Ok, the games are getting a bit more serious now. On to the next 15!
- 7 Wonders (-13)
So this is the definitive card drafting game. The first time I played it, I actually hated it, because I had a crappy teacher and I didn’t understand what I was doing. But I stuck with it and I’ve grown to like it. Almost everybody playing it the first time needs to treat it as a learning game, but once you’ve got it, it really shines. Everybody is dealt 7 cards. Pick one to play, make sure you can afford it’s cost, and pass to your left. Repeat until the cards are gone. Repeat again for decks of cards for Age II and Age III, and score the points. Simple right? But what cards to choose? Should you build up your military and beat up on the players next to you? Or pick all science cards? Or a mix? Or do I need to take a card simply so the next player can’t have it? Or should I take a card to build my monument? In the end you’ll score points in about 7 different categories—most points wins. And once you’ve got that down, there is so much you can add in the way of expansions. Leaders add an initial round of drafting and added strategy. Cities add some cutthroat player interaction. And Babel adds cooperative monument building. There’s enough to play this game with up to 8 players, and it’s just as good with 8 as it is with 3. It can get overwhelming if you mix in too much at once, and to some degree I hope they are done making expansions for 7 Wonders. I got the last expansion that I needed this year with Babel, which I’ve explored a little (love the monuments, need to try the tower), so this game still holds my interest. I wish I could play it more.
- Tokaido (-13)
This is as laid back a game as there is. Need to decompress after that game of Through the Ages or Alchemists? Walk along the road to Tokaido. Simple concept: whoever is furthest behind gets to move their character to one of the next available locations along the path. Stop at the hot springs, collect souvenirs, finish a mural, and then stop at the inns for a meal. Each player gets a character with a special ability also that will help them with a particular aspect of the journey. Whoever makes the best choices of what to do on their journey will score the most points. It doesn’t get more relaxing than that. Great artwork, and a reasonable price. Definitely plays better with 4 or 5 players, as more spots on the path open up. This is another really great family game—even easier and more relaxing than Ticket to Ride, and believe it or not, I’d rather play this over TTR:USA any day.
- Seasons (new entry)
So here’s a game with lots of replay value, and it fills an interesting niche in gaming. This is a card-driven game built on colored elements that you use to play cards, hopefully playing good card combinations to score points. Yup, I also nearly just described Magic: The Gathering. Seasons is actually quite similar to MTG, although it’s based on scoring points rather than dominating your opponent with attack. I’m not a confrontational gamer, so I like the Seasons approach rather than the MTG one. To me, this is the game that a Magic: The Gathering player should look to in order to scratch that MTG itch in a board game group. And it’s the game a MTG player can play with their new friends to get them interested in MTG type games without them realizing it. So in seasons you start by drafting 9 cards and deciding if you want them to come into your hand in year 1, year 2, or year three. Then you take the cards for the current year, and roll a die matching the current season of the year (there are four, blue, green, red, and yellow). Use that die to earn resources, draw cards, increase your summoning power (the number of active cards you may have in your play area at a given time), or score points. This game is all about managing those resources to play out your cards at the right time. The great part about this game is you probably won’t use more than 2 dozen per game, and there are a lot of cards, so it will be different each time. This is one of those games that once you play it, you want to see it again soon to see what all the other cards do. Definitely recommend.
- Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (-19)
So what would happen if you took a campaign style role playing game, fired your GM, got rid of the miniatures, players handbook, character sheets, and replaced the whole thing with cards? Well, you’d get the Pathfinder card game. Again, this is a bit like Dominion. You start your character with a small deck of cards. Draw a hand, flip the top card of a location deck, and see what happens. Fight monsters, try to find equipment, try to gather allies. Check your skills, and roll the dice to see if you succeed. It’s pretty simple. This is another cooperative game, so multiple players start characters, and your party works together to explore all the locations and track down the boss enemy in each encounter. Sometimes one of your companions will need to help you fight off a monster. And you win or lose as a group. On the surface, this really is a pretty simple game. If you only ever play it once, you’ll never see the beauty of this game. Where it really shines is playing the entire campaign of many games in succession. After each adventure, you can go through the loot, see what you got, and try to upgrade your deck with better equipment, allies, spells, armor, etc. After some adventures you’ll “level up” and get new abilities, improved skills, just like you would in a regular rpg. And that’s what this game is all about. I played the entire campaign solo with 3 characters, and it was great. Now the watch-out with this game is this—as soon as you start a group of characters, you really need to keep the game exclusive to that party as long as you plan to continue with those characters. You can’t start another party. Cards are added and removed from the game based on what your characters do, and the world “changes” based on that, and becomes unique to that party. When you’re done, you need to re-set the game to its initial configuration (much card swapping and sorting required) and start again. At the moment, I’m hoping that my wife will play a campaign with me. We’ve just done the first intro adventure, and it went well. But we’ll see how often I can get it back to the table….
- Defenders of the Realm (-11)
So here’s another game with some meat on it. One of the podcasts I watched showed someone opening up the Defenders of the Realm box and finding Pandemic inside. Well this isn’t exactly “Fantasy Pandemic”, but they are very similar games. Here you’ve got to manage the 4 hordes of minions, and try to kill the generals before they reach Monarch City. Like Pandemic, each character plays very differently with their unique special abilities. Unlike Pandemic, you’ve got to roll dice to kill the minions (rather than just spending actions to eliminate diseases). Plus DotR has some questing elements that Pandemic doesn’t have, and the components are fantastic. It is punishingly difficult, and it is a long game—can go 2 hours or more. This is not an easy game to get for a reasonable price, but now that I’ve got it, I like playing it just as much as Pandemic, provided I’ve got enough time and tablespace to play it, and provided I’m prepared to lose.
- Paperback (-16)
I like Dominion for deckbuilding. I’m not a huge fan of word games. How would it work if you put them together? Let me tell you, it’s really good. It’s so easy to learn and play, and if you’re a Dominion player, I can probably teach you in like two minutes. Just draw 5 cards, spell the best word you can, and buy better cards to spell better words, to eventually get the best fame point cards in your deck before the game ends. Now, other people will disagree with me, but my opinion is that most deckbuilding games are best with no more than three people, in order to keep the game moving. It’s not fun to wait long for your turn in a deckbuilder. And this game has a little bit more analysis paralysis than those games. So my recommendation: treat this as a two player game. It’s great. It’s good also with three. With four it takes too long for your turn to come around, the attacks start becoming unwieldy to manage—and you can have a lot of turns totally screwed by multiple attacks, and that gets un-fun real fast. Playing with 5 is insanity. Just don’t do it. This game is meant to be quick and light, and done in less than an hour and with 5 players it is ruined. As it stands, this is by far my favorite word game. This is a sleeper hit, and a good buy for only $25-30. It is self-published by the game designer, so you won’t find it in stores or the usual gaming websites. But seek it out, it’s worth it. If you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll help you get one.
- Stone Age (new entry)
So a lot of times when gamers talk about euro-style worker placement games, but they’re trying to find one that’s a little lighter for newer gamers to handle, Stone Age is invariably mentioned. It isn’t difficult as worker placement games go, and the resource collection mechanic is a very good one. Here’s a game where you don’t always know how many resources you’re going to get—you’re going to have to roll dice to determine that. But there are a few ways to mitigate your dice rolls (that’s what tools are for). It’s thematic, as you grow your family and hunt for food, construct buildings, etc in order to get points. You Euro-lovers who really love a brainburner will have to look elsewhere to get a deeper experience, but if I’m trying to find a game I can play with my family, Stone Age at least has a chance of hitting the table.
- Escape: Curse of the Temple (-11)
I need to push to get this game to the table more. 10 minutes of chaos. No turns. Just roll dice as fast as you can. Explore the temple and collect the gems. Find enough gems, and the exit, and escape the temple to win. This is another cooperative game, and you do need to work together, because many of the good gems locations require multiple players working together to make the most of it. And it comes with a creepy soundtrack to ratchet up the tension. I wish I could get this to the table more, but being so chaotic, it really interferes with nearby games. And if I can, then I can start mixing in the special cursed rooms, and there are several expansions that add more variety and chaos to the game. Escape is a unique concept that I like a lot.
- Dixit (-3)
So this is quite simply Apples to Apples for gamers. You’ll have a hard time getting me to play Apples to Apples, but I’ve enjoyed Dixit quite a lot. Instead of word cards, you have picture cards, and the artwork is a strange combination of whimsical, fantastical, fantasy, and the disturbed. Pick a card and give a clue. Everybody else picks a card they think will match your clue. Then everybody votes. To score the most points, you need someone to guess your card correctly, but if everybody picks it you get no points. So the strategy lies in giving partially cryptic clues, and that’s great creative fun. It plays better with people you know well, who are more likely to know your subtle clues, so it doesn’t get played as much at the Peghead meetups as it does with my friends and family, but it’s a good game, with many card expansions available. This game can be had for around $22, but I strongly advise you mix in at least one additional set of cards. I’ve got 2 extra card packs and I’m happy with that variety now. Great party game. Get rid of your Apples to Apples and buy Dixit.
- Shadows Over Camelot (-7)
This is the quintessential cooperative / hidden traitor game—or should I say one of them. The other commonly identified hidden traitor game is Battlestar Galactica, which I have not played. This is another Days of Wonder game, and that means great artwork and great components. The miniatures for Arthur’s Knights are really great. All laid out, this game looks pretty complicated, but it’s really much easier than it looks. On your turn choose something to occur from the Progression of Evil, and then choose a Heroic Action, which usually means playing one of your cards. That’s it. Try to win quests, essentially by building a better poker hands than the quest puts against you. Earn enough swords by wining quests to win the game. Where it gets interesting is one of your partners may actually be playing against you. Halfway through the game players can attempt to identify the traitor, who’s been secretly working against you the whole game. Once he’s identified, he works against you openly. Really important to play this game with a good group that behaves well, as it can be ruined by a player that is too bossy, and it makes it very very hard on the traitor player to subvert the knights plans (how to subvert when you are being told what to do?) Anyhow, don’t let that dissuade you. This is a cool game. You’ll want to play it over and over hoping once, just once, you get to be the traitor.
- Pandemic (-25)
This game dropped a lot in the last year, for a very specific reason that I cannot tell you (yet). So what Dominion is to deckbuilding, I think Pandemic is to cooperative games. This is the gold standard—but not the highest coop on my list. In this game, there are 4 diseases spreading throughout the world, and you’ve got to find the cures for them. Each player travels around, keeping the spread of disease in check while finding the right cards to cure each color. You’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to work together, and you’ve got to make good decisions. If one disease spreads too fast, or too many outbreaks occur, or if you run out of time, the game is over and the players lose. Find all 4 cures and you win. I love the epidemic mechanic, where several times during the game the discard pile is shuffled up and put back on top of the infection deck. That means you have some deductive knowledge of what cities will be infected next. This mechanic is what makes this game strategic in ways that Flash Point or Defenders of the Realm isn’t. Add in special player powers (roles), and a horde of expansions (On the Brink, In the Lab, State of Emergency), and there are a whole lot of possibilities for how to play this game. But keep an eye out for the alpha-gamer. This game is susceptible to it, so make sure you have a good group….
- Star Trek: Fleet Captains (-6)
This is Star Trek in a box. It’s a pricy game that I probably would never have bought on my own, but I got it for Christmas, and I really like it. First, let me say, it’s all about the clix spaceships. They are great. In the base game, you’ll get several Federation starships, and your opponent will get Klingons. You’ll get to pick 4 out of 10 mini-decks of 10 cards to use throughout the game to add crew to your ships or to help with skill checks or combat. Explore the galaxy, trying to complete different quests, which have different focus: either influence, or science, or combat. Each ship has different abilities, and power levels can be adjusted between engines, shields, attack, or sensors. Complete enough objectives to get 10 victory points and win. Watch out for those Klingons, because they can cloak and sneak up on you. This is not a particularly strategic game, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about feeling Trek-like, and simulating what might happen in a Trek episode, and it most certainly gets that right. You’ll find references to original Trek, the Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager, and it includes ships from all. It’s essentially a two player game, and now that I have the Romulan expansion, which focuses on new espionage objectives, and the Dominion expansion, it’ll play 4. Every Trek fan needs to give this game a try.
- Lords of Xidit (-12)
So last year I discovered the price of this game had dropped to just $20, and I snatched it up. I almost couldn’t believe such a good deal on a game with such great components. So in this game, each player programs 6 successive actions at once. Then each player resolves the actions they’ve programmed one at a time. Move from city to city, recruit allies, and use those allies to vanquish monsters. When you kill monsters, you earn rewards—towers, coins, or reputation. You’ve got to hope your opponents don’t interfere with your programmed moves. They could beat you to that warrior you were planning to recruit, or they could vanish that monster one action prior to when you were going to do it. And the final scoring is unique as well. First towers are scored—the last place tower score player is eliminated. Then the remaining players are scored for coin—the last place coin score player is eliminated. Then from the players that remain, highest reputation wins. So you don’t need to beat everyone in every scoring category, but you definitely need to make sure you don’t come in last. Anyone who likes programmed movement like Roborally, or the helm station from Space Cadets, I think you would like Lords of Xidit a whole lot. Me, I liked this so much the first time I played it that I had to have it.
- Dominion (-13)
So this is the definitive deck-builder—the one that pretty much broke open the game hobby with the deckbuilding concept. It’s not my favorite, however–you’ll need to wait until the top 10 for that. This is another relatively simple game, with a lot of deep strategic combinations, and it plays different every time. So everybody starts with the same 10 card deck. Draw 5 cards, perform actions from your cards, and buy new cards from the Kingdom Decks laid out on the table with whatever coin you earn. Those new cards go into your discard pile, and will be drawn into future hands as the game progresses. Build up your deck a card at a time, and when the game ends, whoever has purchased cards worth the most victory points will be the winner. The actions you perform can earn more actions, or allow you to buy multiple cards, or earn more coins, or even attack other players. There are a couple aspects of Dominion (and most deckbuilders) that make it very interesting. First, there is a huge variety of different combos you can make if you get the right cards (and with like 9 available expansions, all of which I own, the possibilities are truly endless). Second, your strategic decisions very often change as the game progresses. Early on, get cards that help you be efficient and buy really powerful cards. Then later focus on getting cards for victory points, knowing that they are essentially useless, and will clog up your deck, making it more and more inefficient the more victory points you earn. It’s a neat concept. At this point, it is starting to freefall down my list of favorite games, because it’s been around a long time, and the cards are heavy to lug around, but it’s a good game, and one of the games that really got me into the hobby, probably even more than Ticket to Ride. It was my gateway drug.
- Space Cadets (-14)
Another cooperative game, but this one is very unique. Each player takes one of the stations on the bridge of the starship. Then in 30 seconds each person helps operate the ship by performing a different mini game. Helm controls the ship with a mechanic like Roborally. Sensors locks onto targets by fishing tetris tiles out of a bag. Weapons officers builds shapes again with tetris tiles, but then fires torpedoes much like crokinole. The engineer lays out tiles in a grid to generate energy for other stations. Shields officer makes poker hands with mini hex tiles to keep shields up on different sides of the ship. And more. Navigate the sectors of space to battle other ships to complete missions. Not everybody likes this game, and it can definitely be ruined if one person can’t get a grasp of their station. If the weapons officer can’t hit anything, you are all going to die. Quickly. Thankfully both times I’ve played this we’ve had a master flicking the torpedo disc (thanks Jesse) and we’ve won easily. But it is very satisfying when everybody works together and does a good job. This game is one you’ve really got to plan as its own gaming event—with the player dynamic it’s not meetup friendly. And it is a monster to teach. But once you’ve got it, it can be really satisfying. That is, provided you even get to play it—somebody might surprise you instead. Closest companion to this game is Space Alert! and I don’t have it yet.
So we’re halfway done now. Just three more posts until we get to number 1! Yes, it’s going to be three m0re posts (30-16, 15-6, and 5-1) just to draw out the tension.
Not really though–it’s just because those games at the top are so good they deserve a bit more description. Until then, Have Fun, Play Games, and Make Friends!