{That would be the year 2016, not the number of board games I’m about to recommend, although sometimes it does feel like we have thousands of board games at our house! Also, this post was co-written by my friend and fellow board game enthusiast, Renée Harris. Welcome back to the blog, Renée!}

Last year, I compiled a list of some of my family’s favorite board games for Christmas shoppers looking to buy the perfect game for their family. If you missed that post, I encourage you to go back and check it out as well as this one by my friend Renée, which has an incredible list of games sorted by weight (roughly equating to easy, competitive, and challenging).

Since that post last year, our family has added many more games to our library, and those new additions are the subject of this year’s post. Since the vast majority of our games are themed, I’m going to organize them that way this year. If a certain theme doesn’t appeal to you at all, just skip on ahead—maybe something in this list will! I decided not to include number of players, ages, or game length in this review but you can easily find that information in their Amazon listings {aff link}.

Farming

Uwe Rosenberg is one of our favorite game designers. Creator of Agricola, Rosenberg’s riffs on the same basic farm theme means that several of our favorite games have that theme in common.

Each of the 2 players utilizes 4 family members over the course of a season.

Each of the 2 players utilizes 4 family members over the course of a season.

In Fields of Arle, players are farmers living in a small German village in the 18th century. Over a period of 7 years—played out in two seasons per year—each of the 2 players chooses among several seasonal-based tasks to develop their farm and trade the resources it produces, loading up wagons with crops and manufactured goods in an effort to earn money to buy more land and buildings.

Since Arle is only built for 2 players, it’s a game that has somewhat limited play-ability. On the other hand, the sheer number of options for placing your workers each season makes it such that you can try an almost infinite number of strategies in your quest to build the most successful farm. While the multitude of options can sometimes invoke a serious case of analysis paralysis, it’s actually a game that feels quite relaxed since it’s rare that your opponent is able to completely block you from doing what you set out to do.

Another Rosenberg game with similar mechanics but a completely different theme and feel is Caverna: The Cave Farmers.

This is a Level 8 dwarf who will bring home loot each time he goes on an expedition. His pig lives with him in his cave and he's growing some wheat in his field!

This is a Level 8 dwarf who will bring home loot each time he goes on an expedition. His pig lives with him in his cave and he’s growing some wheat in his field!

In this game, players assume the personas of two dwarfs who live in a blasted-out cave where they’ve begun to create a home and farm. Players must choose to further develop the cave—which can either be furnished or mined—or slash and burn the adjacent forest and develop pastures and farms. As you expand your family beyond your original two dwarfs, you can send some of them off to farm, arm them for adventurous expeditions, or further mine your cave in search of ore and rubies. Caves can be furnished any number of ways: you can create space inside your cave for your favorite farm animals, for vegetables and grain, or for building materials or weapons. Similarly, once trees are felled in the forest, you can plow fields, plant crops, or build fences to house your pigs, cows, horses, sheep, or donkeys. Similar to Agricola, players must quickly figure out a way to feed their dwarfs if they want to emerge as the most sophisticated cave dweller at the end of the game. There are innumerable paths to victory, though, and a huge part of the fun of this game is trying out various ways to get there.

Winemaking

But maybe dwarfs aren’t your thing. Not to worry! Instead of an imaginary forest where pigs burrow down next to your dwarfy self in your tunneled out cave home, imagine that you are the owner of your very own Tuscan vineyard!

In Viticulture, each player’s goal is to develop the most successful vineyard and winery over the course of several years, played out in two seasons each (four if you also invest in the Tuscany expansion). Players start out by having to build certain structures that will allow them to plant their first grapes. After their grapes are planted, they then begin to slowly build up their vineyard by harvesting the grapes, making wine, and filling orders. Sometimes land must be sold to generate money in the short term, but players can buy back their land later and further develop various properties that will give them advantages. As you play through the seasons, different people will come alongside to assist you and you will have the opportunity to recruit and train more and more workers.

This worker has plowed a field and now has grapes on his crush pad, which will eventually be made into bottles of wine that he can sell for victory points.

This worker has plowed a field and now has grapes on his crush pad, which will eventually be made into bottles of wine that he can sell for victory points.

We recently purchased Tuscany for Viticulture and highly recommend it. The revised game board takes the basic Viticulture game play and extends it to 4 seasons instead of just two. It also adds the ability to build additional structures outside of the ones in the basic game as well as recruit workers who have special skills. {Please note that you must own Viticulture in order to play the Tuscany expansion.}

Exploring

Maybe sitting around the hearth at the end of a long’s days work on the vineyard or farm isn’t your thing. Maybe you have an itch to travel and explore new lands. You’re in luck! There are many games centering around the theme of exploration, and they are ready to carry you off for some grand adventure!

In Francis Drake, players take on the role of this mighty sea captain as they participate in his three ocean voyages. Before setting sail, players travel through Plymouth Harbor, collecting provisions, crew, guns, and special abilities. The number of provisions you collect will determine how far out the board you can set sail. And you better have enticed enough men to join your crew and equipped your ship with plenty of canons: you’ll be attacking towns, forts, and ships all along the Caribbean as you collect victory points and loot, and you can’t do this without crew and ammunition.

Francis Drake | Board games at Antiquated Notions

Return to a bustling Plymouth Harbor in 1572 as an aspiring Elizabethan captain making preparations for three exciting voyages to the Spanish Main in search of fame and fortune!

Francis Drake’s hidden gem of a game mechanic is the realization that you are heading into these battles pretty much blindfolded. Every player has disks numbered 1-4 that they will place on the board, facedown, in front of locations they intend to battle. Enter the thrilling bluffing phase of Drake! There are many paths to victory in this game, and all are fascinating and fun. Win or lose, Francis Drake is sure to thrill the heart of any Eurogamer looking for some swashbuckling thrills, covert bluffing, and seafaring adventure.

112216_amerigo2Maybe you’re not in a mood for plundering treasure on the high seas. Maybe you want to explore new lands, establish posts, and build lasting colonies on your newly discovered territory. If so, then Amerigo may be just the game for you. Amerigo consists of five rounds of seven different actions, and this game comes with one super cool feature: a cube tower! Falling from this fantastic device, different colored cubes, representing different action options, will dictate what opportunities a player has before them on their turn. After “seeding the tower” the first time, players will drop cubes in the tower at the beginning of each phase, and the colors and numbers that come out of the tower will become your options for that round. And this is not easy, because there is so much to do in Amerigo! The faster you build and complete islands, the more points you will earn. The game is large and lovely, and you will originally feel like you can never fill all the islands. By game’s end, thanks to exploring and planning, this board full of islands will be complete with everyone’s beautiful establishments. You will then feel as if you have participated in a story of exploration, planning, development, and growth. Just like Amerigo Vespucci.

Painting & Crafting

Fresco is a visual feast for any art aficionado. The centerpiece of the game board is an intricately detailed ceiling painting reminiscent of Michelangelo. As players take turns restoring the painted ceiling as well as the cathedral’s frescoes, they will utilize their workers in a variety of tasks in order to complete the restoration and gain the Bishop’s favor. For more details and lots of photos of this gorgeous game, please read Renee’s complete review.

Fresco | Board games at Antiquated Notions

Mix your paints in secret as you plan a strategy for your workers to maximize their productivity.


Glass Road is another Uwe Rosenberg game, this one set in the glass-making forests of Bavaria. Each player has the same set of worker cards that allow him to run his glassmaking business, although the successful player will be the one who is able to juggle multiple strategies: do you choose to build a structure that will streamline your business or do you focus on resource gathering and management (trees, pits, ponds)? When resources are produced, their value increases on the rondel but be careful: if you spend the resource on the zero value, the pointer moves and you may find that you have less manufactured goods than you’d planned! If you’ve played other Uwe Rosenberg games and have wished for a shorter one, this is the game for you. The rounds move fairly quickly compared to the designer’s other games so coming up with a strategy from the outset is even more important.

Glass Road | Antiquated Notions

Mastering the balance of knowing the best specialist card to play and being flexible about when you play it is the key to this game.

Patchwork is a beautifully simple game that utilizes Tetris-like shapes as players construct quilts. The concept is simple: construct a quilt by piecing together fabric that will give you the greatest income while fitting together so that the greatest number of open squares are covered up. Although there’s a significant luck factor—only certain quilt pieces are available to you to purchase during any given turn—there’s plenty of strategy involved as you choose how to “sew” your quilt together. This is a lovely game for two that’s also extremely portable.

Patchwork | Antiquated Notions

The next time this player passes a button on the gameboard, she will receive an income of 5 buttons. Buttons are the currency for purchasing more quilt pieces.

Empire Building

Although I’m calling this category “Empire” building, it also includes cities, kingdoms, and even monasteries. The common denominator with most of these building games is that each player begins with an identical set of resources. Watching different players explore and exploit various strategies is a fun part of this type of game!

First up is Concordia, which is set during ancient Roman times. Each player starts with a traveler and a sailor who set off from Rome in search of goods to sell so they can settle the surrounding lands and expand the Roman empire. If you play this game with 4 or 5 players, you’ll immediately see that it requires a chess-like mindset in terms of patience and strategy. There are expansions you can buy that use different game boards, providing a similar game playing experience but in different locales: Brittania and Germania.

Concordia | Antiquated Notions

Every player starts with the exact same deck of cards, each one representing a different character with special abilities.

Ora & Labora is Latin for “Pray and Work” and hearkens to the ancient tradition of the Rule of St. Benedict. Similarly, each player in this game is head of a medieval monastery and works to acquire land and construct buildings with the goal of manufacturing the most valuable prestige items: church books, relics, ceramics, and ornaments. Another Uwe Rosenberg creation, this game also utilizes a rondel, which causes the value of certain resources to increase with each player’s turn. Players expand their monastery by purchasing swaths of land near various types of terrain (from oceans to mountains), developing it by clearing trees and moors and constructing new buildings. The unique game boards allow the game to be set in either France or Ireland, with a focus on wine or whiskey production, respectively.

Ora Et Labora | Antiquated Notions

The winner is the player with the most valuable diocese at the end of the game.

Renee and I gave away a copy of Orleans earlier this year, but it’s another empire-building game set during medieval times. In this game, players draw their resources from a bag so there’s a huge luck component that keeps things interesting. Each token in their bag represents a worker: scholars help you along a scoring track, monks are wild cards (a benefit of devoting their lives to prayer?), knights expand your stable of workers (thereby giving you more options for moves), sailors earn you money, and farmers earn you food. As you combine the benefits of your workers each turn, you are able to explore by land or sea, purchase buildings, and build settlements, ultimately achieving dominance through the production of goods and contributing to the common good. Huzzah!

Orleans | Antiquated Notions

In medieval Orleans, you will gather followers, establish trade stations, and collect goods and money to gain supremacy.

Kingdom Builder is our most recent game purchase. If you are a fan of Settlers of Catan, I’m guessing you will like this game. You start by randomly choosing 4 playing areas that fit together into a large rectangle. This is where your kingdoms will be built. With super simple mechanics, it takes just minutes to explain the game; unlike other games of its type, it plays well under an hour (more like 30 minutes for a 2-player game). Draw a terrain card, then build 3 settlements on that type of terrain. Sound simple, right? It is, as long as you don’t forget a few key rules that change with each game depending on which Kingdom Builder cards are drawn. This very clever game was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, perhaps best known for his Dominion series of games.

Kingdom Builder | Antiquated Notions

I immediately took a liking to this game because it was easy to learn, quick to play, and has a lot of variability.

Le Havre (literally “the Harbor” ) is set in the town of Le Havre, a port city in France. Players gather various resources, buy/construct buildings, all the while feeding their people as they compete for the largest fortune by game’s end. All resources can be converted during the game—fish becomes smoked fish, clay becomes brick, wood becomes charcoal—for greater victory points and you can also purchase a fleet of ships for shipping your raw and manufactured goods. As with Agricola, another Rosenberg game, Le Havre features many different types of buildings that you can purchase to aid you in your strategy.

Le Havre | Antiquated Notions

Manage a harbor, build ships and construct buildings in your bid to become the merchant with the largest fortune and the most power in Le Havre.

Machi Koro  was a game I discovered after the Orleans giveaway after asking readers for their favorite game recommendations. Instead of building an empire, each player is tasked with building Machi Koro into the largest city in the region. Using 1, 2, or 3 dice, players must roll to see how much money they earn from various buildings and developments, weighing the benefits of purchasing more buildings to earn more money or saving to buy larger, more expensive public works later in the game. In many ways this game is unlike almost every other one I’ve written about in this blog post because it’s very lightweight and almost 100% luck because of the dice rolls. However, it’s a solid choice for families who are new to gaming or who prefer more lighthearted play. Warning: it takes up a lot of room when you play it, but is extremely portable otherwise.

Machi Koro | Antiquated Notions

On his turn, each player rolls one or two dice. If the sum of the dice rolled matches the number of a building that a player owns, he gets the effect of that building; in some cases opponents will also benefit from your die (just as you can benefit from theirs).

If any of these games look interesting to you, you may want to check out more detailed reviews and gameplay videos at some of the following sites. These are our go-to sources when we’re looking into a new game:

  • Rahdo Runs Through (YouTube channel) A video series devoted to demonstrating what it *feels* like to play the latest and greatest board games
  • Shut Up & Sit Down (website) reviews, videos, podcasts and written features about board games, tabletop and card games
  • Tabletop (YouTube channel) In this hit show, geek icon Wil Wheaton and a slew of celebrity guests gather to play their favorite board games
  • Gaming Rules! (YouTube channel) Instructional videos teaching you how to play most Euro-style board games
  • Watch it Played (YouTube channel) We’ll teach the rules to table top games and then you can play them with us, to determine which ones would be a good fit for you
  • Dice Tower (YouTube channel) Videos from the Dice Tower podcast, reviews of games, top 100 list, and more

Finally, Board Game Geek is THE definitive site for all things board game-related. Their forums are a great place to discover new strategies to try out on your friends! 😉

Happy gaming, everybody!

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