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Cover image for Tired: Golf, Wired: Boardgames

Tired: Golf, Wired: Boardgames

calebmer profile image Caleb Meredith Originally published at calebmer.com on ・7 min read

My mom is an accountant and a lot of people in her office enjoy playing golf. However, my mom doesn’t play golf so that means to join recreational business outings that involve golf she’s either aimlessly wandering the playing field or not participating at all.

This got me thinking, what is the future of business recreation? Will it continue to be dominated by golf, or is golf as business recreation a generational thing?

I predict that the future of business recreation in the next 20–50 years will be boardgames! Boardgames are great, they are:

  • Cheap: The most expensive games max out around $60. That’s quite reasonable when you have 5–8 players.
  • Inclusive: Anyone can play! Generally, everyone will be around the same experience level. These games are also designed to be fun for newcomers.
  • Collaborative: A good game will also serve as a team-bonding exercise. You can get to know your co-workers better by playing a co-operative game or by playing against each other in a hidden information game.
  • Short: You can pick a game that fits into the time you have. Games with quick 30 minute rounds allows parents to play while still getting home to their families.
  • Flexible: All you need is a table, people, and the game. You don’t need a full golf course or equipment.

I’m not talking about classic boardgames like Monopoly or Risk. I’m talking about the huge wave of indie boardgames.

Box art of various boardgames

If I’m right, and boardgames become a mainstream part of business recreation, then the ability to run a boardgame night and introduce new players to the activity will be pretty valuable.

In this post I’ll share some of my boardgame recommendations, specifically ones I think would work well in the workplace. I haven’t played all of these…yet. If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re interested in the future of “business recreation” we can give one of these a spin.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Time: 7 minutes, Difficulty: easy, but can become more challenging as you add roles

My first, and strongest, recommendation is One Night Ultimate Werewolf. The name is a bit of a mouthful, but all the words actually mean something. I’ll call it “Werewolf” from here on out.

In Werewolf you have three to eight players and you give everyone a role. Two or so players will get the “werewolf” role and everyone else will be human villagers. The humans have five minutes to correctly identify the werewolves. If the humans discover the werewolves, humans win. Otherwise the werewolves win. So the werewolves must lie and pretend they are villagers to not get caught. The game also gives some human roles “powers” like the power to see the role of one other person or the power to swap two roles. You can watch some game play here.

Werewolf is in the hidden information genre and is actually a very common format for tabletop games. Growing up, I knew this format as “Mafia” which is a game you play with a standard deck of 52 playing cards.

However, Werewolf makes a couple big changes which streamlines the format and makes it much more fun.

  • An entire game of Werewolf fits into a single round. Hence why “One Night” is in the title. Normally, in a Mafia-style game you have multiple rounds where players are progressively eliminated. In a one night format players don’t get eliminated so no one has to stop playing!
  • Furthermore, you don’t need a game master! Normally, Mafia requires one person to run the game to make sure no one is cheating. Werewolf instead comes with an app which will run the game for you. That way no one has to sit out during play.

These two changes mean everyone in a business recreation setting can play and can keep playing for multiple rounds. A Werewolf round is also really short which allows for quick games.

Werewolf is a very collaborative game that’s great for team bonding. You really need to know the people around you at the table. To know who your allies are and to know when someone is bluffing. I strongly recommend Werewolf for business recreation.

Sheriff of Nottingham

Time: 1 hour, Difficulty: medium

In Sheriff of Nottinghamevery player is a merchant trying to stock their shop with goods. One player is also the sheriff which rotates to someone else every round. In a round, players will put some goods into a pouch. For example, three apples. However, players may also smuggle contraband, like beer, into their pouch! Each player gives their pouch to the current sheriff and they declare what’s in the pouch. The sheriff may choose to either believe the player or inspect the player’s pouch. If there is no contraband in the pouch, the sheriff is fined. If there is contraband in the pouch, the player who tried to smuggle is fined. Of course, you can also bribe the sheriff to not inspect your pouch.

If you’ve every played the game Cheat (aka BS) with a standard deck of 52 playing cards, then you get the basic idea. You want to smuggle contraband past the sheriff since contraband is valuable, but you also don’t want to get caught.

It can take a second to understand all the rules. Make sure one person reads the rule book ahead of time if you’re in a group of new players. You can watch some game play here.

The physical elements of the game are very engaging. Whether you’re putting cards into a pouch and sliding it over to the sheriff, tossing coins over in a bribe, or popping open the button on a pouch looking for contraband gives an authentic smuggling experience.

Captain Sonar

Time: 1 hour, Difficulty: medium

Disclaimer: I haven’t played this game.

In Captain Sonar you have two teams made of two to four players with each team piloting a submarine. Players have roles like navigator, engineer, and sonar operator to position their submarine against the opponent. The navigator calls out the direction the submarine is moving on a grid. The enemy sonar operator is responsible for listening to the opposing captain to record enemy movements. Once one team believes they have the location of another team they may fire a torpedo.

So this game is a lot like Battleship except each team only has one submarine and that submarine is piloted by multiple players.

This game is all about teamwork and communication. With good communication you can strategically manuever your submarine, with bad communication your opponent will know exactly what you’re up to. The game can get hectic with a lot of people talking at once, but that’s also part of the thrill.

Dominion

Time: 30 minutes, Difficulty: hard

Dominion is a deck building game for two to four players. You start with a couple cards and you slowly buy more, building up your deck. Dominion is a lot like Magic the Gathering, in fact, it’s frequently marketed with: “Want to play Magic the Gathering but don’t have the time or money to invest in Magic? Play Dominion instead!” Which is perfect for me. I love deck building games, but the Magic investment always intimidated me.

Dominion comes with a bunch of different kinds of cards. You play each game with a different set of those cards. That means you can have multiple games of Dominion with wildly different feels depending on the cards you play with.

The game is pretty easy to learn, but there’s a lot of depth, complexity, and strategy to the game. Especially when you add in expansions. A player can easily pull ahead of their competitors by employing strategy. This game might be a bit less inclusive than the others because of that. At some point, you need to start thinking strategically or you’ll get left behind.

In a workplace, I’d recommend playing Dominion in a tournament format since the maximum number of players is four.

Tabletop RPGs

Tabletop RPGs are also a compelling category for business recreation. The most popular Tabletop RPG is Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s a massive game which can sprawl over multiple four hour long sessions for years. I think D&D can be great for building teams in a business setting, but you need commitment.

D&D is not the only Tabletop RPG, though! I recommend watching the Tablepop series to get an idea of what shorter form single session Tabletop RPGs look like.

Here are some of my recommendations beyond D&D. Unfortunately, I don’t have too many recommendations for Tabletop RPGs that play out over a single session. I’d like to hear yours!

  • Honey Heist: You’re a bear pulling off a heist to steal honey from Honeycon. This is a fast, fun, one-shot tabletop RPG.
  • Monster of the Week: You’re a monster hunter and every week there’s a new threat to fight. Thematically similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Monster of the Week TV shows. Plays out over multiple sessions.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: Players are vampires struggling against their bestial natures. Plays out over multiple sessions.

I also think single session Tabletop RPGs could be a fun addition to a tech conference. You get some well known speakers on stage and run a session. If you’re a conference organizer interested in exploring this idea more, let me know.

Conclusion

If I’m right and boardgames become a mainstream business recreation activity, then being able to run a boardgame night and introduce new players could be a valuable skill in a work environment.

So I’m investing into building this skill. I’ll keep you updated on whether or not it works out for me.

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calebmer profile

Caleb Meredith

@calebmer

Big fan of JavaScript, Rust and daikon. One of these things is not like the other. Currently at Airtable; formerly Facebook, Oculus, Flow (type system). Creator of PostGraphile.

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