Here’s an old/new suggestion for holiday gifts and gatherings — modern board games. A golden age of board game design began more than 20 years ago and is still going strong. If you ever enjoyed board games but got tired of “Monopoly” and “Risk” and “Trivial Pursuit,” check out such beauties as “7 Wonders” or “El Grande.” The new games can be simple (“TransAmerica“) or complex (“Le Havre“). They can be one-on-one (“Twilight Struggle“) or cooperative (“Pandemic“) or free-for-alls (“Dominant Species“). Themes range widely from farming to empire building, and from ancient times to the sci-fi future. There’s ample information about all of these, and thousands more, at www.boardgamegeek.com . There also are websites on which you can play several great games. One of the best is www.yucata.de .
The new games are not for everyone, not even for many, I suppose. The rules are challenging in some of my favorite games and playing time can be more than two hours. You usually have to make a lot of difficult decisions, but that’s a big part of the fun, even for a sub-par player like me. The games also can be expensive, but the physical quality and beauty is often greater than in the earlier mass market games.
A few of the most popular modern games — “Settlers of Catan,” “Ticket to Ride” — can be found at Target, but there are many more options at such local stores as GameQuest or Clem’s, as well as Barnes and Noble. Game store owners can also advise you on what you might like best. (Yes, you can order games online, but if you like the library, please support the merchants who pay the local property taxes that let us serve you. If they don’t have what you want, ask them to order it.)
The world is understandably agog at the progress of computer games in only 40 years, but they remain mainly a solitaire experience or else played with people a thousand miles away. If you want to get together with friends or family and share some challenging mental fun, take a look at what good board games are like today.