It’s an interesting time to be a fan of board games. They’ve been enjoying a bit of a renaissance for quite a while now, and it’s difficult to see an end to that anytime soon. Dozens, if not hundreds, of new board games seem to come out every month. That’s a lot to keep track of. And to add to the challenges are the price tags. Board games–particularly some of the more exotic ones and the “Eurogames” tend to run pretty high, cost-wise. A new game, whether it be from a small independent game publisher to one of the giants, can run anywhere between $30 and $150. Special editions can cost even more.
That’s a lot of coin to lay down for a new game–particularly if you don’t know how much you’ll actually enjoy it. A good game needs replay value. It needs to be a game one can learn fairly quickly, and appeal to a variety of players.
Here are some ways to check out a game before laying out a wad of cash.
YouTube Gameplay and Reviews
If a game costs more than $25, I don’t buy it until I’ve watched a bit of gameplay and have gotten other peoples’ thoughts. Nothing is easier than doing a search on “game name” and “gameplay” on YouTube. You have to hand it to the YouTube game reviewers. A game could be brand spanking new, or frightfully obscure, but there will likely be some video online demonstrating game play or offering a thoughtful, honest review. Not only do these videos give you a good impression of a game before you buy it, it also gives you a good introduction to the game mechanics and rules.
In previous columns, I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop series on YouTube and Amazon Prime. Its high-quality production values, celebrity guests, and professional presentation all go a long way in making it an enjoyable way to preview games, but it’s not the only game in town. Not by far. In fact, for all of Tabletop‘s great presentation, they don’t cover a fraction of the games others do. Allow me to recommend three great YouTube channelers who do excellent jobs reviewing games and demonstrating play:
Drive Thru Review
And there are lots more out there. Some days all I do is play board game reviews on YouTube.
Games I have previewed this way: Pandemic, Onward to Venus, Small World, Machi Koro
Game Store Demos
A lot of people prefer to get more hands-on when checking out a potential new game. The people who sell games realize this and you’ll find most stores that sell board games (this includes comic book stores, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and the like) offer you a chance to try before you buy. Check your local game store to see if they run board game demonstrations. They’re usually held in the late afternoon to evening hours and on weekends so people can come by without worrying about work.
Some stores run special sales on games being demonstrated, so not only is this a good time to preview, but also a good time to make a purchase if you find it is the game for you.
Games I have previewed this way: Lords of Waterdeep, Game of Thrones, Castle Ravenloft
Convention Game Demos
Conventions, be they specifically aimed at games or a more general audience, are great places to try out new games. Dealers occasionally run demonstrations at their booths or tables, but there are also often game demos as part of the main programming. Conventions with dedicated board game rooms are also great places to try out a game before making a purchase. The folks who run the board game rooms are more than happy to show you how to play, answer questions, and offer opinions.
Games I have previewed this way: Ninja Dice, Red Dragon Inn, Rocketville
Board Game Clubs & Meetups
When was the last time you visited your local library? Guess what? Many of them host board gaming clubs and meetups. These are open to the public and you can show up as rarely or as regularly as you’d like. You can bring your own games to share, or use this as a great opportunity to try out games other people enjoy. In a single evening, you can even try a bunch of different games as there are usually several games happening throughout the meet.
Games I have previewed this way: King of Tokyo, Codenames, Forbidden Island
Not every game you want to preview may be a new game. I’ve often come across references to board games of the past that sound interesting, but aren’t necessarily current enough to have been caught up in the wave of video or store demonstrations. For that, I’ve found that good, old-fashioned review websites can be quite helpful. My first stop is usually BoardGameGeek.com which covers just about every game ever made. It features pictures, user reviews, and cost estimates. If there is more than one edition of the game, it will tend to have those listed as well.
I can also recommend Boardgaming.com and Geekvintage.com as having been useful. Even simple Amazon.com reviews have helped shed some light from time to time.
Games I have previewed this way: Dungeons & Dragons (board game), HeroQuest, Dark Tower
Mobile app adaptations
What to do when there’s no time to visit a convention, game store, or meetup? An interesting platform for a lot of board games to port to are mobile apps. Many popular board games now have versions for both iOS and Android. The apps are usually much cheaper than the physical games, function very well as tutorials and previews, and are a lot of fun to play. Gameplay is usually close to the physical game versions–enough at least to give a decent sense of the play experience. Most times, the only real differences in experience are that mobile app gameplay is quicker, but lacking in the sense of connection with other players.
Games I have previewed this way: Carcassonne, Penny Arcade: The Game – Gamers vs. Evil, Ticket to Ride
Word of mouth
Websites, video, clubs and demos? Feh. Who needs ’em? Okay… they’re all incredibly useful. Many times, however, you can trust a good word-of-mouth reputation. Unless your friends are dicks, you can usually trust their opinion. Usually. Tastes vary, but I’ve found that the more people who talk up a particular game, the more likely it’s going to be a winner.
Games I have previewed this way: Cards Against Humanity, Gloom, Munchkins, Apples to Apples
If the high cost of quality, interesting board games that play to your most geeky of interests have been getting in the way of you attaining them, then I hope these suggestions help in making your decisions easier and more informed.
One of the nice things about this board game renaissance we’ve been experiencing is that it’s not happening in a vacuum. There’s a whole community of gamers out there eager to talk about games and show you what’s what.