Clear the Table: Poland’s Best Board Games
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Poland's Best Board Games, 'Warsaw: City of Ruins', photo: Granna, center, warsaw-city-of-ruins-promo.jpg
Spending the next few evenings at home? Already watched all the good Polish movies on Netflix? Played ‘The Witcher III’ through twice? How about some oldschool, offline fun? How about a good board game? Culture.pl has got you covered! Discover some of the best Polish tabletop games around!
We reported on the resurgence of board games in Poland a few years ago, with table top-gaming attracting bigger and more diverse audiences. What began as something of a niche passion exploded into a hugely popular pastime for Poles of all ages.
The increasing number of people looking for opportunities for playing games offline led to the creation and growth of many board game ‘publishing houses’ that started out simply localising worldwide hits, and grew to release their own wonderful tabletop games. Gather your playing partners, because here are some of the best titles that Polish board game producers, designers and illustrators have to offer!
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Klemens Kalicki’s debut design should appeal to everybody looking for a relaxing family game. Dream Home is actually a very accurate representation of homeownership as your sole concern will be making sure your home looks better than the houses of your neighbours.
When it’s your turn, you can pick any of the ‘room cards’ from the shared board and use them in the design of the house of your dreams. But remember: the cards that fit your blueprint simply might not be available when you need them or could come out with something bound to ruin your carefully made plans.
To win a game of Dream Home, you need to skillfully overcome the randomness of the cards and earn points by putting together a satisfying architectural design. But even if you lose, Bartłomiej Kordowski’s adorable illustrations will leave you satisfied just looking at whatever you managed to create.
Complexity: low; the hardest part is accepting that your seven-year-old just built a nicer home than you ever could
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
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If you are not a competitive type and playing against your friends is not really your thing, then Ignacy Trzewiczek’s Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island might be more up your alley.
In this cooperative game, you and up to three other people will work together to explore a deserted island and achieve goals outlined in one of the many scenarios. You win by collecting enough wood to build a raft, saving another castaway or surviving the eruption of a volcano. You lose if you succumb to any of the things you definitely want to avoid while hopelessly stranded in the middle of nowhere: food shortages, dangerous weather, predatory animals. You get the idea.
Thanks to the game’s notorious difficulty, it should take you countless evenings to beat all of the scenarios but if you have a knack for overcoming nearly impossible odds, the numerous expansions including additional challenges, items, events and playable characters will surely keep you occupied for a very long time.
Complexity: high; learning the rules might be the game’s ultimate challenge
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Trzewiczek’s next game (and frankly, we could write a similar list consisting entirely of his designs) is much more laidback. Each of the players in Imperial Settlers is given control of a unique faction (such as the Romans or the Japanese) and asked to lead their people to prosperity by building marvellous constructions, collecting and trading resources, and occasionally raiding the lands of their opponents. The gameplay consists of playing cards that interact with each other and provide more and more options every turn.
If you enjoy economic strategy games or just want to watch your empire grow, Imperial Settlers will not disappoint. Just be aware that you could see the number of cards in front of you grow even when you are not playing, because there are plenty of expansions to be bought, each introducing new strategies or playable factions. Alternatively, you could take a look at Trzewiczek’s 51st State: Master Set which shares many ideas with Imperial Settlers, but is set in a post-apocalyptic world.
Complexity: low to moderate; as it tends to happen with empires, yours will be quite simple at first, but as it grows, it might get difficult to really see what’s going on and why
Warsaw: City of Ruins / Capital
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'Warsaw: City of Ruins', photo: Granna
Warsaw: City of Ruins (at first sold as Capital) is the only game on this list that actually features Poland. Each of the players is tasked with building one of the districts of the Polish capital and they do so over six rounds, each representing a different period in the city’s tumultuous history.
At the beginning of every round, you are dealt four tiles, pick (and pay for) one and pass the rest to the next player. You then repeat this with the tiles you receive until they run out. This drafting creates a wonderful, communal atmosphere and gives a feeling of creating one interconnected city, not several disjointed districts.
Filip Miłuński’s design is extremely approachable, both in its gameplay, asking you to find a perfect balance between gaining money and points, and in how it presents the complex history of Warsaw. If you are unable to pay this amazing city a visit, playing Warsaw: City of Ruins might be the next best thing.
Complexity: low; about as complex as the map of all of Warsaw’s metro lines
This War of Mine: The Board Game
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Poland might be more renowned for its video games, but its board game industry is not that far behind. Sometimes quite literally, as in the case of This War of Mine: The Board Game, a tabletop adaptation of 11bit studios’ hit video game This War of Mine. It follows the digital original very closely and puts the players in the role of civilians trying to survive in the middle of a civil war.
Like in Robinson Crusoe, you will work together with your friends to overcome adversities, but This War of Mine: The Board Game focuses more on the story, asking you to read passages from an enormous book of scripts and to react to unexpected events. The subject matter and tone of the included stories, explicitly dealing with the harsh reality of war can make the gameplay a harrowing experience. Michał Oracz and Jakub Wiśniewski’s design is difficult to forget, for better or worse.
Complexity: moderate to high; the game features a learn-by-playing system, but its stories introduce new rules as frequently as they do impossible moral dilemmas
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
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'Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game', photo: Rebel
Have you always dreamed of solving mysteries and apprehending criminals? Then Ignacy Trzewiczek (that’s the last of him, I promise!) and storytellers Przemysław Rymer and Jakub Łapot have a game made with you in mind.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game presents you with five distinct cases which you will solve by following leads, investigating witnesses and using your power of deduction. The designers even tried to modernise the tabletop medium by utilising real-world information in their mysteries and creating a fictional internet police database you can browse on your computer. The game asks you to read a lot of text and will often make you follow red herrings, which could make a single case last over three hours, but the thrill of getting all the answers right is certainly worth the time. And once your investigation skills help you uncover everything hidden in the base game, you could always pick up a box of additional cases set in 1980s Los Angeles.
Complexity: moderate; you don’t have to memorise the entire police officer’s handbook, but being a sleuth that doesn’t follow any rules will get you nowhere
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Imagine you are on a space ship full of hostile lifeforms and it’s up to you and other members of the crew to get everything under control and reach Earth safely. Adam Kwapiński’s Nemesis is as close to being the board game form of the movie Alien as possible without getting into the dicey area of copyright infringement.
But while the heroes of Ridley Scott’s classic only had to face the threat of deadly creatures from outer space, while playing Nemesis, you will also have to deal with a much greater danger: your friends and their scheming minds. At the beginning of the game, each of the players must accomplish one of their two hidden objectives before trying to escape the ship, and it’s quite possible your friends’ best chances of surviving depend on them stabbing you in the back.
This big box is full of tension, and even its rather hefty price did not stop its first print run from selling out almost as soon as it appeared. This is undoubtedly one of Polish board-gaming’s biggest hits of the past few years.
Complexity: moderate to high; you won’t get the ship to work while avoiding an alien threat without some preparation, but it should make sense in the thick of the action
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'Scythe', photo: Stonemaier Games
Before you say that Scythe is the work of an American designer Jamey Stegmaier, take a good look at its cover art. This extremely popular boardgame could not have been made without Jakub Różalski’s amazing illustrations and the world he created.
Based in an alternate, war-torn 1920s full of menacing giant robots, Scythe is a multifaceted strategic board game in which you try to lead your nation to glory by growing its economy, conquering new territories, building impressive structures and making sure that your friends’ factions are not even a little bit more glorious than yours.
If you are not convinced that it belongs on a list of best Polish board games, let me just note that one of the playable factions is called the ‘Republic of Polania’ and it is led by a woman named Anna and her bear companion Wojtek (sound familiar?). If that doesn’t count for something, then I’m afraid nothing will.
Complexity: moderate; you will have to manage an entire nation, but it can’t be as hard as driving one of those enormous mechs
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Neuroshima Hex was first released in 2006, which makes it ancient as far as modern board games go. But do not let its granddaddy status fool you. Michał Oracz’s debut design is not only one of the biggest reasons for the rapid growth of the Polish board game industry, but remains a thriving competitive game. Its third edition and numerous expansions are arguably more popular today than ever and for good reason!
Each of the players in Neuroshima Hex (the game supports varied player counts and types of challenges) is given a unique army consisting of hexagonal tiles and asked to outlast their opponents. In order to win, you will have to focus on careful positioning, well-timed tactical decisions and predicting the moves of your friends. The game’s variability and nearly infinite replay value make it a prime candidate for a board game people will be playing even hundreds of years from now, when the world turns into a post-apocalyptic wasteland not unlike the one represented on the board.
Complexity: moderate; you won’t be confused by obscure rules, but the same cannot be said about your opponent’s clever moves – the game is best described as ‘easy to learn, hard to master’
Bonus! Ticket to Ride: Poland
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Although it was never released outside of Poland, this expansion map to one of the most popular modern board games out there is definitely worth ordering online or picking up during your next trip to Poland.
Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska is technically in Polish, but the only language barrier you will encounter here is when you try to pronounce city names like Gorzów Wielkopolski and Rzeszów. Infinitely more pleasant than an overnight train ride from Szczecin to Przemyśl, this expansion will definitely revitalise your old copy of Ticket to Ride (unfortunately, you need the base game to play it) and might even make the game more competitive thanks to its relatively small size. And since Wsiąść do Pociągu, the Polish name for Ticket to Ride is a nod to Maryla Rodowicz’s classic song, you will have yet another opportunity to flex your knowledge of 1970s Polish music in front of your family.
Complexity: low; playing this is way easier than finding your seat on a PKP train
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