For those who know me, this article won’t come as a huge surprise. It’s smack bang in this little niche Venn Diagram crossover of loving museums and board games, and I can’t believe I haven’t written something until now! There’s so, so many different types of museums all over the world – some get super specific (film museums, medical museums, even shoe museums like the Bata right here in Toronto) but there’s a lot of larger museums that have a broader scope. I think a lot of these tend to fall into three categories – art, culture and nature. (And yes, that happens to be our jam here at the Royal Ontario Museum where I work, so I might be a little biased). This is by no means an exhaustive list (I could do a whole list just for war games!) but it’s a fun mix that spans different types and difficulties of games. Enjoy, and visit your local museum to see if they sell any games! (P.S. If Museum had hit shelves already, I’d guarantee it’d be on this list!)
This one’s a no-brainer for me to include – not just a fun game, but you get to learn excellent facts about animals! Just how long IS a diamond python? Where do you find budgerigars, anyhow? With the guesstimation/bidding system, it’s a solid game at that. (Designer: Friedemann Friese. Publisher: FoxMind Games)
While this might not be the most scientific of dinosaur games, it’s certainly the best I’ve played. Of course it’d be fun to be making dinosaurs for a museum or a reserve, who wouldn’t want to get in on that action? Feel all of your childhood Jurassic Park feels and see who can make the best park without uh… “losing” too many visitors. My full review is here. (Designer: Jon Gilmour and Brian Lewis. Publisher: Pandasaurus Games).
The heady world of art dealership and auctions might not be something any of us experience, but boy does Modern Art do a great job at making it an exciting game. Depending on which version of this game you have, you’ll have a pretty cool range of choices for art, too! You can feel like a Sotheby’s superstar while bidding on masterpieces, and perhaps even learn about some artists you’d never seen before. David reviewed the CMON release of the game here. (Designer: Reiner Knizia. Publisher: varies.)
Yes, I did say I was spanning all difficulties here. But I can’t have this missed off the list, this wonderful worker placement game of discovering artists, dealing in art, and luring visitors and investors to your gallery. It’s such a smooth and satisfying game to play, and one of the best when it comes to an art gallery game! (Designer: Vital Lacerda. Publisher: Eagle Gryphon).
Timeline – all flavours
Timeline’s one of my favourite trivia games – maybe because just like in Fauna I can guesstimate my answers! Players are given a hand of cards to start the game, and each turn must play one into the “timeline” or lineup of cards on the table, hoping that particular thing or concept fits in that space correctly. From inventions to history to music and more, there’s pretty much a Timeline that would suit any museum store out there. (Designer: Frédéric Henry. Publisher: Asmodee)
This is the head honcho of classical history themes in my humble opinion. While you’re not exactly going to be brushing up on history as you play this card drafting game, it’s thematically stand-out! Up to 7 players are able to claim one of the famous seven wonders of the world and build up a tableau of cards over 3 rounds, dealing with science, monuments, trading, military and the like. Expansions to this game have added quite a bit more historic flavour, too! David wrote about this classic here. (Designer: Antoine Bauza. Publisher: Repos Productions)
Exit: The Mysterious Museum
I wasn’t going to miss this one at all! The Exit series of escape room games are among my favourite of the genre. I don’t want to spoil this one so I’ll just say it’s a nice light, fun one, with a lot of museum-y goodness in the setting. (Designer: Inka and Markus Brand. Publisher: Thames & Kosmos)
Archaeology: The New Expedition
This re-published version of Archaeology the card game is a solid game. Get out into the desert and see how many artifacts you can get your hands on. Again, not exactly representative of the science of archaeology but certainly in the spirit of the adventure. My review of this great card game is here. (Designed by: Phil Walker-Harding. Publisher: Z-Man Games.)
This game captures the feel of the old video game SimLife and I’m here for it. While you aren’t exactly dealing strictly with real life evolution, the ideas are there and it handily deals with the ideas of ecosystems and biodiversity. Herbivores, unite! I previewed the digital port here. (Designed by: Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre, Sergey Machin. Publisher: North Star Games.
The Royal Game of Ur (or Backgammon)
It’d be remiss of me to skip actual classic games, these ancient tabletop pioneers that inspired so many. I first learned about the Royal Game of Ur when I worked at the British Museum – a board is on display and Irving Finkel, one of their curators, was responsible for translating a tablet that had the rules of play on it! I cheated a bit with this pick as they do sell a modern version in the British Museum store, but I think it’d be amazing to play the actual 3000 year old game. I played the heck out of Backgammon when I was a kid, and still love playing through it against an AI in the app I have on my phone. Nothing quite beats playing on an actual set, and I suspect due to it being around for 5000ish years there’s likely backgammon sets in museum collections, not just stores!
This is a charming game about building up a wildlife park and making sure that every type of animal is situated in the appropriate habitat they flourish in. It’s like having a sanctuary where all you want to do is make animals happy! Plus you might get bonuses for tourists who come to watch your wildlife, and the like. Get this to the table if you want to have a slice of biodiversity in action. (Designed by: Corné van Moorsel. Publisher: Cwali).
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects
There’s got to be an Egyptian-themed pick on this list, come on! I almost chose Scarabya from the same designers, but the fantastic table presence of this one can’t be beat. Players strive to be the best and wealthiest architects in Cleopatra’s employ, hoping to create the best awesome 3D structures. It looks seriously great. Days of Wonder are on the ball as always.
(Designed by: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc. Publisher: Days of Wonder.)
This and my last pick are a little more Canadian-centric. I’m going with Wendake because (much to my disappointment) there isn’t a widely available game that is about modern-day First Nations, Metis or Inuit culture (seek out Potlatch the card game if you can, though). However, the way this represents the time period and way of life is fairly spot on, and it’s great to see some indigenous representation in games. My review of Wendake is here. (Designed by: Danilo Sabia. Published by: Placentia Games, Renegade Games.)
1812: The Invasion of Canada
A little bit history, a little bit war, a lot of intense feelings between Canada and the US. A lot of Academy Games titles are great in their accurate representations of history and conflicts – and I could also include Underground Railroad here as another semi-educational tabletop experience. Sean wrote about 1812 here. (Designed by: Beau Beckett, Jeph Stahl. Publisher: Academy Games.)
Honorary Mention: Clue: The Great Museum Caper
This one’s got to be an honorable mention, because of two reasons: let’s not glorify stealing from museums! And also it’s no longer in print. But what a delight that a museum version of such a classic game was made. (Designed by: John LaBelle, Thomas Rabideau, Dave Rabideau. Publisher: Parker Brothers.)