Cerulean's "Starship Captain" List (and more Icehouse geekery)
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EDIT: This list is obsolete. Please read the September 2012 edition.

This week, Icehouse pyramid* inventor Andrew Looney unveiled the Starship Captain idea. This is a pilot program for the subset of Looney Labs fans who really dig Looney Pyramid Games*.

Starship captains always carry pyramids with them, for those times when they meet up with another Starship Captain, like at a convention. Pick-up games ensue, based on the game preferences of the two captains. All good Starship Captains have a ranked list containing at least ten of their favorite Icehouse games*. (Here is Andy's List.)

The Starship Captain program is in its infancy, and is part of the Mad Lab Rabbits replacement program overhaul that Looney Labs that been undertaking since 2007. It kinda sounds hokey to me, but I'll play along.

This is my Starship Captain List.

(* The Icehouse pyramids are now officially called "Looney pyramids", named after inventor Andrew Looney. The "Icehouse" and "Treehouse" system names are now traditional terms but not official.)
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1. Board Game: Volcano [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:3176]
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Volcano tops my list. It's an exceptional shared pieces game, scales easily for 2-4 players, is visually stunning, and is one of my wife's favorites. Volcano isn't my highest-rated pyramid game, but it's my most played. My Wednesday Night Game Bag carries six stashes of pyramids around just so that I can play Volcano anywhere.

(Volcano is #2 on Andy's List.)
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2. Board Game: Martian Coasters [Average Rating:6.14 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.14 Unranked]
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Martian Coasters is another often-played pyramid game of mine. It's a roll-and-move race game from the same mold as Backgammon, but the topology is far more... er... variable. Since the board of coasters shifts frequently during play (compared to the static board of backgammon), MC rewards you for finding creative way to make your route more efficient. It plays best with four or five players, but I almost always play it with just two. This is another pyramid game my wife loves, which helps get MC to the table often.

(Martian Coasters is #9 on Andy's List.)
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3. Board Game: Zarcana [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:9415]
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I discovered Zarcana in 2007, and liked it enough to make my own custom Zarcana deck. I played a lot of Zarcana a few years ago, but these days I play more Dectana instead. The Zarcana-style games are too heavy for my wife, but some of my other gaming buddies really dig them. The Zarcana formula was been reinvented many times (even by yours truly), but none can match the awesome combo-exploiting fun of Trump Powers, which is how the original recipe trumps Dectana and Zark City on my list.

(Despite being one of Zarcana's most vocal supporters, this game doesn't appear on Andy's List.)
 
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4. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:728]
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Zendo fired Clue as the pre-eminent logic game in my life. It is entirely different from all other pyramids games, and most people who won't dare touch these pyramids for anything else will ask for a session of Zendo (especially my lawyer friends). There are a bunch of variants out there, but the one that I want to try is the one encouraged by Zendo designer Kory Heath... turnless "Speed Zendo".
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5. Board Game: Dectana [Average Rating:7.57 Unranked]
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I'm tooting my own horn here, loud and proud. Dectana is my baby. I reimplemented Gnostica on the canvas of The Decktet, and the result is a game that I think rises superior to Gnostica and Zark City in terms of player choice and elegance. My Zarcana plays have turned into Dectana plays, but I can see myself reverting back to Zarcana at some point. Still, Dectana is one of the heaviest games I regularly play. In Comassion's words "It hurts my brain so good."
 
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6. Board Game: Twin Win [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:10179]
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I'll admit, I'm a terrible Twin Win player. I consistently lose. My brain has a blind spot that prevents me from noticing obvious ploys against me. And yet I come back for more. Twin Win passed the "Let's Play Again" test, and is best played with three players.

(Twin Win is #11 on Andy's List.)
 
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7. Board Game: World War 5 [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:7481]
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World War 5 is part of what I call Andy Looney's Second Wind Trio, a set of three pyramids games that he devised in 2007-08 that also includes Twin Win and Zark City. He made three really good strategy games in a short period, after years of lighter and sillier fare, and this trio hearkens back to his heyday of Martian Chess and IceTowers strategic goodness. World War 5 was well received by my group, and made it to the table at least twice. If it weren't for Dominion, it might make it back again.

(World War 5 is #4 on Andy's List.)
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8. Board Game: Martian Chess [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:5915]
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Martian Chess is the game that lured my into the Icehouse game system in 2005. I read the rules, and was floored by the concept of pieces that change sides during play. I had to try it!

FUN FACT: This game was inspired by Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Read the full story at the bottom of this page.

(Martian Chess is #8 on Andy's List.)
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9. Board Game: Crosswalk [Average Rating:4.57 Unranked]
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Why is Crosswalk so replayable? I have no idea. The game doesn't have a hook or gimmick, and is just a simple roll-and-move game that shouldn't be so much fun. And yet, is has been one of my most-played Icehouse games of 2010. Go figure.

Crosswalk is Backgammon minimized, stripping a classic race game down to fifteen pieces, seven squares, and a D6. I once heard it said that a good chef puts lots of ingredients into a dish, while a great chef removes ingredients until only the essential ones remain. If that's true, then Crosswalk must work for me by sheer design ambition of removing everything that wasn't bolted down.
 
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10. Board Game: Penguin Soccer [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:13875]
Ryan Hackel
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My wife loves the cute theme of Penguin Soccer, and that makes her more willing to play this perfect information abstract. I also enjoy playing PS at SuperDuperGames.ORG. In fact, I was one of the four players tied up in a game of PS that ran for over three years (2007-2010). It looks like one of us four has abandoned the site, and this epic PS session will sadly go unfinished. The real lesson is that Penguin Soccer should never be played with more than two players.
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11. Board Game: Treehouse [Average Rating:5.83 Overall Rank:6152]
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Everybody else I know seems to like Treehouse more than I do. It's decision tree is trivially simple, and it feels like a child's game more than one suitable for grown-up minds. Treehouse doesn't hit the table often with my friends, but when it does, it gets played over and over and over. I've completely underestimated the appeal Treehouse has to seasoned RPG veterans.

(Treehouse is #7 on Andy's List.)
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12. Board Game: Zark City [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:7687]
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Remember how I described Crosswalk is a minimized version of Backgammon? Well, the same is true here; Zark City is a minimized Gnostica. It's still too heavy for my wife, and too simple for my usual Zarcana/Dectana compatriots, so it doesn't hit the table often, Still, I respect the design for making the learning curve of the Zarcana-style games more user friendly.

(Zark City is #3 on Andy's List. I guess it fired Zarcana for him.)
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13. Board Game: Mundialito (Gold Cup) [Average Rating:6.72 Unranked]
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Every now and then I get the urge to learn a new pyramid game. This one caught my eye as a worthy up-and-coming Icehouse contender, so I tried it. When a pyramid game hits the table in at least two different sessions, that is a very good sign. Mundialito is one of those discovered gems. If you like Martian Chess, you will like Mundialito.
 
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14. Board Game: Blam! [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:10134]
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I discovered Blam on SuperDuperGames.ORG. It was the reason I signed up to that site. (I think I'm user ID#4 there, an early adopter.) Blam makes novel use of the board edge, and can either be a precision think-fest for two or a chaotic shoving match for three or four. Either way, it's short, simple, and fun.
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15. Board Game: Quicksand [Average Rating:7.04 Unranked]
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Quicksand deservedly won the 2009 Ice Award for fan-made pyramid game of the year. One reviewer called Quicksand "checkers designed by a chess player", and I cannot improve upon that statement. It's halfway between Checkers and Pentago, but requires far more cunning than either.
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16. Board Game: Homeworlds [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:3210]
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Homeworlds is a hard game to learn, but the climb up the learning curve (or more appropriately, the learning cliff) is well worth it. It is one of the deepest, heaviest, and most challenging games ever created for the pyramids, and is one of those abstract games that people should be playing 300 years from now. It is Chess without straight lines. The only thing keeping Homeworlds from appearing higher on my list is that I don't actually play it very often, partly because of that steep learning curve I warned you about.

(Homeworlds, in the 2-player "Binary" style, is #1 on Andy's List. I think he's right to focus on Homeworlds as the ultimate of what the game system has to offer, as it is a component-simple strategy game that you can play for a lifetime and never master.)
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17. Board Game: Infiltrate [Average Rating:6.97 Unranked]
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This was another really cool pyramid game I discovered during the 2009 Ice Awards review panelist stint. If you want a pyramid game with army building, Infiltrate is the best of the kind, and a well-balanced one at that.
 
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18. Board Game: Ambush [Average Rating:6.68 Unranked]
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Ambush feels very related to Quicksand, and fans of one would be wise to try the other. Ambush differs from Quicksand through the addition of resource management. You cannot play a medium until you've played a small, and so on. Not being able to play the exact size piece you want to play, and cleverly working around that restriction, adds a delightful wrinkle to the game.
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19. Board Game: Drip [Average Rating:5.24 Unranked]
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Drip is like hydrogen... impossibly lightweight. Yet Drip makes the list for passing the "Let's Play Again" test, and for a novel and innovative concept... making the pyramid container a game component!
 
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20. Board Game: Blockade [Average Rating:6.29 Unranked]
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Blockade was a 2-D race game, across both the X and Y axis. It has an intriguing premise, but it delivers on the premise in a cumbersome manner. If you want a race game, there are better options these days.
 
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21. Board Game: Martian Backgammon [Average Rating:5.95 Unranked]
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It finally occurs to me that my wife and I have a preference for roll-and-move race games, seeing as this is the fifth such game on this list. Martian Backgammon was fired by Martian Coasters years ago.
 
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22. Board Game: 3-high [Average Rating:6.29 Unranked]
Ryan Hackel
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3-High was one of a sudden crop of co-operative pyramid games that were designed 2008-09. Although some people prefer the sport-like theme of Apophis, it was 3-High that hit the table more often. 3-High is mathematical like Pandemic, but it's way too simple and easy for a co-op. 3-High has the potential to be much more worthwhile after further development.
 
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23. Board Game: Stack Control [Average Rating:6.43 Unranked]
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Stack Control is a multi-player DVONN with shared piece control. I don't play stacking abstracts often, but this is the one I'd reach for if I were in that mood. This game was a finalist in the 2009 Ice Awards.
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24. Board Game: IceTowers [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:4894]
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IceTowers is a game I think about more often than I actually play. Turnless games are one of the oldest signature motifs in the Icehouse system, and IceTowers came late to the party, but it's still one of the best in the genre. It's better with more players, so if you want a turnless pyramid game for two, I direct you to Torpedo instead.

(IceTowers is #6 on Andy's List.)
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