On the Wagon Again is a series of articles in which you can get to know regular members of the Wageningen Board Gamers, past and present. The first up is Erik-Jan!
Who are you?
Hi, I’m E-J, also known as Erik-Jan, Eis-T or just Erik and I’m a board game enthusiast. Well, enthusiastic about some games more than others. In this list of 5 games I will teach you what games you should and shouldn’t like. You can trust my opinion on this, I studied at the WUR so I objectively know better, right? Just kidding. ;)
This game about birds does everything right. All the cards are beautiful, turns are quick and easy. There’s enough decision space and in the end you’re happy with what you’ve put on the table. This is the board game equivalent of lounge music. Just a highly comfortable, well-designed experience. I played this with my parents and with die-hard board gamers and they all liked it. It’s the caramel-sea salt of board games, and therefore worthy of the #5 place on my list.
When did you first start playing board games?
My brother and I got Catan for Sinterklaas when it came out. Our parents were definitely ahead of the curve back then. After that we quite soon got into the “hard stuff” like the Catan Card Game for which we got every expansion. As a student with a particularly creative group of friends I often played monstrosities of game mashups (Risk, catan, monopoly and Elfenland) where rules were made up on the spot. It did result in highly memorable stories though!
#4. Jurassic Snack
This game you need to experience in order to understand why it is a good game. Initially you are a family of 4 dinosaurs and all you can do is eat some prehistoric leafs. But soon you’ll find yourself outmaneuvering your opponent with a T-rex, hunting down victory points, steering towards an impasse or being dropped by a pterodactyl right on top of a T-rex!
What makes this good game great is that it has various end-game conditions that the players actively steer towards, just like in War of the Ring. Every time I brought this tiny french game to the Wageningen Board Game nights it attracted a group of spectators providing unsolicited advice to the players. This game is one of the games that is just as fun to watch as it is to play.
Why do you play board games?
For me, board games provide a consequence-free space to make decisions. If I do something stupid in real life I have to live with it, in a boardgame I can make a big mistake and, worst case scenario, I’ll lose the game. My favorite decisions have a strong social component. “What will the other players do?”, “should I bluff?”, “is she on my team?”. I don’t like to calculate optimal moves or count cards. I play a game with my gut. Do what feels right in the moment.
This is one of the first games that legitimately blew my mind. This game is all about finding synergies between the 10 piles of action cards available to you. It is SO GOOD that this game still holds up in the spreadsheet-like app adaptation where I’ve played it a couple of thousand times. Is this a game for you? If you like shopping, planning ahead and don’t mind the lack of thematic sense then yes! But there are 2 things you should know: 1) The twelve (!) expansions are fantastic and will burn a hole in your wallet 2) There are many games that try to imitate Dominion and they all look better, but none of them come close to the brilliance of this design.
What do you do for fun outside of board gaming?
Music is very, very important to me. I think it is the most emotive artform. Playing piano in a band is just like a good coop game. Another quality board games and music have in common is their escapism: it can transport you to another place and time.
#2. Great Western Trail
This is a michelin-star dish. Beautifully balanced. Every decision you will make in this game is meaningful. The indirect conflict with your opponents matters a lot, yet you can (and have to!) plan ahead.
You will like this game a lot if you’re a fan of what the industry calls “eurogames”. Games with minimal luck, wooden cubes and where you are building up something for yourself. It is a genre of games that excites me more than it should. Some honourable mentions to games with a similar appeal: Fields of Arle, Hansa Teutonica, Kingsburg and Clans of Caledonia.
What would you say your board gaming tastes are?
I’m afraid that I, in conflict with what I stated in the introduction, do not have a taste in board games… I have no favourite genre, designer or brand, there’s nothing connecting these games other than that they are (again, objectively) really good. Now that I think of it, I do dislike some games though: the games that do not offer meaningful decisions, also known as “stuff happens” games. I would for example not play another game of Betrayal at the house on the hill again.
#1. Pandemic Legacy (Season 1 and 2)
This was easily my favourite gaming experience. It is the combination of a mechanically strong game with a story-driven campaign. It is just as much about cooperation and finding solutions to imminent problems as it is about the ethics of what you’re doing to the world. After the games were finished Irene and I framed them and put them on the wall because they are pieces of art that tell a unique story. I’m eagerly anticipating season 3 to see what will happen next.
Finally: Cards, Wood, or Dice?
Wood! I’m always fiddling around and stacking the bits and pieces when playing a game that comes with wooden stuff. Thanks for reading, Hit me up on Facebook or Discord if you want to play any of these games in Wageningen!