Chris' Top 18 in Overrated Games
Chris Farrell
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When wandering the internet looking for advice on what games to buy, you want to be careful. There are quite a few games which have small but vocal followings that, truthfully, are going to be of minimal interest to most of us. There are also a few games that have achieved a kind of critical mass through some kind of a "me too" thing which don't really seem to deserve it. Here are a few ...
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1. Board Game: Elfenroads [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:3123]
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*The* classic overrated game. An unfinished game, Elfenroads has several clever new ideas blended with classic Alan Moon-isms, but there is a showstopper: is this a game you really want to play for 3+ hours? No. Not by a long shot. The underlying system simply doesn't support a game that long; it becomes repetitive and tedious long before the game is done. The new Elfenland is *still* rather overrated, but at least at 45min it's a far more sensible game. By hour 2 of a game of Elfenroads, I was bored. By hour 3, I was annoyed. By hour 4, I was praying for the game to end and put me out of my misery.
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2. Board Game: 6-Tage Rennen [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:3648]
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Not as overrated as Elfenroads, but that's a pretty high bar. Admittedly the race game genre is hard, but 6 Tag Rennen just isn't that interesting a game, and not a game with either a very high skill component, a strong attachment to theme, much real player interaction, or any "fun factor". The problem for me here is that this is the ultimate "defensive" game, in that the primary goal of each player must be to prevent the person on your left from winning, and only in that way can you increase your own chances. Allowing any kind of an opening for him or her to draft on a big card can blow the game open. If somebody should leave such an opening for you, thank your lucky stars and race through it. Not much you can do to plan to create such an opening though. Breaking Away is the game to get, as it exceeds 6 Tag Rennen in every way.
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3. Board Game: Advanced Civilization [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked]
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This game may have seemed OK at the time, but the gaming enlightenment of the mid-90s has revealed the mistakes of our ways. Advanced Civilization took a classic, if overly long, game (Civilization) and eliminated the strategy and player interction elements, increased the length and complexity by 25-50%, and turned the whole thing into little more than an accounting exercise - all in some bizzare quixotic goal to add "realism" to a game that was never intended to be, and still isn't. It's amazing to me how much the intervening 10 years has increased my understanding and appreciation of good games; were Advanced Civilization to be released today, I would probably be able to immediately identify all the problems and avoid playing it, but I was just blissfully unaware at the time.
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4. Board Game: Citadels [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:316]
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While not much of a fan of Bruno Faidutti's games in general, Citadels (Ohne Furcht and Adel) strikes me as a rather odd game, and I am hard-pressed to explain it's (supposed) popularity. The game is clearly designed to be hostile to strategic or tactical play; the Thief and Magician are there to prevent you from being able to accumulate any resources and therefore being able to do any planning. Plus, with more than 5 players the game becomes much, much too long (a common theme on this list ...). It's another one of a class of games that is conflicted in design: it wants to be a strategy game, so it's longer and a little more complicated, but it also seems to want to be a light game, so there is very little strategy. Not a winning combination.
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5. Board Game: Kill Doctor Lucky [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:2062]
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Cheapass has certainly produced enough games to populate this list all by themselves, but just for yuks, I'll put the best game they've ever made here on the grounds that its the most popular and therefore probably the most overrated. I'm surprised people don't complain more about the rather serious endgame problems here, which essentially undoes what little good work is in the rest of the game. When you have to spend your own scarce resources to prevent exactly one other player from winning, this is a recipie for a game decided not by skill or even chance, but by kingmaking (I was rather surprised to see this fairly weak mechanic crop up again, in a slightly altered from, in GMT's The Napoleonic Wars - where it is exactly as unsuccessful and one of the weaker elements of the design). Cheap most defnitely does not mean good value.
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6. Board Game: Vinci [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:596]
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Ah, it's a shame to have to put this game on the list, as there are a number of cool ideas here and it's the best attempt IMHO to do an interesting and comprehensible Brittania-style game. But, this isn't about bad games per se, but about overrated ones. And once again, we have a game in which all the subtleties of the design are completely erased by a horrific endgame problem. All the scores are open, so by the end of the game everyone knows who is winning and by exactly how much, and so the game simply ends up being an excessively fiddly game of Diplomacy - none of the wonderful Kingdom flavor-rules have any bearing on the outcome. I've said about many games that if you want to play Diplomacy, play Diplomacy (or, in the modern world, Quo Vadis). If you want to play a tactical boardgame, play Settlers or El Grande - but not Vinci.
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7. Board Game: Empires in Arms [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:954]
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This is another one that comes awfully hard. Many of the elements of this design are brilliant, and for a wargame it was ahead of its time. I'll even give it a walk on the playing time, which is excessive and has horrible problems with "downtime" - players, especially of smaller empires, may have only minutes of activity in day-long sessions. What makes Empires in Arms overrated for me (and yes, I've played the campaign games) is the scripted nature of the game. You really have to play it "the way it was meant to be played", in a roughly historical manner, or the game breaks down into chaos (and tedious pointlessness for one or more players; if, for example, Prussia sides with France early and for an extended period then Austria is doomed and might as well play a side game for the remaining 100 hours of the game). The 1792 scenario has the same problems, but worse. For a game that sucks down *so* much time, it really needs to be more robust. There is a real compulsion amongst the smaller empires to do *somthing* grand, and this can be very, very bad.
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8. Board Game: The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:1486]
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This is the most popular CCG, er, TCG in the new TCG reality (like, the post-boom one in which essentially everything except Magic has failed. And in which CCGs are now TCGs). Maybe the new Wizards Star Wars CCG will catch on, it actually seems pretty good. Not this dog from Decipher, though, that's for sure. Point A: it's completely non-thematic (What, Boromir forgot his sword? But discovers it deep inside Moria? You can never actually play with the full fellowship?). Point B: the distribution is completely screwed, forcing you to buy ever-more rare cards or be at a tremendous disadvantage. ICE's Middle-Earth CCG had it right, the rare cards were fairly powerful but very hard to play, so you never needed that many to be competitive. In Decipher's game, rare cards are just as easy to play, but more more powerful than the similar common or uncommon cards. Or are very powerful in combination with other rare cards. Ugh. Decipher did a fabulous job with the pre-constructed starter decks, but fell apart after that. Point C: it's a fairly complicated game in which the play is virtually irrelevant, it's all about deck matchups. The original ICE Middle-Earth CCG could handle the complexity fairly gracefully because the game was tactically interesting and the deck-building more subtle. In the Decipher CCG, the game is decided more by who has the right hosers for the opponent's deck and how the deck strategies match up, so what's the point of having even a modestly complicated sequence of play?
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9. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:139] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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Similar to Ohne Furcht and Adel, his is a game that occupies a very uncomfortable middle ground. There is certainly not enough control or theme in the game to make it a serious or interesting game; it's awfully random. And yet, deciding where is the best place to put your one tile and whether or not to place a person is still moderately difficult and involves a fair amount of calculation to do it right (sort of the "Tikal syndrome", although I think it's more pronounced here because there is a lot less control than Tikal). And so the game is too light to be serious, yet too serious to be light ... and as a consequence doesn't work. This kind of "conflicted design" is the most common failing in games that don't work for me (well, OK, probably second most common - the most common being games that are simply too long).
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10. Board Game: Netrunner [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:581]
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While not a bad game per se, this game really didn't do much for me, as neither the play nor the construction angles had much compelling going on from a game perspective - certainly the game was nowhere near as interesting as the Middle-Earth CCG, the deck construction had nothing on Magic, and it didn't seem to strike a nice middle ground. Again, you could do much worse, but not one to spend a huge amount of money on. This is often referred to as a very high quality CCG that didn't catch on, but I think the consumer got it right, as they often do - this just wasn't that great.
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11. Board Game: I'm the Boss! [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:930]
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Ahh yes, this is the game I forgot when I first made this list. Perhaps "repressed" would be a better adjective. Kohl, Kie$, & Knete is nominally a negotiation game, but realistically it falls more into the "screw your nieghbhor" genre of Nuclear War or Family Business. The better entries in the screw-your-neighbhor category, though, usually have the good sense to be simple, easy to play, and over quickly. Not so for KKK. You have to go through all the motions for the deal-making aspects of the game, when in reality everything rides on the hoser cards, so what's the point? If you want to play a simple deal-making game, you'd be much better off with Bohnanza, Chinatown, or Quo Vadis. If you want a whack-your-neighbhor game, go with Nuclear War, Guerilla, or Family Business. There certainly are games that manage to cleverly combine genres; for example, Die Sieben Weisen. KKK is not one of these games. Given the tremendous superiority of todays negotiation games, it boggles the mind how much a copy of this will go for on eBay.
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12. Board Game: War of the Ring [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:2364]
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What would this list be without an entry from Richard Berg? I'm not sure anyone considers this a great game, but even a punched copy still fetches a pretty good price on eBay, which is enough to make it overrated for me. Now if you recall, one of the critical elements in the books was that the Good Guys were trying to keep Sauron guessing as to their intentions, making him believe that they were going to use the Ring against him - and he believed that this was their most plausible course of action. If Sauron had just read the rulebook, he could have checked page 27 where it say the good guys can only win by getting the Ring to Mt. Doom. Well then, that makes things a good sight easier. It also makes for a critically flawed and lousy game, where the Nazgul simply sit around at Orodruin waiting for the Ringbearer to show up. At least you got to wade through a long and convoluted rulebook in order to play. Of all the Lord of the Rings games, this is certainly among the least worthwhile.
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13. Board Game: Outpost [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1539]
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Another in the class of Advanced Civilization "it seemed like an OK game at the time", I am amazed that people still play this dreadful throwback, never mind pay $100+ for copies on eBay. There are really only one, maybe two viable strategies (always a killer), and Outpost is essentially a pure "compound interest" game - every turn you simply try to turn the money you have into more money, and since there isn't really a cap on how much money is useful, this is exhibit A in how to design a game with a runaway leader problem. Just to nail the coffin closed, there is essentially no way players can affect each other. This is an absolutely dreadful game, all the worst aspects of Advanced Civilization (expect the truly excessive length - although Outpost is still much too long for comfort), without *any* of the good stuff, not even the trading phase.
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14. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1184]
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Several people commented on the omission of this game, but I was conflicted over whether to put Axis & Allies on the list. After all, Axis & Allies is not a truly terrible game, despite a lot of problems; it actually shows some aspects of a quite solid game design. But this is a game that is played far out of proportion to its quality, which has to make it pretty overrated. Out of the box, this is a game with a lot of problems: a distinct lack of viable strategies to the point the game almost feels scripted, broken victory conditions (once the tide turns against the Axis, the only reason to continue playing is to let the Allies have some fun too - not good), that horrendous research "system", broken rules for Industrial Complexes ... did they playtest this sucker? Combine this with rules that are not simple, in fact as complex as many vastly superior low-end wargames, and a playing time that manages to cram about an hour of interesting activity into 3-4 hours or so of game time, and this is not exactly a winner. Most groups do play with various eratta and house rules that clean up some of the mess, but you're still left with a game which has a fraction of the interest of, say, Wizard Kings or Hammer of the Scots (games with vaguely similar production and "roll lots of dice" game systems and lower complexity, but less attractive bits) - never mind some of the all-time great low complexity wargames like We the People or Storm over Arnhem, both of which are simpler than this overwrought beast.

Both followups - A&A Europe and A&A Pacific - are valiant tries but still fail to really cash in on what promise A&A has. All three games are interesting ideas and solid foundations which to my mind were failed by a lack of quality development work. The number and variety of houserules is an indicator of this.
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15. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
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Lets get this down straight off ... Princes of Florence is actually a pretty decent game. Once again, though, we're not talking about the bad (although many of the games on this list are, in fact, bad) but the overrated. Check out the comments on this game, and you'll see a lot of "greatest game ever", "best game on the market today", etc. I don't see this quite as much as I did when the game was new, but I do run into people who insist this is the best game going with some frequency. To me, Princes of Florence is not even the best game in its line, being no better than 4th (clearly behind Ra, Puerto Rico, and Traders of Genoa, and I would argue Taj Majal also); and neither is it even the best game by this combination of designers, being behind both El Grande and Die Handler - and it just simply isn't even in the same ballpark as the classics of the 90s like El Grande, Settlers, Starfarers, Modern Art, Lord of the Rings, etc. The reason for this is that, for me anyway, gaming is a social activity, and in Princes of Florence there just is no sense of actually playing with other people. You just build your little fiefdom, trying to fit in wacky-shaped buildings, keep your artists happy, and that's about it. There is a very small amount of competition for a couple scarce resources, but very little you can do about it; it's all based on player position (so if I'm player number 1, I can't count on getting two freedoms of my choice, player #3 is in the best position vis-a-vis freedoms, and it's best to be 2nd or 3rd for Personality Cards ...). Yes, I know there is an auction. So while this is a decent game, even a pretty good one, and the various optimizations you have to do are at least interesting, the rather significant downtime and analysis paralysis problems make this one of the weaker entries in the alea line (which, as I say, still make this a pretty decent game, but neither great nor a classic).
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16. Board Game: BANG! [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1016]
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It's been a while since I've visited and updated this list, so it's time for an update. As I've said before, many of the entries on this list are not truly terrible, just overrated. Well, here is a game that is, in fact, mind-bogglingly awful.

The whole idea is that each player has a hidden role, so you are supposed to be in the dark as to who is who. But consider the balance of the roles: half the players are outlaws, half deputies. One of the deputies is the Sherriff, and his role is public. To win, the deputies have to eliminate *all* the outlaws, while the oulaws have only to eliminate the Sherriff. No prizes for guessing who wins that competition. The outlaws just whack the Sherriff, the deputies then whack anyone who shoots at the Sherriff. I haven't even mentioned the god-forsaken Renegade, who has to a) eliminate everyone else *except* the Sheriff, then b) eliminate the Sheriff - that role might as well just have "you lose" written on it, with the additional penalty that you are forced to go through the motions of the actual play of this wretched game, which is essentially just a too-fiddly version of Nuclear War without the entertainment value. In fact, for the outlaws eliminating the Sheriff is so easy games often go no more than two turns, and I have often seen it go less than one (with one or two players mercifully not having to take a turn - while still being able to "win", in as much as there can be any winners when this game comes out). This is a game that virtually requires players to play like morons for the game to not be *totally* degenerate.

This really is a non-game. Best for players who find that Nuclear War or Family Business is too taxing because you have to think too much. I can conceive of no circumstances not involving threats to life and limb that would get me to play this again.
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17. Board Game: The Napoleonic Wars [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:1799]
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Where to start on The Napoleonic Wars? The easiest place is the rulebook, which is the most wretched attempt to explain a wargame recently attempted. Terminology is often deliberately obscure in an attempt to make sure that nobody plays the game right the first time through. The rules are often reduntant, obtuse, and obscure.

It's pretty rare for a game to have such horrendous rules problems and still be good, and true to form, The Napoleonic Wars is not very good.

First, the downtime. France & Britain have a lot of cards and lots to do. Prussia, on the other hand, doesn't even get to play the first turn of a game which will often go only 2-3 turns! Austria is France's doormat, and since Russia is not only impossible to invade, but the benefits of doing so are so negligable, that she ends up just shipping troops west all the time.

And then the strategic options ... the copy text would lead you to believe that everyone has all kinds of strategic choices, and that players like Prussia have to walk a fine diplomatic line; but I don't know where they come up with this stuff. In reality, any approach to the game other than the historical one (minus the egregious historical error of France trying to invade Russia, i.e. France just trying to set up an Austria/Prussia rotation) leads to a virtual non-game. If France goes after Britian, everyone else falls asleep while the war is decided at sea (and the game becomes a total dice-fest, rather than a run-of-the-mill dice-fest it usually is). If Austria or Prussia break ranks and ally with France, then France wins. The design *so* discourages invading Russia that only a complete lunatic would do it. In total, it *looks* like there are a lot of choices, but in reality there aren't.

And the card deck ... where was the editor? It seems like every idea the designer had ended up in the card deck, which ends up being huge and full of events that will rarely rationally be played. I did a check, and it appears that the mathematical odds of at least 25% of the event cards ever being played are miniscule ... and the remainder are boring (note not necessarily "weak", but boring). Remember Hannibal, where events like Campaigns, Weather, Defectors, Macedonains, Naval Moves, Hannibal Charming Italy, etc., really made a difference? Where you could look at your hand and really make an operational plan? What happened to that brilliant card design? You'd think having seen it done once would make it easier.

And that "end of game" mechansim is truly awful, exceeded in its dysfunction only by the conquest rules.

I'm left with the home cards as being somthing cool that is in this game that I'd like to see borrowed by future designers. Other than that, I know there are lots of people out there thinking about card-driven games for their favorite periods, campaigns, etc. All I have to say is ... don't learn from this game.

That The Napoleonic Wars won the CSR awards over vastly superior competition like Hammer of the Scots astounds me.
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18. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
Chris Farrell
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Sigh. In researching my Princes of Florence entry above, in which I was surprised to find it ranked as high as fourth here, I must admit I was not that surprised to see Puerto Rico in the top slot, given the acclaim it receives. Slightly disappointed, but not surprised.

Now, Puerto Rico is amongst the best game in the best line of so-called "gamers games", alea. There are many great things about Puerto Rico, and it is a good an engrossing game. It justifiably swept the awards for 2002.

Still, the fact of the matter is that I can pick 10 games I think are better than Puerto Rico without real effort. If you've been reading my comments, they are the usual suspects and you can find them on my Top 20 list, on which Puerto Rico is absent.

Why is this? I think it's due to Puerto Rico's one-dimensionality. Puerto Rico is more or less a pure short-term analysis game. Perhaps the best and most interesting of it's kind ever so far, but. Two things follow from this: firstly, that I like more in my games. For example, Aladdin's Dragons (a game like better than Puerto Rico in the long run), which combines that analysis, albeit in a lighter form, with an element of guile and bluff. Secondly, that in the category of heavy-duty analysis games, these eurogames are simply not heavy-duty competitors.

I was reminded of this recently while playing Rommel in the Desert, another game I'd easily rate as better than Puerto Rico; not really a similar game to Puerto Rico except in complexity, but it is a game that features the same level of analysis (albeit coupled with that guile element I like so much). But, being two-player gives significant advantages; perhaps the main one being that you can concede when it's clear you've lost. Puerto Rico forces you to keep playing, raising ugly questions about how a player in a clearly losing position is motivated.

One might also compare Puerto Rico to the all-time classic Settlers of Catan. Again, not really similar games, but in my circles anyway Settlers easily cruised in regular play for over 5 years while Puerto Rico has fallen off dramatically in 18 months. Why? Part of it is definitely that Settlers had somewhat less competition, but I think it's easy to overstate this, and to my mind the key element here is the variability of Settlers ... each time you play is a different game due to how the map falls out. Certain resources are scarce, others common, and this has a profound effect on how you play the game tactically and strategically. Puerto Rico is virtually the same out of the block each time (and it's pretty clear that the first few players really have only a very small number of valid choices). Puerto Rico, like most great games, has constant, wrenching choices ... but compare to El Grande, Ra, or Union Pacific where the circumstances of all these choices are different each and every game. Puerto Rico *is* an incredibly absorbing game for those first 5, 10, even 20 plays, which makes it remarkable and I think it would handily win a "best in initial customer satisfaction" award if I thought in those terms. But for me, at some point, the interest in making those choices started to tail off when they became similar from game to game in a way in which they just simply aren't in Ra or Settlers, both games that have easily cruised past 100 plays. Or even Lord of the Rings, which easily cruised past 50 before tapering off.

I'm not arguing about whether or not Puerto Rico has a great "playable Civilization"-esque appeal, which it clearly does. I'm not arguing that Puerto Rico *isn't* a great game, which it is. That Puerto Rico takes the top slot in the BGG ratings though is not, to my mind, very fair.

The good news is, though, that I think it does indicate how much the boardgame hobby has grown. The fact that recent games do better and better in the rankings (Princes of Florence, Carcassone, Puerto Rico) is to me simply an indicator that more and more people are playing this year's great new games than last year's, more and more people are saying "hey, this is way better than Monopoly!", and last year's great games (like Ra, El Grande, and Modern Art) are not reaching a broad audience; 3-4 years ago I was always shocked to hear a "serious" gamer say they had never played El Grande - now it's more a matter of course. And the publicity machine is more interested in you buying this year's games than last year's. It appears that from Europe anyway, 2003 will have no games to match 2002 (I have been surprised by the overwhelming positive response to Attika of people I've taught it to, but my instinct is that it will fade), but these things do go in cycles and it will be interesting to see what happens in 2004.

Anyway, all this is hardly a bad thing. At the risk of sounding cranky, though, the whole German game invasion thing has been going in full force for over 10 years now, produced hundreds and hudreds and hundreds of games, many of them truly amazing; Puerto Rico in my mind has no clear claim on the top spot.

Before leaving this subject, I should mention one last thing ... one of the things that discourages me from playing Puerto Rico again is that there are not many "casual" Puerto Rico players left. Bear with me on this one. People have tried to introduce me to Bridge on a couple of occasions, and I've always ended up walking away due to what I call the "post-game recriminations phase" in which the more experienced partner critiques, often not gently, the novice's play and tells him or her where it was that they lost the game for the team. Amongst some serious Puerto Rico players, this "post-game recriminations phase" has ceased being "post-game", and now starts with the first play and goes on more or less contiuously. Any suboptimal play is an affront as it can, in the views of this player, unbalance the game. Quite frankly, I don't need this kind of hassle. I am not (and have never been) a very good Puerto Rico player, and I just want to play the damn game. If I was playing for blood, I'd play Go, or GIPF, or Rommel in the Desert, or OCS, or EastFront. Or I'd go back to ASL. Games where you contend with one opponent at a time, and if he or she is not very good, you just win if you play well and hopefully everyone learns from the experience. Puerto Rico, like all German games, is a game that is meant primarily for entertainment, with winning as a driver and element of this, but not a key one. When winning becomes as important as it has to a significant percentatge of Puerto Rico players, it becomes a huge problem for this or any other game in its genre.
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19. Board Game: Star Wars: Epic Duels [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:890]
Chris Farrell
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I can see people out there now, rolling their eyes, saying somthing along the lines of "Chris, this wasn't meant to be a serious game, just enjoy it!". And Epic Duels does do OK in the theme department. But folks, this is a kid's game, and I'm amazed that there are approxomately 140 apparent adults here who would rate it an 8 or higher. This is a game with extremely shallow gameplay, few meaningful decisions, and little strategy. When the players aren't making interesting choices, you really can't have a well-done theme. And the only version of the game that works at all is the team game.

This doesn't mean it's not modestly engaging for a couple plays, and those of us who are Star Wars or Lord of the Rings geeks are always suckers for those games which succeed in embracing their theme at all. But you'll have to be 12 or under to really want to play this more than a few times.
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20. Board Game: Age of Renaissance [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:875]
Chris Farrell
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This list encompasses, along with some good games, some games of quite staggering mediocrity. But Age of Renaissance is quite possibly the worst of the lot, on the strength of its playing time (BANG! is clearly worse when viewed as a system, but at least it's short). This is another game based on Civilization, but while Advanced Civilization took most of the good stuff out of classic Civilization, Age of Renaissance finally soaked it in gasoline and put a torch to it.

Anyway, where to start on this one? The most gruesome problem is the horrendous randomness in the card draw, with virtually any skill being erased by the overwhelming impact of high-value commodity cards and the couple powerful events. This coupled with the incredibly time-consuming and tedious accounting required to manage all your advances is not a good mix. You do all this busy work to track your credits, cash, and purchases, and it turns out to be irrelevant because your opponent drew the two Spices on the last turn.

And the game is unreasonably long. Not as long as Advanced Civ, but if you're going to be playing a game largely decided by card draws, Munchkin is too long ... and it clocks in at a quarter the time of Age of Renaissance (or even less, if against all reason you play 3 epochs instead of 2). You want more of a Family Business/Nuclear War game length with this kind of game, as I've often said.

I could go into the extremely serious imbalance amongst the starting positions. I could also mention that this is little more than a whack-the-leader whinefest later on in the game. But what's the point?

This game would have been OK if it had been released in 1986, not 1996. 1996 is post-Settlers, post-El Grande, post-Modern Art, post-Quo Vadis ... in other words, after people figured out that the quality of a game is not proportional to its length.

Like Advanced Civilization, Age of Renaissance is a game that manages to mask its severe problems by being long and incredibly fiddly, and so hoping that you don't notice.
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21. Board Game: Up Front [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:373]
Chris Farrell
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We have a new "winner"! Up Front is a classic game from 1983 which I played a ton back then, not least because it was short (under an hour) in the day of very long games, and also because it was clever and ground-breaking at the time.

But the whole 90s game revolution, in which playing times of your average gamer's game have plunged, has treated Up Front rather harshly. First, let's do a reality check on the rulebook here: Up Front has over 20 pages of rules in a tiny font size. Many of these rules (from prisoners and entrenchments to wounds and radios) are pure simulation grit with no gaming value whatsoever. I'm not opposed to chrome, but it should serve some purpose. Most of this stuff is late in the programmed instructions, but even in the core rules, one critical one (malfunctions) is borderline-incomprehensible.

What do you get for all this gratuitous complexity? Basically, a luck-fest. The number of inputs the player controls is extremely small. It can produce a nice, historical results, but what you're really doing here is just learning to cycle and count cards, and not forget rules that are to your advantage. You do all this, and then if you get the right cards at the right time, you do well; otherwise, you don't. There is a bit more too it than that, but that's the executive summary.

The other problem is that the great variety of the game - lots of vehicles and different scenarios are included - is mostly a mirage, since nobody can keep track of most of the rules so everyone ends up just playing scenarios A and B repeatedly.

I think Up Front was a great game in it's time, but the CCGs and euros of the 90s have really crunched this class of games. I have no idea why I would play this game when I could play Blue Moon or the Middle-Earth CCG, or even Magic, other than for the historical flavor - but for me this alone is nowhere near enough to compensate for this unwieldy, luck-heavy system.

If you really want to see this game at its absolute nadir, you can try the French and Italian expansion (Desert War).

Up Front had always enjoyed a fond place in my memories for the fun I had with it in the 80s, even up through the early 90s. Fond memories alone were enough to keep it going longer than it deserved; I wish I had just let go sometime back around 1995.
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