I was a big fan of board games when I was a kid. I loved the classics like Monopoly and Life, but my favorites were more obscure. I was a huge fan of Payday and Go For Broke, the first of which is now obscure and the second of which has been out of print for decades. As I got older, my tastes advanced a little. While I was never much of a Risk fan (mad respect to all of my friends who haven’t used their dining room tables since 1987 because there’s still an ongoing game of Risk covering every inch of it).
I like Scrabble, but being a professional writer has never gotten me very far. My non-writer wife and parents routinely pummel me into submission with Triple Letter Scores and obscure spellings of archaic words. I love chess, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve never won a single game of it unless I was playing small children who thought were were playing checkers (my brother, bless his heart, is a chess genius and would always patiently let me employ my insane kamikaze tactics before checkmating me with a smile). I enjoyed them all, but I especially fell in love with something called The Farming Game that sounds bucolic but is actually a lot like Monopoly with tractors.
However, once my kids were born, it became hard to find three hours for a good board game, and my connection to the hobby became limited to Chutes and Ladders, Candyland (Gloppy and his sinister looking Chocolate Swamp still haunt my dreams) and Mancala (thank you, Montessori school). In the back of my mind, I sort of thought that board games would be replaced entirely by video games and trance-inducing money grabbers like Candy Crush.
But board games did not die. Two important things happened while I was away raising kids. First, hipsters decided that good old fashioned paper and cardboard were good for the soul. They twirled their pretentiously waxed handlebar mustaches and embraced games from Europe like Settlers of Catan (now just known as Catan) and Carcassonne. They scheduled game nights and re-invigorated the entire industry, which led to the second reason board games are back in vogue – cooperative play.
You see, somebody somewhere recognized that not everybody wants to scream at each other over Park Place and Boardwalk. Instead, games like Forbidden Island and Lord of the Rings: The Card Game picked up where Dungeons and Dragons (a game that I only played once before being banned by my friends thanks to my overactive imagination) left off by putting all the players on the same side against the game itself.
Back to present day, I recently picked up a game called Pandemic, which is a cooperative game about saving the world from disease. I know, I know. It sounds like a documentary narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, but it’s not. It’s the most fun I’ve had without my Xbox in 20 years. My wife and I played it with our teenage daughter. She loved it. We played it with her teenage friend. She loved it. We played it with our adult friends. They loved it. And this was all in one weekend. The best part? We didn’t win every game we played, but we did laugh and debate and cheer, and my wife and I actually spent time discussing strategy for beating Pandemic as we were doing things like folding laundry. It’s like some constantly-changing logic puzzle that you figure out together.
I’m not sure I’ll ever play another competitive board game in my life. Instead, I think I’ll stock up on the cooperative ones, so that when I am old and gray(er) I’ll be able to con my grandkids into killing orcs with me, or perhaps saving the planet from rampaging cooties.
Want a list of cooperative board games? Here’s a pretty good place to start.