Board game roundup: Games with high do-something ability

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I write about this concept a lot, and want to spell it out with examples of the games that do it best.  There are many different ways to achieve it, here we go:


The Uwe Rosenberg worker placement game is sort of my classic do-something game.  Even if you don’t win, who doesn’t enjoy building a farm?  The game allows you to build out your house, grow your family, add crops and/or livestock of different types, put down certain improvements and occupations and progress your family over the seasons.  It’s something of a struggle just to survive and grow in this game, so doing those things feels like real progress.  At the end, every player has something he can be proud of.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Sort of in a similar vein as Agricola, a building-and-scoring game, even if it is pure building as opposed to worker placement.  It’s just fun to build out your castle, especially with underground rooms like the dungeon or the bottomless pit.  If anything, the game needs to be longer so you can build out even more of your masterpiece castle.


In my opinion, Catan’s do-something ability is what makes the classic Euro game so popular.  You might win, you might lose, but it’s fun to build roads, put down towns and upgrade them to cities.  It’s fun to trade resources with your friends for mutual benefit, so much fun that I find that many players typically look to trade every turn, just to do it.  At the end you have something you can look at for all the resources you acquired.

Terraforming Mars

It’s no secret this is one of my favorite games, to the point where I’m running a GenCon Tournament for it.  I’ve gushed about it in a review, and included it among my favorite Solo Games.  There’s just something about a Terraformed planet, ready to be settled, that is satisfying, win or lose.

A Feast for Odin

Another Uwe Rosenberg game, you grow your Viking tribe, build boats, go on raids, and bring back trophies.  You also explore various new lands like Iceland or Greenland and conquer them.  Ultimately, you emigrate your people to new lands, like Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song.  Read the full review.

Colt Express

As far as doing something goes, what could be more doing something than robbing a train and shooting your friends?  Such it is in Colt Express, where you can also run across the tops of the trains, rob passengers of purses and jewels, even sneak your way to the engine room and pick up the lock box.  It’s also fun to use the Marshal to mess up your opponents’ plans.  Plus, the unpredictability of the game as the story unfolds, and all of this in a 45-minute package makes Colt Express a great game.

Pandemic Legacy

This is a great cooperative game, put together by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau.  You do epic things in this game, like battling a global, spreading, evolving, terrifying disease.  You traverse the globe and deal with rioting, even fallen cities.  You take risks and make decisions with global implications.  It’s as do-something as it gets, I need to get into Season 2.

Merchants & Marauders

If you want a taste of sea life of the 16th century Carribean, this game will score on do-something ability for you.  You can ship goods, buy low, and sell high.  You can go on missions or follow rumors to hidden treasures or improved crew.  You can upgrade your ship and/or buy a new ship and hire crew for it.  All in all it’s typically a lot of fun whether you win or lose.

Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

Delve into the dragon’s lair, load up with treasure, and get out before the dragon wakes up and burns or eats you!  This is a fun romp that I reviewed, popular enough for an expansion.

Monster Slaying
Beating up a bunch of baddies is fun for me.


It’s a different kind of do-something, but as covered in my review, Gloomhaven is some top notch monster slaying.  Through cooperation, you can set up and execute some pretty awesome moves.  This is sort of the latest and greatest of these, but any sort of swords & sorcery quest game is going to score high on do-something ability for me.


You can play some really cool characters and at the very least, stomp and slay a bunch of zombies.  In my experience, even dying can be fun if you do it in a cinematic way, like the time my Machete-wielding machete character got swarmed by a bunch of zombies and died.  The scenario objectives can add another layer of “doing something” to this great cooperative game.  I’ll probably write more about this in a post about cooperative games, but in terms of doing something, this is well done.

Epic Combat
Hard to define what this category is but when these games are played well, you feel like an epic battle unfolded.

Star Wars Epic Duels
I’m not going to write more about this game than I already have, but when it’s at it’s most fun, it feels like a cinematic battle unfolding, and if you want to get really epic, you can do 20 vs 20.

Star Wars Miniatures
This game allows you to pit foes against each other in small or large scale combat as epic as you can imagine.  They were doing the opening Battle of Hoth from the Empire Strikes Back at GenCon.

Arcadia Quest

This is a bit more cartoony than the above, but there’s a nice set of characters you can get into, and numerous adventures to complete.  Another good swords & sorcery game that I reviewed a while back.

Good games without do-something ability
This is just my opinion, and I’m listing them to show contrast in what I mean about do-something ability.  Not all games have it.  The game makers might disagree with my assessment of these, but understand I say it with love.  These are 2 of my absolute favorite games.

Puerto Rico

Probably my favorite game of all time, even more than Terraforming Mars.  That stated, you really don’t do anything while playing this game.  Sure, you put down buildings and plantations, but at the end, there’s nothing to be especially proud of building.  I mean, you get money and you buy stuff, many of the same buildings as everyone else.  It’s not like, oh look at my awesome harbor with my coffee roaster and indigo plant.  No, it’s like, look at my awesome harbor score me 2-3 extra points every time we ship, and look at my awesome score at the end of the game and how it’s higher than yours.  It’s strictly about the score, and maximizing your score.  There are no style points.  I would never make a game like this and would tell you it isn’t targeted towards me, yet, it’s my favorite, so there you go.


I would call this similar to Puerto Rico in that you don’t really build anything compelling, it’s all about the game mechanics and maximizing your score against the other players.  All that stated, Orléans is one of my 3-4 favorite games of the past five years or so, as stated in my review.  It’s that good.  I feel about it much the way I feel about Puerto Rico, except there is one thing you can do…

You do get to see Pacman eat the ghost, so that’s something.

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