Back Burner Top Tens: Top 10 (+1) Games for New Gamers

When you write in a blog as often as I do (read: maybe 6 times a year), you have a tendency come up with some AMAZING blog entry ideas that never come to fruition. Recently, I've been having more and more opportunities to share my love of board games with friends of mine, and I've begun to discover which games are better for those non-gamers and new gamers in my life. I thought this would make a great entry.

When compiling this list, I thought of what made the experience of playing fun for me, as well as fun for the other people at the table. Was I experiencing the same kind of game as them? Were they catching on as quickly as I thought, or did I seem to be running away with a victory because I was more familiar with how the game works? In the end, I decided to include games on this list that met the following criteria:

- I must be able to teach the basics of the game in about 10 minutes or less.
- The themes and mechanics in the game must be easily grasped.
- I should try to win as best I can during play, yet still feel like my opponents have a chance to win.
- At least one person at the table must have said that they enjoyed the game and would like to play it again.

Given all that, I've come up with ten (plus one) choices for games to welcome new gamers into the board game hobby. Here they are, in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. The Resistance
Published by Indie Boards & Cards
5 to 10 players
Playing time - 30 min.

This social deduction game is perfect for small parties, as it plays between 5 and 10 people. The object is simple -- in a future dystopian society, a band of resistance fighters are being sent to go on missions in order to take down the big bad government. But the government has dropped spies into your midst, and they could sabotage your efforts. Players vote on teams to go on missions, then each player on the mission plays a "Succeed" or "Fail" card. Any single "Fail" card causes the mission to fail and gives the spies a win. The team that wins 3 missions wins the game.

When the game first starts, the Spies will all know who the other Spies are, but the Resistance members will not know who anybody is. At its core, this game isn't just about social deduction, it's about bluffing and how well you can lie to the people around you. The Resistance was the first modern board game I ever purchased, and its simplicity translates to any table with people who are interested in sharing a game together. I've played this with plenty of people who have never played any modern board games at all, and many of them really enjoyed it. Then again, there's my mom, whose response was, "I like Farkle." But we won't count her.

The Resistance is a great party game that won't leave you wondering when it will be over, and you'll find out who you can really trust in the process. A perfect starting point when you want to usher in several people at once into the wonderful world of modern board gaming.


2. Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension
Published by Renegade Game Studios
2 to 4 players
Playing time - 30 min.

A simple example of a programming game where you and your competitors are fighting to escape a gravity well singularity in the middle of space. Instead of the simple forward/backward moves, you use the gravity of the ships surrounding you to propel your ship in one direction or another.

The concept of movement is interesting, and one that some people might have to wrap their heads around, because a card that might propel you forward on one turn may send you in the opposite direction on the next. Each player drafts a set of 6 fuel cards with abbreviations of periodic elements on them (some completely made up). Each turn, everyone chooses a fuel card to play in secret. Then simultaneously, the cards are revealed, and movement occurs in alphabetical order, instead of clockwise or counterclockwise. And because your movement depends on which ships are closest to you, players have to mitigate the likelihood that they'll be moving before or after their opponents.

Gravwell is a Mensa Select Game winner, so you know it's one that encourages people to think outside of their normal patterns. Luckily, the game mechanics are so simple that winning makes you feel like a genius, and losing makes you feel like you could have done better. One game I played of Gravwell saw the lead changing hands so many times that the tension escalated with each passing turn, right through the final round. If you know how to alphabetize, and you keep in mind the movement rules, this game will give you tons of enjoyment.


3. Risk Star Wars Edition
Published by Hasbro
2 players (or 4 players)
Playing time - 60 min.

Risk is one of the most well-known staples of tabletop board gaming, bringing worldwide conquest to living rooms and parlors everywhere. Some people don't have the mind for global domination, though, and war games don't have the luster that some other games do (such as property acquisition, or popping a lot of trouble). Enter the Star Wars universe.

In 1991, Kenner, the toy company who owned the sole rights to the Star Wars product line of toys, was bought by Hasbro, who also owned the rights to the classic catalog of Parker Brothers games. Hasbro began creating higher end toys in the Star Wars line, and among one of their better offerings was Risk Star Wars Edition. Taking 2 opponents through the battles at the heart of the movie Return of the Jedi, this game pits one player as the Empire and one player as the Rebellion.

Using such a familiar property helps to mitigate the unfamiliar terrain that comes with global warfare. I may not know whether to move 2 groups or 4 from Germany to Lithuania, but I can figure out if I should move my TIE fighters or the Executor Star Destroyer in order to wipe out more of the Rebel fleet. Help the Rebels blow up the shield generator on Endor, help Darth Vader battle Luke in an epic lightsaber duel, and move your fleet across the space map to destroy or defend the Death Star.

Hasbro infused their Black Series of Star Wars products into the tabletop board game, so there's a deluxe-ified version of Risk Star Wars Edition, complete with upgraded cards, components, board artwork, and even miniatures for the most iconic pieces, the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star, and the Executor. It's a thing of beauty, and only helps bring a richer experience to a great version of a classic board game.


4. Tsuro
Published by Calliope Games
2 to 8 players
Playing time - 15 min.

By far, Tsuro is one of the prettiest games to look at, as well as one of the easiest games to teach, and to play. You choose a dragon, then take turns placing path tiles onto a grid board. Your goal is to have your dragon follow the path without falling off the board, while simultaneously trying to eliminate your opponents by causing them to go off the path, or to collide with other dragons. In a nutshell, that's it.

But what makes Tsuro so accessible is its ability to bring you in right from the very start and make you invest in what's happening. No two games are ever alike, and the fact that you can play with as many as 8 people makes for an engaging time around the table. Because the game has a finite number of tiles to be played, the game will last about the same length each time, no matter how many are playing.

This game makes you think, and with each path tile placed, it may also make you alter your plans a few times before it comes back to you. A game with player elimination normally leaves some people out, but with Tsuro, it's never for very long.


5. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Published by Renegade Game Studios
2 to 4 players
Playing time - 45 min.

What surprised me the most about Lanterns the first time I played it with my family was how much they enjoyed it, especially for having never played a game like it before.

Matching colors seems to be one of the easiest gateways for people to get into the board gaming hobby. This is one of the reasons Ticket To Ride has sold millions of its various iterations of the game, and why games like Uno are still so popular. Lanterns takes the premise of matching colors to new heights by creating lovely lanterns floating on a Japanese lake, then adding a set collecting mechanic to the fun of laying tiles. Because cards are handed out to each player every time a tile is placed, there's virtually no downtime in the game, so players aren't stuck waiting for very long before being able to plan or make decisions.

Collect sets of multi-colored cards, turn them in for points, and see who can collect the most by the end of the game. Great fun, and a very easy game to pick up, for people of pretty much every age.


6. Castle Panic
Published by Fireside Games
1 to 6 players
Playing time - 60 min.

If color matching and set collecting can help you earn points to win against your opponents, then surely it can help you when your fellow players are all working towards the same goal, right? Enter Castle Panic, a cooperative tower defense game that pits everyone on the same team, playing together against the game and its monsters.

Cooperative games are great for people who don't care for the swings of competition, the "take that" aspect of getting beat down by the people who are supposed to love them more than anything. Castle Panic helps scratch the itch of playing a game, but makes the competition against the game itself. Players try to keep a horde of monsters away from destroying the castle, even though the monsters advance and emerge on every single turn. Planning and strategy aren't overwhelming like they are in some heavier games, and players will experience the rush of vanquishing foes together instead of having to defend themselves from everyone else around the table.

Available for solo play, but also able to accommodate 6 players, and with a bevy of expansions and alternate versions to choose from (Dead Panic, Munchkin Panic, Star Trek Panic, and others), Castle Panic makes for a fun night around the table for all who like to work together to get things done.


7. Forbidden Island
Published by Gamewright
1 to 4 players
Playing time - 30 minutes

Matt Leacock gave the board gaming world one of its greatest gifts in the cooperative game Pandemic. There are several iterations of the game, including the amazing Pandemic Legacy, which, until recently, was the #1 ranked board game in the world according to BoardGameGeek.com. But before Pandemic Legacy overhauled the gaming world, another Leacock cooperative title was published to great acclaim -- Forbidden Island.

Like Castle Panic, you work together to rescue four artifacts from an island that's sinking into the ocean. Each player has a special ability and 3 actions per turn in which they can do things. Action selection is a great mechanic, and Forbidden Island is a wonderful introduction to this style of gameplay. While Pandemic offers so many options they can be overwhelming to new players, Forbidden Island's number of options is smaller, making decision making somewhat easier.

That doesn't mean the game's easy, though. The simple premise of "find stuff and get out" is hampered by the fact that you need to have a certain number of cards in your hand in order to claim each artifact, but you can only have a maximum number of cards in your hand at any given time. Therefore, managing your hand of cards becomes the biggest test of whether you and your fellow explorers will walk away victorious. Will you be able to find all 4 items and hop a chopper off the island, or will it sink before you can, taking you and the treasure down to the depths with it?


8. 5-Minute Dungeon
Publsihed by Kosmos
2 to 5 players
Playing time - 5 min. 

Real-time games are some of my favorite style of games. The majority of them feature cooperative play under the pressure of a ticking clock, but few of them offer the amount of laughs and mayhem that 5-Minute Dungeon can provide. Coupled with a timer app (not necessary, but trust me, you want to download it), this game allows you and up to 4 others a chance to crawl your way through a series of dungeons, hacking away at people, monsters, and obstacles on your way towards defeating the dungeon boss.

This is a whimsical, fun, humorous game that's a crazy good time. in 2017 at Geekway to the West in St. Louis, I played 6 rounds of this game with 4 total strangers, and we laughed long and loud throughout the process. This fast-paced card game has you matching symbols on the cards you hold in your hand with symbols on the items you need to defeat, and as soon as you and the team have played the cards needed, you swipe those cards out of the way and flip over the next one. Later, rinse, repeat, until you hit the dungeon boss and hope you have enough to defeat him . . . because if you can't before time runs out, everybody loses.

The artwork here is fantastic, and features a ton of jokes that you can't really appreciate during the chaos of play, but that you'll have a great time reading through as you sort the cards out and reset for your next game. This game is simple enough that a 10 year old can tame it, but joyous enough that adults can appreciate the absurdity. Trust me, this one will not only be easy for everyone to learn and play, it'll be a hit with everyone at the table.


9. Codenames
Published by Czech Games Edition
2 to 8 players
Playing time - 15-20 min.

Word games and clue games are classics of leisure time activities, and at its core, Codenames is just like Password (if you're under 40, look it up), and Password was pretty darn simple. You'd say a word that would, hopefully, lead someone on your team to say another word through association. The trick, though, was trying to find the right word that would get your teammate to conjure up the word you wanted them to guess, but more often than you wanted, they would answer with a word that THEY thought you meant.

Codenames does the same thing, but for parties instead of couples. Best when played with 6 or 8 players, each team has a Spymaster who is giving the clues, and the Spies, who are trying to guess the codenames of their fellow spies. Words are spread out across 25 cards in a 5x5 grid, and a guide shows which words belong to the blue team, which to the red team, and which are innocent bystanders. If you guess a word belonging to the assassin, your team loses and the other team wins. If you guess all the correct words for the spies in your color, you win.

The beauty of this game is that the Spymaster has to try and get his team to guess all the clues in their color before the other team can, so the goal is to try and get them to guess as many words in one turn as possible. So the Spymaster can give the team a one-word clue followed by a number, such as "Insect, 2", meaning there are 2 possible words on the board that relate to the word "insect" in their color. If you reveal all the words of your team's colors first, or if the other team reveals the Assassin, your team wins. It plays fast, but is a brain burner.

Currently ranked the #1 Party game on BoardGameGeek, Codenames has been rethemed as Codenames Pictures, Codenames Disney, Codenames Marvel, Codenames Deep Undercover (an adults-only version), and the 2-player version Codenames Duet. But make no mistake -- with whatever version you choose, you simply cannot go wrong with Codenames.


10. Captain Sonar
Published by Matagot
8 players (techincally, 2 to 8, but trust me . . . 8)
Playing Time - 20 to 60 min.

Captain Sonar is like the classic naval game Battleship. Like Battleship, the object is to destroy your enemy. Also like Battleship, you can't see where your enemy is located. Unlike Battleship, your enemy is moving. And you're in submarines. Like, you're INSIDE them. And there's a team of you. And each one of you has a very important job. And you have to be able to hear what the other sub is doing while communicating with your team, navigating your ship, keeping track of where your enemy has been, and monitoring your ship systems so you don't cause your own sub to blow up.

And oh, yeah. It's played in real time.

Holy crap, is Captain Sonar an AMAZING game. There are actually two ways you can play Captain Sonar -- a real-time game, and a turn-based game. The turn-based version has a smaller map and takes a little longer to play, and you can play it with fewer than 8 people if you like. Also, it allows you more time to think between navigational commands.

However, the real-time version kicks some serious arse, and is absolutely best when played with 8 people. Now, the playtime on the box says 45-60 minutes, and the first time you teach people how to play, that may be accurate, because it will take about 20 minutes to go over everything that each player will have to do. The Captain navigates the boat by calling out the heading for each segment the sub travels, fires weapons, and activates special systems. The First Mate keeps a handle on charging up each system so that they will be ready when called upon. The Radio Operator listens to the headings of the enemy sub and tries to map out their course on his own navigation chart. The Engineer maintains the systems on the boat and lets the First Mate and the Captain know if any of them are in disrepair, and if any extreme action must be taken, such as surfacing the ship, in order to reset any broken systems.

Does that sound like a lot? It is. But if you know what you're doing, and how your job affects everything else on the ship, then your team can work together without a problem. And playing this game in the real-time version is not only exciting, it actually feels like you're at sea, submerged in a hollow metal tube that's careening through trenches, avoiding mines, and hunting down a terrifying enemy. For added realism, feel free to find submarine sonar sound effects on YouTube, or if you prefer musical accompaniment, look up the Captain Sonar playlist on Melodice. Trust me, it will help with the ambience.

NOTE: Do not confuse this game with its non-party game counterpart, titled simply Sonar. They are basically the same game, but Sonar is designed for only 4 players.


+1. Santorini
Published by Spin Master/Roxley Game Laboratory
2 players
Playing time - 15-20 min.

Chess is one of the gold standards of board gaming and is what we call an abstract game, one that relies on strategy and no lack of information. There are no secret agendas, no hidden cards or roles, and the theme is truly secondary to the mechanics of how the game is played. All that aside, It's been played for thousands of years and is known to be a stalwart choice of geniuses. Santorini may not be as deep a game as Chess, but like Chess, it is a phenomenally designed abstract game that only takes 30 seconds to learn how to play, and packs a healthy dose of strategy into its extremely simple rules. And it just happens to be beautifully made.

The object is to build buildings to where one of your workers can ascend to the top of the third level of a building. If you do, you win. Each turn, you move a worker to one of up to 8 spaces available around you, then place a building block on one of the spaces surrounding the space you just moved to. That's it. Satnorini is a fast, short, and brilliantly designed game that doesn't really on its theme to be great.

But when the theme happens to be the beautiful Greek city of Santorini, and the game's components are these intricately designed little blocks that are made to look like the actual buildings of said Greek isle, then Chess can take a backseat and nap for a while. Seriously, you're going to want to play Santorini game again and again just so you can keep looking at how amazing it looks on the table. Some of the best board games in the world have a fantastic toy element, and like Risk Star Wars Edition, Santorini is one hell of an awesome, good-looking toy.

As if the game wasn't fine by itself, this new version of the game ups the ante in a major way by introducing God Powers to the mix. Each player is dealt a card that gives their worker a special and unique power that they can use throughout the game, thereby raising the replay value exponentially. Simply put, you can have a different experience every single time you play Santorini, so it will never truly get old.


Well, there you have my choices for the Top Ten +1 games for New Gamers. What are your thoughts? Have you never heard of any of these games and want to find out where to buy them? Do you have other games that you didn't see that would be on your list? Feel free to sound off.

Until next time, keep bringing people to the table, and keep playing.

There Is No Box.
Zach