My wife and I are spending New Year’s Eve at home — not (just) due to the pandemic, but because we’re at that age when going to bed at a reasonable hour is far more enticing than staying up stupidly late. There will be lots of food, lots of booze, a cozy fire, and board games galore.
We used to play a lot of video games together, but video game producers seem to hate the idea of two people sitting on a couch in the same room and playing a game together, so we’ve gravitated toward board and card games because we enjoy the personal interactive quality of them — and we cannot wait until it’s safe enough to have a decent sized group of friends over for a proper game day!
But for now, we’ll have to content ourselves with our various two-player games, and as a public service, here are the games we’ve been playing heavily over the course of 2021.
The second edition of Arkham Horror was my gateway to modern board games. Sure, it was bloated, complicated, and had some wonky game mechanics, but I was instantly hooked and it’s still one of my favorites. I was admittedly unhappy that the third edition deviated so far from the game I knew and loved, but I’ve come to enjoy 3E for what it is. It’s a longer game, and more story-driven than its predecessor, but it’s cooperative and has a lot of replay value, especially as you add expansions.
Another of FFG’s Lovecraftian games, this one is a little faster paced, and the base game is challenging but not frustrating (you need to go to some of the expansions for that). I generally am not a big fan of heavily dice-based games, but this is one of our regular go-to games. For a longer experience, try playing this marathon style: keep going until your characters are devoured or until you defeat every ancient evil.
The Big Book of Madness (Iello Games)
I stumbled across this one at my comic book shop (That’s Entertainment in Worcester, MA) and it was a very happy discovery. Players take on the roles of students at a school for elemental magic, who are fighting to hold back monsters being unleashed by a book of evil magic. Players have to coordinate their spellcasting to defeat the monsters, avoid curses that drive them insane, and prepare for the final battle to decide who wins. Takes a game or two to get used to the mechanics and develop your strategy, but after you get into a groove, the game moves nicely.
Note: the Iello website is currently down for an overhaul, so look for this in stores.
We got this for Christmas and it became an instant favorite after one game. It’s a fantasy card game in which players develop adventuring parties to hunt and kill monsters, but the characters are all cute animals. Aside from being freaking adorable, the game is easy to set up, easy to learn, and you can get a few rounds into an hour. Nice, light, fun, and did I mention FREAKING ADORABLE?
Each game sets up a randomized board with different perks and pitfalls, and each hero has their own powers that influence game play as the X-Men try to defeat Magneto, Sabertooth, Mystique, and the Juggernaut. I took a chance and backed this on Kickstarter earlier this year. I’ve already received the base game, and am now awaiting the expansions I also backed, which stand to give the game a ton of replay value as it adds new heroes and villains galore. There’s also a main Marvel Universe version, which I plan to pick up.
I was already a huge fan of the original Horrified, which is based on the Universal Monster movies, but when I heard they were releasing a version using American cryptids, my response was something along the lines of “You son of a bitch. I’m in!” The base mechanics are the same, so if you know the original game you can jump right in to American Monsters (or vice-versa), but the particulars of defeating the monsters are different, so between that and the new theme, it’s a satisfying new experience.
Note: the company is currently not selling directly from its website in the interests of supporting its retail partners, so look for it in stores.