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How to Shop for Board Games Like A Smart Person

Updated on October 18, 2014

The Differences

There are some differences when shopping for board games as opposed to other kinds of entertainment. Movies, music and everything else are very much in the mainstream. While the popularity of board games has risen since 2006, I still wouldn't call them popular compared to the more marketable video games.

The fact is that people buy board games for different reasons. They're for playing with your friends or family. In person. Board and card games are mostly popular among families, schools and churches. This list is for the people who might just be getting into (or returning to) the hobby.

Games can be as simple (or complicated) as you want.
Games can be as simple (or complicated) as you want. | Source

Keep This In Mind

Unlike video games, it's much harder to accidentally buy an "M" rated game. Because the action will take place mostly in your imagination or through illustrations on game elements. You typically won't find terribly offensive stuff in board games. Sure, you'll find the occasional topless sphinx or gore-splattered zombie. Compared to a chainsaw execution in Gears of War, it's pretty tame stuff. Here come the bulleted lists!

  • Make sure the gift recipient is actually interested in playing a board or card game. If you know their household isn't conducive to that kind of game, don't waste your money. Just because you like something doesn't mean that everyone will.
  • When buying a game as a gift, you have to understand that it's not usually the theme, but the complexity of the game that will make it appropriate or inappropriate for the recipient. Unless the six-year-old is a genius, it's not a good idea to buy them Puerto Rico or other similarly gameplay-dense games.
  • Conversely, if you're buying a game for an older child of ten or fifteen, don't assume they're still going to enjoy playing Candy Land. These days there are much, much better games that are easily understood by a child of that age. Don't insult their intelligence with a child's game.
  • Party games are much more open in terms of the audience. If you want everyone to have a good time, get something that everyone can enjoy with a minimal learning curve.

You didn't think you'd get through an article about board games without seeing Settlers of Catan, did you?
You didn't think you'd get through an article about board games without seeing Settlers of Catan, did you? | Source

Where to Look

While most people know where to look for news on video games, movies and music, it's much less common to know where to find that kind of information for board games. My friends asked me, "where do you keep learning about these games?" My answer was, "uh, all over the place."

As far as I've found, it takes some effort to pull together a list of games that are worth playing. Yes, you can find news and articles about board games with enough Google-fu, but how do you find the good stuff?

  • Get used to ugly websites. Most websites that host board game content were designed in the early 2000s and have awful, cluttered layouts. This doesn't mean the content is in any way bad; it means that it was created by an enthusiastic unpaid amateur.
  • Start with the popular stuff and branch out. Take a look at a few top 100 lists and see if you can find something you like.
  • Research the things that look good. Type the game into YouTube and watch someone review or explain it. Read what people are saying about it on the Board Game Geek forums. Amazon is an indispensable resource for candid reviews of games (assuming someone has reviewed it). This kind of research can keep you from wasting money.
  • Optional step: If you're really interested, there are several podcasts you can listen to that will cover a great deal of content in terms of games and news. You can put these on while you drive to work if you don't have the time to research when you're at home. I recommend the Dice Tower Podcast, but you can find loads more on iTunes.
  • Ignore any and all awards given to games unless they're the Spiel Des Jahres (pronounced Shpeel Dess Yariss), which is a carefully-picked list of very good games every year. Ignore all American awards. Trust only the German ones.
  • Know your group. Only you can assess and judge which games will be played by your group of friends and family. It can be tempting to buy something like Rex in hopes of your wife playing it. Be realistic. It will save you money and sorrow.


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    • Khal Blogo profile image

      Khal Blogo 5 years ago from A gas station on the yellow brick road

      I don't really play board games, i just wanna buy one for a friend. That Mansions of Madness one looks great, think i'm gonna get that one. Thanks.

    • William157 profile image

      William157 5 years ago from Southern California

      I don't know if they are any Lovecraftian board games that AREN'T Cthulu, because it's a very popular universe.

      The second-biggest one (I think) is Arkham Horror, which is considered large and unwieldy by some people. It's $65 and has more randomness than I care for. You can see a slightly silly (but no less informative review here:

      A smaller, cheaper ($35) version of this game is Elder Sign, which is like Cthulu-themed Yahtzee. If you get the physical game, it's considered easy(ish) to beat. If you get the iOS port Elder Sign: Omens, it's very, very hard to win. It's also only $4 on the App Store, which is a much friendlier entry.

      Finally, Mansions of Madness is a colossal $80 behemoth that pits players against a game master. The GM tries to kill them while they investigate a vast, randomly-generated mansion. Players find clues and fight monsters. It all seems pretty cool, but I don't know much about it.

      I hope this helped!

    • Khal Blogo profile image

      Khal Blogo 5 years ago from A gas station on the yellow brick road

      I know this is a little off-topic, but can you recommend me some good Lovecraft- based board games?(not necessarily in the Cthulhu mythos) Good hub, voted up and interesting.

    • profile image

      Carda 5 years ago

      Incidentally, "Spiel Des Jahres" is literally the German translation for "Game of the Year". #TheMoreYouKnow