Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The New Classics

Most people have played classic boardgames- Clue or Monopoly come to mind. Let's talk about two new classics- best selling games that have been big hits over the last few years. The first is Carcassonne. The title refers to a region of France famous for its pretty towns. Carcassonne is a simple and beautiful game. To play you draw a square tile out of a bag. On the tile is a picture of a field with a road, town, or castle on it. You take turns laying the tiles down on a table so that the roads connect from one tile to another, similar to how you play dominoes. As time goes by the players create a huge map of towns, castles, and roads. That by itself can be pretty fun for younger kids. The players then put tiny wooden people on the roads, fields or castles to “claim” them. The larger the field or longer the road, the more points you get. You have a limited number of playing pieces so you have to weigh out which roads and fields are best to claim.

Carcassonne requires no reading and very limited counting. In terms of rules if you can understand dominoes you’re ready to play. Very young children may just enjoy building the map from the tiles. Older (ages 8 and up) children will be able to play and keep score. Once you get beyond age 12 or so you begin to understand the strategy of where to place people and tiles. The entire game can be played in about thirty minutes so it’s well suited for family game night or even a gathering of adults once the kids are asleep.

Pros: Quick and simple game
No reading required and very limited counting

Cons: None really

Beyond the Basics: You can purchase a multitude of expansions and add-ons to the game.
The game becomes more challenging and fun for older players. Adults may choose to play when the kids are asleep.

The second new classic is Bohnanza, or “the bean game” as we used to call it. Children are familiar with beans. They know that they are good for the heart, although in the South they are known as the miracle fruit as well. In the game of Bohnanza you play a bean farmer. You get a hand of cards with pictures of different beans on them- green beans, cocoa beans, etc. Each turn you trade your cards with the other players. The more cards of a given type you end up with, the more points you score. Children of the Pokemon generation should be instantly ready to understand a trading and collecting game and they may outshine the adults at bargaining for a good exchange.

The fun in Bohnanza stems to a large extent from the trading that takes place each turn. Players mill around trying to get the beans that they want and rack up the points. Each turn can create a chaotic and fun trading scene. This is another game where you can play without reading skills, although it does help to recognize numbers. This is also a game where attentive adults can steer events so that younger children do well. You can choose to trade good cards to your youngest and pump up their score. In that sense Bohnanza may be less risky that games like Monopoly where a few bad die rolls can lead to one grumpy young player.

On a personal note I recommend Bohnanza as a fun game for adults. I think it's exciting, has some strategy, but plays fun and light.

Pros: Exciting and interactive game
Rewards and encourages lively trading
Ideal for kids who grow impatient waiting for others to finish a turn
A great example of a steerable game where parents can make sure everyone does well

Cons: As above, players who find trading dull will find the game dull.

Beyond the Basics: Adults like trading and cashing in, this game is very playable for teens and up.
Lots of expansions available to purchase and the game is played worldwide.

Both Bohnanza and Carcassonne are carried in specialty game stores. You can find copies locally at Hit and Run Games in Lexington.

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