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The Best of Both Worlds, Part III

Hey everyone! Today is a special post in-between normal posts where I'd like to talk about my Top-5 favourite Abstract Strategy games. Because I'm on vacation and it's hot and I like the genre laugh.
I'll also mention games that just missed the top of my personal Mt. Olympus and a few games of that category that I would like to try. If someone has helpful recommendations - I'm all ears!

A few words going in: We own 20 games marked in the category of Abstract Strategy games in the BGG database and I have played several more. So I was trying to find my favourite 5 in a pool of about 30-something games. I ranked these games using the PubMeeple ranking engine, based on how much I'd like to play a game in most situations. So yes, there might be a slight bias towards shorter games, but to be honest, most of these games have a playtime of less than an hour anyway. And it's my list after all, I rank it however I see fit .
While not all of the games I looked at are two player only, I play abstracts purely as two player games, so all my impressions are at that player count. Thus, without further ado, here's my list:

d10-5d10-5d10-5 Patchworkd10-5d10-5d10-5

How does it play? Tiles are arranged in a circle on the table. There is a moving pawn that restricts which tiles a player can draft on their turn. Tiles cost time and buttons (read: money) to draft. How much time you spent ultimately determines how often you will be able to draft anything and buttons are victory points in the end. Drafted tiles go onto a personal board, the more spaces are covered at the end of the game, the better.

Board Game: Patchwork
(Image by BGG User STOCKBROT)

Why is it here? While it pretends to have an actual theme, there is no doubt that it could in reality be about anything and nothing. The author, Uwe Rosenberg, kind of proves my point, as he has since put out several games with similar mechanics, but a gardening theme (Cottage Garden was the first, I think). But while I have played Cottage Garden and thought it was decent, not even the cats could convince me to buy and play that one over Patchwork. The double economy of the button and time ressource is fascinating and always creates an interesting dilemma. I think it is more tactical than strategic, as you have to be on your toes and make do with what the game throws at you. But you also cannot just play on a whim - you'll have to build a button economy and plan your time efficiently. Neat.

Am I any good at it? I'm at least not bad. I think we are about 50:50 in this game.

d10-4d10-4d10-4 War Chest d10-4d10-4d10-4

How does it play? Each player controls four different unit types. Units are represented by Poker chips that are drawn from a bag. You then use the drawn chips to either increase your board presence, strengthen a troop already there, move troops around the board or add new chips to the bag. First player to place his 6 markers on control points wins the game.

Board Game: War Chest
(Image by BGG User SrBoardgames)

Why is it here? I like almost everything about this game. The tactile feel of the chunky Poker chips in the bag, the clear and simple icons, the troop diversity, the back-and-forth on the battlefield. I don't like that you can be screwed over by drawing from the bag. On the other hand, this is something you have to plan around, but it can feel a bit frustrating when the odds were clearly in your favour and you still draw the wrong coins. But the good far outweighs the bad.

Am I any good at it? Eh. Hard to tell... We have only played three times so far. And while I won the first game, success has since eluded me .

d10-3d10-3d10-3 Onitama d10-3d10-3d10-3

How does it play? I just explained that in the last post of this blog .

Board Game: Onitama
(Image by BGG User Martinus)

Why is it here? This game packs a lot of punch into 15 minutes of gameplay. There is a definite learning curve: During the first games, you may think it is all a tactical game, you just see what your opponent throws at you and try to roll with the flow. And they are doing the same. Then, with repeat plays, you suddenly start analyzing the patterns beforehand and plan out how you want to use them. When to give what pattern away and what to hold back. How to use that to sneak by. You will still have to account for what your opponent does, of course. But you will no longer be drifting from turn to turn, but plot a strategy for your game plan. It's amazing how much this game unfolds over time.

Am I any good at it? Again, at least not bad. We are about evenly matched at this game.

d10-2d10-2d10-2 Azul d10-2d10-2d10-2

How does it play? Players are drafting groups of tiles to put onto their tableau. For every row in your tableau you need a different number of tiles to fill it, tiles you cannot place give negative points. Forcing your opponent to take tiles they do not want is a big part of the game and might be perceived as a bit cutthroat. But it's usually your own fault for letting it happen devil.

Board Game: Azul
(Image by BGG User DamianG)

Why is it here? A comfortable game to setup and play in less than 30 minutes. Tension is always high, but you have good influence on what happens on the board, while not totally eliminating a bit of randomness in the tile draft setup. So it's both strategic and tactical, but we never feel lucked out. And the tiles are good and chunky quality.

Am I any good at it? Hm. Not really . I rarely win against M. and also multiplayer I'm usually somewhere in the middle-field.

d10-1d10-1d10-1 Dragon Castle d10-1d10-1d10-1

How does it play? You draft tiles from a middle pile, either you get a matching pair or a single tile and a shrine roof. You put that onto your own tableau to create areas of a single colour. Once four or more tiles of the same colour are orthogonally adjacent to each other, they are flipped over and score points. They can now be built over as a second or third storey. You can also build a shrine roof on any pile, netting you points at the end.

Board Game: Dragon Castle
(Image by BGG User henk.rolleman)

Why is it here? It gives us a similar feeling as Azul, but without the cutthroat element. So if we just want to casually build temples and talk about the day, then this is a totally laid back and relaxing exercise. It's more strategic than tactical, as you will have to plan your way to the top floors and also balance the shrine roofs. There are a ton of different layouts for the central tableau and there are different end game score goals and special abilities that you can mix in to have a slightly different experience each time.

Am I any good at it? I win this game more often than I lose. So I can't be totally rubbish laugh.


These are games that just missed out on the Top 5, but I'd like to mention them here nevertheless:

We only played twice, the first play we were a bit lukewarm, the second we enjoyed very much. So I find it a bit early to put into any of the top spots.

Itchy Monkey: A rather quirky game, where you play lice colonies on monkeys and apes. You try to get your lice on certain configurations of monkey tiles. It's good and we have enjoyed our plays, but couldn't crack the Top 5.

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends: When I saw this was not in the Top 5, I was at first totally surprised, because I like this brainburner very much. Then I looked at the Top 5 games and went "Oh, yeah, that explains it." It is one of the heaviest brain burners on our list of abstract games and the spatial element make this really tough. Which is why we don't play it more often and also why it couldn't crack into the top spots. I'm also really bad at it .


These are games that I haven't played, but would very much like to:

Gipf series: They are really pure abstracts and I would really like to try them out one of these days. The question is, which one? YINSH is the highest ranked, which leads me to believe it would be an excellent entry point. While from the game description, DVONN sounds most interesting to me. Either way doesn't seem to matter, as I have not found either of them in a shop - neither at a FLGS or online so far. So if I want to go in, I will have to try my luck at the Geekmarket, I guess?

Mandala: This pops up constantly in the What Couple Have Been Playing geeklist and it sounds really interesting. If I see it anywhere on a shelf, I'd definitely snag a copy. The designer is the same one who did War Chest, so that's another bonus.

Santorini: Santorini was all the rage when the new deluxified version came out. It stille seems to be played a lot by people and gets very good reviews. The fact that it is ranked #7 in Abstract games makes me think it must be good. But reading about the gameplay left me a bit undecided. So this is one I'd like to try before I buy.


Some of you may think that the list above has some glaring omissions in the "classics" department. So I won't close this entry without a few words in that regard.
Yes, classics are called that for a reason, they've been around and played across the worled long before BGG or the internet or electric light was a thing. Or democracy in large parts of the world for that matter . And they are still widely known and played and enjoyed by a lot of people. But I'm not a lot of people devil.

I have never played Shogi, although I'd like to, because I have a feeling I might like it.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
At least more than Chess.
So I could even have it included on the list above. I guess. Yeah, I really think I'd buy and play a set if I came across one that looked nice .

I have played a fair share of Backgammon and I think this really old classic has aged pretty well. We never played for money, of course, so the gambling aspect was lost on me. But overall I think the gameplay holds up to modern day standards. There's a bit of luck, but not so much that you feel like the game is playing you. I do like it and still play occasionally. It's just not in the Top spots or runner-ups of this list.

I have played Go a few times, but far too infrequently to really have an opinion. It has this intimidating halo of the pro players, but if played against an evenly matched opponent, I think it can be quite fun. But on the other hand, I'd really not suggest it over any of the other games on this list. It didn't even make Top 10, it just doesn't appeal all that much to me.

Finally, let's talk about the elephant in the room. I don't like Chess and it's not even in my Top 30. There, I said it. How can I like abstracts and not like Chess? Well, fairly simple. I just hate everything surrounding this game more than I dislike the game itself. But I hate that it made Analysis Paralysis into a form of art. I hate that you cannot really play it casually, because it always feels like I miss out on layers upon layers, so that leads to heavy AP even on a friendly level and the game drags on and on. And the opening phase is so darn boring, because nothing happens and it all feels so tedious and then you've made a mistake and arrrgh! And I hate that it somehow manages to make me feel bad for not liking it.
Playing on a competitive level is really competitive and boils down so much to pattern recognition and knowing what the correct response to a certain opening or board state is. So while I find that interesting and fascinating on an intellectual level, it is just not something I enjoy doing. Or watch others do.
So yeah. I really don't like playing Chess. I'm sorry. shake


So that's it, that's my take on Abstract Strategy games. Have anything to add, amend, recommend? I'd like to hear it in the comments . Otherwise thanks for reading and I hope I have put a new game onto your radar. Or made you want to play one you haven't played in a while. Or just entertained you for a bit .

meeple waves goodbye!
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