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Before I get to the AAR, a couple of notes. First up, it was great getting some new participants in Pseudocon this year. Bob was a great opponent and true gentleman. Ted was awesomely flexible when people showed up a bit late, and I really appreciate his willingness to scrap his incipient game (twice!) and fit the new people in. And, Chad, I just realized that we missed playing a game together! That will be remedied at WBC!
The first game we played was a seven player game of Struggle of Empires. Yes, seven players. It does take more time, so Pseudocon was the perfect setting. During the game, I punched and built my train for Colt Express (more on that later). I finished re-reading the Fire in the Lake rules (again, more on that later). Somehow, in the game, I was able to get Militia, Mercenaries, Pressgangs and Banking. What a nation! I like to lay low for a long time, then attack in the final war. An opponent made what may have been an ill-advised attack on my sole holding in India. I tried my best to appear to be striking back, while really just weakening an opponent and solidifying certain positions. I think the posturing worked, as did the military buildup. In the final war, I was able to gain second position in the German States and a foothold in the New World. Joe effectively pushed focus away from himself (the leader after War 2) and toward me, but, even with that, I was able to have a roll for the win at a +3. I attacked Joe in Africa, and he played one of his three (!) reserves. I somehow lost and ended up losing the game by 5 points. Yes, if I gain the three points for Africa and Joe loses the three points, I win. I am destined to be second place in that game!
After Struggle of Empires, Kevin, Scott and I played Middle Earth Quest. Experienced players, a great game (although one that I would like to see a refresh on – something Silmarillion-based, maybe? Maybe it should be a super secret project of mine?). Scott was Bereavor (or, as he called him, “Beaver”) and I was the favor magnet, Eleanor. Kevin seemed to play a plot card every turn (except one, where he took one off the track), but Scott’s and my ability to gain favor and put plots to rest really made the difference. We beat him to the finale and had completed our objective (the comparatively easy “complete your quests” objective), so we won!
As I have mentioned, our endurance is not what it once was, so, at around midnight, we were waiting for the last game to finish, then we would call it an evening and adjourn until 10am Saturday. During this time, Richard and I played three two player games of Splendor. Okay, before you comment, Michael, I will fully admit that Splendor has an absolutely pasted on theme. But I do enjoy the mathiness of it, and it is a good fifteen minutes spent. It also qualifies as one of those games where, when you play it the first time, you immediately start thinking about how close you were to winning and want to try it again (this was confirmed this past weekend when I finally got my wife to try it. After a confused first game, she immediately wanted to try again).
That night, John came in and noted that we were reserving cards, the “correct way to play,” as he put it. This, of course, begs a question. What is the correct way to play? Is it to reserve a card early, then work toward it, using your gold chip’s wildness and the occasional two chip grab to make it work? Or is it to play for the nobles? In short, do you work for cards or for nobles? Tough to say. Of course, it depends upon the layout of cards. I’m not sure. The times I have won, all the points came from cards, along with maybe one noble. But my opponents who beat me tend to use the nobles. Maybe the best clue comes from the iOS app. When I lose on the app, it is always to the “balanced” AI.
Richard beat me two times out of three CLOSE games. We called it a night and reconvened in the morning.
On Saturday, we had our “gamemoot” at 10am. I was able to quickly get a game of Fire in the Lake going.
It was interesting.
I played the NVA and, early on, it looked like the NLF (VC) player was in trouble. My first play was the “MiGs” card, which should cripple the U.S. airstrikes! Except, five cards later, the U.S. player (Scott) played the card that canceled the MIGs effect and allowed the U.S. player to “air strike” one space each air strike that did not have a U.S. spotter. Laos and Cambodia were cleared rather quickly and the NVA was effectively crippled. The VC ran over the south of South Vietnam, the ARVN, having embezzled one too many times, were suddenly non-existent, and the U.S. was able to pull out enough soldiers to win the game.
I am now not sure how I feel about the game. Tom Grant has been frustrated with how it models history. Okay. But I have some gameplay issues. I”ve played twice, and, both times, one player was made irrelevant. Also, the game is long. I understand that this is a bit unfair for a wargamer who is in the middle of setting up Day of Days, which will stay set up for a month. But with a multi-player games, it becomes more of an issue. A game like Empire in Arms is a long term team endeavor. It’s an event that you can get a group of committed people to sign up for (even then, you’ll likely need backup players). Games like Struggle of Empires are clearly playable in one night. But Fire in the Lake exists in this strange middle ground of being potentially a ten hour game. It’s very hard to get one ten hour game session. It’s almost as hard to get two five hour game sessions set up. Is it worth it? Is the same type of event that Empires in Arms is? I’m not sure it is, especially if every game ends up having one player crippled to the point of irrelevancy. I still think I like COIN (and really enjoyed a recent play of Andean Abyss), and I really want to love Fire in the Lake. But, right now, the game is almost unplayably problematic.
After Fire in the Lake, we had a run of short games up until dinner time. We played Spiel des Jahres winner Colt Express, which we really enjoyed and look forward to playing again in one of those lighter, thirty minute windows. It reminds me a bit of Robo-Rally, which is too long and overwrought, and the thoroughly enjoyable Space Alert. We then played a couple of games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf, an overrated but nonetheless fun filler for a large group. Honestly, I enjoy watching it more than playing it. But I am willing to play it once or twice when it comes up.
After dinner, we had another short gamemoot, and Scott got Kevin and I going on our annual game of three player Napoleonic Wars. A second turn play of Capitulation took Austria out of the game. The problem was not Austria's getting knocked out, it was their being a subject neutral for a turn and a half. Kevin’s France dominated Europe and we ended up conceding early in turn four.
We closed the night with two games of Bang the Dice Game (SO much better than Bang!) and one game of Nuclear War. Ah, Nuke War. I once loved you, but, after playing this time, you are hopelessly outdated. The mechanics are subpar. It's a take-that game. And my generation may (hopefully) be the last one to understand the dark humor at its core.
So, Pseudocon 26 (the twenty-fifth anniversary!) is in the books, and it was a great time. Some Pseudofactoids:
The most people in my house at one time: 18 on Friday.
The most people in my house on Saturday: 16
We had a weekend total of 24 unique players.
The games that were played that I was not involved in? Roll for the Galaxy (2x), Acquire, Battlestar Galactica (of course,), Splendor (2x), Eldritch Horror, Through the Ages (again, of course), Imperial, Study in Emerald, Forbidden Stars, Struggle of Empires, Shogun, LIberte, King of New York, Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
What a great time! Thank you to everyone who showed up. I hope to continue to grow next year.
This game is so cool it appeared on one of the hippest shows on television, Orphan Black:
It has that epic feel in just a couple of hours. Armies clash with each other and with neutrals. Adventurers quest across the board. Cards not only give special bonuses to a variety of situations, but they also are the random number generator and combat subroutine. And the game hinges on the collection of runestones. This allows the game to be more than just a combat-fest. The flow of the game is: expand and consolidate, then sneak around to collect runestones through trickery and heroes’ quests. Love it!
Please note that I’m talking about the first edition here.
29. King of Tokyo
This has become the default filler game for our group. The Yahtzee elements are okay, but, for me, it’s all about the theme. Giant monsters are cool, but, again, this needs to be treated with a light touch. The game plays fast and loose, but still has interesting choices. You can collect energy cubes to get cards, keep number results, hoping for that elusive three of a kind, or you can be honorable and try to win by killing all of the other monsters. Each game is different and usually ends with one of us saying, “one more time.” If we’re playing, I call Cyber Bunny.
28. Victory in the Pacific
Based on only one night of playing, but what a great upgrade from War at Sea. The addition of air and ground units are key. This game keeps the broad strokes actions of its ancestor, but puts the additional considerations make this the chess to War at Sea’s checkers. And it stands as a great transition point to another favorite game of mine (spoiler alert!).
27. Europe Engulfed
Epic World War 2 game, using blocks. But this game is important because it is the first time Rick Young used the “Special Actions.” These streamlined a great deal that other World War 2 games frankly had a great deal of trouble coordinating. I enjoy the massive numbers of dice and blocks that storm across Europe. The game has interesting and realistic tension points the interesting decision points trying to hold off the inevitable Allied victory in the war in order to win an Axis victory in the game.
This game has no business being this good. It is short and has simple rules. But very quickly, you find yourself thinking carefully about each placement and movement. There have been expansions and shrinkings (down to a travel size). I’ll teach it to you now: each turn you place a tile or move a tile. When you trap the opposing queen, the game is over. Each of the tiles is an insect and each insect has special powers. But even with those few rules, each turn becomes a brain burner.
25. Battle Line
This is also a simple game where the decisions are incredibly interesting. For this one, you are trying to form three card poker hands which will dictate control of different flags. Control five of nine or three adjacent flags, and you win. I probably would like Schotten-Totten more, because I find the special cards add little to the game (in fact, I believe they take away from the game a bit).
24. A Few Acres of Snow
Honestly, the Halifax Hammer ruined this game for me. I loved this and played the heck out of it for a while. I love the deckbuilding mechanic here, especially as it represents expanding your colonial control of the new world. In short, when you take a territory, it makes your deck less efficient. Each of the colonial powers (France and Britain) have different strengths, different spheres of influence, and different realistic paths to victory. I would recommend ignoring the words “Halifax Hammer” on BGG. Get the game and play the heck out of it. You won’t be disappointed, unless you ignore my advice about the Hammer or stumble upon the strategy yourself.
23. Through the Ages
I like Ludology, and I completely understand Ryan and Geoff’s love of this game. The variety of cards and the many different ways your empire can unfold make it incredibly replayable. It is also makes me feel the closest to the way I felt when playing the old Sid Meier’s Civilization computer games. You have to manage a number of factors, including workers’ happiness and efficiency in production of food and mineral resources (I think – oil, coal, iron – hard to find a term that encompasses this, because I believe “resources” are the tokens used to make up your food and mineral resources). Leaders, wonders, and other cards can create some powerful combos. Political cards are powerful, but so are the military actions that, when unused, give you political cards. In short, the game is brilliant and I have to think it will be moved higher in my eventual revisions of this list.
22. Summoner Wars
This game is another example of a simple rules set that makes for a great game. Each player receives a deck of cards that will make up his or her army as they are deployed on the map. Each deck has its own “flavor” (warning: in my online games against strangers, it is clear that one of these decks is more preferred than the others). Your goal is simple: kill the enemy summoner. But you have to be careful. It is a great example of needing the support of a variety of units in order to bring about your plan. If you go directly for your enemy’s summoner, you run the risk of depleting your army early. You have expensive, powerful “champions,” but the risk of bringing them out to fight against your opponent’s army of pawns can leave you vulnerable to your opponent’s champions later in the game. Great game of tough decisions.
21. Dungeon Lords
Again, I cannot believe the variety of games in Vlaada Chvatl’s library. In this and Through the Ages (and, to an extent, Space Alert), you have a number of “levers” to operate, and, if you do it effectively, you are very powerful. If not, you’re in the proverbial “hurt locker.” In Dungeon Lords, you need to build your dungeon with tunnels and rooms. You need to recruit monsters. You need to feed your monsters. You need to have traps to help deal with those pesky adventurers. And, in addition to all of this, you have to pay “taxes.” The game also has the interesting aspect that, when you place your minions to perform certain tasks, the later you place your minion, the more powerful the reward. But if you are not careful, you will lose the opportunity to get what you need at all. Really only works with four players, which is a strike against it, and probably all that keeps it out of my top twenty.
Well, next time we'll start the top twenty (in my day, there was ONLY a top twenty; this generation and their top twenty-fives. Now get off my lawn!). Last summer, I allowed work to encroach on my summer entirely too much. This year, I'm trying to avoid that, and, so far (two weeks in), I've been successful. I hope to get the top twenty in by the end of the summer and the "updates to the list" post by year's end.
I also hope to have a Psuedocon AAR and a WBC AAR post. So, should be a busy summer!
Please thumb my posts!
Taking a break from the top 100 to report on my PrezCon experience.
Before I start on the gaming, I want to address a couple of things. First off, thank you to Justin Thompson for being such a great host. He goes out of his way to introduce himself to everyone at the con. In addition, he noticed that I had a room and actually had them convert my room over to the convention rate (I was late registering again this year – tough when you have a spring athlete as a son). I was astonished and impressed. Then he found me, told me, and commented on how he liked the podcast and was sorry to see its demise. Again, such a nice thing to say. And, finally, he and Grant Dalgliesh made sure I received my newly minted copy of Victory in Europe (on my table as we speak), even though I had not told them I would be picking it up. It made me feel incredibly valued as a customer, attendee, and friend. So, thanks Justin and Grant!
Secondly, there were a few comments (some from my wife) about driving to Charlottesville to play my local friends. Okay, somewhat guilty of this at PrezCon. I will take a second to defend this practice (Kevin had the appropriate response: “but the drive to Ashburn is so long”). First up, I don’t get nearly enough time to play with my friends. We play about once a week, but the extended weekend marathon is a rarity. We could do it at one of our houses (and we do in the summer at Pseudocon), but we would end up displacing one of our families. I have also tried to avoid playing only with my friends at other cons, but those cons had me with a considerable amount of down time. Sure, I played my guitar; I took a nap; I ate out. But I am there to play games! Any way, at any con, feel free to join us, but I’m more of a “camp and play” open gamer, rather than a “mix and mingle” gamer.
Okay, on to the games (2):
The theme here, as you’ll see, is space.
Owen and I had planned on leaving the night of Thursday, February 26. He had soccer tryouts and I thought I might have to coach a game. One possibility was that we would start our two hour trek to Charlottesville at 10:30pm! But that did not come to pass. An ice storm rolled into town on Wednesday, then quickly melted away. But it did do just enough to cancel school for the day and allow us to leave around noon on Thursday.
We arrived at about three, and very quickly picked up gaming. Our first foray into space was a five player game of Martin Wallace’s new Onward to Venus. This game has random tile laying on planets throughout the solar system at its heart. Your troops fly from planet to planet, land, and claim a tile (some of which you actually have to fight for). I am not sure, but I wonder if five players pushed this one beyond its limit. We were able to stave off alien invasion and robotic uprisings fairly easily, which seemed to take away one of the most interesting threats in the game, that modicum of cooperation. Another issue with the game was that you could only attack an opponent if the planet in question had a “tension” tile on it. You would attack an opposing player’s site, and claim the tile. It meant that we could really only directly attack each other on rare occasions, leading to a rather anti-climactic ending where it was clear who would win and it was equally clear that no one could stop him.
On Thursday, we also launched on a campaign in the game we played most at the con, Imperial Assault. Imperial Assault is basically Descent with a Star Wars theme. I was reluctant to purchase it at first because of my group’s dislike of Descent, second edition, but I read that there were significant rules changes, and, if all else failed, I could still play it with my sons. But a few features make this my favorite of these pseudo-roleplaying boardgames.
First, there is the ability to move through enemy units. What killed (or at least mortally wounded) Descent for us was the ability to “clog a dungeon with a wall of flesh,” especially that damned dragon. Imperial Assault allows movement through enemy units at an added cost of movement points. You still can clog a passageway, but, to extend the metaphor, the clog is more like one you can clear with Drano, as opposed to one where you need to use the Roto-Rooter.
The second feature is that the units can’t combo quite as effectively. Kevin, as our Descent overlord, was able to effectively use those flesh mender guys (sorry, forgot the name) with other, more destructive creatures to create nigh-opposable monster teams. In Imperial Assault, the Imperial officers are cool in combination with other Imperial troops, but they aren’t overpowering. Abilities tend to add nice little wrinkles to the scenarios, rather than full-fledged nastiness.
The third feature is the campaign itself. Descent seemed to have more of an open forum for campaign choice, with a map guiding your choices. But this is combined with a reward system where one side (the heroes or the overlord) gets more powerful each session. Imperial Assault is a bit more restrictive in its story arc, but keeps that measure of choice in the “side quests.” And both sides advance a bit each time, through the purchase of equipment and skills for the heroes and an increase in threat points available to purchase baddies along with “Influence” and “Experience” for the Imperial player. Along with this, players who are struggling end up on adventures where they can meet allies or earn skills that will help them as the campaign continues.
Over the course of the con, we played six adventures, with Kevin actually saying that this seemed like the best of the role playing board games. I was the Imperial player and won a few of the adventures, but the story keeps progressing nicely. I recognize the “knife fight in a phone booth” quality of some of the adventures, but, as the campaign continues, the scenarios become more diverse, one with a “shootout at the OK Corral quality” and one where Han Solo escapes his captors.(3)
Friday was a bit of a rough day. It started with a four player game of Mythotopia. This is the four player game using the A Few Acres of Snow deck-building mechanic set in a fantasy world. I have read on BGG about an end game problem. But we have played two player and three player, and, while it was evident that it could become a problem, it had not actually become one yet. Four players proved me wrong and the BGGers right. The end game took forever. It is clever to have an “end the game” action, but the game’s insistence that all battles be resolved before a victor is determined made the endgame an unmitigated mess. We ended up using the VP track to track potential VP, rather than actual VP, because the mental calculus required to determine whether or not one was winning and could consequently end the game, was getting pretty overwhelming with all the “hit the leader” battles on the board. I think deck-building is an incredible mechanic, and I really thought Few Acres had done something original and exciting in gaming. Actually, there is no “thought” to it. The use of the deck-building mechanic to simulate the management of colonial and imperial holdings was brilliant. Then the Hammer fell. Here was a chance to redeem himself and show this mechanic in its true light, but it fails, again, because of a problem that should have been obvious during playtesting. I love Martin Wallace, but his misses are the most disappointing kind, the kind where you realize that 80-90% of the game is one of the most original and exciting designs you have seen, but that 10% absolutely kills it. I’m not ready to write off Mythotopia yet, but I will never play it four player again. Add this to the Onward to Venus! problems, and I’m starting to wonder about Martin’s current design philosophy. Oh well, maybe Hands in the Sea will be what these other games should have been.
We followed this up with an excruciatingly epic game of Twilight Imperium. I still love this game, but, for me, the con is not the place for it. I think the next time I play this one will be a time where I invite people over specifically to play it, and to play it for eight hours. Long games can be great, and I have enjoyed TI3 in the past. But, at a con, whatever you’re doing, you see what everyone else is doing, and when it’s clear you’re not going to win TI, and you see everyone else playing other games, it becomes more and more unappealing to sit and continue playing for hours. When that is what you signed up for, and there are no other options presented, it suddenly becomes much more tolerable. Also, six players may be too many?
We then played one of my favorites – Through the Ages.(4) It was interesting and brain-burning as always. And, as always, the Sudys crushed the Whites. We’re getting better, but still have a way to go to match Sudy-level prowess.
We also played Splendor, which is a small game that packs a big punch. Collecting gems and gathering cards seems so uninteresting, but the simple gameplay creates challenges that make you keep coming back for more. Undisputedly my favorite new-to-me game of the con.
We closed the night with a late game of Infiltration. This game is quite a kick, and its grab and stab nature make it the perfect nightcap to a con’s day of gaming.
Saturday involved mostly new games, with one old favorite thrown in. We played two more scenarios of Imperial Assault (after which, Kevin speculated that it was the best of the roleplaying boardgames) and more Splendor. We also played one of our five player favorites, Battlestar Galactica, and, in hindsight, I can tell you that it is becoming clear that, when I am president, I am a Cylon.(5) After a very hopeful cruise to Cobol, players began the naïve claims that they “hope they’re not a Cylon.” Needless to say, the human fleet crashed and burned once again. Kudos to my Cylon brother Kevin, who was able to keep his identity a secret for a long time after I had revealed myself.
At this point, my nephew Brian arrived and we played a couple more five player games. The first was Tribune, which used cards in a variety of ways. I liked that each suit influenced a different faction in Rome and that these same cards served as a kind of currency. Frankly, there were too many options to clearly delineate in a AAR blog post, so that is in the game’s favor. What I did not like, though, was that it ended up being a very quick game, with Brian jumping out to get three (yes, we were playing the quick game) victory conditions very early. I realize that the longer game required four, but, as we figured it, he would still have gotten that fourth before the rest of us. This game definitely deserves another play due to the interesting variety of means to add to your hand and the variety of victory conditions (it takes a while to get the eponymous tribune, not sure why anyone would?).
We followed this up with Camel Up, which, while random, was a nice, fun diversion. I want it to play with my family.
We closed the night (after midnight) with Concordia, which I find a very interesting game. My "Euro-Fu” is not very good at this point, and I finished a distant fourth of five. Owen, my son, did NOT enjoy the game. I should have seen this coming, as he sees this as a Euro (I agree, with games like Splendor and Camel Up being more like classic "German games"), and he hates this type of game (he also hates Hansa and Hansa Teutonica).
A last comment about Prezcon: vendors. GMT, Columbia, Worthington, Mayfair (I think), and a small vendor selling a variety of games. But I am a buyer, and there just wasn’t enough. I am well stocked on Columbia, Worthington, and GMT. I would have bought: Splendor, Camel Up, the Mountains of Madness expansion for Eldritch Horror, an extra set of Imperial Assault dice, any of a variety of X-Wing figures, the Late Night Double Feature expansion for Smash Up, and Sentinel Tactics, and those wouldn’t have even been impulse buys! The low turnout of vendors was disappointing. I did, however, make one impulse buy: I bought a wooden box in which to roll dice.
Any way, it was my favorite PrezCon in years. Thanks, and (almost certainly), I’ll see everyone again in 2016!
(1) With Footnotes!
(2) Okay, that was the last sentence I wrote for this post. This is a LONG one! Sorry! I hope you have time read this novella!
(3) Interestingly, the last scenarios we played did something dangerous; they removed the “clock.” In the shootout scenario, there is NO clock, the endgame begins when the players do a certain thing. And in the Han Solo scenario, the only clock is when Han escapes, from there, he has a goal. But they both worked. In the shootout scenario, the players delayed activating the endgame until they had cleared some of my creatures. But I started my own clock; I began to work to wound them, one at a time. Surprisingly, both scenarios worked.
(4) If you are thinking “Why not Nations?” please, stop. Nations is okay, but it pales in comparison.
(5)Unless, of course, I am in a game with you. In that case, I’m definitely human.
This part of the list was interesting. FAB and COIN, two of my favorite series, along with co-ops, a mechanic I am getting sick of.
40. FAB Sicily
My least favorite of Rick Young’s designs (wait! I forgot Leaping Lemmings, which didn’t make the cut), this still comes in at 40. The FAB system is fascinating in itself, and Sicily is a mini-campaign that gets too little attention (well, until recently). This game also has an initially weak Axis side that deteriorates further during the game. How will you overcome this as the Axis player? That is the great challenge of this game. A good game that served as a nice segue from Bulge to the much-anticipated (by me) Golan. I may (spoiler alert!) revisit this mechanic in the future but the Special Action mechanic was a great innovation (cue the correction in the comments that Rick Young did not originate the concept…).
Diceless and timeless and endless. Really one of the most clever designs of all time, in my opinion. Each armed force will cancel out another armed force. The only way you win a battle is by having more units than your opponent. But the map means that, most of the time, when you’re in conflict with another player, you’re evenly matched. In other words, you need to ask other players to help you to distract or overwhelm your opponent. The problem, of course, is that this game could continue forever. Finally, remember the axiom of Diplomacy: if you stab, stab deeply. (Quick note: since I started reading Playing at the World, I discovered how important Diplomacy was as an incubator for some of the ideas of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D overuses dice and had an incredible inflated rules set when it became AD&D. So what did these guys see in Diplomacy that inspired something like D&D? I think it may have been the semi-role-playing element of being a head of state (or at least a well-connected representative). It also may have been the open-ended nature of the negotiations and the further dimension of the “stab.” Finally, remember the axiom of Diplomacy: if you stab, stab deeply. )
38. Arkham Horror
All right, I know. One of THE examples of Ameritrash. But I really enjoy it. An example of what I might call “design opulence.” The game has a ton of bits, especially when it first came out. A number of these are cleaned up in the smoother Eldritch Horror (spoiler alert for corrections post!), but the original will always have a special place in my heart. This game was the first co-op I enjoyed, largely because each turn brought decisions: where to go, what to do. Do I go into a gate? Will I survive? Where do I place my characteristics for this turn. I also have to admit a bit of a fanboy excitement going up against Cthulhu or Azathoth. The cooperative game is really entering a glut in my opinion, but this was an early entry in to the genre that deserves its due (I’d play this over Knizia’s Lord of the Rings ANY day).
37. Battlestar Galactica
I don’t know why I keep playing this game. My son is always a Cylon. And, whenever I start as President, I’m one too. The game itself is only marginally interesting, with crises that need to be resolved by the play of certain combinations and totals of color cards. Cylon fleets show up. We shoot them down and escape. But the game hinges on the sleeper agent aspect. But this game always leads to some of my favorite game experiences. One of the best parts of the game is that sometimes you don’t know that you’re a Cylon until you’re halfway back to Earth (of course, if you love “All Along the Watchtower,” you know – you just know). The cooperative game is really entering a – oh, wait, I’m repeating myself. Any way, another good entry in the field. This is one of the games that has pre-empted my like of other games. For instance, when we played Dead of Winter this year, after it was over, my first thought was “well, I’d rather be playing Battlestar.”
36. Napoleon's Triumph
Fascinating and puzzling in its simple rules that lead to such complexity. My love of this game starts with its blocks and their resemblance to the battlefield movement illustrations from those history books from my childhood. I was hooked. Add to this the fog of war element and the simple (yet hard to parse) elements of facing and flanking and you have one of the most fascinating games out there. I’d love to play some time, so feel free to set it up for me. Oh, and feel free to teach me what I’m doing wrong.
35. Time's Up
This is my favorite party game. Wow, more spoiler alerts. Nothing higher than this. Love the three phases. Love the lists. My favorite part of the game is the one word round where every clue is do or die. And the “charades” angle is one that has led to a number of moments relived again and again (especially my sister-in-law’s clue for Sammy Davis, Jr. Let’s just say she tried to represent his glass eye.). My niece also invented a “super secret fourth round” where you still pantomimed the answer, but you did it under a blanket.
A family favorite of ours. Very simple mechanics lead to some cutthroat behavior. You get to move your pieces off the island. You have the oddly cooperative boat mechanics. You have a slightly variable end time. Not to mention that memorizing which of you meeples are worth how many points borders on impossible. My wife loves to send the shark after my swimmers, and we have a tendency to create a “Maginot Line” of sea monsters beside a particular shoreline to keep others from landing.
33. Age of Empires III
A classic worker placement game, and one of my favorites. One of the things I like here is that the game takes just the right amount of time. It means there is a lot to balance (fight natives or create colonies or prep for a colonial war?) but just about the time that I would get tired of it, we are rushing to the endgame. That’s a good design. Give me all I’m asking for and no more. Also was a pretty good computer game!
32. Ticket to Ride
So simple and so good, and another family favorite. I think it is good to draw randomly at times because of the fact that you can draw those wilds. But maybe I’m wrong. And, in the multiplayer, you had better grab up those key two space routes early or you will be suffering. Enough has been said about this classic, and I make no claims of being an expert on this one, so I’ll move on.
31. Andean Abyss
Consider this another spoiler alert for the update post to come after the list is complete. Andean Abyss is not my favorite COIN game. But it is the one that makes this list. Our group is split on COIN in general. It may be a game where you try to make progress, but all of your work for a turn is undone by your opponent. It may be a game where the random turn order and action availability can be crippling for one of the sides. But, for me, this game is one of the most fascinating explorations of uneven sides and “deals with the devil.” You cannot get stuck in a wrestling match with one opponent, or the other two players will take advantage. You also need to figure out early on what devils you need to deal with. And while it is a game of everyone staying pretty close, you need to try to time your push for victory for when the propaganda cards come out. It is a fascinating balancing act and one I find I enjoy. But, if you listen to Tom Grant’s I’ve Been Diced podcast, you’ll hear our group’s disagreement about the system as a whole.
Well, the list should have fewer head-scratchers from here on out. Although, since I made this list a while ago (and I will write a "correction" to address what I've learned since then when all is said and done), I still find myself scratching my head at times. Kingdom of Heaven ahead of Panzer Leader? That might get a correction? Polis at 50 and not higher? We'll see...
Any way - onward! Excelsior!
I really love this game and do not play it enough. The combat system is simple, but this is, at its heart, a two player economic game. It is, in many ways, a true hybrid. Hybrids many times veer too far in one direction or another. For instance, Friedrich may veer too far into the wargame territory (which is why I like the game), and Shogun/Wallenstein veers too much into Euro territory (very hard to attack someone, very limited opportunities to take forceful action in the game). Polis hits it just right. I’m not arbitrarily limited in what I can do, and the economic engine driving the game is simple in practice, but very difficult to master. I guess the reason I like this game while disliking Shogun is that this game allows me to foolishly push into myself into an untenable situation. Check it out, if you haven’t yet.
49. Neuroshima hex
Another fascinating game, one where my plays have come almost exclusively on the iPad. The game has the simple hex-shaped pieces, where each has a specific, seemingly simple effect. But the combination of those effects makes for an intense playing experience. Shield, web, range, even when and how to attack, all seem so simple, but, the more you learn the game, the more difficult the game becomes. Also one of the best iOS apps EVER! (Cue Comic Book Store Guy – “Best. App. Ever.”)
48. Panzer Leader
Here’s how I got started in wargaming: my grandmother went to Kay Bee Toy and Hobby and bought me Panzer Leader. She gave it to me for Christmas. I played my cousin and my father. And I played solitaire. A lot. I was a bit confused because it was the first game I played where the rules weren’t printed on the outside of the box. The counters were evocative and maps seemed unlimited! They were modular. This game plays fast, where burning wrecks can pepper the battlefield. I played it again in the past few years and had a blast (while recognizing its dated nature). People are still trying to capture what this game had to offer, which says a great deal about its impact. If you set up a scenario, I’ll play!
47. Kingdom of Heaven
Interesting that a game I have trouble getting to the table appears so high on the list. This one takes the old CDG in a new direction and I love the scenarios offered by the game. The Crusades are an interesting period to wargame (especially certain Crusades – like the Third), and this game gives a great opportunity to wargame the various aspects that make the Crusades such a fascinating period. I also am a fan of using points on cards for a variety of purposes and having one action have multiple effects. This game delivers on that in spades.
46. Richard III
This is the descendant of the excellent Hammer of the Scots. The map has a few more spaces and the “nobles” system in this one is a bit more complex. I like the general Hammer system, and it fits this game well. But I would have loved to have seen more Jerry Taylor on this design. I understand the advantages of having similar rules between games, but this game ends up being overshadowed by its important ancestor. That said, the game has that same balance of winning battles while controlling nobles. And there are a variety of units here that make the game interesting and layered.
45. El Grande
What is the game doing in the top 50? For a number of years, this was my favorite Euro game. I like the area control mechanic in general, and this game adds the decision wheel, the cards, and the Castillo to create an fascinating experience. It is still a Euro, which can be frustrating, but, while old, it is still one of the best. But the nature of the game leads to a great deal of direct conflict. And, to me at least, this seems heavily themed. An example of the best of what traditional Euros have to offer.
And this one is one I have trouble resigning myself to having one so low. I LOVED Titan for a long time. I still love the original, Dave Trampier artwork (did you know that each piece is uniquely drawn?). I love the split between the strategic map and the tactical Battlelands. I love the summoning and the unique personalities of the different monsters (only brought out through speed, combat dice, terrain affiliation, and unique characteristics like flying or range). I also love the summoning “tree,” limiting what you can do while forcing you into unique choices. The only reason this one doesn’t get to the table is its series of what are considered cardinal sins today: long (very long) playing time, player elimination, and (completely overstated in this case) rolling to move. Get [geekurl=http://colossus.sourceforge.net]Colossus[/geekurl] (the Java program). Get the iOS app. Play it on [geekurl=http://acts.warhorsesim.com]ACTS[/geekurl]. The game is a great one.
Note: In a comment below, Eric Brosius notes that all of the problems go away when played two player. Couldn't agree more! Thanks, Eric!
43. A Victory Lost
This is another game that feels like you are flying through it as you play. The chit pull command system can cause some frustration and chaos, but it works and can be ameliorated by careful planning. Armies fly around and attack each other. Add to this the Masahiro Yamazaki-like Zone of Control rules and you have a very tight game that can be blitzkrieg on certain fronts of the battle and grind it out trench(ish) warfare on other fronts. A very interesting and entertaining experience, this one is also important because it is one of the first brought to Multi-Man Publishing in their IGS series of Japanese wargames. I am disappointed by how little attention this series gets in general sales, because it has made Multi-Man much more than a one-trick pony of a company. I’ve often thought if I had to rank game companies, MMP might actually be at the top. Sure, it has ASL, but it also has the Gamers and their throwback designs and this fascinating series.
42. Hearts and Minds
The first edition has huge component issues but is a very interesting game. I like its unique take on the cards driving the game, with decks that are split between communist and U.S. – allied, with a third deck that is split between the two sides. You add to this an interesting and unique Op economy and a decision about when and how to play campaign cards. A lot of clever takes on the genre. Each side is unbalanced, and the U.S. (blue) player really feels like he is trying to control an insurrection. I wish I had the second edition, if for no other reason than the map is more appropriately sized. Components do get in the way of the play experience, which is something of an anchor holding this one so low on my list.
41. Settlers of Catan
What has not been said about this game? It is still a good deal of fun and really was my first exposure to some important gaming concepts (when you say “no combat” you mean what? Wait. You mean NO combat?). I loved the “tipping point” end of the game, where when you reach ten points, you feel like you have just got your engine (as simple as it is) going. It's not quite the "you win when you have a clear advantage" system of the first war-games, but it is better than the "crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentation of the women" style of the 80's. I also like the simplicity of the rules and their complex implications (like a hex could fit three settlements, unless you play that extra road to make sure that it only fits TWO settlements!), and the easily underestimated progress cards. Where this one gets into trouble is when people take it too seriously. Part of the fun is the crapshoot gathering of material and part of the game is maximizing your output as your structure of settlements grows. Want an exercise in frustration? Put all of your settlements around two numbers. You’ll get huge payouts infrequently, but you’ll spend a lot of time lamenting the fact that your numbers don’t come up.
Taking a short break from my top 100 to give two AAR’s. Pseudocon was two weeks ago, so that will my first reflection, and, next week, my son and I will make the trek for our yearly gaming holiday, the WBC.
So, how did Pseudocon go? I really should take the time to reflect right after the event, but our “head count” for Friday was 19, and Saturday was 23. I am not sure, but I think some of the Friday attendees were unable to return on Saturday (but, now that I think about it, I can only think of one who didn’t return). Again, I should keep stats, but this is one of our stronger years for attendance. Twenty-three is a lot to put into my house, but, at the height, we had tables going in my game room, my dining room, my kitchen, and two in my basement. A packed house for sure.
So, on to the games:
Scott actually showed up. He showed us some pictures of his son (less than a year old, and adorable), and seemed ready to get back to gaming when his family commitments lessen. So, in about 18 years. Since I had not seen Scott since last Pseudocon, I jumped to suggest Napoleonic Wars, and played Austria/Russia with Kevin’s France and Scott’s England. We played 2nd edition, which we had spent some time on the podcast bad-mouthing years ago. I still don’t love the “Capitulation” card, as well as the odd “aquatic merchant” cards, whose power is dependent on control of a certain set of cities. The cheapening of resources seems to have ended up a positive, where they actually are spent more now than they were, improving game flow.
In this particular game, France started well, but lost a key battle for Vienna, where Napoleon was actually killed. In the second turn, he was eventually rebuilt, but things had really gone sour for Napoleon at that point and, for the first time, I saw Napoleon Abdicate! Long story short, I ended up actually winning the game. Kevin claims this is three in a row, but I’m not so sure…
The evening gamemoot allowed me to put forward Eldritch Horror. We picked up four players, but Yog-Sothoth pretty much kicked our butts. This game gets streamlining right, removing the unnecessary “Tylenol pill” sliding gauges for the stats. Also, gates are a one-time affair, rather than getting in, moving through, then getting out. I hope to continue to play this one. My group is not big on cooperatives, but I like the theme here, and, after our initial win a couple of weeks ago, the drubbing we got this time means the challenge is definitely there.
Friday night began to get ragged toward the end, with some people leaving, others players playing longer games, and a few of us looking for a game. Chad, always at the ready, pulled out Among the Stars, the interesting card drafting game about building space stations. I did not do very well, but I really enjoyed it. It did scratch the same itch as 7 Wonders, but the different score-keeping method, the money, and the power cubes made it a unique and enjoyable experience.
We ended up talking late into the night about gaming and podcasting, two subjects near and dear to my heart.
Saturday is always interesting. People show up at 10am, others at 11, others at 12-12:30. It’s great gaming, but the first “moot” is not always as organized as on Friday.
Our first game was a quick session of Smash-Up while we waited for people to arrive. This game is fast becoming a go-to filler for me. It’s a bit random due to a number of cards that, while somewhat capable of being constructed into strong combos within its own deck, end up interacting strangely, especially as your opponents’ cards are factored in. In fact, with more players, the game state becomes less and less predictable between your turns. But it is a quick game and the very unstable game state makes it interesting to examine from turn to turn. I think I may be buying some expansions before WBC (even though this is Owen’s game).
With the staggered showing up times, we started a Struggle of Empires game at five players, which grew to six, then to seven by game start. A lot of rules explanation made the first war take forever, but the second and third ones went quickly. At the start of the first war, I helped to crush the opposing alliance out of Central Europe. There were neutrals to conquer, but the player was weaker. Rationally, this was the right move, but there is a psychological component in any multi-player game that is more difficult to account for. Stuart and Ron crushed me out of two places as a reaction. It may have been the right move each time, but I’m pretty sure that, if I backed off in Central Europe, I might not have paid such a high price. The first war ended with me at the back of the back by a significant margin. I had to either shape up or I would be sitting there, bored and out of the game, for hours. I decided to go the Scott route and just build up my military. Militia/Improved Agriculture were a powerful combo for this. I kept building and building. I got Logistics and Army Training. And I made a “bum rush” at the end. I thought of myself as Omar Little from The Wire. I wasn’t the major player, but, when I showed up, people noticed. As Joe said, “Omar comin’.” I was a point-grubber, which I actually enjoyed as I had no interest in king-making, and I was not held responsible for such. My whole goal was to gain points that others lost. My economy of play led to a massive comeback, where I finished third before the surprising unrest reveal found me with the second most unrest, and I ended up a satisfied fourth. I’d rather win, but playing well and remaining relevant was worth the time.
One more game before we reached the “play until we drop” phase of the con. Tom Grant had brought his Galaxy Defenders set and we had a blast playing. A lot of the fun in a co-op has to do with the group, and this one was a darned good one. We had TJ, Tom Grant (who was soon replaced by my friend Alan), Chad, Richard, and I. It started with TJ taking a female character with a huge halberd-like weapon. He referred to her, in his own inimitable way, as “Hussy McSliceypants.” I, through the wonders of randomness, was the character named “Hulk.” Pretty soon, we were talking about our 70’s action show, “Hussy and Hulk.” We imagined that we would have a Jeff Beck, 70’s grooving theme that involved driving a moon buggy into a sliding side-stop, Hussy jumping out, pulling off her space helmet and shaking her flowing locks, followed up with Hulk jumping over some metallic boxes to escape an explosion. Through all the goofing, we were able to complete the first mission. The hope is that the cast re-unites for episode 2 at WBC.
At this point, we actually were able to organize another gamemoot. Kevin and Scott are big fans of Battlestar Galactica, so that’s what we ended up playing. It was a pretty good game, with AJ (Kevin’s son) and I playing a fully human administration. Of course, once we got to Cobol, it all got screwed up. We were so far along! Scott announced he had been a Cylon all along, and soon Kevin joined him. We were crippled suddenly, and too far down on one of the dials (I think it was Morale? Or Fuel?). We had heard reports of Earth, but the Galactica went down in flames against the Cylon hordes.
At this point, about 10pm on Saturday night, approximately 12 hours of gaming have been going on. It really is the few and the proud at this point, and the gaming is light. TJ had brought Bang! The Dice Game, so we started with two plays of this. I think Bang is a pretty good hidden role game, but the Dice Game seems to do everything Bang! does (minus some annoying things like Barrels and such) in a quite streamlined and expedited manner. We played twice, and I think I will play many more Bang the Dice Game sessions before I play another Bang the Card Game session (note that this does NOT include Samurai Swords, which I will try to get on the table at WBC).
And we closed with another favorite of mine, Coup. Two sessions. This game presents an interesting (to me) psychological experiment. It’s clearly about trust and risk based on that trust. I identified it as a kind of “prisoner’s dilemma,” but I don’t thin that works. A prisoner’s dilemma would imply that both parties could benefit from cooperation, but that’s not really true here. I’m not sure whether there is a corollary idea, but this is a situation where you take risks in gauging whether or not your opponent is lying. If you are willing to take the chance that they are, and you are right, they suffer mightily. If you are wrong, though, you suffer mightily. It’s more a psychological “chicken.” Any way, for fifteen minutes, it can be quite entertaining. (I don’t think I’ve ever won though!)
So, that’s my Pseudocon AAR. Look for a WBC AAR in the next couple of weeks, then it’s back to the top 100, and it’s all downhill from here (50 down to 1).
Before I get started on my list, there are a couple things I'd like to mention...
First up, The Spiel is once again going through my favorite part of their podcast, their preview of the Spiel(s) des Jahres. I find that their SdJ coverage pretty much supplies me with my Christmas list, and the games they discuss in July get played during that week in December when my extended family is willing to play a game.
Also, with this list taking so long to post, it is evolving. You will start to see some comments like "maybe this one is too high" or "maybe this one is too low." And I've played a number of new games since I made the original list, some of them ones that I am remiss not to include. After I reveal my top ten, I'll go back and make corrections in a single post.
So, on to the 50's. I'm calling this the end of the beginning because this list marks a transition from games that I love that are flawed (like Illuminati and Nuclear War) to games in my top 50, which are, in looking ahead, pretty darned strong games. And, speaking of lovable but flawed...
60. Republic of Rome
This game has a mixed history for me (cough – kicked people out of the apartment in 1990 – cough), but there is a great deal to like about this game. First up, it is one of my favorite “genre” of games, the “co-op-etition” game. You must stick together to solve the various crises, but, as you do, whomever is being “used” to do solve the crisis is rising in power and influence. That senator’s increased power and influence make him both more effective AND harder to control (see Gaius Caesar of the house Julii). And that is just the start of the “everything good is bad for you” mechanic. The most effective way to get money? Skim it from farmer’s profits or from the expenditures on legions to fight whomever needs to be fought. And…suddenly you’re open to prosecution. There is a political aspect, a military aspect and an economic aspect. The only thing that keeps it at #60 and not higher are a couple of mechanics I loathe: a death chit pull at the beginning of each turn and the truly unfortunate “roll that almost always means nothing” (if you roll a 7 on two dice – random event time! – which is something else I’m not particularly fond of. Why not just make event cards, like the war cards but different? Or why not have something akin to a “Mythos” deck?)
What in the world is this one doing so high on my list? Well, it’s a different kind of guilty pleasure for me. When we first encountered this game back in the day (as they say), we disparaged it, calling it “Gingerbread Men,” as in, “You wanted to play this, but you’re stuck playing Gingerbread Men.” But that really undersold the game. Playing on Brettspielwelt and on my iPad gave me a much greater appreciation for the nuances in this game. A couple of things, though. First up, if you’re not playing with farmers, you’re not playing. Secondly, if you think this one is too lightweight, play the AI called “Count” on the iPad app. He’s merciless.
58. Twilight Imperium
Glad this one came up in the 50’s, as my sons and I are playing it right now. The third edition is the one I’m reviewing, just to be clear. Its insertion of a kind of “office selection” (much bemoaned by Joe Steadman in the early episodes of The Dice Tower) really adds something to the game and introduces a mechanic that comes out much more strongly (and, arguable, more effectively) in other games such as Rune Wars. The use of “Command Chits” to serve as an indicator of your max fleet size along with their expenditure for movement and for using the “offices’” secondary abilities is a great decision point. The variable “terrain” of he galaxy and the more-interesting-than-it-deserves-to-be setup are also positives. And who doesn’t like tech trees and exploration and empire building? It may be sacrilege but I’ve really enjoyed playing this three player (although the trade agreements are silly at that point). I’m afraid that six player would lead to too much sitting around waiting, and that’s what keeps it this low. I’m hoping to play a full game some time soon and re-rank this (warning – it could go higher OR lower).
In going back through my rankings, I am a little surprised that this one is rated so highly, given how rarely I play it. But I still think Besinque’s design is pretty darned cool. First up, it is one of the first block games to use the events or operations choice (as opposed to the Columbia games camp, where there is no choice on the card). Not only this, but you can split the way you spend your ops between activating units, building new ones, or sacrificing to the gods for an advantage (Okay, it’s thematic, but it pretty clearly simulates that the Greek gods had real-world effects. I don’t think that was the intention, but the mechanic fells more like it belongs in Cyclades or Khemet.). The game, through block characteristics and selection, does an elegant job of simulating the conflict between the sea power Athens and the more land based power Sparta. The main reason why I’m not playing this is that my two player game time is being taken up with other things (like ASL with Owen). I really need to pull this out and play it again.
56. Fighting formations
Another game I would like to play again. Many would put this below Combat Commander (#70 on my list), but I disagree. I think, again, the rules are wonderfully organized and easy to reference as needed. It’s not “Combat Commander with tanks,” as many thought when it first came out. It’s more Dominant Species with tanks. I guess. My favorite mechanic in this game is that you pay operations points for the different actions you attempt, but those points are at some level traded to your opponent who then gets to use them. It ends up being a swinging pendulum that is another variable to balance as you move your pieces around. The command system is also an interesting exercise in pacing and timing. Maybe more game than simulation, Fighting Formations works for what it is. I really wish it had more scenarios, though. I hope more games in this line come out, but I have heard nothing
55. Russian campaign
Classic. ‘Nuff said. Okay, maybe not quite ‘nuff. I have really enjoyed playing this game. The interestingly variable set-up (hiding units where they are NOT supposed to be, playing them late but having them be more effective) is one thing. The various routes to get victory points. The historical referent. The dangerous weather table. And, in addition to all of this, the race for points. This simplish (but long) game has so much going on and so much to balance as a player. This one probably is too low on my list, honestly.
54. Shadows over Camelot
I really have enjoyed this with my family. We have a great time cooperating and trying to solve the group problem. The knights have pretty interesting special abilities (I don’t see much use for Sir Palamedes, though), and the game presents interesting choices throughout. I am a fan of the “something bad happens, then you have an opportunity to do something good” mechanic.
My sons have been asking about this recently, due to the fact that there are “jokes about the Illuminati all the time.” Then my younger son encountered the word “fnord” in Minecraft. As for me, this is one of the games that got us through college (it was a simpler time, game-wise). I wonder how this game has aged… Regardless of that, the game was my first encounter with some game ideas I have come to love: variable player powers and personalities, different victory conditions for different factions, a certain number of actions on your turn and a few options for those actions, and, maybe too broad to be considered, the idea of your primary focus being building your own power structure with interactions with other players being limited to an as-needed basis. I may have to pull this out again. Please note that I’m talking about the second edition, before it became collectible, but after things like the Satanists were taken out.
52. Nuclear War
Linked with Illuminati in my mind (probably unfairly) is Nuke War. We played a lot of this. It was the definitive beer and pretzels game when I was in college. As one of our friends said, the best way to introduce yourself to someone is to hit them with a nuclear weapon. I know it’s largely a punchline from the 80’s. I know it has player elimination. But I really enjoyed this for a long time, so it still rates pretty highly for me.
51. Pitch car
If I still indulged in beer and pretzels (okay, I cannot tell a lie – I still love a good pretzel), this would probably be my game of choice. Simply flicking your car down a track. Of course, you can do something crazy like try to jump the track. Also, there a number of track additions out there. The only problem with this one is components-based. It is hard to keep the guides along the turns in place. If I could find a permanent solution to that problem, this might be permanently up in my house.
Also, Pseudocon was this past weekend. Expect an AAR soon... Had a great time, one of the best Pcons yet.
It's taking me too long to post these. Hopefully, this summer I will do better. Anyway, the 60's presented here represent a transition where the games listed begin to be ones that are just on the sidelines, ready to jump in to my regular rotation. Some, such as Combat Commander and Up Front, require me to find opponents. Others, such as Wiz War and Britannia, represent gaming at a different time in my life, games that I really enjoyed once but would play today for a sense of nostalgia (although Malefic Curses has me intrigued).
Anyway, on with the list!
70. Combat Commander
After my initially warm reaction to this game, and Scott’s and my cooling off after playing it, I came back to really liking this game. I can’t play it on that monster of a VASSAL mod, but I actually enjoy it quite a bit face to face. What is interesting about this game is that, like some others on this list, the boardgame community bemoans its randomness. But, at conventions, the same guys win again and again, despite a large field. Hmmm… Why IS that? Well, I firmly believe that it’s because this game is about controlling that randomness.Don’t get me wrong, this game is one where, if you want it to be totally random, it will be. But there are a number of ways to control this randomness. When we first started playing, seeing the next card on the deck seemed a silly ability. But now, it is an indispensable one. You can control how that next card gets played (maybe you take an unlikely shot because you know that next card is one you don’t want or need, for instance). You also need to discard aggressively and hold onto the cards you really feel you want. I do have to comment on one thing, though. I am frustrated by the praise of this game as being like real combat because of its unpredictability. If you think this game is realistic while ASL is unrealistic because of randomness, you haven’t played enough ASL. And the rulebook is the best designed I have ever seen. Period.
69. Up front
Combat Commander seems more like a remake of this game more than anything else, but that whole rulebook thing? Forget about it. This game’s rulebook is something of a mess. But it is a really great game to play. My friend Tom Grant mentioned on a recent podcast that this one gets the randomness right – that, in war, sometimes you do stumble into a stream. I’ll buy that. I also like this game because it is one of the most original re-imaginings of game space I have ever seen. It’s the first wargame without a map that I know of. Again, playing and discarding cards are key to controlling the randomness. And always expect a stream. I hear this one is getting a reprint soon. Well, at least it has artwork for one.
68. War at Sea
Another great system that (spoiler alert!) will have two games on this list. War at Sea is a deceptively simple system that leads to some interesting tactical choices. Some have called it “Dice at Sea” because of its seemingly chaotic and unpredictable combat system. But I would challenge you to play one of the better players of this one. You will find yourself hamstrung by your opponent’s positioning and all of your glorious die-rolling capabilities rendered useless.
67. Wiz war
Okay. Another guilty pleasure here. I bought this one on a whim way back for Psuedocon 2 or 3 (back in Joe’s house). We ended up loving the chaotic play. My edition is the 4th edition. I don’t win very often, but I have had a great time navigating the game’s chaos. It was also a pre-Magic magic-user card game, something we were starving for back in the early 90’s. (The year after I bought my copy, I remember standing at the counter of The Compleat Strategist in Falls Church, VA and holding a pack of Magic cards. Wiz-War had been such a hit with us that I almost bought a deck of what I thought might be a nice “next step” game for us. Then I heard it was collectible.) Another aspect of this game is its expandability. I bought all of the expansions (still not a big fan of artifacts, though). And the game was so expandable that my friends and I contacted Tom Jolly about the game and he sent us blank cards to design our own little expansion. I was in the middle of a long roleplaying phase and Wiz-War offered the perfect change of pace for our group.
This is, at its core, a fascinating game. There is a very powerful president who assigns money each turn and has his power brokers use their influence to have the governing body vote on the budget. It very quickly becomes a game of the haves and the have-nots, of people in “El Presidente’s” inner circle, and those out of it. The one recourse for the those out of power is launch a coup or assassinate El Presidente. The game is rife with little in-jokes and satirical jabs at the instability of banana republics, which lightens the mood of this cutthroat game immensely. The game would be higher if not for its problems. The playtime is highly variable because a coup devolves into a military conflict where key buildings need to be seized by one side or the other. The game can also leave a player completely powerless and out of contention, depending on the cards (I remember one PseudoCon where, after playing it, the thought passed through my mind that it was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. It contributed to my theory that PseudoCon Sunday is where games go to die.). It is the classic great game that tries to do too much and ends up becoming merely a good, and sometimes very good, game.
65. Blood bowl team manager
This is a game that is much more than the sum of its parts. It uses cards to their full effect. The rules are simple; on your turn, play a card in a legal space. But the cards themselves have unique abilities and values and you have to choose carefully which of the “games” in a given “week” you are trying to win. The game limits your actions, with you realistically only playing in 3 games in a week. Even if, somehow, you manipulate yourself into playing more than that, you only get the cards in your hand to play with for a round, and there just aren’t enough to go around. Sometimes you can’t hit the leader effectively. Sometimes you hit yourself to ensure you get certain bonuses (and it may cost you a particular “game”). The choices aren’t always easy, but they are a good deal of fun. Please don’t pitch it to your friends as “you’re the GM of a football team in the world of Warhammer.” Well, don’t pitch it that way if you want them to ever agree to play with you.
An excellent auction game. This simplish game really encourages long term planning and building your “civilization” carefully. I greatly enjoy the simple mechanics here with those typical Knizia twists. This is one I play more on my iPad than in person, but I would be willing to play a game pretty much at any time. This game also benefits from a shorter playing time, meaning that I am making meaningful decisions in a short time. If it were longer, it wouldn’t make the list.
Looking for that “gateway game” into wargaming? I think Ogre fits the bill well. The basic game of one ogre super-tank against a small group of defenders (purchased through points with some limitations as to unit types) introduces so much in so little time. There is a simple CRT. There are offensive, defensive, and movement values. There are terrain concerns. There are also difficult decision as to how to attack the ogre and how, as the Ogre, to best use your plentiful resources. A great, simple game. My love of it led me to one of my growingly problematic Kickstarter purchases. Anyone up for a game of the designer’s edition? Anyone know of a place I can rent a U-Haul in order to transport it over to your place?
Britannia is a game that helped get me through college, gaming-wise. I would also argue that it is incredibly influential. I loved the “every dog has his day” feel to this and its simple mechanics and play serves as one of the single most educational games you can play. You really get a sense of who is fighting whom (especially at game end, when Saxons and Danes have fought brutally and really open things up for William the Conquerer), and the interesting evolution of pre-Hastings English history. Off the top of my head, here are games that are descended from Brittania: Maharaja, Italia, Rus, History of the World (heck, the Ragnar Brothers name), and, less directly, Vinci and Small World. It is hard to tell whether people are trying to reproduce Barbarian Kingdom and Empire (with a shorter play time) or Britannia.
This is, in my opinion, Richard Berg’s best non-monster contribution to gaming. I know Mark Simonitch probably deserves the greater credit for Successors III, but the kernel of greatness was planted with the original. This game has so much that I love: multiple paths to victory, cards where you have options, the basic engine of Hannibal (leaders being activated by ops). The game is a bit chaotic and random at points (especially at setup), but the four player layout allows for players to use their armies and abilities to slow down the leader. This game also has that great feel of things progressing forward, and it usually ends with a line of players ready to win, and it usually has that fun series of comments like “if you didn’t win on your turn, I would have won on mine.”
Now, it's time to squeeze into those bell-bottoms, plug in those 8-tracks, and listen to your records backwards for those subliminal messages (I believe the line in question is "if there's a bog counter on your hedgehog..."). It's time for my lists to roll through the 70's!
I entitled this one "Misfits" because that's what these are. We have three punching above their weight (Ravenloft, Lost Cities, Last Night on Earth), and a few underacheivers (Shifting Sands and Crusader Rex). The list also has some "blasts from the past" that are probably overrated due to nostalgia (or is it "nostesia"?). Not to mention my most problematic listing - Twilight Struggle. I really need to learn to appreciate that game! Any way, here goes...
80. Lost cities
A simple two player game that I really enjoy on iOS. It is a great filler when waiting for others to show or a game to play with your wife (or son). The “financing” cards are a great mechanic, as is the deficit start for each "expedition" you begin. There are surprisingly interesting choices for a game where the whole game is place (or discard) and draw. I don’t want to overstate my love of this game, but it is fun for non-gamers and that early arrival for game night.
79. Last Night on Earth
This game is all about the experience. The game play is rather silly, but it does capture a campy zombie feel (think more Zombieland than Walking Dead). If you have a group that will play the roles up and not take it too seriously, it’s a rather fun game. Zombies populate the board, your characters slowly (or quickly) die off. The scenarios seem rather hard for the human players, but, hey, it’s a zombie game, and one of the better ones. In short, the camp makes it work. Oh, and don't go in the church -- it's a deathtrap.
78. Twilight Struggle
Much was made of my shrug when this came out. Since then, everyone has told me that I got this one wrong, that it is a great game. Many of my friends say it is one of their favorites. For the record, I have ALWAYS said that this was a good game. It was just one of the many games, that, when I’m playing it, I am thinking about playing something else, especially at that point in my gaming career. But I still think it is a good game, and probably one I need to play more. Things I like: the scoring cards (brilliant engine driving the game), the many things you can do with a card, the interesting decision about whether or not to play your card for an event (because your opponent will HAVE to play it as an event when it comes back). There’s a lot in this game, and I need to dig deeper into it. Now, if companies will just stop putting out new interesting games…
77. Cosmic Encounter
Okay – it’s 1988. Joe is in the early stages of becoming Friend of the Show Joe. In an afternoon of gaming with his high school buddies, Joe introduces me to the strange game of alien powers. There’s a cone (that flips!), little dots that are your troops, and planets for you to colonize. The one power I remember from that game is the accursed Fungus. I still like the game, especially it’s re-imagining of game space, where a map is only an abstraction. And I love the simple rules complicated by the powers. Recent plays have left me with large numbers of people (3 or 4) with co-victories, but with a fun ride getting us there. I’m glad we’ve dusted this one off recently. A couple of preferences: Mayfair or earlier editions please (I like reverse cones), and only one power.
76. Stellar Conquest
Okay – it’s 1989. My future wife has started her career at the EPA and I’m finishing school. My friend Tracey invites us over to play this space empires game he had just bought. In short, I loved it. The organization of the systems by star type channeled the randomness a bit, and probably is the forefather of things like Eclipse’s organization of systems. There was a great deal of bookkeeping, but the 4x elements of the game were entrancing. It inspired Master of Orion and a number of space empires. In short, it established what I consider a “game design grail”: the space empires 4x (NOT capitalized, mind you) game playable in a few hours. Everyone tries to fix this initial design and, as of now, only TI3 seems to have made a legitimate shot at it.
75. Rise and Fall
This spawned another grail game – Rise and Fall in a couple of hours. Okay, maybe it’s Barbarian Kingdom Empire in disguise (but I’ve never played BKE and Kaarin insists that Rise and Fall is not just a clone), and it again has a bookkeeping problem. But it succeeds at something I would like to see in a 4x game – fewer x’s! In this game there is a very limited “tech tree” (+1 or +2 troops? Or – gasp – do you take a penalty?), and there is no real exploration. You still expand, exploit and exterminate, though. The game has a set “time” where you become a kingdom (I believe it is turn 4 after you are a barbarian?) and a set time where you regret “sticking it out” until you become an Empire. This is Vinci in 6 hours, with a simple but effective combat system (not buckets of dice, more like cups of dice). As your kingdom grows, your pain begins. It’s hard to maintain troops! It’s more fun, but fewer points, to be a barbarian! Any way, this game guided me through college and through the first few Pseudocons. One of our favorites. Remember, pillage THEN burn!
74. Shifting Sands
Scott would disagree with me on this, but I loved this game once upon a time, and it makes it on this list because of what it does well. Let’s get out of the way what it does poorly – it has a problem that can appear in the Paths of Glory design tradition, where a series of cards in a certain order triggers a key event. Paths of Glory avoids this: it is great if the Russians capitulate or the Americans arrive, but not essential (as a matter of fact, I’m not sure the Americans EVER arrive these days). But there is a key mid-game moment involving the invasion of Malta where the timing is key and, among good players, can be the determining factor of the game. But enough negativity. What I love about this game is what it does well. I love the many spinning plates you have at any particular time, especially the multiple fronts. I also love the “chapters” of the game – Ethiopia early, then the middle east, then the Americans. It is the first game I know of to include these other fronts in an Afrika Korps game. Go get it, play it, and enjoy it until the Malta situation becomes a problem.
73. Crusader Rex
Another possibly flawed game that is great for a good long while. The third crusade is epic in its scale. It has heroes and villains – Richard the Lion-Heart, Saladin, Barbarossa. And the asymmetrical sides in this game are very interesting. The Saracens are generally hit and run – almost playing a guerrilla war, while the Crusaders are holding on for dear life until their actual crusades arrive. The game has certain choke points, and while the ABC Columbia rules system is overused in general, here it is still at the height of its powers. I have the first edition, but understand that the second edition fixed a number of “problems” the first edition, and have seen that the components are much nicer. This game has its issues, and definitely has a learning curve where one side or the other will be pounded until you figure things out. But the game levels out in the end into a very enjoyable experience. Don’t play Scott or Joe, though, they are sharks!
72. Castle Ravenloft
The first game on my list that falls under out Army of Northern Virginia category of “more fun than it has any right to be.” We played this wrong the first couple of times, allowing monsters to move and attack on EVERY players turn, not just the turn of the player who initially played the monster. It was Ravenloft appropriate survival horror, but not a very fun game. After we learned to play it properly, Castle Ravenloft became an interesting cooperative game. You get to roll a d20 without the baggage of playing D&D, you get minis to move around the map. You have seemingly well balanced challenge with each scenario. And it’s a game where you cheer, bite your fingernails and cheer your fellow players on. Not a brilliant game, but an eminently playable one. I put Castle Ravenloft on here because it is the first. After playing Wrath of Asharladon and Legend of Drizzt, Drizzt is probably my favorite, but this game gets the nod due to its originality.
71. Warriors of God
And the 70’s end with the one tournament I won at WBC. Probably should rate this higher just because of that! But I won’t. People criticize this game for being too random, but this is a game of managing randomness and making the most of it. Occasionally, you will lose a leader you really need, but, if you plan effectively, having the troops of an aging leader ready to be scooped up by a younger one, things will generally be okay. I like the area map and the interesting but simple combat system. It’s not the best game ever designed, but it is another one punching above its weight class. A very simple rules set that will punish a player playing without some serious planning. Also the first game on this list from the excellent IGS games at Multi-Man Publishing. If I had to rank companies, the IGS might just give MMP the nod over GMT. But I’m not ready to commit yet.
Before I get to the list, a brief note that we recorded a PrezCon AAR on I've Been Diced, so that should be posted soon.
Okay, crimp your hair, grab your Members Only jacket, and prepare as this list goes through its Eighties. (I suppose I could make Octogenarian jokes instead?)
Another fascinating short game. This game has VERY few cards (15 total in the game). The mechanics are simple, with each player having two face down characters. Their actions have certain game effects, ranging from rummaging through the unplayed cards, to getting extra money, to assassinating other characters. Each character has his or her own ability and some abilities cancel out others. Each player has to figure out how eliminate each opponent’s pair of cards through gathering money, bluffing about your ability and tricking your opponents into challenging which characters you have. The simple mechanics and “fog of game” make for a short, intense brain burner. Love Letter and Mascarade also use microdecks (my friend TJ was calling these games Nanogames or Picogames), but Coup is my favorite of the bunch. (Love Letter may not have appeared on this list otherwise. Just a little dry for me) (Note: Coup will move higher when I revise this list. The more I play, the more I enjoy it.)
89. Ace of aces
Going way back in time here with the Handy Rotary Series game, Ace of Aces. This WWI dogfighting game has each player with a book showing images of his opponent’s plane. You call out a maneuver, match it up with your opponent’s move, and flip it to the appropriate page. When you’re matched up correctly, you fire. This 1980 release was the first of these adventure books that I experienced (my first experience being reading about it in Games Magazine). It inspired sequels involving World War II planes and even modern jets (Jet Eagles, a game I played the heck out of in college). It also is the indirect progenitor of such cool battlebook games as Lost Worlds and BattleTech Science Fiction Combat Book Game (another college time burner). There were definitely little quirks and errors here or there (I believe the Warhammer had a huge problem in the Battletech books), but these were first person shooters before the first person shooter. The WBC had a drive to get Ace of Aces as a tournament and one year had a strangely open format. I played a few games in the tournament and the game seemed to have aged pretty well. I love this game for its cool mechanics and for all it ended up inspiring.
88. Nexus ops
This is the first one on the list with one of my favorite mechanics: changing, secret victory conditions. It also has one of my least favorite mechanics: the “king of the hill” aspect of attacking that central space on the board. But what I really like about this game is that it plays quickly. You start amping up your power, and it looks to become a slogfest between powerful players, and then, suddenly, someone reveals an objective and announces that he or she has won (hopefully that he or she is me!). Also, this is a great introductory game – either for future wargamers or (more likely) for future Ameritrashers. Hexes for the wargamers and Ameritrash minis, strategic decisions for the wargamers and chaotic victory conditions for the Ameritrashers. Good stuff and a game that I will play on occasion. My copy, unfortunately, still has that terrible plastic smell.
87. Puerto Rico
Yes, I know, I should be trashing this game. It is the poster child of the luckless, lifeless Euro. I can still hear Joe Steadman bemoaning Twilight Imperium III because it had become “too much like Puerto Rico.” But it’s still a pretty good game. It is the first game where I clearly saw that Euro aspect of creating your “Victory machine” and setting it into motion. I like the multiple paths to victory (although it’s really only two, isn’t it – build or ship), and respect the clean, crisp design. I also really enjoyed this when I first started playing it. This was the first time I had seen the elegant mechanic of “office selection,” especially where I would choose to do something and it would benefit everyone while benefiting me that little bit more. And that’s where the game gets enjoyable to me. Seeing my opponent let his stores rot on the doc rather than give me victory points by shipping, or even being trapped in a build phase where I had no money. Puerto Rico has a subtle give and take between players that is, at its best, quite enjoyable. I would still play this online, on my iPad, or in a quick, friendly game. But I do worry that the pool on this one is too “shark-infested” and that, in a game where the only real random component is the crop draw and player one choice, that these limited random decisions lead to a game that can become too programmed. So, I enjoy it, but it’s probably because I play it so rarely. And I plan to keep it that way.
86. City of Horror
If it wasn’t for the infernally inadequate components here, it would be higher. City of Horror is largely a negotiation game masquerading as a zombie game. The game play is simple. First, you choose a location to move one of the characters you control. Then you reveal your location and, clockwise around the table, you try to move to your chosen location. But locations fill up, both with zombies and with other players. If all of the player spaces are taken up, you go to the town square. Then, each area is resolved. If a zombie attack occurs (more likely as the game goes on), the characters present vote for who will not survive. After this, if there is loot, the surviving characters present vote to decide which character will distribute the goodies. So, deals are made both for survival and profit. And the game ends after only three turns. Unfortunately, the game has secret cards with relatively inscrutable icons instead of words. This becomes a challenge as you are trying to decide what exactly you will do with your turn, especially since you don’t want to reveal your cards to the other players.
No, not the Avalon Hill game from the 80’s (although I was tempted to buy a copy of the 80’s game at the Prezcon Auction store this weekend), but Knizia’s 1998 design (which was also available in the auction store). This game’s replayability largely comes from randomness, but the randomness is limited. Each map scores points slightly differently. And your “hand” of tiles dictates your available options each turn. But this is a definite “If I do this, he’ll do this, then I’ll do this” game, which I particularly enjoy. A clever, simple design.
I bad-mouth this game at times, but I’m probably overstating my objections. This is probably the best “Twilight Imperium but not Twilight Imperium” game. The ship displays (an innovation that by itself puts this game on my list) solve the ever-present bookkeeping problem in 4X games. You get to grow a space empire over the course of a few hours. What I don’t understand here is why my overall experience is a shrug of the shoulders. I enjoy about 70% of the game, but about 30% of the time I feel disappointed. It’s a game that works, but invites a more rich experience, in my humble opinion. At some point, we’ll hit the games that are, as we say in my gaming group, “punching above their weight class” or “better than they have any right to be.” Eclipse lolls in hte mid-80's on this list because it is a little flat. It is less fun than it has any right to be. Maybe when I sit down to a space empire game, I’m looking for something epic, which may only be attainable through wargaming or ameritrashing. And this game just comes off a little dry. So, I like it, it’s got a good beat, but I can’t dance to it.
83. Circus Maximus
It’s been so long since I played this, I wonder if I can comment on it fairly. If for only the nostalgia reason, it belongs. I love the opening chariot design element (will I be a sprinter or an attacker? Or will I try to be – gulp – balanced?). I also love flying into the curves then regretting it, whipping my opponents horses, or even seeing my poor driver be dragged across the finish line without his chariot. I know this type of game has been done better since, but I would still play Circus Maximus if it were proposed today. A great game that inspires your imagination. You feel like Ben Hur (or, sometimes, that other, evil guy) for a few hours.
After another play this weekend, I may have overrated this. Oh well, it stands at 82 for now. What makes Bohnanza unique is the “fixed hand” where you must play your cards in order (unless you are an effective trader). It’s a great trading game, one where you can wheel and deal. If you fail to deal, you will be stuck in an endless cycle of unprofitable bean fields. But you can keep the expansions. Haven’t played them, but part of the allure of this game is its simplicity. Please convince me I'm wrong in the comments. I didn't buy anything at Prezcon this weekend, so I have money burning a hole in my pocket!
You got your “take that” game in my “hidden roles” game! And this is a great example of "two great tastes that go great together," to overextend my analogy. While the icons need constant rules reference and maybe not the most well selected (does beer really increase your health? Or does it just feel that way?), the game is another simple game mixing simple mechanics into an interesting final product. I thought this was another Nuclear War when I bought it, but it is mostly about figuring out who your allies are. That’s what makes it interesting. Now, for a player aide…
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