For the second year in a row, we packed ourselves up and headed to GenCon, the happiest . . . I mean . . . the Best Four Days in Gaming! We had some adventures along the way, which we attempted to chronicle below. Join us as we recap our adventure through a few states!
And now onto the second half of our Gen Con experience!
With our high-priority purchases taken care of on Thursday, we headed back for our next foray into the vendor hall, prepared to take a much more orderly approach this time. We started at the far end of the hall (Aisle 3000) and snake our way through them, one by one. On Friday, we made it through about 8 or 9 aisles before our next event, and since the last few rows were longer than the others and had a lot of smaller companies rather than the larger publishers in the middle section, I’d say we covered over a third of the various booths in the hall. Some highlights: We found the game Brewin’ USA (which Amber had been interested in anyway), and after discovering it features some Wisconsin cities and craft beers, along with decent-looking gameplay, picked it up. We discovered that The Broken Token does not make an insert/card holder for Food Chain Magnate, which is something we decided we really needed after our first play of it. We tried out the upcoming Word Domination from Fowers Games, which was touted as a spiritual successor to Paperback — we’ll be looking for its upcoming Kickstarter! At the Dice Tower booth, we met almost all of the Dice Tower crew, except Tom, who already needed a vocal break from talking too much on Thursday. Near the end of our vendor hall time, we stopped by the Action Phase/Indie Boards and Cards booth, hoping to pick up a copy of the game Grifters, which we didn’t back on Kickstarter with the understanding that we’d be able to pick it up at Gen Con. Unfortunately, they were sold out, but they recommended that we head to the Indie Boards and Cards booth (since the two publishers merged only recently, they still had separate booths, but were selling games from both at each). Just our luck though, we made it to Indie Boards and Cards just as the last copy of Grifters was sold, so we’ll just have to look for it online when it’s available. Now worried about some games we didn’t think would sell out, we skipped a few rows to the Asmodee booth, hoping to get the expansions for Shakespeare and Five Tribes, which we didn’t think would be in short supply. To our chagrin, they were both sold out, with no sign of more becoming available later in the con. Since it was nearing the time for our next event, we took our leave of the hall, happy with our purchases but slightly saddened by what we were unable to buy.
World Championship Russian Roulette
This is a game we’ve been looking forward to ever since demoing it last year at Gen Con (and now are patiently awaiting the Kickstarter reward). At the surface, this is a pretty straightforward press your luck game, as the title might imply, but there is also a bluffing element and a bit of strategy to it. The premise, of course, is that each player controls one of the teams in the titular championship. Players have one bullet card and and six blank card, and each round they choose one card to “pocket”, meaning they can cheat by leaving the bullet card out of their gun. Then everyone uses a die to wager how many times they’re willing to “pull the trigger” (between 0 and 5) by drawing cards from their deck. At this point players can accuse each other of cheating if they think they pocketed their bullet card; otherwise players simultaneously draw as many cards as they’ve wagered, hoping not to draw a bullet card, which kills one of their team members and earns them no points for the round (players who survived the round earn a point for every card they drew, plus an additional one for surviving). There are action cards which make the game a bit more strategic in addition to the bluffing and press-your luck elements, and the winner is the first player to 15 points, or the last one standing. For this event, we played against a guy who had played before at Origins, and one guy who was completely new. We all did pretty well for the first few rounds, until everyone was pretty even around 11-13 points. At this point the game got intense, as the veteran player needed fewer points to win so was playing a bit less riskily. The rest of us had some catching up to do, so were making bigger wagers, but still didn’t want to accuse each other of cheating. In the end, the other three of us shot ourselves in the proverbial foot by having our characters shoot themselves in the head, letting the veteran player win. We still had fun though, and after playing the full game are even more excited for our Kickstarter copy!
One Night Ultimate World Championship
One Night is a game that our group knows and loves, which made us super interested in this tournament. Add in the fact that over 100 people were going to be broken up and playing the same games of werewolf and we were sold! As a little surprise, Eric Summerer (voice of the narrator on the app and Dice Tower Co-host) narrated the first round! It was definitely different playing the game with people we didn’t know; with a regular group, you may begin to learn tells and habits which may lead to better knowing who had what role. During an intermission, Ted Alspach gave us a sneak preview of One Night Ultimate Alien (Kickstarting soon) and allowed questions. We unfortunately had to leave the tournament early for our next event, but it was still a great experience.
One event that was a no-brainer for us was the annual Pathfinder Society game that kicks off the new season; over 1000 players and GMs work together to unlock mysteries and advance further into the adventure until we all complete the mission together. The Pathfinders are broken up into groups of six; since we only had a group of four, two other players joined our table. Unfortunately, while one of the players was very nice and fun to play with, the other player was not into the game and even was making snide comments under his breath which Eric could hear. One thing that’s tough about Pathfinder is that there are “correct” ways to play a character, but necessarily characteristics that need to be followed to a tee. Eric later told us that this unsavory fellow didn’t care for the way I (Amber) played my barbarian, especially disliking that I moved away from the group, was at times alone, and some of the choices that I made in general. This is a character I’ve played six or seven times now and have developed a pretty good understanding of why she does things; this is a part of pathfinder I really enjoy. My regular group knows how I play and let’s me deal with the consequences; this is not something that can be explain well or quickly to a stranger. While I was a bit bummed that he made those comments, no characters died, we had a good GM, we contributed to the adventure, and most importantly we had fun.
On Saturday morning, we picked up where we left off the previous day, and continued working our way up and down the aisles, and we made it almost the rest of the way through. Highlights for this session include: We stopped at the Board Game Geek booth, and found a card organizer for Food Chain Magnate, exactly what we were looking for! That may have been the best purchase of the day. We both spun the prize wheel at R&R games — Ethan got a dollar off any purchase, while Amber won a free game, Igor. At Smirk and Dagger, we got J’Accuse (which admittedly we were interested in just due to the title), and designer/owner Curt Covert showed us a fun little dice game, Sutakku, which we ended up buying as well. In addition, we learned how to play Nevermore, which is another game we own but haven’t tried out yet. The CoolStuffInc. booth was incredibly popular, so we couldn’t really get in and look around, but we did find the Labs expansion for Scoville, which is something we’d been looking for. While we weren’t really interested in the game at all, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China was the main focus of Upper Deck’s booth, complete with a mini-Chinatown and the actual cab of the Pork-Chop Express, which was really cool. Flying Frog, a publisher we really like, unfortunately didn;t have anything new of interest for us (it was all Shadows of Brimstone), so we gave them a pass. The end of our shopping day, though, again ended with disappointment, as we finally made our way to Ares Games to find that The Last Friday, which Amber was really interested in, had sold out. With as popular as it sounded like the game was, it probably sold out early Thursday, so we likely would have had to queue up there right out of the gate to get one, but nevertheless the rejection was a bit sad. On a happier note though, after both of our Saturday afternoon events were done, we headed back into the hall briefly to get to meet Chaz Marler from Pair of Dice Paradise at the Dice Tower booth. He was very nice and genuine, and very excited when we used the codewords he told us on Twitter to say when we saw him (“rutabaga” and “socket wrench”). I think one of the best parts of this Gen Con was getting to meet a lot more people that we watch, follow, and interact with online.
Smash Up Championship (Amber)
Smash Up us one of the biggest boxes in our collection (thanks to the Big Geeky Box) and I had zero interest in playing Onitama, so I figured I’d do ok in the Smash Up tournament. Boy was I wrong. One thing I really liked about this tournament was that we were able to choose from every available faction through a snake drafting system, where the first player picks first, second second and so one and the last person to pick gets the first pick in the second round. The first round I played two factions from the Obligatory Cthulu expansion, which makes use of a madness deck. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my engine going early enough and struggled through the round, getting 4th place in my pod. The second round I did a bit better, tying for second with Fairies and Mythic Greeks. Between rounds, while chatting with my competitors, someone suggested Mythic Greeks and Mad Scientists would be a good combination due to both their abilities to strengthen the minions. I tried this out in the third round, but lost to a bunch of dragons. I discovered during this tournament how important to know how the different factions worked together and a lot of different people had more information on this than I did. None-the-less it was a good experience.
While Amber was smashing up different factions, I was engaging in a much more zen type of battle. Specifically, I was playing in the Onitama tournament. I had only played Onitama twice before going into the tournament, but had won both games, so I had high hopes for myself. The format was the Swiss system, where the initial 32 or so participants would play 4 games, and then the top 8 with the best records would advance to the single-elimination quarterfinals. I managed to win the first three games, with my opponents getting tougher each time. Then, for the fourth match I was paired against another guy who was also undefeated, so I knew I was in for a challenge. Fortunately for me, he made a pretty reckless move that allowed me to capture his master, and move into the final 8. My opponent moved on as well with his 3-1 record, so he probably had wanted to try something interesting, knowing his spot was safe. As one of the top 8, I won a pack of Onitama cards with gold foil showing the character and movement, which I’m really excited about. If I advanced to the top 4, I would also win a copy of the game, but alas, I was bested in the quarterfinal round and my hopes of going all the way were dashed. I’m still very happy with my accomplishment, though, and the proud owner of the special Onitama cards, which I don’t believe you can get outside of special events like this one. Participating in tournaments is one of my favorite parts of Gen Con, and this is the best I’ve done at one to date.
After my fun (though fairly intense) time at the Onitama tournament, I decided to relax a bit, while still stimulating my mind with two great Kosmos games: Ubongo and Dimension. This was an event billed “Mastering the Art of Puzzles and Riddles”, which piqued my interest, but it turned out to really just be learning and playing these two games. Understandably so, the more popular game in the Kosmos area was this year’s Spiel nominee Imhotep, but there were still some exhibitors available to demo these two. I was joined by another couple, and along with the exhibitor, we sat down to learn and play Ubongo. This is a game about fitting shapes into a specific area as quickly as possible. This reminded me a lot of the weapons station in Space Cadets, so I’m sure it’s something our friend Jesse, who’s the weapons master, would love. Next up was Dimension, which I actually have played a few times before, but am always up for playing. I thought it was funny that the guy demoing the game was very careful to always call the round pieces in the game “orbs” or “spheres”, but had no problem referring to them as “balls” to his fellow exhibitor. This was funny to me because when we learned this game from Rob, he pointed out that the instructions are likewise very careful to never use the word “balls” to talk about the wooden balls. Oh well, que sera sera.
And for my final solo event of the con, I decided to try my hand and brain at the Set Competition. I had entered this event last year, and failed miserably, taking third place (out of four) during the preliminary round. I was determined to do better this year, but unfortunately that wasn’t in the cards. As opposed to several preliminary rounds leading to a separate final round on Sunday, this event was self-contained. Similar to Onitama, it consisted of a round-robin where all of the 12 competitors played in 3 different games against 2 different people each time. I knew I wasn’t going to be advancing to the finals after scoring the fewest sets in my first two rounds, but in the third round something amazing happened: all three players got exactly 9 sets, and we used all of the cards in the deck, which was in itself a rare occurrence. So even though I did abysmally and probably won’t be trying out my Set skills again next year, I at least got to have an interesting experience!
In our second night of Burlesque of this GenCon, we got to see D20 Burlesque perform their acts. This was the same troupe we saw last year at GenCon and we were really excited to see them again this year, but something was a bit off this time. They seemed to need to fill up more time and there were fewer acts. It was a bit disappointing because we had so much fun at their show last year, but after a bit of research we came to the assumption that they had someone that wasn’t able to come along, which lead to the difference from last year. But, we did get to see a really neat Portal burlesque, Daredevil, a “very serious” Batman routine, and a few we weren’t as familiar with. Still a fun show, I hope they are able to work out their kinks (in a manner of speaking) for next year.
Hungry Hungry Hippos World Championship
As our Sunday morning GenCon tradition, we packed up and headed to the Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament. And as per tradition, we were out in the first round. What’s nice about this tournament is not only is it a fun, light-hearted way to end GenCon, it’s also a nice tribute to Mary from Rogue Judges, who passed away early 2015. The tournament is broken up into children and adults, with the top 2 from each category advancing to the final four and winning one of the coveted trophies, adorned with a working hippo much like the ones we played with during the tournament.
For our last day at the con, we needed to finish up the last 6 or 7 rows that we hadn’t gotten to yet. Since we had been going from right to left previously, this time we switched it up and started at the first row and worked our way in the opposite direction to get to where we had left off the previous day. We saw Geek Chic’s super fancy tables and figured out what we’d do if ever we found ourselves with a spare $20,000. At Green Couch Games and Kids Table, we found a playmat for Wok on Fire, which we decided would be very useful for that game. We also found a cute little game called Foodfighters that we bought on a whim; if nothing else, it will make for a good prize for our Meetup group. I have long maintained that Asmadi Games makes games that are either somewhat complex or completely silly, with no real middle ground. Well, this time we picked up a couple from the silly end of the spectrum, Flower Fall and Save the Cupcake, and expect them to be as great as they sound. We saw a few other booths, but nothing else incredibly noteworthy. And we were able to see and walk the entirety of the vendor hall, which is no small feat!
Interview with Jamey Stegmaier
Stonemaier’s meeting space was in a fantastically lite room in a nearby hotel, which made the space super cheery. They had set up two different tables to allow each 30-minute time slot to allow for set up, so we were able to get comfy while Jamey finished listening to a game demo. We’ll be posting information from the interview coming soon, but overall the interview went really well! We were able to ask quite a few questions and even had Jamey help us with a bit of a prank for a friend that messed up the rules in Scythe. This interview with Jamey from Stonemaier Games really nailed down our respect for Jamey and Alan as designers, as well as people behind the games.
And with that, we bid adieu to Gen Con 2016. We will be back next year for the 50th anniversary, and are already looking forward to it!
Well, it’s here: Gen Con week! On Wednesday this week, the Two Board Meeples will be heading to Indianapolis for the Best Four Days in Gaming™. We’ve already discussed some of the events we’re looking forward to, so now let’s talk about the other big draw of Gen Con: the new games! You’d better believe we’ll be queueing up early on Thursday morning ready to rush into the exhibit hall and check out all the shiny new games for sale and demoing. But what games are we most excited for? Read on and find out!
I have an acquisition disorder; I love to have everything that is new and shiny. Be damned my rule of not buying a new game until the old ones are played, I’ve got to get my hands on those shiny MFers. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m looking forward to at GenCon this year.
- London Dread – The time is finally come. Last year, I demoed this game at the Grey Fox booth and have been watching for this game ever since. The game itself could be described as a cross between T.I.M.E Stories and Eldrich Horror (or maybe not, that’s just two games it really reminds me of). In the first 12 minutes of this Victorian era horror game, everyone is programming their actions for the entire rest of the game. And then, after those 12 minutes are up, the actions of the game unfold, (hopefully) revealing major plot points and gaining useful hints to, finally, try to defeat the boss. The designer and artist were kind and supremely willing to answer questions, which was another positive point for me. Plus, now I can tell everyone about this game now that I’ve preordered it. 😉
- Brewin’ USA – I loved Viticulture, and to be honest, while the mechanics were great, making wine is what did it for me. That’s one of the reason I’m really drawn to Brewin’ USA, who doesn’t love a good craft beer made by the meeples you know and love? I’m also digging the hour play time, it’s a perfect length game for a game night or casual get together. I can’t wait to head over to their booth and check it out!
- The Last Friday – I know there are people out there looking for more games in the horror genre, and I’m hoping this is one that will fit that niche. I grew up on movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street, so a game emulating these movies is like a flashback to my totally normal childhood. Hidden movement is not a mechanic I’ve gotten a chance to play around with a lot (Spector Ops and Fury of Dracula being the only games I’ve played, and I was on the finder team both times), so I’m interested in giving that more of a try as well.
- Colony (demo) – I will not make a fool of myself in front of Ted Alspach again this year. And to be the honest, I really am interested in this game because I know Bezier will not only put out something I like, but will put out a game that our game group will enjoy as well. Being a theme sucker, the colony building aspect is right up my alley as well, I don’t think I’d be disappointed in this game at all.
- Interviewing Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone (Event) – So, this isn’t a game that I’m excited to try, but an event that got added later than our original list that I’m really pumped for. Ethan bought me a ticket to interview Jamey and Alan for 30 minutes, mostly because he’s the best husband in the world, but also because I really admire Jamey and the games that he and Alan have brought to people’s shelves. This is a great opportunity for us to ask questions, learn and grow from two people that have had great success in the industry.
There is no doubt there is a huge slate of new games coming out at Gen Con this year. However, it seems that a lot of what I’m excited to purchase are new expansions to games we already have, most of which I won’t be featuring here There are some original games I’m interested in, though, and definitely some games I really want to demo, if possible!
- Beyond Baker Street – It seems like the Sherlock Holmes theme is getting a lot of attention these days. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was just reprinted recently (though the game itself is 35 years old), and there are several new games making use of the public domain IP. Beyond Baker Street, from Z-Man Games, is one such game. Described as Hanabi with a Sherlock Holmes theme, there was no way I wouldn’t be interested in this one.
- Shakespeare: Backstage – As I mentioned, there are a lot of expansions I’m hoping to pick up, and this is foremost on that list. I said in our review of Shakespeare that the game felt like it could use an expansion, so here it is! In Shakespeare, each round players bid up to five of their action cylinders to determine how many actions they can take that round. In the Backstage expansion, players now are able to use the action cylinders they didn’t bid to perform new actions with the backstage cast and crew. In addition, there will be a bevy of new recruitable actors, including the best character ever. All in all I’m excited for this expansion, and I’m hoping it adds that little bit more to Shakespeare that it really needs.
- Bring Your Own Book – For some reason, I’m really interested in this simple party game. The premise is one we’ve seen countless times before: each round, one player draws a card, and the rest of the players have to submit a word or phrase that fits the theme (e.g. “a political slogan” or “lyrics from a country western song”), and the reader selects which one he or she likes best. The twist is that, as the title says, everyone has to bring their own book in order to play, and the words and phrases that players submit must come from their book. After the first person declares they’ve found their phrase, a minute timer is started, so it doesn’t seem like there will be too long periods of everyone flipping through their books. This sounds like it will be a fun, light game that’s good for family gatherings or more casual game nights, and a party game that somewhat solves the fatigue of seeing the same responses every time, since there will always be a different variety of books each time you play.
- Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout and Obama Llama – This is one case where, while I am interested in these games, I’m much more intrigued by the publisher itself. This is UK-based Big Potato’s first foray stateside, and in addition to their quirky little party games, they’ll also be bringing with then the Potato Rater. Bring them an actual potato, and if it’s big enough, you may win a copy of one of their games, or a plush potato. Really. All real potatoes they receive will be donated to food kitchens and the like, so your tubers won’t be going to waste. This is just a ridiculous concept, but you’d better believe that we’ll be packing a potato or two in our bag in the hopes that they’ll measure up and be true Big Potato caliber!
- Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne (demo) – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the myriad games in their demo phase that I was interested in checking out, and of that list of games, this one is definitely at the top. This game is essentially the Cosmic Encounter mechanic where each round you attack one of your opponents, and everyone else may choose to support the attacking or defending side. This mechanic definitely seems like it would work well with the GoT theme, and this will be a good alternative to Game of Thrones: The Board Game when we don’t want to spend 6 hours fighting each other. And coming from Fantasy Flight, I know the artwork and components are going to be stellar. They’ve done a lot of good with the Game of Thrones IP thus far, so I have high hopes for this one.
Well, that’s (some of) what we’re interested in for Gen Con 2016! Of the nearly 400 games coming out or being previewed this week, what are you looking forward to? And if you’re going to be at Gen Con, you might just run into us there! We’ll hopefully be tweeting about our experiences in real time @twoboardmeeples so you can keep up with all of our escapades.
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.
I’m going to admit something to you all. I, Amber, don’t read rulebooks. I have a hard time learning to play from a rulebook and have a hard time teaching other players games, so I usually let the professionals (i.e. Rob, Ethan, Eric) take that job. But yesterday, I got my VERY FIRST FINISHED KICKSTARTER IN THE MAIL! I was so excited I ripped that bad boy open and, yes, began to read the rulebook. Let me tell you, my husband was shocked when I told him the news tonight. I was so excited to share this game with my husband, that we thought we’d share it with you as well.
It’s the 1920s and like many socialites of the period, you strive to host the best morning tea for your friends; after all, it’s how you keep your name in town! Your servants are bustling around making sure everything is just so when you realize that your best pieces are missing! You peer out the window to see that the socialite across the street has send one of their servants to switch your pieces out with something you already have! Now it’s time to scramble, making sure to you have the best prepared party so that all the best in town come to your morning tea, and not the tea of that nasty neighbor.
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.
You’re the new hero in town and with your super suit matching your best qualities, you approach town to save the day. But what do you spot over there? It’s another hero, dressed to the nines, trying to capture the exact same villain you are. And what to you spy from your other eye but ANOTHER hero. Henchmen are closing in, and you want the glory for yourself! Will you defeat the most henchmen and eventually the villain, showing yourself to be the supreme superhero in town? Or will another hero’s magnificent feats outshine yours?
Your local sewing circle has always been a great place to relax and unwind. It’s usually filled with ladies knitting or working on small projects, and is the epitome of peace and quiet. That is, until recently. You see, a rival has appeared that always one-ups you in everything. You sew a dress, she makes one two times as elegant. Her tapestry and needlework is so beautiful everyone gushes over it. Your latest project is a patchwork quilt, and you see this as your last opportunity to prove yourself every bit as good as your opponent. You each dig through the large pile of unevenly-shaped pieces of fabric to find the perfect patches to make up your quilt. But oh no! In the time you took to sew on that one patch, your opponent has placed three on her quilt! You’ll need to do some strategic thinking and time management to make a quilt that’s more complete and beautiful than that of your rival…
Patchwork is a two-player game about creating patchwork quilts using a variety of differently shaped patch tiles. Each tile costs a certain amount of buttons (the game’s currency) and time, and you’re penalized at the end of the game for any spaces not filled up, so you’ll want to figure out the best way to use the available patches to fill up your quilt!