Nowadays, nobody plays board games unless they’re out of alcohol and the Xbox is broken—those simple diversions of paper and plastic just can’t hold our attention in a modern world full of entertainment that’s flashy and action packed. Also, all board games are seemingly designed to produce nothing but anger, misery and broken relationships. Here are the ten worst offenders.
Despite what the commercials claim, Scrabble is nothing more than a game about being silently judged by your friends—and their verdict will not be kind.
As you stare at your tiles, racking your mind for a decent word, you’re all too aware that with every passing second the other players are readjusting their opinion of your intelligence. The pressure only grows as the minutes drag on; the longer your friends are forced to wait, the higher their expectations will be. Expectations that you and your four Os can’t possibly meet.
Finally, after half an hour, you play “dog,” feeling a deep sense of shame with each tile you place. As you sheepishly tally your six points, somebody else flashes a smug grin and plays “quixotic,” scoring 119 in the process. “Don’t feel bad,” they’ll say, with a voice that suggests you should feel as bad as possible, “I was just lucky.”
Your next friend will look up some stupid two letter word on his iPhone, and the one after that take the spot you wanted to use next. When it’s your turn again, all you’ll want is to draw an F and U so that you can send your friends a message. But instead you’ll get another two Os, and the cycle of shame will begin anew.
The only game that comes with a risk of a sexual harassment suit every time you play, Twister is the perfect diversion for hormone riddled teenagers and the most socially awkward one imaginable for everyone else.
We all think the guy who suggests a game of Twister is being a creep—the best case scenario is that you accidentally see down some girl’s shirt and get slapped, and it’s only worse if you’re having a guy’s night out and your friend fools no one by saying “we’ll only play it ironically.” But since we’re too polite to point it out we go through the motions, desperately hoping the next call won’t be “right hand—green, your face—Steve’s crotch.”
Games are supposed to bring friends closer together, but they’re not supposed to do that literally—it doesn’t count as quality time if the time is spent discovering the scent of your pal’s deodorant. Come on people, we already have a way to do something with your friends that will embarrass and shame you forever: it’s called binge drinking.
Here’s how a typical game of Battleship plays out:
1. You spend an eternity planning the perfect placement for your armada, while your friend plunks his down in five seconds.
2. All of your friend’s stupid random guesses hit your ships, while each and every one of your carefully calculated shots misses. And while you have no proof, you just know your friend is lying.
3. Your entire fleet is sunk, and only after admitting defeat do you look at your friend’s board and realize you were hitting all along; he was just too dumb to read the grid properly.
4. Tempers flare, and, inevitably, someone gets a patrol boat in the eye.
5. The game gets shoved back into the closet.
6. Five years later, you find your copy of Battleship behind a stack of magazines and, forgetting how much you hate it, you invite your friend to play.
The “race to move your dinky plastic pieces around a stupid board” genre is bad enough already, but Parcheesi is the only game that allows you to bring your opponent’s progress to a screeching halt. If a player puts two of their pieces on the same square then no piece behind them can advance, regardless of the number of turns, profanities or threats of violence that go by.
If your timing is lucky, your barricade will make it impossible for your friends to do anything except sit and glare at you. Sure, once you’re out of other moves you’ll be forced to abandon your blockade, but by that point you’ll be so far ahead of everyone else that the game is all but over anyway. And beyond the ability to screw your friends the game is pure luck, which means Parcheesi is basically Candy Land for sociopaths.
Pictionary is a great game for kids—it encourages them to be artistic and creative, and you can excuse their crappy drawing skills because they’re young. But when adults play there’s no mercy, and the game quickly descends into a competition to see who’s the best at mocking their opponent’s artwork. At first, it’s all in good fun. But then somebody crosses a line, and the insults get ruthlessly personal. “Oh, that was supposed to be a bottle of pop? I just assumed it was beer. I mean, you do have that ‘thing’ with alcohol. Oops, sorry, I ‘forgot’ that was a secret!”
Sooner or later someone will decide to draw nothing but penises, and it all goes downhill from there. By the end of the game there’s a tacit agreement to never speak of it again, and the players will be just a little more distant for the rest of their lives.
Mastermind combines the action packed thrills of code breaking with the ability to make your friends feel retarded for not being able to figure out your devious code of “red red red red.” The Enigma machine had nothing on that!
The mere suggestion of playing Mastermind should be enough to ruin a friendship (the game is less exciting than doing your taxes while listening to a Gore Vidal audiobook), but the real problem is that it’s a two player that one person always takes much more seriously than their opponent. One player will spend an agonizing amount of time analyzing every move, while the other just guesses at random until they run out of turns. And they’ll each win half the time.
One person gets bored, the other gets frustrated, and nobody ends up a “mastermind.” By the time the game is over, you’ll both remember that the only reason you even own Mastermind is so you can hide your copy of Sexopoly behind it when your parents visit.
4. The Settlers of Catan
Leave it to the Germans to create a game based entirely around screwing other people out of natural resources. Sure, on the surface Catan is about developing a settlement—but in reality the primary goal is to make your friends beg for your precious sheep.
Catan is all about resource management, and being the only person with a supply of a certain resource is like being given carte blanche to act like a douchebag. “What’s that? You want some wheat? Give me all your wood, and get me a beer from the kitchen.”
It only gets worse as the game goes on and players become just a select few resources away from victory. “What do I want in exchange for my stone? I want you to cut yourself.”
Ostensibly, the key to winning Catan is to plan ahead and negotiate shrewdly. But in reality, it all comes down to who can get away with being the biggest dick to their friends. And in that game, there are no winners.
If you didn’t expect Monopoly to show up on this list, you haven’t played Monopoly. The game’s winner is always determined in the opening minutes, but their victory is stretched out over the following 12 hours. And they are never, ever magnanimous. They’ll savoir every last one of your fake dollars, and mortgaged properties are like an aphrodisiac to them.
Even your sad attempts to steal from the bank won’t save you when you land on your friend’s Boardwalk hotel and they cackle with unhinged glee. As you haggle with them to stave off your inevitable bankruptcy, it becomes obvious that they’re a sadist who revels in your pain. You and his other victims will offer to surrender so you can stop playing Monopoly and go do something productive with your lives, but he’ll refuse. Why? Because he wants to see you suffer.
When the game finally ends, your friendship has morphed into the bond between a torturer and his victim. You’ll never be able to look him in the eye again, nor will you ever want to.
Risk is a game of luck disguised as a game of strategy, which means you can’t help but feel like an idiot every time you lose to your dumb friends, even though all they managed to do was roll higher numbers than you.
The only real tactical element comes from the negotiating, which always ends in tragedy. Alliances disappear faster than heterosexuality at a Lady Gaga concert; the second someone can exchange a set of Risk cards for some armies they’re going to turn around and crush you like the bug you are.
If you manage to survive the assault you’ll trade in some cards of your own and return the favor, and the two of you will go back and forth in a bitterly personal conflict until the guy who spent the entire game holed up in Australia sweeps the board in a single turn. You and your friend will blame each other for the fact that you both lost, and your fractured relationship will teach you lessons that apply to both Risk and life: never let a conflict get personal, and never trust anyone from Australia.
Risk may lead to your friends stabbing you in the back, but Diplomacy actually encourages it. It’s impossible to win without betraying someone—and the larger the web of lies you can spin, the more successful you’ll be.
But even worse is when the other players openly agree to wipe you from the map, and no amount of scheming, cajoling or begging can persuade them otherwise. You never know just how heartless your friends are until they’re putting aside their differences to destroy you with cold, calculated efficiency.
There’s zero random chance in Diplomacy, so if your friends decide you need to be eliminated there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. And while you hate them for it, you know you would have done the exact same thing to them. At that moment comes the realization that, deep down, you were never really friends at all.