2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #10-1

Here we are at last, the cream of the crop so to speak. It has been a really fun and exciting thing to come up with, and share, this Top 100 list and hopefully you’ve found at least a game or two to place on your radar. Come back next June when I’ll try to do this again…

And stay tuned for a follow-up to this coming perhaps this weekend…

#10 – Great Western Trail

This game is a mish-mash of mechanisms that, somehow, works really well. I love that the tempo is controlled by the players, and that you are collectively adding spaces along the routes to potentially extend the game. There is so much to explore in here for strategies that I am only beginning to scratch the surface and, from everything I hear, the expansion takes a great game and makes it even better overall (which means I’ll be getting it eventually). Pfister is one of those few designers who have my full attention every time a game comes out with their name on it, and with good reason. His games are always incredibly fun, have layers of strategic depth that may not always be apparent on the surface, and they provide a rich experience that leaves me thinking about what I’ll do differently on the next play.

#9 – Race for the Galaxy

The fact that this game is still so high on my list speaks volumes about its staying power, as this has been among my favorite games for about 5 years now. My plays are solely reduced to the app at the moment, as I parted with my worn-down copy last year when needing to trim things down and, well, now I need to reacquire the game. But it works since there is now a 2nd Edition of the game, which should be nice to get onto my shelf and back into my solo – and occasionally with my wife – rotation of games to play. This is one of the best engine-building games I’ve ever played and, after well over a hundred plays of the game, I’m still not through turning back to this game for my enjoyment.

#8 – Rococo

I distinctly remember being at a game day a few years ago and seeing this one played at a nearby table and thinking I would never play a game about making dresses. Color me a fool, for this is one heck of a game. There is not one thing I can point to about this game that makes it stand out, but rather it is a combination of all of those into the overall package – much like Great Western Trail – that makes this a game I enjoy playing and one I crave the next play for. Had the younger me been wiser and played this game years ago it might have entered my collection before going out of print. As it stands now, this is the only game in my Top 15 that eludes my collection and eventually I’m going to have to just own up and buy it for crazy aftermarket prices because it is that good of a game.

#7 – Hanamikoji

When it comes to a 2-player only experience this remains the Holy Grail of games in that category. This game has everything I want in the box: small, portable, fast-playing, incredible tension on what to play, simple ruleset, gorgeous components and cards. I don’t get this one to the table nearly enough, and even if it hit the table every week I would probably still make that claim about the game. This is one that I would gladly play anytime and anywhere with someone, as this is a brilliant game for two players. It takes the best parts of Battle Line, which I enjoy, and adds the struggle of only using four actions per round and trying to figure out what action to take next, and what cards to use, provides some of the most agonizing decisions I’ve ever had in a game.

#6 – Oh My Goods

Pfister strikes twice in the Top 10, which definitely says a lot about this designer and his games. There is so much brilliance in such a small package of cards. They are multi-use cards, meaning you need to decide how to employ them effectively. This game has elements of worker placement in that you assign your workers to the buildings you want to activate that round. There’s press your luck which, in most games, I’m not a big fan of but it works beautifully here. But best of all, and probably the reason why I can’t find people to play this with me, is the chaining ability on buildings. I absolutely love building chains of production goods, and delight when that final turn allows me to mega-chain my way to victory. This is a small, clever game that I will never grow tired of – and I need to get back to exploring those expansions soon to enjoy the solo game they provide.

#5 – Lisboa

This game is many things, but simple is not one of them no matter how you slice it. It is burdensome to teach and a slog to play – until it isn’t. When things finally click, the sheer genius inside of this game is amazing. It is so thematically rich, as every Lacerda game I have played manages to be, to where the actions and sequences you follow begin to make sense. The solo mode is no slouch, either, providing a challenge that I haven’t been able to overcome even once. I tend to lose this game and to lose horribly, yet it keeps me coming back every time as I try to find ways to do better and become more efficient in a game that is anything but easy. It works my brain in the best sort of way, and if I could only own one Lacerda game (which I do), this is the one I would choose to purchase every time.

#4 – Argent: The Consortium

Worker placement games are a dime a dozen and so many of them are forgettable because they share so much in common. And perhaps that is what I really enjoy about Argent: The Consortium, because it breaks the mold of traditional worker placement to provide a game that can be cruelly cutthroat, that has a scoring method that follows the beat of its own drum, and provides a modular experience that gives it fresh life every time it hits the table. This is a long game with endless variety and player interaction in spades, and I love it to pieces because of all of those things. I wish my wife, like several other games in my Top 20, loved this game as much as I do as I would gladly play this any time she wanted a worker placement game. As it stands, she does enjoy this one when it hits the table more than she “remembers” every time, which is perfectly fine for me. I simply cannot wait to try out the Mancers expansion – at least some of the new modular content from that box – to see how that reshapes and breathes more life and variety into a game I already cherish.

#3 – Mystic Vale

Speaking of games I wish my wife liked more, and games that break the traditional mold of their mechanic…Mystic Vale is an awesome game that made the card crafting mechanic a thing in board games. While I hope the upcoming Edge of Darkness ends up being just as great (and more up my wife’s alley), this one remains at the pinnacle of what a great game experience should be. The gameplay is fast, there is a ton of variety from expansions, and each expansion adds minimal alterations to the core experience. Even when using them all it still feels like base game Mystic Vale – which is why I continue to collect them all and integrate them as desired when it hits the table.

#2 – Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

This is the game that has consumed more of my money than any other game, and I’m not unhappy about it. This game is a perfect experience, providing a ton of cards to build decks from and over a hundred quests now available to challenge – and many of them are really unique. This game is almost always a good challenge, regardless of whether playing alone or with friends, and even in its most frustrating moments it is a game I’ve never regretted playing when I lose. This is easily my most-played game of all time, and it will continue to hold that honor probably forever. Even if the game didn’t release another card or quest there is enough available to keep me playing this for decades without it getting tiresome. I cannot wait to attend the Con of the Rings this October, stationing myself in Roseville, MN for a weekend full of playing this game with other fans of the game. And maybe Caleb Grace will grant me a rematch from last year’s Gen Con…

#1 – War of the Ring (Second Edition)

This game is perfection. It has been my #1 game probably since the first time I ever played the game, and even though it only gets played a handful of times each year (at most) I don’t see any reason for it to officially relinquish that crown. It is the one game to rule them all, and the experience is almost always down-to-the-wire to where the outcome was balanced on the edge of a knife. The only way this game ever leaves my collection is if I get the Anniversary/Collector’s Edition of the game to replace it, and even then I’d probably keep this as a backup for the game. Even the base game experience alone is more than enough game to keep up coming back for more play after play, although I enjoy both expansions and am excited for the coming 3rd expansion that was announced.

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2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #20-11

#20 – Agricola, Master of Britain

I was ready to check out of the idea of ever finding a wargame I would enjoy playing solitaire. I was tired of the “play both sides” approach. Well, this blew the doors wide open to an approach for solitaire wargaming that I not only enjoyed, but I REALLY fell in love with. The decisions are tense and meaningful. There are layers of challenges to overcome in order to avoid an early loss – and even if you make it through every round there is a chance of failure. This game comes packed with so much enjoyable gameplay that it’ll be hitting my table often – and it has me really excited to dive into Charlemagne, Master of Europe.

#19 – Food Chain Magnate

This was my first introduction to a Splotter game and what an amazing impression it left on me. This game was so interesting and engaging for the entire play, and I loved seeing how each of the five players pursued a different path toward success. If you had asked me which Splotter game I thought I would enjoy most, that vote would have gone to Antiquity (which did appear on this list) – but this one is deserving of all of the praise it receives. I’ve heard it is amazing at 2-players, something I intend to discover for myself in the near future.

#18 – Ora et Labora

This is my absolute favorite Rosenberg game, although it still hasn’t entered into my collection. This takes a combination of worker placement, engine building within your own area, the goods wheel I love in Glass Road, and a clever cutthroat form of player interaction and merges them all into an absolute masterpiece of a game. Forget about the frustration of being blocked from a space in Agricola – your opponent can place your worker for a price which means you’re going to need to place the others before you can call that worker back. And since one of your workers is special, they probably used that one to their benefit, denying you the benefit of your own worker and your own space that you are building. Just writing about it makes me want to go pick up the cheapest used copy I can find just to get this one to the table. I heard rumor of a 2019 reprint last year after my first play of the game, and I’m still holding out for that reprint to appear so I can get the best Rosenberg game into my collection.

#17 – Raiders of the North Sea

This is one of the more unique worker placement games on the market right now and that is probably a big reason why I love this one. It has a theme I really enjoy (Vikings), and does something I hadn’t seen in any other game I had played. The struggle of deciding when to take a Valkyrie or two is one of the more interesting decisions to be found in the game. Go too aggressive too early and you risk crippling your engine. I really dig the official solo variant, and have started getting the expansions to integrate into the game experience – and I’ve heard nothing but positive things for how they adjust the gamplay. This will be a treasured game in my collection for years to come, and the first worker placement game to come to mind when my wife demands I choose a worker placement game because it is a fast-paced and fast playing game.

#16 – Arboretum

Whoever came up with this game has to be laughing at those pitiful fools who look at the game and expect a pleasant, enjoyable experience. Beneath the theme of trees is a brutal game with one of the most interesting and cutthroat scoring mechanisms in any game I’ve ever played. There is a good reason why this is among the most played games of 2019 for us, and it is a game we’ve been delighting in teaching to others. What looks and sounds simple on the surface leads to turn after turn of agony in deciding what cards to keep and which to play or discard, and the sense of dread as the deck whittles down and you realize that you may not be scoring that magnificent path of trees because maybe, just maybe, your opponent is holding the cards needed to deny you the chance to score them. I love this game to pieces, and it has one of the coolest tiebreakers in all of gaming.

#15 – Kingdom Builder

There are many gamers who dismiss this one out of hand because you have one card to choose from when placing your settlements. However, there are many games where your first placement or two is the key that drives success, or failure, in this game. Being able to read the board, the powers available, and the scoring conditions for the play and then identifying the best place or two to begin is what makes me come back to this game time and again. Expansions integrate seamlessly into the gameplay, adding variety to a game that already has a ton of variety. I’ve logged over a hundred plays of the game between the physical game and the app, and even today the base game alone in the app is enough to provide a rich and rewarding challenge for most plays. Don’t let the first impression fool you, there is more in this box than meets the eye – even if there can be the occasional game where that card draw can cripple your plans.

#14 – Seasons

There are a handful of games that are high on my list that I wish my wife enjoyed as much as I do, and probably none moreso than Seasons. Sure, she’d play it with me if I picked the game, but I’d be fooling myself if I ever imagined she’d pick it herself. But this one has everything I love in a game, with clever resource generation, a good card drafting – all done at the start of the game – and plenty of elements of engine building that you try and come up with from those initial 9 cards you choose. There isn’t a game in my collection quite like Seasons, and it is one I need to start actively teaching to a few of my friends who I’m almost certain will enjoy everything about this game that I do. It is a rare game indeed where you can hover down at a low score almost the entire game and come roaring back to win based on the value of the cards you played and the combinations earned for scoring. This game rewards clever and innovative tactics, something that I genuinely appreciate.

#13 – The City of Kings

So far this is the RPG adventure/progression/dungeon crawler style of game to beat. I’ve hardly played them all, but the impact that The City of Kings had is absolutely going to be hard to top. You feel a real sense of progression and, while I wish it lasted from game to game, the fact that stories and scenarios are in there that have you start off a little stronger is a good thing because you avoid always starting at “Level 1” and working your way up. The game is a massive puzzle whenever an encounter comes out, since there is no randomness in what your attack, or their attack, is going to do. Figuring out how to overcome the obstacle in front of you is what I love about the game, and the added layer of having workers to navigate with your limited actions as well helps to elevate this into a level of unique gameplay that I didn’t know I was always looking for in a game like this.

#12 – Nations

I loved this civ-building game from the first play and am happy to have it in my collection. I am yet to play Through the Ages apart from the app, but I think I may still end up preferring this one over TTA. The game is a lot of fun, and trying to manage your pool of “workers” is a key component to the game. I love seeing my board upgrade over the course of the game, and I do enjoy that not every card is going to come out every play – meaning you need to adapt your strategy to what is available rather than depending on what will eventually show up. I wish the solo version of the game was different, but I’ve heard there may be something new in the works…which would definitely be a welcome sight.

#11 – Millennium Blades

This game shouldn’t work. It should be an absolute hot mess of an experience. How can it be possible to emulate a CCG experience in a board game form? Yet it works, and not only that but it does a really good job of it, too. There is so much content in the box, and many ways to play, that I haven’t even begun to get good at playing the game. I love the art and parodies contained in the game, and I love looking for combos and synergies. It has a fast and fun solo mode, and is just as excellent with friends around the table. This delivers an experience that is only hampered by storage and sortation – something that is actually pretty thematic in mimicking a CCG issue. I’ll probably never get my wife to play this, and it may only hit the table with friends once or twice a year, but that is enough for one of the most unique, and surprisingly fun, experiences in board gaming.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Zephyr: Winds of Change

Thank you for checking review #105 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of Zephyr: Winds of Change

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a board game designed by Aaron Kluck and Jon Mietling that is published by Portal Dragon. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-270 minutes.

Soar above the clouds in an array of airships. Defend innocent outposts from enemy vessels. Skirmish against droves of vicious attackers. Scavenge resources, complete assignments, and earn rewards, to upgrade your craft. Hire crew and join with your allies to achieve victory against overwhelming odds.

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a cooperative modular tabletop adventure for one to four players. Each player takes on the role of an airship captain. As a recent recruit to the band of vigilantes called Zephyr, each player must outfit their own vessel and work together defend the last remaining shred of civilization from malevolent marauders and unrelenting warlords.

Throughout the game, players upgrade their ship and hire crew members. Each of these brings unique abilities and can help you customize your ship and fill a unique role on your team. Each game you select a mission which shapes its overall structure, length, and difficulty. Join us, a vessel in Zephyr awaits its captain.

Game Details:

This is a 1 to 4 player cooperative modular adventure with rogue-like elements set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk environment. Players pick their ship and can spend their starting resource to add tokens to their ship and cards to their deck. They can also hire crew which are a modular component that comes by combining two cards, which each give unique abilities, and adding them to your ship. Players choose a mission which each has a different lengths and difficulty which maps out starting supplies, the win event and the structure between. Players travel on their selected mission through a series of regions. Each of these has a unique global effect for the area. Each turn, or day as we call it, each player draws an exploration card which causes them to make decisions, deal with random events or fight in battles. Battles are a large portion of the game since you will deal with them on the way to and during a warlord battle or most end events. During battles, players draw a hand and decide what cards to play based on what their ship and crew enable them to play. They roll for the actions of their enemy and resolve the damage. This process repeats until one side or the other has been destroyed. When you win a battle you take the due rewards which can be used to trade for additional ship upgrades or crew members. These augmentations help to prepare your ship for the end conflict and ultimately win the game.

My Thoughts

 There is a ton of variety contained in this box. You’d think that the ships would be just different in appearance, but every one of them is drastically different in approach, its strengths/weaknesses, etc. There are tons of cards for your travel decks, a large number of assignments you can complete, and a decent number of scenarios to challenge. Mechanically the game plays the same, but your approach can vary wildly from game to game.

 The different ships are just fantastic. I love the dual-layer boards where the tokens slot into the ship. I like the place for ally cards at the bottom of the ship. And I really like that the are DIFFERENT from each other in more than appearance. Their deck of cards is unique, they have a different ability, and the way in which they can draw more cards is different from ship to ship. Every one presents a new puzzle toward how to effectively approach your scenario, and I love it.

 It’s no secret that I love the transparent cards, being a huge fan of Mystic Vale. I wish they sleeved together to form a card, but as it is this is a clever way to form crew members that have two different one-time-per-trip abilities you can trigger to overcome your obstacles. Not only that, but adding crew members lets you play more cards than the standard 1 card.

 Most games would tell you how to equip yourself at the beginning and let you refine from there. But not here. Most missions will give you a single upgrade, usually to your hull, and then a good handful of scrap you can use to purchase other upgrades or crew members before flying off on your first assignment. This allows you the freedom to experiment and to determine where you want your emphasis to be placed on your ship.

 The game looks downright good on the table. My wife expressed an interest in the game just from seeing it set up, and that is a strong endorsement right there. The quality of what comes in the box was surprisingly good, and full of a lot of stuff. The artwork on the ships is great, although there is pretty minimal artwork beyond that and the region cards and the crew members.

 Combat in the game is relatively simple, and I like that you aren’t leaving your portion up to random die rolls. You draw a certain number of cards from your deck each round and then choose cards to play. The number of cards, and type of cards, are dictated by the slots you have crew members assigned to – they let you play a card of the type associated with the space – plus one of any type for the captain (you). So while it might be tempting to stack your ship full of nothing but weaponry to blow the other ships up, drawing a hand of just attack cards is wasteful because you’re probably only going to be able to play 1-2 of them. This makes balancing your ship purchases, and by extension the deck construction, one of the most important – and interesting – aspects of the game.

 The learn-to-play guide technically does its job in walking you through a little of the game. But the examples it provides are with theoretical cards that you can’t pull out to look at and is a scenario that just ends. It would be far more effective to do the starting few turns of a real scenario, using real cards that a player pulls out, and then let the player finish the scenario from that point – much like a tutorial in most board game app implementations do on their tutorial plays.

 The challenge level seemed questionably low at best…until I finally tried my hand at a scenario with a Warlord. There is a spread of difficulties in the game, and I think that is a strong benefit there. Sometimes the card draws and dice rolls will go your way and you’ll coast to the end. Other times you’ll be threatened every step of the way. But man, those warlords feel impossible for a single ship to challenge. Let’s just say I was destroyed in the very first attack – something that proved to be a very anticlimactic attempt at clearing the final challenge of the scenario.

 The rules are a disaster. Yes, they teach you to play the game. But they are not laid out in a way that is good to reference during gameplay. Even worse are key concepts in there about really important ideas but are difficult to find, such as the fact that you should use a cube to track progress along the mission card (and that it should usually advance a space at the start of each new day), or the difference between the two hull upgrades (it took searching to learn that the shield replenishes each day – but I still don’t know how that works on enemy ships since a battle doesn’t span multiple days). You should shuffle your action deck when obtaining a new card upgrade, but it doesn’t clarify if you shuffle the discards in too or just shuffle it into what you haven’t drawn. When making purchases from the supplies, do you take a random card or choose which one you want to purchase? If you complete the key parts of your mission but have spaces left before the end event (such as a Warlord) do you play through all of those extra days, or do you go straight to confronting the Warlord? These are just some of the things that are either not covered, or barely mentioned in passing in one spot in the book and trying to find it can be a massive challenge. This one needs an overhaul to make it more user-friendly and a good reference guide for players mid-game.

Final Thoughts

Zephyr: Winds of Change is one of those games that genuinely surprise you about how much fun is crammed into that box. For one thing, this is a very full box with great components and lots of variety even from one ship to the next one. There are a good handful of missions, and the Assignment deck and the Navigation decks are pretty good in size. No two plays will be the same in this game, and I can see where even having more players could make this an interesting and exciting experience. But as a solitaire experience it stands up as being fast, fun, and just enough press-your-luck in the mix to keep you on your toes.

While I’ve really enjoyed this game, it isn’t without its flaws. The biggest sin comes from the rulebook, which is a disaster based upon the sin of omission. There are so many areas I tried to consult in the book but simply couldn’t find an answer – or, if I did, it was so difficult to find and was more of an “in passing” mention. The learn to play guide isn’t much use, either, because it doesn’t have the players actually do anything. There are no cards to match the examples, and so you can’t even recreate the experience if you wanted to. I would have greatly preferred it to walk you through 1-2 rounds of the easiest mission in the deck (which, for the record, isn’t printed with Easy on the difficulty) and have the players take over from that point to close out the mission.

However, if you can get past the rulebook and dive into the game, it provides a very exciting and replayable experience that is relatively unique compared with a lot of the games on the market. My wife complains about the fact that it is a cooperative game – it looks really cool and she knows she won’t try it because of the co-op factor – and it really does have a neat table presence. This game definitely exceeded my expectations and, while it won’t be my favorite solitaire game to pull out, it definitely has earned more plays going forward on my table.

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #30-21

#30 – Sentinels of the Multiverse

This used to be the game I’d play with my crazy obsessed friend whenever I played games with him. Sure, I enjoyed the game well enough, but it was slow to reel me in. What set it apart, I think, was finding the Letters Page Podcast to learn all of the lore behind the characters and the world, in addition to playing it solo at home. Now I am proud to own most of the game, and it is one of my favorite ones to pull out for a solo game or two. This is the superhero game I had always been searching for and now that I’ve finally found it, I am happy to own it all.

#29 – Hoplomachus: Origins

This game sure did shake things up in a short amount of time. The solo game is fast and fun, and I love the set of trials to progress through. It is equally fun, although a bit slower, with two players. My biggest complaint is a desire for more units and tactics in the box – something I am sure Chip Theory Games would love to sell to me. This one is going to get a TON of plays at my table in 2019 and beyond.

#28 – Exceed Fighting System

I didn’t expect to like Exceed as much as I do. I had already fallen in love with BattleCON by the time I tried Exceed, and I couldn’t imagine how the two games would be different enough that anyone would want, or need, to own them both. Boy was I wrong. This one is a fast-paced dueling game that has just enough balance between planning and randomness to please just about any player of the game. It is the version most of my friends prefer to play, as it doesn’t favor the person who knows the decks the best as strongly as BattleCON does. I need to pick up Season 2 of this one, as I know I will absolutely LOVE the Seventh Cross boxes.

#27 – Glass Road

One of my absolute favorite Uwe Rosenberg games, and this one has so many delightful elements to the game. The wheel of resources is absolutely brilliant, and this is such a low-scoring affair that I find I love playing it at every player count – including solo. You get so few actions to try and do as much as you can to maximize your points, and just getting to 20 points can feel like an amazing accomplishment some games.

#26 – Lignum

This one dropped a fair amount since last year, but not because of any fault of this game. It is still one of my favorite euro games to pull off the shelf, and I really enjoy the brain burn this game provides with planning several seasons ahead. The game will always use the mini-expansion when it hits my table, and my wife is always welcome to ignore it to her own demise. This is an incredible game, and arguably the best one I’ve played from the line of Capstone Games titles.

#25 – Liberation

This is the smallest game to reach this high, weighing in at just 18 cards inside of a Button Shy wallet. But boy does this game provide everything I want out of a wallet game and then some. It feels like the Liberation side has the advantage in most games, although it usually is fun and tense regardless of which side you are playing. Hands down, this game contains the best value in gaming at just $12.

#24 – BattleCON

Before I loved Exceed, I fell in love with the fighting system in BattleCON. I am happy to own some of them both, and want to eventually get all of the content in both games because every fighter feels so different from the other fighters. This is a battle of wits, where both players know exactly what cards are in the opponent’s pool of cards to play from – but selecting the two cards to play together can be an agonizing decision in itself. Not to mention the brilliant cooldown of two turns before those cards will return back to the hand. If given a choice, this is the fighting game I’ll grab off my shelf every time because it is just that good – and the online implementation is just as impressive and fun to play.

#23 – The Omen Saga

This one surprised me. Yes, I heard it was a good 2-player game. I even watched Rodney Smith’s ringing endorsement. But it couldn’t be THAT good, right? Oh yes, friends, it is THAT good as a 2-player game. I gifted the second edition copy to a friend and just last week used part of my birthday money to order the base game of the newest edition from Kolossal Games. I also happened to try out the PNP of the upcoming version coming soon to Kickstarter and spoiler alert: that one is really, really good too. I’m saving now to back it, and plan to collect everything for this one.

#22 – Keyflower

The other game my birthday money went toward, this game lived up to its hype when I tried it out last year. There are so many small, yet clever, things in this game that is played in four seasons – such as the scarcity of green meeples, using meeples to bid to purchase tiles for your landscape, and putting meeples on ships – that I can’t wait to teach this one to my wife. I’ve heard it is amazing with two and I have no doubt it will be a staple in our gaming rotation.

#21 – Eminent Domain

This segment is full of surprising entries – games that exceeded my expectations going into the game – but none did it more than this game. I was interested solely based on the deckbuilding mechanic being present in the game, and when I heard about the way you build your deck I was lukewarm about whether I would enjoy it. I’ve come to really enjoy clever deckbuilders, ones that put a twist on the core mechanic, and this certainly accomplishes that in a way that makes me crave the next plays. Suddenly that blind math trade for the game and first expansion seems like it was a brilliant decision – and maybe my wife will even enjoy the fresh approach to deckbuilding found in Eminent Domain.

2019 Top 100 · Uncategorized

2019 Top 100: #40-31

#40 – Claustrophobia 1643

This game delivers an asymmetric dungeon crawl experience for two players that clocks in about an hour for game length and has an incredible, tense gameplay for two players. I went into the game with very low expectations and had to immediately request another play of the game when it was finished. I’ve since looked into how to obtain a copy, and have been tempted twice by copies of the old game that I’ve seen locally – but I am holding out (and wishing hard) to get my hands on the new version of the game because it contains over 20 scenarios in the base box that should provide a ton of hours of fun gaming with my wife.

#39 – Crusaders, Thy Will Be Done

I came for the theme and stayed for the delightful gameplay on this entry. The rondel mechanic is so fluid, and the turns move at a pace to prevent downtime from being an issue. I really enjoy how the game scales in growth with the players – unlocking more things on your board makes you more efficient, but the more areas you conquer the more power you need to Crusade effectively.There are a ton of ways to earn points, and the game always ends just before you can really hit the peak performance – the ideal time to close out a game that is engine-building at its heart.

#38 – A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game

A skirmish game that has won me over far better than I ever expected. Sometimes when a friend really wants you to try their new Kickstarter game, you’re in for an experience that is bland or unrefined. Thankfully this is neither of those, delivering a top-tier skirmish game with mech-loads of replay value in a relatively medium-sized package. The best way to play this is by forming your own teams, but even the pre-formatted teams in the box are excellent to play as and there is far more room for strong strategic and tactical maneuvering than you would expect from this package.

#37 – Haven

One of the finest pure 2-player games on the market right now with stunning artwork and clever intertwining mechanics. This is the game that locked in Alf Seegert as one of my favorite designers to watch, as he always comes up with new and fascinating twists in his game. This asymmetric battle over a forest delivers a gameplay experience that stole my heart and is easily one of the best games that hit the market in 2018.

#36 – The King is Dead

When I have three players and need a quick and intense game of area (un)control, this is the box I will grab every time. The game is fine with two, is team play at four (which is a big “meh” for me), but is beyond outstanding with three players. And the face that you are trying to control specific areas but are removing cubes each round makes this play like few other games I’ve encountered. I recently saw this in a FLGS for $19.99 and at that price this game should be in every collection.

#35 – Vinhos

I’m in the camp of preferring the deluxe version of the game over the original, if for nothing more than the better production quality overall on the game. It is amazing to me how a game where you get 12-13 actions can deliver such a rich and rewarding experience. This is a challenging game experience that burns the brain in all the right ways and makes me want to set it up and play it again – but maybe not on the same day. This is a classic Lacerda and displays many of the hallmark traits that you’ll find in many of his other designs.

#34 – 878 Vikings: Invasions of England

This game punches in with an experience that I enjoy every time it hits the table. This is the wargame we reach for on the days when we don’t have time for a War of the Ring session. The expansion box adds in a good number of modules to mix-and-match to expand the gameplay and add variety, and I like that some are seamlessly integrated into the base experience while others add extra wrinkles to factor in. I just wish I had colored cubes instead of these miniature mini figures on the map – even if they do look pretty cool.

#33 – CO2

The Lacerda game I was least interested in theme-wise ends up being one of my favorite ones to date. It shocked me at the time when I played the game, but it didn’t shock me when this list was being made. This game is fun in a way I didn’t expect, and it helped that I actually had the game’s mechanisms and strategies sort of click into place from that first play. I also like the tension that can come from the possibility of a shared loss – something to encourage a little cooperation from the group but not so much that this could be considered a cooperative game in any way. I’ve heard the solo mode is outstanding and cannot wait to try it out first-hand in the future.

#32 – Eight Minute Empire: Legends

I still delight in playing this game, which is one of many small box games that punches in with a fun experience far larger than the box size. The gameplay is simple at its core, but the limited economy and the conveyor of cards to purchase makes this one a fun experience for me every time it hits the table. I wish the map size changed for two players, but that still doesn’t detract from a really enjoyable experience.

#31 – Star Wars: Imperial Assault

The first game to reenter my collection in 2019 from a string of bad math trade mistakes on my end that I need to reacquire – many of which appear on this list somewhere (Civilization, The King is Dead, Eight Minute Empire: Legends, Pixel Tactics, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Biblios, Fields of Green, Barony, Battle Line, Game of Thrones (Card & Board Game), Agricola) – this one does a fine job with the campaign in the box. I’ve started a solo campaign with the app and it does a good job of managing things so far and I definitely intend to play that through to completion in the very near future. However, the star of this box is the 2-player Skirmish mode (and has been from the start). It is such a fun, exciting, and tense game experience with a TON of replay value if you take the time to pick up those extra character packs – each one adds two new Skirmish scenarios and a handful of cards to use – which is incentive to purchase them all to add to the best thing about this game. I wish it was a cheaper game experience, but by slowly picking up the add-ons this should be manageable enough to cultivate a collection that I’ll still be enjoying with my children many years from now.

Review for Two

Review for Two – A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game

Thank you for checking review #104 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game

A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game is a board game designed by Jesse Clark, Sarah Como, Breeze Grigas, Ryan “The Boulder” Richford, and Tom Wozencraft that is published by Zephyr Workshop. The box state it plays 2-6 players and has a playtime of 20-120 minutes.

Who doesn’t love combining robots? A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game is the world’s best combining robot tabletop game! Using themes from all your favorite giant mecha shows, it takes elements from popular tabletop wargames and streamlines them to make a game with the same depth of strategy without the high learning curve, distance measuring and long play times. Players build teams out of five robots to duke it out against other players’ teams of five. It’s designed to be easy to learn, affordable to buy, and quick to play, setting it apart from other strategy games.

There are five different classes of robot: Assault, Evasive, Guard, Intel and Support, and dozens of robots in each of those Classes. Each Class has its own way of playing and interacting with other bots, and you can make a team out of any five of them for an infinite amount of possible strategies!

The main mechanism of the game is teambuilding. Each robot on your team shares energy with each other, so moving and attacking with one will limit what the rest of your team can do during your turn. Certain compatible robots can combine into greater forms, too! If your team is built correctly, you can unite all five of your robots together to form something right out of your favorite giant robot cartoon!

My Thoughts

 The first thing about this game which made me go “huh, that’s a clever twist” is the way in which the abilities rolled for. Some abilities function as you would expect, where you roll X dice and anything Y or higher is a hit. But there are a fair number of abilities that veer from that trajectory, having you roll X dice and it only hits if ALL of those dice are Y or higher. Most of the time that target number is 2 or 3, but if you’re rolling 3-4 dice there’s still a pretty good chance you miss. I like that clever twist so much that it still delights me after all of these plays.

 What amazed me next with this game was the combining mechanic of the robots. Off to the side, each team has a handful of combined-level robots that you can merge adjacent robots of the proper class and name to make them into a bigger and, theoretically, stronger robot. It takes a lot of energy to make the combine action, but it accomplishes two things: it heals the robots completely in the process of combining – so if you have two robots near death this allows you to get a “free heal” in the process – and most of them have a COMBINE keyword trigger that activates on the new robot on the turn it combines. Effective planning can allow you to not only have the necessary robots in position to combine, but also to hit your opponent hard when they do. That is the sort of planning that many skirmish games lack and that I absolutely love in this game.

 Third was the sheer amount of variety in this box. I’m talking robots (100 of them!), commanders (over a dozen of them, each with their own unique ability), abilities (not to mention how each attack is unique), and the freedom to construct your own robot teams with any commander you choose. You’re going to use at most one commander and maybe a dozen robots (including combined robot options and a small sideboard) so there are a ton of options in here. All five classes of robots feel different from each other in terms of stats and strengths, and even within each class the variety between robots is pretty wild. You could play with a different line-up every game and it would take quite some time before you had to play duplicate teams.

 The artwork and flavor text in this game is surprisingly rich and immersive for me. I really enjoy the color palette used in the game, and have found myself really appreciating the artwork for the various robots (and how different they all are, even ones that are similar have some nice differentiating features) – especially the cool combined robots. You also get a sense of the commander personalities from the little backstory on their card and the flavor text on the robots, making this a game that you could immerse yourself into – and I really want to immerse myself into writing the lore for this game.

 I don’t often talk about components, but I like the decision to go with standees here rather than make this game cost a million dollars to get miniatures. The standees maintain the bright and colorful artwork that is so delightful from the game, and there are even some handy spots in the box insert to store groups of the standees together (an easy way to keep a constructed team in one spot!)

 I feel like the map is a pretty good size for a 2-player game. There is enough distance that you aren’t in the thick of things turn one (usually) but they are close enough that it never feels like the movement-into-range is a long part of the game. And because the robots have a varied amount of movement range, anywhere from 2-5 being the most common spread – although some can move twice and there are even a few that cannot move (but can be dropped on the map mid-game).

 The publisher is very supportive of the game and have regular twitch streams, holds tournaments, is having their first seasonal league play for the game, and has a good and active presence on their Discord channel and social media. It is great to see such an active designer and reassuring to see how actively they are supporting this project. It was definitely a project of love from them – you can see that from what comes in the box and feel that from the experience in the box.

 This game has a good play time, which is only made better by quick setup and teardown times as well. This is an easy game to get to the table – at least with two players – and one that I would gladly reach for whether in an evening after work for a quick game or for an afternoon of playing where we construct teams and clash in a best-of-three series. The game never overstays its welcome at two players and is one I’m always ready to set up and play again.

 Like any game with dice-based combat, you’re going to be at the mercy of die rolls. Most of the time they average out, but I’ve seen streaks of luck in both directions and that can swing even the best of games. As a whole this actually does a good job of having a nice spread of things, and even some abilities to trigger reroll opportunities if you save the energy for that purpose. But know that there will be times when the dice might have a different opinion about how a certain attack should go and you may not like it.

 The rulebook is done well enough, especially for a first-time player. It is pretty intuitive in how it flows from one idea to the next along the way, and I found it was really easy to learn from. However, as a reference for players who know the game it is not a very good tool because the items are not ordered in a way that makes sense for looking up. A second book might be appropriate here, in more of an indexed style with references to key concepts and organized in a way that makes it a good reference guide. The game does have a set of reference cards (but only one set from what I can tell) and they are nice, but the information is spread out and even that won’t cover everything needed.

 There are a lot of abilities and icons to keep track of what they do. This is hard enough to do with your own team, and even moreso when trying to figure out what your opponent can do. I’ve had a game snowball out of control through my own fault for not realizing the abilities on the other side of the board. A reference sheet instead of the single set of cards would help, so each player could have a one-stop spot where they could at least see what the different attack types, the different keywords, and the commander abilities can do (with attribution to what commander comes with said keyword). The game is small enough on the table that a single cardstock sheet per player, the size of the rulebook, or even close to box-sized, would be a welcome addition that could hedge off a lot of potential for frustration and reduce the amount of rulebook flipping or card searching to try and figure out what X means.

Final Thoughts

When I first heard about A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game from my friend, I was lukewarm about the idea at best. Sure, the theme of using robots that combine together to fight the other person is a neat concept that you don’t really see very often, but usually games like this from small, unknown designers and publishers are bigger misses than hits. I remember picking this up for him last year at Gen Con and waving aside the offer to try the game – I was just there to pick up the game stuff for my buddy and nothing more. If I could go back to Gen Con last year, I would sit at that table and play the game because it is seriously a diamond among waves of games in the market. Between the interesting mix of robot abilities (and how you need to roll for them to succeed or fail), the way each class of robot feels different from the other classes, and the feeling of power when combining robots at just the right time…this game delivers an experience that genuinely surprises me still. Those things alone would make this a really good game.

However, the best part about this game is that you get more than just the modular teams. You can make your own teams and come up with wicked combinations of robots that are not mentioned in the pregenerated teams. Taking dozens of commanders, of which you choose one, and grabbing 5-7 basic and up to 5 advanced robots and pitting them against your opponent takes this game to a brand new level that I hadn’t expected. That is what helps to separate this game from the rest of the pack, placing it about on par with the Skirmish mode of Star Wars: Imperial Assault as one of my favorite skirmish-based game experiences for two players.

The best traits about this game are the quick setup (if you have teams prepared), the fast turns and play time, the insane amount of customization and replayability, and the fun that comes from tactically upgrading your units mid-battle. I really enjoy the artwork in the game as well, and the variety of commander characterization (coupled with the nice flavor text on some of the cards, too) to the point where I want to have a shot at sitting down and working on the worldbuilding and writing some of the lore for this game world. It has hooked me in enough with those small details that I just want to explore what else there is in this robot-filled world.

If you find yourself at Origins (Booth #154) or Gen Con then learn from my mistake and take Breeze up on his offer to try his combining robot game. You might find that, like me, it far exceeds every expectation you could have had walking into the game. It is a fast and fun game that punches in with an experience far greater than its colorful theme might indicate.I know I’ll be looking for any excuse to get this game to the table more often, starting with participating in their summer league.

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #50-41

Now we come to the really fun part of the countdown. I want to reemphasize that every game so far has been great. If I had to pick a game to play from any game out there, it would likely be a game that appears at some point on this list (or one I think could if I tried it for the first time…) but now we’re getting to the higher-ranked games. There is a lot more fluidity up here, as many of these could be considered a coin flip as to which game I would prefer. So while things are numbered for the purpose of an organized list, there is really not much separating #50 from #49, or even from #41 or from #30.

#50 – 1066, Tears to Many Mothers

I love the card economy of this game, where you’re getting just a few cards each turn and have to decide which ones to try and play and which ones to use to pay for the cards you want to play. This is a very straightforward and tactical card-based skirmish/wargame that plays relatively quickly and has a lot of strategic depth available. The solo mode for it plays just fine, but I’ve found that I vastly prefer the 2-player experience for this game but it will continue to hit the table at both player counts because it offers some good fun.

#49 – The Castles of Burgundy

One of the few dice-rolling games my wife enjoys, and I have never been disappointed with a play of this Feld game, either. People like to joke that you earn points for everything in here, and it isn’t too far from the truth but there is still strategy in order to maximize your points earned. Tile selections and placements from the early game can be critical to later turns, meaning this has plenty of short-term and long-term planning to satisfy. And with two players, we can knock out a game in around an hour including setup and teardown which makes that the ideal player count.

#48 – Antiquity

This may be one of the best civilization-building games I’ve ever played. I still can’t decide because my play of this was spent mostly floundering trying to muddle out how to make any efficient engine work. This does the Patchwork/Feast for Odin tiles but far better, and this one is definitely a brain burner of a game. Yet I’m itching to try it again because there appear to be a ton of strategies to pursue and five different saints to choose from for your victory conditions.

#47 – Isle of Skye, From Chieftain to King

This was one of the harder games for me to place accurately because I love this game a lot but can’t decide where it should fall in the list. This game fired Carcassonne as the tile-laying game of choice, mainly because I really enjoy the bidding mechanism in this one regardless of player count. Variable scoring, with different rounds triggering different ways of scoring, makes this one have a TON of replay value just in the base box.

#46 – Harvest

My least favorite game so far by Trey Chambers, which should tell you a lot about what I think of this designer. This one is a delightful worker placement game with a farming theme I can really get behind. Asymmetric player powers, a small number of actions, drafting turn order (with bonuses attached to each card), and a random set of extra action spaces each round makes this one have a lot of life for a small box game. I wish my wife enjoyed this one as much as I do, but this has a permanent home in my collection.

#45 – The Gallerist

My lowest Lacerda game on the list and that is likely because the experience I had was filled with one player who, three hours into the game, still had to ask what he could do each turn. Like any Lacerda there are mechanics that seem simple enough for your turns but it takes several rounds to see much progress toward key objectives in the game. This one definitely should rise with more plays, as this has a really good set of mechanics, an interesting theme, and there was a lot of room for me to become more efficient at my pitiful attempt at earning points.

#44 – Star Wars: Rebellion

This is one of the biggest Star Wars games on the market and probably with good reason. I need more plays of this one to be sure, but this game was a lot of fun. I love the different asymmetric sides and the thematic feel of having both air and ground battles. I really enjoy the cat-and-mouse gameplay between two players and the tension of the “clock” that is always ticking down for both sides.

#43 – Albion’s Legacy

This is one of the richest games in terms of themes that I have ever played – it was clear this was a project of love by the designers. It is crushingly hard, with a good enough balance between luck and player decisions to make it worthy or replaying time and again. I wish there was a little more in the base box in terms of variety of missions, and I wish the expansions were more readily available, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the game for what it is and it is a game that needs to reenter my collection in the near future.

#42 – Pixel Tactics

This game still reminds me of playing Final Fantasy Tactics, with an excellent multi-purpose card system that is dictated by how you play the card. The games can be a little swingy based on leaders and opening hands, but usually the game lasts long enough to see any early advantage even out between the players for a nice, tense duel between two players. This is a small-box game with a bigger-on-the-inside experience that I am always eager to get back to the table.

#41 – Gloomhaven

Shocked to see this so low on a reviewer’s list? Me too, honestly. But my game group never got traction (my fault) and the game always felt like it played a little too long at the full player count. I’d love to try this both solo and 2-player to get a better idea of where this should fall, and I’d love to play as something other than the Spellweaver. Still, this game has more content packed in that box than should be legal for the price, and it is worthy of every accolade. I love the clever use of the cards in here, and the sense of progression you get as you complete adventures and unlock new locations on the map as well as new abilities for your character.