A brief introduction to social or family gaming.

The ZOCo section of this website assumes a familiarity with a certain type of board game. These games are certainly not Monopoly. They can be complex, 16 pages of rules would be regarded as light, Advanced Squad Leader has a rules manual thicker than the thicker sort of telephone directory. In general the rules are not unduly complex. The problem for a new purchaser is often not what do the rules mean but how should I use those rules to play the game. Rolling a dice hoping for 6s and getting to the last square first may not be an option.

Here follows a brief description of games that increase steadily in the player involvement required. This is a mixture of price and the effort needed to get them off the ground. The sections link to longer descriptions of each game on the website boardgamegeek.com. These links are not necessarily the latest or best version of each game but are a starting point for further reading. I have added images to most of the entries to prove that I own them. The exception is Werewolf where any counters or markers can be used.

Werewolf (or mafia)

This game lasts about 15 minutes and requires a group of about 5 or more, it starts to break down as the group size approaches 20. No purchase is required, a set of markers are needed, cards or beer mats would do fine. One player is the storyteller, who has the role of organsing the game but does not otherwise take part. The players (not the storyteller) are secretly assigned a role as villager or werewolf; dealing out cards with a single court cart being the werewolf and pips for the villagers will do this. Players should look at their cards but not show them to each other or make remarks as to what role they have been assigned.
For more than 9 players an additional werewolf can be added.

The storyteller spins a yarn about how werewolves eat villagers at night and asks all the players to shut their eyes to act the part of going to sleep at night. He then askes the werewolf (or werewolves) to open their eyes and select a villager to be eaten. The werewolf should be the only player with open eyes and should make as little noise as possible when selecting a victim. If there is more than 1 werewolf they need to silently agree on a single target, they must not eat each other. The werewolf then shuts their eyes and the storyteller informs the players that it is now morning and they should all open their eyes. One of the players has of course been eaten and plays no further part in the game. The surviving villagers and any werewolves then debate who is guilty of the crime and decree that the victim should be burnt. That player is also out of the game. The game continues for successive nights until someone wins. If the players find the identity of all werewolves the villagers have won, if the number of surviving villagers equals the number of werewolves then the werewolves have won.

There are some variant roles to that of villager. One of the best is the little girl who is allowed to peep when the werewolf selects their prey. So they should know the identity of one or more werewolf. Unfortunately if they are seen peeking they will be swiftly eaten. The villagers do not know if the person claiming to be the little girl is who they say they are, this could be a werewolf telling lies.

The Resistance
The Resistance
This is a werewolf variant that could be made up from pieces of card but has been published as a commercial game. Avalon is a reworking of the concept set in a medieval world but the gameplay is similar. Some of the problems of Werewolf are overcome. There is no storyteller who takes no direct part in the game; the players take turns in controlling the story. Players are not removed from the game; everyone stays in until the end.

The concept is that the players are part of some resistance organisation aiming to disrupt the hated society by indulging in subversive activities. These could be harmless, violent or comic it is up to the game players and has no effect on the game itself. Unfortunately some of the resistance organisation members are not brave freedom fighters but instead are agents of the oppressive regime. The numbers of agents depends on the numbers of players in the game but all players know how many agents are present.

The players will decide on a team (some subset of the whole group) to go out on each activity. The members of that team then vote on the success of the mission. The votes are made in secret but the result is shown openly. If the majority vote for the mission to fail then it fails. The group will know how many votes were for or against but not who voted for which outcome. Different groups are chosen for up to 5 missions; if 3 are successful the resistance win, otherwise the oppressive regime has won. The major gameplay is in deciding who to send on missions. The first mission choice has no factors affecting it. For later missions the results of their voting gives some idea of who might be a government plant. It is often a good idea for government agents to vote for the success of a mission. This should hide their identity and allow them to do more damage in the future. There is no benefit in resistance workers voting for the failure of a mission. If the players cannot agree on a suitable team for a mission (probably because they do not trust each other) then the government has won.

As this is a commercial game I have avoided retelling the rules in depth. These could be worked out from more detailed reviews. The players would then need to furnish markers or cards to identify rebels or agents and a set of voting cards or balls and a bag to vote on mission team choice and mission success.

Fluxx (or 1000 blank cards)

Fluxx

Zombie Fluxx cards

Fluxx is an anti-game. It is available in several formats, all as packs of cards, such as Zombie Fluxx and Family Fluxx. The 1,000 blank cards concept takes the same idea but you make up the cards by filling in blank cards as you go along.

Every player is dealt 2 cards that they keep secretly in their hand. There is 1 rule in play, draw 1 and play 1. So on your go you draw a card from the card pile and play one from the 3 in your hand. The cards played may change the rules; such as draw 2, play 2, these rules stay in play until they are in turn superseded. The cards can also offer temporary effects such as being able to reuse a card that has been previously played. Some of the cards are goals, used to attain victory. For example ‘hippyism’ is achieved if you have the cards for ‘love’ and for ‘piece’. The victory card needed will change during play so you might have ‘love’ but find that the victory aim has now changed and 2 different goal cards are needed.

There is some skill in Fluxx but not a lot. Games can end very quickly or run through several hands with the draw and discard piles shuffled back together. It is rare for a game to last more than 15 minutes. Family Fluxx tends to drag on rather longer possibly as a misguided attempt to avoid players being knocked out very quickly.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan

Mayfair edition

The first game in this list that you would really need to buy rather than being able to make up from bits lying around. Settlers is a production game, you start with 2 towns and produce either, grain, brick, wood, ore or sheep. These resources are used to build more towns or even cities that in turn produce even more resources. Exactly which resources are produced is determined by a map of hexagon tiles. Each town or city lies on the apex of 3 adjoining hexagons. Cities and towns must be joined by at least 2 roads running along the sides of the hexagons. The player’s roads may not cross each other and only 1 player’s pieces may occupy each vertex or side of a hexagon. This means that player’s are competing for the best real estate.

The exact resources produced each turn depend on the roll of 2 dice. The result of 2 to 12 corresponds to a numbered hexagon tile that will produce a single resource for each adjacent town or city. Each number is used twice in the map so will produce 2 resources. An exception is the 7, which does not relate to a tile but results in players with 8 or more horded resources being robbed. The player rolling the 7 can also rob 1 other player of a random resource.

Settlers is probably the best known of the European type of game. The basic game plays with 4. An expansion allows 2 more players. There are also various re-themed versions that keep the same gameplay and a 2-player card game edition that works surprisingly well.

Munchkin

Munchkin

Zombie and original cards

Another anti-game rather like Fluxx. The gameplay is simple with the under-riding aim being to mess up the other players’ chance of victory. It exists in several themes, Superhero, Space Adventure and more but the basic setting is a quest down a dungeon to find monsters and take their treasure.

The monster killing is simple points based. You and your stuff (such as swords) have a certain number of points. If you beat the points level of the monster you win. You gain treasures that help you win more battles plus you go up a level of experience making you stronger in combat. The twist is that cards can be played to make the monster stronger or weaker. These do not have to be used by the player currently fighting the monster. Other players can help in the fight for a share of the reward or aid the monster making failure a certainty. If the monster gets you bad stuff happens. This depends on how powerful was the original monster but can make you lose benefits or even need to start again. The result is that players become more powerful as they go through the game. When they appear more powerful than the other players those others will tend to take them back down a few levels. This can make games of Munchkin amongst more experienced players go on rather too long.

Forbidden Desert (Forbidden Island)
Forbidden Desert
These 2 games follow a similar theme and some gameplay elements. Forbidden Desert is slightly more involved. Both involve the players cooperating just like they do not in Munchkin. The game setting is of an island or desert that the players must search, gather artefacts and escape from. The escape must be achieved before the island sinks into the sea or the desert is covered by sand dunes. The rate of disappearance of the land can be changed to affect the difficulty of the games. As the land vanishes less game tiles become available so it is more difficult to search as the game progresses.

The players each receive some unique bonus to aid with travel or searching. The players need to cooperate and use these abilities to win. If any of the players is killed by water or sand then they all lose. To win the artefacts must be found and the whole party must gather together at the rescue site, there is no leaving anyone behind.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Wooden box city edition

This is not a game of which I am especially fond but I am willing to play it and have attracted several people into playing board games through this portal. There are several variants of the basic theme although no one would really ever need more than one.

Carcassone is a tile laying game where the tiles join up to form a map. The tiles can only be placed to make legal maps, roads join other roads and town walls meet other walls in a logical fashion. The players take turns drawing tiles blindly but must choose a valid location to place them. All the tiles must join up in some way; the players all build the same map, they do not have a mini-map each. Having placed a tile a player has the option of placing a counter (or meeple) on that a feature of that tile. The meeple allows points to be scored when that feature is complete. That could be a section of road up to a junction or a town fully enclosed by walls. Each player has a limited number of meeples, these stay on the map until the feature is complete and scored. They are then returned to the player to be used again. Due to the way the map is built up some meeples may remain on the map until the end of the game. There is also a scoring mechanism for meeples that are not in features but reside in the fields surrounding them. These are not scored until the end of the game and can yield a lot of points to experienced players.

Memoir ’44

Memoir '44

Basic game

The ’44 is 1944, this is a 2 player game loosely based on World War 2. It is part of the ‘Command and Colors’ (sic) series of games all with much the same mechanism but different settings. There have been variants for Antiquity (Command and Colors Ancients), Samurai (Samurai Battles), Napoleonic (Napoleonic Command and Colors), American Civil War (Battle Cry), Fantasy (Battle Lore) and there are probably others out there. Many of the above also have expansion games that cannot be played without first owning the base set for that period.

I have chosen Memoir ’44 as the example because it is relatively easy to find and is one of the simpler games in the series. The game is played on a board of hexagons. This is customised for individual games by placing hexagon sized pieces of trees, hills and so on to create different maps. The players have a force of infantry, tanks and guns that also varies with the game setting or scenario being played. The core game play is based on playing cards. Each player has a hand limit and in general will draw one and play one each turn. Most cards allow a player to move pieces in a stated area of the map, the left, right or centre. The pieces in that area can then ‘battle’ or roll dice to try to destroy nearby enemy pieces. Some of the cards have special effects such as bringing on new pieces or allowing different move combinations, for example moving only tanks.

The players alternate playing cards, attempting to destroy enemy pieces or control specific board hexes. A lot of the play revolves around card management. If you have several right sector cards it can be worthwhile pushing on in the right, hoping that the other player does not have enough left (your right is their left) cards to counter this. The terrain pieces placed on the board make pieces harder to destroy so some plan of where to go and how to get there is advisable.

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