turns building railways and delivering goods to increase their profits. At the end of the game the players with the highest income and railway systems wins.
Why I love it: This game is fairly simple when it comes to mechanics, but incredibly deep as far as planning and strategy. More then any other game I've ever played, every action you take is important. Everything from how much you bid on turn order to where you build your tracks. People often talk about Chess saying it's easy to teach, hard to master, and the same applies to Age of Steam. In addition to the brain burner game play there are upwards of 150 expansion maps that not only change the board but also tinker with various rules making your tactics a little different depending where you are.
Pros: Total brain burner, easy to teach, insanely expandable
Cons: The boards look like they were made in MS Paint, can be frustrating when you fall behind early
Paths of Glory
What is it: A strictly two player game, Paths of Glory simulates World War One in its entirety, with one player being the Allied powers and the other taking the Central. Each turn players draw 6 cards from a deck unique to them and take turns playing these cards to move troops around a map of Europe, attack other troops, or build up their forces. The players score points by taking control of vital enemy cities on the maps. The points start at 10 and when the Allies score a point the points go down, while the Central powers go up. Allies win at 0 points and Central wins at 20, leading to a push/pull scoring dynamic.
Why I love it: I was deliberating if this should go on the list or not because I was afraid it would be too heavy, but in the end I couldn't leave my favorite war game off the list. Paths of Glory is hard to learn, harder to teach, and takes a VERY long time to play, however in spite of these things I still love it. The aforementioned push/pull dynamic makes this game very tense and the fact that it can take over 10 hours (preferably played over several nights) makes for epic games not matched by anything else I've played. While not for everyone, if you like long, thoughtful, epics (and have a friend who does too), you might want to pick this up.
Pros: Deep strategic game play, tense games with epic payoffs, makes you feel like an actual general
Cons: Insanely long play time, the tiny little pieces are a pain to move around the board, rule book reads like a technical manual
What is it: Mage Knight is a grand, sweeping game of adventure, driven by a deck building system, that has far more depth then you'd expect from a game of this type. Each player has a hero that they move around an ever growing board made of hexes where they will fight monsters, interact with locals, and raise armies. Every action in the game is done through a player unique deck of cards that grows as they gain levels and find treasure. Players have 6 turns to race across the map and conquer far off cities, with the most accomplished hero being the winner.
Why I love it: While I love the idea of adventure board games, many of them are dice filled luck-fests. Many are fun, but not an incredibly fulfilling experience game play-wise. This is not true with Mage Knight. This game combines the fun of going on an exciting quest and watching your hero grow with detailed planning and strategy. In addition to great game play, there are also a variety of scenarios and several great expansions. This gives Mage Knight a fantastic amount of replay ability!
Pros: Fluid mechanics, lots of variability, plays just as good solo
Cons: With higher player counts it can drag a little, fairly generic theme
Terraforming Mars: Great engine building game that unfortunately can feel a little like multiplayer solitaire.
Vinhos: Detailed wine making game, that while fantastic, is a little too fiddly for a spot on the list.
Caverna: This spiritual successor to Agricola is good, but not as good as it's big brother.