First of all, here’s a reminder that Valentine’s Day is in less than a week this coming Sunday. So what better way to spend it than to share some tabletop adventures and laughs with your loved one.
Today, I am sharing my and my partner’s top 5 picks for Valentine’s Day board gaming. In choosing the titles below, we made sure to choose only games that we own or at least have played before. This allows us to give a fair assessment of the games instead of a sneak preview of what we think it would be like.
Let’s kick off the list with Number 5. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is my absolute favorite board game. It is the only game which I will, so far, rate a 10 out of 10. Sherlock Holmes finds itself on this list because it is a game of mystery, adventure, and discovery that I find is best shared with a loved one. In this board game, you and your partner will take on the role of an officer/detective working loosely with Sherlock Holmes in a choose-your-own-adventure style of gameplay. The box comes with a map of Holmes’ London, a rulebook, a London directory of residents, businesses, locations, and other persons and points of interest, 10 newspapers with specific dates, and 10 case booklets. Each case is self-contained within each booklet and is supplemented by the newspapers, directory, and the map. You and your partner will read a case as presented to Holmes and your character. From there, it is up to you to follow the clues and the leads in order to solve the mystery.
Why is this only Number 5? There is a lot to digest here especially if you are just opening it up and playing it on the same day. The game itself can take up a lot of table space with the map, newspapers, and other components. This is definitely not a game to take on a night out while waiting to get served at a restaurant. Depending on your or your partner’s taste, a murder mystery adventure might not fit the romantic night you are looking for. Lastly, this may not be a game to be playing with someone you’ve only met recently and would like to learn more about. The game requires a lot of attention, from trying to read clues, solve puzzles, and follow leads, you may instead want your attention toward your partner. In this case, keep on reading below.
Why is it Number 5? If you understand the possible drawbacks of such an involved game, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective can make for an exciting and unique night in. Instead of going out, stay in. Cook a dinner with your partner, set the table, and enjoy the meal you’ve prepared together. After dinner, clear the table and bring out Sherlock Holmes. Pick a case, lay out the map, and bust out the notepads. This game is best shared with someone you have a deep connection with, someone who you know you can work well with. Follow leads, compare notes, and test out theories. At the end of the night, you’ll hopefully have solved a murder mystery case. More importantly, you may discover that you have a lot more in common with your partner than you thought, and in those things you are different, you may be complementary.
Changing gears a bit, SET is a fun and portable game to play with any number of people, including two. In SET you and your partner will compete to find a set of three cards defined by various factors: color, number, shape, shading. For example, one set might be three cards which all have solid green diamonds, but have one, two, and three diamonds on them. Another set might be three cards which have different colors, different numbers, different shading, but are all ovals.
Why is it Number 4? SET is easy to learn but not so easy to master. It is friendly, yet competitive. It is portable, which means it can fit in a coat pocket or a small bag. The set up is as easy as shuffling the cards and making a grid of 12 cards. This lends itself to being small-table and bar or restaurant friendly. Waiting for your reservation or your food to come? Play a short round of SET.
A couple of minor drawbacks might be that some players can get really focused on the game, which can detract from personal conversations. The game requires constant visual attention, which means you may miss out on some intimate eye contact during the game. Additionally, some of you might find yourselves playing at different skill levels than your partner. A quick remedy might be to play a semi-cooperative game in which you help each other find the sets instead of against one another.
Did you know those heart-shaped candies that we only see during Valentine’s Day are called Sweethearts? Anyway, why buy those when you can spell out your message with Bananagrams? Bananagrams is a Scrabble-style game in which you and your partner will draw letter tiles from a common pile in order to spell out words on your own personal “board” space. There actually isn’t a board and the letters don’t have individual points. Instead, Bananagrams can be played as relaxed or as competitive as you want. The game comes with a rules sheet that gives you a couple of variations of gameplay. Essentially, you and your partner will draw a starting set of about 9-11 tiles and start spelling out words by having letters intersect at various points.
Why is it Number 3? Bananagrams is small, portable, and comes in a cool-looking zip-up banana bag. It is easy to teach, easy to learn, and can play anywhere from 1, 2, and up to about 8 players. Setting up on a cafe or restaurant table is easy and straightforward. But Bananagrams takes the Number 3 spot because of how versatile it is. Games can progress on whatever pace you and your partner set. The game does not require your full visual or mental attention, allowing you to connect with your partner. Make it fun, make up rules, spell out silly, cheesy, or romantic words, or even combine your words together.
Jaipur is a game strictly for two players. In Jaipur, you and your partner will take on the role of merchants trading goods using the cards in your hand and the market place on the table in order to sell the goods for profit (represented by tokens). Goods range from common items such as leather and spices to rare and precious items such as gold and gems. Bonuses are awarded to players who are able to sell off large sets of the same goods, such as three, four, or five of a kind. There are also camels that cannot be sold as goods, but can be traded between you and the marketplace. At the end of the round, you and your partner will tally up the points (tokens) from selling the goods, and the highest score wins the round. Games are played as best 2 out of 3 rounds, with each victory earning you a Seal of Excellence.
Why is it Number 2? The game is easy to learn and portable; it is also very colorful and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, Jaipur’s box is a really well designed package that wastes little space for the components. Due to the tokens, it might be a bit difficult to set this up on a restaurant table while waiting for your meals to come, but it’s easy enough to play a couple of rounds on a cafe table over coffee or dessert. What makes Jaipur good is that it hits the sweet spot for friendly competition. The game is non-combative and lighthearted with its theme of marketplace trading. There are many strategies that you and your partner can try out throughout many rounds that can change the way you both play. Even after many rounds, the game can have some game-changing surprises to balance out player skills due to the randomness of the shuffled deck. This is a good thing to keep the rounds interesting and fun (except when you start with 4 camels in your hand). Finally, the game flows well enough that you and your partner can still connect in a conversation while playing.
Hive crawls its way to the Number 1 spot. Hive is an abstract puzzle and tile-laying game in which you and your partner will have a set of insects and bugs. The objective of the game is to have the other player’s queen bee completely surrounded; it doesn’t matter if its by your insects or by theirs. You and your partner will take turns laying down a new tile or moving an insect that you control that is already in play. Each insect has its own movement. For example, the ant can crawl all around the outside of the hive; the grasshopper must hop over other insects; and the beetle can climb over and pin down other insects.
Why is it Number 1? Hive has dug a special place in my board-gaming heart because I have my very own homemade copy from when I was feeling artistic, crafty, and broke (mostly broke), but also itching for a new game. But this is more than a praise for my own creation. Hive is compact and travels extremely well. The real version comes in sturdy and durable bakelite pieces that, as I’ve heard and read, really feel hefty and nice to hold. Having brought the game with me through a European backpacking trip, I know first-hand how easy it is to pack, to travel with, and to pull out and play on any small surface. The pieces are cool and understanding their movements make them even more interesting and unique. Like Bananagrams, Hive has no board, but the “board” is created as you play. This makes it a perfect game for restaurant and cafe tables and train and airplane trays.
The game offers many strategies and allows you to try out different tactics with the different pieces. Also, the insects always stay on the board in play and are never “killed” or “captured.” This makes the gameplay more balanced instead of having one player overpowering the other. Like a light game of checkers or chess, you and your partner can engage in conversation or even friendly trashtalk as you pin down the other’s queen bee with your beetle. The only drawback of this game is if you or your partner is squeamish about creepy crawlers.
So there you have it! (Our) Top Five Boardgames for Valentine’s Day! Check them out and let us know what you think! If you think there are other games that should be on this list, let us know which and why.
In a future post, I will be sharing my impressions on the recently released The Witness. Stay tuned!