“What should I play?” you ask yourself quietly as you face the plethora of options in the boardgaming world. According to my comprehensive guide for every type of player imaginable—so long as they fit into one of my four arbitrary categories—here are the guidelines you should follow when faced with making a gaming choice. (What can I say, it's a good system.)
For the jaded chess player
Knights, rooks, pawns, bishops, archbishops, popes—I'm not the most avid chess player, I confess. What was once a passion has tapered off, in part because of time constraints and in part because I've become infatuated with its much older eastern brother, Go. The beauty of Go is that its simplicity masks an unheard-of level of strategic depth. Although governed by just a handful of rules and using only one kind of piece, its 19x19 grid contains a mind-blowing number of possibilities. With 10⁷⁶⁸ variations, there are more possible games of Go than there are atoms in the universe—making the game easy to play but difficult to master.
Even computers have trouble with Go; top chess programs might consistently thrash the world's reigning champions but competitive Go programs have never managed to advance beyond the level of intermediate amateur. For someone with a mind for stratagems, Go represents a nigh bottomless well of potential. And if you just happen to like the cultural products of China circa the 3rd century B.C.E., well that's just icing.
For social butterflies
Although gaming is by definition social, it's not always good for socializing, which can be an important distinction. Most games are social because they require the participation of another individual—video game campaigns being the exception. But some (like Chess or Go) require such intense thought that they don't really facilitate getting to know someone, since talking is typically seen as either a) extraneous prattle or b) an attempt to get a rise out of your opponent. One game, though, that does a great job of forcing some genuine human interaction is Settlers of Catan and all its children.
Named “the board game of our time” by the Washington Post, there's a good chance you've played Settlers or know people who do—or are playing it right now. For those people, 7 Wonders, this year's winner of the prestigious German Spiel des Jahres in the Kennerspiel des Jahres (complex game) category, is basically an amped-up version of Settlers that augments resource-trading with a system of card-drafting and the division of game time into three different “ages,” each with their respective quirks.
But what makes Settlers and 7 Wonders such a fantastic games is that they have interaction with other players built into them; it's impossible to play either silently or just stoically nodding “go” every few minutes because the trading part of both (which is a big part of both) requires actual human speech. With it's strong social component and high replayability, it's not hard to see why Settlers is often compared to Monopoly as the top dog in American boardgaming.
For the robber baron in us all
Another Spiel des Jahres winner and great social game is Ticket to Ride, which combines the glee of land-grabbing with the joy of crushing an opponent's dreams into dust. This, of all the games mentioned, has the lowest barrier of entry, and is a fantastic choice for the uninitiated.
In Ticket to Ride, players compete to assemble randomly drawn routes, each with its own point value, in an attempt to, well, have the most points. Railroad lines are purchased with varying numbers of colored rail cards, which act as the game's principal resource. The game's rules aren't much more than that, to its credit. The packaging could be improved via the addition of a scowling Rockefeller, but other than that, there are precious few reasons to gripe.
For the hip world-builder
Minecraft, one of the biggest successes in indie-gaming in recent memory, is nothing new. It's been out for over two years in its beta version and has already garnered a cult following. What is new, however, is the actual release of the game, which comes out November 11th, as well as is the latest update Minecraft 1.8, the “Adventure Update” according to the game's creator, which promises to add radically different elements—villages peopled with computer characters, an overhaul of the food system, etc.—to the already established game.
Minecraft is known as a “sandbox” game for its open-ended nature, which emphasizes roaming freely around each level and being able to change any factor of the world at will. Its sizable popularity comes from the its endless capacity for innovation; players build entire cities out of a wilderness peopled with terrain blocks, zombies and other varieties of monster. But for all the pitfalls your pick-axe wearing player encounters, the game can't really be won, just like life can't be won. More than anything, Minecraft is simply a vehicle for your own creativity—making it a must for those players who value imagination over competition.