Keeping it Light: Board Games Everyone Can Enjoy

One of the first pieces of jargon you’ll encounter in board gaming is “weight”. When hobbyists refer to a game as light, medium or heavy they are referring to the game’s weight.

A light game is simple, a heavy game is complicated and a medium game lies somewhere in the middle. Weight is a term that refers to more than just complexity. Heavy games require more thinking and tend to feature elaborate systems that tickle the fancy of more serious board gamers. Because of that, people who have become more ingrained in the hobby have a bias towards heavier games.

That doesn’t mean that there is anything inherently wrong with light games or that they’re only for beginners. They are a simple execution of an idea that comes together in a very clean and elegant way. Light games are neat. Hanabi is a light game where players work together to create a fireworks display using a hand of cards they cannot look at. On a player’s turn; they can play a card, discard a card or use a limited amount of clues to tell another player something about the cards they’re holding. By having players not look at their own cards, a simple game of multiplayer solitaire is turned into a clever communication game.

It’s common for light games to have a low skill ceiling. This low skill ceiling allows new players to quickly master the game, stopping a wide skill gap from forming and hampering their enjoyment. Scrabble suffers greatly from this skill gap, where the player who knows the legal two letter words will obliterate any newcomer that struggles to find a use for their J tile. Qwirkle takes the core tile laying mechanic of Scrabble but replaces the letter with coloured shapes. Instead of playing words, players make rows of stars or purple tiles. By stripping the game down, Qwirkle offers a more enjoyable experience to a broader range of players.

The tension of trying to win can build up over the course of a game. Being able to quickly start again helps release that tension, or let players ignore it completely. Codenames brilliantly plays on this dynamic as one player, the spymaster, tries to navigate their team through a minefield of words before the other team can do the same. The spymaster must give their team a single word clue to find a number of their words from a grid of 25 words in front of them. The challenge of giving clues for your team is stressful. Tension builds with every incorrect guess, every word the other team reveals, every word you can’t think of a good clue for. Then the game ends and you immediately reach for another set of words.

Sometimes a game won’t offer that relief valve. Sometimes you need a light game to wind down after playing something heavier. Something where there is a satisfying payoff for players without having to expend any more mental energy. Burger Up - currently on Kickstarter - is a game that can give players that payoff. Players fill customer orders by stacking ingredient cards and simple system of symbols dictates what goes where, while still giving the player enough choices to avoid the game playing itself. There is something very satisfying about building a giant, sloppy tower of meat, cheese, sauce and salad. Even when you don’t win, Burger Up delivers a regular payoff to everyone at the table.

There’s brilliance in simplicity. A good light game will have it in spades.


Comments

    It's not a board game, but Pimp: The Backhanding, is pretty fun for adults of all ages.

      I've never heard of it until now - colour me intrigued.

        It has its tongue firmly in its cheek. A bit like Lunch Money in that regard ;-)

    Quirkle is an absolutely excellent game.
    Buy it. Also, do yourself a favour and buy the travel version over the standard version - it's still got the same amount of tiles, but makes it much easier to play on a smaller space like a coffee table.

    Rummikub is also and excellent light game. Can take a little while to play as you need to be a bit more strategic, but it's very easy to grasp.

    For those after a quick in-between game, Zombie Dice is also highly enjoyable.

      What's cool about Rummikub is that you can still win if you get lucky, even against a vastly more experienced player. My wife has played probably over 1000 hours of Rummikub against others on the internet, but I can still beat her sometimes, as can my 7-year-old daugher.

      I've never played Rummikub but when I first moved out of home, I played Mahjong nearly every night until our internet got connected. We still played fairly often after going online.

      Older, more abstract, titles are great. There's so much you can do with just a deck of cards.

    The importance of luck is more prevalent in lighter games than heavier games as well and, generally speaking, more serious board gamers prefer more skill than luck in games. Of the lighter games that we have, Carcassone is the one that gets the most play - I own a copy of the base game (it came with The River and The Abbot expansions) and a friend has one of the Big Blue Boxes; vanilla Carcassone is great for new players - it's entirely possible, even without a great deal of luck, for a new player to win a game. I just bought King of Tokyo, for another light option.
    Other games we've got include:
    Heavier: Battlestar Galactica, Imperial Assault, Descent 2e, Civilization, Arkham Horror
    Medium: Firefly, Last Night on Earth, Spartacus, Pandemic
    Lighter: Carcassone, King of Tokyo, Munchkin, Fluxx

      King of Tokyo is great, and the slightly more in depth game King of New York just builds on the fun! Think of a slightly heavier version of KoT and you're there. Probably no need to get it considering you have KoT though :P

        I was considering it, but plenty of the reviews I read settled on KoT as the better "light" game. Prefer to pull out something like Firefly or Spartacus for more serious gaming groups.

      I love Carcassonne, but if you try to get me to play Fluxx I will throw it into the fucking sea.

        Haha, not a fan?

        What about Monty Python Fluxx?

          All versions of Fluxx tend to play themselves. Worst of all, they can really drag out. A 10 minute game of Fluxx is alright. An hour long one is just as likely and far, far worse. If you like it, that's neat. It's also the quintessential example of a light game that experienced gamers avoid because there's so much luck and so little skill.

          There are plenty of light games out there that, even with a high amount of randomness, don't feel like they're luck based. Games that new players can win without it feeling like they lucked out. Those are rad.

            and it's exactly that scenario that cruelled it for me forever.

      Carcassonne was my gateway game. Played a ton of it at work. We actually did a few others like Catan and so on first, but Carcassone was what hooked me into the hobby. Still love it though I very rarely get to play it. I got too good. Also that game is at its best when everyone plays like a complete dick and sometimes it can have that situation where one or two players are basically having everyone else's turns for them. which is less fun than it could be.

      The lighter gateway games I tend to haul out nowadays are Ticket to Ride, Splendor and Machi Koro.

        I loved Machi Koro the first time I played it.

        Second time, not so much. Bit too shallow for my taste

          Harbor Expansion fixes it. Randomized market and much more options.

            Not enough there to drag me through (played harbour first time)

    Why do I want to play dungeon dice monsters now?

    Tsuro is another fun light game that is super easy to understand and has a bunch on round the table banter that naturally flows from it
    Other light games that we have are labyrinth card game, gloom and chrononauts.
    Gloom is a story telling card game where the emphasis is on story telling rather than optimum strategy.
    Chrononauts is a fun little card game that involved changing historical events and the ripple effects that they have. The assassination of JFK didn't succeed therefore and the ripple effects that has. Each player has a time traveller who needs to get history back to their version of the true timeline.
    Most recently I bought get bit, which is fun so long as you don't take it too seriously

      Gloom is an awesome game! Such a great game for story telling. One of our favourites.

    Some of my favourite board games are:

    1. Axis & Allies (I used to read the rulebook over and over, and even play against myself regularly)
    2. Ikusa (Used to be called Shogun. Japanese warfare in the sengoku jidai era. Kind of like Shogun Total War)
    3. Game of Thrones (So cool and even more challenging when you are known to your friends and family as a deceitful bastard who absolutely can't be trusted not to turn on you).
    4. Monopoly (Use the base rules but allowing deals between players that can encompass anything you could do in the real world, such as shared-cost investment, joint-ownership, rent-free periods etc.)
    5. Trivial Pursuit (Drunken Trivial Pursuit!)
    6. Articulate (One of the best games of verbal charades you can get. Get your partner to guess the word without you saying it).

    I find the biggest issue I have with light/med/heavy games is when players expect X and get Y. For example, "Once Upon a Time" is a super light game that favours fun over almost anything else. But the game very easily breaks down (and becomes a complete drag) is the players treat it as a medium or heavy game. They start planning out how to use all their cards in one go, dropping all these things into the story that go nowhere, just so they can say they've used all their cards. Then the group just argues about what's valid in terms of story etc etc.

    But, if you manage that expectation and say up front, the key focus of the game is fun, and hammer that in as you play, generally it goes down well.

    Obviously the opposite can also happen, where a player might expect a light game but get a heavy. But I find that tends to happen less, as a player can usually opt out of a game at the rules explanation if it goes on for more than 2 minutes.

    Coup and Resistance: Avalon are great light weight social games. Pandemic is good as well but the kids find it boring which is strange. Always on the look out for some decent priced games.

    I like funfamilychess. Its normal chess with black, white, gold & silver pieces so that up to four people can play at once. Someone in the group will already know the rules (making it easy to start) and if someone is a chess genius - the others can soon make things equal by putting them in check and taking a few pieces. The fun of chess but without the angst.

    Drinking Quest is hands down my favorite game.....how light or heavy it is depends on what your drinking.

    I like a good light game - last weekend we played Boom Boom Balloon, where you push sticks into a balloon until it bursts. Its like a entree to a main meal ;-)

    Other light games I enjoy are Dixit, Cockroach Poker, No Thanks! (about the simplest rules you can have), Incan Gold, Fake Artist goes to New York, Walk the Plank, Red 7, Crazy Lab

    King of New York/Tokyo I found excellent for small kids. Depth, dice rolling, and you play as a city destroying monster.

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