I’m not nearly as much of a board game fan as I am of role-playing games, but since the holidays we’ve been playing two fun games: we were introduced to Mice and Mystics by our friend Paul, and to Race for the Galaxy by Erik.
Mice and Mystics: Sorrow and Remembrance (Plaid Hat Games) is a scenario-based cooperative board game which came out in 2012, with expansions downloadable from the publisher’s site that include an additional scenario for 99 cents, a deck of additional items and events, and an MP3 format recording of the “story moments” to be read during the game. The rules are available for download as a free PDF and there are useful video tutorials as well as rules FAQ.
This game makes a nice bridge between board game and role-playing games for newcomers; the premise is that a handful of retainers loyal to the king who have been turned into mice must race across the castle to save the kingdom from an evil magician’s plans. The game includes modular board tiles, plastic miniatures representing both player characters and adversaries, counters, equipment cards, event cards, special dice, etc., as well as a booklet of linked scenarios.
A scenario plays in 2 to 3 hours for beginners, and should be a lot faster for experienced players. Players should realise very quickly that the only way to reliably beat the scenarios is to work together in close cooperation, sharing resources (cheese) and items as will most benefit the entire group. The encounters are well-balanced to preserve suspense.
Mice characters can advance and gain additional abilities as they progress through the scenarios. The players have tactical options in choosing their moves and actions, and in selecting characters, powers and equipment for a given scenario. This, combined with a number of random encounters and optional plots, seems to provide good replay value.
Race for the Galaxy (Rio Grande Games) is a non-collectible card game published in 2007, with four expansion sets released so far. It pits 2 to 4 players against each other to explore new worlds, annex them, harvest resources, and trade, and accumulate victory points.
The charm of the game is that it balances skill and luck in rapid-play games; if you end up trailing through the entire game, your misery is short and you can get your chance to do better in the next round.
A very cool thing is that the rules are available online as a free PDF, and even better, a computer “practice” version playable on Windows, Mac or Linux is available free as well (here is the PPA for Ubuntu users). I find it difficult to play only against the computer because I don’t get to see in detail how all the cards play out, but it’s good practice to get ready for that rematch with your friends. There is also a useful FAQ available for download from BoardGameGeek.