The Better Versions of Board Games That Nobody Plays
I doubt I’m the only one who sees how quarantine has greatly impacted the way that we live our lives everyday. Many of us, for example, have taken up new hobbies, such as planting a victory garden, falling into a new artistic passion, or getting more exercise with the time once taken by our long commutes to and from school. For me, however, one new, special hobby has emerged: board games. Through this article, I would like to present my three favorite board games, which I feel are all underrepresented in American collections, primarily due to competition.
Scrabble is a game that I’m sure is at least familiar to most of us. If you own it like I and at least one-third of Americans do, I’m guessing that, like me, it’s the game you have tucked all the way in the back of your cabinet, waiting until the night your aunts and uncles come over wanting to do some good ol’ family bonding activities. After lugging the heavy Scrabble box into the living room, re-reading the rules, distributing the tiles, and preparing the scorecard, your two-hour-long war of attrition for fun engagement begins. As you fall into a deep state of boredom, you find the following two options: do you and your relatives spend the rest of the night pretending to pay attention to Scrabble, or do you take out Bananagrams, the fast-paced anagram game that will drive you bananas? Like an angel descending from the clouds, Bananagrams is here to resurrect the vitality of the family get-together! The game was designed in Rhode Island in the early 2000’s by Abe Nathanson, an artist, businessman, and, most importantly, a grandfather, who desired a new family word game with unmatched speed and fluidity. Like Scrabble, Bananagrams features a pile of letter tiles players draw from, but instead of taking turns around a shared 15x15 board, each player creates their own crossword and can go at their own pace. The goal of the game is to combine all of your tiles into words until there are no tiles left in the pile. With options such as sending a letter tile you don’t like back into the pile and taking three more out, known as “dumping,” this game can be a fast and fun time-killer when you have family or friends over. What’s nice about Bananagrams is that you can rearrange your tiles whenever you want, so the game tilts more towards speed rather than strategy. Still, like Scrabble, this game will reward players who are flexible and creative with the letters they are given. You can also practice by yourself. A bonus feature is the cute banana pouch that the game comes in, which easily fits into your backpack or pocket for when you leave home.
Foosball is the game that everybody knows how to play: it’s just the tabletop version of soccer. Although nothing can beat classic foosball, I recently found a twist on the old formula while visiting Yosemite National Park: Chexx, a Foosball spinoff created in 1982 by Innovative Concepts in Entertainment (ICE). Chexx has players control hockey figures by turning knobs, with the same objective of hitting the plastic puck into the opponent’s goal. What is “innovative” about Chexx, however, is that rather than having groups of figures only swing up and down while moving laterally like in Foosball, players can move their figures back and forth in individual tracks or turn them around in a circle to swing. In addition, the makers of Chexx ensured that you would never have a dead puck, or a puck that no player can reach. The choice to add a plexiglass bubble not only avoids unintended interference, but it also encourages players to flick the puck as quickly as they want without repercussions. Chexx players, even if they are newcomers, are also encouraged to play strategically, while Foosball players, I feel, often decide to resort to blindly flicking the ball as quickly as they can. For example, Chexx-ers have a greater ability to pass the puck from figure to figure before shooting. However, the opposing player can still use the sticks of their figures to block shots and gain possession, albeit with some blind spots, which pushes players to be as precise as possible with their passes. Don’t get me wrong: the worlds of Professional Foosball and high-level Chexx have common strategies that are out of my league, but the games still have lots of fun in store for the first-timer.
Connect 4 was my go-to rainy-day board game in elementary school. However, for board game enthusiasts at College Prep looking for a more complex and difficult “line-up” game, allow me to introduce my favorite board game, Gomoku. A game over 4000 years old, Gomoku was created in Ancient China and brought to Japan around 270 BCE, where its popularity reached its peak from the 17th to 19th centuries. Played with black and white tiles on a 15x15 or 19x19 board, the aim of the game is to connect not four, but five tiles in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. To me, Gomoku is more fun than Connect 4 because of the possibility of having vertical spaces between pieces and the larger dimensions of the board; both of which foster more complex situations. Every couple of years, The Gomoku World Championship holds solo and team tournaments with most players coming from Eastern European countries, such as Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, and Hungary, and Russia, as well as Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Japan.
It is unfortunate that these games are not as popular or available to as many people as their counterparts. Since we are still in quarantine, I wish that game companies or independent coders would take the time to create online multiplayer versions of these games, or at least demos, even if payment is necessary. An online version of Chexx probably wouldn’t work, but an official Bananagrams Online, or a polished, definitive Gomoku Online would do well to help keep up social bonding. I don’t think many board game developers realize what an opportunity this is, when everybody is online, to find playtesters and spread the word about their products. If they did, I think people would be moved enough to buy physical copies once stay-at-home is over. After all, who could refuse to play these awesome games?