At a certain point in your children’s lives, the simplicity of Chutes and Ladders and the redundancy of Connect 4 start to set in. As teenagers, they’re already toiling away at advanced algebra and reading Dostoyevsky in school, so why not have something a little more challenging for family game night? At the very least, you are probably ready for a board game that is, let’s say, more mentally stimulating. Below is a list of four board games that, even with their steep learning curves, are more than worth the effort.
You may have played the original version of Settlers of Catan (or if you haven’t, I highly recommend it!). The original Settlers is a fairly straightforward game of collecting various resources, such as stone and wheat, to build settlements and roads. Catan Histories: Settlers of America, Trails to Rails is a more complicated variant. The differences found in Trails to Rails lead to more intriguing and less repetitious gameplay, a refreshing feeling for the seasoned Catan player.
When you first start with Settlers of America, you may recognize the concept of building settlements at the intersections of hexagons — each hexagon produces a resource. That is where the similarities between the two versions of Settlers end. Instead of randomly laying out the board, the playing field is a fixed map of the United States. To produce a settlement, you must first have enough resources to produce a settler, who can travel around the game board. These settlers can create named cities such as “Chicago” or “Los Angeles,” which are found on the map in roughly the correct locations. Instead of roads, you build rail lines. The objective of the game is to build rail lines to competing players’ settlements, and then build a train engine to deliver goods. The first to deliver 10 packages wins. Oh, and there is also money involved. You can earn gold which can be used to buy cards or purchase travel privileges on competing players’ rail lines.
The game can get competitive in a rather exciting way. Each settlement can only receive one package, so the first player to reach the city moves closer to victory. This creates a race among the other players that keeps the pace of the game going. Due to its level of complexity, each game is very different and the number of available strategies is high. This will force you to really think before moving forward in the game. It’s also fun to take on the role of a railway entrepreneur — you get to build zig-zagging railroads, claim real cities, and move trains across America. Once you master the rules, Settlers of America offers a rewarding graduation from the standard Settlers of Catan.
2. Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, your role is to settle the island of Puerto Rico. The main objective is to develop plantations and export goods such as indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. You also get to develop the city of San Juan. The types of buildings you choose to build in San Juan can make your plantations more effective or allow you to export more goods.
This game gets complicated because you cannot simply build a new building in San Juan or start a new plantation — it takes far more planning. At the start of each round you take on a role, which gives you special abilities for that round. For example, you could take on the role of “builder,” which allows you to build in San Juan with lower costs. Once you build or create a new farm, you must then staff it, meaning you actually have to manage the population on the island. Furthermore, in order to ship goods, you’re required to own a plantation (that is staffed), the accompanying processing facility (that is also staffed), and a ship that has enough room and carries the same kinds of goods. If the ship leaves without your goods on board, then they become spoiled.
Yes, the rules are complex, but the game is a ton of fun. You must think critically and plan ahead in order to successfully export goods from Puerto Rico. It is a great exercise in resource management — not a bad skill for teenagers to learn. With all of its different parts, you will be faced with many different strategies to pursue. Do you focus on the production of one single good, or do you diversify? Do you spend resources to build a warehouse in San Juan to store extra goods, or do you focus on producing a lot with the expectation that there will be waste? One thing I can promise you, Puerto Rico is an extremely unique game that I find myself playing over and over.
Time to add a bit of extra nerdiness to board games. Tesla vs Edison is based in the historic rivalry of the electrification of the United States, centered around Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. In this game, you take on an entrepreneurial role, leading a business involved in developing electricity at the turn of the 20th century. And of course, you can play as reclusive genius Tesla or business mastermind Edison, among others.
There are a lot of moving parts to this game (in terms of playing the game… not physical pieces moving). You begin by developing technologies which involves gaining patents. It’s your choice which competing electric current you go with — AC or DC. You’re also in charge of developing light bulb technology. Once you have a current and light bulb, you can start a project. These projects happen in specific cities such as New York or Cleveland. Along with this technology, you must also manage your fame, which you can affect by paying for media stunts or by reducing the fame of other players. Finally, there is a stock market. You can buy stock in your own business or the businesses of competing players. The value of your stock changes with projects built, successful media stunts, and transactions of your stock. At the end of each round, you earn money based on the value of your company. The player with the highest net worth at the end is declared the winner.
Tesla vs Edison is both challenging and fun. It really makes you think like an entrepreneur, managing the ups and downs of the stock market. Again, this game features many different strategies — you can focus on building up a solid company with many different assets or you can work on simply making your company famous. As an added bonus, this game features real, historic events and people, making the experience rather educational.
Agricola has been called the most complicated board game ever. I’m going to have to agree with this assessment, but this game is also a lot of fun. In Agricola, you take on the role of a farmer, and throughout the game, you must develop your farm by cultivating fields, adding family members, and expanding/improving your house. This is a game of balance. The more family members you have, the more productive you are. However, your house must be big enough before you can add more family members, and you must also be able to feed your family comfortably.
What makes this game complicated is the sheer number of options you have and the number of different resources. For example, if you want to expand your house, you’ll need wood and reeds. But you can also improve your house by upgrading to stone — a stone house will give you more points at the end of the game.
This is a game that definitely involves a lot of planning and plenty of adult decisions, such as “How do I feed my family?” This game is fun due to its complexity, not in spite of it. You have a lot of options on how you want to customize your farm, and it’s challenging before your opponents are even in the picture. In fact, you can play Agricola alone — it’s hard enough just to keep your family from starving to death.
I leave you with this final tip: When trying these games, do not become frustrated! Once mastered, the rules will not be forgotten. In my experience, I have found that YouTube has dozens of tutorial videos that show step-by-step game play. Those videos are particularly helpful when the rule books just aren’t enough. So go ahead and challenge your teenagers with one of the games above — it’s a great change of pace for Family Game Night.