With a New Year upon us, we can’t help but to feel a little nostalgic. About a year ago, we recapped our favorite games from 2016, so we decided to give that post another look. Things can change so much over a year, do these games fulfill the same need for us at the end of 2017? Let’s take a look and find out!
Here they are! My 5 favorite games!
- The Manhattan Project (-2)
I do like euros, at least some of them, but being more of a typical dorky Ameritrash lover, I like more bright color, cool components, and maybe a great theme, and less “point salad”. So I hadn’t really found a game that seemed to hit on that until I got Manhattan Project. As a huge fan of Big Bang Theory (one of my favorite shows), where there are tons of references to Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, I do like this theme—and the designer has made a fairly adept design choice, whereby the goal of the game is to build bombs, but not to actually bomb anybody. It’s the cold war, really. Anyhow, you start with four meager laborers, and buy buildings and recruit scientists and engineers to help acquire money, fissionable materials (yellow cake), and refine those into plutonium and uranium in order to build bombs. You can build fighters and bombers as well to attack the other players, and you can infiltrate their buildings by using espionage, but this requires some editorial comment. So I don’t typically like attacking other people. And it is noteworthy that in three games of Manhattan Project (so far) not one building has been damaged by anybody. I think we Pegheads just like each other. But I’m telling you, if somebody wins a 5 player game without anybody attacking each other, the other 4 players most definitely should have done something about it. We’re just too nice. But, one of the interesting things about this game is, because points come in such big chunks, it’s not always easy to see who is leading. Somebody could be two turns away from winning, but sitting with like four points. You absolutely can stop the runaway leader in this game—and easily. Provided you don’t let the leader build up a huge defense of fighters. Anyway, this is a great game, and it definitely has an exponential build to it. By game end you can be using 12 workers per turn (or every other turn) or more if you have the buildings to generate contract workers. This game does have a bit of a whimsical feel as well, as all the bombs have silly names—so it’s not to be taken too seriously. This is a solid game even without players attacking each other, but I’m telling you we’re missing a major component of the game—I’m going keep bringing this out, and I will get people to attack each other. Great game for a reasonable price, and one I’m sure I’ll be playing for a very long time.
- Ticket to Ride (+1)
So last year, I ranked some of the versions of Ticket to Ride individually, but this year they are all combined into one single entry here at the #4 spot on my all-time list. The reasons for combining it simply are because I really don’t care much for regular Ticket to Ride: USA, but I do very much like many of the expansion maps, including Switzerland, Nordic Countries, Pennsylvania, and the UK. All of those are really great so it doesn’t make sense to tie up 4 slots in the top 75 for variations on the same game.
What’s so great about Ticket to Ride? By now everybody knows it. It’s been out 10 years already and has been a huge seller. As always, this and Catan are probably the biggest gateway games of the last 20 years of gaming. I can teach you to play in 5 minutes, and there’s enough strategy in it to keep strong gamers interested. There’s no denying this is a good game, and how important it is for gamers to know this game and have it available to help grow the hobby.
There is such a great variety of expansion maps, and most of them really only have a couple different rules from the base game. You like set collection? Get Pennsylvania out. Like technology development? Get the UK map. Like tons of options? Get Switzerland out. Like a tight challenging map? Nordic Countries. Wanna play teams? Get Asia. And there are a few I don’t have like India and Africa. Let’s hope they keep coming out with great expansion maps to keep this game fresh. If they do, I think this game stays in my top 10 for a very long time. Shockingly it even moved up one spot this year based on the quality of the most recent Penn/UK map expansion. Not too shabby.
- Suburbia. (-1)
So Brian got this game out for the two of us to play not too long after we met. About halfway through, I said, “Boy I really like this game”. Then we borrowed it so Cindy and I could try it, and halfway through she said “how much is this game?” which translates to “we should buy this.” And as soon as it was back in print, we did buy it. This is SimCity the board game. The concept is simple. Buy a tile that represents some element of a typical city, find a place to play it—hopefully in an area that makes sense for how you would expect a thriving city to be laid out, and then check your reputation and income. Some tiles will help your city earn money (to buy better tiles), some will make it more appealing so more citizens move in (reputation) and that’s what helps you score points. Throw in some secret goals, some public goals, and you’ve got a really well-balanced game. Everybody knows I championed this game a lot in the last year, so much so that we had enough copies to run our own little tournament, and it was a great time. In my opinion, it is best with three players, and it’s still good with two. With four it starts to slow down a little for my taste, while you wait for your turn to come around. A lot of the podcast folks call this a “tier two” game, which means, once you’ve got somebody hooked on gaming after introducing something like Ticket to Ride, Catan, or Dominion, then this is the next game to have them try. I think I agree with that assessment. A big part of why this game still ranks this high, given specific circumstances that I will not divulge for a few more minutes, is the expansion does a nice job of adding some more variety, and new mid-game goals, so there’s still fresh things to see in this game. And there’s another expansion on the way, “Suburbia 5-Star”, but I’m really unsure about whether Suburbia needs more upgrading. And I really think this game is destined to drop over the next year, and that’s because….
- Castles of Mad King Ludwig. (-1)
Castles of Mad King Ludwig (hereafter referred as CoMKL) is even better than Suburbia. #1, it takes less time to set up than Suburbia. #2, it is less fiddly to put away. #3, the score tracker is better. #4 the strategic choices you need to make are much deeper and subtle. #5, I like the theme a little better.
So obviously these are similar games, by the same designer Ted Alspach (don’t ask about Subdivision, because that game is a completely different animal). In Suburbia you build a city, and in CoMKL you build a (very chaotic) castle. The major difference between the two is how the marketplace is set up—where you buy your tiles. In Suburbia the costs drop the longer a tile has been available. The most you can do in the way of player interaction is to either take a tile somebody else wants before they do, or just make a lake out of it. In CoMKL there is a completely different marketplace arrangement. Each round one player is the master builder. He takes all the available room tiles, and decides which one will be in which marketplace slot. Then the other players buy whatever tiles they want, but the payment goes to the Master Builder. Then the Master Builder buys his own tile, and his payment goes to the bank. Next round the player to the left becomes the Master Builder, and he or she sets up the market, and play continues. This may not seem like a very big difference, but let me explain to you just how huge it is!
So I’m the master builder. I know which room tile I want. It will only be there if nobody else buys it before I do. So I’ve got to set the price high enough that nobody takes it for dirt cheap, but not so expensive that I overpay for it myself. I think I know which room tile you want. I want as much money as I can get from you when you buy it. So where do I price it? High enough to be happy with the payment I get, but not so much that you decide to buy something cheaper—that makes me lose out on money. Worse yet, if I make your choices so unpalatable, you may choose not to buy anything (and take $5000 from the bank instead) and now I didn’t get any payment from you at all! That happened to me once and I was dead broke after—it was horrible! Or maybe there’s a tile I just don’t want you to have—I’ll set that on up to the highest cost. That works for this round, but every tile that doesn’t get purchased gets a $1000 bonus coin placed on it, and when someone finally buys it, they get any bonus coins as well. So eventually that price will become more and more attractive. I can’t keep it from you forever. Layers and layers of risk and reward choices to be made. Sometimes it’s just too much to work out, and you end up saying—to heck with it! I’m just going to guess and hope I don’t get screwed.
On top of that, the rooms are varied in size and shape, and color, and interactions are very thematic. Do not put that Ten Pin Alley next to any of the sleeping rooms, or you’ll get major point penalties. Try to arrange your rooms and hallways so that all of the entrances of a room are connected and you’ll get a bonus. No two rooms are the same, and most of them have tiny thematic artwork on them (like the Train Room, with a tiny model train snaking around the tile). The symbology is clear. There are downstairs rooms too, like dungeons and alcoves, and moss caves.
Every castle you build will turn out unique and interesting—and you’ll want to take pictures. It’s really great. CoMKL plays 2-4 players, and is surprisingly good with 2 players. The sweet spot (like Suburbia) is three players. The only drawback I can find in this game isn’t even the game’s fault. There can be a lot to think about when you’re the Master Builder, and sometimes it can be difficult to figure out which room will fit geometrically to the floor plan you’ve built so far. It can be a little bit AP prone (analysis paralysis), but that’s and issue with the player, not the game.
- Pandemic Legacy (new entry)
What follows is SPOILER FREE.
That’s right, there’s a new #1 this year. Before I start:
- If you don’t like Pandemic, you won’t like this game.
- If you think Pandemic is difficult to play with too many hard rules, you won’t like this game.
- If you don’t like cooperative games like Pandemic, you won’t like this game.
- If stressful games are too much for you, then this game probably isn’t for you.
Now if none of those apply to you, and you’re still reading, then hopefully I have your attention. This is a fantastic game.
For those who don’t know what Pandemic Legacy is, let me explain. This game starts out like regular Pandemic, but as you play it, a story unfolds. Things will permanently change. Rules will change. The map of the world may permanently change. Other things might change that I dare not tell you until you experience it for yourself. The idea is that you will play the game somewhere around 15 to 20 times, with the same group, much like you would for a role-playing campaign, and the story unfolds throughout each game you play. You’ll open new boxes of components when certain conditions are met. When the legacy story is over, so is your Pandemic Legacy experience. You play the legacy through once and you are done. The game you play at game 18 is very different from the game you may have started with (and it does increase in complexity as it progresses).
That’s pretty much all I can tell you. So why is it so great?
I will steal the thunder from our loyal Peghead Eric who said, “I’ve never had an emotional attachment with a board game. I’ve had some in tabletop rpg…but to draw sadness and anger (over what happens during the game) is an incredible achievement to be done in a board game.”
You will find after a game or two, suddenly you CARE about what happens in your game. Every decision you make has consequences not just for whether or not you win the game you are currently playing, but it could possibly impact every game you play for the rest of the legacy. When you win, or pull off a good move, you’ll be so excited that you’re high fiving. And when something bad happens (and something bad will probably happen), you’ll be devastated.
And not only that, once you’ve played it, you’ll spend so much time talking about it. I played it through with my lovely wife Cindy, and we’d talk about what strategy we might want to employ on our next game. We’d want to know what happened to other groups that played it. How did they do in March of their game? How many did they win, and how many did they lose. How did you feel when “such and such” happened? You’ll want to share your experience.
- I cannot possibly recommend playing this game highly enough.
- Get comfortable with regular Pandemic first. Play it at least once or twice, to where you feel like you have a good chance to win, and you are comfortable with some of the subtle strategies needed to win consistently. A bad game early in your legacy will have a lasting impact, and there is no going back and starting over. If you have never played Pandemic, you can buy Pandemic Legacy and play it through a couple of times without starting the legacy story. The rulebook explains how to do this. Or borrow my copy of Pandemic and try it out.
- Find a good group. It plays just fine with 2, 3, or 4 people, but you need to be able to meet regularly to play, and you need to be able to work together well. At least one good strategic player will help you a lot, as mistakes cannot be undone. At least on player with good attention to rules will help keep you on track and avoid mistakes.
I’m telling you, if you can meet these recommendations, then you need to get this game and play it. It is one of the neatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The only drag is that once it’s over, it’s over. I’m sure this is the only year this game will be #1 on my list, because I can’t play it anymore. Well, I suppose I could find another group and play it again, but I know all the surprises that will happen, and all the wonder and excitement of what might happen next is what made this game such a hit for me.
Get this game. Play it. Tell me how it went. I hope and trust you will like it. For me it was unforgettable.
Pandemic Legacy. My #1 game of all time.
Was there a game missing? Is there something (other than Achemists) that you can’t believe I didn’t like better? Or a game that I like that you think is garbage? Keep the discussion going, and I’ll try not to take it too personally.
And as I always tell you, Have Fun, Play Games, and Make Friends.
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.
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.
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!
So what did you think of the first 15? Well, it’s time for some more great games, so let’s get on with the list.
- No Thanks! (-23)
One of the best $10 games out there. We gamers by now know we always need fillers available when we’ve got a little bit of time between games or while we wait for another group to get done. No Thanks! is so easy, but still has interesting decisions. Do I want the card or not? Maybe with more chips on it I’ll take it. Do I risk grabbing that 17 knowing I already have the 15, hoping the 16 will come later and I can string 15-16-17 all together? A good light game, but starting to fall out of my favor since I’ve played it so much. Let’s face it—I like my variety, and when I’ve played a game this much, I tend to want to grab something fresher.
- Favor of the Pharaoh (new entry)
I love games with an engine-building concept, and this is probably the only one I can think of where you are building up an engine of dice. So this is basically Yahtzee! where you need to roll 7 of a kind. You start with just a few dice, and as you roll combos, you can earn more dice and more special abilities that help you manipulate your dice results. And this game has piles of dice, many of them customized for this game. The dice are gorgeous and high quality. Once you build up your dice enough and can roll 7 of a kind, you’ve gained the Favor of the Pharaoh and earned the Queen die. Then every other player gets a chance to make a better combo than your 7 of a kind. You get one last chance to beat anyone who can overcome your initial 7 of a kind roll. Whoever ends with the best combo wins. This is a pretty quick and simple game, and based on that I think it’s a little pricey for what it is. The base game does not come with enough dice for a full 4 player game to have a full set of their own—you may need to be passing dice around. If you invest in extra dice (available from Bezier games), you might be approaching $60. But ignoring the price, I do like this game a lot. It’s a great one to borrow from your buddies.
- Cutthroat Caverns (new entry)
This was a game that was on my wish list for a very long time, but it came off when my friend Ethan obtained it. So I’ve got a chance to play it a couple of times, and I like it a lot. Each player is a dungeoning adventurer, working together to defeat a number of boss monsters. Where things get interesting though, is in order to gain “prestige” required to win the game, you have to be the character that deals the killing blow on the monster. And therein lies all kinds of party backstabbing and deviousness in order to try to be the one who deals that killing blow. Trip people, edge them out, steal their cards, whatever you’ve got to do. The tagline for the game is “Without teamwork, you will never survive. Without betrayal, you’ll never win” and that’s exactly appropriate. The card play is pretty easy, but what I like probably the best is that there are a LOT of different boss monsters to play each game (you’ll usually face 8 or 9 of them each game), and they each are very thematic, and change the game play a little bit based on what kind of monster you are fighting. Some challenges aren’t even monsters at all, some are traps or labyrinths. A good game for a larger group, 5 or 6 people if you can get them together, and I definitely recommend it. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Fairy Tale (-19)
I do like drafting games (or pick-and-play, if you prefer that description). 7 Wonders is the one I prefer in terms of strategic and intricate play, but sometimes you just want something you can get to the table quick. Amongst the gaming circles, whenever light drafting games are discussed, it’s either Fairy Tale or Sushi Go! Both are really good games. I like the theme in Fairy Tale better, and there is a larger deck of cards with more variety in it than what you get in Sushi Go! As for drafting games, the one I still need to try is Among the Stars—maybe it makes the top 100 next year if I can get it played. In the meantime, Fairy Tale is a good drafting game, that fits the niche between 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, and I’m glad I have it in my collection.
- Jaipur (new entry)
For some reason, I didn’t think much of this game based on the reviews I’d seen initially. Everybody seemed to like it, but I apparently was missing the point. So when somebody finally got it in our group, and I had a chance to play it, I discovered what everybody was talking about. This is a relatively simple card game, where you’re trying to collect sets of goods before your opponent does. If you get goods before your opponent, they are worth more, but if you can get a large set (4 or 5 cards at once) you’ll get bonus points. Play through the deck, total the points, and play best out of three. Honestly even writing this, it doesn’t sound all that exciting, but if you’re looking for a good, quick 2 player game, this is one of the best. We liked it so much that we ran a Jaipur tournament at our last NMA, and it was really well-received. One of the better quick two player games, and definitely recommend it for couples. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (-20)
So everybody likes Catan—for the most part. As mentioned previously when discussion Dice City, Catan won’t be on this list. The components aren’t great for what the game costs. Plus I’m not a huge fan of trading games. Plus you can get screwed for resources if the dice are unlucky for you, or you get pinned into a corner on the map with little room to expand. Cleopatra solves all of those things. Cleopatra has one of the coolest game mechanisms whereby you build her temple right on the upturned box. It looks cool. And there are tons of plastic components to build. Also, you make your own decisions about what resources to take, although sometimes you’ll be picking blindly. If you get shut out for resources, it’s your own fault. Try to avoid using or drawing those corrupted resources—they may help you build faster, but that corruption is an issue. Maybe make an offering to reduce your corruption, or build a sanctuary. At the end of the game, whoever is the most corrupt architect is immediately thrown to the crocs and loses the game. The winner is the remaining player who builds the most, and is able keep the most money they’ve earned. This is a Days of Wonder game that is pretty much impossible to find, but sure seems to be overlooked in the gaming world. It’s one of my favorites and I’m really glad I have it. And probably what I like about it best, is sometimes when games look this good on the table, people come by and can’t help but ask “What are you playing?”
- Salem (new entry)
So with 54 and 53 we have a couple more hidden-role games. Salem comes in at 54 and is one which is set in the time of the Salem witch trials, but really that’s just the hook for a really silly game, so it’s not to be taken too seriously. What’s fun about this game, is while it has hidden roles, the gameplay is card-driven rather than driven by conversation driven, so you’re not required to depend on verbal skills or bluffing as much. Just play cards. Try to figure out who’s on your team, not as much by what they say, but by what they do and what cards they play (and who they backstab in the process). And it is chaotic and cutthroat, and tossing cards out at a very quick pace—really fun, and most often when we play we play several times in a row. Good party game. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Deception: Murder in Hong Kong (new entry)
So here’s a game that categorically is similar to Salem, Sypfall, and most social deduction games, but in implementation is totally opposite. By that I mean, it’s still a hidden-role-find-the-bad-guys game, but here there’s much less social deduction, and much more logical deduction. I love the concept here—it’s totally unique, and you really need to try it to see how it works—a written explanation can’t do it justice. Just watch the player count—with 8 cards face up per player, there’s a lot of information to try to absorb and disseminate. Just because you can play 12 people doesn’t mean you should. Get this around 6-9 players and it works really well. This game got played like crazy when someone in our group finally got it, and I’ve really enjoyed it. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Biblios (new entry)
Here’s another new game that once it hit the table kept coming back over and over. Like Jaipur, it’s pretty quick and easy to pick up, but it has more depth than Jaipur. So this is a card game about collecting sets of cards in the colors you want, but there’s a drafting element, an auction element, and even a stock market element. Amber and Ethan have reviewed it, so I won’t get too deep into the gameplay. What I like about this game is how those three game mechanics all work together. No particular part of this game is all that difficult, but there are lots of little decisions to make, and you’ve got to have an overall plan and put it into action in order to win. A neat little game, and definitely worth picking up. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- CV (new entry)
CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, and in Latin is loosely translated to “the course of life”. Here’s a game that doesn’t seem like it should be as much fun as it is, but after I saw it reviewed by Actualol on youtube (look him up—he’s pretty funny) I had to get it. This game is basically Life crossed with Yahtzee. On your turn you roll dice—your results might be good luck, bad luck, or things like health, knowledge, releationships, or money. You spend those results to buy cards from the market. Those cards represent different events that occur during your life. Maybe you get a childhood friend, or take a trip around the world, or get married, or a job, or have children. Each of those cards laid out in a tableau on the table, telling the story of your life. Those cards will give you special abilities that will affect your turns, like extra dice, the ability to change your dice results, or buy cards for reduced cost. Your goal is to collect sets of each type of cards, and to meet some secret goals and public goals to try to get the most points at the end. It really is a simple game, but surprisingly strategic in what cards to buy, and how to manipulate your dice results to get what you want. And the cards are really thematic, and they are organized throughout the phases of life, from childhood, middle age, and to old age. I’m tracking to get the expansion (CV: Gossip) which hopefully adds more thematic elements and even more strategy. Love this game, and it’s really a bargain—you should be able to find it around $25. Great family game and a great purchase. Definitely recommend.
- Flash Point: Fire Rescue (-10)
By now people probably realize that I really do like cooperative games, so based on strong recommendation from Tom Vasel on the Dicetower, I jumped into Flash Point. It’s a game of keeping fire at bay in a building so you can rescue the survivors. It compares most directly to Pandemic, but the randomness of the fire propagation makes it less strategic. Really it’s about doing the most you can each turn, but the cooperation and mathing out of each turn is not as in-depth as Pandemic. But I like the theme better, and there are tons of expansion maps, and firefighters with different roles and special abilities just like Pandemic. There’s a little bit of just about every kind of urban structure available, including submarines, garages, high-rise buildings with multiple stories, subway platforms, airplane runways. It’s always interesting to see what they will come up with next. If you’re looking for something just a little less work, but still cooperative, then Flash Point is for you.
- Takenoko (-10)
Happy pandas, gardens, bamboo, and colorful components. That’s Takenoko. This game made it on my wish list when I was looking for lighter fare that would work as a family game and still keep me interested strategically. This one definitely hits the mark. Strong artwork, great components, plays pretty fast. It really looks wonderful on the table, even if you don’t have the $200 to drop on the super-huge-component deluxe version with minis that are 6” tall. Megan seems to always win at this game, but that’s ok. One of the quintessential light family games that I would recommend strongly, provided you are not creeped out by cute pandas. The Chibis expansion adds just a few more options, but nothing too complex. It’s a very easy addition if you’ve played the base game even once.
- 7 Wonders: Duel (new entry)
Drafting is pretty difficult to make interesting in a 2 player game. Tides of Time does it, but that’s a pretty simple game. You can play Sushi Go! and Fairy Tale as 2 player games, but I think both of those are better with at least three. Same goes for 7 Wonders. So when Antoine Bauza (and Bruno Cthala) came out with a two player version of 7 Wonders, I very much had reservations. But in the end, they did a good job with this game, and it follows the original 7 Wonders approach pretty well. What makes this game very interesting is strategically you have to work in a very confined space. What I mean by that is, there are three ways to win this game, so you have a lot to balance in your choices. If the game goes the full 3 ages, highest score wins. But if you can dominate your opponent with military or if you can get enough scientific achievements, you can get an immediate win before score is even tabulated. Even more than in regular 7 Wonders, often your choices are driven by what you don’t want to let your opponent have, rather than what card might help you the most. This is a neat little game. My only knock on it is the cards are very very small. I’d pay another $10 if the cards were standard size. Still a great little tactical card game, and definitely recommend. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Hanabi (-11)
And here is the second of the great $10 games. This one isn’t a filler though. It’s easy to learn, but much more difficult to master. Better hope your communication skills, deduction skills, and poker face are in order. It’s the game where you hold your hand backwards. Give clues to your partner(s) to help them know what to play, even though they can’t see their own cards. 3 mistakes and you lose. This game isn’t so hard to win cooperatively, but to win with a high score takes practice. Every gamer should have a copy of Hanabi in their bag just in case. Maybe even multiple copies. See Amber and Ethan’s review here.
- Dead of Winter (new entry)
Here’s a game that hit it really big in the gaming world when it came out. I was really ambivalent about it when it came out, but I’ve played it a couple of times now and I have really enjoyed it. So what you have here is another zombie game (ho hum—the 3,798th I think, or so it seems—I don’t get the fascination with zombies). Each player has a couple of characters they are controlling who have holed themselves up inside a building and are trying to survive the aforementioned dead of winter. The gameplay is honestly quite simple. Move your characters to locations nearby, hopefully avoiding cold and zombies, and search for items and equipment you need to stay alive. Or maybe stay at the compound and build barricades, or make food, etc. That’s pretty much it. They core of this game is how the goals are set up. There is an overall game goal (different each time) that the group must achieve in order for the players to win—(almost) everybody works together on this goal to win cooperatively. But, each player also has a secret goal—other things they must accomplish in order to win, above and beyond the public cooperative goal. And maybe there are players that are traitors, who are not working with other players at all. It’s a good game, and I get why it so popular. There are a LOT of different characters you can have, and they are pretty thematic. But for me, it’s just a card game with a few tokens. I do not like the standees used for the characters and zombies. There’s not a lot to do on your turn. Really this game is about the social interaction, and the crossroads cards that provide some (completely random—by that I mean there is no overall story narrative) interesting story elements and group decisions. Those parts are done well, and make this a good game. But for me, there’s another game I would rather play that scratches the hidden-traitor-mechanic itch for me better than this one.
So that’s a total of 9 new games in this last 15. How many more do you think are in the top 45? What do you think the highest new entry on the list will be?
Until next time, this is Rob–the hastyhobbit. Have Fun, Play Games, Make Friends. Join me next time when I reveal games 45-31!!!
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.