Finding Frugal Fun with Board Games

As kids, many of us loved playing board games. I was a child of the eighties and, as such, grew up playing Candy Land, Sorry!, and Monopoly. But somewhere along the path to adulthood, most games that we’re familiar with seem to lose their appeal. Sure, we might enjoy occasional trivia games or party games, but the fact remains that most of the traditional board games that we used to play as kids now seem…boring.

In this post I’ll help you discover an entirely new and exciting world of board games — games that are fun, strategic, and interactive — that I guarantee will refresh your enjoyment of board gaming.

First, a plug for board gaming that will be appreciated by GRS readers. Board gaming is:

  • Fun. A single game can provide your friends and family with years of entertainment.
  • Frugal. An average game costs $25-$50 (about the cost of dinner and dessert for two at a moderately-priced restaurant) and never expires. This means that you’ll pay only 50 cents for each play of a $25 game if you end up playing the game 50 times.
  • Educational. Many games help you develop and practice planning, puzzle-solving, and negotiation skills, making them great indoor alternatives to mindless television.

When I entered graduate school in 2002, a few friends and I met weekly to play board games, chat, and generally de-stress after the workday. Over the years this gathering continued, friends invited more friends, our game collections grew, and now “Game Night” is a Thursday night tradition. We have fun and enjoy a super-frugal evening of activity!

Disclaimer: I am a nerd, and many of my friends are nerds.

There truly is a whole world of fascinating board games out there, but many of these games (most of which come from Europe) haven’t broken into the mainstream, so many Americans remain completely unaware of these games. You won’t find these games in WalMart or Target — at least yet! One notable exception of a Euro game that has been gaining widespread popularity here is Settlers of Catan. And there are so many other games out there that are very fun but simply not well-known.

Want to try new board games and reintroduce board gaming as a fun hobby in your life? If so, use these strategies to find the right games for you:

  • Hug a nerd. Do you have a nerdy friend who has a shelf full of games that you’ve never heard of? Take a chance and ask him/her to teach you one of the games. It could become your new favorite game! Your friend will likely appreciate this too, as it can be hard to find people who are willing to try more obscure games.
  • Find a board-game group near you. It’s possible that your region has an “official” board game club that meets once a month or so to play board games. Attending one of these events is a fantastic way to try out a variety of new games. The events are usually free or cost just a few dollars, and the club members supply all of the games. My husband and I attended a game day recently and were met by friendly people and tables upon tables of board games to try. By the end of the afternoon we had raced bicycles across terrain, claimed feeding spots for exotic birds, planted and harvested spices, and colonized alien worlds. To find an event near you, contact a local gaming specialty store to inquire whether it knows of any such events.
  • Do research to find games you think you’ll like, then purchase them. If you don’t know anyone who has games to try and there aren’t any board gaming clubs near you, it’s very likely that you’ll just have to bite the bullet and order some games to try. As with any purchase, you’ll want to do some basic research first to ensure your satisfaction with the product. First, find and research games through the internet or the website Board Game Geek. Once you’ve pinpointed a game you might like, search the internet to find and watch a video review of the game. Finally, search to see if there’s an online version of the game that you can try first. For example, some of my game recommendations below — Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Mr. Jack — all have online versions available to try for free. Finally, purchase the game — many will be available through

Finally, what types of games are actually out there, and how do you find a game you might like? Here I’ll address a few very general ways to categorize games and provide some starting suggestions. For any specific games I mention, search the internet or Board Game Geek to get more detailed descriptions. (Disclaimer: These are only my opinions and only a tiny sampling of the games that are out there!)

  • Strategy vs. luck. Do you like games that are entirely strategy-based (like Chess or Checkers), or do you prefer games that blend strategy and luck (like Risk or Monopoly, which involve dice)? For a new twist on 2-player pure strategy games, try Hive or Khet. For a fun and addicting 2-player game that blends strategy and luck, try Mr. Jack. (My husband and I are addicted to this game right now!)
  • Theme vs. abstract. Do you like games with a rich story to tell (like Clue), or are you content just moving essentially meaningless pieces around a board (like Aggravation)? For new theme games, try Vegas Showdown, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, or Shadows over Camelot. For new abstract games, try Ingenious or Qwirkle.
  • Slightly complex vs. extremely complex. It’s no secret — Euro games are generally known for being much more complicated than the games that most of us are used to seeing in American retail stores. If you’re just trying out Euro games, I suggest trying some of the more simple (but still extremely fun!) games first. Start with Ticket to Ride or the ever-popular Settlers of Catan. If you like Settlers and are ready to step up the game a notch, add its expansion Cities and Knights. Or try other intermediately complex games like Ra, Citadels, Dominion, or Princes of Florence. If you want to try a very complex game, try Caylus or Goa.

I hope that after reading this article you’ll feel motivated to branch out and try new board games. They’re a wonderful source of frugal fun and can become highly addictive! I’ll end with some questions for you: Have you tried any of these games? Which board games do you and your friends/family enjoy the most?

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