Five Geeky Games for a Perfect Game Night

Okay, so maybe we have a little bit of a problem. Boardgames in this house have achieved a kind of holy status. At first it started out with just a few games. The Settlers of Catan, back in 2002, followed by Puerto Rico. But very quickly, it became apparent that playing board games — especially geeky board games — was a lot more than just a passing fancy for my husband and I. Now, I’m not talking about Monopoly, here. I’m talking about games that challenge intellect, inspire imagination, and reflect our geekiest nature. In fact, over the last few years we’ve had to buy furniture to actually support and store our habit (note: mid-century modern buffet tables work particularly well for this).

At least every month we try to share our love of fascinating boardgames with our friends. Some are quick to play, others take hours just to set up. But pound for pound I’d say that these games have provided more entertainment and camaraderie than anything else in the house save maybe our D&D dice. Since we’ve been at it for quite awhile, I thought I would share my top 5 awesomely geeky games that are perfect for a weekly or monthly game night at your house. I particularly omitted games that work best with two people, opting for those that can support a crowd. Don’t see a game you like? Feel free to suggest more in the comments!

The Settlers of Catan. This is the flagship game, the one that started it all. With an ever changing board, endless possibilities, and some of the best phrases in the business (“I’ve got wood for your sheep”) Settlers of Catan has achieved a kind of sainthood among board games. Overall, we’ve probably logged more hours playing Settlers than any other game. I suggest this as a first game for anyone unfamiliar with games of this category. Settlers was created in Germany and first published in 1995. Since then it is sold over 15 million copies. The goal of the game is to build an island and then collect the most points which are deemed by building roads, cities, and settlements. While relatively simple, the game is fun on many levels and can be replayed often. There have been many expansions to the game, and it can accommodate up to six players. (Learning curve, moderate; setup time, moderate)

Carcassonne. Another simpler game, Carcassonne was created by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, and it is a freestyle board game; that is, every time you play Carcassonne the board changes. Points are determined by roads and gaining control over cities and farms. With various expansions, it can accommodate up to six players. It has a shorter play time than Settlers, which is ideal if you just want to jump into a game. I personally love the whole medieval feel of it. (Learning curve: simple; setup time simple)

Puerto Rico. We purchased Puerto Rico after Settlers, looking for something with similar gameplay. We were not disappointed. It’s a highly intelligent game with a setting during the colonization of Puerto Rico (which, let’s face it, can be a little uncomfortable at times). However, the principles of the game have to do with growing resources and little cities of your own; shipping, trade, and distribution are all very important, and by the end of the game the player who’s done the best job of maximizing the flow of goods (and, um, sometimes people) in their city typically has the most victory points. I love how unpredictable this game is; there have been times, playing, where I’ve been positive I’ve lost, only to find that I have, in fact, won. More frustrating, however, is the converse of that statement. (Learning curve: somewhat high—for first time players, at least; setup medium to moderate)

Munchkin. There is nothing serious about playing this game, that’s the whole point (as if you couldn’t tell by the name). The basic idea behind Munchkin is a card-based RPG. Except this time, everything is hilarious. Within ability to play multiple classes, races, and sometimes both at once, it’s both fun and entertaining (and particularly good if you’re planning on serving alcoholic beverages at your party). Not necessarily recommended for hard-core gamers however, those who just aren’t people to take things with a laugh. Unfortunately, I’ve seen even games of Munchkin get out of hand. A big plus to this however is the fact that you can take it pretty much everywhere since it’s a deck. Between Steve Jackson‘s game mechanics and John Kovalic‘s art, you can’t go wrong. (Learning curve: simple; setup: simple)

Arkham Horror. This is big-time gaming. This is the game to end all games, literally. You’re struggling, however fruitlessly, against the inevitable coming of the old ones, facing terrifying foes and traversing parallel dimensions. Starting out, you have the feeling that you probably won’t even win. Come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve won more than a handful of times and even then that’s probably questionable. Set up alone on this game is quite extensive, but playing a detective, a magician, or any one of the amusing and often seedy characters in the Lovecraftian landscape, make this game geeky to the nth degree. Not to mention of course, that any game that causes you to lose sanity just rocks. I particularly like the collaborative nature of the game (i.e. no one wins, and everyone works together to, you know, have the world not end). Also important to note is that you need a very large table to play this properly. Ours really isn’t adequate, especially now that we have an expansion or two. (Learning curve: tough; setup: tough)

One thing to do, regardless of the games that you choose, is to be aware of your friends’ experience and comfort levels. There are some of us who are absolutely obsessed with finding the newest, coolest, geekiest games. We decided long ago that playing board games went far beyond the games of our childhood. But for others, Monopoly and Life are just about as far as they’ve ever gone and they find learning these new games to be frustrating and, sometimes, just plain boring. So start off slow, especially if you want people to keep coming back, and before you know it, even the most inexperienced geeky gamer will be having tons of fun.