Parallel top-10 lists
Remy Gibson
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One of the things that I've always liked about BGG is its comprehensive system of rating, grading, and otherwise generally assigning quantitivity to the realm of tabletop gaming. Naturally, I wanted to contribute my own ratings to games as I expanded my collection.

However, relatively early on I ran into a problem: How do I decide whether I like a light game like Coloretto more than a medium-weight game like Ticket to Ride or a heavy game like Through the Ages? My inability to come to grips with this problem kept me from updating my ratings for quite awhile. Another hindrance was BGG's suggested reasonings for ratings; they haven't really helped to de-murk the problem.

Recently, though, I've had something of an epiphany. Why compare apples to oranges? Why compare light or filler games with medium/heavy games? Why not just run two concurrent lists of games?

So that's what I've done.

I've taken my game collection and split it into two: games that are heavier and games that are lighter. For me, the dividing line fell naturally on a BGG average weight of 2.0. I found it to be much easier to compare games with a weight of 2 and above with each other and also easier to compare games with a weight of less than 2 with each other.

In addition, as I pared and compared my list, I peeled away all of the abstract strategy games into their own list -- for similar "difficult to compare" reasons -- and all of the games that I truly loathe into a fourth one.

But how to tackle my issues with BGG's suggested ratings? I knew that I wanted to move from a 10-point to a 100-point scale, using tenths in my ratings (technically it's only a 91-point scale since the lowest a rating can go is 1.0), and that I would have two 10s: one from the light group and from the heavy group. The rating solution that I devised was a scale that can be expressed in three different ways: letter grades, stars, and text. So here's my grading scale:

A love this game 8.0 - 10.0
B like this game 6.0 - 7.9
C take or leave this game 4.0 - 5.9
D dislike this game 2.0 - 3.9
F hate this game 1.0 - 1.9

After having figured all of this out, the actual work of slotting games into their proper places was pretty easy. However, BGG either doesn't have a way or I don't know the way to split these different games up when I look at my collection, so I figured a GeekList was as good of a way as any to keep a record of this.

What follows is a countdown in parallel of my top 10 medium/heavy games, my top 10 light/filler games, and my top 5 abstract strategy games (because it's a smaller category for me). On the second page is another list of my top 10 hated games (or bottom 10, if you prefer)
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1. Board Game: Cribbage [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:559]
Remy Gibson
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#10 (light)
Rating: 6.9

A fun game for two or three that has more decision-making than you might expect would be possible from such a small hand of cards. Of course, you can play this game without the board, but what would be the point?
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2. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
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#10 (heavy)
Rating: 8.7

(It should be obvious already that my preference in games tips more toward heavier games, which is why these two #10 games have such vastly different ratings.)

There's not a lot I can say about Puerto Rico that I don't like. I haven't played it enough times or with enough frequency to encounter the "optimal play" problem that others have; in fact, even when I think somebody else is doing poorly or that I'm running away with it, they manage to turn it around or grab that role that I was counting on and deny me the victory.

Okay, here's one negative: Fiddliness.
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3. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:392]
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#9 (light)
Rating: 7.2

Despite the obvious joke that you have to deal with when teaching to new players ("Wanna play 'No Thanks!'?" "No, thanks!"), this game plays nicely with difficult decisions and a certain amount of randomly-hidden information. Big swings in scoring are possible if you're not careful.
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4. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:49]
 
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#9 (heavy)
Rating: 8.8

This game spent a long time as my #1 game and was one of the first hobby games that I picked up back in the summer of 2006. It has everything I had always been looking for in a game of this nature: a sci-fi theme, deep and involving rules, complexity, and lots of cool plastic bits.

Unfortunately, what it also has is a play time that is just too long.

This rating assumes that you're playing with Shattered Empire, the expansion. The additional tiles, races, technology cards, and -- most importantly -- Strategy Cards make this almost a must-buy. Which is another downside to the game, taking it from an MSRP of $90 to $150. But without it, my rating would be more like 7, rather than almost 9.
 
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5. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:629]
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#8 (light)
Rating: 7.4

With a publication date of 1980, Can't Stop is the third-oldest game on any of my top lists (Cribbage is the oldest). Just about the best push-your-luck game you can find, its simple design -- structured by the actual shape of a Stop sign -- and dice-rolling mechanic make for a quick but tense game. You ... just ... can't ... STOP ... !!!
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6. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:126] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
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#8 (heavy)
Rating: 8.9

Obviously TTR isn't "heavy" in the same sense that TI3 is; but it's certainly heavier than No Thanks!, eh?

Four years on from my initial purchase, the original Ticket to Ride remains my gateway game of choice. I have yet to play this with a single person that didn't like the game or with somebody that wasn't able to grasp the mechanics within minutes. I have successfully been able to move multiple people on from here to games with more complexity (which is the whole point of a "gateway" game, after all).

I have played TTR:Europe and was less interested in that more-complex-but-still-very-similar version of the original; perusing the rules for Marklin, etc. makes me less interested in pursuing those.

I still am looking for a fellow cutthroat to play against, though, somebody who'll intentionally foul up an opponent's ticket without necessarily getting any direct benefit themselves. That would be an interesting challenge.
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7. Board Game: Cloud 9 [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1654]
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#7 (light)
Rating: 7.5

Yet another push-your-luck game (and Incan Gold came in at #11), this one really makes all of the players push against each other when deciding whether to continue to ride up the balloon to more points or parachute out (i.e. play it safe).

One niggling flaw is the occasional short balloon trips up while the players are waiting to refill their hands. Otherwise, quite a solid little filler that I like very much.
 
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8. Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:26]
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#7 (heavy)
Rating: 9.0

My first "9" rating on these lists, and again, it comes much lower on the "heavy" list than does the first "9" on the "light" list.

TTA is one of the two heaviest games I own; along with Twilight Imperium, both have a BGG weight of 4.1. Thankfully, it is much shorter. I love the depth of gameplay, the wide variety of cards and technologies, and the constant tension of wanting to do more than I can (a common theme in a lot of games, I know).

I haven't had as much opportunity as I could want to play the full game with Wars included, but I was very impressed the couple of times I did play that way with how delightfully much was going on in the game compared to the basic, starter version.

As with that other heavy game, though, it is length that keeps this one from being rated more highly than it could be otherwise. (Twilight Struggle, my #12 heavy game, suffers from that problem, in addition to only being a two-player game.) And, of course, those terrible, terrible little round tokens. I'm seriously considering a wholesale replacement of them with cubes.
 
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9. Board Game: Hey, That's My Fish! [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:677]
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#6 (light)
Rating: 7.7

A ruthless, cutthroat game wrapped up in a cute package and marketed toward kids. It is stunning how difficult it can be to put together a high score as the board starts to disappear in unexpected places and your opponents cut you off left and right. That disappearing board is sure to mess you up on your first couple of plays. Yet the gameplay is super simple and quick.
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10. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:45]
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#6 (heavy)
Rating: 9.1

The first time I played Caylus was on BrettSpielWelt a couple of years ago. I was simply blown away. The word I used at the time to describe it was "elegant." A perfect information game with a slew of relatively-simple decisions and a huge reward for ability to plan ahead. I haven't (yet) had the opportunity to teach this to too many people, but I'm confident that the right group (I'm thinking of people that are good at chess) could really take to it.

One massive downside is how much of a difference experience makes. Before I gave up playing this game on BSW, I managed to lose something like 300-150 in a two-player game. That just wasn't any fun at all. Fortunately, I'm not nearly good enough and don't play nearly often enough to cause that kind of problem for anybody else.
 
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11. Board Game: TZAAR [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:344] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
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#5 (abstract strategy)
Rating: 7.7

I have a lot of respect for all 7 of the Project GIPF games. They are all simple, attractive, and deep. I'm indifferent to a couple of them (GIPF itself, despite all the potentials, and PUNCT) and have a tough time deciding which of the others I like better (both YINSH and DVONN are also quite good).

But TZAAR is my second favorite of the bunch. It's the newest of the set (displacing TAMSK) but, like the rest, has a nice easy set of rules and concepts. I particularly enjoy the balance you have to strike between making your pieces stronger (by stacking them on top of each other) so as to be able to conquer your opponent's stronger pieces and not running yourself out of one of the three(!) different types.

Nicely balanced. Nicely done. It'd be even nicer if the box matched my other five.
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12. Board Game: Pit [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:1366]
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#5 (light)
Rating: 8.8

Quite a big jump here between my #6 and #5 games on the Light list; I give Hey! That's My Fish! a rating of 7.7.

Pit is an excellent game of fast and loud trading, simulating a commodities exchange. You're trying to acquire a set of nine cards in a given suit, with each suit being a different crop (wheat, barley, oranges, etc.). To get the cards you need, you have to trade sets of cards blindly to other players. Mixing in the Bear and the Bull adds even more tension, especially when you know the end is getting close and someone dumps the Bear on you.

The game really loses something if you don't pay attention to the score, as each of the commodities has a numerical value from 50 to 100. If the score is unimportant, then you never know what people will go for (and it doesn't matter whether you get stuck with the -20 point Bear). So I've always kept score. Yet nobody really seems to care if they lose. It's just fun.

I have the Winning Moves edition of the game, which changed up some of the commodities and printed different colors of cards. I strongly prefer it to the old 1973 version of the game. It's also nice because it expands the play from 7 players to 8. Sure you can play with only 3, but you really need to get 5 or 6 to get it good; more is better in this game.

And, you need the bell.
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13. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:50]
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#5 (heavy)
Rating: 9.5

Yes, it has a steep learning curve, but only in the truest sense of the term: The first game is really tough, but the second game is much easier, and the third even more so. I disagree strongly with those who say that the iconography is more distraction than help or that the game should have been done entirely with text. For one, you would need far more text than your typical Dominion card; for two, you wouldn't get any of the fantastic artwork.

And the depth of possible options becomes more and more apparent the more you play. In the first few games, it seemed like a military strategy was the obvious choice; in later games, a produce/consume cycle becomes equally viable, racing to get the available VP chips.

And then each expansion adds something new. I haven't yet been able to get Brink of War to the table with its addition of prestige, but I'm certainly optimistic about it.

Great game.
 
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14. Board Game: Ingenious [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:333]
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#4 (abstract strategy)
Rating: 7.8

All of my abstract strategy games have lower ratings than my other games simply because I have to be in the right mood to want to play one of these simple, elegant designs.

What's noteworthy about Ingenious is its unique scoring system (unique to me, anyway). You want to race ahead and score the maximum points in a certain color in order to get an "Ingenious" and a bonus move, and that's certainly an important part of the game. But you can't neglect any of the six colors or you'll certainly lose, as your final score is the points you've scored in your lowest-scoring color.

The reason this game isn't ranked higher is because I actually find it too easy. It's too easy for me to get most (and occasionally, all) of my colors to the maximum score. I typically win this game. Yes, it's likely due to the people I've played this with (mostly family), but I have the group I have.
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15. Board Game: Say Anything [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:815]
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#4 (light)
Rating: 8.9

Apples to Apples (my rating: 2.7) was a game that received a lot of recommendations and which I liked quite a lot to begin with. But the limitations of the cards soon became tedious. Loaded Questions (my rating: 5.6) fared better since it was more open-ended as far as choice of answers. It suffers from the "game" portion of it being tedious and far too long. And both of these games seem to need the right group to make them good.

Say Anything solves all of these problems for me. Like Loaded Questions, there is no limitation on your responses. But unlike both of those other games, everybody gets to voice an opinion on the correct answers (even though only one person votes each round). And unlike both of those other games, the actual "game" part is engaging and mercifully short. It leaves you wanting more, rather than leaving you wanting to shove an ice pick into your ear. And to top it off, it seems to work with every group I've tried it with.
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16. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:73]
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#4 (heavy)
Rating: 9.6

My second-most played game, I believe I can safely say that there is nothing I don't like about this game. I don't have many cooperative games, but that aspect of this game is a key to its appeal. (We have never played with our hands hidden, but then we also have never suffered from having a single dominant teammate.)

We had just started ramping up the challenge by including more epidemics when On the Brink was released. I'm not with those who say that this expansion is essential or that it was necessary to breathe new life into the game. I do, however, love having all of the additional options: virulent strain, mutation, bio-terrorist, and the plethora of new roles have added even more life to what was already going to be a long-lived game.
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17. Board Game: ZÈRTZ [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:481] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
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#3 (abstract strategy)
Rating: 8.0

My favorite of the GIPF series. One of the things that I like about these games -- and this is a very shallow comment -- is the production values. The pieces all have a nice heft, feel, and look to them. And this is most true in ZERTZ, which is the one that has the black, white, and grey marbles. It feels like a cross between Checkers and Hey! That's My Fish!

Well implemented and well done.
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18. Board Game: Slide 5 [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2094]
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#3 (light)
Rating: 9.3

You may know this game as 6 Nimmt or Category 5, but this is the version that I have.

Gameplay, as usual with these lighter games, is pretty dead simple. You have four "hills" made of one card, each with a number on it from 1 to 104. Each player has a hand of ten cards. On each turn, you secretly select a card from your hand. All of the cards are revealed simultaneously and placed in numerical order. Each is put in the row of the card that it is closest to without going over (like The Price Is Right). The catch: If you are the one to place the 6th card in a row, you cause an avalanche and have to take the other five cards, leaving the 6th to start the new hill. Each card has a certain number of "skiers" (points) on it, and you want the fewest.

Again, the concept is grasped within seconds. What's interesting to me about this one is how many it can play: 2-10 players. The game, though, is vastly different with those different numbers. With a small group, it becomes a game in which tactics matter quite a lot; with a large number, it becomes a chaotic free-for-all. The sweet spot for me is about 5 or 6, but it really does work with any number.
 
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19. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:29]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#3 (heavy)
Rating: 9.8

I don't imagine much more needs to be said about Power Grid. I like the counterintuitive fact that last place is often better than first through the most of the game. I like the auction mechanic and the supply-and-demand tension in the game. I like the large number of expansion boards, each with their own little rules tweak for a variant on the game.

I don't like the time that I played with a group of six, most of whom were new to the game. It took three and a half hours, simply because we had two AP people that needed to add up the best routes. Which soured the others at the table on the game, even while the APers said they really enjoyed it.

My wife and eight-year-old son can knock out a game of this in about 75 minutes, which is much more reasonable. Still, four is the ideal number for me.
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20. Board Game: Qwirkle [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:662]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#2 (abstract strategy)
Rating: 8.2

I first heard about this game on the podcast The Spiel; subsequently I won it from the same show in a contest. Perhaps this is what has engendered my love of this game? Well, maybe it was a start.

But the gameplay is very solid. You have a set of 36 unique blocks, each with one of six shapes in one of six colors. Your goal is to play out one block to continue a row, matching either by color or by shape (or both). Since there are three copies of each of the 36 blocks, there are plenty of choices, and they increase from easy and clear to staggering as the game progresses and you try to eke out that additional point. Fantastic game.

One complaint: In the version that I have (which may be from one of the early print runs?), the colors aren't as bright as I would like, and nowhere near as bright as the box top; red and orange, in particular, are hard to distinguish. But that's a minor gripe in a great game.
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21. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:292]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#2 (light)
Rating: 9.7

I would probably have given this game an 8 when I first started playing it. It was good, but tough to get all five of your expeditions into the black.

Then I played it on BSW and realized that I'd missed two crucial rules. One: You don't have to (and probably shouldn't) start every expedition. If you don't start it, you don't incur a penalty. Two: You can pick up the discards instead of drawing from the deck.

And a game that I already liked became one of my favorites. Its only real hindrance? That it's two players. (And yet, oddly, I don't care for Lost Cities: The Board Game all that much. I give it a 5.5 rating, , "take it or leave it.")
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22. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#2 (heavy)
Rating: 9.9

If I were strictly using the rating system recommended by BGG, there's no question that Dominion is a "10". In my personal system, however, there are only two "10"s: one for light games and one for heavy.

I held off on purchasing this game for months after its release. Once again, The Spiel comes to the rescue, and after having heard it explained on the show last summer, I knew this was a game I wanted to have. It almost immediately became my most-played game, which is true even now: Dominion has 70 plays and second-place Pandemic has 42.

The simplicity of the game (I know, I know; it's a "heavy" game) is certainly a big selling point. When teaching the game to new people, I demonstrate the "ABCD" sequence of events: Action, Buy, Cleanup, Draw. A couple of rounds and a shuffle later and people generally have a handle on what to do.

Even with that simplicity, though, I've been quite impressed with the variety in cards that we've seen. I picked up Intrigue and Seaside upon the release of both of those expansions, and both added depth to the game without causing it to crash under its own weight; of the two, I prefer the "duration" mechanic of Seaside over the increased interaction of Intrigue. (Alas, Alchemy isn't of much interest to me, so I'll be waiting for Prosperity.)

And, of course, I've shelled out tons of money to Mayday Games for their high-quality sleeves. This was a no-brainer after the first three-hour session with other guys on a warm summer night; those coppers got pretty beat up in that short amount of time.
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23. Board Game: Blokus [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:524]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#1 (abstract strategy)
Rating: 8.5

As I described in my personal history GeekList, Blokus was the first real designer game that I purchased. It holds a special place in my heart for that reason alone. But even after several years playing it, I feel engaged with the game and wish I could play it more often (when I'm in the mood for abstract strategy, of course).

Pros: Well-balanced, particularly for four players; appealing to the eye; good length -- not too long, not too short (many of the GIPF games are too short); simple to teach, simple to play.

Cons: Really only plays well with four (the three-player version is not very good, and for two players, Travel Blokus/Blokus Duo is a better choice); poor early choices or uneven skill levels in even one player can make the game too easy.

Final appraisal: I love the game (hence the 8.5), and it's my favorite of this type.
 
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24. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:482]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#1 (light)
Rating: 10.0

No question in my mind which light/filler game is my favorite. This beautiful and simple card game can be played quickly or over multiple rounds for more depth and to balance out the luck of the draw. Every decision in each round, except the first, is a real nail-biting choice (though certainly not worth agonizing over). Even the scoring system builds tension into the game, and it works very well with 3, 4, or 5 players. Really, about the only thing that held it back at all in my mind was the fact that it didn't play with 2, but I've learned recently that it can.

The mechanics have, of course, been re-implemented in Zooloretto and Aquaretto. I haven't played the latter, but I've given a rating of 4.7 to Zooloretto, which is one obvious indication of which way I fall in the "card game version or board game version?" debate. All of the added "stuff" in Zooloretto just seems like unnecessary busywork to me. Pay a coin to move these from here to here, or to move this over here, or blah-blah-blah. The only thing going for it is the cute animals. Coloretto has distilled this into its essence and has done it pretty much perfectly.
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25. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:37]
Remy Gibson
United States
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#1 (heavy)
Rating: 10.0

What is it about this game that I love so much? How about the choices? The fact that anything you do helps your cause (though some choices are better than others)? How about the steadily-increasing supply of things you can do? The steadily-increasing lure of piles of free resources? (Free resources! You don't even have to pay for them!) How about the challenge of formulating a long-term strategy, then enacting various short-term goals in order to achieve it? How about the compulsion to score just a little bit better this time than last? How about ... ah, how about you just read this review?

With just a few games of experience, my wife, my son, and I have successfully brought our play time for a full game under 90 minutes. This is an important accomplishment, since it's about the limit for a game on a typical night for us. I haven't yet had the opportunity to teach this to others -- and I will certainly be avoiding the AP-prone -- but I expect it to be a big hit with them, as it has been with me.

Now, turn the page to see my top 10 stinkers . . .
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