Saturday, September 6, 2014

Top 20 Boardgames

Once again, I'm going to take inspiration from my friend Paul Owen - who listed his Top 20 games as part of the Dice Tower's "People's Choice Top 100" initiative.  As you might suspect, this was a tough exercise, and I'm left with the nagging feeling that I've left off something obvious.  At the bottom of the list I'll talk about a few games that didn't make the list, and a few that I think will probably be on there in the next year.  My list isn't in any particular order (it's hard enough to come up with the Top 20, let alone rank them!)  However, I'll start with a game that's been a favorite of mine for a few years now...

Can you hear the war drums?
1)  Conquest of Paradise - When I first played this at Prezcon 5 years ago, the theme immediately grabbed me.  There are a million games about medieval Europe, or "trading in the Mediterranean", or WWII - how many are there about the Polynesian expansion across the South Pacific.  Well, to my knowledge, exactly one.  There is a large luck element to the game based on tile drawing...which normally would drive me nuts, but it fits the theme so perfectly here that it works great.  I'm looking forward to the deluxe reprint coming from GMT games.  

2) Axis & Allies - A mainstay of my youth, this is a game I still love.  It doesn't get to the table much anymore, but I would love to pull it out soon.  I've linked to the original here, but I'd love to play the giant combined game of the newest Europe and Pacific versions. 

3) Ticket to Ride - The classic gateway game, great to teach to non-gamers, and interesting for veteran players alike.  I always look forward to a new map, and am eager to break in my copy of the Anniversary Edition.

4) Stone Age - This is a great example of the worker placement genre.  If it's not a gateway game, it's the next step up, and this is another I've introduced to many non-gamer.

5) Power Grid - In my opinion, this is one of the absolute best games to be found.  Great player
interaction via the bidding mechanic, and a fantastic market mechanic, which drives other decisions in the game, such as playing for turn order.  I keep buying all the new maps...haven't played them all yet, but I keep buying them!

6) Hansa Teutonica - This game is a favorite of my group, and is always a fallback option if we can't decide on something else.  Maybe the best example of direct player interaction in any euro game.

7) Love Letter - My group, like many others has been caught up in the social/hidden role deduction craze.  This was a tough choice for me, because there are a couple of other good ones (see below), but I chose Lover Letter due to it's simplicity...and the fact that I have the Japanese-themed version, which lends itself to terrible accents when we play.

Alright, who's got the builder lord?!?!
8) Lords of Waterdeep - Perhaps the best entry-level worker placement game on the market.  Once you get over the slight hesitation from non-gamers on the D&D theme, it always goes over great.  Replacing those cubes with "DnDeeples" is nearly a must, though.  Also, the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion provides deeper gameplay for experienced gamers.

9) Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery - A smash hit from Gale Force 9!  The combat is very simplified, but the game shines as a social backstabbing experience.  I won't forget one of our first games when Paul asked me to lend him influence for a scheme, and I declined.  He immediately followed with "How about you loan me that influence or else I'll direct this scheme against you!"  Wait-what?!?!

10) 7 Wonders - Great game with it's card drafting mechanic.  The first run-through with non-gamers can be confusing, but they soon get the hang of it.  Also a good pick for a larger group, as it holds up to 7 players.

It was a good death.  A tactical death.
11) Caylus - Another worker placement, but decidedly NOT for beginning gamers.  With the house-building mechanic that inspired Lords of Waterdeep, Caylus can be decidedly more cutthroat. 

12) Village - Another worker placement game, with the novel idea that your meeples grow old and die - where there deeds land them, in the Book of Record, or the unmarked graves, determines who wins and loses.

13) VivaJava:The Coffee Game - This game about making the best coffee blend has several fantastic elements.  First, it can hold up to 8's very rare to have a game that can hold that many and still play relatively quickly.  But the main thing I enjoy about this game is the semi-cooperative aspect, while still being a competitive game. 

I can hear the Imperial March
14) X-Wing Miniatures Game - I'm a child of the '70s, I grew up with Star Wars posters on my wall, and collected all the Kenner action figures.  This is a no-brainer for me, for nostalgia's sake.  But, beyond that, it's a great game.  Pre-painted ships (and good pre-paint at that), relatively simple rules - this is a winner.  It just needs to get to the table more often.  I haven't used many of the ships I've bought.  Yet I still keep buying them.

15) The New Science - I love the theme in this game, and mechanism where you publish for points...but allow your opponents to then build off your work, is fantastic.

16) Lost Cities: The Board Game - This is probably my shakiest entry on the list.  I felt I needed a 2-player, and was going to the list the original Lost Cities, but this board game version expands the same mechanic to 4 players, while also being good for 2 players.  Still...I can see this being knocked off fairly easily.

17) Founding Fathers - A "euro" game about the drafting of the United State constitution.  What's not to love?!  This is my favorite among the "play a card one of several different ways" games - I love the theme, and once again this is an excuse for my group to use terrible accents.

18) Wallenstein/Shogun - These are the same you prefer medieval Germany or medieval Japan?  The cube tower used to resolve battles makes this game, but the basic euro mechanics are solid.  For Wallenstein, I prefer the 2nd edition which incorporates some of the changes introduced in Shogun.

In the Game of Thrones (2nd Edition), you win or you die.
19) Citadels - I've literally had people throw their cards at me after I've assassinated them.  Enough said.

20) Game of Thrones 2nd Edition - Fantastic source material, fantastic "dudes on a map" backstabbing gloriousness.  Winter is coming.

Others in Consideration

So, what didn't end up on the Top 20, that may be a bit of surprise...and what did I seriously consider putting on there, that may be there next year (or next week).

Agricola - I like Agricola quite a bit.  But I still don't know the minor improvement or occupation cards that well.  Also the tight worker placement sometimes breaks the theme for me.  If Paul is plowing his field, why does that stop me from plowing mine?

Puerto Rico - Another absolute classic, which I still enjoy playing.  I feel like this game has a little bit of "you should know exactly what to do based on what happens before you, and if you don't do that, you've screwed up the entire flow of the game" thing going on. 

Memoir '44 - Great game that I learned to enjoy once I got past the "you can only move certain troops if you have the right card" aspect.  Just doesn't make it to the table enough right now.

Pandemic - I wanted to include a cooperative, and my wife and kids love this game.  Truth be told, I've gotten a little burned out on it.  And if I'm going to pick a coop, it's likely to be...

Robinson Crusoe - I've only played a handful of times, and the only reason it's not on the list is because I need to play it more.  But I can tell you that I already think it's the best coop I've ever played - with the different scenarios significantly altering game play, it doesn't have that "sameness" after repeated plays.

Brew Crafters - I'm highly anticipating receiving this game when the kickstarter delivers.  This is my Agricola-killer.  Unless I'm completely wrong, I would expect this in my Top 20 by this time next year.

Russian Railroads - Heavy euro worker placement.  The theme is a bit pasted on, but there's a lot going on here, and I like it!

Panamax - I have all of one play, but I really liked that one play.  Definitely need to get this to the table more before I render a final verdict.  There's some concern about some of the hidden goals being overpowered, but overall I'm really liking what I've seen.

I think that's about it...I could keep listing game after game.  As I sit here, I realize I didn't think about coop w/ trailer like Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica.  Aaargh...too many tough choices!  There's only one thing to more games so I have more experience to draw from!


  1. I'll duplicate my list from Paul Owen's page:

    The first set of 8, roughly in the order I acquired them, not "most favorite first".

    Third Reich
    Up Front (and expansion Banzai)
    History of the World
    Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage
    DBA (particularly played as DBx)
    Stonewall Jackson's Way
    Down in Flames

    The second tier of 3, in no particular order.
    Caesar's Legions
    Caesar Alesia
    Battle Cry

    Third tier of 3, in no particular order:
    Robo Rally
    Memoir '44 (particularly Overlord expansion)
    Pretty much any ancient, AWI, ACW, WWII, or Vietnam miniatures game someone else has organized

    That's 14. To take the list to 20 would seriously dilute the list.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Paul. Your list is chock full of wargames - I'm shocked, I tell you...shocked! :)

      Like Paul O., but tastes have shifted somewhat to broader themes, and more ease of access to relatively new gamers. I was never quite the grognard that you guys were...though I did enjoy some Squad Leader ages ago.

      Time and # of players can be a factor as well. A 1.5-2 hour game that comfortably handles 5-6 players falls right in our wheelhouse these days. Still...a weekend of full-on brawling battlefield is probably overdue at this point.

  2. I just noticed that Conquest of Paradise second edition is on the P500 with a pre-order price of just $39. Hmmm.

    I rationalize the Agricola "why can't I plow if you're plowing" question with the idea that there's only one village ox, or village plow, or something, so the first villager to claim the plow gets to use it. (Is there only one midwife for having children?) But that's just making up an excuse for what is obviously a game-driven mechanic, not a thematic one. Like you, I anticipate Brew Crafters will be the worker-placement game of 2015.

    I'll respond to Paul R.'s list on my own blog, but the long and the short of it is that no wargames made my list, which testifies to the way my gaming taste has evolved over time.

    1. Yes, I've had my CoP 2nd edition pre-ordered for some time (as might expect). We really need to get you to play it sometime.

      I hear you on the Agricola mechanic...but I think the better you tie in a mechanic with theme, the better the game is. Brew Crafters does this, and actually Caverna (i.e. Agricola 2.0) addresses this as well.