Solo Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 20 Solo Games – 2019 Edition

Every year there is a people’s choice solo game list that gets compiled. And so every year they ask for solo gamers to share their top games, which are then weighted into a system to where games get points based on their rankings for each list. So giving a game the #10 slot on a list is worth more to it overall thank a #14 ranking, etc. It is a neat concept and I always enjoy seeing what gets released as the overall results. Since they need the final lists by November 4th, I figured I had better wrap mine up in an official way, and look for this to be a recurring post each year.

Before I begin, I want to kick off with five games that are high on my solo wish list to try them. Which means you will not find them included on the list:

1) Edge of Darkness
2) Street Masters
3) CO2 Second Chance
4) Marvel: Champions
5) Empyreal: Spells & Steam
Bonus: Too Many Bones, which I am borrowing as of today so it’ll be played soon. Hopefully this weekend.

***

d10-2d10-0 – Roll Player

This game is an anomaly for me, because it really shouldn’t be such a highly-regarded solo experience. It involves dice, bringing about a random element every round that can foil the best-laid plans. You can’t even control or predict when the color of dice you need will appear. You will have rounds where the market will have no cards you want, and then the next turn it will have 2-3 you need but can only choose one. And that is the crux of how it makes this list: it rarely gives you what you desire to use, but oftentimes forces you to make difficult decisions about how to utilize what is presented to you. The layers of decisions include what card to buy (if any) and how much you need said card, because the die you choose determines what chance there is of getting that card you need – the lower value die on the offer will ensure you a shot at the card but is far less useful in your character. And the die abilities you’ll trigger every round help this to not only feel more dynamic, but also helps to mitigate the randomness of dice rolls. The base game is all I have experienced, which speaks volumes to how much I actually do enjoy this game. It is a beat-your-own high score game, which I generally loathe, and the expansion of Monsters & Minions will change that and, by extension, give this game a chance to climb ever higher on the list.

d10-1d10-9 – Call to Adventure

This game fires on two cylinders for me: as a gamer and as a fantasy author. On one end, I am provided with a fairly simple set of mechanics and a core concept to try an overcome by the end of the game in order to avoid a losing condition (avoiding the dreaded beat-your-own-score symptom, which all but two of these games successfully avoid). On the other end, I have incredible artwork and a system designed for crafting tales around. And while my wife wouldn’t want to sit around and tell stories about how her character started life as a Student who Excelled in her Studies and, as a result, Uncovered Hidden Lore that allowed her to Heal the Wounded and led to her becoming an Honorable Sworn Protector, Catching a Criminal and fending off attacks from The Wolf on her path to become a Paragon of Light, and a Blessed Champion of Light to battle off her adversary, The Dark Rider. I mean, the story there practically writes itself.

d10-1d10-8 – Lisboa

This game being here should be a strong indicator that you can’t just go look at my Top 100 Games list from June and grab the 20 highest soloable games from that list. Yes, some will be on here. But some of them, like Lisboa, will end up in places you don’t expect. And it isn’t Lisboa’s fault it is this low, really. I just don’t often have the time for a big, heavy experience like this when I sit down to play a solo game. Which means it doesn’t get played often, which means that it isn’t as likely to creep high onto the list, at least not very quick. I want to explore this one more, as I get ruthlessly demolished by Vital time and time again. But I will enjoy every minute of that beatdown because this remains a wonderful game that should only move up a little as I get it back to the table a time or two in the near future.

d10-1d10-7 – Chain Mail

This is probably not on many lists, as it is very much a hidden gem and not easy to obtain for those not in the know. You see, Button Shy Games has a Board Game of the Month Club, and to join it you would need to be a Patron for at least $5/month. But in exchange, you get monthly goodies (that are admittedly oftentimes a month or two behind) from them. Every month this year has expanded the game known as Chain Mail: an RPG-like adventure with interchangable maps, character parties, enemies, treasure, and scenarios. Every month gets you a new map, enemy card, treasure card, and scenario. Many months bring a new character, too, to swap into your party of 4 characters that all interact with their cubes in very different ways to trigger unique abilities. And that is the part that really shines in Chain Mail: how different the characters play, and figuring out how to shift the cubes just right to make them play optimally.

d10-1d10-6 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

My gaming history holds a rather rocky history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. It is a game I always wanted to love but could never quite commit toward because something always just seemed a little off. Maybe it was the limitations on free-to-play scenarios on the app that started it. Or the several different sets, each of which expanded out through a variety of add-on packs. Or the host of character add-on packs. While I can’t pinpoint why I never became enamoured with the older versions of Pathfinder, I can tell you that this is the best version of it out there. It brings a variety of new twists on the core mechanics, a fresh new look, and actual storybooks with adventure playing out as you advance from quest to quest. Most of the clunkiness is gone, although setting up is never a fast task, and it scales exceptionally well even with one character (although some are going to be more difficult to truly solo than others). Ultimately I love the customization of the character across a series of adventures enough to want to get this to the table any chance I get.

d10-1d10-5 – Maquis

Few games have surprised me more in a pleasant way than Maquis. This small game packs a huge punch for the variety contained in the box, and the difficult decisions it forces you to make. With each decision you make, the path you can take shrinks a little more. Do you play it safe and snake out from your starting location each turn, or do you gamble and try to pin down the place you need to go first and hope it doesn’t cost you the game? There is so much tension in every decision being made that this game absolutely stole my heart from the first play of it. I can’t wait for my Kickstarter copy of the game to deliver, because I know this is going to be one that I break out often when I need a relatively quick, yet thinky, solitaire experience.

d10-1d10-4 – Glass Road

Rosenberg strikes on this list with a game that, ordinarily, shouldn’t make a top solitaire game for me. While it isn’t his usual worker placement game, it is definitely about resource management and conversion to earn points. But that is the beauty here, with that clever resource wheel as you manage the push-pull to get what you need. And with the promo card for solo play that allows clearing some buildings from the market, this game’s biggest flaw was removed for solo play. The way it handles the solitaire game, giving you a differing number of actions each round and making it so you cannot use the same action card in back-to-back turns provides a nice puzzle experience that I really enjoy.

d10-1d10-3 – Albion’s Legacy

When I want to lose, there are a few games I could choose from on this list (#1, 6, 12, 18) but none of them feels more punishingly brutal than this game. I love the Arthurian love letter stamped all over every piece in the game, as it makes references to both the popular and the obscure in this game. The base game has limited legs, but I’ve since picked up two expansions on the cheap to integrate in when I reacquire this solitaire experience (because let’s be honest, it would be cruel to subject others to a no-win situation) where the theme draws me in and leaves me wanting to journey to Camelot with these famous figures.

d10-1d10-2 – Friday

This is heralded as a solo classic for a very good reason, and is the best of the solitaire deckbuilders out there (Shadowrift comes close, but I haven’t revisited that in ages since I loaned it to a friend, and I anticipate the announced expansion in 2020 for Mystic Vale will get that up here once it has an official solitaire mode). The concept of the game is extremely simple, but difficult to execute well because you start with a deck packed with mostly garbage cards. Not garbage like the normal deckbuilder where it gives you +1 of something, but garbage as in either +0 or -1 of your skill. And the last thing you want is to get further from your goal by flipping a card, so you need to thin the deck over the course of the game. Which you can do, but it requires both failing a test and spending your life points to accomplish this. And so it becomes this interesting dynamic of how aggressively you try to thin that deck early, and how to manage the aging cards as they make their way into your deck, which I absolutely love even more every time it hits the table.

d10-1d10-1 – Raiders of the North Sea

Worker placement games are, as a rule, difficult to make an effective solo play mode for. Most of the time the solution they come up with is to give you a limited number of turns and tiers of scoring thresholds to determine the level of efficiency. And so when Shem designed a solo AI for a game I already enjoyed a lot, I was really pleased to find out that it played quite well. It puts pressure on the player to optimize their approach as much as possible, which isn’t going to be easy because it will block a new space every turn from the town. It clears spaces on the map with relative ease compared to a normal player, which is also good because it means you need to be clever and creative at times in how you tackle the basic strategies with the game. And even better than that is its ability to work with any of the expansions, or no expansions at all, makes this a great add-on to your Raiders collection.

d10-1d10-0 – At the Gates of Loyang

This game genuinely surprised me when I first played it, because it was my first non-worker placement Rosenberg solo experience. And boy, what a difference it made because it delivered a game experience unlike what I had anticipated. I normally don’t like the beat-your-own score systems, and this marks the highest of those on the list. But when every point is hard-earned like it is in this game, it merits placement on the list. Rosenberg is my wife’s favorite designer, not mine, so I never expected to love his games so much. But this, and Glass Road, are anomalies in the Rosenberg world of design. The card system, and scraping every point you can over the course of the game, is what really makes this game shine for me. One of these days I might even score a 20 – what a joyful day that will be.

d10-0d10-9 – BattleCON: Devastation of Indines

This game probably takes you by surprise with its inclusion on a solo list. I felt the same way when I learned that this game, which is a brain-burning 2-player dueling game, had a solo mode in one of the boxes. Learning that one of my all-time favorite games could now be enjoyed even when I don’t have a second player…that was a pure delight. I love that I can pull out a new character (because there are so many I haven’t tried still) and run them through a gauntlet of smaller battles on their way to a boss duel. And I really enjoy that you can purchase items to make your character properly “equipped” to handle the task in front of them, giving it a light RPG element that I think works well so long as you remember the presence of said purchases. This game lets you know what each monster encounter is able to do on a turn, but you’ll never quite be sure if you are safe so it is all about choosing the right attack pairs, and positioning, at the right time to try and take as little damage as possible as you clear room after room in their BattleQuest booklet. Which is something I really hope they expand upon, because I really dig the system that was introduced via BattleCON: Devastation of Indines..

d10-0d10-8 – Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

This might be the most unique entry on the list, and one of the more recent additions. It certainly caught me off guard about how much I enjoyed this game, especially since I have never really been drawn to the roll and write fad that has taken over the hobby. But there is something about Cartographers that is just different enough that it fascinates me and makes me want to play it again and again (which means I’ll be picking this up soon so that I can, in fact, play it again and again). It has the clever use of four seasons, each of which activates 2 of your 4 scoring conditions so you’ll want to balance all four of them in some way to try and maximize your points. The Ambush cards are a good balance to foil your plans and operate relatively easily when they trigger. All in all, there isn’t much to dislike about this…apart from my strong desire to get a set of colored pencils to use for my map-making skills to make it at least a little visually appealing.

d10-0d10-7 – The City of Kings

Welcome to the big, sprawling RPG-in-a-box on the list. No Gloomhaven. No Too Many Bones. I haven’t soloed either of those (yet), so this will have to satisfy all of our tastes. What I love the most in here is the combination of that monster creation system from a bag of abilities, combined with perfect information on how your stats function and what they can do. Enemy going to one-shot your hero? Find a way to reduce their attack or cleverly maneuver yourself so that you can deal damage without taking any in return. I’ve had dire, hopeless situations that I was able to puzzle my way toward a solution – and then it is on me to execute said solution. There is a good amount of content in this box, not to the level of a Gloomhaven campaign but more than enough to keep most gamers, solo or otherwise, content for many, many plays. I love and hate the character progression system, as you have complete control to min-max your character as they gain levels but there just isn’t as much to differentiate one character from another as I’d like. But for what its worth, this game is an absolute gem that I wish I could play more often.

d10-0d10-6 – Race for the Galaxy

The game that started it all for me so many years ago. I miss this game in my collection, although it was part of what sent me to Gen Con so I can’t be too upset. Plus now that there is a 2nd edition out there, it’ll be better than before when I finally get around to picking it back up. Because this remains a wonderful solo game with a brutal solo AI system to play against that forces you to play efficiently instead of seeking those amazing combos. If you ever wondered about the value of half the cards in the deck, they take on a whole new perspective when racing against the clock of the solo AI’s engine…even on Easy in this. My win rate is embarrassingly low, and I love that fact.

d10-0d10-5 – Oh My Goods!

I delight in the engine building of this game with multi-use cards. And thanks to the scenarios via expansions, this game squeezes past the game that started my love of solo gaming using “similar” mechanics. But oh, how I truly enjoy pulling off an efficient chain of production in this game. It provides just enough limitations to force you to pursue sub-optimal strategies in order to accomplish your objectives in the time allotted to you, and has some wrinkles it’ll toss in to try and slow you down. Plus that press-your-luck mechanic is a source of incredible joy and intense despair – sometimes a turn apart – as you try and squeeze the most out of every opportunity. This was the game that put Pfister’s games on my radar, and I can’t wait to get to try some of his other titles solo in the future.

d10-0d10-4 – Agricola, Master of Britain

One of these games is not like the others, and that game is Agricola, Master of Britain. I danced around dabbling in wargames for years but never could quite find the right one for me. I think that was because I was trying to find a game where it was a “play both sides” solo experience and that just lost the “interesting” factor in the same way that playing Dungeons & Dragons as both the GM and the party would get boring. This game solved that problem with the clever cup system and pulling chits. There are so many ways to lose the game to where you always feel like you are one bad decision away from a cascading loss. I’ve played this game’s big brother, Charlemagne, but haven’t gotten enough exposure to it to know where it would fall (and thus left it off this year, even though it probably should merit a spot) or even to know if I like it more or less than Agricola. So for now I’ll heap praises on this small game with so many fun, interesting, challenging decisions that it won me back over to enjoying the occasional wargame outside of War of the Ring.

d10-0d10-3 – Millennium Blades

This game might take some people by surprise, as few folks think of this as a solo experience. The Set Rotation expansion introduced bosses to play against, which opens up the solitaire experience to players and, surprisingly, it is both fun and good. The challenge level is ridiculously high at times, as it feels like they can score buckets of points while you’re scraping combos together to try and get more than 10 points at a time (sometimes) – which is part of the beauty here: learning the boss deck’s emphasis and capabilities and trying to counter them. All four feel very different to play against, and when that becomes “easy” for you, there is a mini-expansion that cranks all four of them to the next level. I can’t wait for Collusion to deliver in 2020 so I can have more bosses to lose to. And, of course, part of the fun of Millennium Blades is recreating that old CCG experience of patching together the best deck you can with the cards you get from those packs you’ve opened. Which is what keeps me coming back to this game time and time again.

d10-0d10-2 – Hoplomachus: Origins

Oh how this game came out of nowhere for me. Honestly, I had heard word of it but felt no strong desire to try the game. And then a friend was selling his all-in collection because it played best at 1-2, which caught my attention. After all, I specialize in 1-2. Sadly, he sold it before I could even get together to try it, but that didn’t stop me from jumping on a really good price for Origins a few months later. Well, the rest is history. It is absolutely a light, tactical, dice-chucking romp. But it is so much fun, and has a decent amount of variety even in the “small” box version I own. The Trials are a fun and interesting system, so much so that I am considering doing a series of videos on my YouTube channel in the near future where I attempt each of the trials in the game. This game doesn’t need more content, but there are a lot of packs of extra combatants you can pick up from Chip Theory Games that will expand your variety to enhance a game’s replay value that already has strong replay value. Did I mention that games are often 10-15 minutes or less, making this an easy game to pull out and play on any given night?

d10-0d10-1 – The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

Speaking of endless replay value, there’s no surprise here about my #1 game. It offers so much variety once you expand beyond the core set, and even then you don’t need to own everything to have a lot of space to explore in deck construction. With over 100 quests now out there between all of the product, and nightmare modes of most of them, this game has so much endless variety that, at around 150 plays, I still have a ton of quests I need to try and deck archetypes to build that there is no shortage of opportunity to get another thousand plays out of this collection. This game is so much fun and, as a Tolkien super fan, this is the one game I would choose if I could only take one game with me to a desert island and the one game I would save if I could only retrieve one from a burning building. Yes, it requires investment to grow beyond a Core Set and investment in time to build your decks, but it is worth it. One of these days that 30-31% win ratio will hopefully creep back up to 33%, which is about where I like this game’s win/loss ratio to reside because it often pushes me, and my deck construction abilities, to the limits.

Top Ten List

Ten (More) Best Board Games for Couples and Bestest Buds

Yes, this is a funky title, especially if you missed the post on Monday by Michael over at Meeple Like Us. What, you aren’t subscribed to his content? Please, go fix that. I 100% recommend it as semi-required reading for board game content because what he is doing (and has done for years) is beyond fantastic. And so when he made a post called “Ten Best Board Games for Couples and Bestest Buds“, well, I had to read it right away. Part of me was eager to see what would make the list. And part of me, as happens so often when I see lists of recommendations for 2-player gaming, was ready to cringe. I shouldn’t have been concerned, knowing Michael’s content as well as I do, and I apologize for that disservice. I knew, from the #10 pick, that it was going to be solid because my wife and I had just played Patchwork again on Sunday and it was fresh in my mind about how great that game is for 2.

I won’t spoil the rest of the list, because not only the games themselves but his thoughtful discussion of them is worth the time you’ll spend reading it. Passages like this one eloquently describe why I’ve been reviewing games since 2016 and why I’m becoming more of an advocate to give a platform for 2-player only games.

There are lots of great games out there, as we all know. Many of them claim to support two players, and sometimes it’s even true. However, finding games that work well at two players is a different thing entirely. Just because you can technically play a game with two it doesn’t mean you’ll actually have fun with it. Games can change dramatically at different player counts, and sometimes surprisingly abruptly. The two-player count is one that is hard to get right – it has to work in the absence of the buzz of social activity you get for free with larger groups. Good two player games are worth their weight in gold for some people.

But seriously, go read it. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, good. So now you’re going to see 10 (plus) more games that are not a counter to those he listed, but rather intended to complement and expand upon his list. And even with what I have here, I could have easily added another 10-20 games to the list and made this a massive, sprawling monster. But instead I am opting to (mostly) follow suit and cover just 10 more games…kinda…

One small note: Battle Line would make this list, but its relative is Shotten Totten and so treat those as essentially one and the same. And since you read his list (right?), you saw Shotten Totten on there. But if you prefer a more ancient flavor of artwork that is a bit on the bland side, GMT’s entry of Battle Line is a great choice.

So with no further ado, here are the games:

Button Shy Games’ wallet line – This is the first of two “cheating” entries on the list because, if I’m honest, I could give you 10 recommendations just from Button Shy Games and Level 99 Games’ catalogs combined, but that wouldn’t be fair to the other games that made this list. With Button Shy, the problem will be that they tend to multiply like bunnies because these games are so clever, portable, and fun. If I had to pick just one to recommend, it would be Liberation because that one is a great asymmetric hidden movement game a la Star Wars: Rebellion where the Liberation side is trying to keep the location of their base hidden, while the Dynasty is trying to not only determine the location of said base (before it moves), but to blast it. After that? Well, there’s a ton of them that are excellent: Penny Rails, Circle the Wagons, Antinomy, Seasons of Rice, Anthelion: Conclave of Power, Hierarchy, Tussie Mussie, Sprawlopolis, and probably more that I haven’t tried yet (such as Herotec and Supertall). Do yourself a favor and pick 2-3 of them that sound interesting to you and get them coming, because at these pricepoints you can’t go wrong.

Skulk Hollow– This game is my current frontrunner for 2019 Game of the Year, and with good reason. The asymmetry in this game is really strong, and both sides are enjoyable to play. Trying to figure out how to take down the massive Guardian is a clever puzzle, while wreaking havoc as the Guardian is arguably even more fun because you feel powerful as you control the massive figure. With some really clever dual-use cards to provide the action economy, ways to cycle cards from your hand to get through your deck quickly, and the ability to store power you have ways to get to use those actions you need. And the best part of all? Having those little foxen meeples climb on the Guardian itself, trying to destroy parts of it to shut down their abilities as they weaken the massive monstrosity. This is going to be one of my go-to games for a long, long time.

War of the Ring – No list would be complete without mention of this massive, epic game. I am aware it won’t be for everyone. The game is long, takes up a ton of table space, and has a real barrier to entry with the dense amount of rules. But this game is so worth it. It has been my #1 overall game for years, and will always retain that spot on my list and remain in my collection forever – until I can get a collector’s edition. The best thing about this game is the epic scope, and how tense it feels on both sides. Part of this is seeing the massive Shadow armies that sweep across the map, clearing location after location to earn some hard-fought points. Part of that is from the “hidden” movement of the Fellowship as they march from Rivendell toward Mount Doom. Most games of this come down to a turn, with each side being on the cusp of a victory condition. Every game is satisfying and I’m always itching to play this one more (because of time commitments, it gets increasingly more difficult to get it played), and if I could keep only one game it would be this one without any hesitation. Not big on Lord of the Rings? Star Wars: Rebellion is a great sci-fi alternative here (although not quite as good, IMO).

Omen: A Reign of War – One of my new favorite go-to 2-player games is Omen: A Reign of War. The concept in the game is pretty simple in deploying units onto one of three battlefronts. However, there are layers in the execution of this game that continue to impress me with each play of the game. It is a fast-playing game where you’re trying to maximize your own point potential while frustrating the plans of your opponents. So many of the cards feel strong in the moment, and there are so many ways to pull off clever plays in the game. Yet the cards are also usable to generate more income, allowing you to play more cards later. Some of them can only be used as units in the city or as their powerful one-time effect on the card. Others can give you a continuous effect every round, but at a cost because they are among the weakest units you can deploy on the board. Add in a set of achievements you’re trying to accomplish (known as feats) and this game hits on so many levels for me. If you don’t dig the idea of warring with ancient units and gods, check out Haven for a similar gameplay feel but with its own unique twists, fantastic artwork, and a bit of area control on a board.

BattleCON/Level 99 Games – This is my other cheat spot, and with good reason: there isn’t a game of theirs which I have played that I wouldn’t recommend with 2. Sure, some aren’t optimal at that player count (MIllennium Blades and Argent: The Consortium are great, but best with at least one more player in the mix), but there isn’t a single one I dislike. However, if you could only do one it would absolutely be BattleCON. I waxed poetic about the game (and several others on this list) in my Top 20 Thinky Fillers list, and my opinion hasn’t changed. This is a game of perfect information, where you know exactly what your opponent CAN do, and being able to look at the board state and “read” what they are likely to do is a key to informing you about what pair of cards you should play during your own turn. It is a great game that heavily involves positioning on a board, timing your attack pairs (especially since a card you play this turn isn’t coming back to your hand for 2 turns), and testing out dozens of very different characters to experience the varied toolkit that this game has to offer. There are so many characters I haven’t played in here yet, but I’ve used enough to have experienced how unique they all feel. Looking for a similar game but a little less thinky/more random? The Exceed series is for you, as it takes the core of this game and has you draw from a deck of cards for an ever-changing flow of possibilities. Neither of those striking your fancy? Pixel Tactics is another amazing entry in their catalog where you deploy units in a 3×3 grid to try and take down the opposing leader. The catch? Every card provides a different benefit depending on where you deploy them, and they all have a powerful ability to use as a one-time use from your hand instead.

Targi – Okay, so this one snuck on here after just one (recent) play, but I can already tell this one is going to be a stellar inclusion. If you like collecting resources to gain points, and if you like placing workers to trigger actions, then you’ll love what Targi has to offer. It takes those basic mechanics and twists them in an interesting way! First, your workers can only be placed on the border of the “map” of action cards (but not the corners), giving you 11 potential places since there is a moving “robber” that will block a space each turn as it counts down the game’s timer. However, once a worker is placed your opponent can no longer place on the card opposite your worker, shrinking the map with every placement. That in itself would be clever enough, but there are 9 cards in the center of the map that change every time one is used (alternating between Goods cards for resource gathering and Tribe cards for VP) and you place a marker on the 2 “intersecting” cards on the map from your workers, letting you gain those goods or pay to add that Tribe to your tableau of Tribe cards – where there’s a little more set collection as you’ll get bonuses for rows of the same icon or all different icons. With so many clever moving parts here, Targi is a game that has blown me away and is easily one of my favorite Worker Placement games because of the layers of cleverness here.

https://cardboardclash.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/101219212…

Star Realms – What would your collection be without a nice little deckbuilder, right? We all love building engines and having card combos, and it doesn’t get better for the price point than Star Realms or its “retheme”, Hero Realms. The gameplay is fast most of the time, and rarely overstays its welcome. There are plenty of life tracker apps to help you tally the opponents’ health. And the four different factions available to purchase are very different in feel and can allow you to tailor a deck around one or two core concepts as you try to ramp up first. And when the base game gets exhausted, there are tons of little add-ons you can get for about the pack of a CCG booster to provide a non-random set of cards to integrate into your experience for added variety and excitement.

Micro Brew – This one is a game my wife loves more than I do, but I still don’t mind pulling it out from time to time for a quick play. It has a nice worker placement area, which is fine and all. The real clever thing it does is have small discs of several colors which fill out a personal board and you are trying to manipulate them along here to get the right blend of colors to brew the beer you have a recipe for. Brew it right, and serve it to the right customer, and you’ve earned yourself a loyal customer for life. Brew it wrong and you’ll still get paid, but she will come back later to sample other beers until she finds “the one”. Restrictions on how those discs can be moved – they must follow the diagonal paths and lighter colors move up while darker colors move down – is what makes this a pleasant brain burning experience that can fit in your pocket. Just don’t expect to hammer out a game of this in 10-15 minutes – it is more of a game to pull out after the meal while sipping on some beverages or snacking on those remaining fries.

Bushido – Dice rolling shouldn’t make for a great game, but somehow it feels just right here in Bushido.If it was just “roll and see if you hit”, it wouldn’t come close to making this list. However, there is a lot more here than just that! First comes the opening two phases of the game which only appear in the opening of the game, where you first will draft your 5-card deck of actions and then select your weapon for the duel. The action cards will help make your dice pool each turn based on which card you play, but some consideration should be given to taking several cards of the same element because they can be used to “boost” a card and add more dice. Having three Guards to change between, each changing your core 2 dice to roll, is a clever aspect and timing that change is critical to success. Managing your token generation, defense, and attack potential is a fun and engaging process, and the chance of “exploding dice” when you roll attack dice can make even the most desperate attack turn into a potential finisher. It is a fast, furious, and fun game of push-and-pull as you deal “potential damage” while trying to reduce the incoming damage from your opponents’ previous turn. If you like rolling dice, also check out Dice Throne and Hoplomachus as two more fast and fun dice-chuckers with a decent amount of tactile interplay.

The Castles of Burgundy – This is a game I will only play at two, because the more players you add the longer this goes. We can bust this out in about an hour, which is the perfect length of time for what this game provides for an experience. Dice rolls that can be manipulated are the feature here, and get used to purchase and place tiles. Filling up areas of your board will provide satisfying bonus points that get smaller with every round – encouraging you to try and focus fire on one or two small areas early to maximize your points gained. You’ll be scoring some sort of point value on the majority of your turns, making it feel like you are always doing something beneficial as the game progresses and you realize, with a sense of dread, that what you hoped to accomplish isn’t going to happen. Or, even worse, it will only happen if you get a few turns of perfect rolls and your innocent opponent doesn’t take that tile you really need so you spend the next five minutes avoiding eye contact with that key tile, only to watch with despair as they take it to score 7 points and deny you 30 because that area just won’t fill up now. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me – why would you ask such a thing? This game is far more clever than it should be for a game where you’re rolling dice 25 times to determine what you can do during the game.

Top Ten List

Top 20 Thinky Fillers

It is all Edward Uhler’s fault, really. He did a podcast going over his Top 20 Thinky Fillers and, at the end of it, he asked to hear ours. And while it would be simple enough to just come up with a list of titles, that wouldn’t be an equivalent of the thoughtful dialogue he provided with each entry on his list. And so this list was born.

I restrained myself to the same restrictions Edward used when defining a thinky filler:

1) A game you wouldn’t go to a game night specifically with the intention to play. i.e. it wouldn’t be the feature game of the night. And barring some formal event, such as a tournament, that holds true with all of these. There might be days when I’m hankering to play one of them and would go out of my way to get in on a game of it, but most of the time I wouldn’t turn down a play of, say, Pipeline in lieu of getting in a game of most of these on any given game day.

2) A game that plays in 45 minutes or less, which I chose to ignore two different times for games that have a 60 on the max printed time but are nowhere near that for me. Being a primarily 2-player gamer, there are games that play in that 45 minute or less timeframe that don’t reflect that published time (i.e. Glass Road, which would also be in my Top 10). But it did help me keep to about 25 games to choose from.

I was pleased and unsurprised to find very little crossover with Edward’s list. Why not surprised? We have different tastes and game in vastly different circles. There are games on his list that are heavily centered around auctions and trick-taking games, neither of which are usually in my preferred wheelhouse (although you may find a few exceptions in here). I enjoy dueling games a lot more than I expect he does, and so you’ll find a heavy emphasis on some of them in here. While they aren’t necessarily classifiable as heavy, they are definitely thinky when a person wants them to be. Finally, a lot of the games on his list I honestly haven’t played and, ergo, they can’t possibly be here.

All in all I am very happy with this list. I will make the same qualifier that Edward mentioned at one point: on a given day, the games can fluctuate in order on here. The line of separation between some of these are relatively thin. Also worth noting is that a game rated higher as a thinky filler is not necessarily a reflection of its ranking as an all-time favorite game. Those are two very different approaches to a list, and could lead to some drastic changing of the order in which these would appear interspersed with other games.

And thus with no more ado, I shall embark upon this extensive list.

#20 Antinomy – This game didn’t sound like much at first. I had really low expectations for this little wallet game. However, the first play shattered what I thought going into the game and secured this as a staple in my portable collection. The cleverness comes from how you move around, as you have a hand of three cards that have a color, a number, and a symbol. To move forward on the line of cards, you use the number and that is the exact number of spaces you can move forward, swapping the used card with the card where you end up. Moving backward on the line you choose either the color or the symbol, going to a card matching one of those and, again, swapping the played card with the one in the line. You are trying to get a set of 3 in your hand that match in color, symbol, or number to form a Paradox – but one of the four colors is off-limits and that changes after every Paradox. And when you score said Paradox, you mix your three cards up and randomly place them on the line either to the left or right of your figure, taking the 3 cards that were there into your hand – so oftentimes you’re starting over again with hopefully 2 useful cards and trying to figure out how to move with what you have to get that card or two you need to trigger the next Paradox. Add in the consideration that one of the 18 cards is removed from the game randomly during setup and you are trying to outmaneuver your opponent to score 4 Paradoxes first.

#19 Black Sonata – The first of two solo-only games to make this list and a third (Maquis) just narrowly missed out. Yes, fillers aren’t just limited to groups of gamers. Hidden movement shouldn’t be a possibility for a solitaire game, but somehow they pulled it off in Black Sonata. Deduction definitely shouldn’t be able to pair with that hidden movement, either. And again, it is done brilliantly in this game published by Side Room Games. Move across the map searching for Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, trying to get clues as to her identity. The game has far more replay value than you’d expect, and it exercises my brain in a way that few other games tend to offer.

#18 The Climbers – This game has table presence that is second to none, and thankfully some really exciting gameplay to match. It is always going to be better with more players, but even with 2 this has enough to offer to keep things interesting as you maneuver blocks to try and be the highest on the stack when players are unable to move any further. I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t enjoyed playing this when it hits the table, and there is something exciting about a game that almost requires you to be standing while playing.

#17 Penny Rails – A train game in 18 cards? Ha! And yes, please! Travis D. Hill has a brilliant design here. It isn’t as thinky as I expected it to be, yet there is still sufficient planning and adapting that can be done – especially when it comes to manipulating the shares you own and getting them set for the final scoring. This is a game that is extremely simple to learn but has a lot of space for strategy and outplaying your opponent, making it a perfect, portable train game that will eat up a good chunk of table space.

#16 Friday – This game is so agonizing with its decisions. The problem is that you start with a deck of mostly negative cards, and every “point” you fail an event by costs you some of your life points. However, you can also remove cards by paying those life points, thus culling your deck enough to make it a well-tuned machine. The game has decisions every turn, as you choose from two events that tell you a target number you need to meet and how many “free” cards you get off your deck. Deciding when to take the loss, or when to pay a life for an extra card, is a key aspect of the game. This game is universally considered to be a great challenge, with most players losing more often than they win in this little solo deckbuilder. It is the game I grab when I want a quick solo game but don’t have much time, and I’ve never played a round of this that I didn’t enjoy or a round that didn’t cause me to agonize over some of the decisions along the way.

#15 Bushido – You are going to take one look at this game from Grey Fox Games and think I lost my mind. Yes, it is a game involving dice rolling. Lots of dice rolling at times. The vast majority of the game is centered around playing one of your 5 cards and rolling the pool of dice from that. So what makes this thinky, in spite of the dice you’ll be rolling? There are two primary things that make this a thinky game, both of which I really love. First, the draft of cards to start the game. You’re going to get a total of 5 cards, will see a total of 20 cards and get to choose from either 17 or 18 of those, depending on whether you’re the first to draft or will be the first to act. The cards not only determine dice you’ll roll later, but also trigger abilities and, if you get several cards in the same school, can allow you to boost plays of a card for more dice. Second comes in having your three guards and switching between them during the game. Unless it goes horribly for one person, you will be changing your guard eventually in the game and knowing when to make that change so you are advancing your plans instead of reacting to the situation is a key to elevating your game. Better yet, being able to recognize when an opponent is about to change guard, or down to a certain set of cards, and making your play to capitalize on that is what makes Bushido shine, bad die rolls or not.

#14 Battle Line – A Knizia classic and with excellent reason, because this provides some interesting decisions along the way. You’re deploying cards onto your side of the board, trying to get the strongest 3-card combination based heavily around poker suits. There are tactics that can break those rules a little, but in general you cannot get above 3 cards on a battle nor can they be moved once placed. The cleverness not only comes in how you deploy cards, but also how you “win” a battle – if you can prove the opponent is unable to win that battle (by open information, not based on cards in your hand), you can claim the battle early. Once a battle is decided, no other units can be deployed there. With 9 fronts to fight over, this has always been a tense and close battle of wits when played – and I really, really should get in on that print run with the Medieval theme because that is totally my jam.

#13 Blue Moon Legends – A run of Knizia games right here, and this one barely gets the edge over Battle Line because of the sheer variety in the game. There are quite a few preconstructed decks in the game, many featuring a faction that introduces some special mechanic bound to their faction. With even more cards in here to construct custom decks, this is definitely my sort of game. The gameplay is fast and simple, with cards having two different values and the person who begins a battle chooses the value. Then you alternate placing cards until you exceed the previous value or withdraw from the battle. Depending on the number of cards played on your side, you will either pull one or two dragons toward your side if you win. I really enjoyed my first plays of the game, and can’t wait to find my own copy to dive into it further.

#12 Biblios – One of my favorite kind of dice game is the one where dice are never rolled, such as in Biblios. However, that is not what makes this a truly remarkable little game. You’re going to go through the deck of cards twice, the first time drafting cards to your hand, your opponent’s hand, or to a discard pile. Then you will go through said discard pile and auction the cards off, one by one, where you either bid gold cards or regular cards (depending one which card type is up for grabs) to try and gain the cards you need – or deny the ones the opponents need – to get a majority of points in each of five different “suits” of cards. However, winning a suit only determines who scores the points, and the value of winning said suit is represented by the corresponding die, which has its value manipulated during the game when Church cards are obtained. This game is clever, cutthroat, and surprisingly good even with 2 players.

#11 Pixel Tactics – Part of the thinky nature for this 1v1 game comes from the ways in which you can use the cards – every card can be used in one of 5 ways, offering a ton of decisions from the very start. After the beginning step of choosing your leader, you still have a whopping four ways to deploy every card you draw, utilizing their specific abilities based on location in your 3×3 grid to gain an advantage over your opponent. Most of the time this is a game of inches, so to speak, where you are trying to break through their defenses to drop a small chunk of damage on their leader before they can reestablish some form of protection. Playing the cards at the right time, in the right way, to capitalize on your advantage opportunities is what makes this game a clever, thinky little filler for me.

#10 Omen: A Reign of War – This game is full of tough decisions, much of it stemming from one of my favorite things in a game: multi-use cards. There are a host of decisions, starting from the beginning of your turn where you need to decide how to use your 3 wealth actions: taking coins, cards, or a combination of them…but if you use all 3 in one area you get a 4th of that type, so you’ll want to position yourself to be able to take all cards or all coins. You’ll want to play powerful units onto the three cities, both to try and defend the areas your opponent might be trying to win while also setting yourself up for some scoring of your own. Tiles from winning a city battle count as 2 VP, but have an ability you can use essentially at the cost of 1 VP so you need to decide if that ability is worth the loss of points. Monster cards can be played onto a city or used for their ability, always giving you pause over which is more desirable. Oracles are weak in power but have useful abilities that will trigger every turn. And let’s not forget about the Offering phase at the end of the game, where some of your more useful cards will also be worth more if sacrificed from your hand right here for coins or cards. There are so many agonizingly wonderful decisions to be made in this game that it has quickly become one of my absolute favorites.

#9 The Speicherstadt – This game is genuinely cruel in execution, with such a tight economy and a clever bidding mechanism that can boil down to a screw-over in epic proportions to deny a player the card they want or need. I’ll never forget my first game, where my scoring marker literally went off the edge of the track during a brilliant success. Or my second play weeks later where it never moved above 0 because I was being aggressively blocked by my wife and the other players in a multiplayer game. Both were exhilarating and fun in different ways, and I’ve been watching for a good deal on Jorvik for at least two years. It is probably about time I pull the trigger and pick up the Viking retheming of this game, because it is still one of my favorite Feld games that I have ever played, and one of the most unique.

#8 Res Arcana – This is a game that, in some respects, is really similar to Bushido. No, you aren’t rolling dice, or even trying to fight the opposing player. But each player gets a deck of 8 cards, and that is all they will see for the entire game and need to figure out a winning strategy from that. There are options to draft those cards, or play the default way of getting them by chance and seeing what you can piece together from what was dealt. Either way this game is a lot of fun to collect resources in order to gain monuments or places of power in order to then gain victory points. It is a game that never overstays its welcome and, in fact, often ends sooner than players would like because it is fun getting to that “one more turn and I could have…” state of engine building. This one absolutely will remain a staple in my collection for many years to come, along with many others on this list.

#7 The King is Dead – I will never, ever forget a 3-player game I played of this. I had taught the game to two friends and this was our second play of it. Silence filled the room as we individually struggled with what cards to play and when, and where to remove the cubes so as to set ourselves up while not opening things for the other players. My wife came in and was baffled by our intense focus on the game, and for me that will always stand out in my mind. This game is a brilliant exercise in area control where, rather than being tied to a single affiliation or adding dudes to a map, you are taking cubes off after each action and trying to position yourself to side with the eventual winner of the three factions in the game. The map shrinks in size as areas resolve, and the reduction in units on the map makes those final areas even more difficult to manipulate toward resolving in the way you want. An excellent game with two that becomes unparallelled with three, and a game I still itch to play years later.

#6 Oh My Goods! – This game suffers on this list probably more because of a difficulty to find a willing player than because the game isn’t a great thinky filler. It pushes the envelope in terms of hitting the upper limit on the thinky filler timeframe, but I feel it would still qualify for the list as long as it isn’t a 4-player game with all new players. Much of the decision-making factors around the press-your-luck aspect of what cards enter the market, but that doesn’t have to dictate your play. Deciding what buildings to construct, whether to have your main worker perform sloppily for less production or at regular capacity is an interesting puzzle depending on the early flop. But the reason I love this game and how it becomes a puzzle is in the chaining of production, where if you plan it right you can make a ton of product or, late in the game, money for points. Few games give me the same satisfaction as I feel when I manage to get that chain combo set up just right to where I can not only crank out goods with efficiency during the game, but also capitalize on the final chaining activation to blow up my scoring potential.

#5 Liberation – If someone a year ago tried to tell me they were wanting to take the hidden movement portion of Star Wars: Rebellion and make it into an 18-card game, I would have called them crazy. Well, they accomplished that task in admirable fashion, as Liberation always reminds me of Star Wars: Rebellion’s hidden movement element and it is done in such a clever way. Both sides use the same deck of cards but play them in very different ways, giving a delightful asymmetry that goes beyond the division between hunter and hunted. Whether I am sweating as the Liberation side, hoping my opponent picks the wrong planet to target as they get closer and closer to my hiding place, or blindly flailing as the Dynasty, trying to find those elusive nuisances, I am always having fun and engaging my brain in the manner I greatly enjoy.

#4 Hanamikoji – Like another game a few spots higher on this list, Hanamikoji is one that doesn’t look like it should be a brain-burning experience. However, these geishas provide some agonizing decisions to make along the way because you get exactly four actions to attempt to curry favor with either four of the seven geishas, or 11 points worth of geisha value. And the worst part is the knowledge that you are choosing these actions with imperfect information, as you will never know every card in play since one is removed, and two of the actions taken by your opponent will “remove” three cards face-down so you won’t know which one they saved to add at the end and which two they’ve removed. Deciding what order to take the actions, since you must take all four of them exactly once in a round, and choosing which cards to select, makes this game a truly thinky game.

#3 Race for the Galaxy – While randomness plays a pretty strong factor in some games of Race for the Galaxy, the thinky aspect comes from your ability to pivot toward a functional strategy based upon the early cards you discover. Yes, it is possible to get oh-so-close to having that perfect scoring engine and never obtain that one card that would make it all come together. The temptation becomes strong to dig and dig and dig for that one card you know is in there, but with such a large stack of cards that isn’t a reliable strategy. Being able to accept that and find ways to score and win without those perfect engines is the key to Race for the Galaxy, and exactly why this gets such high marks. It isn’t so much a game about perfection as it is about finding a way to get something up and running quickly, a lesson that I learned the hard way over and over and over again while losing to the Robot AI that comes in the first expansion. It is less of an engine tuning game and more of a, well, a race to get points faster. And when playing against opponents, being able to master reading what they might choose for actions so you can maximize the benefit to you while minimizing the benefit for them is where the thinky aspect really can take off to the next level.

#2 Arboretum – It should be illegal for a game that looks so innocent to be so brutal. Scoring notwithstanding, this game is responsible for providing a dozen or so of the most agonizing turns you’ll ever have every time you play the game. It sounds simple, because you’re drawing two cards into your hand of 7, playing one, and discarding one. I’ve let out more profane words at a hand of cards when playing this game than any other because there are too many times where one of those decisions isn’t an easy one – either because I want that card for future purposes or I need to keep it to deny an opponent. Then there is the scoring, where you may discover that all of your hard work remains just scoring potential rather than points because your opponent DID have that 1 which negates the 8 in your hand, allowing them to score those trees instead of you. Finding the right balance between what you need to score and what you need to reduce the opponents’ scores is a huge part of why this game is so high on this list.

#1 BattleCON – This has become my go-to game when I really want to burn my brain with a single opponent. Because there is absolutely no luck involved, the game pits two players against each other to see who can establish and maintain the upper hand in a duel. You know exactly what your opponent is capable of, giving you open information at all times. Choosing your attack pairs is one of the most critical decisions in the game, as you need to factor in not only what your opponent might play, but also consider where you want to be positioned on the board, whether or not your attack can hit from there, if you can sustain damage and be able to strike back, and how playing X now will affect you for the next turns because those cards won’t be back for two more rounds. There is an incredible amount of variety in even one box of this game, and with nearly a hundred fighters spanning them all this is a game you can play over and over without running out of variety because the characters all play so differently from one another. This won’t be for everyone’s collection, but it manages to provide the best opportunity for thinky situations turn after turn.

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #5-1

At last we’ve come to the portion of the list everyone’s been waiting for: the best of the best in my opinion. These five games are the five I would choose if I could only have five games in my collection, as they all hit on very different aspects in gaming. Each provides a different experience from the other and demonstrates some of my varied taste in board games. The true positioning could be shifted on a daily basis from 3-5, and even 1-2 could flip-flop on a given day. I’m pretty happy with this ranking right now as going down as the official ranking, though.

So if you’re ever wanting to play one of these, let’s make it happen! I don’t know that I could play any of these “enough” times!

#25-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10-6

***

#5 – Kingdom Builder, published by Queen Games. Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. 2-4 Players.

I’m going to say something controversial. Moreso than stating that Caverna is better than Agricola, or that Century: Spice Road is better than Splendor. You ready for this? Kingdom Builder is the best game Donald X. Vaccarino has designed. Period. I’m not trying to ruffle your feathers, Dominion fans. That is a fine game, and worthy of all the praise and acclaim it receives. But you’ll never convince me that it is a better game, and this is coming from a self-proclaimed lover of the deckbuilding genre.

What I love about Kingdom Builder is the variability and the simplicity. It is variable with the four boards and powers that will be available each play and with the three scoring conditions that will be present. It is simple mechanically in that you’ll place three settlements on the board on the terrain type matching your card. But that settlement must be placed adjacent to one of your existing settlements on the board, if able. That right there is the crux that makes this game shine.

Why? Because you can feasibly lose the game on Turn 1. That first placement matters. It matters so very much, both in terms of potential powers you gain and in terms of your options in future rounds. A really poor placement can leave you floundering in the same area of the board until the game ends, and don’t even try claiming it is because of the restriction of the card draw. That 1 card is what makes this game hum. If you add in a 2nd card, or a hand of cards to play from, the game loses its excellence and allows for sloppy planning. As Edward from Heavy Cardboard would say, “Plan better. Play better.” For such a light and simple game, there are so many excellent and meaningful decisions to be found with those early placements.

Every time you can place in a new part of the board, you’re faced with a similar challenge: find the optimal placement that will keep future options open while maximizing the point potential. It isn’t always easy. It sure as heck isn’t always obvious. I lose way more than I win in Kingdom Builder, but I always want to play it again. The game is the perfect time for setup and gameplay. The shifting of just those scoring objectives makes the same board play out in a completely different way. Seriously. Change those three cards but keep the same board and don’t shuffle those land cards and you’d see different decisions happening along the way.

Maybe I’m the biggest advocate for this game. Maybe no one else thinks it is as absolutely brilliant as I do. But I am yet to teach it and have someone dislike the game. In fact, the majority of new players are wildly enthusiastic about the experience when it is over and immediately want to dive back in for a second play.

And 50+ plays into this game, I’m still loving it. I don’t see that changing over the next 50 plays and beyond.

#4 – Lignum, republished by Capstone Games. Designed by Alexander Huemer. 2-4 players.

Every other game in the Top 5 gave me a strong reason to believe I would like the game before playing it. Lignum, on the other hand, came out of no where. I expected a fun game based on the description and my previous history of success with a Capstone Games title (Haspelknecht). But this game blew past each and every expectation I had going into the game and then some.

What is it about Lignum that I love? It is that perfect Euro game with management of resources, balance of short-term and long-term planning, and a feeling that you’re never doing enough to succeed. You need to plan the path you take each season, as many spaces can only go to one person. So if you really need that Sled, you’re faced with the decision of how fast should you jump to where that is located. Everyone you hire costs money, and they last only for the season, so you need to account for gaining enough cash flow to pay those seasonal costs. Winter seasons are tough to plan for, as there is so little you can do that season, yet that one decision can have waves of impact.

You can plan seasons ahead to execute a stronger action, but you need to really make sure that action is what you need and when you need it, while also ensuring that doesn’t prevent you from adding in another action on the next season when you travel around. Food and saws can be scarce resources, unless you’re willing to pay for them. Collecting sets of tokens can be ways to cash in for some much-needed funds or turned in for some powerful extra actions.

There is so much in this game that I love. It burns my brain in the right ways, and is that one Euro game I’ll want to grab off the shelf first if someone wants to play a Euro game. There may be ones that come along later that do it better, and ones like Lisboa might claim that crown with more plays. But right now, I love what Lignum manages to accomplish over the course of a session. It is far, far from that BGG Hotness and deserving of your immediate attention.

#3 – Mystic Vale, published by Alderac Entertainment Group. Designed by John D. Clair. 2-4 Players.

I love deckbuilding games. If I had to choose a mechanic that is mine, this would probably be the one I would claim. The improvement of a deck over time, combined with generating an efficient engine, is something that I really enjoy. My wife, on the other hand, has never been a big fan of them. Back in the day we owned Dominion and her tactic was, without fail, to simply buy money until she could buy a Province. Sure, she might buy 1-2 cards from the market on occasion, but she never crafted engines. And it was frustrating because I was spending my time trying to hone an engine that would run effectively based on the changing market of cards that could compete with that Big Money strategy. Too often I was 1-2 turns too slow, and her repetitive tactic combined with my disappointment against that tactic saw us sell off Dominion.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that she actually enjoyed playing Mystic Vale. What followed was a solid week of playing this time and again while it was being borrowed. It was the first game I reviewed that I didn’t own (yet). And it is one of my favorite games in my collection to this day.

What she appreciates is a static deck in terms of cards. You’re not making a small deck bigger. You don’t need to trash cards in order to make things efficient. You start and stay at that same number of cards. But the strategies to pursue outside of that are where this game shines. This is very much a game of adapting to what appears. Tier 1 cards are cheap, but in a 2-player game only a dozen will ever appear. Worst case scenario, that is 4 unique cards (in the 3 different slots). Best case scenario there are 12 unique cards. But whether or not that card you need is in the place you need is never a guarantee. And you can’t just place it over something already existing, either, meaning every purchase and placement of an advancement is important in the long term. And you can’t always plan for what will show up in the game.

The game has a limited timer that is wholly dependent upon the purchases players make and how risky they choose to play. I’ve seen games go long and scores hit the 50-60 range. I’ve seen fast games where everyone is in the low-to-mid 20’s. Even though you are building your own engine, the game really rewards paying attention to what else is purchased and how fast those VP chips are being taken. Some of the best cards come with either greater risk of spoilage or less reward in end-game VP.

And those Vale cards are absolutely a viable strategy to win the game, even if they are frequently overlooked and can be difficult to obtain consistently. Early in the game, I’ll usually take an advancement with 1-2 of those symbols over one that generates more mana. Many times that pays off with those Vale Cards.

This is a game that is innovative in the realm of deckbuilders and a lot of fun to play. I’m always excited to see what direction the game takes as I begin to look at the cards flipping out for purchase. If you dislike deckbuilders but haven’t tried this, take my wife’s enjoyment of this as a hint that there is something a little different about Mystic Vale. You might just find yourself loving this game. And if you enjoy building engines or deckbuilding, this is very much the game for you.

#2 – Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, published by Fantasy Flight Games. Designed by Nate French. 1-2 Players.

In terms of number of plays, this game is king of the mountain. I logged about 50 solo plays of this one in about 5 months last year, and it is still my #1 played game of 2018. I have a feeling it will always be my most-played game, and it is my most-expanded game (and I’ve hardly scratched the surface on my collection). But the #1 overall spot isn’t necessarily the game you play the most, but rather the best and your favorite overall game. And this one falls just a little short in that race.

But let’s focus on what this does so freaking well: diversity in playthrough. Allow me to define that for you, because it is what makes this game shine for me, although it is dependent upon expanding a collection. Even by just picking up a single cycle, you gain 8 more heroes to use. A wealth of new player cards. And 9 scenarios to play through. Add that to the 12 heroes and 3 scenarios in the base game, and suddenly you have a ton of variability right there. You use 3 of the 20 heroes to run through a scenario. There are many combinations you could try and run through an individual scenario. Or all of the scenarios. Now take this and multiply by half a dozen cycles, two saga series, and some print on demand scenarios. Almost a hundred heroes. Almost a hundred scenarios. Hundreds of player cards to construct decks to play with. And the ability to play 1-4 players…and this game is a blast at all four player counts.

Some people dislike the deck construction aspect. I personally don’t understand that, as I think that is the best thing about this game. Building something and running it against a known (or unknown) quest to see how it fares over repeated plays. Swapping out a few cards to see how that affects the effectiveness of the deck. Getting slaughtered by the game and then trying to puzzle out how to overcome the obstacle. That high of making it past after banging your head in frustration for several plays.

Filling roles in a group setting, allowing you to diversify the content of the decks so everyone can contribute without needing everyone to do everything.

And when a quest gets too easy, there are Nightmare decks to go around and crank the difficulty to 11. They present new and interesting challenges as you work your way through the familiar quests!

This game is one I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing. I’m working to build a local community of gamers on this one, and that is going to be something I’ll continue to do. It isn’t cheap to get into this game, but it also doesn’t require you to collect everything, or punish you for not getting things in order or not having everything. I can play and succeed against the newest cycle without needing to purchase everything up to that cycle.

This game is my type of game. Long live the LCG, but even if it died today I could easily play the content that exists for a lifetime and not have it grow stale for me.

#1 – War of the Ring, Published by Ares Games. Designed by Robert Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello. 2-4 Players (but really 2 players…)

If you look at the number of plays a year that a game receives, this one would fall short of the top billing. However, as Joel Eddy has mentioned in defense of Caylus being his #1 game, your top game doesn’t have to be one you’re playing all the time. It is rather what game do you enjoy the most when it hits the table, and for me it is easily War of the Ring by Ares Games. This has it all for any Tolkien fan (or any Tolkien super fan like me): two sides vying with different goals, hidden movement of the Fellowship to destroy the ring, active hunting for the ring by the shadow player, endless hordes of enemies for the shadow player, a feeling of dread and despair for the free peoples…

It feels like I am playing Lord of the Rings out on the board when this game hits the table. Sure, the rules are complex and I’m still not 100% certain I am playing everything perfectly. I’d have to dive back into that rulebook, now that I am better at learning and teaching games, to see what little things I may have missed. I’ve missed a lot of things over the years and have corrected them along the way, and every correction makes the game more and more interesting.

The sides are as close to balanced as you could hope for in a game like this. Seriously, there are discussions on BGG where it demonstrates that both sides have a win rate that is remarkably close to 50% overall. Will a skilled player win more times against a new player? Absolutely. But it isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The cards in here are outstanding, with thematic and fun effects at times. The dual use of the cards really shines, making you decide what manner you want to utilize them. Sometimes it is needed short-term to help win a key battle. Other times you know this card is going to be played for the main effect using one of your dice.

I’ve rolled my eyes at the complaint about the political system. It is thematic. The Free Peoples nations were resistant to the idea of a real threat, unwilling to believe that the land was being overrun by Sauron and his armies. You need to spend time and resources to convince those nations that there is a real threat before they are willing to grow their armies and march to war. Sending someone from the Fellowship can speed up that process, just like a battle or two within a territory can convince them that the threat is there and impacting their nation. This isn’t tacked on to add a funky mechanic for complexity’s sake. Read the books. The nations all dragged their feet at first regarding Sauron and his forces. This mechanic is thematic. Period. End of discussion.

There are interesting decisions on both sides throughout the game. Can a string of bad rolls ruin your plans? Sure, it happens. I’ve had all of my progress as a Shadow player wiped in a matter of a few battles gone wrong and had to backpedal and reevaluate where to strike and when. I’ve had to abandon conquests because it would take too long and too many dice to reach the previous conquest site with reinforcements (or a new force). I’ve seen the Free People win by conquering Shadow Strongholds and win by Dunking the One Ring. I’ve seen the Shadow armies win by conquering Free People Cities and Strongholds and seen them win by corrupting the Ring Bearer. I’ve seen Minas Tirith and the rest of Gondor be a crucial battle site and I’ve seen it ignored for the entirety of a game.

While each game follows the same overarching narrative path, the route taken to victory on both sides will change from game to game based upon opening moves and the cards being dealt. And that is what is wonderful about this: I’m witnessing my favorite story being played out on a board, where I can make unique and interesting decisions that alter the narrative.

Add in the two expansions and the experience only gets better for me. I’m saddened that I didn’t get the Special Edition of the game when it was being run, but my standard version of the game is still the perfect game. If you want the best experience in board games, I’d argue it can be found at the table with this game and one other player, vying for the fate of Middle-Earth. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think it is time for Second Breakfast.

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #10-6

We’re into the territory where the best of the best begin to reside. These are, 100%, games I would always say “yes” to playing if the opportunity were to arise. Including this surprise appearance by the #10 game here, which got a small bump last month when I got in another play of it as a 2-player game and was reminded of how much I liked the game and got to see how differently it can play based on player count and familiarity with the game.

Previous installments:

#25-21

#20-16

#15-11

***

#10 – Nations, published by Lautapelit.fi. Designed by Rustan Hakansson, Nina Hakensson, Einar Rosen,  and Robert Rosen. 1-5 players.

This game was lower on the list, and then I played the game once again right before I ran my rankings one last time. And boy, did this game benefit from that recent play, which served to remind me just how much I enjoyed this one. While I could lament about the MSRP of this game ($100), the honest truth is that the gameplay probably is worth that price tag even if the components themselves are not. And now I can confirm that this one plays solidly as a 2-player game, which was yet another reason for the gentle nudge up the list.

I played a LOT of Civilization II on the PC in my younger years. One of my earlier purchases was the Fantasy Flight version of Sid Meier’s Civilization which, while good, was never able to deliver the experience I was looking for in a civ-like board game. Combat was uninteresting and most of the early game was exploring the map while the rest was just spamming up whichever track could lock in a faster victory. This game is far more interesting, with a diverse range of cards that you’ll see a fraction of in a 2-player game (yay replay value and inability to depend on Card X to appear, forcing you to adapt your strategy to what is there rather than what you know is coming).

It also happens to have a mild worker placement aspect on your own board, and I use the term loosely. But you still assign those workers there and reap the benefits and penalties of said spot. You have to manage a few spaces for upgrades on your board while also juggling your resources efficiently. This is a Euro gamer’s Civ game, and I absolutely love it after a handful of plays. I can’t wait to dive into the solo mode on this one, and to get this to the table with my wife. I think this would be one she’d enjoy and completely dominate at, much like she did with Sid Meier’s Civilization.

#9 – Argent: The Consortium, published by Level 99 Games. Designed by Trey Chambers. 2-5 Players.

Fun fact: I’ve been writing this list backwards (#6-#10) and a theme for #7-9 could easily be “games I absolutely love but my wife does not”. And that is best exemplified in this game right here, a game she should absolutely love but does not. Yet. I’m still holding out hope that she can be converted if she gives it another chance now that I have some 2nd Edition upgrades in the box. Everything about this game should be right for her: worker placement, its like Harry Potter, ability to interfere with your opponent directly. And, truthfully, I know the one hangup that killed it for her: the end game scoring.

But that is what sets this game apart. You have 10 voters, only 2 of which are common knowledge. Over the course of the game you’ll hopefully be placing down marks, which let you see the voter card underneath that mark and will provide you information about one of the scoring conditions in the current game (such as most Mana at the end of the game, or most Knowledge tokens, etc.). There is an Influence Track which looks like it should be victory points, but it isn’t. It is used to gain Merits, but also importantly to serve as a tiebreaker if you both have the same number of X on a voter. First edition rules it was simply the higher influence wins the tie. I think she’ll enjoy 2nd edition a little more, which makes the 1st tiebreaker go to whoever put down a mark on the voter’s card and the influence be the 2nd tiebreaker if necessary.

This game is big. And long. It ramps up and become ridiculous as you gain better spells and max them out. Yet a round could end in a few turns, because it ends when all of the belltower cards are taken. The game has replay value, as each mage character has two sides, and there are six different ones to choose from. Every generic spell power has two sides. Every tile for the board has two sides. You can mix and match and play this game dozens of times and never have the same experience. And I absolutely love it. Easy enough to teach how to play it in 15 minutes, deep enough to take a full game to truly understand the game’s scoring and how to maximize your progress toward objectives. This game can appeal to both the Euro and Ameri-gamer camps in equal measure. Play this game. It is worthy of at least that. One play. That may be all it takes to hook you like it did for me.

#8 – Race for the Galaxy, published by Rio Grande Games. Designed by Tom Lehmann. 2-4 Players.

There was a moment in time when this was probably my #1 game. You have to rewind back to 2014, a very early time still in my gaming growth. My wife and I played this probably 20-30 times in the first few months we owned the game. This game was what got me into solo gaming, as I wanted more…more…more. It remains a game I love dearly, even though it rarely hits the table anymore, as I’ve found a new solo love that consumes that attention and my solo gaming on this one made it so my playstyle ruined the game for my wife. You see, in order to beat the Robot in solo you have to get an engine going fast. Really fast. So you start to see combos that are not overpowered, but are efficient enough to end the game before a larger engine can take off.

Part of me still regrets playing this one solo, as she used to love the game. She’s won the last few times we’ve played, but I still see that reflexive cringe if I mention the game. This game offers a lot of fun, synergistic combos, some interesting action selection mechanics (especially with 2-players!), and a great multi-use card system. I haven’t expanded beyond the first expansion, and that was primarily for solo mode. And, to be honest, the game hasn’t really needed anything beyond that. I will probably pick up the new Start Worlds promo at some point, but this is a gem of a game right out of the base box. Don’t let that iconography scare you away from experiencing an outstanding game and a true classic.

#7 – Oh My Goods, published by Mayfair Games. Designed by Alexander Pfister. 2-4 Players.

This game came out of nowhere and swept its way up my list. The game reinforces everything that I already suspected: I like engine builders which is something you can see repeated on this part of my Top 25 list. This game simply clicks for me in ways I still don’t understand. I can see those combinations and what I need to keep and build in order to use those production chains. I tend to fall behind in the early game and then roar back to life for a strong end of the game. Unfortunately, I think this game is destined to follow the same cycle as Race for the Galaxy and become a game my wife won’t willingly play very often.

I like the press-your-luck aspect in this one, which is only as big as you want it to be on some rounds. You set your worker, and how well they will work, after seeing just half of the market. That half can be as small as 2 cards or as many as 10+. Every card is multi-purpose, which is another thing I love. This game has all of the delightful heaviness and brain burn of a medium Euro game, but it compacted into a deck of cards which makes the setup and teardown fast. The game is easy to explain, apart from the production chains, and can go from on the shelf to playing in 15-20 minutes with a teach included. And it will often finish in under an hour per play. This game put Alexander Pfister on my radar, even moreso than Isle of Skye, as a designer to watch. It is utterly delightful and a game I absolutely love to play and need to get the expansion to add solo play into the mix.

#6 – Hanamikoji, published by Emperor S4 and Deep Water Games. Designed by Kota Nakayama. 2 Players.

It isn’t easy to put this one at this spot. The game is deserving of more, of making that final cut into the top 5. But the games ahead of this one simply cannot move. If I could make a 5a. and a 5b., this one would slip right into that slot.

But I can’t and therefore I will not.

It amazes me how many agonizing decisions you are given every time I play this game. you have four actions per round. They are the same four actions, and each can only be done once. You’re never going to have perfect information. Four of the cards you see in your hand over the course of the round will finish on your side of the board. Three will go to your opponent’s side. Two will be removed from the game, and your opponent won’t know which cards they are. One will come out at the very end and be on your side, but your opponent won’t know which card you selected until the end of the round. So much imperfect information that provides incredibly challenging decisions throughout the entire game. I love this game so much and the challenge it packs into a small footprint and a simple decision space. I get delighted when I teach a new person and I realize the game has clicked because they are letting out agonized sounds while trying to determine which action to choose and which cards to play. The game is as graceful and elegant as a geisha, and deserves to be in every collection. Unless you never play games with 2 players. For a 15-minute experience, this is always going to be my #1 go-to game.

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #15-11

Welcome back to my countdown of my top games. I was going to have this live tomorrow (Friday), but I have another post coming tomorrow that I think you’ll like. Therefore this gets bumped up by a day.

You can check out my previous entries here:

#25 – 21

#20 – 16

***

#15 – 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, published by Academy Games, designed by Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, and Jeph Stahl. 2-4 Players.

The only game I have backed on Kickstarter, and it is likely to remain as such. Not because of any disappointment in the Kickstarter experience, but because I just don’t need to preorder and pay for a game months in advance. Especially if it is hitting retail afterwards. But this game has been anything but a disappointment. The base game itself is a little lighter than I wanted to find, but there is so much extra content in the form of mini-modules that I can mix & match to get the experience that I want from the game. I love the asymmetric win conditions for the sides and that one starts with forces on the map and the other comes in each round with raids. The game is light and fast enough that it can be picked up easily and played through in an evening after work, which is something I can’t say for a superior war game that will appear higher on this list. I’m a huge fan of the Viking theme, and this definitely plays out with some great historical flavor. If you like Vikings, or are even remotely interested in owning a war game, this is definitely one to consider checking out. It’ll be a part of my collection for a long, long time to come.

#14 – Raiders of the North Sea, published by Garphill Games & Renegade Games, designed by Shem Philips. 2-4 Players.

I love Vikings. My wife loves Worker Placement games. When this game hit my radar, I knew it was one we’d have to eventually check out and so I was really happy when Renegade Games released this in the States. It seems counter-intuitive that you will be playing a worker placement game where you will only ever have one worker to use. But it really works! You take the action when you place a worker, and then you remove a different worker to use the action of its space. Simple. But brilliant in both design and execution. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the expansions, and those will eventually be ones I need to pick up…after I get the rest of the North Sea trilogy into my collection (Explorers & Shipwrights). What is even better is hearing that an official solo mode is open for preorders now by Garphill Games (http://postks.tictail.com/product/raider-solo-variant), which is definitely something I need to obtain soon so I can play this one even when my wife doesn’t feel like playing a game.

#13 – Ora et Labora, published by Lookout Games, designed by Uwe Rosenberg. 1-4 Players.

Oh Uwe, what a magnificent game you have designed. How can I ever return to the recent designs of Caverna, A Feast for Odin, and others after playing this work of brilliance? What’s that, you say? It is out of print? Well, a Twitter exchange with Lookout Games has me really excited at the prospect of this hitting the shelves once more and this will become an insta-buy for me. There is resource management, building of your own personal tableau of structures on your board, a resource wheel like that in Glass Road (which also serves as the game timer), worker placement with two style of workers, a light take-that element where you can bribe another player’s worker to use them, and so much more. This game scratches every itch and burns my brain in the most delightful of ways. I played so horribly in my first game of this, but unlike some other games where that happened (I’m looking at you, Terra Mystica), this one left me excited to try it again and soon. Plan better, play better. And I need to do both of those when I get a chance to get a second play of this one in. This one definitely has a great chance at cracking my Top 10 with some more plays, which is also true about the next few games on this list.

#12 – The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade, published by Capstone Games, designed by Thomas Spitzer. 2-4 Players.

Haspelknecht was a surprise hit for me, so much so that I wanted to check out the rest of the Coal Trilogy being rereleased by Capstone Games. I knew they were all very different, and that Haspelknecht was the “lightest” of the games in that trilogy. What I didn’t expect, upon playing The Ruhr, was to discover that this was an excellent game that takes a mechanic I don’t usually like (pickup & deliver) and adds some really fun and interesting elements into the experience. This is the definition of a dice game that my wife and I enjoy: they are never, ever rolled. They simply are used to represent the value of the coal being transported down the river. There is some simple action selection in here, but it plays a key role in the gameplay. The components in the box, and the board upon setup, all feel overwhelming at first blush. This game is not my typical sort of game and I’m yet to feel like I am doing well at this one, especially since my wife grokked the game mechanics from the first play. I constantly miscalculate by a turn in this and end up wasting two turns to get back on track while she zips ahead and unlocks all those great actions/abilities before I can catch up. Yet throughout all of that, I constantly have fun with this game. It move surprisingly fast with two players, and I cannot wait to try this with more to see how that enhances the experience. And to try the flip side of the board and experience The Ohio! This game fills a spot in my collection that I wasn’t aware I needed, but I am grateful that it is on our shelf.

#11 – Lisboa, published by Eagle-Gryphon Games, designed by Vital Lacerda. 1-4 Players.

There are few games that make you sit up and take notice, but this game possesses that capability. I first heard about it via Heavy Cardboard, and we now know this game won their 2017 Golden Elephant Award. That is a huge statement for this game in itself. This has beautiful artwork on all of the components, from the board and player boards to the cards themselves. Unless you have something against the color blue, that is. The theme is super-interesting as you are trying to rebuild the city of Lisbon after it survived a multitude of natural disasters in a very short span of time.

But none of that matters once you sit down to play the game. I played in the worst of conditions: with two other people, one prone to serious AP and hadn’t played the game before and the other teaching the game but having only played it once and that being months prior. Not even joking when I say the first hour was just setting the game up and figuring out the rules in semi-independent ways. The next hour was painfully slow and clunky, as we fumbled our way into trying to understand what was going on and how to make it function. But then the third hour came upon us and it clicked. And wow, it took my breath away when I could finally see what was going on and how it all was interconnected. The depth of this one game is staggering, especially as a game that is, as the designer said, “just play a card and draw a card”. That playing a card part triggers several things, including the opportunities for your opponents to join in on the action by paying for it. Which doesn’t always happen, but is something you should plan to try and do as often as you can to get more done in the same number of turns. The cards can be used in different ways, depending on if you slide them under the top of your player board or tuck them underneath the bottom. I could keep going, but I won’t.

This game is large and unapologetic about how much complexity and depth is in here. It is the game with the highest rated BGG weight on my Top 25, and I definitely agree that this is the meatiest game on here. But if you like thinky euro games, this is one you don’t want to miss. I couldn’t justify the placement of a game I played 1 time in my Top 10, so here it appears. But, honestly, it is probably around #7 or so on my list after the next play, and a third or fourth could possibly crack the Top 5. Especially if the solo play in this is as good as advertised.

Twice I’ve had a chance to get this game and, stupidly, blew it. The first was in describing it to my wife and mentioning that the VP are wigs. Apparently she was going to get it for me for Christmas, due to my going on about the game, until that point. Then, after the holiday, I had almost $100 to drop on new games. Lisboa was what I should have purchased. Instead, I picked up two $40-60 games into my collection. I don’t even know which ones they were, but I do know they aren’t higher on this list than this game. So I’m still seeking that second play, waiting to confirm that this game has held up to every expectation lingering in my mind.

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #20-16

Fun fact: there are 5 games on this list I’ve played exactly 1 time. Those first impressions were strong, and this portion of the list contains three of those games (with the other two appearing next week!). Several of the 1-play games came out higher on the rankings and I bumped them down a spot or two, giving preference to a game I’ve played more often in order to provide a better balance to how this list should be.

Like the previous list, these are all pretty equal in terms of quality of game. There is a small jump, I think, coming next week and then small jumps up after that. But really, this list could be fluid enough to where #20 could be #16 or even #24 at any given moment. You can be sure that if a game appears on this list today, I’d be willing to play it with minimal effort to convince me. Most of these games I’m craving more plays for, and would be the games I’d give strong consideration to pulling off the shelf to teach and play with someone.

#20 – Glass Road – Published by Mayfair Games/Lookout Spiele in 2013, Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, 1-4 Players.

This game blew me away. I thought I knew what an Uwe Rosenberg game was like. I had played Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin before I met this game. This is so radically different, mechanically, while also being nice and similar in a few areas to make it feel like Rosenberg. The action selection mechanism is brilliant, and the fact that you’re choosing 5 for the turn and playing 3…unless you can “follow” another player, is amazing. I love the resource wheel and how that mechanic changes and evolves as you take different resources. It was, after playing the game, easily my favorite game by Uwe Rosenberg. It was all I could think about for the rest of that game night, and I’m still thinking about it even now. I really need to play this one again, because it is so much fun.

#19 – Trajan – Published by Passport Game Studios in 2011, Designed by Stefan Feld, 2-4 Players.

I haven’t met a Feld game (yet) that I didn’t like, and this one stands atop the mountain as being the best of the Feld games I’ve played. There are still many more to try, but I think they will be hard-pressed to dethrone this one if I can get in some more plays. I really enjoy the personal mancala mechanic in here for your action selection. It presents some fun and interesting decisions and restrictions along the way. I love the time tracking mechanism in the game, and how it uses a different track for each player count. There appears to be many paths to victory out there on the board. My opponent, who taught me the game, claimed there was an unbeatable tactic and I managed to defeat him without following that path (it was close, though!). This was the hardest game out of all of these to place accurately on the list, as I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on this game.

#18 – Rococo – Published by Eggertspiele in 2013, Designed by Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, and Stefan Malz. 2-5 Players.

The theme, admittedly, put me off from the game at first glance. I had seen it being played at my FLGS and was just like “meh” toward it. But then I found Heavy Cardboard and listened to their podcasts. While it was only as a reference point for the weight of a game, I kept hearing Edward mention this game on countless review episodes. I later found out it was a Golden Elephant nominee, which piqued my interest enough that it became a game I really wanted to try this year. And holy smokes, what a first impression this made! I’m in love with making suits and dresses now, and I made a special request for this one to be brought for my birthday gaming celebration. I really, really want a second play of this. It has a light deckbuilding element, but you get to select the cards from your deck that you put into your hand. But once they are used, they go into your discard and so you need to play the rest of your deck to get them back. There are three types of workers, and only certain ones can do the better actions, so managing that is critical. There is area control on the board to get bonus scoring. Recipe fulfillment. There are so many excellent mechanics at work here, and it just scratches all the right spots for me as a gamer. Sadly, it is out of print at the moment so it is hard to get a copy. But this is definitely worth seeking out.

#17 – Seasons – Published by Asmodee, designed by Regis Bonnessee. 2-4 Players.

This game suffers from the same problem as Terraforming Mars: if you don’t know the cards well, you’re at a disadvantage. Especially here, since you’re drafting all nine cards at the start of the game that you’re guaranteed to see/use over the course of the game. It seems strange that a card-driven game like this only gives you a guaranteed 9 cards, but it somehow works. There are ways to get more over the course of the game, and I like that you have to then take those 9 cards and break them down into groups of 3, dictating what year they will go into your hand. The dice are chunky and great to use. There is so much room for strong engines to be built with those cards, even when you get just 10-12 out on average. Every card feels overpowered in the right circumstances, which makes it fun. There is a fair number of take that cards, but you can easily play without adding those into the deck if that is something you don’t enjoy and you’ll still have a wonderful game experience. Unlike Terraforming Mars, this one never overstays its welcome on the table, making it a much more enjoyable experience overall every time it gets played. Every time I play this game I remember just how much I enjoy it, and this one benefitted from back-to-back plays right before I made the list. This one is fantastic, plays really well with two, has some great card drafting, strong engine building opportunities, interesting decisions almost every turn, turns move quickly, and involves some clever resource management along the way. It checks so many boxes that it can’t possibly miss this list.

#16 – Firefly: The Game – Published by Gale Force Nine, designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart. 1-5 Players.

This game has fallen from my Top 10, and with good reason: the game hates me. It literally takes an active role in dealing my demise time and time again. Dead serious. Case in point: we were playing a 4-player game. I completed Goal #2 and had a sufficient crew to get Goal #3 finished and had about a 5 turn lead on the next two players. It took 2 extra turns to fly to Goal #3 due to Nav Card misfortune. Then I proceeded to go 0/5 on completing Goal #3, eventually losing to the next player to arrive who passed it on their first try. I almost always enjoy the game. As a Browncoat, this is a great immersion into the Firefly world. So many people I know love this game. I’ll rarely turn down a play of the game. But man, it is rough when everything goes wrong. This is that one game where things almost always go wrong for me. Some people might be turned off by the length, or the table space, or the setup/teardown time (that broken token crate is a godsend!), but if you are a fan of the show this is the game for you. Hauling cargo, completing jobs, just you and your crew in the Big Black of the ‘Verse. I’m really excited to try Firefly Adventures, as I think it might be the next great game using this IP, but this one will forever be a part of our collection. And if you ever want to win a game of this, just play against me. It’s a pretty sure thing that I’ll lose.

***

Like last week, feel free to comment on the games listed, ones that surprised you, what you think you’ll see next week, or anything else of relevance! We’re one step closer to getting into the fun of that Top 10, but don’t overlook the other games being mentioned. These are all excellent games, and ones that are likely to remain (or finally enter) my collection for a long time.

Board Game Lists · Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #25-21

I’ll likely be making videos to correspond to this as well, going with a more off-the-cuff approach to explaining what I like about these games and why they make my list. So if you’d rather watch than read this, be sure to hop on over and subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

The reason to do a Top 25 is simple: there are a ton of great games outside of my Top 10. I haven’t played enough games to merit doing more than 25 (yet), and there are many games I want to play a second (or third) time to really nail down where they belong on the overall list. These rankings were determined about two weeks ago, and already there feels like there could be some fluctuation. This is a fluid list. The difference between #25 and #15 is, overall, marginal at best. The real jump in rank doesn’t come until around #5-6, with those being the absolute elite games for me. And, as I play more games (I’ve gotten to just under 250 unique games so far) that range might expand to the entire Top 10 and beyond.

So without further ado, here we go! Come back every Friday for another batch of games:

#25 – Harvest, Published in 2017 by Tasty Minstrel Games. Designed by Trey Chambers. 2-4 Players.

This is my one and only audible I’ve called on the list since its creation. I enjoyed Harbour enough that I was immediately interested in this game since it was set in the same “world”, but I was assured the two games were nothing alike beyond that. And boy, did that turn out to be very true. This is a small box worker placement game that has so much fun, depth, and replay value that it blows my mind thinking about it. I love this one so much that it has temporarily worn out its welcome with my wife, and that is saying a lot for a worker placement game. I clearly like this one way more than she does, and I’m okay with that.

What convinced me to audible this in here happened last night, actually. I taught four new players the game, which sadly left me out of playing it. But I enjoyed teaching it and hearing them all talking about it afterwards. They all enjoyed the game and wanted me to bring it again in the very near future to get a second play of the game. So much is packed into five rounds (with only two workers!) that it seems like it should be impossible to accomplish as much as you do. The action cards, the initiative cards, the buildings…all of these things work well together to make one of the best farming-themed games out there. Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong. If you haven’t tried this one, you need to. For the price of this game, it is hard to find a better value out there.

#24 – Viticulture: Essential Edition, Published in 2015 by Stonemaier Games. Designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, with the solo Automa by Morten Monrad-Pedersen. 1-6 Players.

This game blew me away with just how much I enjoyed it. Sometimes a game comes along where the theme is so embedded into the mechanics that they flow well together, and this does it better than any other worker placement game I’ve ever seen. This is a tough one for new players – it really takes a few years of play to see how your early actions synchronize to allow you to harvest grapes, make them into wine, and then sell them as an order to gain regular income. Once it all clicks, though, this becomes a game that is easy to enjoy and get behind. The visitor cards can feel swingy, but they all can feel that way depending on your situation. I love that it is possible to win by focusing just on wines, and it is also possible to win by not filling any orders at all.

This happens to be one of the worker placement games that I do well at, which isn’t a common thing to say. This game rewards planning ahead as well as being able to adapt on the fly based on the cards you get into your hand. I’ve played once with the Tuscany expansion and, I have to say, it is going to be a must-buy for me. It’ll add even more complexity and depth to an already fun and enjoyable game, and after some time playing this with the expansion it will likely be a climber on this list.

#23- Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, Published in 2015 by Mayfair Games/Lookout Games. Designed by Alexander Pfister and Andreas Pelikan. 2-5 Players.

This game effectively made it so I never need to play Carcassonne ever again. Not that it is a bad game, but rather this adds so much more meaningful decisions along the way in the same amount of play time. This is one of the few games in our collection that really plays a lot better with more than 2, but still works fine as a 2-player game. I love the integration of building your own little kingdom (and I do mean little!), bidding on tiles, and shifting scoring objectives. It is Carcassonne meets The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, the latter being a game I really love and it is one of two games that I truly regret removing from my collection. This game put the designer, Alexander Pfister, on my radar as one to really watch. It turns out that I really enjoy all of his games that I have played. And no, I haven’t played Great Western Trail…yet.

This is the best of the tile-laying genre of games for me. Having to set your pricing right to either keep the tile(s) you want without overpaying or to price it just right to get every penny you can for it makes the game really interesting. This game likely has a forever spot in my collection, and is a go-to grab if we need a game to play in under an hour with 4-5 (as long as we aren’t playing with someone who has serious A.P., which is something this game can really encourage…)

#22 – Aeon’s End, Published in 2016 by Indie Boards & Cards and Action Phase Games. Designed by Kevin Riley. 1-4 Players.

When my wife says she likes a co-op game, I take notice because that is about as uncommon as her liking a dice-rolling game. I played it a few times, hitting solo, 2-player, and 4-player games of this and my initial reaction was lukewarm. It was a fine game. I liked the deckbuilding and how it never shuffled (even though a few times I caught myself shuffling out of habit!). This was a game that needed to soak in.

It has climbed up steadily based on memories of the game and a desire to jump back in again and experience it more in-depth. I’ve faced down two of the base Nemesis bosses. There are more to face, and a ton of expansions to try out. And boy, I want to try them all. I love a deckbuilder game and this is one of the better ones I’ve played. It was also the hardest one to place here. The first time I ran through PubMeeple’s ranking system I did every game I played, and somehow this one landed at #7. That stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn’t seem right. A game I didn’t own, and hadn’t played in months, being that high up? It was enough to make me take notice, though. I think this ranking is probably closer to where it belongs…at least until I get the game into my collection and can explore it at greater length…

If you like cooperative games or deckbuilders, this one is unique and interesting enough to merit some serious consideration.

#21 – The Castles of Burgundy, Published in 2011 by Ravensburger Games. Designed by Stefan Feld. 2-4 Players.

Remember the remark above about dice-rolling games? Yep, this one shocked me when she proclaimed she liked the game. We got it from the guy who taught it for $20, and it has been worth every penny. It is a game that has gradually grown on me, much like Aeon’s End needed to. But I’ve come to not only enjoy the game, but want to actively try and play it.

Some say this is best with 4 because you’ll see so many more tiles, making it easier to plan for what will eventually come out. I feel it overstays its welcome at that player count. The sweet spot here is 2, as it comes in at about an hour to play the game. I love the various paths you can take to victory, and that there are alternative sides to the player boards. They really alter how you approach what is available, and that makes this even more fun and replayable. I want to look into those mini-expansions, at the very least getting the new player boards into the collection. This is one of those best work night games, to bust out after the little one goes to bed, because it taxes the brain enough while also being quick enough with 2 players. There is a reason so many people talk about this game, although I wouldn’t say it is my favorite Feld game…

 

And there you have it! The first five games. Were there any that surprised you? Feel free to discuss, either in the comments here or over on a thread designed for discussion of this Top 25 over on BGG!

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

My Top 5 Board Games with Monsters

It has been nearly a week since my first full novel, Monster Huntress, released on eBook and Paperback. It is a really fun book with a young female protagonist who you’ll love to cheer for as she goes off on a few adventures and runs into complications she never dreamed about. As a fun tie-in, I thought I would list my Top 5 games that feature monsters in some way, because my protagonist desires to be a professional hunter of monsters when she gets older (just like her parents).

You can pick up a copy in a multitude of places, but I’ll give you the link to Amazon:

 

5. Space Hulk: Death Angel – Let me set the scene for you: you’re aboard a space station and there are these beasts known as Genestealers in the ship with you. As you’re leading your crew of Space Marines to the front of the ship, these Genestealers are growing in number and swarming your marines. Things are tight in there, so you can typically only affect those who appear in front of each specific marine. There are few group attacks. But they will group up and attack you. The more a cluster grows in a spot, the harder they are to eliminate (and if you succeed, it only decreases the cluster by 1 for each hit) and the harder it is for that marine to survive. This game executes that growing threat in a perfect way, and by the end you usually realize it was hopeless from the start. This is a repeat offender in the top portion of solo board gamers’ lists of top games, and with good reason. So long as you don’t mind rolling a die to try and hit/survive.

4. Unbroken – This is one that just crept its way onto this list because it does monsters so very well. The premise is that you and a party of adventurers were exploring a deep cavern when you all got ambushed. Your friends are all dead and you were somehow overlooked and left for dead. Now you’re working to avenge your fallen companions and, perhaps, even make it out alive. You’ll end up fighting 4 monsters on the way, each one increasingly stronger than the last one. At the start you have nothing but your fists and your resolve, but if you’re resourceful enough you might be able to gain weaponry and other things to help you survive the series of monster encounters. This is best summed up as “Die Hard in a dungeon”, and it does an outstanding job. This is a solo-only game, and is perfect in its execution.

3. Hero Realms – I don’t know much about the base game for this one, as I’ve played the game only once. And what I played included some later boss monster packs, and that is exactly why it appears here. See, there were three of us sitting down to play this deckbuilding game. But one of us was the dragon, and the other two of us had to work together to kill that dragon. When the monster you’re fighting is controlled by a person instead of  a game system, and said monster can gain benefits from purchasing/using those same cards as the players…that is a brilliant concept. This game is high on my wish list for this reason alone. Will I be the dragon, or will my wife? 🙂

2. Aeon’s End – There is so much I love about this game’s approach. You’re a group of mages fighting one big, bad boss-monster. And boy, these things can get NASTY in what they do. Not only does this game have a unique twist on deckbuilding, but it is a ton of fun to play. I’ve seen record of people “campaigning” through all of the bosses that have been released, and I really want to pick these ones up so I can do the same thing myself. This game does monsters right with that boss battle approach, and having that boss generate minions that you might want to clear otherwise the boss ramps up in their difficulty by a lot. But as fun as this is, nothing can hold a candle to…

1. War of the Ring (Second Edition)/Lord of the Rings: The Card Game/Middle-Earth – Tolkien’s universe has it all covered, even monsters in the form of Mumakils, orcs, goblins, wargs, giant spiders, trolls, dragons, Nazgul, and so much more. So this placement should be no surprise to anyone who knows what a Tolkien fan I am. Rather than letting these games take 2-3 of the 5 spots, I thought it might be best to consolidate them all into one entry. While War of the Ring gives the least “monster” feel of these three, it is still very much present through the Shadow forces combined with some of the cardplay in there. And, in my humble opinion, all three of these games are amazing implementations of Tolkien’s world in a board game format.

 

So there you have my top 5, and there are so many others that just missed the cut (like One Deck Dungeon). What are some of your favorite games with monsters in them?

Board Game Lists · Board Gaming · Top Ten List · Wish List

Ten Games I Want to Play in 2018

Last year I made a list of a ton of games I wanted to be sure to play in 2017. Overall I did a respectable job at trying most of those games, although I did miss a few of them. I thought I would make the same approach this year, but going with ten games to fit into ten different “categories” of my choosing. There are so many great games out there, but these are the ones highest on my list to try right now.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to go to HeavyCon and knock a few of these off my list…

1. A Capstone Games game – Three Kingdoms Redux

This game intrigues me so much. A heavy game for exactly three players. Asymmetric sides. Shifting of power over the course of the game. A dynamic tension that will come from having the presence of three sides vying for power over the course of the game. This is a game that is likely to be difficult to bring and play at a random game night, but is the perfect game to coordinate a play. It is a Capstone title, which means I already am inclined to give it a try (thus the category for a Capstone game!) I definitely hope to play all of the Capstone games out there, but this one stands at the top of my list of their games I hope to play.

Which of the Capstone Games titles do you enjoy the most?

2. A Top 10 Game – Terra Mystica

As of this writing I have played only four of the top 10 games listed on BGG. I definitely want to try a few of the others in there, but the one that stands out most is Terra Mystica. It is that game I hear talked about so often, yet I am lacking a play of the game. It sounds like my type of game, one that I think my wife would enjoy playing as well. I know the new hotness is Gaia Project, but I would rather start with the game which paved the way for some of the other current games.

Which group should I play as for my first game? Let me know in the comments below!

3. A Train Game – Age of Steam

Hoo boy, I know I need to eventually tackle a train game. As in an 18XX game, not just Ticket to Ride or Whistle Stop. Before plunging into the deep end, I think it’d be beneficial to visit this classic in the genre. It is long out of print, but hopefully someone local has a copy that they’d be willing to pull out and teach. With around 160 maps to choose from, this is the ultimate game for variety out there.

Let me know which map(s) are best to learn on for each player count! I’m sure the teacher will already have an idea in mind, but if I could only play one map at __ player count, what should it be?

4. An Uwe Rosenburg Game – Ora et Labora

There are a handful of Rosenburg big-box games I haven’t played yet: Fields of Arle, Glass Roads, Le Havre. But the one game I want to try more than any other right now would be this out of print classic. I fully blame Edward and Amanda at Heavy Cardboard for this one, as their review of the game last year sucked me in and made me want to play this. The opportunity never came up last year, but I am going to work hard to get a chance to try it this year. I know at least one local player has a copy, which means there is a chance.

Let me know which Rosenburg game is YOUR favorite!

5. A COIN Game – Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain

Like the train games, this will be the year I try out a COIN game. There are plenty of them to choose from at this point, although only two of them have a strong theme appeal to me (Pendragon & Falling Sky). I was so excited about the release of Pendragon when I heard about it last year, and this one has a strong appeal with both a solo mode and what should be a great 2-player experience. I’m a huge Arthurian/Middle Ages fan, and that makes this the ideal game to reel me into the COIN system. I’m letting myself buy at most two games this year. This one has a very high chance of being one of those two purchases.

Which COIN game in the series is your favorite so far?

6. A Filler Game – Arboretum

Let’s go ahead and blame Heavy Cardboard for this one as well. Out of print? Check. Thinky filler? Check. You can never have, or play, too many fillers, especially of the variety which engage your brain. I’ve heard nothing but strong responses about this one, and I can’t wait to try this out. There were a few others that came close to stealing this spot, especially after watching a little of Heavy Cardboard’s live stream of Iron Curtain last night. But I decided to stick with my initial resolution of seeking a play or two of Arboretum. Maybe this will be a game that Capstone can bring back into print on their Simply Complex line…

What are some of your favorite filler games? Let me know in the comments below!

7. Golden Elephant Winner – Food Chain Magnate

This game was going to make the list already, but I decided to shift it here in order to open #9 for a different title. I have heard a ton of great things about this game, and I know of a few locals who own the game and at least one person who proclaims it as their favorite game. This might be among the easiest games on this list to get a chance to play. This is one of those games that, initially, I had no interest in playing when I heard about it. Thankfully, my tastes and interests have grown over time and now this game easily makes my list of ones I can’t wait to try out.

Let’s have some fun with this spot…2017 is in the books and soon we’ll learn the games Edward & Amanda will be nominating for their Golden Elephant awards. Any guesses on what games we might see as finalists for the award?

8. A Vital Lacerda Game – Vinhos

I played my first Lacerda game last year when I tried out Lisboa. I still crave a second play of that game. I’ve heard mixed opinions on which of his games are the best, but the one that seems to be universally proclaimed as being good is Vinhos. I really enjoyed playing Viticulture, which is that other wine-making game out there. And yes, I know the two games are as different as can be. This game will probably melt my brain, much like did during Lisboa, and I can’t wait to experience the game that kicked off Vital’s career as a designer. I am reasonably certain this should be an easy game to find a willing teacher for, and I have a feeling that 2018 might turn into a quest to try all of Vital’s games so far.

Which Lacerda game is your favorite? There seems to be a great divide over this question, so I am curious which one you love most and why!

9. A Splotter Game – Antiquity

Splotter is a company that holds a high reputation for games in the industry. I haven’t played a single one yet, and if this list works out I will have played at least two when I finish these ten games. It was a struggle to decide between this, The Great Zimbabwe, and Roads & Boats for the spot. TGZ was just mentioned by Edward as a Gateway to Heavier Games. Travis at Low Player Count sings the praises for Roads & Boats on pretty much every other episode of their podcast. At least it feels that way! But I think the recent reprint of Antiquity signals a good time to try this one out. I’ve seen a few locals posting about the game, which means it is being purchased and has people who would likely want to play the game. The theme grabs me more than any other Splotter title, as well, so I’ll be looking forward to trying this one out.

You know the drill by now: which is your favorite Splotter title?

10. People’s Choice – Keyflower

Yesterday I created a poll with ten games. Essentially, the next ten in consideration for this list. The ones that didn’t quite make the cut. What I didn’t expect was for one of the games on that list to win by a landslide. It was an overwhelming majority voting for Keyflower, which was a game I hoped to play in 2017 (it made honorable mention on my list) but the one time I cam closest to playing the game, it didn’t pan out. Too many people wanted to play a game and, rather than splitting into two groups, we played Bohnanza with 7 players. Oh, how I wish it had been Keyflower instead. This is one I know my wife would enjoy, too, as it is a unique worker placement game. What better way to hook her onto the Key-series, just like she’s hooked onto Rosenburg, than by playing this title with her?

Wide open question on this one: if someone said you could play only one game this year, which would you pick and why? It could be a new game, something new to you, or your overall favorite game!

The next 10

Here’s the next ten that would make the list, not sorted in order or by category:

11. Twilight Struggle
12. Caylus
13. Le Havre
14. Rococo
15. Dominant Species
16. Trick of the Rails
17. Iron Curtain
18. 1846: The Race for the Midwest
19. An Infamous Traffic
20. Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia