An Open Letter to Bill White

The following is a caring and hopefully respectful response to Bill White, a blogger, who posted an interesting list of favorite games. (click here to read the blog entry).

Note to the careful reader, pay attention to the hyperlinks below, clicking upon them will tell you a little bit more about the matters discussed.

Dear Bill White,

Ok Bill, here we go.

First, I commend you for your follow up post, pretty classy. Second, I offer this up with all warmth, kindness and humility. Third, if you take us (meaning Scott, who is a great resource for the board gaming community, a really cool guy and the designer of a game you would really like, Going, Going, Gone! and I) up on our challenge to try some of these new games, you are in for a great surprise and treat.

Alright let’s get down to brass tacks, with the exception of Scrabble, those games stink on ice. No, I am kidding (but not really). I have played each of these games with my kids and have had a lot of fun doing so, but there are many games that will make all but Scrabble, irrelevant.

The list Scott sent you is the ordered list of games as rated by user of boardgamegeek. And while this list is a great resource, please do not start there. If your first game after The Game of Life is Twilight Struggle you will have a horrible time and your head may explode (not necessarily in that order). Below, are my recommendations for the top gateways games that you may enjoy as alternatives to the games you offered.

1) Scrabble- As I noted above, I am with you on this one. It is a great and engaging game that I play very often, even to this day. But if you are into word games, some other options are Kerflip and Word on the Street. But at the end of the day, Scrabble is not about words, it is about strategy. I would submit that a good alternative to Scrabble is Ingenious by Reiner Knizia. It is an abstract tile laying game, designed by a mathematician, and it can be be brain burning fun.

2) Risk- So Risk is an area control game, and it will suck out you soul. While there are many incredible alternatives, A Game of Thrones 2nd ed., Shogun, El Grande, Small World, etc., the one that I will recommend for you is Memoir 44. This is a WWII themed game with an innovative combat mechanic, known as “command and colors”. It plays only two players, but it is a great pleasure.

3) Monopoly- Monopoly is a economic roll and move game, that would suck out your sole and consume it with ketchup, if Risk had not already done the job. There are few games I abhor. I abhor this game. It actually makes me angry just to think about it and the violence it has done to so many potential game enthusiasts. The alternative I would present is Power Grid. This game can be a little danting, and not all will agree with my choice, but I think it is a great alternative to Monopoly. A great auction mechanic, interesting area control and brutal. I presume, since you like Monopoly, you like causing other people pain. Power Grid will let you do that,; except Power Grid will be fun. I don’t judge.

4) Parchessi- So I am going to presume that this is a game you play to relax, and likely with younger players, because let’s face it, Parchessi is not exactly a tactical masterpiece. Though ancient and storied, the game of Parchessi is at the end of the day, a fruitless time waster. The outcome is entirely the product of luck; literally. The only game where the outcome is more random is Candlyland. If you are looking for a classic game that has a great history, is fun for all ages and is fairly low stress and relaxing (this is of course a relative matter, some people will make a trip to a urinal a race and stress out if “things” end up taking longer than they expected) then I would commend you to invest in a Crokinole board. This dexterity game is a strategic tabletop shuffleboard game that serves as the perfect holiday distraction. This is a game kids can play competitively against adults, which requires a very short rules explanation and which will take you years to master. Now I should warn you, Crokinole boards are crazy expensive (high 100s), but they are gorgeous, often hand crafted and will last you many lifetimes.

5) The Game of Life- I have to be honest with you, when I read this one, I started to thinking maybe you were trolling.  First of all, this game has to be the most inaccurate depiction of “life” I have ever seen. I suppose you could use it to teach some type of lesson about responsibility; but come on dude. (In contrast,the source for the game, The Checkered Game of Life, was like a Sunday school lesson; with each space consisting of a moral exhortation. Like many games from the era, The Checkered Game of Life, was a tool first, a game second.)

Secondly, if you are looking for a game that represents domestic life you can do much better. For example, Suburbia is a top rated game about urban planning. Village is an award winner about work, travel, marriage, church, career, death and legacy. Agricola is a modern classic that teaches players about family planning, animal husbandry and begging for food in order to avoid starvation. But if you are looking for a game you can play with your kids, then abandon the instruction and embrace the fun.

For that, I recommend Cash ‘n Guns. In this game you point fake guns at your family in order to be the last player standing so that you don’t have to share any of your stolen heist. You did notice where I said, “abandon the instruction”. While Cash ‘n Guns may teach some kids about the hard realities that will confront them in adult life, we are going to presume that no one reading this article has a father who has taken to being called “Heisenberg”. This is a game that should be approached without too much seriousness or pretense. It is fun, it is frivolous and it is harmless. I am the proud father of two very well adjusted and morally centered children, and they love nothing more than pointing their foam guns at me and uttering, “do you feel lucky, punk”.

So there you have it Bill. Five games (plus a few bonuses) that I suspect will give you hours of enjoyment and hopefully a basis for putting together a different list in the future. And if ever you are in our neck of the woods, look us up, we’ll be happy to teach you how to play these and other games in person.

With warmest regards,

Blue Peg Patrick