Forget Monopoly and Scrabble; we’re living in the golden age of designer board games. Join us as we explore the rise of this curious trend, take a closer look at some of our favourite titles, and give you tips on cocktails that will turn your tabletop evening into a celebrated talking point.
by Daniel Hayden
In an age of smartphones, cloud-based data storage and instant video streaming, the idea of gathering around a table to play a game made of cardboard and plastic may seem antiquated. For some it may be a relic of forced fun at awkward family gatherings, or a lacklustre pastime during a rainy holiday.
It may be a surprise, then, to know that board game sales are rising consistently each year, becoming a billion dollar industry. More and more new titles are being produced. Crowd-funding websites are currently dominated by intrepid designers and creatives, inventing their own games and accompanying accessories with huge success. Across the globe, board game cafes and bars are springing up in vibrant cities, letting patrons pick and choose from vast game libraries with accompanying drinks and snacks.
To those who have enjoyed their own ‘game night’ in the past few years, this will not be a surprise at all. Playing together with friends, face to face, is a deeply rewarding experience that can quickly become quite addictive.
A TIMELESS TRADITION
Some speculate that in the digital age, physical human interaction has become a prized commodity. A quick instant message or a scroll through social media can be seen as ‘catching up’ with an acquaintance without any real connection. Inviting over some old friends, bonding over shared objectives, trading stories and jokes as you interact with something tangible and tactile has an almost primal appeal.
But more than that—board game designs have simply become better in the past decade or so. Aside from ancient strategy games like chess, checkers and go, many people may think board games have a limited scope in what they can accomplish. The mass market has, historically, been dominated by repetitive dice-throwing affairs, cash-in quiz games or nebulously-complicated, weekend-consuming roleplaying games. Today, a vast spectrum of titles have emerged to fill the gap there once was.
European-style games like Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan were at the forefront of the resurgence, with a focus on resource management and diplomacy. These mechanics helped to keep everyone involved at all stages of play, rather than limiting their concentration to their turn at a dice roll.
Some games are notoriously complex for those who thrive on the struggle of strategy, with hundreds of intricate components and thick, beautiful rulebooks, like the grand space-opera game Twilight Imperium. Conversely, some titles can easily be explained in seconds and carried around in a pocket or purse, such as the quick card-game Love Letter or the storytelling-focussed Gloom. There are also abstract, social games that require you to really understand your gaming companions. The Resistance gives every player a secret role and tasks you to weed out imperial spies. The Czech-designed game Codenames is a more recent arrival that requires players to set up linguistic leaps of logic to band together seemingly random words.
But we’re here to help you get started. We’ve selected four of our favourite gateway games to kick-start your new hobby. We have also consulted with our best barmen to suggest some great cocktail pairings that’ll help convince your friends to join in too.
Step back into the golden age of steam train travel. The first step to setting up Ticket to Ride: Europe involves unfolding a beautiful, vintage-style game board map. Destinations like Dieppe, Venezia and Constantinople are connected by colourful, criss-crossed routes. The game conjures a wonderful sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of a journey aboard the famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
The objective is to outdo your opponents as you create a personal rail empire. Each turn players collect coloured carriage cards, which they can then exchange for matching lines on the board. The real strategy arrives in the secret ‘tickets’ you can also collect, each detailing a longer route that will award bonus points should you succeed in claiming it. You will have to keep an eye out for what your fellow entrepreneurs are collecting, and decide if you should pursue your own goals, or sabotage theirs.
A classic game deserves a classic cocktail, and where better to find inspiration that from the menu of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express itself? We recommend our ever-popular Pousse Café du Train, a variant on the classic Pousse Café that is typically served after coffee.
The layered colours reflect the vibrant routes available, and much like setting out your delicate carriages, preparing the cocktail requires a steady hand. Begin with 30ml of vivid green, herbal Coca Buton. Carefully layer with 30ml of purple, floral Parfait Amour. Finally top with 30ml of sweet, golden Galliano. It’s a timeless, elegant tipple for an entrepreneur on the rise.
Subtitled ‘The Game of the Path’, Tsuro is a classic strategy game whose beautiful simplicity is matched by its gorgeous design. The board is printed to look like an ancient Japanese wood carving, where rich reds, ochre and cream create a many-tailed phoenix soaring against the clouds.
Players select a coloured stone, embellished with the symbol of a dragon, and choose a starting point on the edge of a grid overlay. You then take turns laying tiles, each one patterned with sprawling white lines which become a path for your stone to follow. The object of the game is to create a path that keeps you on the board for longer than your companions. While some have argued the game is a metaphor for the quest to enlightenment, the truth is this is a very quick and easy abstract game, perfect for all ages. It could also double as decorative art.
I Nengah Ladra, the Assistant Bar Manager at Belmond Jimbaran Puri in Bali, suggests his own colourful creation, Winning Dragon. The different shades in this layered drink are inspired by the colours of the stones. The gradient symbolises the levels of intensity as the game progresses, beginning with a tranquil green and ending with a chaotic red as you are left with fewer and fewer options to stay on the board.
To create the cocktail, you will need to layer 40ml of Bacardi with 30ml of Midori, 20ml of pineapple juice, 2ml of orange juice, a dash of lime juice and top it off with 80ml of red dragon fruit juice.
Tokaido asks its players a simple question: what makes a holiday special? Set in Edo-period Japan, Tokaido is named after the famed Great Sea Road that all manner of pilgrims once journeyed along. Each player takes on the role of a specific character, whether an aged priest or a wandering artist. The journey is split into four days, and you can use each day to pursue whatever interests you most. Unwind in hotsprings, with a chance to meet the local macaques. Take time to savour and paint the scenery. Pick up beautiful souvenirs from boutiques and make new friends along the way. The only inevitability is that you must all gather each evening for dinner at a local inn.
Both the gameplay and the visuals of Tokaido are incredibly peaceful and zen. The board and accompanying cards use a minimalist art style, rich in pastel colours with bright splashes of green and pink. It’s also easy to overlook the sense of competition the game fosters. On your first playthrough, you might not realise how many points you’ve been awarded until the very end as you get swept up in the beauty of the experience, finding avenues for tactical play only after repeated games. Ultimately though, Tokaido champions the importance of a journey well travelled, which is a notion we can all raise a glass to.
In order to capture the tranquil spirit of the game, we turned to Rejane Kewano, the Sake Sommelier of MEE at Belmond Copacabana Palace. She worked with Rodrigo Mello, the Bar Supervisor, to create Cherry Fizz. It’s a very light, simple and fresh cocktail that uses the best Japanese ingredients to capture an authentic flavour.
Begin by mixing 50ml of Umenoyado Junmai Daiginjo sake with 30ml of strong, cold hibiscus tea. Layer this with 5ml of cherry syrup and top with 50ml of Ozeki Hana Awaka sparkling sake. Adding a final decorative flourish of edible flowers truly reflects the image of cherry blossom in bloom.
PLEASE CHOOSE YOUR LANGUAGE