The Herald Sport is holding a tournament bracket to find the best board game of all time. Vote below in the Round of 16 matchups and stay tuned to nzherald.co.nz/sport throughout the next few weeks as the tournament progresses based on your votes.
It's week two of lockdown. You're staring blankly into space, trying to kill time as your flatmate blabbers on about the pandemic. All you want to do is forget about the world and play or watch some sport. But you're a good, responsible citizen and trying to do your part by staying inside.
There's only one way to shut up your bubble buddies while exercising your naturally competitive urges. It's time to rummage through the board game cupboard.
The first ever board game is thought to be an Iranian game called Senet, found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt around 3000 BC. Since then, humanity has engaged in battles of strategy, creativity and chance – all in the name of fun, or for me, complete and utter domination of my friends and family.
But what is the best board game of them all? That's the monumental and incredibly important task I've been left with in these uncertain times.
Without further ado, here are the top 16 board games that will be up for debate: based on a combination of popularity, quality, and the all-important fun factor.
Vote in the matchups below.
Introducing the top 16
The board games are separated into two conferences – named after board game tycoons the Parker Brothers – and seeded based on a complex scientific formula (my opinion) and general popularity and ubiquity.
George Parker conference
Monopoly – aka Jeff Bezos' Amazon: The game – is the godfather of board games, a staple in the diets of every budding young capitalist around the world. Every household has it, everyone has played it. Everyone knows the heartbreak of seeing someone land on your hotel property while being in jail.
Game explainer: Players roll two dice to move around the game board while buying and trading properties and developing them into houses and hotels, with the ultimate goal of collecting rent from opponents and driving them into bankruptcy.
Risk, in this humble writer's opinion, is the most fun out of all the board games: the heart-racing thrill of the dice battles, the intricate strategy, the relationship-testing alliances, the only way most of us know where Madagascar is on the world map.
Game explainer: Players attempt to occupy every territory on a political map of Earth (42 territories divided into six continents). Each player has territories and army playing pieces and battle for territories from other players, with results determined by dice rolls.
Colonel Mustard till I die – in the billiard room with a lead pipe.
Game explainer: A murder mystery game where players attempt to determine who murdered the game's victim, where the crime took place, and which weapon was used. Each player assumes the role of one of the suspects and moves around the game board to collect clues and the circumstances of the murder from other players.
4. The Game of Life (Life)
'Life' fills you up with so much hope and enthusiasm about what life is like when you're a kid only for actual life to batter you over the head with a dose of reality. Regardless, it's still fun to play a game about a world without pandemics, climate change and looming economic depressions.
Game explainer: Players travel through the many aspects of (hetero-normative) life, from university and retirement, to careers, marriage and children in a game of chance.
5. Snakes and Ladders
Ancient Indian game Snakes and Ladders is a board game hall of famer. The game was historically associated with traditional Hindu philosophy of the contrasting karma (destiny) and kama (desire). It's also, like, just an all-round good time.
Game explainer: Players try to get from the start of the game board to the end, according to die rolls, while getting helped or hindered by ladders and snakes, respectively.
The decathlon of board games.
Game explainer: Billed as "The Game for Your Whole Brain", Cranium is a combination of some of the most popular board games – from Trivial Pursuit to Pictionary. Players maneuvre around a board and play mini games based on four colours: Red (fun facts), Green (Act & Hum), Blue (Sketch & Sculpt) and Yellow (Word Puzzles).
7. Connect Four
Connect Four is the perfect way to cut the awkward tension with your partner/flatmate/child after spending way too much time with them under lockdown. It's easy to play, can get competitive if you let it, and isn't something you need to get too invested in. Netflix and Connect Four anyone?
Game explainer: A two-player game where players drop coloured discs into a vertically suspended grid in an attempt to "connect four" discs in a row. One flaw with this game is that it's a "solved" game, which means the player who goes first can always win if they make the right moves. But, I mean, maybe don't take this so seriously.
Boggle scrapes into the eighth seed because of its borderline board game status. Word game? Dice game? Regardless, this game slaps and never gets old.
Game explainer: Players have three minutes (using a sand timer) to find as many words in sequences of adjacent letters on a 4x4 grid of lettered dice. Points are awarded depending on length of word.
Charles Parker conference
Probably the only board game that could be genuinely classified as a sport. You can even play against yourself if you're into true self isolation. (Sidebar movie recommendation: One of my favourite sports docos is 'Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine' which is about a chess champion who goes head-to-head against IBM's chess computer, who then accuses the computer of cheating.)
Game explainer: Probably requires an essay to explain. It's Chess. Look it up if you still don't know how to play.
There are two kinds of Scrabble players: chilled out cool people; and the people who hate fun and know all the weird dictionary cheat words like 'zax'.
Game explainer: Players score points by placing lettered tiles (made into words) onto a game board divided into a grid of squares. Some letters are worth more points and some squares have point multipliers.
Pictionary doesn't discriminate. Art school dropouts and stick figure aficionados alike will be challenged in this board game classic.
Game explainer: Players move around a game board consisting of squares with different letters or shapes consisting of what must be drawn, and which team gets to play. Players must guess the word or phrase being drawn by their partner/teammate to move forward on the board.
Wikipedia describes Jenga as a "game of physical skill", which, sure I guess. Another one that is borderline when it comes to 'board games' but it's too much fun and too popular not to include.
Game explainer: Players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 blocks. Players then place each removed block to the top of the tower, creating a progressively more unstable tower. No winners in this game, just a loser (the person who topples the structure).
I've honestly never met someone who doesn't love this game. It's a strategy game that's not too complicated, with the perfect combination of skill and luck to keep it perpetually interesting. (Warning: Game may cause added stress on certain relationships.)
Game explainer: Players attempt to build and develop roads, settlements or cities, while trading and acquiring resources through dice rolls. Players gain points as their settlements grow in a race to 10 points. Think Age of Empires in board game form, kinda.
Fun level: 10. Stress level: also 10.
Game explainer: Players describe words from six categories to their team as quickly as possible. The team then gets to move around the board based on the number of correct guesses.
Luke warm take: Balderdash is Cards Against Humanity, but involves actual creativity and imagination. Pathological liars have a leg up in this game.
Game explainer: One player (the dasher) draws a "definition card" and rolls the dice to decide which words listed will be used. That player then writes down the real definition of the word, while other players also attempt to write down a definition of the same word without knowing the answer. Then players (except for the dasher) guess which definition they believe is the correct definition out of everyone's answers, with points awarded based on several rules. The role of the dasher then moves to the next player.
This game is simple, fun and requires abstract thinking and teamwork. Is this strictly a board game? Maybe not. But, again, my piece, my rules. Don't @ me.
Game explainer: 25 cards with words are laid out, with certain cards randomly assigned to each team. Players try to get their team members to guess their team's words by only saying a one-word hint.
Voting: Round of 16
George Parker conference
1. Monopoly vs 8. Boggle
4. The Game of Life vs 5. Snakes and Ladders
3. Cluedo vs 6. Cranium
2. Risk vs 7. Connect Four
Charles Parker conference
1. Chess vs 8. Codenames
4. Jenga vs 5. Catan
3. Pictionary vs 6. Articulate
2. Scrabble vs 7. Balderdash
Stay tuned to nzherald.co.nz/sport on Friday for the quarter-finals