10. July 2023 By Guus de Wit
10 types of board games for 10 types of developers
What board game to play as your next team activity
There are a lot of board games. Probably more than you think. In fact, there are more board games than you would ever need. The trick of course, is to realize that not all board games are made for everyone. But where to start your board game journey then? This article helps you find your ideal board game based on the kind of programmer you are.
The Team Player
If you are someone who likes to work in a team, and in particular work together towards a shared goal, you might like cooperative games. Instead of the classic free-for-all where every player tries to beat the others, in a cooperative game you work together to beat "the game".
For the team player, I recommend The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. It’s a trick taking game (like hearts or bridge), but instead of trying to take more tricks than your opponents, instead you try to achieve a variety of goals together (like taking 3 tricks in a row, or none during the whole game). You might be familiar with these kinds of games, but the co-op feature makes this a unique experience. It's an excellent game with a lot of variety, gradually increasing difficulty, and one round can be played within 10-20 minutes.
Some people like to plan ahead or ponder on a solution before starting. If you are someone who generally works like that, you might enjoy games where you gather a collection of cards and compete for the best combination. One general piece of advice for a planner: don't try to overthink every move, so as not to keep everyone waiting.
A planner might enjoy Wingspan, where you are building wildlife preserves to attract a variety of birds. With 170 cards representing real life birds, the options are endless. Every expansion adds bird cards from a specific continent, so you can look forward to ones you recognize from everyday life.
Contrary to the planner, the risk-taker doesn't mind trying something out and seeing if it works out. If this resonates with you, I recommend trying a game where you have to "push your luck". Every turn you must decide whether you take your winnings, or you try one more throw of the dice. It's all or nothing!
The risk-taker can gamble to their heart’s content in The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Here you draw tokens from a bag to get further along a track. However, if you draw too many of the white tokens, your dreams come crashing down and you experience some (minor) setbacks. The tokens in your bag become better and better, but the drawbacks of explosion worsen every round. Know when to take risks, or when to try to trick others into over-pushing their luck!
There is certainly some politics involved in our daily work: from deciding who must do an undesirable task, to stakeholder management. If you are a person who enjoys engaging in discussions, careful scheming or possibly some flat-out lying, you might like a game with hidden roles. Small warning: do consider that you probably still have to work / play more games with your colleagues afterwards.
For the politician, I recommend The Resistance: Avalon. In this game, part of the group is secretly working against the others by trying to sabotage missions. If you are one of the good guys, you have to figure out who you can trust, and who will try to stab you in the back. On the other hand, if you are one of the deceivers, you constantly have to be on your toes, trying not to get caught. Sometimes, you even have to throw one of your teammates under the bus, to avoid suspicion yourself.
The Pair Programmer
This category is for people who like working in pairs. Of course, in pair programming, you try to work together to reach the end goal. However, you also want to challenge each other to make the best of it! Other games on this list are fun with two players as well, but the game Patchwork is tailor made for pairs:
In Patchwork, you try to fill your 9x9 board as completely as possible with differently shaped tiles, before time runs out. Especially recommended for the Tetris-lovers out there!
The Cherry Picker
Sometimes you like scrolling through the sprint backlog and picking out the most juicy or lowest-hanging fruit. But when nearing the end of the sprint, you make do with whatever is left over. If you like picking your task in this way, you might like games with a "drafting" mechanic where you select a card from a hand and give the leftovers to your neighbor. The best part: everybody plays at the same time, no need to wait for your turn!
A really interesting drafting game is 7 wonders. Here you are drafting cards to build a civilization around one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Gathering resource cards enables you to build advanced science and military cards to overpower your neighbors. Even with 7 players, you can still finish a game easily within an hour!
Some of you might like to work on things yourself sometimes. Board games also don't always have to be social activities, and playing a solo board game can feel more or less the same as playing a video game. While they take just a little more time to set up, they don't involve any digital screens!
Sprawlopolis is a game you can play for yourself by laying out cards to build the best city you can! Every time you play, you randomly select 3 out of 18 possible goals, each score your city in a different way. You might need to build parks that are not on the edge of the city, whilst also trying to build a long road. It makes for a very nice puzzle during boring online meetings!
As a reviewer, you like to dig deeply into every pull request served to you, going the extra mile of not only looking at the code style, but also figuring out what really is going on. There is a particular kind of board game that feels similar: one where a player is secretly making hidden moves, and the other players try to determine where that player currently is. It can be very exciting to try to hide your motives and current whereabouts from the board of reviewers scrutinizing all your moves!
In Whitehall Mystery you hunt a player pretending to be Jack the Ripper. One player, "Jack", is trying to hide a body in different locations, whilst not being caught by the other players who represent the police. Though it sounds macabre, this is by no means a horror game, as the cruel parts are all abstracted away. That being said, tension will be high for the Jack player when the police are on their heels!
An analyst is someone who examines something in detail, in an organized way. This could apply to many different things, but in particular it is often associated with data. If you are playing a game for the first time, you probably have to figure out what is going on in the first place. Some games, however, have such a degree of variability, that every play feels like a completely new situation.
In Dominion, every player starts out with the same deck of cards. During the game, you purchase new cards from a common supply to add to your stack, slowly gathering money-, point- and action cards. The person who does this most efficiently and has the most victory points at the end will win. Every time the card market consists of 10 (randomly) selected types of cards out of 25 in the base game. But, with a whopping 15 expansions, the number of possible combinations is astounding!
Every developer has to communicate in one shape or another: you document, you review, and you share with others. However, the communicators among them have a natural talent for finding the right words, for the right situation at the perfect time. If you have a way with words, look no further than this game, you won't be disappointed!
In Just One, a player has to guess a specific word, based on the hints written down by the other players. Sounds easy, but there is one catch: players cannot give the same hint, as then these hints will not be shown to the guesser at all. So, you probably shouldn't go for the obvious hint. But if no one does, you might end up with a mangle of far-fetched clues, leading you completely off the rails. You will be constantly second-guessing the meaning of words, your co-players' knowledge, and most of all: yourself.