A Top 20 Tabletop Games List after 2,236 plays, 543 ratings, over the course of 12 years, 5 months, 5 days on BGG
John Owen
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I've been on Boardgamegeek for 12 years, 5 months, 5 days. Maybe even longer by the time you're reading this.

I joined BGG in November, 2005. That was a couple of years after a friend had introduced me to Settlers of Catan, which I played pretty exclusively for a year until expanding out to other games in 2004 and 2005, ultimately finding the 'geek. I grew up playing all sorts of games, was always a games lover, but the 1-2 combo of Settlers/BGG knocked me out. Board games have been my primary hobby ever since. I also don't think I've ever gone longer than a week or so without checking in on the 'geek. Usually it's part of my daily routine.

It's about time that I put together some sort of favorites list. It's just what is done here, right?

This is a desert island list. If I could only carry 20 games with me to a desert island, this is what they would be.

If someone held a gun to my head this evening and told me that I had to get my collection down to exactly 20 games by the end of the night, or else, I think that I could be happy with this list.

I started logging every game played on January 1st, 2006. I only count face-to-face games. No online games. No apps. There were only two conditions for a game to make this list:
1) I must love the game and consider it essential
2) I must have played it 5 times.

I am aware that my list is not properly cult of the new. It's not very cool. I even admit to liking party games and card games. I defend old Euros. I list games that no one has ever heard of. Eh, it's my list. These are the games I love. Twenty of them.
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1. Board Game: PitchCar [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:314]
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#20 - PitchCar
11 plays
Last play: 2/3/18

PitchCar is an odd game to start off my Best of All Time Desert Island list.

Because I'm not sure I like it. I'm definitely bad at it and that can be frustrating. Despite this frustration, I recognize it as a nearly perfect party game (in addition to being a dexterity game).

PitchCar is a simple disc flicking race game. It's become normal to set it up at every family holiday hosted at our house. It's always a hit. Loud cries of joy, defeat, despair. Cheering. Booing.

I'm as surprised as anyone that this game made my list.
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2. Board Game: Telestrations [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:224]
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#19 - Telestrations
9 plays
Last play: 12/22/17

Do I need a party game on this island? Telestrations is my pick.

Telstrations is a game about bad drawing and miscommunication. Unlike some other drawing games, this one rewards bad drawings by using them as a means to move from one idea to another, demonstrating that a burrito and a spaceship aren't all that dissimilar.

I've played this with my family and it's fun.

I've played it with my best friends on our camping trips and it is always hilarious.

I'm not a party gamer. This game is a must-have.
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3. Board Game: Ziegen Kriegen [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:3010]
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#18 - Ziegen Kriegen
10 plays
Last play: 4/7/18

I like to think of myself as a serious gamer. (I know what you're thinking, "Serious gamer? Your list so far consists of two party games!" Don't worry. I'll get to the heavier games). I like staring at a board and agonizing over decisions. I like getting sweaty nervous. I like the feeling of forging through a bad spot to pick the best worst decision.

It turns out that I also like light card games. Ziegen Kriegen is one of my absolute favorites. It's the only trick taking game I know of to come with a goat meeple. The goat meeple (geeple? goatle?) is not strictly necessary for gameplay purposes. It is simply a wonderful bonus from the lovely folk at Amigo.

Not all themes work for all card games. This one does. It's a goat war. You're trying to be king of the hill without falling off. Lowest hand builds the win conditions. Highest hand wins the trick.

Simple. Lovely.
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4. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:391]
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#17 - No Thanks!
37 plays
Last play: 4/28/17

I love No Thanks! I love games that strip away rules, that aim for simplicity in rules which allow for the complexity to develop in play.

In No Thanks!, there is only one decision, take a card or place a chip on the card and pass it around to the next player. That's it. Round and round until someone takes the card.

I have met people who dislike this game, even people whose opinions I respect. But you know what? Those people are wrong. This game is perfect for what it is.
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5. Board Game: Combat Commander: Europe [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:102]
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#16 - Combat Commander
5 plays (between Europe and Pacific)
Last play: 12/23/11

The bad news? It's been a long time since I last played this one. I was getting pretty heavy into wargames from '09 to '11, then life happened and the playing just dropped off.

The good news? I'm scheduled to play it with a friend this Friday.

I do enjoy Combat Commander a great deal, but I think that its place here is more representative of my overall enjoyment of wargames of this lower complexity than a specific infatuation with CC. There are other wargames that might have made this list if I'd had the opportunity to play them more. CC makes it here because I have at least played it a few times (and greatly enjoyed it) and I'm hoping to get in regular plays maybe once a month for the rest of this year. There is something very positive to be said about the good games that hit the table over the beloved games that sit on the shelf.
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6. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:5.98 Overall Rank:5137]
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#15 - Lord of the Rings
8 plays
Last play: 11/9/16

Everyone loves the other Knizia Lord of the Rings game. Meh. I love this one.

It's a kid's game. It's also the perfect Ameritrash game. You heard me right. Reiner Knizia designed the perfect Ameritrash game based on the perfect 20th Century fantasy novel. And you've all missed out on it because you didn't know any better. Now you do.

In THIS version of LotR, it's each hobbit for himself. Each hobbit is trying to be the uber-hobbit strong and lucky enough to take down the dark lord without the help of any other stinking hobbits. These hobbits will recruit allies along the way, but only in order to use and abuse them for the rad bad hobbit's own glory. After their usefulness is done, it's goodbye stupid sidekicks, back to being cool on your own.

This game is so defiantly cool that it uses a spinner instead of a die. You know what's better than rolling a die? Flicking a spinner so hard that it knocks out a Nazgul.

Think you're doing alright in the game? Think again after you've misused a palantir and been thrown in a castle prison. Good luck getting out any time soon.

But if you've timed it right, some other poor son of a hobbit has been chipping away at Big Bad Sauron for you, and your prison escape could lead directly into a well-timed hop to Mordor to swoop in and steal the win by delivering the final, fatal eye stab.

And people say that I don't like Ameritrash. Sheesh.
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7. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:226]
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#14 - King of Tokyo
25 plays
Last play: 11/24/17

This one is fun as a family game. It doubles as a decent late night bar game. It doesn't take much thought, but it usually provides at least a few laughs.

It's about giant monsters fighting for their lives. It's about throwing big, fat, chunky dice, then picking them up and throwing them again.

If you've never seen a 6-year-old all-out rage-attack with five claws against everyone outside of Tokyo, well, I can't do the scene justice. You'll have to believe me that it is tremendously wonderful.
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8. Board Game: Yōkaï no Mori [Average Rating:7.06 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.06 Unranked]
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#13 - Yokai no Mori
18 plays
Last play: 6/17/14

This is children's Shogi. It's a version of chess, but one that I do not understand at all, a version that developed independently, on its own, without any regard for how it would later blow meager Western minds like mine. It's wild and crazy and I have no idea how to play it right.

It's as if I were discovering chess all over again. And it feels great. I have not given this one the full attention that it deserves. I need to pull it out and spend more time with it, maybe eventually moving on to "adult" shogi!
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9. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:157] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
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#12 - Magic: The Gathering
266 plays
Last play: 7/26/16

Magic is one of the most important games in my life. I discovered it way back in '93. I gave away all of my cards in '97. I didn't regret it until about ten years later when I realized that I could have probably put a down payment on a house with the money I could have made off those cards.

But making money was never the reason to play Magic. We played Ante rules. It was fast and loose. You lost or won cards each time you played. I played in late night "Iron Man" multiplayer games in which we would tear up cards as they left play. WE WOULD TEAR UP CARDS. And it was glorious fun. This is legacy gaming. A legacy of fun, not of carefully hoarding games or of spending a month's pay buying the best deck. We loved this game so much that we reveled in destroying it.

I never got into the tournament scene. I don't think that I was ever a great player. But I had a lot of fun.

I rediscovered Magic in 2005. I bought some cards. Made some pauper decks. Went to a few local tournaments. Mostly, in the last decade, I would play with my brother-in-law when we'd get together. One of us (or both of us) would buy a bunch of boosters (usually a couple of "fat packs") and we'd have fun Winston drafting for days.

I've cooled on Magic again recently. I have a ton of cards in the basement that I don't really know what to do with. I don't have the time to make perfect cubes or to construct even casual decks for casual play.

But I still adore the game. It has its flaws, but no game yet has completely killed Garfield's masterpiece for me.
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10. Board Game: Barbarian Prince [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:3610]
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#11 - Barbarian Prince
5 plays
1/25/11

I almost forgot that this is a "desert island" list. I'm assuming that I'm not alone on this desert island. Otherwise, having twenty games is maybe more torture than not having any.

I'm also assuming that there will be times on the island when me and the others have just had about enough of each other. We need alone time.

And so I'll need at least one solo game.

Barbarian Prince is my solo game of choice.

Barbarian Prince is an epic choose-your-own-adventure-game-with-a-map that follows the ups and downs of a royal heir cast out of his home, desperate to gain back the throne which was taken from him.

Is it often completely random? Yup.

Is it sometimes wildly, swingingly either too easy or too hard? Yup.

Does it generate some sort of fun story each time? Always.

I've lost track of the various ways in which my barbarian prince has perished.

I think that what I look for most in a solo game or co-op game is being brutally punished. If you're into that sort of thing (and some secret part of you surely is), check out Barbarian Prince.

It's been too long since I've played this. I lost my print and play copy a few years ago. I need to either dig through boxes and find it or make a new copy. I'm a bit surprised at myself for putting this one so high up, but I think it's because I'm really craving some stupid solo adventure time, the kind that only Barbarian Prince can deliver.
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11. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:139] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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#10 - Carcassonne
23 plays
Last play: 2/6/18

Good ol' Carc. It has been a faithful friend. It's one of the few games that I bought before even discovering BGG. I've gone through phases of disliking, of being too cool for it, of whatever, I was wrong.

Carcassonne abides.

Base Carcassonne. Plain vanilla.

It's received a new lease on life in my house because one of my younger children enjoys it. I'm looking forward to playing it more this year.

Carc is my "chill" game. It's relaxed. It's low impact.

But it can also be cutthroat. It can sometimes be downright mean.

I love it.

Though here's the thing, I love it in its place. At game night, I'd rather play anything else. I want a challenge. I want something new. At home, or with non-gaming friends, or when I just want to relax, I can't think of anything better.
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12. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:114]
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#9 - Age of Steam
5 plays
Last play: 1/21/17

Did you ever find the perfect game? And then find that NO ONE around you wants to play it?

Such is the curse of Age of Steam in my life.

Someday, I will find the group that wants to explore every single different AoS map with me.

Until then, I will sadly continue to get scattered plays of AoS at conventions every few years.

Sigh.
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13. Board Game: Agricola (Revised Edition) [Average Rating:8.24 Overall Rank:153]
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#8 - Agricola
5 plays (original and revised combined)
Last play: 8/6/17

I'll repeat what I said about Age of Steam.

Did you ever find the perfect game? And then find that NO ONE around you wants to play it?

Such is the curse of Agricola in my life.

I love building a little farm. I love how hard it is to feed my family.

I've finally decided this year that I will explore the game solo. I saw the start of new monthly challenges in the Revised forums. I'm in.
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14. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:217]
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#7 - Tikal
11 plays
Last play: 6/25/17

I used to play this often on SBW in the mid-to-late-aughts. I kept a regular series of games going with old college friends.

Face-to-face, I've tried to play it at least once a year. I should play it more often. I love action points. I love the family game. I've never even once played the auction variant. I don't mind the luck of the treasure tiles or the luck of any tile draw. I like this as a casual game. There's definitely some calculating and it's a competitive game, but it's mostly, for me, an extremely fun game. I love the way that the board develops. I love claiming spots and shutting other people out.

This game is about as good as the SdJ weight Euro has ever been.
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15. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:70]
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#6 - Tigris & Euphrates
12 plays
Last play: 3/5/18

When I first joined BGG, T&E was still HOT STUFF. The online implementation here was great. I was taught it in person by a friend. I liked it, but I wasn't so sure about the luck of the tile draws. Playing online here on BGG taught me that yes, there is a bit of luck to the draws, but no, it wasn't as significant as I thought as I got brutally destroyed in game after game. There were serious T&E sharks in the digital waters back in those days.

Tigris & Euphrates does everything right. It somehow manages to capture a theme perfectly at a high conceptual level. Everything about it fits. It melds straight-up mean direct conflict with a not-too-hard-to-grasp Euro frame. It's thematic, yet abstract. It's accessible, yet has a steep learning curve. It is a masterpiece of game design. Knizia is still King.
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16. RPG: Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) [Average Rating:8.20 Overall Rank:7]
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#5 - D&D 5e
27 plays
Last play: 1/30/17

I rarely play games online. I never log online plays.

There was one huge exception to this. The release of 5e coincided with the reunion of a group of childhood friends.

We had all been scattered far and wide. We decided to get together for a camping/hiking/drinking/gaming weekend. That was five years ago. It's become an annual tradition.

At that first Mancation, we spent half a day playing D&D. After we'd gone back to our separate hometowns, we wanted it to continue.

Enter the magic of Google Hangouts and the practical use of an ancient technology called "theatre of the mind".

D&D has provided more goofy good times than any other game I've ever played.

There aren't enough goofy good times in this life. I'll take them where I find them. Thank you, D&D.
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17. Board Game: Hammer of the Scots [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:299]
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#4 - Hammer of the Scots
10 plays
Last play: 12/11/15

Hammer of the Scots was my introduction to wargaming.

I played a lot of Stratego as a kid.

HotS came into my life in late 2005 and scratched that Stratego itch that I didn't know I still had. It's more than that, of course.

The history is exciting to me. I bought Blind Harry's Wallace book because of this game!

Some people are annoyed by the constant back-and-forth and the resetting of the nobles, the crawl into Scotland by the English, the guerilla holding-on of the Scots.

I love it all. I love the area movement. I love the combat. I love the rules about knights and archers and schiltroms and Norse and which king is crowned when.

I've gone on to play more complicated wargames since first discovering what is out there. I still love the beautiful simplicity of HotS best of all. I need to get this to the table again soon.
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18. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:120]
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#3 - Go
7 plays
Last play: 9/17/16

I'm a recent convert to Go.

Go is about placing stones on a grid. It might also be about all of life.

I am very bad at it. I love the game enough to have read a couple of instructional books on the game. I've played a lot of online games. I'm still very bad at it. I lose all of the time.

Go blows my mind in the best way. It's got the simplest rules possible, yet it is so deep that it has inspired study and devotion for centuries. There are entire schools dedicated to Go. That's crazy.

I aspire to that level of gaming crazy. What I really need to find is someone local, in the flesh, who is willing to mentor me.
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19. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:414] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
John Owen
United States
Lisle
New York
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#2 - Chess
47 plays
Last play: 1/1/18

I played a lot of bad mass market games (and a few good ones) growing up. I loved games. But even as a kid, I understood that most of them were disposable, unworthy. A 3rd grade chess club changed that. I don't think that it's an understatement to say that it changed my life.

I played geek games with friends in high school in the mid-90s. We tried everything out there. But our go-to game was always chess. Study hall was chess hall.

This love continued off and on. There were a few periods as an adult in which I got more heavily into it. Mostly I've fallen away from it.

I don't play any online board games, but when I do, I'm playing chess. :-) I've got the chess.com app and love doing puzzles and tactics challenges. If I counted all of my online plays through the years, chess would definitely be my most played game of all time.

I know all of the problems with chess. I know that I'll never be more than an average player. I've come to terms with that.

It's just silly for me to pretend that any modern games are better or even that I like them better. I don't.

Chess is king.
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20. Board Game: Bladder [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:8061]
John Owen
United States
Lisle
New York
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#1 - Bladder
51 plays
Last play: 1/20/17

This has been my favorite game since I first played it in 2000. That year, I played it all. the. time. I had slowly stopped playing as many games. Discovering Bladder reinvigorated my love of gaming. It reminded me what I loved about gaming, the challenge of matching wits with an opponent, the concentration required, the focus that blots out all distractions. The best moments of gaming are moments of NOW, of perfectly experiencing and enjoying the present, of being fully alive.

Bladder is an abstract game based on football. It's basically a chess pawn variant with a pick up and deliver twist. The art and the pieces are beautifully ugly.

I don't know that this game is better than any other on this list. It's definitely not as deep as some of the others. It's likely that a computer program could "solve" this game in a few hours. I'm not a computer program.

It's about tactically outmaneuvering your opponent, moving for slight positional advantage, and patiently waiting to strike at just the right moment, clearing out a row of your opponent's pieces, then making a run on the goal. It can be a slow burn and any miscalculation is punished severely. There is no room for a single mistake.

I love it unconditionally. It represents all of board gaming to me.
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