Diving Into The World Of Heavy Board Games

Image: Czech Games Edition

Whenever someone starts playing board games, they're often introduced to the same handful of games: Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Catan and so on. These games -- often referred to as 'gateway games' -- are simple, inoffensive titles that anyone can pick up and play.

They're an easy way to dip you toes into the waters of board gaming. What if you want to dive into the deep end?

'Weight' is a poorly-defined term in the board game world that typically refers to the complexity of a game.

There are some negative connotations with the more common definition of weight so I tend to favour thinking of a board game's weight as the mental load the game places on you. The harder you have to think, the heavier the game is.

Definitions aside, there are a number of wonderful brain-burning games out there that new board gamers are unaware of -- or worse, intimidated by.

If you're up for the challenge, these heavy games open up a whole new world of board gaming.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is a map-less 4X game (like Civilization) by mad genius Vlaada Chvátil. Players will vie for cultural domination as they buy, develop and build technologies, manage their civilisation's happiness and butt heads with other players.

A recent mobile port of Through the Ages has made the game significantly more accessible. Much of the fiddly upkeep from the physical game has been automated allowing players to focus more on the complex series of civilisation-building decisions in front of them.

However the board game version of Through the Ages is still very playable with well-designed player aids and a core gameplay that revolves around planning ahead while keeping a close eye on your opponents.

Player aids and a well-designed board go a long way towards making heavy board games more accessible.

Vinhos Deluxe Image: Ian O'Toole

Vital Lacerda's highly thematic worker placement games make great use of Australian graphic designer Ian O'Toole's work to streamline the games. These complex looking behemoths are surprisingly easy to understand how to play, the hard part is working out how to win.

I've recently become enamored with Lacerda's Vinhos Deluxe and The Gallerist, two weighty games that give players only a handful of options each turn.

In Vinhos Deluxe, players act as Portuguese wine-makers who seek prestige through showing their wares at a fair while managing their business by producing and selling wine. Meanwhile players of The Gallerist use their influence in the art world to discover and promote artists in their hunt for riches.

Both games tie the actions heavily into their respective themes. While there are only a handful of actions available to any player each turn, carefully planning the next few turns and predicting the actions of your fellow players is a rewarding puzzle.

The downside of Lacerda's games is that they are both quite expensive and hard to find. Expect to pay up to $150 for a copy of The Gallerist and Lacerda's most recent title, Lisboa is even more expensive.

A cheaper, and far easier to source, alternative are the worker placement games of Uwe Rosenberg. Games like Agricola, Caverna and A Feast For Odin lack the intricately interwoven mechanics of Lacerda's titles but are still wonderful games that are well worth your time.

1889 Image: Ben George/BoardGameGeek

It's impossible to talk about heavy board games without mentioning train games. Train games, like Age of Steam or 18XX titles, are the stereotypical heavy board games.

They are often time consuming, hard to learn and require a very specific type of mindset to enjoy. Because of that, I haven't been able to find anyone to play these games with. At least, not yet.

Thankfully the Dreaming Designer has written a comprehensive blog post about 18XX games to help introduce people to the genre.

18XX games are stock trading games where the players build and invest in railways. The original 18XX, 1829 was released in 1974 and the naming-scheme came as other titles suit with names like 1830, 1889 and 18AL.

It's highly recommended that anyone looking to take a look at these games plays with an experienced player. There's a lot to learn but all 18XX games tend to follow the same basic ruleset, allowing for experienced players to freely jump between titles with little trouble.

If you are looking to try an 18XX game for yourself, a free print and play version of 1889: History of Shikoku Railways is available on BoardGameGeek.

I've barely cracked the surface of heavy board games, as you can expect there are hundreds of games out there for all tastes. Maybe one of the games I've mentioned has caught your eye or maybe you already had something else in mind.

Either way, don't be intimidated because a game looks too complicated. They are well worth the effort you put into them.


    Whenever someone starts playing board games, they're often introduced to the same handful of games: Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Catan and so on.

    Nope. Can't say I was with any of these... I would've said Monopoly, Snakes and ladders, Scrabble, you know, boardgames played by the general populace at large and not ones aimed at niche audiences.

      I guess that sentence should read, "Whenever someone starts playing real board games..."

        That's a bit elitest. Monopoly is and always will be one of the most strategic and deceptively complex games out there due to its financial wickedry.

          Elitist? Fair call, but that makes me sound nobler than I am. Call me a board game snob and leave it as that.

          Perhaps you're trolling me, but Monopoly has quite a simple economic system compared to many modern games, such as Through The Ages, above. Because of the randomness of the dice, you're unable to make long-term strategic decisions, just a collection of short-term, situationally-based tactical ones. Whereas with Through the Ages, your decision to build your military engine will have long-lasting ramifications for your game, even though your opponents will need to deal with your immediate threat.

          For more complex economic systems, look at some games like For Sale, High Society, or I've of my all-time favorites, Acquire.

            I'm a big fan of acquire, although it probably helps that the first time I played it was on the special edition that was so big and nice and shiny. Don't get a chance to play it as often as I would like but always fun when I do

          Monopoly one has one strategy. Buy 4 houses on your properties, never a hotel. Stops all others from progressing, you slowly bleed them dry.
          The whole game is about one player slowly bleeding all the others dry. Not my idea of fun.

          you are very wrong on this count. there are many many games that fit "one of the most strategic and deceptively complex games out there due to its financial wickedry" but Monopoly isn't one of them. I don't poop all over monopoly and you can win more often then others but it's just not much of a game.

      This is probably more starting to play board games as an adult. Those games are normally played as kids and then generally people grow out of them. There is a break and normally it is something like the above that they play with somebody to get them interested in board games again.

    For the record, the best phat have I played recently is Food Chain Magnate. Power Grid and Agricola are also perennial favorites.

      I think Food Chain Magnate is a little too casual.

        I'm guessing you're more of a Campaign For North Africa fan then?

      Powergrid is just a phenomenal game. it's not a perfect game but it is great, and relatively easy to teach.

      Ecomonic games are my Jam!

    Not a huge board game guy but I've had a lot of fun with Dominion plus one of the expansions.

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