Oooh!! I’m getting excited! The top 30! Now we’re getting to super great games. Ones I’m always dying to play. The ones that make gaming such a great hobby. Here we go!
- Kingsburg (-4)
Down four places from last year, but that’s only because there were so many great games added to the list. Getting the game myself (thanks everybody!) along with all the great Kingsburg dice gives this game a bump in how much I like it compared to last year. Here you have worker placement with dice. Oftentimes it’s compared with Alien Frontiers. Roll your three dice, and when your turn comes around, claim a location on the board that matches a number combination from 1 to 18 that matches what you rolled. It’s all about making the most of what you rolled while trying to cut off good spots from your opponents. Collect resources, build up your army, and construct different buildings, to score points. This more than just about any other game demands that you use the expansion: To Forge a Realm. The expansion player boards add more variety, and there are several other modules that you can mix in if you like them—but those new player boards are essential. This is a very balanced game as well, where the scores are tightly packed at the end—with sharp players you need to really be efficient to win. Love Kingsburg. Almost bought it myself, but got it as a gift and I love it.
- Race for the Galaxy (new entry)
So when I got into gaming, I heard a lot about this great card game, but how hard it was to teach people, and how annoying the iconography was. Well, I thought, I ought to be able to teach just about anything, and I certainly have the time to learn it myself. So I picked this up off one of the “Brian’s clearing room on his shelf” sales, and I dove into Race for the Galaxy. Yup, the iconography does take a bit to learn, but it does make sense. This game has the most similarities to Puerto Rico in the way that the action selections work. Whatever you pick, everyone will get a chance to do it, but you’ll get some kind of bonus. Each of the phases have to do with different ways to draw cards, play out planets to your tableau, producing goods, and shipping goods—just like Puerto Rico. What I like about Race for the Galaxy is you will have tons of choices, as it’s up to you what to play from your hand, and you use the cards you aren’t going to play to pay the costs. Of all the Puerto Rico-like games (Roll for the Galaxy, San Juan, Eminent Domain etc), I think this one is the most complicated, and it doesn’t have the “right way to play” issue that Puerto Rico has. I just got the first expansion, and I’m going to stick with that. It added some new goal tiles which I like a lot, and it adds a solitaire mode which isn’t too. I’ve played it quite a lot. I know I can teach it, but this game is a bit much and probably not for everybody. I’m glad I have it in my collection. Remains to be seen if it will stay this high on my list year after year.
- Thunderstone Advance (new entry)
So here’s a game that once I hear about it, it was pretty much out of print. So when Eric had an “I can’t get anybody to play this with me” sale, I picked it up. Well, I should say, Brian and I divided up Eric’s collection. This is essentially dungeoning Dominion. Build your deck, draw your hand, and decide whether to enter the dungeon and fight monsters, or go to town to get better equipment and recruit more heroes. In order to do well in the dungeon, you’re going to need good fighters, as well as enough light to see by. You’ll need weapons, and hopefully heroes to wield them. As you kill monsters, you can earn experience points to level up your heroes. How cool is that? In a deckbuilding game? You bet. And there are familiars, curses, all kinds of monsters to fight, bosses, spells, magic. It’s all here. This is a much longer game than Dominion, and I recommend it only for two players, maybe three but only if you can play fast. Great game.
- Caverna (-9)
Caverna is a great game, but it’s dropped in the last year because I just don’t get to play it very much. This is Agricola 2.0. What does it have that Agricola doesn’t? First, COMPONENTS. Tons of fantastic components. Rubies, ore, piles of tiles, sheeples, piggles, and on and on and on. You can hardly get this game back into the box once it’s been opened. Second, it has better theme. You are a little dwarven family / colony, excavating caves into a mountain, clearing nearby forests, farming the nearby land, and forging weapons and going on quests. And I love dwarves—only second to hobbits. None of that theme is present in Agricola–that’s just farming. And third, this game has more varied viable strategies. Every game you start, you can probably focus on a different strategy, and make that work successfully to give you a chance to win. Maybe this game you’ll be a sheep farmer, maybe next game you’ll build a complex system of cavern rooms, and maybe next game you’ll just focus on mining. All of them are workable strategies. Unlike Agricola, you don’t have to do a little of everything or face penalties. It’s more of a “sandbox game” where you can build almost however you want. Now there is of course player interaction in claiming worker spaces, or trying to get that building before someone else does. And probably the only thing you really must do in order to win the game is focus on questing. If you let other players quest a lot, and don’t try to keep them in check, they are probably going to win the game. But knowing that this can happen, you can prevent it. Caverna is a great game. A lot of people traded away their Agricola when they got this game. I would have done so if I could afford Caverna, which is actually my only knock on the game. It’s expensive. I have a really hard time spending this much (still $87 on coolstuff, but at least shipping is free), knowing that as a bargain shopper, and knowledgeable gamer, I can probably get three good games for the price of this one. And the last thing I like about this game is that it’s one of those games where you want to take a picture of your board when you’re done, so you can see how everything you did turned out—and that’s something I really really like.
- Tragedy Looper (new entry)
So here’s one of the most unique games on this list. How do I explain this? It’s Groundhog Day Werewolf Quantum Leap. Ok. So a tragedy is going to happen somewhere. One player (usually me) is the mastermind who tries to make sure that happens. The protagonists can manipulate the characters in the game also, see what they do, and try to determine if they are culprits, or if they have special roles that impact the game, ultimately hoping to figure out #1 which of the pre-planned plots provided by the game is happening #2 which characters have what roles and how do they figure into the events that are happening, and #3 how to prevent the murder from happening. The first time through the tragedy will likely happen, but hopefully the players learn something from it. Then you go back in time, re-set the game, and try again. Usually each game the players will get 3 or 4 loops to figure everything out. If they can get through the whole loop without “losing”, then the protagonists have won. If not, the mastermind wins. This really is “deduction” on steroids. It’s not often you have deduction games with someone willfully working against you. This really is a neat game, but it is difficult to teach with so much going on, and it really helps to have a mastermind that knows the rules well. I’ve never been able to play it without doing the teaching and masterminding myself, and that’s ok. This one is tough to get to the table, but it’s totally unique. Something I definitely want to get out every once in a while. Between the base game and the Midnight Circle expansion, I’ve probably still got 20+ scenarios to explore. Plenty of thinky fun to be had.
- Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (-5)
So I took a big risk with this game. I bought it for my wife for Mother’s Day, hoping it would be a game we would enjoy together. Well, either she’s lying to me, or I hit it pretty big with this game. This is a two player version, and at the heart, it’s still Agricola. But I don’t have to feed my people, I don’t have quite so much to piece together in the way of occupations and improvements, and it sets up a plays in a shorter amount of time—easily within an hour once you’re familiar with the game. The focus here is all on the animals, and secondarily on buildings which might get you a few points as well. You have just three workers each round, and a total of eight rounds to get as many animals as you can. You need to make fenced-in pastures or construct buildings that will allow you to hold animals, while grabbing as many animals as you can before your opponent does. Now I must tell you that this game will get pretty bland after a couple plays, because the few buildings that you can construct are pretty much the same every time. I highly recommend at least one of the extra building expansions, and now you can mix in a variety of 4-8 buildings, and the game will play a little different each time. So while regular Agricola is clearly a deeper and more strategic game, this one works better for us as a couple, and it makes it to the table far more often. I highly recommend this game for couples.
- Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game (by Decipher, Inc.) (-12)
None of you know anything about this game. This is the game that killed Magic: The Gathering for me. It was a collectible card game of Lord of the Rings, with tie-ins to the Peter Jackson films, and for about 3-4 years, this game was my entire gaming world. Each player designs their own minimum 60 card deck, with half Shadow cards and half Free People’s cards. When you are the FP player, you can play out heroes to your fellowship, equipment, allies, and you add “twilight” to the pool for whatever you do. There’s no limit of what you can play except the cards in your hand. Then your opponent uses the “twilight” you generated to play Shadow conditions, enemies, and actions against you. When your FP turn ends, then your opponent becomes the FP player and plays their FP cards, and twilight, and you play your Shadow cards against them using the twilight they gave you. So you need a balanced deck of both Shadow and FP cards. Whoever’s fellowship survives 9 locations first (it’s a race) wins. And the locations are designed around the journeys from each of the films. The twilight idea is cool—it means that small fellowships move quietly and attract less attention, while large fellowships might be more powerful, but are sure to face more enemies. It’s kinda the “stomping through the forest” metaphor. Anyhow, this was a great game design, and it lasted until they ran out of ideas, movie images to use, and money (Decipher imploded after it was discovered that the financial manager of the company had embezzled a huge amount of profits, and the company imploded as a result. I think he’s still in jail). I still have probably 25 sleeved decks of these cards, and at least 5 full boxes of extra cards. My old friend Tim and I played so many games of this, and it was fantastic. Oh how I wish he lived closer so we could break this game out every once in a while. I’ve always loved it.
- Fury of Dracula (new entry)
So if you played Scotland Yard as a kid, then you’ve played the children’s version of Fury of Dracula. Back then you were “Mr.X”, travelling around London trying to avoid being captured. It was a pretty neat game, and very different from the typical Milton Bradley fare of the late 1970s and 1980s. Fury of Dracula is that same concept but on steroids. This is a 5 character game, meaning if you have fewer players than 5, then somebody has to play 2 characters. One person plays Dracula, and the other player play Hunters, who are trying to track Dracula down and kill him. Dracula of course is trying to evade capture, but is also trying to influence corruption and evil throughout Europe, forcing the hunters to deal with other threats, hoping to delay them so he can get away. If Dracula can survive long enough, or sow enough corruption, he wins. If the hunters kill Dracula, they win. I like the design of this game quite a lot, particularly how they handle Dracula’s hidden movement. He gets his own deck of location cards, and plays them out face down to represent where he is. His recent plays stay on the board as well as new locations are played, so essentially he’s leaving a trail behind. When the hunters find the trail, they can narrow down where Dracula is located, but also must deal with whatever pitfalls Dracula left behind for them. Combat is good as well, with relatively simple but yet tactical cardplay. Dracula is not easy to kill—usually you’ll need to fight him several times to do it. I like this game a lot, but it is very hard to get to the table because of the strict player count, and because of the length of the game. This can go 4-5 hours easily if Dracula evades capture for a long time.
- Glass Road (new entry)
This game is another Uwe Rosenberg game of farming, building, and resource management, but this one has a couple of very unique elements that I like a lot. The best one is how the cardplay is handled. Everybody picks a couple of actions from their small deck of action cards (everyone has the same deck with the same available actions). You’ll get to pick one or two of those to perform for yourself, and you hope that other people will pick cards that will match yours—if you can get matches, you’ll be able to perform a couple additional actions. Very interactive and strategic cardplay. The second unique element is the resource wheels. Some folks find these to be quite difficult to wrap their brains around, but for me I found it relatively straightforward and simple. It’s really just an inventory management system that with a couple of wheels and a token of each type, you can keep track of inventories that otherwise would require dozens and dozens of tokens. It’s really a very streamlined method that I really wish was used in other games—I like it a lot. I borrowed this game after I saw it being played, and after just a couple plays (including two solo plays—the solo mode is pretty good) it lands here up in the 20’s of my list. I need this one in my collection. Now.
- Fields of Arle (new entry)
So this is probably best described as the 2-player version of Caverna. This of course is the last in the family of great Uwe Rosenberg farming games, which includes games like Glass Road, Ora et Labora, Agricola, and Caverna. Like most of those games, there’s a lot of great heavy cardboard, cards and tokens, and Fields of Arle is no different. This game is very much a sandbox farming game—where each time you play you can try a different approach—you’ll be lucky if you can perform half of the strategic actions available to you in the game. There are lots of different basic strategies you can focus on. You can do everything from clearing beat bogs, to breeding farm animals, to building dikes to hold back the sea, to building buildings, carting goods to town for sale, and many many more. After seeing reviews, I recommended this one to our farming-loving friend Christy, and she loved it—it’s an expensive game, so in order to play it I gotta keep being nice to her—she’s the only one that has it. I love the game because of the great game components and gameplay flexibility, but not so much the price point.
- Roll For the Galaxy (-5)
I liked this game so much, that when Brian had it half-put away, I made him unpack it and play it again. A lot of people may have heard of Race for the Galaxy, and this is the implementation of that game without the cards but adding in dice and tiles. The “in-thing” these days is to make dice versions of other games, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Doesn’t Work—Ticket to Ride, Catan. Does Work—Bang!, Pandemic, and Roll for the Galaxy. “Roll” has a little bit of the Puerto Rico role-selection mechanism, where one player chooses the role and gets a benefit for doing so, and other players get to perform the same action. Build up resources in different colors, and use them to buy more dice, or more tiles, or ship them for victory points. It almost feels like a child of Quarriors and Puerto Rico, although there isn’t anywhere near as much player interaction as Puerto Rico has. The components are great—the dice are really nice—much better quality than I remember from Quarriors, and the tiles are heavy card stock, and dice cups are provided that make a happy racket before every dice roll. Brian traded away Race for the Galaxy (to me) after getting this game, and I understand why. So everybody always wants to know—which one is better? Race (with cards) and Roll (with dice)? They’re both good. I think if you like quality components, Roll is better, but the price of the game is higher because of that. Race is cheaper, and probably is the heavier game, as there are more options available to you as a player. I like them both. Maybe Roll just a little bit better.
- Ultimate Werewolf (-3)
What can you say about Werewolf? For me, it is the definitive hidden role game, and I won’t play it. It is a refereed argument, and I get to be the referee. I bought it originally for larger gaming parties, hoping it would work as a way for everybody to play a game together, and to get to know each other and build friendships. Well, I don’t know how many friendships we’ve made playing Werewolf—I think I’m more concerned about cultivating divorces. Anyway, this is such a simple game—you get one card—either you’re on the villager team, or the werewolf team. Each night the werewolves eat one of the villagers, and each day the villagers lynch somebody hoping to kill all the werewolves before all the villagers are eaten. The beauty is in the special roles that you can mix in—there are probably 50+ different roles you can add, and 30+ artifacts which you can add as well. All of this makes it easier to keep it fresh over many games. I’ve moderated over 30+ games now, and I really enjoy it. I love being the one who knows who is who, and who’s lying and who’s not. I enjoy the social experimenting I get to do as moderator—let’s put these cards in the deck and see what happens. Let’s make Christy the Leprechaun and sit back and watch chaos ensue. Mix in a tanner every once in a while. Or vampires. Or Masons. Or Cults. Lots of great memories playing this game. Now I have no clue how my games compare to how Werewolf games go at conventions—it gets played a lot at places like that, but given how much people beg me to run it, I’m trusting I’m doing ok. I was able to round out my card collection with the last few cards I was missing, so now I’ve pretty much got everything. It helped keep the game fresh for me and saved it from dropping further down this list.
- Twilight Imperium 3 (new entry)
The behemoth game. Space 4X, which means Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. Set aside a whole day to play it. This game is the ultimate space epic. Start on your home planet with a few ships, and some special abilities specific to your alien race. Explore and conquer new planets to gain access to more resources. Build up your fleets and battle your opponents on a large hex-tile map. Or trade with them and make alliances. Vote on galactic resolutions—develop your technologies—and build a Death Star (ok it’s a War Sun but who are we kidding here). Try to satisfy the game goals (and your secret goals) to win the game. First to 10 points, win (or maybe less unless the game ends earlier—by that I mean 6 hours instead of 10). Now, I just explained that in two minutes, but there’s so much gory detail to this game. It takes a good 90 minutes to teach, and at least 4-8 hours to play, depending on the skill of your group. This is one of the hardest games to get to the table, because of the game length, and NO—it is not a balanced game—sometimes you just aren’t going to do well because you didn’t get dealt good cards or weren’t given the best place to start on the map. You will not win this game because you played the most skillfully! You are going to have to bargain and negotiate to your advantage, and hope nobody gangs up on you. This, for all the gory detail, is a social game, and you must have some social skills to win it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime gaming experience. I hope I get a chance to play it with you sometime….
- Middle-Earth Quest (-8)
I love this game. I love almost everything about it. Cool miniatures, check. Unique player characters, check. Cooperative play, check. The chance to be Sauron, check. A massively huge board, check. Great artwork, check. Only thing missing maybe is dice, but that’s ok—there’s really no luck here. Just the sheer weight of this game is awesome. I kid you not, sometimes I get it out, set it up, just to look at it and then put it away again. It is a very appropriately named game—players travel throughout Middle-Earth, to complete quests, and disrupt Sauron’s plot devices. If they can disrupt those quests enough, then they will win the game—simply by surviving a certain number of turns. Use your special character deck for travelling, fighting, and it even serves as your life points, and it can be upgraded with special cards as you earn training and rewards for completing quests. Probably the only drawbacks are the length of the game (figure 4 hours for the full game) and the fact you need a pretty knowledgeable player as Sauron, which for the time being, it’s pretty much me. Oh, and the tiebreaker mechanic, which sucks. I won’t even get into it. If you don’t enjoy playing a heavy thematic game, and enjoy just seeing how it works, knowing full well it could end in an unsatisfying tie, then find another game. I don’t particularly like being the bad guy when everybody knows that I am, but even still, until I can train somebody else to be Sauron, this is still one of those games I’m hoping I can play once a year, given the length, and I am sure I will love it every time.
- Castles of Burgundy (-3)
Here is the only game that I liked so much that it almost made the top ten having only played it once. It probably compares most closely to games like Stone Age or Kingsburg, where you are rolling dice, and taking the results that you get to perform different actions in the game. But in this game, I think the dice are less “lucky” than in Kingsburg. What I mean by that is, you may not roll what you were hoping for, but there’s usually something constructive you can do, even with what might be considered a bad roll. Good strategy and good choices will compensate. So what are you doing in this game? You are collecting tiles, putting them on your player board, and arranging your own estate as optimally as possible in order to score the most points. The main board really is just a storehouse for all the things you can acquire, where all the action happens on your own board. The only knock on this game is the components—colors are not particularly vibrant, and the tiles and counters are pretty thin compared to how we have been spoiled by modern companies like Fantasy Flight Games. But, the tradeoff is this game is not difficult to get for relatively low price. It’s just $27 on coolstuff. I’d play it again any day. Almost my favorite Feld game, but you’ll have to wait a little to find out which one that is….
We’re almost there! Next post we will crack the top 10! Until then, Have Fun, Play Games, and Make Friends.