Eight Years a Geek - My Top 25
Bern Harkins
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I have been a board gamer for decades.

From the 70's on into this millenium, I got my information on new games from store owners, other customers, and the backs of game boxes. Often it came down to "Examine... shake... hope".

In 2009, I was living in cow country and the nearest FLGS was 75 miles away. While on an out-of-state trip, I picked up a copy of Carcassonne Big Box 2 on a shake and a prayer.

My group was well pleased with this addition to our modest shelf of games, and it occurred to me to see what information I could find on expansions.

And oh, my... what a trove of info I found. It was called BGG, and it changed my gaming forever.

We still have that modest shelf of games... supplemented by two closets, six totes, and a dedicated shelving unit.

Which is full.

Here's a list of my favorites, after the better part of a decade under the influence of the Geek.
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1. Board Game: Xia: Legends of a Drift System [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:161]
Bern Harkins
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A Kickstarter buy, and a tremendous sci-fi sandbox game.

This is why I don't use Adblock... never would have spotted it otherwise.

It's not a 4X game, more "Merchants and Marauders" in space.

Which is fine by me.
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2. Board Game: Island Dice [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:10657]
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I was a bit shocked that this super little strategy game is ranked so low...



It's got a more than decent rating, and people I play with love it.

Maybe the title and box cover make people think it's another mindless dice chucker?

It's certainly not that... events are chaotic, but you need planning to win. It's just that 80% of your plans will fail, which is... actually hilarious.

I highly recommend this compact gem to anyone who likes a rich tactical framework and can handle chaos. My review is here.
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3. Board Game: Duel of Ages II [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:964]
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A massive, kludgey beast of a game... part wargame, part adventure game, a little bit RPG, but in the end, not like anything else.

Characters from myth, fiction and history compete in a virtual arena to win the favor of the supercomputer, Lith.

If you like narrative in your games, this one tells great stories.
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4. Board Game: Sentinels of the Multiverse [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:268] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
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A cooperative superhero card game that is not a deck builder or a collectible card game. Each player has a fixed deck with its own unique mechanics, reflecting the hero they are playing.

Instead of Marvel or DC, this game uses an original IP cooked up by the designers. Their fictional "Sentinels Comics" line has supposedly been producing comics since the Forties. Cards feature quotes from hundreds of make-believe issues.

There's a warmth around this unique approach, and considerable wit. And the expansions? Worth every shekel.
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5. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:237] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
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I never expected this to become such a staple of our gaming group; they are not Lovecraft freaks like me.

To my surprise, after playing two weeks in a row, I got scolded for not bringing it.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense; my group appreciates narrative in a game, and Arkham delivers that in spades.

Horrible, non-Euclidian spades that will drive a man mad.

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6. Board Game: Lords of Waterdeep [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:50]
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I'm surprised it took this long to get to a worker placement game!

This middleweight Euro masquerading as Amerithrash is well thought out, with streamlined play and a good, steady pace.

I'm not much for D&D novels, but those who read them report that the theme rings very true.
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7. Board Game: RoboRally [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:336]
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I have the first edition of this game, and have played it hundreds of times in the last two decades. I've spent an estimated $350 buying out of print expansions and new copies of the game (to replace the cards, which become illegible after a while... we're on our fourth deck).

Even so, I figure the cost for each player-hour is under ten cents by now; we played it several times a week for several years.

We played again just the other day... and as usual, there were exclaimations of woe and incpacitating belly laughs.
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8. Board Game: Fresco [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:249] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
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An unrepentant Euro with a tan board and funny shaped pawns... some worker placement, but cleverly put together to create a strong sense of the reality of this "world" of competing Medieval painters.

The details, like the amount of sleep your apprentices' are getting affecting their mood, invite the players to tell stories about their adventures at the market or the difficulty of catching up with the Bishop.

Not a real brain burner, but some challenge, and overall a very pleasant game to play.
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9. Board Game: Neuroshima Hex! [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:212] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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I owned this game for over a year before it hit the table.

My group was unimpressed with my initial pitch... "It's a tile laying puzzle combat game..."

I suggested it often, and always got shot down, so one day I just started setting it up. My friends informed me in no uncertain terms that I didn't get to unilaterally choose a game, and I ignored them.

This was odd behaviour for me... I'm generally quite polite. Eventually everyone sat down, though I was warned I would pay for this perceived breech.

So we played this remarkably original tactital combat game, with it's long logic chains and shifting conditions. It was the sort of thinky game they liked, with knotty decisions, humor and drama, and when the game was done...

...we played it again. And one more time at the end of the night.

And the next week, and the week after that...

Very fun direct combat puzzle tile game, short playtime, very replayable.
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10. Board Game: Vast: The Crystal Caverns [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:480] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
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The newest item on my list. Is it possible that its newness drove it higher on the list?

Sure. But I don't think so...

This is an asymetrical game; players not only have different powers, they have different rules sets!

It's a race to complete your victory condition first, but the clever design motivates players to interfere with each other often.

This one is still on an upward trajectory, but I'm pretty confident it has the chops to stay on my short list for some time.

Seriously, any game where you can play as the malevolent sentience of a deadly cave has got my theme-loving attention.
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11. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:16]
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A long time favorite, which my regular play group has burned out on... but I've just recently found new players. Hoorah!

Now I do love theme and conflict... but for me, the lives of medieval farmers counts as theme, and the passive-agressive interactions satisfy my blood urge.

In the end, it comes down to the cards. Who created the best strategy, based on synergies between the insignificant powers they have access to? Finagling a win out of the ability to get vegetables in the ground early and a private source of clay is challenging, and satisfying.

I think of myself as mostly an Amerithrasher, but I down right love some Euroes. Especially one where you can make someone cry by baking bread ahead of them...
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12. Board Game: Keyflower [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:42]
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I don't throw the word "elegant" around, but this pretty boy is well put together and flows wonderfully.

The auction-y worker placement makes for a different experience, and as the villages develop, play becomes more think-y... and back-stabby.

It always seems to end too soon.
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13. Board Game: Merchants & Marauders [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:196]
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Just because we use Xia to scratch our sandbox itch these days does not mean this grand game is retired. The feel is remarably like Xia, considering that the the two games share almost no mechanics.

And c'mon... Pirates!
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14. Board Game: Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:310]
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A quick flowing worker placement with a hilarious Dystopian theme, solid design and very pretty bits.

Your dice are your workers, and on your turn you either pick up dice, put out dice, or (once per game) resolve your Moral Dilema.

Turns are quick... a round in a four player game can be well under a minute. The whole thing plays out in under an hour.

Just don't let your workers become too intelligent, or they will run away.
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15. Board Game: Istanbul [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:90]
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I suppose you could call this worker placement... but you play by maneuvering your merchant and a stack of apprentices around the market, trying to trade up resources to obtain five rubies. You must leave or recover an apprentice at each stop; you can also bail your worthless nephew out of jail and put him to work.

Very pleasant game, with a fair amount of tension and just enough interference among merchants to keep things spicy, without altering the tone of the game.

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16. Board Game: The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:209]
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There's nothing special about this game. It's pretty standard worker placement.

Why so high on the list? I used a simple criterion; would I rather play this game... or that game...?

This is where Energy Empire landed.

Nothing special. Just a rock solid worker placement that never disappoints.
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17. Board Game: Nothing Personal [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:764]
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When I heard that Tom Vassel was designing a game, I was underwhelmed.

I've known a number of critics and reviewers who wanted to write... "I know what makes a good novel/comic/painting, so this is natural..."

Not the case, it often turned out. So I figured Nothing Personal would be okay, but nothing special.

Turns out it's the best organized crime game I have ever played. Record keeping is seamless due to clever component design, and the mix of powers keeps every turn fresh.

So many ways to turn the screws on your opponents, so many minor conflicts, so many GANGSTERS!

There is so much going on, it coulde easily have been a disaster.

I guess Mr. Vassel has indeed learned a thing or two about games.
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18. Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:37]
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Woker placement, with the workers riding on rotating gears...

I thought it would be a gimmicky game. Instead, it turned out to be brilliant, with the timing of worker removal creating a whole new level of strategy.

I enjoy the pressure of feeding your workers, the random events, the long term planning. And there are so many tricks I have yet to learn...
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19. Board Game: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition [Average Rating:8.21 Overall Rank:22] [Average Rating:8.21 Unranked]
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This is an extraordinary experience.

The first edition was yet another Descent re-skin, this one with a Lovecraft-ian setting. It was fiddly, sometimes downright tedious, and the level of immersion was low.

The app has changed all that. The players no longer have to even concern themselves with the rules; they just have to make choices of actions, like a multi-person choose-you-own-advanture book.

So really... not much of a game at all. It's difficult to plan much ahead, as you are always reacting to the game AI.

But as an entertainment, it scores high points; immersion is deep, and the atmosphere is one of desperation, just as a good Cthulhu tale should be.
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20. Board Game: Tyrants of the Underdark [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:272]
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You may notice a dearth of deck building games on this list.

I don't hate them, but I am very much done with them. The sameness of one to another is numbing, and some attempts to spice things up just make a mess.

Tyrants of the Underdark is a deckbuilder. A fairly standard one, with well thought out cards and mechanics.

However, instead of "This is money... this is an abstract of fighting...", TotUD has a simple area control game grafted to the deckbuilder. The deck is no longer the goal of the game, but the resource you use to fuel your actions on the gameboard.

The taut struggle for territory unfolds in concert with your deck improving, and the designers made good choices on movement and deployment rules, providing a game with some real meat on the bones.

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21. Board Game: Yacht Race [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:5388]
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The oldest game on this list (chess just missed out...), this is a truly extraordinary racing game.

The compments are heavy and look spectacular on the board; the cards are more akin to monopoly cards than modern ones, but they are meaningful and sometimes funny. And risky...

The sailing simulation aspects of the game are well executed, with multiple sail types and interesting interactions between vessels, just like a real cup race.

But a real cup race would likely be held in more open water; there are some harrowing moments when you come within a biscuit toss of a cliff.

The lead changes often, and good strategy can put you in position for a final dash, so the ending is always in doubt.

Someone really needs to bring this treasure back...
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22. Board Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:80]
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An oddball tile placement game where the players build castles to the specifications of a mad King. The tiles vary in shape, and force some odd constraints on the players.

It is very satisfying to watch your impractical castle expand... no wait, not that way, or I'll never be able to place that... damn...

That is, it's very satisfying to... oh no, can't put a kitchen next to the bedroom! Well, I could, but... points.

The interesting market system, with its reverse auction system, keeps the money flow deeply connected to the rest of the game.

Which is very satisfying, when... Oh, no, I blocked that hallway...
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23. Board Game: Clash of Cultures [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:204]
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Yeah, we've got the whole afternoon... how about a civilization builder?

This is my favorite of the genre, mostly because of the "cultural influence" mechanic. This is not Risk with a tech tree; the struggle is only partly military.

Of course, since I play with a retired Army intelligence analyst at the table, I have yet to win a game... but I'm getting closer.
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24. Board Game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:1201]
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A friend of mine Kickstarted this, and I agreed to help him try it out. I mean, with Kevin Wilson as a designer, it should be at least playable...

To my surprise, it is actually a very fine tactical miniatures game. There are some simplifications to keep things moving, but the mechanics are fun and interesting. In particular, the "wrap around dice" are an entertaining wrinkle.

Thematically, I know who the turtles are; back in the day, I bought the first half dozen issues of Eastman and Laird's indie comic. But the game models the individual turtles' abilities so well, I really developed a new appreciation for the characters.
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25. Board Game: Simurgh [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:2022]
Bern Harkins
United States
Buffalo
New York
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Worker placement.

Dragon riders.

Yep... I'm happy.

(Terrible, Terrible bits, though... we proxied out all the brittle figures. Still a good game, but seriously... hard plastic meeples that break during shipping? Not cool.)
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