6 Board Games That Ruined It for Everyone
Suggest playing a board game and someone will say, "More like BORED game!" and it's still illegal to kill them. That's how low board games have fallen: Even punners feel safe taking the piss.
When a simple pun-ishment could cruci-fix their sense of humor.
Board games now offer more amazing locations and adventures in a box than the TARDIS, but many people still rank them lower on their entertainment options list than murder-suicide, because they've been trained to hate them by the six worst board games in history.
Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders is the original sin of board games, the first mistake that curses innocents with the knowledge that things suck. It takes the infinite imagination engines that are children and makes them to do the same thing over and over until they're done or done even trying. The last person to destroy fantasy worlds so brutally was Sauron.
"Now I hate people, taking part, and numbers. Great life training, Dad!"
Snakes and Ladders isn't a game; it's a simple test of how long simple people will be pointless. And because it's possible to "win," the answer is "a depressingly long time." This desire to achieve victory without any contribution or intelligence makes it the board game equivalent of reality TV.
At least if they used real snakes and ladders they'd filter the gene pool.
Games are important. Even tiger cubs play games, because they help develop abilities for real life. Snakes and Ladders trains you for a really shitty life: You're sitting there doing the same thing again and again, and things go wrong through no fault of your own. You're not rewarded for effort or punished for laziness; your only job is to turn up and keep rolling the dice until it's all over. Or spin the spinner, if you paid extra for something else you didn't need, elevating the satire of modern life to terrifying levels.
If you're playing with total psychopaths, they'll insist on the rule where you have to roll the exact number to land on the final square. Moving faster than you need to isn't just unnecessary, it's now actively punished with teeth-grinding frustration as you're held back, waiting for all the slower children to catch up so that your achievement doesn't hurt their precious feelings. Which is the one lesson children are guaranteed to learn in school anyway.
This girl will invent algebra before they finish learning the alphabet.
What You Should Play Instead: King of Tokyo
Snakes and ladders or GIGAZAUR AND GIANT ROBOT BATTLE SUITS?
King of Tokyo is how you make a game when you have dice but don't hate children. The dice's sides are one, two, three (so that the kids learn numbers) and heart, claw, LIGHTNING BOLT (so that they'll want to). Instead of trudging a boring path to the end, you're giant monsters out to destroy Tokyo, and you want to be the best monster. Show me a kid who doesn't like that, and I'll show you a perverted adult who's been using disguise to get you to change them.
"Most babies don't wear belts over their diapers. I just assumed you were into it, too."
You roll the dice, deciding which to keep and which to reroll, Yahtzee-style. Tactical decisions are hidden in kid-friendly choices, like "Do you want to claw the Cyber-Bunny or buy an extra head?" These actual choices mean that, unlike Snakes and Ladders, a random number generator couldn't just sit there playing itself in the world's most depressing version of masturbation.
The Game of Life
Now that you're too old to play the insultingly simple Snakes and Ladders, how about the exact same game without snakes or ladders? A straight shot across the board, but if you make it across with the wrong utterly random numbers, you lose!
"That's OK, honey, go bash your head against that wall till it sounds like a good idea. Once per IQ point should do it."
A one-track game so horrifically boring, they had to put scenery on it, crappy plastic protrusions that do nothing but get in the way and make it cost more. It's the board game equivalent of 3D movies. There's an illusion of choice at the start, asking, "Do you want to go to college, or do you want to lose?" That could use a bit of an upgrade. They should ask, "Do you want to go to college?" Then ask, "What do you want to study?" and if you answer, "Dunno, whatever courses look easiest," you go $50,000 into debt and start four turns after everyone else. And you don't get a job card.
"Your coffee. Would you like milk, sugar, or to hear my thoughts on entitlement culture in The Great Gatsby?"
What You Should Play Instead: Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is the perfect replacement for the Game of Life: it's for the same ages, the same kinds of groups, and it's also about journeys. The only minor difference is that it's actually a game and fun to play. Because there is nothing like backstabbing a family member with an entire train.
Connect Four is how companies dispose of plastic waste at a 4 million percent markup. People wouldn't waste so much time on intellect-free plastics again until a bored garbage worker sculpted a pile of used clingfilm into a sex doll, creating the Kardashians. You can play Connect Four perfectly with a pen and paper.
Although you're badly misusing the word "play."
Instead you spend $30 on a pile of surplus checkers. Just so two children can work together, pumping things in, building it up until the big finish, when it opens up below and it all comes crashing out in one glorious moment.
The closest bored 7-year-olds can come to orgasm.
Also, it's not a game. There's more multiplayer strategy in sudoku. Connect Four was entirely solved, twice, two decades ago. The first player either wins or is an idiot. There's a sequence of utterly unbeatable moves, meaning this isn't skill, it's extremely crude abstract pointillist color-it-in. Even without the unbeatable moves, it's built entirely around mutual spoiling tactics. You don't work toward cunning victory -- you repeatedly frustrate each other's attempts to get anywhere until one of you screws up and the other finally gets to win and leave. That isn't a game, it's a simulation of a failing adulterous marriage.
"WELL I WOULDN'T NEED FOUR IN A ROW IF YOU WERE A REAL MAN!"
No, that one time you pulled off a totally awesome double-ended three wasn't smart. It was because you were playing against your little brother and he was only 5. And it still didn't work on him the next game.
What You Should Play Instead: Alien Frontiers
Alien Frontiers wasn't pumped out by a huge company to extract money from boredom; it was Kickstartered by a tiny one that thought it sounded fun and was incredibly right. The game raised over triple the original goal, and did so well that an expansion project the next year earned quintuple that. When a company gets gaming-style bonus multipliers in real money, they're doing something right.
Every board gamer I've ever met is either an evangelist for this game or about to be forced to play it by me. Every move is affected by everyone else's, but you always have a clear path forward. Alien Frontiers has the true sign of a good competitive game: You sometimes want to throttle your opposition, not because they're winning, but because you've got an awesome move all ready and want to go again. It's a game where you haven't even lost before you're working out how you'll get them next time, NEXT TIIIIIIME!
Bingo without the exciting social scene.
Saying "cruiser" after B11 doesn't make it any more exciting.
All the fun of sitting around pulling random numbers out of your ass, and nothing else. Battleship is a cunning self-referential test of intelligence: If someone thinks it's involved in Battleship, they don't have any. This is a game of relentless random repetition. Even when you score a direct hit, your next four moves are iterating around that spot to find the target. Then you continue in the line those points define until the task is completed. That is exactly the sort of soul-killing algorithm we built computers to do for us.
"I AM PROGRAMMED NOT TO DETECT BOREDOM."
Then Hasbro ruined those computers by building Electronic Battleship. It's another intelligence test. Even regular Battleship was a waste of money, as the game can be played with pen and paper, and now you can give a corporation between $10 and $80 for it. Subtract that cost from 100 and you have your IQ. Paper's advantages are that it's faster, you can't lose pieces, it doesn't make constant goddamn noise, and you don't feel obligated to play it again after you discover how soul-crushingly boring it is.
What You Should Play Instead: Ricochet Robots
Ricochet Robots is a game where numbers don't mock the entirety of human progress. This is a real mental battle, cunningly turning "counting" into a breakneck race of demented machines ramming full speed into solid walls and each other.
It's another excellent introductory game. The person asking "What?" at the start will be screaming "SEVEN!" with all the intensity and joy of a winning lotto number later that same game. It takes about two minutes to learn, but you'll actually feel your brain upgrading as it forces numbers through faster than ever before.
Risk is worse for family game night than incest. It simulates all the boredom and relentless repetition of trench warfare, but at least people really dying on the Eastern Front wished they were home with their beloved family. You are home, and now you hate the bastards.
"IF YOU KEEP LETTING HER TAKE AUSTRALIA, I WILL FEED YOU BOTH TO DINGOES!"
The worst part of Risk is victory by excruciation. A well-designed game has tactics and skill building to a climax, a thrilling race to victory, and when someone has clearly won, it's because the game is over. In Risk, someone can win hours before it ends, and they will not let you just admit it and leave. They spent hours carefully planning this victory, and by God you are going to sit there and patiently lose for just as many hours so that they can enjoy it properly. They've turned having fun into a zero-sum game.
"MY JOY IS POWERED BY YOUR MISERY!"
This is the same psychopath who can be in control of two-thirds of the entire world and still whinge about how unfair it is that people are ganging up on them. The one who insists that there are more tactics than "Take Australia and try not to succumb to dice-rolling repetitive strain injury."
What You Should Play Instead: Settlers of Catan
Settlers of Catan is the binary test for "Have you actually played board games, or just terrible family ones?"
Settlers of Catan is the shining diamond to Risk's filthy smog of coal. It has the same ideas of territory control, building resources, and cursing the newly invented and extremely obscene gods you've incarnated specifically to build hells for your fellow players and the number seven like an evil Sesame Street. Except every move matters, it's fun, and it's possible to finish a game inside a day. You even learn the same important life lessons, like how, when it comes down to it, your own mother will destroy you for one chunk of stone.
The big bad, the final boss, the scabbed-over subconscious memory that motivates thousands of bored people to keep changing the channel in silence rather than risk opening the dusty Pandora's Box of family grief perched on top of the cupboard.
"Now with extra bullshit!"
The closest thing Monopoly has to actual gameplay is arguing over which piece you get to be. A fact Parker Brothers admitted by asking the Internet to do exactly that for a new piece, then printing a hundred thousand cat pieces before waiting for the answer, because obviously.
"No, Internet, you totally surprised us with that one."
It's the Constructicon of all terrible games, combining every terrible flaw into one unstoppable monster. You can buy a thousand pointlessly different boards to give them extra money for no reason -- it's entirely based on luck, layered on top of a single broken tactic with a tendency toward the orange properties, and it's the Romans vs. Jesus of victory by excruciation.
YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO QUIT, YOU STILL HAVE ONE MORTGAGED BROWN AND TWO DOLLARS I WANT!
The whole point of the game is proving that capitalism is utterly broken and unfair, and people still play it to get their go at winning. Parents would be better off buying their kids a rack and a My Little Inquisition scalpel set. There's the same aspect of taking turns to torture each other, and at least that way the kids learn about anatomy.
And since we got these new pieces, no one wants to use the car anymore.
What You Should Play Instead: Power Grid
Power Grid is everything Monopoly should have been. You're genuinely aiming to build a monopoly, earning ever-increasing fountains of money, but you still have to spend every cent to stay ahead of the competition.
It's a masterpiece of interlocking game systems. You balance expanding networks, resource levels, and nuclear auctions in a game that upgrades your brain like ENIAC: forcing yourself to run calculations faster than ever before, designed specifically to target cities and destroy your enemies. You can genuinely pull off financial intimidation to win by screwing your enemy out of their last lump of coal.
The game perfectly cascades to a finish, early tactical choices and carefully husbanded resources progressing to mid-range border combat, climaxing with games of Brewster's Millions chicken as players throw fistfuls of cash at each other to claim the last few points. And just when you think it couldn't get any cooler, you learn that the original German name is Funkenschlag.
Who we're assuming is a board-game playing German pop-punk singer.
The Internet connects everyone with all kinds of interests. Getting together to roll cubes is one of the least weird and most fun of those activities, even when it isn't slang. We've got TableTop, the nerdebrity Web series all about board games, and a horde of iPad and smartphone app versions of board games, which kick the shit out of chronocidal iteration bullshit like Angry Birds. So grab your inelastic gravity chaos-to-integer reduction engines, and play.
These control more fantasy worlds than magic rings and Joss Whedon combined.
For more reasons why classic games suck, check out 5 Classic Board Games With Disturbing Origin Stories and Why the Board Game Guess Who Is Getting More Racist.