My Top 25 Games of All Time...in 2018
Jonathan Schindler
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I saw some other people doing a top 25 list recently, and I've been toying with mine for a while, so "participating in a larger conversation" seemed like a good enough reason to finally get it done.

I've said before that there aren't 100 games I feel strong enough about to make a "top 100 games of all time" list, and it's only recently that I've felt strongly enough about 25 to include them in a list. (There are lots of games I like, but my approach to the hobby has been as a reviewer, so I don't get the opportunity to drill deep as often as I'd like, and drilling deep is how I convince myself I like something.) This list is my top 25 games of all time...in 2018.

A few notes: I feel stronger about my choices toward the front of the list (my top ten doesn't fluctuate much) than toward the back. Also, I debated about including a party game for the #25 spot, but in the end, it felt right. A lot of my gaming is in larger groups--with family, with a Friday lunch games group, at game nights--and I do love good and clever party games. My #25 choice is, in some sense, a stand-in for these, the current party game I'm most likely foisting on other players.

Here are some other lists I've done for reference:

My Top Ten Games of All Time (2015)

Top Ten Lunchtime Strategy Games (2016)

Top Ten Lunchtime Social Games (2016)
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1. Board Game: Werewords [Average Rating:7.37 Overall Rank:1105]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#25

My full review

Previous lists: None

This one might be a little odd to have on a top 25 list that is mostly middleweight to heavy Euros, but I play a lot of party games with my friends and family, and Werewords is one of my favorites. I love the "20 Questions with a traitor" idea, and while I love Insider, the app in Werewords gives it the edge for me. Custom word lists are awesome and add a level of customization here that, as long as the app is maintained, should give this one legs for years to come. I love to play this one whenever I get a chance because it's always fun.
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2. Board Game: Patchistory [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:781]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#24

Previous lists: None

What is Patchistory doing here? It's a bit of an outlier for someone who likes middleweight Euro games to choose this bear of a rules-teach for a top 25 list. Then again, there is nothing else quite like Patchistory. It combines the resource management of civilization game Through the Ages with an ingenious and satisfying tile-laying game to make an intriguing concept: a patchwork civilization. This is a high concept, and there's a lot going on here. It's long to play and long to teach, but I've not played a truly epic, 4+ hour game I've liked more. I've only played this twice, unfortunately, but if I had opportunity, I'd play it a lot more. (I even worked on designing a one-hour version to play at lunchtime and get my fix, so enamored am I of this concept.) It's a shame the US release of this one fizzled. This is a really fun game, and it has more character (to me) than Through the Ages.
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3. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:296]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
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#23

My full review

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten list (#10)

This one has fallen down the list some--not because it's a bad game but because I've had more opportunity in the last few years to play my favorite kind of games: 90ish-minute Euros. I still love this one, especially because of how approachable it is. Yes, it's more difficult than Ticket to Ride, but not a lot more difficult. And the scoring is more forgiving than other stock games (see Imperial above, or even Acquire). I wouldn't mind playing this one more, because it really is a fun and accessible stocks and network connection game.
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4. Board Game: Scythe [Average Rating:8.30 Overall Rank:7]
Jonathan Schindler
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#22

Previous lists: None

I know: I'm boring. This is everyone's favorite, and as much as I love to be a contrarian, I can't deny that I really like this one, too. Granted, there are warts. Riverwalk is frustratingly obtuse (even though I understand why it's in the game). The asymmetry feels a little out of balance in some combinations. But boy, what makes this game satisfying is the engine. Everything you do makes you feel like a superstar. You produce? You get resources. You put those resources in to do something? You uncover an ability. You're constantly doing stuff that makes you feel good, and the conflict is only as necessary as the other players make it. This isn't my favorite game, but I do love to play it. (Part of this is almost certainly shallow: it really is gorgeous.)
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5. Board Game: Deus [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:301]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#21

Previous lists: None

I'm a sucker for card combos, and the card combos in Deus are great. I love the central puzzly concept: build in columns, and whichever column you build in, activate all the cards in that column. This game can fit into lunch game territory with the right group, and that's how I like it best: played quickly. There's enough meat to keep me interested for an hour, but if this creeps to 90-minute territory, I'm checking my watch. The decisions here make me feel like it's Race for the Galaxy: The Board Game, and the noninteraction fits that moniker. Still, a puzzly Euro with strong combos that can be played quickly? Love it. This, Ginkgopolis, and their other games make me excited each time I learn that Pearl is releasing something. I can always expect a good puzzle from them.
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6. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#20

My full (likely outdated) review (external link)

Previous lists: None

In case you couldn't tell from my list, I love role-selection games, and just like Dominion was the first and remains the best deck-building game, Puerto Rico still looms large over the genre. It's so smooth and easy to understand. Unfortunately, the typically bland Alea components don't do this one any favors, especially in luring anyone to the table. And the theming doesn't help either. But the gameplay, the gameplay, the gameplay. Fragile, yes, with seating-order problems, but wonderful when it hums. So...there's a reason it has always hovered right outside my lists of favorite games. But it's still one I will happily play when it's on offer.
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7. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:277]
Jonathan Schindler
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#19

My full review

Previous lists: Top ten strategy lunchtime games (#9)

There was a time when Innovation was in my top ten games of all time, or sitting right outside it, and for good reason. The game is a masterpiece, in the sense that it's so original and bears the unmistakable imprint of its creator. And it's fun to boot. It fell out of favor with me for a while because my lunch games group played it incessantly, and after I sat out for a while, it was hard to jump back in. The meta had gone on without me. Now, after the dust has settled and a few years later, I played it again, and I'm reminded just how ingenious the game is. Lots of clever concepts, the fitting theming, the tense mental puzzle that, really, is the same as Red7's (change the game to one you can win) but with much more meat on the bone. A truly great game.
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8. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:162]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#18

Previous lists: None

I came to Mac Gerdts's games through Concordia, and after discovering its brilliance, I began tracking down the other games in his catalog. Most, I saw, were rondel games. And while I liked the rondel in, say, Imperial or Hamburgum, it was Navegador that showed me its absolute genius. Navegador is a game wound tight. There is stiff competition everywhere you turn--in the market, for colonies, for privileges--that you are tempted to skip spaces on the rondel just to get there first. But you need to do everything in Navegador, and most items appear just once on the rondel, so you skip things at your peril. I love the push and pull of this, of risking missing out versus risking future instability. The gorgeous map here helps, but I think Navegador is the pinnacle of the rondel game. (I realize Imperial is higher, but the rondel feels less central in that game than in this one.)
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9. Board Game: Steam [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:109]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#17

Previous lists: None

I heard about the Age of Steam, Railways of the World, Steam trilogy, and most people I talked to had been steering me toward Railways of the World, but I couldn't bring myself to like that one much. The epic board was a little too epic, requiring me to bring out a second table, and I didn't like the randomness of the cards. On a whim, I bought Steam, and I haven't looked back. The basic game of Steam is Railways of the World for Euro gamers, and I'm surprised it isn't talked about more. The role selection is interesting (and, predating the turn order mechanism praised in this year's Yamatai, determines your place in the next round), and it's satisfying to connect routes and ship goods. I wish my friends liked this more--then we could move on to the advanced game, which I've played in the app--but I'm happy to keep this one on my shelf, even if it doesn't get played often.
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10. Board Game: Trajan [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:71]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#16

Previous lists: None

I played Trajan for the first time this year, and I loved it. I'm not usually a fan of Stefan Feld's games--too much incremental scoring in what feels like too loose a competition--but with Trajan, the uniting factor (and its saving grace) is the central mancala puzzle. I find manipulating this puzzle so satisfying that even if the rest of the game were bad (it isn't), I'd probably still like this one a lot. Luckily in this case, the rest of the game is fun, and I love the (admittedly unimportant) Roman veneer.
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11. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:41]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#15

My shelf wear review (external link)

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#8) and top ten strategy lunchtime games (#5)

I didn't care for 7 Wonders all that much on my first try. That's it? That's what everyone was raving about? I kept playing because it always fit the bill: there was always a big group of us, and everyone was too shy to say they'd rather split up and play another, more fun game (...). So I played a lot of 7 Wonders by sheer happenstance. And a strange thing happened: as I played more, I came to appreciate it more, and I came to like it more, and now I love it. What's great about 7 Wonders is how approachable it is, yet it also generally offers players who are new to gaming a glimpse at strategy games beyond the still-more-approachable Ticket to Ride and others. It's a well-made game, and it really does get better the more you know the cards in the decks.
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12. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:442]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
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#14

My full review

Previous lists: Appeared on top ten social lunchtime games (#5)

Medici is in some ways what you would expect from a straight auction game: you're bidding money to get a chance at more money. It's a simple concept in that respect. But having to deal with space on your ship and pushing your luck in drawing new goods makes this one a blast to play. I'm not sure why, but this has been a raucous hoot each and every game. There's something about watching someone else turn up one good after another, trying to fish for something and getting something else instead. Yet this game belongs equally on the strategy games list: there are meaty decisions, tense bids, and the push-and-pull of immediate rewards and long-term scoring. The once-around bidding here makes for sometimes excruciating decisions, and coming up with "a number," at least in my plays, has been more art than science. This game is awesome. (And the card game released last year is a good filler, although not as good a game as this.)
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13. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:49]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#13

Previous lists: None

I'll admit: I was very underwhelmed the first time I played Race for the Galaxy. That's it? I wondered. I saw the effusive praise and thought there must be something wrong with me. So I played again and again and again and eventually sold it because my friends had the same opinion I did. Well, then I got Roll for the Galaxy, fell in love, and decided to try Race again. You heard it here first, folks: I WAS WRONG. This game is great. In fact, after Roll brought me back to Race, I haven't gone back. Race packs so many interesting decisions into a very short package, and despite the steep learning curve, the game pays you back for every moment you spend learning the system. The icons that are the bane of early play offer the rewards of speedy play for every game afterward. The game does get better with expansions, I think, which open up some new strategic paths. I have the app for this game, and it is by far my favorite app. This is a great, great game.
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14. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:140]
Jonathan Schindler
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#12

Previous lists: None

Imperial... I don't know what to say about this. It uses Mac Gerdts's ingenius rondel design and builds a stocks game around it that doesn't feel like a stocks game. At all. Even though there are actual stocks (well, bonds) in the game! Imperial looks like Risk--there are armies and navies on the board, and players can maneuver into direct aggression. But while I typically eschew conflict, here the aim isn't so much to conquer territory as to make an empire more profitable. The premise behind the game is a bit cynical (especially when nations will go to war just to kill armies to avoid the big bills they generate), but the gameplay is meaty without having a lot of rules overhead. I wouldn't say I'm good at this game, but I do enjoy playing it a lot.

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15. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:28]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#11

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#4)

Power Grid has fallen out of favor for me a little bit since the last list because I've played other economic games that I enjoy more, but this is still an excellent game, and when we have six at game night (and especially if we have any newer players), this is usually what I bring to the table. Despite the bureaucracy rules (which only one person has to know/manage), the game is quite elegant, and the way supply/demand and turn order works is interesting and unique. This is a game I'm still willing and even itching to play, even if I do like a few other games better than this.

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16. Board Game: Terra Mystica [Average Rating:8.24 Overall Rank:8]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#10

Previous lists: None

Terra Mystica is another game that is new to this list and new to me. I've played only four games face to face (but many more in the app), and I'm just blown away by its brilliance. I first had Terra Mystica explained to me, and the rules took the explainer an hour. But once you start playing, the experience is seamless. Even if other players think on their turn, there's enough to chew on before it comes back to you. And there is good interaction on the board and in the special power actions available each round. The theme doesn't matter much, granted, but I do like the asymmetrical races here. This is about as good as resource conversion gets. Although Gaia Project might supplant this one on my list the next time it comes around. (I've played ~6 solo games, but haven't yet had the chance to play against others. Stay tuned...)
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17. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:34]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
Illinois
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#9

Previous lists: None

I played Brass the first time this year, and I'm usually more measured in my love for a game, and it usually takes more plays to crack my top ten than Brass's meager two. But oh, those two plays! This is what I wrote elsewhere about it, and I still agree with this opinion: "This is perhaps the best example of a game where players need each other...but also hate each other. You're looking around for opportunities to help the other players, but only insofar as it serves your own ends. The players are exploiting one another...and thanking them for it. It's an economic game at its heart, but it's economic in a more expansive way than just money: you're looking at how to win friends and influence people...without so much the winning friends part. This game is brilliant."
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18. Board Game: Winner's Circle [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:678]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#8

My full review

Previous lists: Lunchtime social games (#1)

I was initially wary of including a game like this in my list of Important Games, but few games give me as much joy while I play them as Winner's Circle. Winner's Circle is a racing game, but most important, it is a betting game, and players then have some control to bring about the outcome they want. This in itself is interesting, but what elevates Winner's Circle is the character of the game: each of the horses has individual stats, and these horses carry on their traits from game to game. I always loathe bland Sysonby, and I despise Sir Barton for putting on airs, while for whatever reason Twenty Grand has found a permanent spot in my good graces (despite not really requiting my love). And Regret--how many bets have I thrown away on Regret, only to finally see it pay-off in magnificent style? This is definitely a game where you are playing the players, and it is so much fun. I love Winner's Circle.
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19. Board Game: Ginkgopolis [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:315]
Jonathan Schindler
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Lombard
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#7

My full review

Previous lists: Lunchtime strategy games (#6)

Ginkgopolis is one of my favorite games to play and one of my least favorite games to teach. It's unlike just about every game I've played, and as soon as you land on an analogy--"It's drafting like in 7 Wonders"--the analogy falls apart because of how the game is put together. Ginkgopolis is a Frankenstein's monster of mechanisms, but they all come together fluidly once you know how to play, and the game is so engaging. This is engine- and tableau-building at its finest, and there's a fun tile-laying/area-majority game bolted on. I've moved this from my lunch games cabinet at work (where it wasn't getting much play) to my game night closers list, and it has seen a lot more use there. It's a great game that packs a lot of good decisions into a short time frame.
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20. Board Game: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:152]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#6

My full review

Games played: 16

Don't let Isle of Skye fool you with its pleasant, colorful art: it is a game of subtle machinations and undercutting other players at just the right time. Isle of Skye involves a price-setting mechanism, which I find fascinating, and I love the tile-laying puzzle of trying to maximize your score according to four criteria that change each game. Some will say the "catch-up mechanism" of giving money to players behind in the scoring is overpowered, but I haven't seen this upset the balance of the game, particularly because players are aware of it at the start. This is a nigh perfect lunchtime game (even with five, we can usually finish in 45 minutes to an hour), and one I'm always happy to play.
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21. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:54]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#5

My full (likely outdated) review

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#2)

They just don't make Euro games like they used to. Okay, some do (namely Mac Gerdts--did you see my blurb about Concordia?), but Euros used to be known for intense interaction but without direct conflict, and El Grande comes about as close to the line between interaction and conflict as you can without crossing it. Sending your opponents' caballeros back to the provinces certainly can feel like conflict, and trying to maneuver your cubes and the king to maximize your score might not make the other players happy with you. This is a game that, for being over twenty years old, still feels remarkably fresh. I still introduce new players to it, and they don't care when it was released: all they care about is that it's fun. And oh boy, is it ever. And it's simple--there's not a big barrier to get to the fun.
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22. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:23]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#4

My full review

Previous lists: None

Concordia looks like a dry and soulless Euro game, but it isn't. Yes, I know, "trading in the Mediterranean" is often the stick used to beat the boring-Euro dead horse, but the theme here works, and what's on offer is one of the most exciting Euro games there is. Players are in direct competition with one another, but they also need (or at least at times joyfully tolerate) one another. Turns are quick, and other players' turns matter because they might block the route you needed or produce in a region where you have houses or take the card you were eyeing in the market or any number of these things. The game is wonderful at pulling players between the good and the perfect. The game rewards efficiency but also opportunism, and it's hard to know which way to lean at any given moment. The expansion maps are also a boon here, and I would not refuse the game with any player count, even with two. The scoring can be a little wonky for new players, but Concordia is absolutely a winner.
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23. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:134]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#3

My full review

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#5), lunchtime strategy games (#6)

Ra is another game that continues to get better with age. There are so many things that make Ra great, but among them are the push-your-luck auction (which seems out of place in a serious strategy game but really works), the different scoring schemes for tiles that result in complex valuations, and the player interaction, which makes every game a surprise. Not everyone loves Ra, and it's the kind of unassuming game that can sometimes be forgotten when my lunch games group gets on kicks, but it's a game that we will always return to and one that consistently provides an amazing experience.
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24. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#2

My full review

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#1), lunchtime strategy games (#4)

Dominion is by far my most-played game, as I started recording games after my obsessive play-it-all-the-time phase, and I don't log digital games. Dominion doesn't have as much variety out of the box as Glory to Rome does, but as a system, it is exciting to sit down each game to a new menu of options. I thought after Guilds was released that Dominion days were over, that the system was closed and the cards I had were all I'd ever have. And then I found out Donald X. Vaccarino was saving the best for last, with Adventures and especially Empires opening the game to new vistas. Dominion is a game I will never tire of and always enjoy playing. I know other people have moved on to other deck builders, but for my money, there's still nothing that tops Dominion.
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25. Board Game: Glory to Rome [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:149]
Jonathan Schindler
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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#1

My full (likely outdated) review

Previous lists: Appeared on 2015's top ten (#3), lunchtime strategy games (#1)

Glory to Rome and Dominion are locked in a fierce combat for my #1 game of all time, but right now Glory to Rome is on top. It's an impressive design in that, with a deck of a hundred or so cards--not all of which are unique--there is nigh limitless replayability, and each game is different. Glory to Rome has a steep learning curve, but once you learn its intricacies, it gets better and better. I'm planning to rereview this one soon since I just recently passed fifty plays.
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