I love lists. Some of my favorite video series every year are Tom Vasel’s top 100 games of all time. And recently his buddies have been doing theirs as well—Zee Garcia is currently releasing his top 100, and it’s great. So last year, I released my top 50 games of all time, just for my own fun, but also to share with other folks what I thought were a bunch of great games, hoping that based on my list maybe a few folks here and there can find some great games and enjoy our hobby all the more.
So four games dropped off my list from last year, either because I just haven’t played them enough, but more likely because other newer games (there are so many!) have just found more favor with me this year. I bet next year I can flesh out a full top 100. The honorable mentions include: Rise of Augustus, Carcassone: The Castle, Alchemists, Terra Mystica, Cash N Guns, Karuba, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Lost Cities.
How do I rank my games? First off I evaluate based on whether or not I objectively think it’s a good game. If it’s not a good game, it just isn’t going to make this list regardless of other factors. Then I consider how much I like it next, and then finally I roll in other factors like component quality, rulesets, etc. And yes, it is influenced by how hot (or not) it has been in our gaming group. In almost every case, I need to have played a game at least twice to make this list, but like everything, there are exceptions.
So for what it’s worth, let’s roll out the list. To the first 15 entries in the top 75! We’ll start out with three new entries to this year’s list:
- Valley of the Kings (new entry)
This is a great little deck-building game, with a set collection aspect that I quite like. It’s best as a two player game, but it plays up to four. There is a standalone expansion to this game (Valley of the Kings—Afterlife) that either plays on its own or can be mixed in to this game, but I don’t think you need it. Start with a small deck of cards, buy more from the pyramid and watch cards crumble down to the bottom where you can buy them. But make sure you take a card out of your deck and entomb it every turn, because whoever has entombed the best sets of relics gets the most points at the end of the game and is the winner!
- Sushi Go! (new entry)
This is one of the quintessential card drafting games (or pick and play), along with games like 7 Wonders and Fairy Tale (both of which I like better), but this one is probably the simplest and most accessible. Collect different kinds of Sushi—try to combo the right ones together to get the most points. Maybe this sushi needs to be dipped in the Wasabi to get the most points. This is a compact little game, and works well in unique places. My wife and I played it a whole bunch during our cruise vacation—both on the plane and on the big boat.
- Dice City (new entry)
People who know me know that you aren’t going to find Catan on this list. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but I’ve not particularly enjoyed my last few plays of Catan—but Dice City is similar, and I enjoy it a bit more. So Dice City has a similar roll-the-dice-and-see-what-resources-you-get mechanic as Catan, but you have more control over whether or not you get them, and there’s no trading. I haven’t found a game yet with a trading mechanic that I’ve particularly enjoyed, and sometimes with Catan you are victim of luck or getting cut off on the map where you cannot further expand your network. In Dice city you have your own 5 by 6 grid board that represents your city, and you roll 5 colored dice to determine what resources you get from your board. As you collect resources, you can buy better buildings to put on that grid, so when you roll your dice you’ll get better stuff. Plus you can earn combat that can be used to fight off bandits, or you can get points by trading massive quantities of resources. And there’s a mini-expansion “All That Glitters” that adds just a little bit more variety and the ability to mine for gold. This is a game that I think initially is a little thin, and the expansion was badly needed. And for me, it’s a step up from Catan, which these days is quite an expensive game for the components you get. Dice City, at least for me, is a better alternative.
- Space Hulk: Death Angel the Card Game (-29)
So this is the first holdover from last year, and it’s down quite a lot of spots from that list. This is the movie Aliens in a card game, which means it’s instantly appealing to me. In terms of mechanics, it’s like Love Letter, in that each round you have one of two cards to play, but boy you all need to work together (it’s a cooperative game) and strategize how to make good choices from those two cards. It’s players against the genestealers, much like Legendary Alien is, but this game is a little bit more puzzly and spatial, and the theme is a little thin. It’s a much longer game than you expect. I think it gets a little bit samey after repeated plays, but choosing different marine teams, or swapping out the location deck for the expansion deck helps keep it fresh. This is one of the better solitaire games, so if you’re up for a brain burner, and a difficult challenge, then give this one a try.
- Ghost Stories (new entry)
The story of how I got this game is almost as exciting as playing it. At last year’s anniversary meetup, the owners of Kryptonite Kollectibles brought us a couple of dented games that they couldn’t sell. I got this one for free (and I failed to find the offending dent, but who cares?). This is another cooperative game, where everybody is defending the village from attacking demons. It’s another puzzly challenge of a game, and it’s one where if you get behind it is very difficult to catch up and survive. It is punishing and relentless. When you win you feel exhausted at the end and it’s almost like it was a miracle. It’s an interesting concept, but that punishing feel is what keeps this game from being higher on my list. Lots of gamers really think highly of this game, but I feel stressed just thinking about playing it. It’s not unlike Space Hulk, but it has prettier components and an Oriental theme, which if you like that, and you’re up for a challenge, then Ghost Stories is for you.
- Love Letter: The Hobbit (-24)
So this entry pretty much includes all variants of Love Letter—and there are tons of them. We played the mess out of this game when we first got it, and there’s no denying how much fun Megan, Cindy, and I had playing it. While it doesn’t get played quite as often anymore, this tends to be the easiest game to pack and bring with us, to keep busy when we’re sitting around with 15 minutes to kill. I like the Hobbit version better than regular Love Letter, as it’s just a tiny shade more unique, with an extra card (the One Ring) and with two versions of the Baron (Tauriel and Legolas) that are slightly different. And there’s the whole Lord of the Rings thing that helps it as well.
- Patchwork (new entry)
This game has been a pretty big hit among 2 player games that have come out in the last year. It’s a little bit like competitive Tetris with a quilting theme. But the quilting theme is a little bit thin—this game for me is really an abstract, and I just don’t like abstract games all that much. There is an app version of this game, which I (over)played quite a lot, so I’m not super interested in playing this game much more, but it is a quick, simple game, great for couples. So given that I don’t tend to like abstracts, the fact that I played the mess out of this game, even if it’s as the app version, that’s pretty high praise for this game.
- Castaways (-24)
I really like this game concept. This is Tom Hanks and Wilson on the island. There are about 22 different plotlines, of which you choose 8 each time, and they unfold as you explore the island, hoping to stay alive and find what you need to attempt to signal your rescue. There is some imbalance between players who explore and get all the fun of seeing what happens, and the players who stay at camp to keep the fire going. I don’t like the “semi-cooperative” nature of the game, as it motivates players to be useless or worse yet, it encourages infighting. It is fiddly for rules, and is a lot to manage. Some games have gone well, and some have gone poorly, largely based on the composition of the players and how well they worked together (or not). I still like this game a lot, but need to be careful about what kind of group we have playing it. I got this game when Robinson Crusoe was out of print, and I’m glad I did. This game is a little bit more story-driven than the more-mechanical and strategic Robinson Crusoe, which I just haven’t played enough to rank on this list. Maybe one day I will get Robinson Crusoe, particularly when the reprint becomes available, but either way, Castaways will stay in my collection. This is a fun game—and it needs and could easily have an expansion. C’mon designers! Give me a Castaways expansion!
- Codenames (new entry)
Wow is this a popular game! I fully expect it to be the Spiel Des Jahres winner for 2016, which is the German Game of the Year. It’s up against Imhotep (which really looks interesting) and Karuba, which just quite didn’t make my top 75. Codenames is essentially team password. What makes it unique is you’ve got to be able to give clues to multiple words you’re trying to get your teammates to guess, but at the same time making sure they don’t make incorrect guesses. There are two main reasons why for me this game doesn’t rank higher. My first issue is that it’s pretty slow, and players like me can be very prone to analysis-paralysis. I take a long time to give clues, and it drags out the game. But, when I give a good clue that works, it’s very satisfying and fun. My second issue is sometimes people like to trash talk their opponents when they play, by throwing out wild guesses, red herrings, or generally taunting the other players. Some people like that, and if you do, I recommend this game very highly. But for me, I like to win or lose based on the merit or quality of my word skills, and how well I was able to work with my teammates, not based on how well I was able to screw up my opponents. I only play this game with a “no trash talk” agreement before starting. It’s a great game, and so simple I wish I had thought of it. It’s a worthy Speil Des Jahres winner when it inevitably wins the prize this year.
- Agricola (-19)
So this is the first game in the top 75 that I would describe as a heavyweight. I got this game hoping Cindy and I would play it, especially since her grandparents live on a farm. She liked it, although it’s about as heavy as she’ll play, and the whole issue of “feeding your people” makes it feel like most of your effort is around just surviving (and not taking penalties) rather than doing fun stuff to score points and win the game. For us, it’s just too long to get played often—it’s been replaced by Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. I still like Agricola, and the different occupations and improvements available to make every game different—I like that a lot. But if I have a choice, if I want a shorter game, it’s ACBS, if I want a longer/thinkier experience, I’d rather tell Eric to bring Caverna. But I do still like it—one of those games I want to play at least once every year.
- Spyfall (new entry)
There are a ton of hidden-role games–lots of pretty-ok ones, but few of them truly great. For me this is one of the better ones because it is truly a unique game concept. So everyone at the table (except the spy) is at some known unique location (maybe a casino, or a movie theater). But there is a spy at the table, who has no clue where he/she is, and is trying to figure that out by listening to everybody else. Each person gets a chance in turn to ask someone a question about where everyone happens to be, like “How did you get to where we are?” or “what are you wearing?”. The trick is when you answer, you want to be clear enough so that people know you aren’t the spy, but you don’t want to give it away to who every actually is the spy. The spy has to figure out how to ask a good enough question that people don’t realize he doesn’t know where he is. After a few minutes of questioning, everybody votes to see if they’ve figured out who the spy is. This is a quick game, and very often when you bring it out, you should play it a few times in a row. This is a game where I seem to hope NOT to be the spy, but I have been the spy a couple of times, and there’s nothing more pleasing that having the spy role and figuring out quickly where you are, which makes it easy to blend in and not be discovered. Probably what I like about this game the best is that it is very cerebral. You’ve got to be very careful what you say, and there’s not a lot of banter, and no one can dominate the proceedings. You only get a couple chances to talk. One of my favorite hidden-role games: Spyfall.
- Bang! The Dice Game (-22)
Got 6 to 8 people and ½ hour to kill? Bang! The Dice Game is your choice. One of the best large player count filler games out there. It’s a cross between Yahtzee dice rolling, and the “who-is-on-whose-team” that you get with Werewolf. Plus variable player powers, and pointing your finger and saying “Bang!” what’s not to like? I don’t recommend playing this with less than 5 players, even if the box says you can. It’s a great game for family gatherings with people who are not regular gamers. We played it a ton at Christmas and it was really fun. It’s another hidden role-game just like Spyfall, so if you’re looking for a similar game bit with a little more action, then Bang! is for you.
- Mafia de Cuba (new entry)
So this is the last in the run of 3 similar hidden-role games, along with Bang! and Spyfall. Mafia de Cuba came out this year, and has another unique concept as well. So the mafia boss takes the cigar box full of gems and role chips, and takes some gems out for himself and passes the box to the left. Each player takes either gems (and hides them), or a role chip, counts how many gems are left, and passes the box to the left. When the box gets back to the mafia boss, he sees if any gems remain, and then tries to determine who his allies are, and who stole gems from his box. If he can figure out who the thieves are, he tells them “Empty your pockets!”, and if the accused has stolen gems, he gets them back. If he can get all his gems back, he wins the game with his teammates. If he fails, whoever stole the most gems is the winner. And watch out for the FBI bosses. If the mafia boss accuses them, they win automatically. This is a more casual game, at least for everybody that isn’t the mafia boss—that’s a very stressful role, and difficult to win. With so many hidden-role games out there, for me—there needs to be a unique concept for me to like it, and in this area Mafia de Cuba delivers.
- Zooloretto (-29)
I suck at this game. I like it but if I don’t win eventually it’s going to find a way off this list. It’s already dropping like a stone. This is the board game implementation of the card game Coloretto, and the theme is building a zoo. It’s a set collection game, with a unique tile collection mechanism. Draw a tile, and put it on one of the trucks, or take one of the loaded trucks. Where to put that tile? If you want it, it may not be around until your next turn comes around. Or somebody else will stick a camel on it that you don’t need. The trick is figuring out how to get the animals you need without taking the ones you don’t. Definitely heavy player interaction, as you can make life miserable for the other players—and you probably must do so in order to win. Good family game, one that even the so-called strategic gamer cannot win consistently.
- Tides of Time (new entry)
This is another card drafting game, and with just 18 cards and a low price point it falls in with the new trend in “micro-games”. Deal 5 cards. Each player drafts a card, reveals, and passes the rest to his opponent. Repeat for all 5 cards, and then score. Then there are some simple mechanisms for removing a card or two from the game, as well as one you can keep in your play area. Then after 2 more rounds of drafts, the person that scored the most total points over the three rounds of drafts is the winner. This is a surprisingly tactical little two player game, one where oftentimes you’re playing “defense” rather than trying to score points yourself. I like this more than other people seem to, primarily because it is just such a fast game, but it has more strategy to it than other micro games like Love Letter.
So that’s it for the first 15 entries on my top 75. What do you think? Did I miss the mark on some of these? There are great games in this group–sure means there’s gotta be some really awesome ones to come. Join me next week for numbers 60 through 46!
Until next time, this is Rob–the hastyhobbit. Have Fun, Play Games, Make Friends.