So are you ready? It’s time to scratch the top ten! So here we go with 10 more great games, and the top half of the top ten. How many new games do you think will be on this list? Read on to see!
- Libertalia (-4)
This game killed Citadels. Or should I say, I’d rather play this, although I’d still play Citadels every once in a while. So the concept is: everybody has the same hand of nine cards, and each card has a specific ability, and its abilities trigger in a particular order when played. Each person simultaneously chooses one of those cards and plays it, and resolves the actions—but what happens depends a lot on what the other players choose to play at the same time. The strategy lies in what card to play when, knowing that your opponents have all the same cards you do. The goal is to collect the most treasure (booty) after three rounds of play (everybody draws the same new hand each round)—sometimes stealing it from other players. This game is all about the interaction. Each of those player decks has the same 30 unique character cards. You’ll get to use most of them every game, but the combos you can attempt will change depending which seven you get at the same time. The artwork is great, and the pirate theme comes through very well, as most of the characters have a special ability that makes sense based on who they are. Great theme, great mechanic, very chaotic for sure.
- Shipyard (new entry)
So here’s a game that I knew was going to rank pretty high up on my list as soon as I played it. Maybe on paper it seems a little bland, but this is a great game in practice. So you’re a shipping company, building up ships on your dock and preparing them to sail. Assemble ship parts, cannons, cranes, lifeboats, cabins, stock it up with crew, and sail it off down the canal. There are 7 mini-rondels on the board, where you can progress around in order to obtain the items and crew you need. You’ll have a couple of contracts to fulfil as you build so that you can satisfy the shipping companies and maximize your points. There are a lot of components in this game (piles of them) and it takes a little going to set up and teach, but once you’ve got it, this is a pretty streamlined and smooth eurogame–one of my favorite heavy euros. I love it.
- Belfort (+12)
This game has made the biggest move from its spot last year. Lots of games made big debuts, but this one has moved up the most. Here are the reasons I bought this game: Pentagonal board, dwarves, elves, and gnomes, and lots of chunky wooden components. The area control aspect is not something I typically like, but in this game it works for me. Each round players use their workers to get gold, wood, stone, or metal, and use them to construct buildings on the board. Players earn points by having majorities of their color buildings in each of the five districts after three separate scoring rounds. They also add points by having the most of each of the worker types (dwarves, elves, and gnomes) during those scoring rounds as well. I really like the whimsical artwork of this game, and it is very interactive and competitive. There are enough different guild types to help each game play a little different, so I definitely need to give it a go another time or two. Now while a pentagonal board typically means you should have 5 players, I actually think this plays a little better with four, as it give just a little bit more room for the players to maneuver. It plays 5, but things are going to get very tight at the end. And if it continues to stay on this list, there’s an expansion I need to get, called The Belfort Expansion Expansion, where new worker types are added to the game, as well as the ability to further expand the buildings you’ve built. So in this case, it’s not actually redundant to say Expansion Expansion. But this game plays really well just as it is, so it’s great even if that expansion never comes back into print.
- Bruges (+10)
As a designer, Stefan Feld is very divisive. Usually either you like him or you don’t. I recently went through my collection to determine which designers appear to appeal to me based on what I’ve purchased. I got like 10 hits on Antoine Bauza (Tokaido, Takenoko, Hanabi, Ghost Stories, 7 Wonders, plus expansions). I got zero Stefan Feld (I at least have Castles of Burgundy now). Feld games tend to be point salads, maybe a little thin on theme, although very compelling for mechanics and player interaction. I don’t typically go for Feld—but Bruges is one of his games that I like a lot. This was one of the first games that I ever played with Brian. We played it twice right away, and just a few months ago, I got to play it again, and remembered just how much I liked it. This is another point salad euro, like I mentioned, but one of the neat things I like about it is there are so many choices to make. In particular all the character cards that come with the game have unique abilities. Every card can be used to perform every available action in the game, and that is fantastic. It’s just a question of what card to use, for what action, and how to maximize your points. It’s hard to explain this game much better—to be honest you just need to play it to see….and having played it again recently it gets a big jump up on the list this year.
- T.I.M.E. Stories (new entry)
So this game is one of the big splashes of the last year of gaming—for a number of reasons. First off, the game is really cool and interesting. This game is essentially a “framework” for a variety of adventures, for which the sky is the limit. It’s really a gaming system the same way that a D&D is. We’ll give you the rules, you plug in an adventure, and away you go. So the idea is that each player is a “receptacle” who travels throughout time (think Quantum Leap) in order to solve anomalies in the timeline of the universe. Adventures can be anywhere and any time in history. You work together to solve and repair the rift, and if you fail, you get another go (think Groundhog Day). Take what you’ve learned to make better decisions and maybe this time you’ll succeed.
The real controversial and different aspect of the game is that, much like Pandemic Legacy, once you’ve played an adventure, you would not likely ever play it again. So rolling in at around $20 per adventure, that can be pretty steep in gaming terms. But compared to a movie, it’s still cheap. 4 people getting 4-5 hours of entertainment is worth $20. Plus you need to drop $30 to $35 on the base game right away (which comes with an adventure to start you off).
Our group has played 3 adventures now, and each one was very enjoyable in its own way, and each was different and unique. I remember each one vividly. Anything more than that, I cannot tell you lest I spoil anything….
Our group has a copy, and we are willing to pass it around, so if you want the T.I.M.E. Stories experience, just let me know and we can share our copy.
And now….the top ten!
- Runebound (new entry)
So Brian and I had played the first edition of Runebound and liked it quite a lot. When he snatched up the second edition, we had to play it. And it’s fantastic. In terms of fantasy adventuring, and gathering, improving your character, and defeating the big, bad, boss—this is the best it gets. There are a few changes from the first edition that I quite like. The first is the implementation of skill cards—these are things your character can learn to do as the game progresses, provided you’ve completed enough quests and earned trophies of the right types to be able to gain the training. It allows you some customization of your character. If you make different choices each game, the same character could play quite differently. The second major difference is that second edition has abandoned dice for combat and implemented “casting”, which in essence is just coin flipping. Each character has a custom set of discs that they start with, and you can supplement them with more as you improve your equipment. Just “cast” the discs like you would dice, see what you get, and manipulate them (if you can) to get the best results to defeat your opponent. Fast, simple, and adds just a little bit more strategy than rolling dice and seeing if you hit and for how much damage. This is a much improved combat system. I can’t wait to see what Fantasy Flight does with the expansions, because the game is designed with a modular card set, where you can plug in a different “story” every time you play. The supported first edition with dozens of expansions, and I’m sure they will with second edition as well. I can’t wait. A serious note about this game however, if you want to have a good gaming experience. Play it two players only. You can do it in 2-3 hours, maybe a shade faster if you really know the game well. Every additional player probably adds another 90 minutes. That means even 4 players, you’re looking at 5-6 hours, and there just isn’t enough game here to warrant that much time.
- Imperial Settlers (new entry)
Another shocker! A game that goes from nowhere to the top ten in my list. So I happened to have a 50% off coupon for the gaming store, and I took a flyer on this game based on the good reviews I’d seen. Boy was I happy I did. Imperial Settlers, while a terribly boring name for a game, has lots of interesting concepts that I like in games. It has different factions, each with their own decks, and with their own play styles. It has lots of resource tokens for managing all your goods. And it has lots and lots of combo-building. Many of the great concepts that you like from games like Dominion are here, but with the addition of resource management on top of it. And probably most of all, there’s engine building here, where if you can get things going, your deck and your settlement can do truly amazing things by the end. Play as Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians, or Japanese, and add Atlanteans with an expansion (totally worth it). This in truth is a two player game, maybe with three, and never with four—at that point there’s just too much going on and it will take too long.
Surprisingly, where this game really shines for me is in the solo mode. The solo mode as designed requires you to build your engine, but at the same time fend off an attacking opponent enough that you have more faction cards at the end of the game than the robot-player. It gets all of the engine building that I like so much, and then rolls in some more strategic decisions on how you’re going to manage that attacker.
I love card games, and there are only 2 that I like just a little bit more.
- Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game (-1)
So here’s my second-favorite card game, and the highest ranked deckbuilding game on my list. Why? This is basically cooperative Dominion with a plot, and a theme that I really like. Each player takes a character, adds that character’s special card to their starting deck of cards, and then it’s off to fight aliens. This game comes with 4 different plotlines to face up against, one for each of the four Alien films. Instead of a kingdom card pool like dominion, you take 4 character decks of 14 cards each, mix them up, and form a barracks deck. These form the supply of cards to add to your decks as the game progresses. There are a total of 16 unique character decks, with 4 characters from each movie. So you can play all Alien characters if you like, or you can play all Alien 3, or you can use all Ripleys (there’s a Ripley deck from every film, so 4 total). What I love about this is that each plot has unique mechanics that make it feel like the movie you’re playing. In Alien, you’ll find a derelict spacecraft, then you’ll encounter eggs hatching, and chestbursters, and eventually you’ll face a big alien at the end that you have to blow out the airlock. In Aliens, you’ll set up sentry guns, secure the MedLab, and then fight the Queen alien at the end. And so on. Very thematic. So to win it’s all about building a tight and efficient deck that is able to handle the aliens as they attack you, and travel through three locations to win—usually that boss alien shows up at that last location. And there are a lot of different ways to play this game that I haven’t even touched yet—secret missions, a possible traitor, or if you get killed by a chestburster, now you become an alien and fight against the other players. So much potential with this game still to be explored—I put it away for a while simply because I played the mess out of it when I got it. The only caveat is that I think some plots are more fun than others—Alien 3’s final boss is NOT FUN, but I like the rest and can easily get past this one flaw. Such a fun game. Even Cindy played it with me and enjoyed it, and with a theme like this, that’s saying a lot for this game.
- War of the Ring (-1)
So here it is—the definitive Lord of the Rings board game. I’ve called it Risk on steroids. It is the entire Lord of the Rings story in a box. Every aspect of the way this game plays drips theme. The Free People’s player controls the fellowship, and tries to keep Sauron’s forces at bay. The Sauron player needs to find that ring, if possible, or overtake strongholds of the free peoples before the ring is dropped at Mount Doom. Every member of the fellowship is represented with a miniature, and has their own unique abilities. There are piles of other minis for all of the other different races—men, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, southrons, etc etc. This is another board so big it takes up the entire table. And yes, this one has dice. The main mechanic is the use of action dice, which you will take turns using to perform actions, usually things like mustering more armies, moving characters, moving armies, attacking with armies, etc. And there are a pile of story cards as well that help bring out thematic elements of the game, and bring forward different encounters that occurred in the books. The ents might come into play to destroy Saruman, or Aragorn might once again take the crown in Gondor. Ok so things may not happen exactly as they do in the books, but that’s part of the fun of it. I have the first edition of this game, which is a shame, because the 2nd edition has bigger cards, an even bigger game board (really) and a couple rules tweaks. Or I could just get the collector’s edition which is like $2,000, has all pre-painted miniatures and is even bigger still. I guess when I win the lottery. If anybody is interested in my first edition copy, I can probably part with it for a good price, and then I’ll upgrade to 2nd edition which only runs $60. Quite simply, you cannot be a gamer fan, and a Lord of the Rings fan, and not own this game. Shame on you if you don’t.
- Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (by Fantasy Flight Games) (-2)
So here it is, Eric. The #1 Lord of the Rings game on this list. The #1 cooperative game on this list. My favorite card game. The game I’ve spent the most time playing, and probably spending money on. You could literally design a meetup group around just playing this single game every week (provided you could get enough interested parties to play). As everybody knows by now, Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite themes, and when Fantasy Flight got a hold of the license, all we could hope is that they would do it justice. I could write three pages about how this game works, but I’ll spare you of that. The short version is, build a deck of at least 50 cards, choose 3 heroes. Design it so the cards work together and are efficient. Than take on one of over 50 different encounters, each different and thematic, and try to beat the challenge, all the while fighting off enemies, exploring locations, and surviving treacheries of Sauron. The reason I really dove into this game, is because before I ever met Brian, and before the Pegheads ever came to be, I was looking for ways to scratch a gaming itch with a strong solo experience. This game plays well solo (one deck vs. the encounter), but really it’s designed as a 2 player cooperative game (two decks vs. the encounter). It is challenging to play two decks (both by myself) against an encounter, because it can be a lot to manage. To date I have played over 200 solo games, and about 125 games playing two decks at once. That’s a game with a lot of staying power. I love the artwork—no photos of film images here. I love how thematic the gameplay is—some of it humorous. For example, Bombur’s hero card says “when counting dwarves, Bombur counts as two.” That’s both funny and thematic, and it’s a great ability in a specifically designed dwarf deck.
The unfortunate news, however, for this game is that the more gaming I do with my family and in meetup groups, the less solo gaming I have been doing. And that means this game has started to fall by the wayside. It just isn’t getting played anymore. And as expensive as it has been to continue getting all the cards, I’ve stopped investing in it. For shame.
Still love the game though….
So that’s it. Just one more post to go. Next post is the top 5! And there’s a surprise in there! Well, not for anybody that knows me, but anyway, check it out next week! Until then, Have Fun, Play Games, Make Friends.