My Carefully Curated Geekbuddy-Rankings Top Games (Plus a Public Service Announcement)
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This is a bit of a public service announcement for a certain group of BGG users.

If your taste in games diverges from the norm on BGG, the official rankings can be useless. They are for me anyway. I love luckless abstract games, I love two-player games, and I love games with very simple rules and emergent complexity. These aren't qualities many of the top-ranked games here share. I dislike, for example, Agricola and Puerto Rico, and both these games were tops in the BGG rankings for a long time. My favorite game of all time, Slither, is ranked something like 4200th.

LUCKILY! There is a way to construct your own very own, much more accurate-for-you rankings, using Geekbuddies. (many people already know how to do this, but many don't - I hope those in the know will bear with me so we can help the others out).

First you need to find as many BGG users as you can who share your tastes, and make them your geekbuddies. The stricter your inclusion criteria, the better. I don't make someone my geekbuddy unless they clearly like a lot of the games I like AND dislike games I dislike.

BGG automatically creates a ranked list of your buddies' favorite games. You can find it through this sequence of clicks:

"My Geek" Dropdown (upper left in the navbar above) --> Geekbuddies --> Ratings

This Geeklist lists my Geekbuddies' top 25 games with at least 5 Geekbuddy ratings each. I've listed them from the lowest-rated to highest (for the sake of Drama!)

I made the cutoff at 5 ratings because that gave me exactly 25 entries with an average Geekbuddy rating higher than 8.

As you can see, it's dramatically different from the BGG norm, and I can tell you it's very predictive of what I like, even if there are some unexpected surprises on it.
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1. Board Game: Ponte del Diavolo [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:2414]
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#25
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.05


This game is a tribute to Alex Randolph's famous abstract game Twixt. Haven't played. Geekbuddy Comment:

Quote:
yeah, this is pretty good. I feel like I should be borrowing some Go terminology to describe it, like "tempo". Placing two tiles per turn makes it funky, and there's some nice whiplashing going on between offense and defense.

Really great variety of tactics - forks, bridge threats vs. tile threats - and at the same time, a dose of larger-scale strategy in trying to cut off your opponent. It's not strictly speaking a connection game, but you do seek to make connections as you go along, with flexible goals.

I'm not crazy about the rule that determines when the game ends. If there are moves that I can still make and my opponent can't, it seems like that's his problem, and I ought to be able to continue, Hey, That's My Fish!-style. Maybe that's just because I've lost that way a few times. But it also seems that that rule flummoxes the Pie Rule, in that it rarely seems advantageous to swap - can be frustrating for player 1.

I'm curious what effect a larger board would have on the balance. And it's not completely obvious to me that the way the scoring system grows would scale properly - the 28 is already a little ridiculous. Frankly, I've had a few very entertaining lower-scoring games with lots of blocking that suggest the board could even be smaller. The game is at its best when it is most vicious.

[update 11/09] Finally raising this to 10. I had held off a long time in deference to Twixt; didn't want to claim Ponte was a better game. But I realized I'm not claiming that; ratings are a measurement of my confidence in a game's awesomeness. Having played Ponte ~300 times more than Twixt, I can safely say I am quite confident it's awesome.

Also finally playing some Ponte on a larger board, testing out the conjectures made above. No conclusions yet, except to say that it is still far from obvious that a larger board is an improvement.
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2. Board Game: Santorini [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:3077]
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#24
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.05


Haven't played. Looks a sculpture made of yogurt. Here's a Geekbuddy comment:

Quote:
I love this game; beautifully simple with a lot of depth, even without the god powers. The powers are all very powerful, but seem surprisingly well balanced, considering their disparity.

My rating is for the two-player game; as a three player game, it has more than its' fair share of kingmaker problems. Not surprising; I find that few games of pure skill survive the addition of another player. Your mileage may vary depending on the social contract of your group. The author has a thread discussing this topic.

I may add ratings for different combinations of god powers as well, once I'm more familiar with them - you aren't just getting one game here, folks!


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3. Board Game: The Game of Y [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:5664]
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#23
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.06


I love this game, but only if played on certain tesselations. I like the one in the picture, I don't like the original straight triangular hex tiling.

Geekbuddy Comment:

Quote:
Addictive abstract strategy, with mathematical elegance that cannot be matched. It's impossible. The connection games (also Hex, Havannah, Twixt, Unlur...) appeal to me because when they're done, they're done - no keeping score. This is my favorite of the genre, both players have the same goal (not quite true of Hex) and someone has to win (Sperner's Lemma).

Can be played with pencil and paper, but the Kadon board is exquisite. Generally, my ratings take into account the physical product not at all. I rate the idea, the thought processes that one goes through while playing. On strictly that basis, I am no longer certain that Y is actually a better game than Atoll. Honest. For all I know, *Star is even better. The attention-getting wood board though, the black and white stones, the 'clack' - that all pushes it up for me. The published version also differs somewhat from the version you'll find online. The seeming curvature introduced on the Kadon board has more than aesthetic significance: by shortening the distance along the edges relative to the distance from the center to the edge, the power is spread more evenly throughout the board, which makes for a game where the hot spots can move around quite entertainingly. (And it also looks cool.)


I'll mention here that the book "Mudcrack Y & Poly-Y" (which is not in the database, because it is specific to one game) has an excellent discussion of strategy. Like everything that I've read from Ea Ea, the themes of that discussion can be applied elsewhere as well.


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4. Board Game: Twixt [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1647]
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#22
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.07


I've enjoyed this when I've played it. Harder for me than other connection games, and I'm not very good at it. I own the great old 3M bookshelf edition, but don't have any local partners with whom to play.

Geekbuddy comment:

Quote:
This has become an inordinately large part of my life. I have flown across the Atlantic to play in tournaments. My license plate is TWIXT. This is a very tactical and confrontational two player abstract. As such, it's not everyone's cup of tea. But it's the most intense gaming experience I know.
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5. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:49]
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#21
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.08


The first big surprise of this list. I've never played, but now I'm intrigued.

(Surprsingly Thorough) Geekbuddy Comment:

Quote:
Some context first.....I'm a eurogame/card game/abstract game player. I almost exclusively play games that take less than 90 minutes and have modest rule sets. The absolute limit of my complexity tolerance is Le Havre which I thoroughly enjoy. When I first read about Dominant Species I was worried about both the length and complexity.

However my professional field is environmental studies. I have yet to play an ecology/evolution game that incorporates population dynamics, changing habitats and climate, adaptation, and migration. Only the now out of print Extinction (invented by the great biodiversity theorist Steven Hubbell) came close, but it mainly emphasized population dynamics. So I was intrigued by Dominant Species and decided to get a hold of a copy.

One more caveat: I mainly have the opportunity to participate in two player games. It was crucial for me that Dominant Species would work with two.

In my view, this is an utterly brilliant game. There are multiple plans to victory, it inspires improvisational excellence, it is no harder to learn than Le Havre, it is fluid and dynamic, it has endless replayability, and it incorporates randomness and unpredictability as well as any strategy game I have ever played.

In learning the game using the impeccable rules, we had a few false starts, mainly because we forgot to do something. There is alot to remember. But the play aids cover everything. It does take some effort to learn the game, but the rules and player aids do as good a job as I've seen in helping you along.

As a two player game this is absolutely magnificent. You have a great deal of strategic choice, and each time you play you learn something new about the remarkable chain of possibilities. We recently played Arachnids against Amphibians twice on consecutive evenings. The games uniquely unfolded. We could easily play these two animals multiple times before having the urge to try the other creatures. Our two player games take two and a half hours. I can't imagine playing with two or three animals each as that would insure brain melt. However, the replayability with the various creatures is still extraordinary. I'm looking forward to playing Dominant Species with more players.

I'd like to compliment the lovely, understated artwork as well. This is a beautiful game to play and look at. The pastel colors, the font on the cards, the feel of the board and pieces all reflect high quality. This is the closest a cardboard game can some to being heirloom.

Finally, Dominant Species brilliantly crosses the boundary between abstract and theme. My view is that an ecology/evolution game must have abstract qualities as the dynamics of adaptation are representational at this scale. It's all about the patterns that connect. Yet the creative richness of ecology and evolution demand thematic metaphor. Dominant Species matches great gameplay with wonderful aesthetics.

One of the primary difficulties in constructing a game about ecology and evolution i finding the appropriate spatial and temporal scale. It has to be conceivable and tangbile enough so that you can manipulate the variables so as to play with them without being overwhelmed by the otherwise daunting complexity of the ecosystem. Indeed, that is why it is so hard for us to perceive global environmental change. I write about this subject at great length in my book Bringing the Biosphere Home (MIT Press, 2001).

I'll leave my environmental studies pedigree for now.

As a gamer, I recommend Dominant Species as a brilliantly conceived, wonderfully variable, and deeply rich game. It is totally absorbing, highly compelling, and just plain great fun. It is pleasantly hard. I just love the magnificent flow of the game play. Thanks to all involved for inventing and producing such a landmark game.
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6. Board Game: Arimaa [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:2173]
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#20
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.10


No surprise here. A modern classic crossing-game. I've played it some, but not a ton, definitely love it.

GeekBuddy Comment:

Quote:
9: Initial impression after playing a few face-to-face games and researching/reading a bit. I may revise after I let this all soak in. :-)

10: Updated to a 10 ... yeah, it's that good.

Drink the Kool-Aid!
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7. Board Game: YINSH [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:157] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
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#19
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.15


I love this game and it was one of the main inspirations for my own best game design, Catchup.

Geekbuddy Comment:

Quote:
Dynamic and exhiliarating in its pace and presence...a brain-burner that is fun beacuse the movement of the pieces is so fascinating to watch...a game of great depth and interest....the most accessible of the GIPF series, but by no means the lightest...
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8. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:72]
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#18
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.17


Another somewhat surprising one. I played it once long ago and enjoyed it, but it's not the kind of game you can evaluate well on the first play. Knizia is easily my favorite Euro designer, however, and as you may have noticed, games where spatial relationships matter greatly tend to appeal to me.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Knizia's masterpiece? I've been waiting forever to get my hands on the reprint of T&E, having loved pretty much all the Knizia games I've played. And I'm certainly not disappointed. The first game I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and then I won. The second game strategies began to present themselves, and the third game I was totally hooked. It's amazing how the whole game is driven by that simple but elegant scoring mechanic, and how games can range from quick grabs for treasure to epic slug-fests. Some complain about the luck of the tile draw, but I think there are enough ways of mitigating it.

UPDATE AFTER 40 PLAYS (plus hundreds on iOS): What can I say? This is The One, my Desert Island Game, everything I'm looking for. Unlike any other Euro I know, it feels like it could have been invented thousands of years ago and rediscovered in a Mesopotamian excavation. The perfect combination of chess-like spatial strategy and poker-like bet and bluff. A match between four experienced players is my greatest gaming joy, and I'm so grateful that my group provides sufficient opportunities for me to experience that. To those who say it's all luck, I recommend playing a few times against the iOS AI on its hardest setting. Once you can win 75% of your 4-player games, let me know what you think. I will be playing this game until I die.
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9. Board Game: Intrigue [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:1965]
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#17
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.17


This is one of the rare more-than-two-players games I absolutely love. Games with more than two tend to feature alliances and negotation, and this game does those things, and nothing else, to the nth degree. Emergent complexity from a web of psychological manipulation between players. It can be very tense, and therefore very exhausting, but in the best possible way.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
The most vicious and evil game I've ever played. Truly dastardly and skullduggerous players will win. I actually feel bad about some of the things you have to do when you play this game. Really nasty....

But also incredibly good! You're really just playing the people, the game is secondary. It's an amazing experience to see how evil you can be.
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10. Board Game: Through the Desert [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:446]
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#16
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.20


Knizia's lightly themed connection game. I've played a couple of times, but didn't send me to the moon. As for so many Knizia games, I'd probably come to love it if I played it more, but there are so many other connection games I'll play first, I probably won't get to it.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Plastic camels, indeed. I don't play this as much as I used to (unlike Samurai, I did play Through the Desert before I started logging plays). This is a shame, because it has excellent replayability due to random elements of the setup. I don't like the Go comparisons, which I feel are superficial. Making territory is only one aspect of this multi-faceted game. There are very few 2-player abstracts which also work well with more players, and this is one of them. The two-moves-(in this case, camels)-per-turn idea is one which I'd like to try in several other games.

The game just feels great: the turn angst is finely tuned, and you have to pay attention to all areas of scoring. So it overcomes my preference for games where you don't have to do a lot of counting to find out who won. Once upon a time, I rated this a 10. I don't know why I ever lowered it.
 
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11. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:724]
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#15
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.28


I have a long history with this game, because it is the single greatest tool for teaching the scientific method I've ever come across, and I use it as such frequently.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Zendo does what very few games do: create an experience that is exciting for every player involved. Victories have the feeling that they are shared, so even players that do not "win" enjoy the rule being discovered, and yet are just as satisfying for the person who declared them as in more complex strategy games. I play a slightly modified version that does away with "Mondo" and guessing stones, by always giving a player the option to try to guess the rule at the end of their turn. I feel that that variant is more streamlined and pure than the normal ruleset, as calling "Mondo" tends to break the natural flow of the game, and requiring a stone to make a guess does not add much to gameplay. People tend to guess only when they are fairly sure they have cracked it anyways, as guessing incorrectly gives the other students an extra Koan to study on their turns.
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12. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.37 Overall Rank:215]
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#14
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.29


Played this a couple of times many years ago and don't remember much about it, but again, it's Knizia and it's pretty famous for its emergent complexity, so not a huge surprise. On the other hand, it is a bit surprising because it's for more than two and because it's only the second game on the list which doesn't require spatial reasoning as a central feature (after Intrigue). That makes me want to try it again.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
My lightbulb moment so far as Eurogames were concerned. The rules are simple and yet Modern Art incorporates elements of hand management and timing with an absolute need to pay attention to what your opponents are doing and how they are bidding. The auctions are deliciously tense.

I love this game enough to own both the German and the Chinese editions. The artwork on the Chinese cards is really nice, while the characters are almost as easily understood as icons. The money is another story; the variations on brown and green are too difficult to tell apart.
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13. Board Game: Gyges [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:3845]
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#13
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.30


I haven't played this. Has a reputation for being short and peppy.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Superb abstract with shared pieces. I wrote a review for Games, Games, Games magazine many moons ago; you'll find the text of the review here: http://www.scat.demon.co.uk/reviews/gyges.html
 
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14. Board Game: Metropolys [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:695]
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#12
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.33


I'm in the middle of completing the 100 Play Challenge for this one and LOVING it. Very original and uses parts of the brain I didn't even know were there. It takes a while to really grok, however, due in part to its unusual gameplay.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
I love this game. The spatial auction mechanism is brilliant, and the secret goals work extremely well. I love how, apart from the secret goals, there is absolutely no luck, not even hidden information! This makes the game very exciting, as there are many different ways to approach the game. I also love how there are several strategies that are not apparent at first glance, but are very rewarding when discovered. For example, taking negative chips can actually be quite useful, as if no one else wants to take -3 points (-1 for the chip and -2 for the card), they will let you have all of those spaces for free, which can help both with placing small buildings and with completing your secret goals. Pure genius.

Rating by number of players:
2: 10
3: 9
4: 8
 
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15. Board Game: A Gamut of Games [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked]
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#11
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.40


Well this a book, but it contains games, and it does indeed go to 11. This is where the now-classics Lines of Action and Haggle were presented.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
An instant classic. Contains Focus, Haggle, Lines of Action, Crossings. I'd wish Sackson had explained in more detail how he fleshed out the game mechanics.
 
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16. Board Game: Shogi [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:1156]
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#10
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.40


We enter the top 10 with an all-time classic: Japanese Chess, which many people prefer to western chess. I've only played it a few times for lack of partners, and it's another game you can't evaluate after just a few plays.

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Quote:
Very cool - similar to Western Chess yet also very different. Being able drop captured pieces back onto the board really changes things in an interesting way.

After years of thinking about Shogi from afar, procrastinating due to the initial kanji learning hurdle, I finally bought a set in late 2011 and was pleasantly surprised how quickly we got used to the kanji. We started with Mini Shogi to get used to the kanji and basic tactics, and then soon started enjoying full Shogi.
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17. Board Game: Slither [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:5405]
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#9
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.43


My all-time favorite game! It has the elegance and high strategy of the great connection games, but the tactics are richer and better than any other connection game I've played. I can't get enough of it. If there's one modern game that deserves to be played widely 500 years from now, this gets my vote.

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Wow ... just WOW. Nick Bentley made me see the light regarding the greatness of this game. Sweet, slick, slithering goodness here. It's very arrogant to say that this is the new Go, but it is the new Go.
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18. Board Game: Dominion: Prosperity [Average Rating:8.27 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.27 Unranked]
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#8
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.45


This is an expansion for a game I don't like very much. Of the items on this list, it's the one I'm least likely to like, though I haven't played it.

Geekbuddy Comment:
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Makes Dominion kick butt even more than it used to. I love Platinum, Colony, and the new action and treasure cards!
Edit: I don't ever feel like playing this anymore. I guess I just don't like deck building games.


(none of the super-high geekbuddy ratings for this game had comments, so this is all I could come up with. the only comments were luke-warm)
 
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19. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:47]
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#7
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.47


The biggest surprise on this list, by far, because it's so different from everything else. I'm personally intrigued because some of my Geekbuddies who are most similar to me are absolutely bonkers for it. I acquired this game on the strength of their comments, but haven't played it yet.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
My rating has gone up every time I played. I'll be picking up a second copy at some point, since the first one is going to wear out eventually.

My one criticism: the icon system is a barrier for entry, and very intimidating for the first game. However, after a couple of games, it all makes sense. I do wish there was more text on the cards and less artwork, though. Lots of tough decisions, and the game seems to play out differently each time.

Note: the game is very, very similar to San Juan in many aspects, but Tom Lehmann was involved in making SJ, and has permission for this version - I reckon they should have put the design story in the manual, though, because it looks like blatant plagiarism without the context.
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20. Board Game: Entrapment [Average Rating:7.99 Overall Rank:5177]
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#6
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.50


It's a shame I haven't played this one yet, because I'm almost certainly going to love it. Shades of Quoridor, another one of my favorites. Of all the games on this list I haven't yet played this is the one I'm most certain I'll love.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
I had never heard of this game before until I found out Boardspace.net had implemented it. I tried it there and loved it. I, of course, have heard of, played, and really liked Quoridor (which this on the surface seems to be similar to), but Entrapment seems to be a bit meatier.

Update 06/15/2011:
Addicted, enthralled, and enticed. Yup, it's that good!
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21. Board Game: TZAAR [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:356] [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked]
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#5
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.53


I've played this a few times and loved it. Would definitely like to play more. Only thing I don't love is full-board before game begins, but that's a weird aesthetic quirk of mine rather than a judgement on gameplay.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Another great game in the GIPF series. It might be the most accessible, variable, and interesting game of the entire series. It's easily the most flamboyant and tricky, with a fine hide and seek element. It almost feels like an elaborate capture the flag. Yet there are so many paths to victory and so many approaches to playing it well.
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22. Board Game: *Star [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:8031]
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#4
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.60


One of the more strategically advanced connection games in that it requires Go-like territorial thinking in addition to the normal connection game stuff. I've played it some and enjoyed it greatly but it's another one that doesn't get played much thanks to my obsession with other connection games, Slither in particular.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Challenging abstract which requires balancing connection and territorial elements.

There is obviously a first turn advantage - may lower my rating a litte when I've played the game more.


(about that advantage: it may not be cleared up with a simple pie rule as usually works for other connection games. May need a more elaborate pie rule)
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23. Board Game: DVONN [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:385] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
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#3
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.65


I've played this one to death. Definitely a favorite. The disconnection threats are what make the game for me. I enjoy the opening phase more here than I do with Tzaar, if only because I've played so much I actually have some understanding about the connection between the placement and movement phases.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
Also known as "Steve wins". Find Alan Kwan's glossary on-line; his terminology is very helpful in understanding the nature of the forces at work here.


...wow, I haven't touched that comment in 3000 years. I played a bunch of Dvonn before I joined the geek, when I had far fewer games. It doesn't get out much any more, but I'm going to try to play it more on boardspace.net. It remains my second-favorite of the Gipf series, behind ZÈRTZ, which I rate a 10. Or maybe TZAAR is second. While the placement phase is confusing and hard to evaluate, it clearly is significant. But as the game progresses and stacks develop, I find the fact that you are building something (albeit something that can be stolen from you) makes intermediate goals very clear. Deciding which intermediate goal to pursue (gain control of a stack with a red piece, separate or immobilize an opponent's stack...) is however difficult.

I've played quite a few stacking games since Dvonn, but Dvonn stands head and shoulders above all of them. It has a decisiveness that Focus lacks, superior clarity (towards the end anyway, once I've made a fatal mistake) and obvious depth.
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24. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:135]
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#2
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.65


No surprise here. One of two games that sparked my interest in abstract games and abstract game design (the other one is #1 on this list). Like everyone says, it's an immortal game.

Geekbuddy Comment:
Quote:
The abstract strategy game which made me realize I can love abstract strategy games. A new cow-orker taught several of us in the mid 1990s (thanks Rob) and I was hooked immediately. Such surprising beautiful strategic depth arises from such simple minimalist rules. As one of the classics, it's easier to find opponents in real life and online than for most abstract strategy games, and the simple yet functional handicap system is a big advantage over most games. The long history and huge body of literature and culture significance is frosting on the cake.

While I lived in the US, I went to the US Go Congress each summer and most local tournaments. Now I play lots of other abstract strategy games in addition to Go, but I have no doubt I will be enjoying Go for the rest of my life.
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25. Board Game: Hex [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:2799]
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#1
Average Geekbuddy Rating: 8.71


This game, even more than Go, inspired my love of abstract games. Has among the simplest rules of any game ever invented, and yet a huge amount of emergent complexity, as I'm reminded over and over as I'm getting happily crushed by the Master and Grandmaster level players you can find online. This was my favorite game for a long, long time until I discovered Slither. It's still my 2nd favorite game, with Go just barely trailing.

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I've played over a thousand Hex games on the Internet. I hope to play thousands more.


Enough Said
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