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  • Mark

Panic and the Forbidden (we're talking about boardgames. Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Most nights C and I play board games. Usually they are the ones that take up most of the evening - if we lose the game, ugh, it's a drag, especially after all that work. Lately, we're playing simple, easy to learn games.

What we call our “gateway games”.

Now, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean easy to win, or boring. They just have straightforward, often intuitive rules that make them easy to learn, and play without constantly referring to the rule book. One we've dusted off most recently is:

Castle Panic (1 - 6 players): Fireside Games, Game Design by Justin De Witt

We have played this game with eight years olds and seventy year olds with equal success.

The premise is that you are the defenders of a small castle being attacked from all sides by goblins, trolls and other nasties. All you need to do is stop them from destroying all of your towers. You do this by playing cards with (primarily) swordsmen, knights and archers.

Your castle is at the centre of a target divided into three different colours. Each type of fighter can only defend one ring of the target in the area of its matching colour.

Of course there are a few twists and exceptions, but that’s about it.

You can be up and playing this game in less than five minutes. It lasts for about half an hour and I can pretty much guarantee at least one player will be on their feet in excitement before the end of the game.

Forbidden Island (2 - 4 players) and Forbidden Desert (2 - 5 players): Gamewright, Game Design by Matt Leacock

Continuing on the theme of good intro co-op games, we would be remiss to leave out the Forbidden series. There are three stand-alone games: Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky. They are all terrific games that are similar in gameplay, but each has a very unique flavour. I will only be discussing the first two as I am less familiar with Forbidden Sky, and the couple of times I’ve played it, I found it a bit more complex. Island and Desert are much easier to pick up for beginners.

Forbidden Island is the easiest to learn.

The premise here is the players represent a team of explorers on a mysterious island. They need to find four magical artifacts and get to the helipad before the island sinks into the ocean.

This game introduces a concept that pops up in a lot of co-op games; Individual abilities. Each player represents an explorer with unique abilities which, when used strategically, can help the group achieve their goals. And believe me, in this game, you need all the help you can get! During the course of the game, the water keeps rising and the island sinks faster and faster. It is a very exciting game that can change direction very quickly based on the flip of a card. We were reminded of that last night. We were convinced that we were going to make it through a sticky situation and then 'blam!' - we lost.

In Forbidden Desert, your group of adventurers has crashed into a desert battered by a terrible sandstorm. Here the team needs to clear the quickly piling sand to explore an ancient, abandoned city and attempt to find and assemble the parts of a (really funky) flying machine... and escape.

You can see the recurrent themes here, but it's not just a rehash of Island, it has quite a different feel and new challenges. Also, being the second game in the series, you can see how the designers have tightened and refined some elements. In some ways, it is a technically better game.

In both of them, figuring out the best group strategies based on the characters’ abilities is the key to your only chance at success.

We have lost both of these games many times, but never quickly and because fortune can change suddenly, everyone stays engaged right up to the end, no matter which way it goes.

Winning always feels like a real achievement and often happens just under the nose of certain doom.

That is another positive aspect of most co-op games. Unlike a lot of competitive games, every player is engaged during everyone else’s turn and no one is ever “out early”, forced to wait for everyone else to finish the game. You are all in it to the end. You all win or all lose together.

Have you played any of these games? Please let us know what you thought in the comments section below.

PLEASE NOTE: We do not earn a commission and we have no affiliation with any games companies or publishers. We just like to play boardgames! The descriptions and opinions are entirely ours.

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