A Developer's Diary

It's 2020 and over the course of this year, I'll take a deep-dive into the Top 10 Things I Learned as a Developer that I first discussed in my Board Game Design Lab (BGDL) interview in 2019. In 500-1,000 words every month, I'll discuss some of the challenges and successes with the business, The Professor's Lab, which I've grown over the past decade.

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Dec: Wrap-up and 2022 plans!

Joe Pilkus
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Virginia
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Friends, it's been a crazy, hectic, wonderful year!

Aside from gaming, which I did aplenty, playing more than 1,000 games, mostly on BGA thanks to Covid, there were a few other things dominating my life for which I feel incredibly blessed. Ping and I got engaged, we bought a house, a game for which I was the lead developer earned a runner-up recognition for a prestigious award, started a cafe, and I'm moving to Philly for a new job.

In May of this year, having been together for three years, I popped the question and Ping said "YES!" While there's plans in the works for a 2022 wedding, we needed to get through the rest of this year and all that it entailed. We'll have a small marriage ceremony on the 31st of Dec at the cafe with a few family members and friends. I'm so very thankful to have found someone who loves gaming, coffee, staying-up late, and traveling!

A few months later, we bought a house in the same development where the cafe would be situated later in the year. We ended-up buying the model home in the development and s there are houses still to be built, the builder is simply renting it back from us...which works out well, as I was in no position to move at that time.

Throughout parts of 2020 and well into 2021, I worked with Marcel Kohler out of the Netherlands on his title, Orange Shall Overcome which is a pick-up and deliver game set against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands and the Resistance of the Dutch people. It's a well-crafted and curated game and was over the top pleased that it earned a runner-up position for the Zenobia Award!

Earlier this month, Ping and I, along with our partners started a small cafe in Darley Green/Claymont, DE ~ Java Bean Cafe! We offer coffee, sandwiches, and bowls, inspired by our chef with a background in Asian Fusion. A former Executive Sous Chef at a few Steven Starr restaurants in Philadelphia, now provides exciting dishes to a community that has never had a cafe for more than 40 years!

Finally, I'm moving back to the city of my birth having been away for a half-lifetime ~ I've been away for 27 years and I'm 54...simple math I'll again serve in a managerial role, this time leading a team of linguists at the FBI's Philadelphia Feild Office. On the weekends, you'll find me at the cafe, so I'm going from working five days a week to seven, but the other two days, I get to serve coffee and talk to people...two skills I've honed pretty well for the past few decades.

I'm taking a hiatus on game development until Summer 2022 as I focus on my new job, the cafe, and of course, as always, my lovely bride, Ping. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and I leave you with a few pics from 2021.

Cheers,
Joe

From gallery of The Professor

Me sporting the shirt designed by Ping ~ which will also be Merch in 2022

From gallery of The Professor

Our Philly Sunrise sandwich which has proven wildly successful

From gallery of The Professor

The partners, Chef Calvin, Kathy, Ping, and me

From gallery of The Professor

Our Soft Opening Celebration for Friends and Family with our actual 1st Day ~ 12/12/21
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Thu Dec 30, 2021 2:55 pm
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Nov: #10-#1 ~ The best of the best!

Joe Pilkus
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Welcome to the end of November 2021! Here in the U.S., we're still slowly recovering from the self-induced food coma caused in no small part by our Thanksgiving dinner. I hope that those here in the States enjoyed time with friends and family and for everyone, I certainly hope that you had the chance to get some great titles to the table. I've continued playing quite a few games via BGA with no less than a dozen titles going at any one time. Well, after many, many months, we've reached the end of the list and now you can read about my #10-#1 game in my library. These truly are, in my opinion, the best of the best!


#10 B-17 Flying Fortress Leader by Dean Brown
From gallery of The Professor

It is no surprise that a military war game would make it into my Top 10 and while one might expect a strategic-level game to do so, especially as I served as the Lead Developer for the magnificent opus, The War: The Pacific 1941-45, my #10 does absolutely everything right at the tactical level. From selecting your planes and crew, to plotting the missions, and choosing the armaments best suited for the raids, I can play an entire scenario over several hours, enjoying the sounds of the Big Band era, while studying the map for my next moves.

Designer's Note: In my opinion, it's difficult to capture the exhilaration and fear associated with a 1940s bombing run in the skies over Germany, but B-17 Flying Fortress Leader delivers every time. For designers, I challenge you to create a game which possesses this level of excitement.


#9 Spirit Island by R. Eric Reuss
From gallery of The Professor

This title serves as one of only two cooperative games in my Top 10 and it does it in a fundamentally different way. First, it takes the colonialism trope used in so many other games and turns it on its head, in both a refreshing manner and one in which you are not only defending the indigenous people of the island but actively working with them to rid the shores of the potential oppressors.

Designer's Note: For would-be designers, taking a theme which has proven problematic in some circles and turning it around is both an interesting exercise, but one that you may actively pursue with your own title.


#8 Orléans by Reiner Stockhausen
From gallery of The Professor

So many paths to victory...from building trade houses around the entirety of the French countryside to gaining knowledge along the Book track makes this title so beloved. Orléans is so well constructed that if played decently, the scores are often exceptionally close, sometimes coming down to a few coins or a few items in one's inventory. The bag-building aspect adds some of the only input randomness in the game and it's such a delight pulling out your workers for the round and making a determination as to how they'll be utilized. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cooperative expansion which in a word, is perfection!

Designer's Note: I love the general simplicity of the rules and the bag building element makes this one truly outstanding. Turn order matters so very much in the game and watching what other players are doing to can prevent ruin.

#7 Troyes by Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, Alain Orban
From gallery of The Professor

I discovered, especially in light of my Top 10, that I absolutely love dice selection. Troyes is a masterpiece for those that love dice, input randomness, and tough decisions. In some games, money is plentiful and in others, you find yourself penniless at times. Turn order matters, as well, in this title and with the right amount of well used Influence, you can definitely help yourself on the board.

Designer's Note: Long before we had small deck challenges, this amazing trio of designers provided us with enough variability using only nine cards (three cards per each of the three [I, II, and III] eras). It's exceptional and serves as a perfect example of less is truly more.


#6 Nations by Rustan & Nina Håkansson and Einar & Robert Rosén
From gallery of The Professor

While anyone who follows me knows my critique of Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is quite scathing and for good reason. The wrong card chosen or simply ignored can be the difference between barely breaking 100 points versus crossing over 300. As a designer, I find that unconscionable...but to each his own. With that, Nations will never (and I mean ever) leave my collection because while the story unfolds before you like that other title, it does so in a way which doesn't appear to be a knife fight in a phone booth. The eras are clearly demarcated, the cards have a bit more substance to them than just a generic form of government or aspect of the arts. While the use of resources is almost identical between the two games (food and ore), the use of money to purchase cards instead of the government derived white cubes is more appealing. While there are other similarities such as Leaders, building Wonders, and obtaining territory, the area that diverges the most is in the area of conflict and I think Nations handles it exceptionally well in that it's never brutal (unless you're not paying attention).

Designer's Note: Don't be afraid to enter an arena where there may be a title standing in the ring, otherwise uncontested, as you may bring something to the genre which makes it not only different, but better for many players.


#5 Coimbra by Flaminia Brasini and Virginio Gigli
From gallery of The Professor

Again, dice selection...but in tiny little castles! I love the playmats as they are streamlined and manage to account for the only two resources (military and money) in the game; provide a place for all acquired cards; and serves ostensibly as a player aid! It's such a great title and because of the set-up it has massive variability and replayability. While I believe the designers missed an opportunity to name all of the cards drawn from history, we have fun naming them ourselves, such as Orange Count de Money and the Purple Cleric of Meeple-Moving.

Designer's Note: I'm glad this title exists but I don't need to see anything else quite like it. Having said that, there are elements worth thinking about for your own designs, including the ranked order of dice, once placed and a card market as it's implemented in Coimbra


#4 Gaia Project by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag
From gallery of The Professor

As evidenced by where this places in my Top 10, it's a collection essential. Unlike Terra Mystica which is a fine game and places very high here on BGG, I feel as though Gaia Project does everything much better. The DNA is evident from the way you change tiles in one game to terraforming in the other; the use and cycling of Power; and of course the tracks which reward either the devoted or inspired civilizations. In the end, however, Gaia Project is just a better game for me. The board doesn't feel anywhere as claustrophobic as compared to its older sibling. The cycling and use of power seems (and probably is) more intuitive in the space-based version. Finally, instead of doling out precious few rewards in Terra Mystica, making the tracks to me at least an afterthought, in Gaia Project those rewards are a forethought and I can plan my entire turn around them.

Designer's Note: If you've published a game and it's well-regarded, it doesn't mean that you can't make changes...especially if they promote a better version of the original and that's what you have with Gaia Project.


#3 Nemo's War (Second Edition) by Chris Taylor
From gallery of The Professor

Far and away, this is the best narrative-driven solo game on the market...period! Having read Verne's famous book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, more than three decades ago, to live vicariously through the life of this fictional scientist-adventurer makes for a truly memorable experience. I've managed to get Nemo's War (Second Edition) to the table quite a few times in the past 18 months, ironically thank to Covid as I worked from home for a large chunk of that time. Admittedly, I don't sacrifice my crew as often as I should nor do I take the risks often associated with Verne's protagonist. Meanwhile, the hours slip past me as I reveal yet another card, read its contents, and pore over the possible machinations of my next move...it's a brilliant design!

Designer's Note: Good luck to those who have attempted such an undertaking in bringing to life a book published more than a century ago. The likes of Isaac Childress and Ryan Laukat should be commended for the attempts they've made in their work, but far and away, Nemo's War (Second Edition) is head and shoulders above them in providing a rich narrative to the Gaming Table.


#2 La Granja by Michael Keller and Andreas Odendahl
From gallery of The Professor

At the great risk of offending a significant number of folks who love Uwe Rosenberg's titles, La Granja is farming done right! Gone are the difficulties of feeding your ever-growing family...so much for prosperity. With La Granja, it's all about careful timing, resource management of the highest order; and the delicious decisions associated with the multi-use cards.

Designer's Note: Whether I win or lose this game (and admittedly I have a very good win record), I absolutely love the decision space which every designer should put into their games. Moreover, from a component standpoint, having octagons of your player's color representing everything from pigs to olives to grapes is a masterstroke in game design.


#1 Arkham Horror by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson
From gallery of The Professor

Having played this title more than 300 times in the past decade, with nearly 250 of them played solo, Arkham Horror stands alone among the game most played and at the zenith of all games in my collection. It has tension, a wonderful array of characters/Investigators which provide asymmetry, and dice...as a long time RPGer and wargamer, I'm no stranger to output-randomness, nor do I break out in hives like some Eurogamers at the thought of their precious plan failing due to a bad die roll. Gather your weapons and your wits as it's tie to return to the dark side of Massachusetts and let me see Sister Mary on a motorcycle careening down the street of Arkham wearing a gold cross and brandishing a shotgun!

Designer's Note: Few, if any, designer teams have I genuinely loved more than Launius and Wilson and their 2nd Edition of this incredible game has brought more memories to this gamer than the next 30 titles on my list combined.


And just like that we're on the cusp of December. It has been quite a ride and quite a year. Thank you to those who joined me and those who have played these games with me over the years that helped form my judgments and assessments. While I'm not one to record plays, I know intuitively that dozens of gamers, across hundreds of games, over thousand of hours have made life so incredibly wonderful and rich through nothing more on the table than cardboard and meeples. But around the table, incredible humans...one and all!

I'm excited for the next chapter and the 2022 Blog which I'll talk about next month. For now, take care of yourselves and Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor


B-17 Flying Fortress LeaderSpirit IslandGaia ProjectArkham HorrorLa GranjaNationsTroyesOrléansNemo's War (Second Edition)Coimbra
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Sat Nov 27, 2021 11:54 pm
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Oct: 20-11 ~ Which of these could break the Top 10?

Joe Pilkus
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It's October and I'm excited for two reasons...first, my birthday was yesterday and second, we're that much closer to opening our café in Claymont, DE. The birthday was really great, thanks for asking; I had a few delicious meals and played games both on-line and at the pub. Regarding the café, we've been taste-testing the cuisine, taking many pictures and showering social media with them, and performing costing to get the prices just right. Now, with a short reprieve between festivities, I'm turning my attention to #20 - #11 in the Top 100 countdown. This month favors the history of the world or the history of our yet-to-be-written future.

#20 The Castles of Burgundy by Stefan Feld
From gallery of The Professor

No one is surprised that this title is in my Top 20. This is a game that I teach relatively quickly after introducing new gamer to the hobby, after playing such title as Barenpark, Azul, or even Ticket to Ride. The simple actions, coupled with the beautiful pieces make this one a hit and I've enjoyed it at all player counts, and isn't something I can say about many games in my collection.

Designer's Note: Anyone who has sat at my gaming table or heard me wax philosophic about gaming in general knows that I love both input and output randomness. However, I don't particularly enjoy output randomness, outside of military war games or RPGs, where the designer hasn't thoughtfully crafted a die result mitigation system, and Feld is a master of ensuring that a player isn't crippled by the vagaries of those adorable cubes.


#19 Trajan by Stefan Feld
From gallery of The Professor

This was a surprise one for me, having only learned it from my friend, Jennifer Stearns at PiranhaPigCon 2020. We played a 4-person (all 'J's, including Jennifer, Joanna, Jill, and yours truly) game and while I barely eeked out 100 points, I was madly in love with the game. The thing that set this game apart for me was the rather explicit way in which you can pursue one, some, or all, of the mini-games presented in such a non-complex fashion, from the Trajan tiles, to shipping, to construction, to military. I have won (and lost) this game focused on only two of the myriad actions or a balanced game-play engaged in all of them.

Designer's Note: Balancing all of these actions wasn't easy, and I'm sure rabid player of the game have found some way to always win, but I'm also not at all interested in playing with them. With this title, there's a wonderful balance of input randomness and the ability to discover new ways of engaging with the title at every opportunity.


#18 Star Wars: Rebellion by Corey Konieczka
From gallery of The Professor

This title makes my heart happy, as one who grew-up in the late 70s and 80s where Star Wars was a staple of my youth, having memorized the original movie's script by heart at age 10, and following the next two movies (V and VI) in short order over the next few years, tracking the life of teenage Joe. What is great about the game is that it doesn't have to subscribe to playing out the movies, but anyone playing the game can absolutely recall nearly similar-to-identical situations from the movie occurring during game play. For me, it's such a faithful rendering of three exceptionally iconic films.

Designer's Note: To my knowledge, Corey isn't steeped in war game knowledge, but he did a magnificent job of providing a die-based system for satisfying the various missions and combat, with the ability to turn the tides with cards played for both space and ground combat. For me, the mix of these two mechanics make this one a wonderful game.


#17 1775: Rebellion by Beau Beckett and Jeph Stahl
From gallery of The Professor

As you've already noticed by the number of games which have been explicitly war game like or have had a military component, this is at the heart of my gaming passion, especially as 75% of my development work for the past decade has focused on war games across all periods of history. This title ha a special place in my heart, not only for its smooth gameplay and one that I can get to the table with anyone, even those unfamiliar with classic war games. Moreover, it's one that I can and did get to the table on several occasions with my daughter, Kat.

Designer's Note: Beau and Jeph has managed to do the somewhat impossible and this is coming from someone who has worked on more than 60 military titles and played thousands of hours of military war games during the past four decades: Distilling the essence of both movement and combat to a small selection of cards per turn, while providing a few well-researched historical cards which provide excellent context to the entire enterprise.


#16 Lewis & Clark: The Expedition by Cédrick Chaboussit
From gallery of The Professor

I enjoyed this one so much on-line last year with friends, Cheryl, Dave, and Rachelle, that I bought a previously owned copy from someone on BGG and added it happily to my library. From the smooth game play to the dozens of elaborately designed cards, identifying a dizzying array of notable historical characters made this one an easy hit for me. Admittedly, however, against Ping, my win-rate is exceptionally low.

Designer's Note: The card purchase mechanic along with balancing the number of resources across your boats, while ever attempting to move forward along the river and mountains, make this a clever title for others to emulate. I don't have many race-type games, but one could, with a bit of savvy design and development, create a game of equal weight and enjoyment...oh wait, they did, Darwin's Journey!


#15 Space Empires 4X by Jim Krohn
From gallery of The Professor

Stepping out into the unknown will see two titles on the list with this being the first. Far and away, this title gives me so much enjoyment because unlike say Twilight Imperium III, which I coincidentally like, the game is not bogged down with the trappings of politics and victory points, but instead focuses on building out your empire and destroying enemies across the vastness of space. The chits are very well-designed and the later expansions just make this game such a pleasure to play.

Designer's Note: Jim is a fine designer and this one makes perfect sense in the GMT catalog as it doesn't disguise itself as something that it's not...at its core, it's a war game and a beautiful one at that. Some designs have attempted (and failed) to enter this space (no pun intended), but its elegance in design is something that every designer should at least play once.


#14 Concordia by Mac Gerdts
From gallery of The Professor

Meanwhile, on Earth, no game collection would be complete without the quintessential trading in the Mediterranean game and this one is about as perfect as you're going to find. I've enjoyed this one at every player count and more interestingly, I've played it with enough frequency that I've won (and lost) at every position on the game (1st player, 2nd player, last player), but just the simple act of shuffling the cards purchased with the Senator card and initial placement of the goods' tiles makes it a different experience every time.

Designer's Note: This game has a four page rulebook and quite honestly for most gamers, it could've been a 2-page rulebook with the emphasis on, "read the card and perform the action." That's it. For designers, take a note...you don't need 24, 28, or 32 page rulebooks. Remain parsimonious in words and lavish in your game play experience.


#13 Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan
From gallery of The Professor

Among the wars I've both studied and unsurprisingly war gamed the most include WWII, the American Civil War, and the American Revolutionary War. While there are dozens of tactical, operational, and strategic level titles covering the first of these conflicts, fewer, by far, have been designed for the other two, and more importantly those that are particularly well-designed. There was a rumor of an Academy Games' attempt at a Gettysburg game but I haven't seen any evidence and again this falls into the three days-conflict in south-central PA, and while important, doesn't provide me with the more overarching strategic level I desire. However, while Washington's War was a favorite among grognards for many years, by my estimation it's been forever supplanted by Harold Buchanan's masterpiece. This title provides a rich detailed history through the various card decks, a very clever battle/combat system, and end-game/victory conditions which are different for each of the actors (Patriots, Indian, British, and French). This is a game, thanks to the incredible work of Harold's associate, Oerjan Ariander, who created a wonderful AI/Bot system which possesses the requisite level of complexity given the conflict at hand.

Designer's Note: If you plan on designing a war game, look no further than this title. Definitely get under the hood and see what's packed into a relatively short rulebook given the magisterial scope of the game. In addition, with more and more 1-player fans out there, a solo variant or Solitaire Suitability is an absolute must have for today's war games.


#12 Glass Road by Uwe Rosenberg
From gallery of The Professor

While Uwe doesn't appear often on my list, the few titles which I own get played with great frequency. This one is fabulous for a couple of reasons, not least of which, it can't overstay its welcome at only four turns. The clever mechanic of choosing five cards and playing anywhere from 3-5 cards during the turn is genius. Finally, the ability to track resources on the two dials is truly inspired. There's so much to love about this game and given the dozens of each tile type means that the variability in the game is through the roof.

Designer's Note: For designers, this title will provide you a few things to consider from finding a clever way to track resources to thoughtful card play with light player interaction. Every time I've played this game with Ping (and it's been many, many times), she makes me laugh as I hand her the 1st Player Marker, saying, "Okay, it's the last turn." and the look of surprise on her face fills me with glee.


#11 Martians: A Story of Civilization by Grzegorz Okliński and Krzysztof Wolicki
From gallery of The Professor

Anyone who knows my taste in games will not be surprised to find this title on my list and at #11! This title (and maybe next year, the new Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition will no doubt make the list) is far and away my game for making habitable the red planet. You can keep your Terraforming Mars with its ugly and inconsistent art direction and illustrations, exceptionally long playtime, and a few hours of moving cubes and never actually doing anything to terraform a planet. Instead, in Oklinsky's and Wolicki's design, you can feel the sand on your face and the dire situation into which you find yourself, attempting to grow food, keep clean the oxygen system, and meet the scenario's objective. You're actually terraforming Mars with every action.

Designer's Note: If you're going to design a game centered on an activity, immerse your players in that activity. Definitely check out this title if you're interested in designing a game tied to the myriad activities associated with the theme.


That's it for now...I can't believe we're almost into November. Well, sit back and enjoy your pumpkin spice latte and we'll finally turn our attention to the Top 10 in The Professor's collection next month. The handful of requests that I've read thus far for 2022 center on the games upon which I've worked as a developer...that will be fun.

As always, let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor


Lewis & Clark: The ExpeditionSpace Empires 4XMartians: A Story of CivilizationGlass RoadStar Wars: RebellionConcordia1775: RebellionTrajanThe Castles of BurgundyLiberty or Death: The American InsurrectionCorey Konieczka Jim Krohn Stefan Feld Academy Games, Inc.
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Sat Oct 30, 2021 3:12 pm
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Sep: 30-21 ~Collection Essentials

Joe Pilkus
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Here in Virginia, fall is the best season with the changing colors on the trees, much cooler temperatures (I especially enjoy it as a 3x/wk runner), and admittedly, the return of pumpkin spice. As a café owner, I can see the Java Bean Café Team embracing this last piece of autumn goodness. Speaking of goodness, we have reached the part of the list which I would contend that every gamer should play these titles. Whether you ultimately own them is a matter of taste, but unarguably they are some of the best at what they do. So, let's jump into #30-#21.


#30 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza
From gallery of The Professor

A game that anyone from 9 to 90 can play with ease. It's accessibility is paralleled by its beautiful artwork and clear win conditions. This is a game that I can teach in three minutes and each game takes less than a half hour at a full complement of seven people and far less time at 3-4 players.

Designer's Note: Anyone thinking of crafting a civilization building game should absolutely be familiar with this title as it possesses a very simple, elegant way of handling all of the large, abstract ideas and constructs of a much deeper game, including military, trade, and technology (science).


#29 Orient Express by Carla and Jeff Horger
From gallery of The Professor

My daughter and I were playing a very siple train game a a few years ago at Origins and at the other end of the table, we had seen this title on the table at Rio Grande Games' area. We ended-up befriending two of the Rio Grande Games' team members who engaged in a 4-player game. At one point in the game, we were engrossed in the building of regional and national routes that I turned to my daughter and said, "Do you believe that we've been playing this for an hour?" She responded, "I honestly thought we were only playing for about 20 min." The game captures the tension of building enough rails (which are limited) to score points now and lose those rails for the rest of the game, vice other lines in which you receive back you rails. It's very clever and while the map is a bit of a darker hue than I typically like, it's a great game

Designer's Note: I'm not a fan or aficionado of 18XX games at all, but who doesn't love trains. If you're in that mindset, you need to give this one a shot. For budding designers, the markers that you claim by having certain regional lines add to the tension without a ton of overhead. Additionally, the cubes which allow players the opportunity to use other player's tracks is a great solution to an otherwise thorny problem which could otherwise cause frustration.


#28 Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar by Simone Luciani & Daniele Tascini
From gallery of The Professor

I'd love to be the guy that has expertly-painted gears for this title...but, sadly, I do not. That doesn't however take away from the beauty and charm of this game. A few years ago while at ATBCon, I asked my friend Jordan to show us the board and provide a general overview of the game. Ping and I had just finished a punishing game of Ghost Stories and she had nodded that she didn't want to play another heavy, grueling game. However, as soon as Jordan pieced-together this beautiful puzzle of a board, Ping said, "Let's play!" We did, and she clearly paid attention as at the end of the game, she and Jordan had well over 60 points apiece, wherein I should've been sacrificed to the Mayan gods for my poor performance.

Designer's Note: While theme and mechanics are important, don't leave out presentation...I've never played this at a convention hall where multiple people didn't stop by and ask about the game. Again, don't add something just for the wow factor, but integrate it into a great design.


#27 City of Iron by Ryan Laukat
From gallery of The Professor

There's a special place in my heart for this title. First, it was the 1st Kickstarter that I ever backed and will always be part of my collection. Second, my daughter and I absolutely love playing this game as a 2-player experience. The clever deck-building and utilization mechanic is super-clever and makes you think about how you want to play the cards and the overall "stock market" of goods makes it exciting from beginning to end. Ryan also did a great job in ensuring that variable player counts were different enough that it didn't feel too short for larger player counts or overstayed its welcome at 2-players.

Designer's Note: Few designers are at the caliber and skill of Ryan given that he designs and serves as the lead illustrator...that's a rare gift. But for everyone else, I contend that you find an artist with whom you can work to tell your story in the game.


#26 Mage Knight Board Game by Vlaada Chvátil
From gallery of The Professor

This title both intrigued and intimidated me in equal measure, when I contemplated and eventual bought at Origins a few years ago. While it sat on my shelf for the better part of two years, I did read (and reread) the rules a number of times and watched numerous How to Play videos. The covid pandemic forced me, thankfully, to open a number of shelf-of-shame titles, and this was among the first. While I'm sure that I made a few errors, I've never sacrificed fun of play on the altar of getting it right. For those of you who haven't played this one, it's a beast to learn, there's no doubt about it, but you will be well-rewarded for your efforts.

Designer's Note: From the multi-use nature of the cards, to the unique Spells throughout the game, to the variable hexes, no two games will EVER be the same. I've certainly taken liberties in the game to make it my game versus how anyone else plays, and Mr. Chvatil has provided an excellent canvass upon which we can paint our own adventure.


#25 Race for the Galaxy by Thomas Lehmann
From gallery of The Professor

#25 and #24 on this list will almost always travel together given their near-identical DNA...except for notable difference of one using cards and the other, dice. Both play in under 20 minutes when you know what you're doing, and both leave the players satisfied with having built something tremendous in such an abbreviated period of time.

Designer's Note: Despite what you might read, there's absolutely no perfect strategy in this game. I've seen folks win with very few points because they raced to the end with a bunch of 1-point buildings leaving their opponents with precious little as they attempted a more elaborate solution to the game. Other times, 6-card victories rule the day.


#24 Roll for the Galaxy by Thomas Lehmann & Wei-Hwa Huang
From gallery of The Professor

Much of what I've said above is true here...the difference is the AI die which is used in a 2-player game, absent in this title's older sibling, is great! At the height of the pandemic, over a two month period, Ping and I racked-up over 100 games on BGA.

Designer's Note: This is near perfect example of someone taking a tried-and-true title and making one tweak...dice instead of cards and you have another winner.


#23 The Voyages of Marco Polo by Simone Luciani & Daniele Tascini
From gallery of The Professor

This designer dynamic duo is back again on this list with a tight Euro in which money can make or break your game. While garnering contracts in this game serve a purpose, you have to leave the comforts of Italy to truly realize success. Failure to do so is evident as those who travel are showered with gifts upon reaching the destinations and at the beginning of every round for certain sites.

Designer's Note: I've played the follow-up version of this title and while I like the way it handles certain aspects, such as travel, I'm a traditionalist and love the original. Fr designers, this game is great at setting forth the theme "Voyages" and ensuring that the players engage in that activity. While you may not be the last in this game if you stay in Italy, you will not win.


#22 Yokohama by Hisashi Hiyashi
From gallery of The Professor

I have my friends Michael, Jess, and Dave to thank for teaching me this game at PiranhaPigCon2019. I picked-up a free deluxe copy of this title at WashingCon the year before but it sat unplayed. From the moment they described the game to the last trade house being placed, I was enthralled with the clever worker-placement mechanic in this one. I wasn't last which always makes me feel good, but moreover, I wanted to play it again when I got home. Fortunately for me, I had a partner in Ping who was equally excited in getting this one to the table.

Designer's Note: Over the last few years, we've seen great variants on a 20+ year old worker placement idea and this title does some very interesting things with it. Additionally, while money is tight at the beginning of the game, there are opportunities around the board to make a little extra income so you can obtain more workers/assistants and see to the completion of contracts and garnering spots around the city boards.


#21 Brass: Lancashire by Martin Wallace
From gallery of The Professor

Wallace has designed a great many games which frankly miss the mark for me personally. However, this is not one of them. While I saw the game originally on a Shut Up, Sit Down video and thought the board was dreadful, the gameplay intrigued me. Fast forward a few years and the fine folks at Roxley produced an amazing version which I backed immediately on Kickstarter and have played no less than a three dozen times in the past few years. It's tremendous but initially can prove intimidating. At the end of the day, you're only playing two cards (or one at the beginning) and carrying out that action. All the while, you're building out rail routes or canals, churning out iron or coal, gaining loans, or selling your textiles abroad. That's it...but in doing so, along with everyone else, there are delicious decisions to be made and a great deal of posturing so that you stay on top and your empire is assured.

Designer's Note: Any designer worth their salt shall have played this title. There's a reason why Wallace is as prolific as he is...he crafts excellent games. They're accessibility can be a bit deceiving as mastering some of his titles takes patience and time to develop.



That's it for now...we only have 20 more titles ahead of us. So, as we get closer to the end of the year, let me know what you want me to cover in 2022. I've heard from several folks over the past few months, but I'm always interested in hearing new ideas.

For those of you who listed to Blue Peg Pink Peg podcast or track their guild, I'm a regular over there and have provided updates on the café. It appears as though our soft opening will happen this time next month. So, if you're in the Claymont, DE area, I invite you to come down, meet-up, have a coffee, and play a game.

As always, let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor



7 Wonders Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar Race for the Galaxy Roll for the Galaxy Orient Express Mage Knight Board Game City of Iron The Voyages of Marco Polo Yokohama Brass: Lancashire
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Thu Sep 30, 2021 3:28 pm
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Aug: 40-31 ~ Anytime, anywhere

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As the summer is winding down and we're less than a week from Labor Day (here in the U.S.), hopefully, you've had a chance to relax, unwind, and play some games this past month. Today, on the 31st (just in the nick of time), I present #40-#31. These are, as the title suggests, games that I will absolutely play anytime, anywhere.


#40 Elder Sign by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson
From gallery of The Professor

This is one of the few games in which I had a chance to play with the design team. Back in 2011, I traveled to FFG's Arkham Nights and played quite a few games including this wonderful title. Designed for his daughter who was not enamored with his other designs, the Yahtzee-like concept works exceptionally well.

Designer's Note: While the game certainly possesses beautiful art, designers should also note the use of a game mechanic established decades before and recycled with no change. Sometimes, the tried-and-true methods still work great.


#39 Merlin by Stefan Feld and Michael Rieneck
From gallery of The Professor

When I first saw this roundel-style game I turned my nose up at and I was completely mistaken, as evidenced by the fact that this one has landed on the north-side of my Top 100 list. I later found out that it was co-designed by Stefan Feld...a fact I only learned after my girlfriend had played it with some folks at ATBCon (Across the Board), a micro-convention in Omaha, NE a few years ago. This one has gotten to the Gaming Table quite a bit since and we absolutely love it.

Designer's Note: No one does dice mitigation quite like Stefan and even if you don't know your Excaliburs from your Morgan Le Fays, you'll have a blast with this one. As a designer, I loved the options every turn presents the players.
Do yourself a favor if you haven't played it...do so!


#38 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza
From gallery of The Professor

Few games have I taught in under three minutes and this title is the epitome of an easy "teach" for folks. Over the past few years, I've taught, without hyperbole more than 100 people how to play 7 Wonders. The wonderful art and easy to follow color scheme makes this one accessible to gamer and non-gamer alike.

Designer's Note: Who said that a tableau-civ-building game needs to take hours. I've taught and played an entire game in under a half-hour. For designers, simple and elegant works well in the gaming space. Don't be complicated without having a good reason to do so.


#37 Scythe by Jamey Stegmaier
From gallery of The Professor

This is one that I enjoyed from the first play, which in full disclosure was pieced together via a print and play. Jamey had reached out to me as a developer and play tester. Over the next few years, I worked on Invaders from Afar and Rise of Fenris. I've played this title almost as many times solo with the Automa (this one I didn't have a hand in designing) as I have with other players.

Designer's Note: Turn things on their head...Scytheis NOT a wargame, as it penalizes poor choices to go that route, but there can be some rewards for limited combat.


#36 For Glory by Alex Wolf
From gallery of The Professor

This is a title which I had seen 18 months prior to production having met Alex at the first ATBCon. He had limited artwork, but the core idea was sound, and he had clearly done his homework on the era to make a compelling and challenging head-to-head game.

Designer's Note: If you're going to wade in the pool of history, ensure that you're not making waves by having incorrect facts. Alex did a great job of researching the topic area and then using that knowledge to inform the theme AND mechanics in the games.


#35 Raiders of the North Sea by Shem Phillips
From gallery of The Professor

Despite the myriad Viking games that have come out in the past ten years, few have captured my attention quite like this one.
No dudes on a map...no huge battles...no Gods intervening in the lives of men. No, instead, Shem takes the worker placement mechanic and puts a slight twist on things which make it remarkably different.

Designer's Note: There's a very good chance you, as a designer, will not create the next best mechanic...and truthfully, none of the designers on my list did either. But what many of them did do is take something people already understand and give it a new look or feel. In that, you can find solace and inspiration.


#34 Bruges by Stefan Feld
From gallery of The Professor

The incomparable Stefan Feld is back again and this one, for me, is as close to a perfect Euro as you can get. It's got beautifully illustrated, colorful dice and components, and a great theme. I remember when my girlfriend and I first played this one, we could barely crack 50 points. After we understood the synergies between and among the cards, we were appalled with ourselves if we scored less than 75.

Designer's Note: Yes, you can make a Euro and a great one, at that with dice. Don 't be a snob...check it out and see how the master does it.


#33 Black Angel by Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban
From gallery of The Professor

To anyone who knows me, I love, love, love their earlier work together...hang on, you'll see it in a few months if you don't know already. These guys did a remarkable job presenting, in essence, a very similar game to their to their earlier title...just i8n space.

Designer's Note: If you're a new designer, maybe there's a game that needs a face-lift or a new coat of paint (this could also apply to a seasoned designer, as well). Check out whatever's on the market and fill that niche.


#32 Dune: Imperium by Paul Dennen
From gallery of The Professor

Maybe because it's based on the book I had committed to read in 2021 for the first time; maybe it's because I enjoyed Paul's earlier work m(though not on my Top 100), or maybe I'm just5va sucker for deck-builders, but I thoroughly enjoy this title. I've also enjoyed a half-dozen plays solo, as well.

Designer's Note: IPs are hard. Scratch that...IPs are almost impossible to do right. I've seen dozens of failures for every one IP-inspired game that got it right. I'm not advising you to steer clear, but the way is fraught with difficulties.


#31 Freedom: The Underground Railroad by Brian Mayer
From gallery of The Professor

A few years ago I had the chance to meet Brian at an event that he held and I served as guest speaker in D.C. It was great to meet the person who designed the game which has actually hit me in a real, visceral way. If you haven't played this title (and 'played' just seems like the wrong verb, but that's what you do with games), check it out.

Designer's Note: As I advocated earlier, history done right, is stunningly beautiful even if messy and complex. Take the time to conduct your research and present your title in a way befitting the history it tells.


While we have more titles to check out in the months ahead, I greatly appreciate the comments here and sent to me in a variety of ways. Please continue to remain safe and healthy...together, we can get past this crisis and hopefully come out on the other side even stronger.


As always, let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor

Freedom: The Underground Railroad Dune: Imperium Black Angel Bruges Raiders of the North Sea For Glory Scythe 7 Wonders Merlin Elder Sign
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Tue Aug 31, 2021 8:43 pm
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Jul: 50-41 ~ These will probably never leave my collection

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We're more than halfway through the year and we're on way through the second half of my Top 100 list. Now, it's time for #50-#41 ~ let's see how these titles have influenced me as a designer, developer, and gamer.


#50 Sleeping Gods by Ryan Laukat
From gallery of The Professor

This is an expansive game which I picked-up on KS because I knew that I would only get it to the table in solo mode. This is not one that my fiancé would find remotely interesting. I'm definitely the one drawn to theme, and this title has it in spades. I'm only a few hours into this one and it's already on my list and I can see it remaining for quite some time.

Designer's Note: Far and away, if you're looking for theme and a great story, Ryan Laukat delivers. Very often, the story arc is anemic or there's not enough hanging on the skeleton to bring the game to life, but all of his titles do a magnificent job in bringing the theme to the player in an exciting, evocative way.


#49 878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, and Jeph Stahl
From gallery of The Professor

I'm a huge fan of Academy Games and over the years, I have had a chance to do work for Uwe Eickert and the team. This title is no exception and I've had a blast with this one over the years. I'm looking forward to getting this one back to the Gaming Table as I'm able to host Game Nights at the house.

Designer's Note: Simple and elegant in design...it takes the essence of wargaming and presents it in a distilled manner which makes it eminently accessible.


#48 Rurik: Dawn of Kiev by Stan Kordonskiy
From gallery of The Professor

As a Russian analyst, linguist, and amateur historian of all things Russian and Soviet, this one was an easy sell for me. I've thoroughly enjoyed the mechanisms along with the stories for the various characters. On top of all that, it's stunningly beautiful on the table.

Designer's Note: I've not been one drawn to action selection games, but this one does it really well. Designers working in that space would be well-served to get this one to the Gaming Table.



#47 Pandemic by Matt Leacock
From gallery of The Professor

Far and away, I've taught this game more than any other to non-gamers due to its ease of play but difficulty in winning. The game has a great timer so it never overstays its welcome and information on the cards about the major cities is a great touch!

Designer's Note: Here's a game with a straightforward theme, asymmetric powers, cards, a board, and cubes. This has been rethemed many times and even added the layer of legacy. Designers are well served to have this one in their collection.


#46 Town Builder: Coevorden by Eric Raue
From gallery of The Professor

I played this for the first time at Origins 2019 and absolutely fell in love with it. It's approach to resources and building reminded me a bit of Kingdom of Valleria. It's art is beautiful and looks great on the table.

Designer's Note: This is a title which shows that you don't need complexity to make a great game. This one is accessible to a broad array of gamers and easily taught to non-gamers at the local Meet-Up.

I don't need Gloomhaven for great combat. Give me some colorful translucent dice and let me kill monsters and outwit traps! For designers, there's a lot to this little box.


#45 Twilight Struggle by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews
From gallery of The Professor

This one has fallen down the ranking, not because it's fallen out of favor, but other games have simply been played more often and it's easier to get a larger game to the table with more people than a 2-player, 4-hour behemoth. Don't get me wrong, with the right opponent, this one shines brighter than the sun.

Designer's Note: Who would've ever thought that a game about the Cold War would sell, much less be the #1 game on a gaming site for the better part of a decade. As an amateur historian, I've loved my plays of this one...so, as fledging designers, don't be afraid of history.


#44 Tiny Epic Galaxies by Scott Almes
From gallery of The Professor

Far and away, this is my favorite among the Tiny Epic franchise.
Maybe it's the tiny ships or the really cool dice, but this one plays like many of its big brother 4X games in much less time. I've played this one solo as much as I've played it multiplayer and it's quite good in bother modes.

Designer's Note: Sometimes, bigger isn't better. I know many people who own TI4, but only get it to the table once or twice a year.
Why not design a game that's going to get played more often.


#43 Everdell by James A. Wilson
From gallery of The Professor

A far more beautiful game, you will not find. From the moment I laid eyes on this one, I fell in love and I've been smitten ever since. My friend, Jason introduced this one to me to this title at a Meet-Up in Crystal City, near the Pentagon a few years back and I had to include it in my collection. I've played this often over the years with friends and family and it always delivers a tense game.

Designer's Note: Anthropomorphic animals...shall I say more. Okay, I will. The card art is stunning and the clever idea of having additional meeples provided over the course of the game was quite innovative. Designers take note of how to make something new out of a standard mechanism like worker-placement.


#42 Underwater Cities by Vladimir Suchy
From gallery of The Professor

I learned this one at a microcon, PiranhaPigCon in early 2020 before the pandemic. While I was new to the game and Suchy's design (I wasn't a fan of Pulsar), I had a great time with this one and the other players. Many folks compared the card play to Terraforming Mars, which I absolutely abhorred, so I was reticent, at first, to play. In the end, I enjoyed my play and immediately bought it on-line!

Designer's Note: Designers take note of multi-use cards, and Suchy did a great job with this one in terms of providing delicious choices. Every game I've played has been close in score as those scores have steadily risen over time.


#41 Dice Throne: Season One by Nate Chatellier and Manny Trembley
From gallery of The Professor

My friend Rob and I met Nate and Manny a few years ago at PAX Unplugged and we jumped into the game with gusto. Having grown-up with D&D and Yahtzee, I'm clearly the target audience. If you haven't played this one, I strongly advise you try it...it's sooo good!

Designer's Note: Take a few unique dice, a great theme, and some cards, and you have an award-winning game. Designers definitely think about custom dice if they're going to introduce input or output randomness to their game.


Thanks for all of your great comments and PMs over the past 18 months.
Hope you're all safe, vaccinated, and ready to return to the Gaming Table.

As always, let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor
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Sat Jul 31, 2021 3:57 am
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Jun: #60-#51 ~ What will it take to push these to the next tier?

Joe Pilkus
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Welcome back as we're at the end of June...halfway through 2021! We'll turn our attention this time to titles #60-#51 in my Top 100 games and provide some context as to how these titles have influenced me as a designer, developer, and gamer.


#60 Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino
From gallery of The Professor

Dominion is one of the earliest games in my collection and still comes out with some frequency with new and seasoned gamers because of its beautiful artwork and as the grandfather of all deck builders it will not only never leave my collection, it may inch upward from time-to time

Designer's Note: While I'm out of the design side of things for awhile due to a number of other big life events (getting engaged, buying a second home, and opening a café), I would love to use deck building in one of my future titles as it's an elegant mechanism.


#59 The Pillars of the Earth by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler
From gallery of The Professor

This is one that hasn't received nearly enough plays, which is probably why it remains firmly in the middle of the pack. Next week, I'm planning a trip to an AirBnB with friends for dining, drinking, and gaming and I feel as though this one must join me.

Designer's Note: I purchased this one after I had backed on Kickstarter and played The King's Abbey. It too has a similar theme and gorgeous components (if on the small side). I highly recommend both of these titles for what they have to offer.


#58 Twilight Imperium: Third Edition by Christian T. Petersen
From gallery of The Professor

This is a game, if I'm lucky, I get to the table a handful of times per year due to its length. In response to others' hue and cry over the protracted period we're at the gaming table, I have a set of rules which cuts off two hours (which in an 8-10 hour game, is significant). Admittedly, I tried to capture the sweeping story among the races along with a robust economy in my first published title, Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis, but even I can see that it pales in comparison.

Designer's Note: This may be the very definition of Eurotrash (or Eurothrash), but I still believe it's one of the best in the genre and worth it for every gamer to try it at least once.


#57 Shadowrun: Crossfire by Mike Elliott, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, and others
From gallery of The Professor

I have Richard (rahdo) Ham to thank for this one in my collection. during a time when I wanted a clever deck builder for solo play, this title more than fit the bill. Now, having played it dozens of times, it's wonderful and very stable part of my collection.

Designer's Note: While this is not the formula I would use for my own deck builder (especially as this one is so good), I appreciate the smooth, fast play, coupled with almost zero set-up time.


#56 One Deck Dungeon by Chris Cieslik
From gallery of The Professor

There is no other game I have taken with me on business trips during the past five years as frequently as this title. Small enough to play on a airplane's tray table or the short desks in hotel rooms, this one is great for what it does. While I've only played it a handful of times with others, it's one of my very best go-to small box games to play solo. I love how the characters advance, providing more health or dice, all while venturing lower and lower into the unknown.

Designer's Note: I don't need Gloomhaven for great combat. Give me some colorful translucent dice and let me kill monsters and outwit traps! For designers, there's a lot to this little box.


#55 Wingspan by Elizabeth Hargrave
From gallery of The Professor

While this looks eminently accessible, don't be fooled....this one is not for the newbies but if guided by a veteran gamer, this one shines. I would call it (as many others have, as well) a Gateway Plus game.
After a newcomer has cut their teeth on a few of the other more common games, including Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, check out this title.

Designer's Note: If you ever have a chance to meet Elizabeth, of which I have had the pleasure on numerous occasions, you will find wonderful individual bursting with creativity. Here's a great example of taking well-worn ideas (dice drafting, card selection) and a peculiar theme (birding) to provide an exquisite experience...most notably, as well, due to the stunning artwork.



#54 Azul by Michael Kiesling
From gallery of The Professor

Michael Kiesling at his best in my opinion...take beautiful tiles and some fairly accessible mechanics and you have a winner. This is a title that I've managed to introduce to absolute newbies in the board game hobby and they've walked away impressed by what they played. This is one that I highly regard as a wonderful, beautiful puzzle.

Designer's Note: Again, as I've said before, one need not make an overwrought abstract game to be successful and fun. This looks beautiful on the table and scales exceptionally well for 2-4 players.


#53 Here I Stand by Ed Beach
From gallery of The Professor

This is a title that I've only played once so one might say that I have no right to even rate it, much less place it in my Top m100...and I would say you're wrong. If it were just a game, I might agree with you, but the one play of it was a 12-hour affair, involving intrigue, closed door meetings, and surprises on the map...and that's just during the day of the game. It also piqued my curiosity enough to read many excerpts from The Concise History of the Middle East and A History of the Protestant Reformation. How many games have you played that can do that?

Designer's Note: Take on England as Henry VIII or the Papacy or Suleiman in this incredible epic struggle in which the forces of politics and religion have never been so intertwined. It's magnificent in its design and magisterial in what it manages to encompass in its scope.


#52 Lorenzo il Magnifico by Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, and Simone Luciani
From gallery of The Professor

This was a surprise to me as I learned it on Yucata at the end of last year and it quickly captured my heart. I love the interplay, the cards, and the simple use of a few dice. Absolutely magnificent (as the name would imply).

Designer's Note: Don't make things convoluted...in this game, all actions are derived from one set of dice rolled at the beginning of each turn (vice each player rolling their own dice). It has some of the best features in any modern euro and I do love the artwork, which I'm finding is an acquired taste.


#51 Viticulture Essential Edition by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
From gallery of The Professor

I missed this one when it hit Kickstarter a decade ago, and despite owning a number of other worker-placement games, this one brings me so much joy. Additionally, it is the one most requested by my daughter when I visit her in Savannah, GA. Only recently did I play with the Tuscany board and like many others, I'll never choose to play with the original again.

Designer's Note: Jamey has designed and published a number of games since then, but this title is a wonderful example of having just the right amount of luck (in terms of cards) but also myriad paths to victory.


And just like that, half the year is over. Hope all of you are doing well. Please get vaccinated and let's kick Covid out of here so we can get back to the Gaming Tables.

Let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
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Wed Jun 30, 2021 8:42 pm
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May: 70-61 ~ A peculiar location

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Welcome back as I continue to count down my Top 100 games and provide some context as to how these titles have influenced me as a designer, developer, and gamer. Let's take a look at #70-#61.


#70 Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun by Daniele Tascini and Dávid Turczi
From gallery of The Professor


This is a game which I learned, like many of us, during Covid. David (Man vs. Meeple) Waybright taught me, along with Mark & Brittney Maia from Board Game Coffee. Surprisingly, I came in second, just edging out Mark. It's a beautiful design which reminded me of Feld's Trajan as you're able to play in many different sandboxes around the board.

Designer's Note: This is a great game for fledgling designers to play as it opens up the possibility of doing many different actions on one's turn, allowing multiple paths to victory.



#69 Dragon Castle by Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, and Lorenzo Silva
From gallery of The Professor


I first played this one at Origins a few years back, and admittedly fell in love with the design. Having visited Hong Kong several times in my life, I was familiar with, but had never played Mahjong (the real game, not the silly computer knock-off), but this game reminded me of that computer version, but with a purpose.

Designer's Note: The game is beautiful on the table, elegant in design, and is well-balanced based on more than two-dozen games which I've played over the years.


#68 Madeira by Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade
From gallery of The Professor


Another game I first got to the virtual table during Covid and would love to see reprinted. Now, it's a lovely looking game, but don't be fooled; it absolutely deserves its 4.29 rating as it's punishing and not an easy game to wrap your head around.

Designer's Note: Definitely a title for designers to try so they can truly appreciate deep, difficult choices and their consequences.


#67 Carpe Diem by Stefan Feld
From gallery of The Professor


My friend, Dave Turner, taught me this one while at PAX Unplugged and I immediately loved the decision space in which one finds themselves.
From the tile selection to the various goals, it's a wonderful puzzle, like so many Feld games.


Designer's Note: In short, if you're a designer, play a few Feld games just to get a sense of how this master creates such magnificent games.


#66 Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega
From gallery of The Professor


While I still absolutely love Shadows over Camelot, this title takes it to a new level with moral and ethical choices, against a backdrop of zombies in this survival game which will keep you on the edge of your seat. I've actually enjoyed this one solo, obviously without the chance of a traitor, and it still holds up as a great game.

Designer's Note: If you're looking at adding a traitor element to your game, look no further and see what this title does under the hood. It's a great game and as it's cooperative, you can absolutely bring new gamers to the table given the spate of zombie-influenced movies and TV shows over the years.



#65 A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) by Christian T. Petersen
From gallery of The Professor


Unbelievably captivating, especially for those who have delved into the thousands of pages in Martin's tomes or watched the brilliantly produced GOT episodes on HBO over the past decade. This game has many elements of a classic war game, with some clever twists, including card-based combat along with the armies/navies on the map, and the Wilding Track.

Designer's Note: Area control is a mechanic which has seen a fair share of attention and as I've worked on nearly 100 war game titles, it's not decreasing in popularity. This is one I encourage you to get to the table with at least three or four other friends for the afternoon.



#64 Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization by Vlaada Chvátil
From gallery of The Professor


This is a game I utterly loathed for siix years following horrendous "teach" by someone over on BGA....A right %$#@! of an individual who proceeded to play against me, but taught me nothing about the game. In time, I moved on and two close friends, Suzy and Rich taught me the game in their home, and I only warmed slightly to the idea of a game based almost wholly on memory (of the card deck as you see everything)and good luck (in terms of when those cards come out). However, with the release of TtA on Steam, I've now played more than two dozen games as it's stunningly beautiful and while I admittedly forgive the game for some of its flaws (variability has only to do with when cards come out), it's solo play against an AI can take about an hour.

Designer's Note: While there are arguably better civ games out there, it's definitely worth your time to play it and know if its pedigree in the hobby. It also doesn't hurt that it's by one of the more prolific designers whose canvass is quite wide.



#63 Shakespeare by Hervé Rigal
From gallery of The Professor


far and away, this is one of the most fun games I've played with my daughter, a now college graduate from the Savannah College of Art & Design, who focused on the Performing Arts and directed eight stage productions between 2018 and 2020. In Shakespeare, you take the role of, well, I forget actually, but suffice it to say, you're hiring actors who also assist in the writing, seamstresses to ensure that you have most beautiful costumes, and carpenters to build the magnificent stage and venues.

Designer's Note: This one is beautiful as it is, but given the propensity to make even a beautiful game more beautiful (hello, Rococo, this one could certainly use a face-lift. Dor the designers, definitely play with different types of material to bring your game to life.



#62 Cthulhu: Rise of the Cults by Krzysztof Wolicki
From gallery of The Professor


As a huge Lovecraft fan (the writings, not the guy!), this game flips the general theme on its head as you play one of the diabolical cultists set on bringing back to Earth one of the Great Old Ones to destroy everything! from the clever card play to area control, along with the gorgeous figures, this one is evocative and a blast to play.

Designer's Note: Even if a particular IP has been done before, think about how you can come at it from a different direction or wit a differnt perspective and make the game feel fresh and new.


#61 Stone Age by Bernd Brunnhofer
From gallery of The Professor


While this title lands at #61, it will almost always remain in my Top 10 games to teach new folks as it's eminently accessible from the underlying math that's involved in the game to the worker placement mechanic which I absolutely adore. I've played this title more than four or five dozen times in-person or via BGA and it's always a blast.

Designer's Note: While no one sets out necessarily to make an evergreen game, this stands the test of time by doing everything it does exceptionally well without being overwrought in terms of rules and it doesn't overstay its welcome in terms of time to play.


I can't believe that we're at the end of May! For those of you in the U.S., have a very Happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend! Also, other big news to share...my girlfriend, Ping, and I are engaged (no wedding date set), and we're opening a café later this year in Claymont, DE, Java Bean Café

Let me know your thoughts on these titles or anything else I've mentioned...and as always, Happy Gaming!

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor
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Thu May 27, 2021 5:08 pm
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Apr: 80-71 ~ Rising or falling titles?

Joe Pilkus
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Hello and welcome back as I count down my Top 100 games and moreover, how they've influenced me as a designer, developer, and gamer. Let's take a look at #80-#71.


#80 Villages of Valeria by Rick Holzgrafe and Isasias Vallejo
From gallery of The Professor


I played this title for the first time when visiting the publisher's booth back in 2016. It played exceptionally fast and I loved the artwork (way to go The Miko!). With more than 50 game plays under my belt, I've honestly taught this one to almost as many people. It plays in well under 45-min, doesn't overstay its welcome, and doesn't take up an inordinate amount of table space.

Designer's Note: Resources on multi-use cards means you often have agonizingly delicious decisions.


#79 Eschaton by Diha, Petras Vaznelis, and Adam Watts
From gallery of The Professor


When I sat down at the table deep within the Gamer's Hall at PAX Unplugged a few years back, I fell in love with this title (along with the entire crew that brought it to life). It took the beauty and elegance of deck-building and melded it in a sinister way with area control and the rest is history. While it only has had about a dozen plays, they're all memorable.

Designer's Note: Beautiful, evocative artwork with easy to grasp iconography is a take away for any budding designer.


#78 Fleet by Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle
From gallery of The Professor


I missed this one when it first entered the stage, but thanks to BGA's implementation of it, I was quickly hooked (if you'll pardon the obvious fishing pun). I'm not one typically for enjoying a bidding mechanic in a game, but this one does such a great job, coupled with its quick playtime, that this one will never leave my shelf and probably serve as one of the best exemplars of the "bidding" mechanic genre.

Designer's Note: Don't be afraid to try a mechanic you do not like. Stretch yourself as both a designer and a gamer.


#77 Trekking the National Parks by Charlie Blink
From gallery of The Professor


Truth be told, I tried Trekking the World first which I also enjoyed, but received it's more domestic brother as a gift and love it just as much. I've taught this to myriad gamers and non-gamers. It's a delight when a game can both entertain and educate and that's what you have right here.

Designer's Note: If you decide to use the medium of games to educate, ensure that that there's a game in there or else you've wasted your time. Look to many other titles on this list as they can provide exceptional tuition on history, geography and other academic areas.


#76 The War: Europe 1939-1945 by Ernie Copley
From gallery of The Professor


As someone who has worked on more than five dozen military wargames for a number of companies over the past 10 years, they exclusively fall into the tactical and operational level. I wanted something strategic in scope...for me, that includes economics, diplomacy, weather, and several other high-level factors. Along with a dozen scenarios, this wargame possesses several clever changes to time-tested rules.

Designer's Note: Enjoying this title, along with reading and reviewing more than 1,500 posts between and among the designer and countless players CONSIMWORLD, led me to a friendship and working relationship with the designer. a few years later, I became the Lead Developer for its follow-up opus, The War: Pacific 1941-1945.


#75 Pangea by Aleksander Jagodzinski
From gallery of The Professor


This is a bold game which takes a stab at examining the earliest life on the planet, how the various species interacted, lived, and evolved; and ultimately which species survived. The artwork is gorgeous; the gameplay is smooth; and the work that went into the asymmetric species is nothing short of impressive.

Designer's Note: Having worked on a number of RedImp Games' titles, I jumped at the chance, a few years ago, to serve as the English proofreader and editor.


#74 Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth
From gallery of The Professor


Is this the title that introduced the "following" mechanic? Maybe? But I don't know of one that does it better than this title, though I certainly enjoy it in a number of other games which you'll see on the list. Thanks to the Craftsman's Angst Variant, I love this one as a 2-player game and my girlfriend and I have logged more than two dozen games during the pandemic.

Designer's Note: A tried-and-true "following" mechanic is one where everyone gets a little something, but the one who chooses a particular actions gets a small boost. It's brilliant and easy to implement into games with multiple actions every round.


#73 Shadows over Camelot by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget
From gallery of The Professor


This one was definitely one of the first dozen games in the collection and its potential Traitor mechanic is fantastic and certainly led the way for other newer titles to copy. Having played it at many different group sizes, I've had a blast with this one for the past few years.

Designer's Note: I'm not sure how many games need a Traitor mechanic, but if you're looking for a classis, look no further than this classic from Bruno Cathala.


#72 Lords of Waterdeep by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson
From gallery of The Professor


I would classify this title as Gateway Plus...once the players are familiar with worker placement, this one shines for new gamers and older grognards. The beautiful artwork, straightforward game play, and of course, if you've splurged for the little adventurer Meeples, you're ready for a great night of gaming.

Designer's Note: I'm a D&D player from the early 80s, so this one was a no-brainer. Here's an IP which works for me...to that end, if you're designing a game with a beloved IP, make sure it stands the test.


#71 Architects of the West Kingdom by Shem Phillips and S. J. Macdonald
From gallery of The Professor


I had a chance to play this one at PiranhaPigCon in 2020, the last convention (a MicroCon) which I attended last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially given my adoration for Raiders of the North Sea. It has a very different feel from its older brother, but changes the worker placement mechanic enough to make it feel fresh.

Designer's Note: If you enjoy a mechanic but want to teak it, look to Shem Phillip's designs for inspiration.


And just like that we're through 30% of the list! Let me know your thoughts on these titles. What do you think about these games? Have you played them? If not, why not?

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers,
Joe
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Thu Apr 29, 2021 9:56 pm
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Mar: 90-81 ~ Worth playing?

Joe Pilkus
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We continue the journey from #90-#81...

A few of these I've played in the first quarter of 2021...mostly in a digital implementation via BGA. I need to get these off the shelf again.


#90 Historia by Marco Pranzo
From gallery of The Professor

This title is an absolute pleasure to play against human opponents or in a solo mode in which the bots control one or more nations. The card play is outstanding and takes a cue from Concordia in that there's one card (Revolution) which allows you to pick-up all of your previously played cards.

Designer's Note: One of the things I enjoy about this civ-game as that it tracks along to axes...military and technology in a way that doesn't require a ton of overhead and the iconography is clean and easy-to read.


#89 The King's Abbey by Randy Rathert
From gallery of The Professor

This is one I backed on Kickstarter when Pillars of the Earth had been out of print for a couple of years. I enjoy the similar feel that this title provides and the sharp use of the small cards for building out your respective abbeys.

Designer's Note: Excellent use of cards to prepare an area of play during the course of the game. If the game suffers from anything, it's the fact that the type face is exceptionally tiny and can prove difficult to read.


#88 Traveller Ascension: Imperial Warrant by Terry Coleman
From gallery of The Professor

Admittedly, this one has fallen down the ranking most notably because of its lack of a solid solo system and in the age of the pandemic during the last year, this one simply hasn't gotten to the Gaming Table

Designer's Note: Terry's vision, while audacious, captures the feel of the original RPG (Traveller) which I played decades ago. Pilot a Far Trader, travel to exotic lands, accept missions and assignments, and most importantly...pay your debts. I do love the card play and the tracking of various aspects of your ship...exceptionally well done!


#87 Jamaica by Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala, and Sebastien Pauchon
From gallery of The Professor

This will always remain in my list of Top 10 Gateway Games and thus, for the foreseeable future on my list of Top 100 Games. It's eminently accessible to all players and the race element is one that any gamer and non-gamer intuitively understands.

Designer's Note: The use of the cards and the two dice to capture varying degrees of actions is quite elegant; I also love the evocative artwork; and who doesn't love a pirate-esque theme? Am I right?


#86 Alhambra by Dirk Henn
From gallery of The Professor

This is a game that I played for the first time in 2020 at ATBCon (Across the Board podcast hosted)in Omaha, NE, one of the only two conventions I attended last year(PirhanhaPigCon hosted by Blue Peg, Pink Peg in VA being the other one. Not only did my girlfriend and I enjoy our first ever play of it, she won the game and the actual copy!

Designer's Note: Like other great Gateway Games, Alhambra is easy to teach and as you're goals are quite straightforward, it's one that I can get to the table with a range of gamers and non-gamers.


#85 The Builders: Antiquity by Frederic Henry
From gallery of The Professor

I played this one for the first time (two games, back-to-back) on BGA at the end of 2020 and absolutely fell in love with it. Yes, it's something of a trope to have a title in which the main mechanic includes gaining resources, building something with those resources for VPs or other resources, and repeat. But, it's done in a way that it doesn't overstay it's welcome. When my girlfriend saw the size of the box, she was initially dismissive as she's now regularly beaten me at Brass: Lancashire, Clans of Caledonia, and Gaia Project. But, after one play she was hooked...there was more on the bone than she first thought.

Designer's Note: A take away for any designer is that you don't need to make a 2-hour game if the essentials can be distilled into something that takes less than an hour and is quite enjoyable to play.


#84 On the Rocks by Michael and Christina Pittre
From gallery of The Professor

Make drinks for orders that are coming in from across the bar by taking the necessary ingredients, Mancala style, from a series of bowls. Get VPs or other bonuses and be the best mixologist ever! I played this one a few times at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia way back in 2019 and can't wait to get my copy. That should tell you something about the impression the game left on me that it's in my list of Top 100 Games out of 250 in my collection and I don't even have a physical copy yet.

Designer's Note: I had a chance to chat with Michael and Christina and while one can see other titles' influences on this one, the theme is fun and the artwork is great! The style of the play area to resemble menus is a wonderful touch.


#83 Escape: The Curse of the Temple by Kristian Ostby
From gallery of The Professor

I seem to have a number of Gateway Games at this level...interesting.
I've played this as a solo experience and at 2-5 players and it shines, IMHO, at all of them. This one will always remain in my collection and probably hover around his spot for years to come.

Designer's Note: I absolutely love the fact that you're making the game space as you play through the use of the tiles, encountered as you're racing Indiana Jones (who else would it be?) out of the temple before the whole thing collapses. The dice mechanism is intuitive and the fast gameplay means that this one can see a lot of plays in the same night.


#82 Bärenpark by Phil Walker-Harding
From gallery of The Professor

Okay, I simply have a lot of Gateway and Gateway Plus games in my collection as a I teach a lot of folks throughout the year. This is one that I've taught many young children and they had an absolutely wonderful time. Sometimes, they enjoyed looking at the tiles and talking about the animals!

Designer's Note: While I'm not a huge polyomino fan (as you'll see by the end of this Top 100 List), Bärenpark does it just right for me...it's the right length and the right level of intensity.


#81 Alien Artifacts by Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska
From gallery of The Professor

A very good friend introduced me to this title back in 2018 and I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to purchase it and play it throughout 2019 solo. It needs to get back out onto the Gaming Table and I hope to do it in 2021.

Designer's Note: Beautiful artwork and simple iconography can make your game stand out from among the other titles. While there may be one or two broken cards, it's a great game!


We're now through the first 20% of the list...what's next? You'll have to tune in next month to find out. What do you think about these games? Have you played them? If not, why not?

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers,
Joe
From gallery of The Professor
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Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:23 pm
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