Three Board Games Worth Your Entire Saturday Afternoon

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One of the less fun experiences in board gaming is a title that simply won’t end. We’ve all gathered around a seemingly eternal game of Talisman, or seen Monopoly extend well beyond when anyone was having fun. But that doesn’t mean long games are always bad. Some games can fill an entire afternoon with exciting, even epic fun. Longer games can allow a narrative to build, and for subtle plans to come to fruition. Here are a few games in the three to four hour range that are worth setting aside the time.

Dominant Species

Dominant Species is an almost expert blend of euro-game mechanics, classic combat, and conquest games. In the beginning, each player controls an order of animals: insects, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or mammals. Everyone starts with a few species on the board, and the board represents various climates and terrain types. Then the real fun starts.

Each round starts with the players, one at a time, selecting which actions they intend to take using a worker-placement style mechanism. They can attack, move, grow the terrain, change the climate, spread tundra, and adapt their animals. Once everything has been chosen, the players act it out in a specific order, attacking and vying for control and dominance of the tiles. If you have the most animals on a tile, you’ll get the most points when it scores. But whichever animal is the most acclimated gets a bonus card that can provide significant special powers.

Dominant Species usually clocks in around the three or four hour mark with a full compliment of players. But it is extremely engaging the entire time. There are often multiple areas to fight over and it can be difficult to compete for all of them. There’s a dual struggle between wanting to have the most animals on a tile in order to get more points, and wanting to change the climate or adapt in order to get the bonus cards. Plus, if your opponents have a ton of species somewhere, you can grow the tundra and ice them over to oblivion.

Through the Ages

Civilization games are not known for their short playtime ( usually). And that’s because if you want to see your tiny city grow from ancient warriors to a modern society, you’ll need time to develop at each stage. Enter Through the Ages, which allows you to begin in the antiquities and build forward until you have your own fast food chain–truly a wonder of the modern world.

All of the players begin in antiquity, with science composed of philosophy and military forces just dudes with swords. But from there, players can learn new technologies that allow them to advance their society. They can construct some of the great wonders of the worlds to bring them long term benefits. You become inspired by great leaders. And the goal isn’t necessarily to conquer the others, but simply to produce the most culture.

Military is ever present. And while a strong military will rarely win you the game, a weak one can lose it for you. You see, another player might initiate a war that results in the theft of your resources, buildings, or even culture. So you strive hard to build the best society, but also need the military might to defend it. Through the Ages takes about one hour per player, but it is consistently riveting and worth every moment.

Reef Encounter

Most lengthy games involve heavy doses of conflict, and Reef Encounter is no different. It’s just that the conflict takes another form. Here, the players try to grow coral, destroy the other players’ reefs, and manipulate the relative strength of coral types; all while deploying shrimp and feeding your parrot fish. Okay, so the theme sounds a little bizarre. And it is. But the game underneath is amazing.

There are five different types of coral, and you’re trying to eat it for points. It’s worth points according to its strength–how many other types of coral can it eat. Players can manipulate both sides of that equation. Maybe orange coral is strong so I make a point to grow it out and then eat it. But then you take actions to weaken orange coral until it is no longer as valuable as it once was. Alternatively, maybe I eat up some weak white coral and then try to strengthen it.

The result is an absolute knife fight. There’s a control portion as the coral battles it out on the boards. You get yours to eat theirs. Not only does that give you bonus tiles, but it means there’s less coral for them to eat. Meanwhile, you need to keep a constant guard on the strength of coral, and lock down advantages when you have a chance.

Reef Encounter is about a three hour affair with a full compliment of players. By the time it’s done, you’ll let out a hearty sigh and be ready for a breather. It’s exciting and conflict-driven throughout.

What other games are worth your Saturday afternoon? Tell us about them in the comments.

Featured Image Credit: Eagle-Gryphon Games

Image credits: GMT Games, Czech Games Edition, What’s Your Game?

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