Stven's Top Games of 2014
Stven Carlberg
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Here I present comments on the games I played most often during the year just past. I'll start with the games I played 4 times and finish up with the game I played 25 times.

A lot of my gaming gets done at my regular Thursday nights, a 6-guy games group. I get a fair number of 2-player games in with Angelika, my significant other. The occasional game day or game convention also adds games to my list.

This is an old habit of mine: I've presented a "Stven's Top Games" with my end-of-year numbers for every year since 2002, and BGG being what it is, you can still find them all in the geeklist archives. If you're interested in delving into the history of my 21st-century gaming, you can start here with my 2013 list and follow the thread back:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/167600/stvens-top-game...

But first, read here about the fascinating games of 2014!

Game on!
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1. Board Game: Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked]
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"Team Asia" is one of those rare games where you have a partner and instead of the usual arrangement of being seated across the table, you are seated next to each other. In addition to your own personal hand of cards, you and your partner share a hand (and a wooden rack to keep it privately displayed to the partnership) which includes some route cards and one of the train cards you draw on a turn.

It's an arrangement which turns out to suit Ticket to Ride well.

There are different games on the two different sides of this board. We've played the "Legendary Asia" side a couple of times and it's good, but the other side accommodates six players, so that fundamentally makes it the best Ticket to Ride ever for our Thursday night six.
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2. Board Game: Blue Moon City [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:500]
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Blue Moon City is a nifty card management scramble by Reiner Knizia that came out in 2006 and has become a perennial. It works well with 2, 3 or 4 players, and it's easy enough to learn that the person you teach the game to has a fair chance of beating you. I think the only really bad thing about it is that it's out of print! Maybe that'll be remedied soon. The fact that its 2-player cousin Blue Moon came out in a new edition this year gives hope.
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3. Board Game: Trendy [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:3899]
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This wonderfully simple and unique card game came out around the turn of the century. There are things you can do to play smart, and it might take you a couple of hands to figure them out. Know when to get in on the trend and when to go against the grain. Fast and fun.
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4. Board Game: Qin [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:1271]
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The second year we've played this territorial conquest game for 2, 3, or 4 players from Reiner Knizia, though I've been thinking lately it's really at its best for 3. The rules are not especially complicated -- basically, make color groups so you can claim them, then try to outnumber and poach. You're just enough limited by your hand of tiles to make it challenging. A slick and entertaining light strategy game.
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5. Board Game: Times Square [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:2528]
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Seven years ago Auf der Reeperbahn was new to me and my #1 most played game of the year. Angelika tired of it, but she's had a resurgence of interest lately. A complex tug-of-war card game/board game strictly for two players, 10-15 minutes of brainteasing, and most highly recommended -- one of no more than a dozen games I rate a 10. We ran it on New Year's Day and it managed to surprise us yet again with a game situation we'd never seen or expected. For a game I've played 200 times, that's remarkable.

If you have any glimmer of interest in trying this exceptional Reiner Knizia game, please check out the review I wrote in 2007 for an overview and some rules cues.
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6. Board Game: Snowdonia [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:345]
Stven Carlberg
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Snowdonia is a big favorite of a couple of my Thursday night crew, and although I don't quite get why it would be anybody's big favorite, I enjoy it well enough. It's a 90-minute game with an interesting variety of things you need to do and ways to score points, but it always starts with the need to collect iron so you can do some building.

For what it's worth, my approach is to pretty much ignore the "surveyor" option in the game -- the one where you move a guy around the board and he scores bonus points at the end for how far you've moved him, plus extra points if you've gotten one of the bonus cards for it. You have to get him halfway around before the point payoff even starts to be worth it, and I always feel like I have something more useful or at least more interesting to do.

In the last couple of games I've also largely ignored the "hire an extra worker for the round" option, largely to my advantage. It costs a piece of coal to hire the extra guy, and considering the cost of the hire (including the opportunity cost when you collected a coal when you could have been collecting an iron) plus the fact that there aren't likely to be many good purposes to put a worker to after two whole rounds of people deploying their standard two workers... I've come to think that it's only marginally worth it. In a recent win I hired the extra worker only once in the whole game and never moved the surveyor at all. So I submit that for your consideration.
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7. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:17]
Stven Carlberg
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The shape of gaming was changed forever in 2007 by Agricola. It quickly became and remains one of my favorite games.

But all these years of playing, and it had never occurred to me to set the sheaves of wheat up like that....
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8. Board Game: Targi [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:151]
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A Kosmos small-square-box 2-player game from 2012, Targi has just enough wrinkle and swirl to make it interesting. Each round starts with the players angling to pick which two things each will get to do on the round. Each of the two things is either a chance to get stuff, a chance to spend the stuff (mainly on victory points or on cards that may have useful powers during the course of the game and which make up the victory point grid at the end), or a chance to deploy the card in hand. A fun little learning curve and better than the average 2-player game.
 
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9. Board Game: Take it Easy! [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1388]
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What else needs to be said about this 1983 classic of playing your simultaneously announced hexes and hoping for the best score on completed lines? Fun after-dinner play for 2 or 20. Angelika got a 2-player version as an app on her iPhone -- it does the scoring for you, but your fingers may be too fumbly to get the tiles to go where you want every time.
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10. Board Game: Sushi Go! [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:341]
Stven Carlberg
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Some may not find sushi filling, but I have found Sushi Go! to be quite the satisfying filler game, 10-15 minutes of grins and nice little gamerly guesses about which card best to save and which to pass. Pictured is the edition I own, though there was a subsequent print run with a different cover.
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11. Board Game: RoboRally [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:339]
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Robo Rally is a perennial for our Thursday night six. We've been playing this for years and years. AND years. Great game and a nice design for multiple players at once because at the same time you're waiting on them to make their move, they're waiting on you to make your move.

My advice: Start simple and work up. Don't try to play the most complicated boards and options on your first Rally. And get an earlier edition if you can, one with virtual bots and everybody starting on the same square. The attempts to do away with the virtual bots did not improve the game.

Pictured is one of the most punishing boards (especially if you have to get OUT of that pit) from the Armed and Dangerous expansion.
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12. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
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When I did my first year's-end geeklist for 2002, Puerto Rico was my most played game. It's still one of my very favorites and has made my list every year ever since. Wanna play?
 
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13. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:207]
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Uwe Rosenberg has a whole bunch of stuff going on in Glass Road. There are a couple of little wheels to keep track of raw materials in your possession -- designed so that getting more of one thing may result in changing what you have of another -- and a tricky actions-selection methodology, and a public board of buildings you compete to get because they're the victory point generators, and forests and ponds and sand pits to keep track of, etc., all concentrated into a game that takes only an hour to play. It scratches some of the Agricola itch while clearly not being Agricola. Really kind of amazing how many times he's been able to do that.
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14. Board Game: Darjeeling [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1912]
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This smart little game of tea delivery caught my attention when it came out in 2007 and has reappeared regularly on my tables ever since. I feel that it deserves to be more popular than it is. The systems for collecting the tea crates you're going to ship is clever, and the payoffs once you get your tea to market work in a way I haven't seen in any other game. We still get a runaway winner occasionally, but not so often now that we know what makes a runaway winner and how to get in the way. Close contests with most of the players in the 90s are just as likely nowadays.

Darjeeling works even with 2 players, but as with most games, I like the additional swirl with more. A nice 45 minutes with people who know how to keep things moving, and with one madcap group we even finished in a cool half an hour once.
 
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15. Board Game: Cinque Terre [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:1307]
Stven Carlberg
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Like the photo? These are not the trucks that come with the game. Those are nice, but they fail actually to CARRY the goods the trucks go around picking up and delivering. So these are an improvement!

I do like pickup and delivery games, and Cinque Terre's simplification of the challenge with exactly five cities and three farms on a continuous looping route is highly appealing (and colorful!). It's fun planning ahead what you're going to pick up while you're on the farms side and where you're going to make deliveries when you're on the city side. But this is not as simple a game as it first appears.

The bonus cards are a little tricky to understand, especially for people who don't play games that often, and the "30 minus" cards would be a mess to explain even if they were well explained in the rules -- which they're not. My inclination when doing a rules instruction is still to tell people, "I'm not going to go into the details, but if you don't complete the deliveries on this card, you're not going to win, so just make sure you complete it." Because really, understanding how the scoring on this card works has nothing to do with enjoying playing the game.
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16. Board Game: Istanbul [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:91]
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This is a new one and a good one! Istanbul is not a big heavy game but rather a fun scramble toward a goal line. Basically there are 16 different tiles you can visit to conduct different kinds of business, getting goods, selling goods for cash, improving the carrying capacity of your cart, picking up wild cards, acquiring rubies in different ways, etc. Rubies (different numbers with different numbers of players) are the victory points.

Nice to see that Rüdiger Dorn has FINALLY found a satisfactory use for his idea about moving a stack of pieces and dropping one off at each stop -- there could have been a different rationale for locomotion around the board without diminishing the game, but it works fine here and gives us a little something to think about.
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17. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:22]
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Last year when I reported Mac Gerdts' Navegador as one of my most played games of 2013, I was asked if I'd played his new game Concordia yet. I hadn't -- but in 2014 I played it seven times. The two games don't have a whole lot in common aside from their author and their being played on gameboards with maps. Oh, and also, those little wooden ships!

Concordia is basically a story about peacefully expanding your trading empire from your base in Rome, but there's a somewhat complex roster of goods of different values and a whole bag of interesting tricks you can access by buying cards which also turn out to be victory point multipliers in different categories at the end. A very interesting scramble and another good game.
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18. Board Game: Splendor [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:112]
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I know this one is going to be on lots and lots of 2014 lists. It was new and shiny and has heavy poker-chip-style goods that players enjoy clicking together, is easy to teach and plays in about half an hour, which is a sweet spot for casual games with strangers at open game days. I was charmed by the way you build up from the smallest grain possible: Your first move is to take possession of three trade units -- "gems," but they look like poker chips. Those, after another round or two of collecting, you're going to trade for cards which improve your trading position and (as the game progresses and you can afford more expensive cards) award victory points. Deciding which cards from the array you want, and thus which colors of goods you'll choose to collect, and getting to them before somebody else does, is what the game is all about.

Splendor is a solid design and the only thing I have against it is that at eight times in six months, I played it a little more often than I really wanted to. Did I mention it has poker chips? What is it about poker chips that gamers can't resist?
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19. Board Game: Coal Baron [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:469]
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Another step up on the complexity scale is a game I liked so much I played it 15 times during 2014 and am still happy to play at any opportunity. I don't really like the English name for the game, since in the course of playing it you're going to mine and deliver maybe 16 pieces of coal -- hardly making you a baron in the commodity. In German the game's name is a typical greeting from one coal miner to another, which I feel is closer to the spirit of the game.

Each player begins with one each of the four different varieties of coal ready to be mined from the four different levels of the player's individual mine. The fun bit of gadgetry in the game is your coalshaft elevator which you run up and down (according to movement points you pay for with workers) to pick up the coal from the different depths and haul to ground level, there to fulfill the contracts you've selected (again, paid for with workers) and then delivered by the delivery method (again, guess what) specified on the contract. You'll also need cash because that's what you spend (in addition to workers) to "discover" new coal resources in your mine, but even cash has a cost in workers.

There are three rounds, each round ending when all the players have deployed all their workers, and then bonuses paid in VP, more lucrative with each progressive round.

All this in under an hour. It's a finely tuned game from expert designers Kramer and Kiesling, and I'm a fan!
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20. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
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And then, for fans of the VERY complex, we have Caverna.

Like the proverbial duck taking to water, I was totally into Caverna right from the first play. I was already totally an Agricola fan, and here was my chance to do all the stuff I do in Agricola, only faster, plus a whole lot more. You like sheep, boars, and cattle? Then you'll like dogs and donkeys, too. You like farming crops and fencing livestock? Then you'll like mining for coal and excavating caverns to make room for extra family members, too. And here's a new one -- how about spending coal to give one of your family members a special purchasing power, and a shopping list that improves every time you go shopping to the point where you can even breed animals or plant crops or build buildings with your shopping power?

And amazingly, this game is designed for up to 7 players. We ran it once with 6 -- I'm not sure we have a table big enough for 7, or enough patience to wait for our turns.

Thanks to Jim Cobb (the even MORE totally an Agricola fan in our group) being an early purchaser, we started in on Caverna in February of 2014, and by October I'd logged 25 plays.

I'm a little antsy that I didn't get to play it during November or December.
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