The Modern Board Game Starter Pack

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Hi! My name’s Demetri. I like board games a whole lot. Let’s talk about ‘em.

If you’ve been on the in­ter­net over the last few years you’ve prob­a­bly no­ticed that more and more peo­ple are talk­ing about card and board games. The table­top gam­ing scene has grown ex­po­nen­tial­ly and shows lit­tle sign of stop­ping, in large part be­cause there’s so much va­ri­ety that any­one can find a game they like. With the slow death of lo­cal mul­ti­play­er in AAA video gam­ing, board games have come back in a big way to fill that void for a lot of people.

I’ll be touch­ing on five dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent games and elab­o­rat­ing on what makes them so great. It’s my hope that at least one of these will pique your in­ter­est and get you to the ta­ble hav­ing a great time with your friends. I’m in­ten­tion­al­ly ex­clud­ing pop­u­lar “gate­way” games like Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride be­cause oth­er­wise this list would be the same as every oth­er. Let’s get started!


Star Realms is a 2 play­er deck­build­ing game where play­ers are the lead­ers of com­pet­ing in­ter­stel­lar em­pires. This game comes from a pair of de­sign­ers: Darwin Castle and Rob Dougherty. These guys hap­pen to be Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famers and it shows, be­cause much like Magic it man­ages to keep the rules light and the game­play fierce.

Star Realms starts each play­er off with an iden­ti­cal, weak deck of cards. You’ll use your cards to pur­chase bet­ter ships and bases from the trade row, shoot your op­po­nents, and chain all sorts of ef­fects. Almost every card has com­bo po­ten­tial with oth­er cards from its own fac­tion, but you’ll rarely be able to stick to only one fac­tion as the trade row con­stant­ly changes. Your deck will evolve with every pur­chase, as will your over­all strat­e­gy. This keeps every­one on their toes. It’s a game that re­wards fa­mil­iar­i­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty. There are even high lev­el tour­na­ments and strat­e­gy ar­ti­cles writ­ten for this game. It re­al­ly is that deep.

You would be hard pressed to find a bet­ter use of 10 min­utes than play­ing an en­tire game of Star Realms on your phone (avail­able on Android and iOS). Ironically for a board game starter pack, I ac­tu­al­ly rec­om­mend you do that in­stead of pick­ing up the phys­i­cal game be­cause it plays light­ning fast and you can take it on­line! Whether you play it on Steam, mo­bile, or wher­ev­er else, you’ll have a blast with this one.


If you’re in the mood for some­thing a bit less con­fronta­tion­al and a bit more cere­bral, try your hand at Brew Crafters! It’s a clever en­gine build­ing game where every­one builds their own brew­eries. The play­er with the most rep­u­ta­tion points af­ter 3 in-game years wins. No, not the rich­est, only the fan­ci­est. You’re craft brew­ery own­ers, not beer moguls. 

Each year is made up of the 4 sea­sons, and each sea­son you get to do a cou­ple of things. First every­one scram­bles for the lo­cal mar­ket to snatch up all the in­gre­di­ents they can and hire work­ers. Then every­one gets to make im­prove­ments to their brew­ery OR make beer, but not both, un­til you hire enough em­ploy­ees to get mul­ti­ple things done at once. There’s only a to­tal of 12 rounds in the game, so every ac­tion is huge­ly impactful.

But the most ex­cit­ing part of Brew Crafters is build­ing your very own hip­ster brew­ery. There are a TON of op­tions and they’re all equal­ly en­tic­ing. You can build a farm and sup­ply most of your own in­gre­di­ents, laugh­ing at the oth­er play­ers as they strug­gle to find what they need in the mar­ket. You can build a tast­ing room and make a wide va­ri­ety of beers for heaps of rep­u­ta­tion. You can build a dou­ble pro­duc­tion line and just churn out so much beer that you can buy your way to vic­to­ry. And that only scratch­es the sur­face! There’s a huge va­ri­ety of ways to win at Brew Crafters and they’re all valid, but what makes this game tru­ly spe­cial is how re­ward­ing it is to build some­thing that you’ve de­signed from the ground up. By the end of the game you’ll have made some­thing that, for bet­ter or for worse, is unique­ly yours. Hopefully you don’t end up mired in debt in the process.


If you’re more team-oriented then I’d high­ly rec­om­mend 5 Minute Dungeon. This game’s a bit of an odd duck — it’s a real-time co­op­er­a­tive card game that lit­er­al­ly has a 5 minute timer. You and your par­ty are ei­ther go­ing to tear ass through the dun­geon in 5 min­utes or die trying.

The game­play is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple. After every­one se­lects their unique class and takes their spe­cial­ized deck, you start the timer (ide­al­ly with the free app that plays mu­sic and has nar­ra­tors!) and flip over the first card of the dun­geon. Whether it’s a mon­ster, ob­sta­cle, or just some guy, you de­feat the tri­al by play­ing match­ing sym­bols to the card. Once your team meets all the re­quire­ments you shove all the cards out of the way and flop a new prob­lem to solve. You do this un­til you man­age to fin­ish off the boss at the end of the dun­geon, at which point you start a new tougher dun­geon with a new nas­ti­er boss and a fresh 5 min­utes. If you suc­ceed at de­feat­ing the Dungeon Master at the end of the 5th dun­geon you win! You lose if you didn’t man­age to clear a dun­geon in time. Usually it’ll be the latter.

The af­ter­math af­ter a re­cent game

That’s se­ri­ous­ly it! The rules of this game are dead sim­ple and it’s bet­ter off for it. Every class has spe­cial pow­ers and things they’re bet­ter or worse at than the oth­ers, but it still comes down to every­one pitch­ing cards at prob­lems un­til they go away. After every dun­geon you’ll have a gi­ant pile of dis­cards and smiles all around. I haven’t played an­oth­er board game that ends in as much cheer­ing and high fiv­ing as 5 Minute Dungeon. It’s def­i­nite­ly worth your time.


If you have a par­tic­u­lar­ly large group snag a copy of Bang! The Dice Game and get ready to nev­er trust your friends again. Everyone will play a char­ac­ter in a wild west shootout with a ran­dom­ly as­signed se­cret role. The sher­iff is the only role that’s not se­cret, but they get a health boost to com­pen­sate. The out­laws win by killing the sher­iff. The sher­iff and his deputies win by killing the out­laws and the rene­gade with­out los­ing the sher­iff. The rene­gade hates every­one and wants to be the last one stand­ing. Then there’s one fi­nal wrin­kle: no­body knows which play­ers are re­al­ly their team­mates, be­cause there’s no way to re­veal someone’s role un­til they’re dead.

This im­me­di­ate­ly sows dis­trust among the en­tire ta­ble. What in­ten­si­fies it are the tit­u­lar dice, be­cause dice have a habit of not do­ing what you want. Your ac­tions for the turn are de­ter­mined by yahtzee style rolls and rerolls of the dice. You can shoot, but only at set dis­tances. You can heal by drink­ing beer, but you could also hand said beers to an­oth­er play­er, as­sum­ing you trust them. You can make a break for the town’s gatling gun and just rain hell on the en­tire ta­ble, team­mates be damned. Arrows that get rolled will get dis­trib­uted among the play­ers, and when the stack runs out the na­tives will at­tack in the mid­dle of your shootout. Last, but cer­tain­ly not least, dy­na­mite can end your en­tire turn pre­ma­ture­ly if you’re not care­ful with it (or if you’re just plain unlucky). 

Bang! The Dice Game is a chaot­ic game, but it’s one the en­tire ta­ble is al­ways en­gaged in. Even when it’s not your turn, you’ll be talk­ing to the oth­er play­ers, try­ing to suss out who’s who, and col­lud­ing with each oth­er against sus­pect­ed en­e­mies. Clutch die rolls will get your whole group stand­ing up and cheer­ing. You’ll try to per­suade the sher­iff that you’re one of his trust­ed deputies only to shoot him in the back and re­veal your­self as the rene­gade, and the en­tire ta­ble will laugh about it. If you’re look­ing for a game that makes your friends the real star of the show, give this one a shot.


The head­er for the last game on this list may not sound fun, but hear me out on this one.

Chinatown sets its play­ers in 1960s New York, try­ing to build the most suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es in the cramped con­di­tions and make more mon­ey than any­one else af­ter  in-game years. At the start of each year you gain some lots to build on, some busi­ness­es to build, and six most like­ly no way to put those two to­geth­er. You need to build your busi­ness­es ad­ja­cent to each oth­er to make the most cash, but there’s al­most no way you’ll be lucky enough to snag the deed to an en­tire block.

That’s where your friends come in, be­cause Chinatown is a game of ne­go­ti­a­tion. Anything and every­thing in Chinatown can be trad­ed. Money, land, busi­ness­es, in any com­bi­na­tion and quan­ti­ty. As long all play­ers in the trade agree on the terms then you can do it. This free­dom is large­ly ab­sent from most games and it makes play­ing Chinatown an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. You aren’t just com­pet­ing against your friends, you’re com­pet­ing WITH them. There are no shared vic­to­ries in Chinatown and you’ll need to make shrewd deals to stay ahead, but you can’t af­ford to be a to­tal tool­bag or you’ll get shut out. Everybody has to stay friend­ly with each oth­er, even if they would rather burn the block down than let their neighbor’s laun­dro­mat get any big­ger. It’s not un­com­mon that the win­ner is the play­er that ap­peared to be the most gen­er­ous, mak­ing easy deals with every­body as they squab­bled among themselves.

I can’t think of an­oth­er game that elic­its the kind of fun that Chinatown does. Winning feels earned (as it should be), but every­one will have had a great time wheel­ing and deal­ing to get ex­act­ly what they need­ed. You’ll feel like a ge­nius when you land a deal that dra­mat­i­cal­ly fa­vored you. You’ll feel the pinch when the own­er of the con­nect­ing lot you NEED asks for an ex­tra 20K on top of your orig­i­nal of­fer. It’s an ab­solute joy to play and my fa­vorite game of all time.

I hope at least one of these games caught your eye! If you’ve played them or have oth­er fa­vorites that you think are worth talk­ing about, ping me on Twitter and we’ll chat.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.

Demetri Ballas

Demetri has an un­healthy ob­ses­sion with cards and num­bers. He gripes be­cause he cares. He’s @Vysetron on Twitter (most­ly memes) and Instragram (most­ly games).

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