So, you want to play boardgames but don’t want to spend a lot of money. It can pretty easily be done with a little creativity and time. The first, most important tip: Don’t buy games. To expand on that “Don’t”, I don’t mean “Don’t” entirely of course. I’m saying play before you buy. Find a boardgame group and play their games before you buy any. You’ll have a better idea what kinds of games really work for you. If you find a group that you start attending regularly, you won’t waste money duplicating games that are already common in the group, and you’ll know what kinds of games they like. There’s no reason to buy games that will never get played, so “Don’t” impulse buy every game that catches your eye.
There are board game groups all over the place. Check for gaming meetups on Meetup.com, look for open boardgame nights at your favorite local game store, look for on-campus game clubs at your local colleges, go to the board game night at Proto Buildbar, check the regional forums on Boardgamegeek.com, or start your own group. If you absolutely can’t find a group of gamers anywhere, ask the fine folks here at GeekDayton and someone will be able to help you find some gaming. If you want to play games, there are plenty of people out there to play games with.
Now, you may already have some, or even all, of these suggestions on the shopping list, but I’m starting from absolutely no gaming supplies at all. I’m going to have to gloss over shipping costs and sales tax and printer ink for the $30/month budget, just to simplify things. If you’re patient, you can find just about everything on sale for even less than my estimates. If you spend less than the budget, even better!
Until you discover your game group, you’ll still need to scratch the gaming itch. Holidays are coming up, which means family gatherings for many of you. Let’s start off your brand new, dollar a day game collection with some games and supplies that you can play at family gatherings while still being flexible enough to satisfy gamers looking for a deeper experience.
So, the first thing you’ll need is playing cards. Good old, standard, poker style playing cards. I’m suggesting you have at least 3 decks with identical backs. With three decks, you can already play innumerable games, including old favorites like Poker, Euchre, and Rummy and newer games such as Skull, Mao, and even Werewolf. By mixing multiple decks, you can play even more games. Take the jokers from one deck, add it to another, do a tiny bit of modification to the jokers with a permanent marker, and you’re all set for Tichu. Take one ace, two 2s, three 3s, and so on until you have ten 10s, and you’re set for Pairs. Keep going until you have 12 Queens, and you can play The Great Dalmuti. For hidden role games like Werewolf, you’ll just need to make a cheatsheet so everyone knows which cards represent which roles. There are a whole lot of other games you can reproduce with just playing cards, too. If you do find yourself playing a commercially published game a lot, however, buy the actual game. It’s always a good idea to support the creators of things you enjoy. But as you can see, playing cards are super flexible things to have in a gaming collection.
Grab a few packages of 3×5 inch index cards. If you’re playing with friends or family who thrive on in-jokes, play 1000 Blank White Cards with them. If they want a little more structure, you can make one of the dozens of games using the Dvorak system. If you want a deeper euro-game experience, try the 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) style game Deep Future, but you’ll also need a fistful of pocket change each, or some other kind of token or marker for it. Now that I’ve mentioned it, get a set of tiddlywinks, bingo counters, or those transparent plastic counting chips to use as tokens. In a pinch, they’ll work as poker chips or as money for other games.
The next thing you’ll need is standard cubical, six-sided dice. Grab about eight or ten, all the same. Now you’re set for all the standard dice games like Craps, Farkle, and Yahtzee. You can use them to count points in other games, keep track of modifiers, and so on. Print out a playsheet, and you’ve got what you need for Utopia Engine, Decathalon, and Deep Space D-6, as well as many, many others.
If you hit up a Dollar Tree, they have playing cards (two decks for a dollar), dice, and index cards. Get three of the two-packs of cards, one pack of dice, and at least one package of index cards. Total cost should be five or six dollars. The bingo chips or tiddlywinks probably have a big variance in price depending on where you find them, but you can get a pack of 250 “transparent color counting chips” on Amazon for $4.19 (at the time this was written, anyway). I’ll call the total as $10 so far.
There’s a great game called Codenames that works for both casual game players and those who like deeper games. You lay out a grid of 25 words, and one player on each team has to give a single word and a number as a clue to the rest of the team in an attempt to get them to guess which words in the grid are designated for their team. It’s surprisingly thinky for a party game, and it has a lot of meta game to it as you have to figure out how the clue-giver thinks. I’m suggesting Codenames for a few reasons. It works well with just about any size group. It’s also quite customizable, since you can use 25 of anything (as long as each thing is different) in place of the words. If you’re with family, take 25 family pictures and lay them out. If you’re with beer aficionados, put out 25 different craft beers. Or 25 dvds, or 25 books, or 25 baseball cards. Or, if you have a big family gathering, have them park their cars in a 5×5 grid and use those. Or, you can get Codenames: Pictures which uses images instead of the word cards, or get Codenames: After Dark if your group is a fan of adult humor and double entendres. The base game of Codenames retails for $20, but it’s on sale pretty often for about $15, or even less, at Target, Barnes & Noble, or the internet. (If you act fast, you may find it on a cyber monday sale for $7 or so).
We have just 5$ left for this month. So, get 5$ of card sleeves. “Penny” sleeves are 1$ for a pack of 100 sleeves, but I’m going to suggest getting the next tier up. In this case, the more expensive sleeves fit cards better, and are much easier to shuffle. These aren’t to protect the regular playing cards, but to allow you to shuffle cards printed on standard printer paper (with a regular playing card behind them, to provide structure and a solid card back). I’ll be assuming you have some sleeves in future articles for free print and play games.
I’ve mentioned many, many games in passing so far, so now I’ll give you a little more information on some of them.
For standard playing card games, Pagat.com is a great resource. You can find the rules for hundreds of games, and not just the classics, either. There’s information on Werewolf, a hidden role/ deduction game, and Mao, in which new players are not told the rules explicitly. It also covers rules for dominoes, mahjong, and other styles of playing cards.
For the games using a “pyramid” deck (1 one, 2 twos, 3 thress, and so on), check out this link for the game Pairs and its variants, and this link is the rules PDF for The Great Dalmuti. Both of these are commercial games, so if you end up liking them, buy the published versions.
Sometimes you just want to roll some dice. You can always play the classics, many of which are listed here. If you want games with more modern mechanics, check out the push-your-luck game Decathalon, and then when you’re alone, you can save the world in the solo game Utopia Engine (and also in the sequel, Beast Hunter) .You’ll need to print out a few sheets for those, and the files are on the BoardGameGeek pages. While you’re there, and printing pages, print the sheets for Deep Space D6.It just had a commercial Kickstarter, but the original test version is still available. Just print the cards on regular paper, cut them apart, and sleeve them with a spare playing card.
When you’re ready to take over the entire galaxy, Deep Future just needs one sheet printed (but you’ll want to print the rules also.) It’s a neat action selection, hand management euro-game that you create as you play. You’ll make a few cards to start, but most are made during play, then kept for future games. It works great both solo or with a few other players.
1000 Blank White Cards is a great game for when you just want to have silly fun. The link above explains the rules. If the group you’re playing with doesn’t have much of a sense of humor or creativity, this game won’t work. Dvorak is a better choice, since at the core it’s very similar, but more constrained and guided. You can start with your own ideas, or just pick one of the dozens of playable decks to try.
Finally for this list, Eat Poop You Cat needs only paper and pencil, and as many players as you can find. Do you remember the Telephone Game, where someone would whisper a phrase to a person, and then they’d whisper it to the next one, and so on? Eat Poop You Cat works on that same idea. Each person writes a phrase on a piece of paper, passes it to the next person, who draws their interpretation of that phrase. Then they fold the paper over the original phrase, and pass it to the next person. That person writes what they think the drawing is, and folds the paper over the drawing. Keep passing and alternating drawing and writing until it gets back to the original player. Read aloud the text and explain the drawings, and watch the mutation happen before your eyes.
“But what if I have some of these supplies already?” and/or “What if some of those games don’t sound like something I’d like?” and/or “I have a few extra dollars to spend this month!”
I have some alternative suggestions!
Red7. It’s something akin to Uno crossed with Poker, with just a touch of Fluxx. Red7 has easy to learn rules, but is full of tough decisions. You either play a card in front of you that puts you in the lead, or play a card to the discard pile that changes the win condition, putting you into the lead with what you already have in play. Or you can do both in one turn. It also has advanced rules that give all odd numbered cards a special ability. It’s a great family game, and it’s a great filler for those folks who like deeper games.
If Codenames seems too quiet and thinky for your crew, try Spyfall instead. The way it works is each player gets a card with the same location on it, except one. That player is the Spy. Players take turns asking questions of their fellow players like “How’s the weather here?” or “How’s the food?”. Since every player but the Spy knows the location, most can answer readily, but somewhat cryptically so the Spy can’t figure out the location. The game ends when someone accuses the Spy or when the Spy has gathered enough information to guess the location.
If you want to be able to emulate lots more games to try out before you buy, get a copy of 6 Nimmt and/or Rage. 6 Nimmt has cards marked from 1 to 104 sequentially, and Rage has cards from 0 to 15 in six different colors. A copy of each of those will cover quite a few games. There’s multiple lists on BoardGameGeek on what you can play with each of those. Here’s one of each: Games playable with Rage and Games playable with 6 Nimmt.
And if you have a few extra dollars this month, think about Sushi Go! or Coup. Each is less than 10$. Coup is a hidden role game, full of bluffing and deduction, and Sushi Go! is a cute card drafting game where you are trying to make sets of sushi from the cards your opponents pass to you.
So, now that we’ve spent our 30$ and learned about some budget-friendly games, I’ll sum up the whole article in one sentence. Try out games at gaming meetups or gamenights, don’t buy expensive games (yet), and play card games with friends and family. Next time, I’ll explain cheap and free ways to play boardgames with a computer or phone, and explore some cooperative games. Until next time, have fun, gg.