Fun & Games
I have found over time that I'm not much for traditional board games. I do like other kinds of games quite a lot, though, and here are a few I have particularly enjoyed in recent times in case anyone else is looking for something new to try.
This is a great game to keep hands busy while people are hanging out and talking, which is incidentally one of my favorite things to do with friends anyway. There's a bit of strategy involved in trying to connect seven cards of your element before anyone else accomplishes the same. It's usually fairly easy to figure out who has which element and react accordingly, but the game often doesn't last long regardless. My favorite part of Aquarius is the pretty artwork on the cards, and I'm also looking forward to trying out the preschool-age rule variation with Nico.
Seven Card Samurai
This is another good game for casual play while hanging out and chatting. There's some strategy involved (and I will admit I have only won once), but it's not too taxing. It's a card game with an extra element - each player is trying to build the highest scoring run of seven samurai cards while also earning points from stealing or protecting stones representing rice crops. Points are awarded based on the combination of colors of your samurai cards, plus how many rice tokens you have left when the round ends. There are only five rounds, so the game moves fairly quickly. Some of our friends like it and some have vowed never to play it again, but I think that has more to do with their tolerance for not winning rather than the quality of the game.
Another good chat and play game, this one is super simple and not strategy-heavy, yet not so basic as to be boring. Each player tries to collect the highest-scoring arrangements of cards representing French nobles lined up at the Revolutionary guillotine. Action cards allow for shuffling of the line to better pad your collection (or to prevent your opponents from doing the same). Other cards add extra points to cards you already have.
Settlers of Catan
This is definitely a game that favors the strategically-minded, though I enjoy it and definitely am not a strong strategizer. Tiles representing land-use types are laid out at random, then players build settlements and roads to lay claim to the resources produced. Resources - lumber, bricks, ore, wool, wheat - can be used to purchase / build more settlements and roads, or to buy development cards which can give additional point boosts. The first player to ten victory points is the winner. The only downside to this (other than being walloped by one's exceedingly strategy-minded husband) is that gameplay tends to take quite a long time. Okay, and small children seem to be strongly attracted to the tiny colorful wooden pieces and may repeatedly ask to play with them.
My brain has categorized Carcassonne as sort of a lite version of Settlers of Catan, but that's not quite right. Given the choice, I would probably pick Carcassonne over Catan, though I don't want that to come across as a knock against Catan. I just really like Carcassonne. For this one, the game board is more or less unique every time, as it's constructed tile-by-tile via luck of the draw. Players take turns drawing a tile and placing it on the map / board wherever it legally can be placed and wherever best benefits them. Once a tile is placed, the placing player can choose to lay claim to part of what is depicted on the tile - usually part of a city and / or farmland and / or a piece of road. Rules about when you can and can't claim are pretty simple (you can't claim a city piece if it's directly connected to another city piece someone else has taken; two players farming the same land cancel each other out; contiguous roads can only be claimed by one player). When the final tile is laid, points are counted up for cities and roads claimed and how many completed cities are being served by each farmer. The player with the most points wins. I don't always lose this game! Gameplay moves a bit faster than Catan, and we can usually play two rounds in a post-dinner pre-kid-witching-hour game night.
This is a board game that doesn't appear to be available any more. I had never heard of it until I met MB, and he had a set from childhood that had lost a bunch of pieces and basically become unplayable. At some point he vaguely mentioned being bummed that the game was ruined, so when someone posted a set on freecycle years later, I snapped it up. MB dusted the game off for the first time at a game night earlier this month and I really enjoyed it. Sort of a board game version of a traditional roleplaying game, Hero Quest has players choose a character token (dwarf, barbarian, elf, wizard) and then move around the board fighting monsters and looking for treasure. Arrangement of monsters and availability of treasure is pre-determined and somewhat known only to the "game master" in charge of placing the bad guys and rolling their attack / defense dice. Players roll for attack and defense and to move around the board. My favorite part of this game was the intricate props that went into each dungeon room - tiny paper bookcases and desks with perfect little plastic skulls on them…what's not to love?