Take a deep breath, and place your meeple.
A cacophony of cards soaring through the air; meeples tumbling; dice jettisoned in all directions; a thousand tokens condemned to the under-couch abyss. It’s a heavy price to pay for anger, but sometimes, flipping the table is a seriously tempting proposition. Breathe in, breathe out.
Not working? Don’t worry, we’ve got something a little more powerful than your usual meditation. If you’ve had a tough day, or you’ve been backstabbed in one too many games of Dune, these stress-busting board games will help you unwind that coil of irritation before any components end up on the carpet.
Relaxing board games to soothe your stressed-out soul
We’ve been playing a lot of Sucker Punch’s video game Ghost of Tsushima recently. As you might expect, clashing katanas feature quite prominently. But often the greatest pleasure can be found in simply wandering the beautiful landscape, stopping to enjoy a hot spring, pray at a shrine, or even compose a haiku.
Tokaido is a game that precisely captures that indulgence in leisure. Making their way down the titular eastern sea road in ancient Japan, players pause to sample delights such as fine food, gorgeous temples, and stunning vistas. It’s an incredibly calming take on set collection and worker placement, bolstered by beautiful artwork.
There’s no incentive to race, as players at the back take their turns first. The highest level of vexation this pretty game can muster is seeing someone else plonk themself down at the food stall you were hoping to grab a bite from. And with so many other wonderful places to visit, you won’t have much time to worry about building a grudge.
Sustaining the samurai-era Japan theme that board game designers are oh-so fond of, Kalle Malmioja’s Honshu asks players to don their ancient hardhats (even medieval folk had safety standards, y’know) and plan the most harmonious town layout. By overlapping cards split into six segments, each town expands its network of buildings, woodlands, lakes, and temples to score points.
A fair warning: Each round begins with a bidding phase as numbered cards are played into a shared picking pool. You might feel the mild flutter of an increased heart rate when you spy or place the perfect card for your city. But whether you get the card you want or not, you’ll quickly find yourself preoccupied with figuring out how best to slot your new puzzle piece.
There’s something so immensely satisfying about watching your town expand in Honshu that, no matter who comes out on top, the end of the game feels like an accomplishment for all involved.
Careful now, because things are about to get grizzly. Based on the 59 Parks artwork series which celebrates North America’s spectacular wilderness, Parks is a surprisingly excellent set-collecting affair. In the same vein as Tokaido, it’s a competition won on foot, but not necessarily at pace. Players travel through the wilds of America, visiting different parks to enjoy the weather, and capture photographs to show off afterwards.
Competing to see who can have the best holiday might seem a little self-indulgent. Then again, if we had infinite money, we’d probably be living out Parks in real life rather than getting incensed at the number of miniatures in the latest Kickstarter board game.
Sadly, we can’t quite afford to spend years luxuriating in the finest nature displays America has to offer. Until then, the mellow rambling of Parks makes for a beautiful (and far more affordable) substitute.
Is there anyone on this earth who doesn’t like birds? No, don’t answer that question – begone avian adversaries! We see you there, gathering like the vultures you so deeply despise. For those of us who are fans of our feathered friends, there’s no more relaxing bird bath to sun yourself in than the gentle engine builder eurogame of Wingspan.
Picking food from a shared tray, your aim is to attract a collection of rare birds to your woods, fields, and waters. Encourage them to lay eggs or hunt in your lands, and your wetland center’s Tripadvisor ratings will soar. Turns start off simple, but the more birds you play, the more actions you unlock. In this manner, Wingspan gradually builds up your engines without overwhelming, making it a fantastic introduction to the hobby.
Every card in Wingspan’s flock features a stellar rendition of a bird, but it’s the overall color palette that really sells a tranquil vibe. Player mats, egg tokens, and dice...all the components feature a soothing mix of pastel colours that tick the ocular-pleasure boxes in your brain. With minimal player competition or intense planning, it’s a lovely game to glide through as you chat to your friends.
Giving up our hectic city lives to settle for a simple existence in the country always seems like a wonderful idea until we remember how much of farming involves shoving your hand up animals’ bums. Thankfully, Lowlands skips over the messier aspects of rural life, instead letting you experience an idyllic year raising a valley-full of sheep to sell at market.
Lowlands has you assigning farmers worker-placement-style, picking between tasks like setting up fencing, constructing buildings, and buying sheep. What’s that sign asking people to build a dyke about? Ahh, don’t fret about that. Look, if you place more fences, you’ll be rewarded with extra resources every round! Put your sheep together, and they’ll magically multiply! The countryside is wonderful.
Most worker placement games force players to vye for limited spaces on a shared board, driving competition and imperfect strategies. Lowlands, on the other hand, is happy to let everyone meander through its puzzle at their own paze, stopping to graze at whichever aspects -- not the dyke, of course -- seem most interesting.
Gosh, the weather is really picking up now. Say, did anyone remember to build that dyke in the end? Oh, us? We were far too busy taking care of our sheep. Speaking of which, where did they go, and why is there water everywhere? Oh dear…
If you’re still in the need for some extra zen time, then we suggest you lie back and have a listen to the Going Analog Podcast. Want to share your own relaxing board game choices? Give us a follow, and drop a message on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deck builders with him on Twitter @Fernoface, or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.