Did you know we’re living in the middle of a Golden Age? In the first of a new series of board game articles, Dave Axbey looks at why Monopoly belongs to the history books.
It’d be pretty strange if you’d never seen a TV show made after 1959. Or watched a movie made after 1949. Or heard any music made after 1933. Uncontacted tribes in the emerald depths of the Amazon would raise a quizzical eyebrow. Grey-bearded mystics who’ve spent decades contemplating the infinite from their Himalayan peak would wonder what the Hell you’d been doing with your life. You would, in short, be a bit of a weirdo.
So it’s deeply disconcerting to realise that, until comparatively recently, it wouldn’t have been at all unusual to bump into someone whose only experience of board games was Risk (1959), Cluedo (1949) and Monopoly (1933). Not that these games are bad necessarily – although, let’s face it, they kinda are – but it’s tricky to think of another field of home entertainment where one of the most popular, best-selling products is over 80 years old.
Yet as Monopoly continues to sell like gangbusters, relentlessly reskinned with the latest TV franchises, blockbusters and toy lines to give the illusion of relevance, a quiet revolution has taken place. Long-admired in Germany, Euro-style games with a penchant for innovative mechanisms, elegant rules and luck mitigation burst onto the global scene in 1995 with The Settlers Of Catan. Two other major hits (the tile-laying Carcassonne and railway-themed Ticket To Ride) followed in 2000 and 2004 respectively.
This new Big Three now have endless spin-offs of their own, and – in the case of Catan at least – are beginning to creak a bit at the joints. Fortunately, the revolution they helped spark shows no signs of slowing down; not only is the board games industry growing faster than duckweed on steroids, but the diversity and inventiveness on display is both staggering and wonderful. If you want to know what it’s like to be part of a Golden Age, get into board games right now. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
The Resistance doesn’t have a board, pieces or dice. It barely needs cards, to be honest. A short intense game of bluffing, deduction and lowdown dirty lying, the game sees the players working to overthrow a despotic regime. To win, all they have to do is succeed the majority of their missions. Trouble is, some of the team are traitors… but which? The base game is baller, but we recommend Arthurian version The Resistance: Avalon instead.
To prove we’re not ageist when it comes to games, Cosmic Encounter has its origins way back in 1977, when punk was king and woolly mammoth roamed the land. Reprinted and expanded by Fantasy Flight, Cosmic sees the players leading alien races, each with a unique power that lets them break the rules. Fragile alliances, brutal backstabbing and unnecessary amounts of fun are the order of the day as you vie for galactic domination.
Unlike Resistance and Cosmic Encounter, Matt Leacock’s Pandemic is a completely co-operative game, with the players working together to prevent disease from wiping out humanity. But while Pandemic’s a great game, it’s not the one we’re recommending – instead, jump right in with last year’s smash hit Pandemic Legacy, an unforgettable one-campaign-only version that’ll have you tearing up cards and writing on the board.
This article originally appeared in MyM Magazine #50. More information here.