Chaddyboy's Top 20 Games Published From 1995-1999
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Following up on my list of top games publisher pre-1995, this particular list is where I feel right at home, as it marks my entry point into the hobby. I look at this list, and I see a list of games that I consider to be classics; games I cut my teeth on when I entered the hobby.

You'll also notice it's a time dominated by a handful of designers. The indie scene hadn't arrived, so you had a small number of publishers, and they were publishing designs from a fairly small number of well-regarded designers. It was a time where you played the same games quite frequently, as you weren't drinking from a firehose of selection like we are today.

I'm working through a series of these lists, with a list for:

Top 20 Games Published Before 1995
Top 20 Games Published 1995-1999 (this one!)
Top 20 Games Published 2000-2004
Top 20 Games Published 2005-2009

I determined my rankings using the pairwise method, which means I took all of my most highly rated games from this time period, and threw them into a system that continually asked me "Would you rather play this game, or this other game?", until it had the necessary data to output a ranked list. Of course, this means it's a reflection of which games games I prefer at this moment, but it was a really fun exercise.

For those that have favorites from this time frame, feel free to add them to the list, and tell me how crazy I am to not include them!
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1. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:233]
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I was a bit surprised to see this float to the top for me, but I realize it's a game I'd pretty much always be willing to play, and I frequently pull it out as in intro game for friends that aren't super into gaming. It features:

1) Really nice graphics and theme, which help draw people in.
2) An action point system, which is a concept that blows peoples' minds. Having free choice of what you're going to do on each of your turns, only limited by the number of action point you have, is a fresh concept to a non-gamer. Plus, there are just enough options here to provide interesting decisions, but just few enough that it doesn't overwhelm a non-gamer.
3) A super transparent goal. Get your dudes to treasure sites and temples, and set up situations where that's easier for you to do than it is for your opponents to do.

Funny memory of this game: I walked into Pegasus Games in Madison, WI to buy Munchkin, as one of my high school buddies had wowed us with it over our winter break from college (I barely knew anything other than Risk and Axis & Allies at the time). I distinctly remember seeing a wall of games featuring El Caballero, Big City, and the iconic box cover of Tikal, among a few others. I picked up the box, checked it out, and decided it looked way too complicated. It would be well over a year later that I'd find out these were the exact games I was looking for!

As I mentioned, the late 90's were dominated by some all-star designers that could easily be the first inductees into a board game hall of fame. Let's start tracking their appearances on my list:

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Kramer (+ design partner) - 1
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2. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:58]
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When I think of area majority games, El Grande is the first one that comes to mind. A very clever little bidding/hand management system, some interesting intrigue with the secret deployment in the Castillo, and some timing elements thrown in with the positioning of the King. Simple rules, but a fun and interesting game.

However, I think this game truly shines with the King & Intrigue expansion, which interestingly introduces deck-building, as each player gets to custom craft their hand of cards for the game, which will affect their ability to bid, and also what special abilities they might be able to trigger. It also gives players more control of what abilities they want and when, and makes the hand management aspect even more interesting.

The latest El Grande Big Box release is flat out great, giving you a bunch of modular expansions (including King & Intrigue) in a really well-produced package.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
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3. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:149]
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Ra is just a wonderful blend of auction and push-your-luck. in a tight package. The edge-of-your-seat tile draws as you root for certain tiles to show up while hoping others don't show up is great. And has been common to this list so far, the rule set is clean, and the goal is pretty clear. It can just be difficult to play well!

And then there's that Ra token (at least in older versions of the game, and it's a huge shame it's not in the newest version) that you get to smack down on the table to start an auction. Just a satisfying tactile cherry on top of the sundae!

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Knizia - 1
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4. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:71]
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Tigris & Euphrates is the first heavy gamer game that absolutely blew me away. I remember playing back-to-back games the first time I ever played it.

Unlike other games on this list so far, T&E is a rather opaque game that takes at least a half game for most new players to even understand what's going on, even though the rules are still quite simple. The two types of conflict that can happen within/between the various abstracted civilizations that organically develop in the game seems to be the main point of confusion in the game, but if it's explained thematically, I find people pick it up fairly quickly. Everything in this game is so wide-open that it can just be hard to know what to do and when.

But, the game is so great! Yes, there is some luck of the draw in the tiles that can occasionally frustrate, but I'm willing to live with that for the genius of the design.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Knizia - 2
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5. Board Game: Buy Low Sell High [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:3747]
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This is probably my favorite game that would not appear on many other folks' favorite game lists. However, I love stock market/financial games, and have always really enjoyed this one.

Buy Low Sell High is a simple buy-low sell-high type of game, with a lot of good player interaction and emergent partnership situations, where you're always trying to get the slight edge in those partnerships. I think it's great fun, while still being simple enough that I could teach and play this with nearly anyone.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 3
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
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6. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:331] [Average Rating:7.19 Unranked]
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I don't think I really need to say much about Catan. This game is a huge reason why we have the growth we've had in our hobby, serving as a gateway drug into gaming for thousands and thousands of people. That it's still immensely popular to this day is a testament to how good this game is.

Still a game that I enjoy playing after all these years!

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 3
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
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7. Board Game: PitchCar [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:340]
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PitchCar takes the slot-car racing we all enjoyed as kids, and turns it into an immensely fun and tense flick-racing game. Needless to say, you can play this game with pretty much anyone, as they instantly want to play upon seeing the track set up on the table.

Speaking of set-up, setting up is half the fun! Some of my buddies and I created a Geeklist of various track building elements you can create by using standard PitchCar pieces in non-standard ways:

Great Pitchcar features you can build with official track

The only drawback here is that you'll get set back a fairly pretty penny if you want enough track to do some fun and unique stuff with. Playing with just a base set is OK, but you're really going to want more than that! Here's the rabbit hole I went down:

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8. Board Game: TurfMaster [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:1536]
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I've always been a fan of racing games, and TurfMaster is among the finest ones out there! The hand management aspect of this game is excellent, and the risk-assessment created by the die rolls combined with the handicapping put on leaders' movement is just wonderful.

If you haven't played the game, you have no idea what I mean here, but the game has a very interesting dynamic in when you should charge to the front vs. lying back. Lying back is a bit stressful, as opportunities to pass the field are tough, especially if playing with the full complement of eight players (which you should absolutely do!). However, running at the front is also stressful, as your movement is handicapped, and if you run out of cards to play that are below that handicap, you can lose your entire turn! There are also periodic die rolls for movement that can really hurt a horse running out in the lead as well, but not in an annoying way; it's done in a way where you can predict what might happen and plan accordingly, or choose to just take your chances and potentially get screwed.

Overall, just a fantastic game combined with a fantastic production quality!
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9. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:479]
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Similar to Ra, we have another Knizia game with auction as the main mechanism, again combined with a push-your-luck element generated by drawing tiles from a bag. However, the feel of this game is almost nothing like Ra, despite looking similar on paper, other than both being really great games!

The once around auctions in Medici can be particularly excruciating, especially if your bid is early in the auction, as you only have one shot to anticipate what another player might be willing to pay. Bid too low, and another player walks off with the set for a song. Bid too high, and you might end up overpaying, or even worse, end up with tiles you didn't even want. The once around is present in Ra, but is MUCH more stressful in this one.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 4
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
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10. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:278]
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For years and years, and even until today, this is has been a go-to filler game. The game is ridiculously simple. In the first half of the game, use money to bid for properties, valued 1-30. In the second half of the game, use those properties to blind bid for money, valued 0-15. Most money at the end wins.

The first half of a game is an exercise in determining when to drop out and get the best value for your money. The second half is a game of guessing what your opponents will do in the blind bids, maximizing your profit on your properties.

Super simple. Super fun.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 4
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
Dorra - 1
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11. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:309]
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The first two-player game that entered my collection, and still one of the best to this day.

Again, you have a super simple game, but this time hand management and press-your-luck. Lost Cities is constantly asking you to manage risks and evaluate the timing of your card plays while limiting the opportunities of your opponent. Do I have time to start another expedition, or will the game end before I can make it successful? Is it safe to discard this card, or will my opponent just pick it up? Should I play this card now, or wait? Shit, I don't want to play or discard any of these cards; what do I do!?!

So much tension for such a simple card game.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 5
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
Dorra - 1
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12. Board Game: Ta Yü [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:1444]
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Another super simple two-player game, but this one is just a fun, casual, game for when you want to relax and not have to think so hard.

The entire premise is that you're trying to connect one side of the board to the other north to south, while your opponent is trying to connect one side of the board to the other east to west. Your score is simply the number of connections you make to one side, multiplied by the number of connections you make to the other side.

You do this by placing gorgeously simple bakelite tiles depicting various path configurations. See here:



Unfortunately, subsequent releases of the game aren't nearly as beautiful as the original, but the gameplay is still just simple and fun, aided by the great tactile nature of the tiles.
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13. Board Game: Show Manager [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:1211]
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As was the theme for a lot of games in this time frame, it seems, we have a fairly simple game that presents some really tough choices. In Showmanager, you're drafting actors in actresses in your hand, and assembling them into casts for four different shows. Different stars are better in certain roles than others, so you're trying to draft hands that you can play for high scoring shows. It's a simple game made interesting by a couple tricky rules:

1) There is a super simple, but effective rule regarding hand limits that makes things tough on the players.

2) Casting stars costs money, and eventually you will run out. The game allows you to borrow against each of your completed shows once. So, perhaps you put on a show in New York, and the value of that show was 24. You can choose to reduce the value of that show as much as you want for $1 per point you reduce. Why is this a hard choice? Because you're directly competing against every other player for a show in New York, with the highest valued show scoring the most points, and the lowest scoring show scoring the least. But, the only way to get more money is reducing the value of your shows.

Again, simple premise, but fun and interesting game.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 5
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
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14. Board Game: DOG [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2676]
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This and Buy Low Sell High are the two entries on my list that other seasoned gamers might give me some grief over. Dog is basically partnership Sorry/Parcheesi, but for whatever reason, I've always just really enjoyed it as a relaxing game. The goal is the same here as the games it is based on: get your pawns out of your start zone, and zoom them around the board into your finish zone, while doing what you can to screw over the other team from doing the same.

The partnership aspect really adds an element of fun for me that is missing from other games in this vein, as you're always hoping that your partner is thinking what you're thinking, and doesn't mess up a plan that you have in your head.

There are also a couple cool variants of this game out there that provide extra twists, which can be pulled out if you want another twist on the basic idea. Overall, I can't really explain why I enjoy this game as much as I do, but I do!
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15. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:406]
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Perhaps no designer has enjoyed such a long period of popularity than Uwe Rosenburg. He's now known for Agricola, Patchwork, Caverna, A Feast for Odin, Le Havre, etc, but he originally burst onto the scene 20 years ago with Bohnanza.

While it's not the heavy gamer game typically associated with his name these days, it's a great little hand management/negotiation game, with the main gimmick of not being able to rearrange your hand. Since you must play your cards in the order that you drew them, you'll often find yourself dealing with other players to get cards out of your hand, in order to get cards you'd rather play up to the front of your hand.

Clever and simple.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 5
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Rosenberg - 1
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16. Board Game: Circus Flohcati [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:1508]
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Another super simple, but engaging, go-to filler game. The goal of the game is basically to get a hand full of high valued cards in 10 different colors numbered 0-7, where each color can only score for you once. You also score points for playing sets of three of the same number to the table, giving an incentive for players to collect the lower valued cards.

The trick? On your turn, you can either just take a face up card from the table, or push your luck by flipping cards face up onto the table until you see a card you want. However, you bust and lose your turn if you flip a card that matches the color of a card already on the table.

You can't get much more simple than that, and yet the game shines as a push-your-luck filler. This really exemplifies the genius of Knizia: he prolifically designed everything from a game like Tigris & Euphrates, to a game like Circus Flohcati, and created very engaging designs at every complexity level.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 6
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 1
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Rosenburg - 1
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17. Board Game: Löwenherz [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:932]
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We saw Catan earlier in this list, and now we see a game with a direct linkage to it.

The story goes that Teuber had been designing a mega-game about discovering lands, building the city and road networks of those lands, and then divvying up the territory within those cities. The game eventually became so big that he decided to split it into three games:

1) Entdecker, the game of discovering the lands.
2) Catan, the game of building up those lands.
3) Lowenherz, the game of claiming the territory.

We'll eventually see all three in my lists, but Lowenherz is a really interesting game of bidding on actions in order to form, expand, and strengthen territories. The trick is that a card is flipped in each turn, displaying three available actions. Players all choose an action, but if multiple players choose the same action, they're going to have to negotiate over it. So, the game is a lot of guessing what other players will do, as it's often beneficial to be the only one to choose an action. However, some times, you really don't want another player to get a certain action, as they'll pose a threat to your lands if they walk away with that action.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 6
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 2
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Rosenburg - 1
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18. Board Game: Union Pacific [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:550]
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Now widely known as Mr. Ticket to Ride, Alan Moon was a prolific designer early on, and has had a slew of really good games on the market. One of them was Union Pacific, a stock holding game, which is a genre I really love. It was a reworking of an earlier game of his, Airlines, and has since been reworked into the excellent Airlines Europe as well.

Again mechanically simple, players have a choice on their turn of either expanding a rail network and adding a stock share to their hand, or playing stock to the table in order to earn dividends from those rail companies. There's a lot of maneuvering for board position, as companies can find themselves hemmed in if they don't expand enough. But, there's also a lot of maneuvering for ownership in the companies, as players want to have more stock in quality companies than their opponents. Lots of good tension all around!

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 6
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 2
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Rosenburg - 1
Moon - 1
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19. Board Game: High Society [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:657]
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Yet another simple quality filler, and yet again designed by Knizia. Players here are simply bidding on extravagances, trying to end the game with the most points worth of them. The catch: players all start with the same amount of money cards, with an assortment of dollar values, but if you end the game with the least money, you automatically lose. There is also a simple rule about how you can play your cards when bidding that makes the hand management aspect of what to bid pretty tricky.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 7
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 2
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Rosenburg - 1
Moon - 1
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20. Board Game: Big City [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:1137]
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Big City first drew me in with its amazing bits:



But, it turns out, the game is pretty neat as well! The game board is an every growing board of various neighborhoods placed by the players, so the "map" of the city will be different every game. Each neighborhood is numbered, and players will draw cards, and be able to place building on the spaces for which they draw cards. A little similar to Acquire with regard to your ability to build, as you're limited by your draws.

When you place a building, you score points, generally influenced by the buildings surrounding it. Certain buildings like being next to certain other buildings, and don't like being next to other certain buildings. So, the game ends up being a game of timing, not setting up nice situations for your opponents, and beating them to the punch when a valuable opportunity does arise.
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21. Board Game: Vinci [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:685]
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HONORABLE MENTION

This game is a bit obsolete these days, as it was later reimplemented and reissued as Small World, and I even considered just removing this from the list, as Small World will appear on my 2005-2009 list. However, this was such a staple back in the day, and I was blown away by it.

The fact that you could have civilizations which such a crazy amount of different combos of abilities blew my mind. Plus, the whole timing aspect of knowing when to fold on a civ to grab a new one is so great.

I do enjoy Small World more than this due to the nice themeing and great artwork, but felt this still deserved an honorable mention due to how much I enjoyed this back then.
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22. Board Game: Bargain Hunter [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:2354]
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HONORABLE MENTION

Now under the name of Bargain Hunter, Schnappchen Jagd is an odd little trick taking game that I've always enjoyed. The trick-taking rules are fairly standard, except in this one, you're trying to collect tricks that contain cards of a certain number. If you win tricks containing that number, the cards of that number go into your scoring pile. All other cards go into a pile that will be worth negative points.

However, at the end of each round, each player has the opportunity to choose one card value from his negative pile, and move them to his scoring pile. So, it's OK to take "bad" numbers, so long as you get enough of them to eventually move them to your score pile.

Another interesting rule is that if you play off-suit due to not having the led suit, and no one has declared trump for the trick yet, you can declare if the card you're playing is trump or not. So, there are a lot of opportunities to play either over or under, either taking a trick full of useful cards, or feeding another player cards they don't want.

Bonus for playing really well with 3 as well!

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 7
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Teuber - 2
Rosenberg - 2
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Moon - 1
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23. Board Game: Bamboleo [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2535]
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HONORABLE MENTION

I don't absolutely love Bamboleo, and I have to be in the mood to play it, but it's such a unique dexterity game that I had to mention it.

At the outset, you place a whole bunch of wooden bits on a large wooden tray. Then you balance the tray full of bits on top of a tower with a cork ball at the top that allows the tray to tilt and tip without falling off to easily. From there, players take turns removing pieces from the tray, trying not to tip the entire tray in the process, while everyone laughs and oohs and aahs about the precarious nature of the tray full of pieces.

My favorite way to play is a variant rule in the back of the rule book, where players score points according to the number of grams of pieces they managed to remove in a round, with the player that tipped the whole thing over suffering a penalty. It requires a postal scale, but I feel it's been the most fun way to play.

The main reason the game isn't an all-time favorite, is that the game rewards risk, but often pushes players to make far too risky moves which just topple the whole thing. So, I've played many rounds where we barely got to play before having to reset and play another round. A really neat and unique game, though!
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24. Board Game: Chinatown [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:367]
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HONORABLE MENTION

I've never been a huge fan of negotiation in games, which is why this doesn't make my top 20, but Chinatown is a negotiation game I actually enjoy, which is rare.

Players have ownership of various scattered property, and their goal is to build businesses on their properties. The problem is that you want sections of adjacent property to build on, and you rarely will have that situation without negotiating and trading properties with other players. So, negotiation isn't just a part of the game, it's pretty much the whole game, as you'll get nowhere without it.

It's actually been a very long time since I've played this, so my memory is fuzzy, but it's about the only negotiation game I've ever enjoyed.
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25. Board Game: The Starfarers of Catan [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:938]
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HONORABLE MENTION

In my pairwise rankings, this actually made my top 20, but I decided to just go with one Catan representation there. However, I couldn't not mention this one.

First of all, it has the BEST components of pretty much any game I own, with the showstopper being ships that you shake to determine your movement on the board, and have various points of attachment for thrusters, cannons, trade rings, and fame rings:



Plus, it's a super fun take on Catan due to the choose-your-own adventure type events that occur. Some times you'll encounter space pirates, and make your decision based on how well armed your ship is. Some times, you'll get into situations where having a fast ship is advantageous. Some times, the event will trick you, where you thought you were encountering space traders, and they turned out to be pirates.

The game does take longer to play than vanilla Catan, but the thematic flavor here is totally worth the extra time.

Late 90's All-Star Designer Tally
Knizia - 7
Teuber - 3
Kramer (+ design partner) - 2
Rosenburg - 2
Dorra - 1
Henn - 1
Moon - 1
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