Tabletop Gaming Nights – Competitive Play

In the previous post in this series looking at great tabletop games for teen gaming events, we looked at cooperative games, where everyone came together as a team, and their chances of success were dependent up on their ability to work with one another. In this post, the focus will be firmly on competitive, winner-take-all, I’m-the-ruler-of-Mars, kneel before Zod games. Most games you grew up playing fall under this category, but I want to highlight some truly exciting games that are more complex and engaging than those you played with grams.

In addition to presenting some true classics of the complex game genre, I chose a few of these because of their relation to agriculture, the wild west, trains, and rural postal routes. This is North Dakota, after all.

settlersOfCatanSettlers of Catan

  • Number of Players: 3-4 (can be extended to 6 with an expansion)
  • Extensible: Very much so, yes, with explorers, pirates, traders, barbarians, seafarers, cities, and knights
  • Duration: 60-90+ min.
  • Cost: $42
  • Awards: Spiel des Jahres Game of the Year (1995), Deutscher Spiele Preis 1st Place (1995), Essen Feather (1995), Meeples’ Choice Award (1995), Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game (1996), Hra Roku Winner (2004), Games Magazine Hall of Fame (2005), Gra Roku Game of the Year (2005)
  • Publisher Description: Players are recent immigrants to the newly populated island of Catan. Expand your colony through the building of settlements, roads, and villages by harvesting commodities from the land around you. Trade sheep, lumber, bricks, and grain for a settlement; bricks and wood for a road; or try to complete other combinations for more advanced buildings, services, and specials. Trade with other players, or at local seaports to get resources you might lack.
  • Notes: This is the game rightly credited with starting the renaissance of complex tabletop gaming that blissfully continues to this very day. Difficult to go wrong with this one.


  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Extensible: Yes
  • Duration: 2+ hours
  • Cost: $70
  • Awards: Meeples’ Choice Award (2007), Austrian Hall of Games (2008), Juego del Año en España (2008), Tric Trac d’or Game of the Year (2008), Spiel der Spiele Hit Games for Professionals (2008), Hra Roku Winner (2008), International Gamers Award-General Strategy/Multi-Player Game (2008), Deutscher Spiele Preis Game of the Year Winner (2008), J.U.G. Game of the Year Winner (2008), Spiel des Jahres “Complex Game” Winner (2008), Golden Geek Award-Board Game of the Year (2008), Golden Geek Award, Best Gamer’s Board Game (2008), Les 3 Lys Hobbyist Game Winner (2009), Golden Ace Special Jury (2009), Gra Craczy – Winner (2009), Gra Roku – Gamer’s Choice (2009), Gra Roku Game of the Year (2009), Jogo de Ano 2008 Spiel Portugal (2009), Ludoteca Ideale Game of the Year (2009), Nederlandse Spellenprijs Winner (2009), Lucca Games Best of Show Side Award Best Game Mechanic (2009), Game of the Year (2009)
  • Publisher Description: You’re a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else. On a turn, you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood, or stone; building fences; and so on. You might think about having kids in order to get more work accomplished, but first you need to expand your house. And what are you going to feed all the little rugrats?
  • Notes: Yes, this is a game based around traditional rural family farming, but it’s way more fun than you’d think, as evidenced by the plethora of awards and honors it has received. There are two variants: family and standard, with standard having more complexity.


Bang! The Bullet!

  • Number of Players: 4-8
  • Extensible: Yes, in addition to what’s included in the Bullet, Wild West Show and Gold Rush expand the play, and Face Off turns it into a two player game
  • Duration: 20-60 min.
  • Cost: $45
  • Publisher Description: Since the beginning, the Outlaws hunt the Sheriff, the Sheriff hunts the Outlaws. The Renegade plots in secret, ready to take one side or the other. But who are the merciless Outlaws, willing to gun him down? To find out you have to draw! (Your cards, that is!)
  • Notes: players are randomly assigned roles at the outset (sheriff, deputy, outlaw, or renegade). Everyone but the sheriff keeps their role hidden. Different victory conditions exist for each role and a lot of the play is in sussing out who is acting in what role, and in bluffing the other players to maintain your cover. While this game is neither spectacularly violent, nor especially disorderly, it does center around Western-style shootouts, and “beer” cards are played to restore players’ health.



  • Number of Players: 2-4 (though it can accommodate more by adding more victory cards – either homemade ones, or through the Intrigue expansion)
  • Extensible: Exorbitantly so, with each increasing the depth, complexity, and variety of play
  • Duration: 30+ min.
  • Cost: $45
  • Awards: Meeples’ Choice Award (2008), Spiel des Jahres (2009), Deutscher Spiele Preis (2009), Mensa Select (2009), Golden Geek Award – Game of the Year (2009), Golden Geek Award – Card Game of the Year (2009), Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming (2009), Origins Award – Best Card Game of the Year (2009), – Best Card Game of the Year (2009), – Best Game of the Year (2009)
  • Publisher Description: You are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. You want a Dominion! In all directions like fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. You will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under your banner. But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs have had the exact same idea. You must race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending them off along the way. To do this, you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury. Your parents wouldn’t be proud, but your grandparents would be delighted.
  • Notes: Dominion offers a richly varied deck-building gaming experience. The simple mechanics keep the game moving swiftly while allowing complex strategies to unfold. Victory is never assured until very late in the game, keeping play exciting and competitive throughout (unlike Monopoly’s slow grinding inevitable defeats). The combination of strategy and luck required to win makes it appallingly addictive and it ranks as one of my personal favorites games. Did I say richly varied, earlier? Each game unfolds around 10 kingdom decks chosen from the 25 available (in the base game, each expansion increases this number). This provides  roughly 3.269 million game configuration options just from the starting box (and that’s independent of the chance and choices that make up the actual game play). The mind boggles in math geek delirium…


Thurn and Taxis

  • Number of Players: 2-4
  • Extensible: Two expansions presently exist, Thurn and Taxis: All Roads Lead to Rome and Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory
  • Duration: 60+ min.
  • Cost: $35
  • Awards: Spiel des Jahres (2006), Meeples’ Choice Award (2006)
  • Publisher Description: In 1490 Kaiser Maximilian I awarded Franz von Taxis the contract to deliver mail between the Kaiser’s residences in Innsbruck and Brussels. He did such a good job, that postal services in the country continue to be connected with the name Thurn and Taxis. With the introduction of postal carriages in the middle of the 17th century, members of the family were raised to Count status and given the hereditary title of Postmaster General. The game begins at this point in history. Can you emulate the achievements of this family and build a successful postal network? Do you have the talent to connect the right cities to create an effective network and not lose sight of the need to acquire new carriages? Plan your moves carefully and watch your opponents’ moves carefully, so you are prepared to respond…

smallWorldSmall World

  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Extensible: Yes, seven expansion sets exist at this juncture
  • Duration: 40+ min.
  • Cost: $50
  • Awards: Meeples’ Choice Award (2009), Games magazine Game of the Year (2010), Golden Ace Jury Prize (2010)
  • Publisher Description: Small World is a zany, lighthearted civilization game in which 2-5 players vie for conquest and control of a board that is simply too small to accommodate them all! Picking the right combination of fantasy races and unique special powers, players must rush to expand their empires – often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one into victory.
  • Notes: There’s not much luck involved in this one, but there’s tons of randomness and zany energy. It’s easy to learn and fast-paced, particularly for a strategy/conquest game. There are different sized boards depending on the number of players, so it scales elegantly.



  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Extensible: Numerous expansion boxes are available
  • Duration: ~45 min.
  • Cost: $30
  • Awards: Spiel des Jahres (2001), Deutscher Spiele Preis (2001), Meeples’ Choice Award (2000)
  • Publisher Description: A clever, tile-based boardgame set in the southern French city of Carcassonne, famous for its unique Roman and Medieval fortifications. Players develop the area around the city, one tile at a time, deploying their followers on the roads, in the cities, in the cloisters, and in the fields. The skill of the players to develop the area will determine who is victorious.


Ticket to Ride

  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Extensible: Seven expansion sets are presently available
  • Duration: 30+ min.
  • Cost: $50
  • Awards: Spiel des Jahres (2004), Origins Award – Best Board Game (2004), Meeples’ Choice Award (2004), Diana Jones Award (2005), As D’Or Jeu de l’année (2005)
  • Publisher Description: Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure game. Players collect train cards that enable them to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.
  • Notes: Not super-strategic, but it’s a great gateway game bridging the gap between traditional boardgames and more complex and exciting offerings. Hard to go wrong with this one.


  • Number of Players: 3-7
  • Extensible: Yes, by Bohnaparte and High Bohn
  • Duration: 30-60+ min.
  • Cost: $20
  • Awards: Meeples’ Choice Award (1997)
  • Publisher Description: Ever imagined you were a bean farmer? Sure, who hasn’t. You got your red red beans, your green beans, your black-eyed beans, your coffee beans. But where to plant them? In this card game, smart sowing lets you reap big rewards. Plant the beans you want, and trade the beans you don’t want to the other players.

Stay tuned for my super quick overview of quick playing games!

Got a favorite competitive game I missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

3 responses to “Tabletop Gaming Nights – Competitive Play

  1. Oh man! I love Dominion and Ticket to Ride. Other games that my friends and I have played a lot of are Munchkin and Fluxx. I have heard that Galaxy Trucker is awesome, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

    • Eric Stroshane

      Fluxx is going to be in my next post on quick play/filler games! Munchkin definitely belongs on this list–can’t believe I overlooked it. I’ve heard good things about Galaxy Trucker, as well, but haven’t had the opportunity to play it (and it is dauntingly expensive).

  2. Pingback: Celebrate TableTop Day at Your Library | Field Notes

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