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Board Games: 'Tis The Season

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Board games are a lot like life. Not in a 'we're all in the Matrix' kind of way, nor in a 'you win some, you lose some' kind of way. More in a 'relatable comparison to start an article with' kind of way. But I'll come back to that.

Whether you're sat round a table staring at a series of tiny cardboard villages, building a safari park for bears, grabbing a ghost, pretending to be on the most awkward job interview ever, sharing secret passwords without meeting an assassin, working your way through Hogwarts one O.W.L. at a time*, or just nostalgically replaying the games you grew up with, it's a satisfying way to spend an afternoon, an evening or, sometimes, the whole darn day.

I love board games so much that I have gone as far as handing in a school book report assignment in the form of a board game based on the story, hosting a Cluedo-themed dinner party in my first proper grown-up home, and last year turning a hobby into a job when I was hired for a couple of shifts a week at The Treehouse, Sheffield's new board game cafe. The staff at The Treehouse love it so much that we hang out there even when we're not working.

The board game cafe format is usually the same - pay a cover charge for the time you spend there and play games for free. Food and drinks are available and there's a wall full of board games, including variations on the classics, long strategy games with similar formats but vastly different themes, and some really innovative stuff that you might not even realise was out there.

Board games are a lot like life

Whether you play at a cafe, a pub, Sheffield Central Library or at home, it's definitely board game season. If you're with a big and unpredictable group, gaming with family or looking to expand your repertoire, here are a few suggestions.

Everyone's got different gaming styles. Some people prefer a long game, others something short and snappy. Some folks dig dice games, other folks are so competitive they can cause lasting family feuds. If everyone is at the same level then that's great, but if not then you could suggest a cooperative game like Pandemic, where you need to cure the world of deadly diseases together. Cooperative games are lovely because everybody works together to win, and even if you lose, at least you can console each other in your collective failure.

If your group likes to talk and is up for a challenge, try Anomia. It's a fast-paced card game for large groups that recreates the feeling of a word being on the tip of your tongue, which is actually the definition of the word. The first person to blurt out the right response each turn wins. If you prefer something with a little more structure that's still fairly easy to pick up, literally and figuratively, try Five Tribes, which features an array of colourful wooden pieces that raise the value of each square or can be exchanged for points, and a modular board that means a new layout and a new strategy each time.

Board games really are quite a lot like life. You can break the rules and make up new ones. You can design your own game. Sometimes a little friendly competition is fun, cooperation feels great and, even though your choices might feel like a roll of the dice, if you work really hard you just might be able to get a penguin to balance on the back of a crocodile. And if you can do that, you can do anything.

* Carcasonne, Barenpark, Geistes Blitz, Funemployed, Codenames, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, in that order.

The Treehouse is hosting a New Year's Eve party. More info at

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