Earth's Mightiest Games - CapAp's Top 10 Favorites
John So-And-So
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I have long wanted to make a "favorite games" list, and debated with myself over whether or not it's a proper use of the Geeklist function. I've finally said "screw it" and I'm doing it.

This list is not meant to imply that I think these games are the best games ever. It doesn't mean that I think these games are superior to others (I have hundreds of "favorites). It provides no function other than to let the rest of the community know what I like best - these are simply the 10 games I enjoy playing more than any others; the 10 games I can't imagine NOT owning.

As you'll soon see, I like strategy. I like having complete control over my path in the game I play, and I like to know that win or lose, I did it my way. This doesn't mean that I always want a complete absence of luck - a game without any random factors usually gets stale after a certain amount of play. But I like my ration of chance to be small - just enough to keep the game from falling into a set of standard moves and responses. I also like bidding, and a little bit of bluffing is right up my alley. Theme gets a game big extra credit on my scorecard - but it can't save sucky gameplay from the full extent of my wrath. I love bits - thick cardstock and little plastic men just bring out the little pack-rat kid in me.

Read on.
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1. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:500]
John So-And-So
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I rate this game a 10, and my comment reads "Simply put, the best board game of all time. Period." Diplomacy is to me, the perfect game. There is no luck and no random chance in Diplomacy - it is pure strategy, negotiation and public relations. There is no other game that changes so drastically based upon the personalities of the people who play it. Diplomacy's only shortcoming is that it really requires the maximum 7 players to do it right - and when that's the worst you can say about a game, you have a damned fine game on your hands. I have played literally hundreds upon hundreds of games of Dip (most by email), have never grown tired of it, and can never imagine myself doing so.

In fact, it's not even fair for me to compare Dip to the other games on this list, I love it so. In much the same way that I tend to say "Zeppelin is my favorite band", I often say "Puerto Rico is my favorite game". Implied in this statement is a fact that close friends know - namely, that I am not even bothering to mention Diplomacy (or The Beatles, if talking music); they belong to another tier, a sort of demigod status that mortal creatures could never touch.

Hail to the king, baby.
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2. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
John So-And-So
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OK, now Diplomacy is out of the way - I can get on to the rest of the board game world. Puerto Rico is for all intents and purposes, my favorite boardgame. I can play it with other real-life people almost any time I want (rather than spending months emailing strangers who demand they be addressed as "Kaiser Wilhelm"), it takes only an hour or two to set up, play and put away, and it has a HUGE fan base that always wants to talk about it here on BGG.

PR has what I consider to be the perfect amount of randomization. The random plantation draw means you cannot mathematically plot out from turn 1 what your best moves will be - you might not get the corn you see out there, or maybe coffe won't come up when you need it to. All told, it's a TINY amount of chance that alters the game in a magnificently big way. The "butterfly effect" of the first turn's plantation draw really determines the whole flow of the game - and yet everything else is a direct result of player action.

There are many other things I love about PR, but they've been discussed ad nauseum by other players. Suffice it to say that I love everything that everyone loves about this game. One opinion of possible interest, however, is that the cyclical nature of the role cards in a 3-player game (Settler/Builder/Mayor and Craftsman/Captain/Trader) and the 1-2-3, 3-1-2 nature of governorship rotation leads me to conclude that 3 players is the most enjoyable way to play PR. Luckily, I have 2 close friends who feel the same, and we play almost every day.
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3. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
John So-And-So
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For a very long time, this held the top (non-Diplomacy) spot in my list. It has dropped a space, not due to any fault of its own, but because PR has proven to have an unnerving amount of longevity. PoF isn't a game I can play every single day - it starts to feel too much the same. This is what I mean by needing a slight amount of luck to "mix it up" a little - Princes greatest flaw is the often-cited "multiplayer solitaire" complaint - a strategy can be pre-formed and commited to before the first play is even made.

This doesn't keep me from LOVING the game to death. Never before or since have I found a bidding game that requires such perfect precision in cost/benefit prediction. When playing with other seasoned Prince-ers, if you spend 200 too much on that Jester, you may very well end up losing by 1 point in the final tally. And nothing is more exruciatingly pleasant than watching your opponent collect a 3-point Best Work bonus to slide 1 space past you on the score track.
 
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4. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:442]
John So-And-So
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Medici gets its high spot because of its perfect simplicity. One of those gamer terms that we all argue about is "elegance". What does that term mean to you? To mean, it means "Simplicity of play, complexity of strategy". Let me explain.

Medici is simple to learn, and simple to teach. It operates on some very simple "common sense" principles, and people who have only played Monopoly are able to easily grasp the idea of bidding on cards which represent ownership of property. I have never tried to teach Medici to someone and had to give up due to frustration, and I've NEVER seen someone finish a game without saying "Wow! That was really fun!" They are always surprised at how much *sense* everything seems to make; and they are happy and proud that what *seemed* to be a good move actually *was* a good move, even when they didn't really know what they were doing.

Now, once you've played a lot, you start to see *why* that play you made was a good play. You knew you were supposed to keep Mike from getting that 5 of Metal, and you did. Now you realize that you did the right thing, but maybe you could have saved a buck or two in the process by bidding a little lower. And this is where the deep strategy sets in - you start to think about how many cards you ought to flip, and exactly what that combo is worth to your opponents.

Medici's elegance lies in the fact that you already know how to play it, even before you learn the rules - its lasting value lies in the fact that after you've learned to play the game, you still have to learn to play your opponents to win.
 
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5. Board Game: La Città [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:554]
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I think of La Citta as "grown-up Settlers". Not that there's anything wrong with Settlers, but at this point in my game-playing career, most games come down to how many 6's and 8's ACTUALLY got rolled rather than SHOULD HAVE been rolled. Bleh.

La Citta operates kind of the same way, except that the players determine what will happen each turn, rather than a die. The "polling of the people" mechanism is one of the most original and unique that I have seen in board games, and I'm frankly amazed that it hasn't been duplicated many, many times. But most of all, I love-LoVe-LOVE the little people that move back and forth between cities. Nothing is more gratifying than stealing your buddy's citizens, and nothing more horrifying than watching them starve to death because you forgot you'd need more grain at the end of the year.
 
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6. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:414]
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Two-player games that feature deep enough strategy for my tastes are few and far between (discounting wargames, which just don't appeal to me because of their length and lack of shiny bits). But The Confrontation comes through in spades. What at first appeared to me to be a reworking of Stratego is actually a very clever hand management game. The Confrontation is won or lost on two levels - finding out which opposing pieces are where, and using the right cards at the right time. The cards, the cards! It's all about the cards. This ultimate element of Bluff is why The Confrontation went on my Top 10 list, and Stratego Legends went on the trade pile.
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7. Board Game: Colossal Arena [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:752]
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Titan: The Arena. This one really shouldn't be so high on my list, but it is. As I said in my comments, it's got bidding, bluffing, and every fantasy creature you can think of - what's not to love?! The big drawback to T:tA are that it is the opposite of Medici - it's very counter-intuitive and has some wonky rules. But once you work those out, you start to appreciate the intracacies of play. After a lot of games, you start to predict which creatures certain opponents have bet on, and you can achieve a sort of telepathic synergy with opponents you suspect of having bet on the same creatures you did. Very cool.
 
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8. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:208]
John So-And-So
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Acquire is Monopoly on steroids. This, in my opinion, is THE game to teach your uninitiated friends if you want to hook them on boardgames. Everyone "gets" this game - there are no elves, no victory points, no starting player markers. There's MONEY. And you want to make a lot of it. Every American is conditioned to want to play Acquire already -your job is just to show them how. Add in a board that every non-gamer can say "Oh! Just like Scrabble" to, and you've got the greatest thing to happen to intelligent game design since some guy said "Nope, you can NEVER kill the King".

Besides the fact that Acquire is the game Settlers has always thought it should be, it's just a hell of a lot of fun to play. I prefer playing with face-up stock, because you can plan out decisions, and I think there might be a little bit of a problem in three-player games (the one guy who doesn't make any $$ in the first merger almost NEVER ends up winning).
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9. Board Game: Queen's Necklace [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1703]
John So-And-So
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Queen's Necklace is straight-up fun. It contains the most luck and most random play of all the games on this list, and yet I love it utterly and completely. It wraps all my favorite gaming skills up together: bidding (in a form), bluffing, strategy, and great-looking pieces (perhaps my favorite card art of all time). I also love how what the cards "do" is directly related to the theme - should the King decide he wants all the Rubies around (thanks to the fact that his Favorite mistress is enamored of them), then rubies are worth nothing to the court jewelers - Unless one of them has made a Ruby Necklace for the Queen! So much fun in such a small box, and so fast that you almost always want to play twice in a row! And the little rings used to mark card costs are perhaps the niftiest "You love bits, don't you, mister game nerd? Yes you do! You LOVE them!" gimmick I've ever seen in a game.
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10. Board Game: Hive [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:204]
John So-And-So
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I struggled with this, but Hive has taken my spot #10 from its papa - Chess. I honestly believe this game to be almost as deep and as intricate as that ancient classic (bold and probably unsupportable, I know). Like chess grandmasters, experienced Hive players have a very small set of "openings" to choose from, but the virtually infinite number of possibilities that open up after those first few moves can make the mind boggle.

Also like chess, the fact that certain pieces move in certain proscribed patterns means that "good" play is knowing how to keep all your pieces and positions protected, and knowing when to give up that positional advantage for a strike at your opponent's main piece.

If given the choice, I would always play Hive rather than Chess. Well, unless the chess pieces were some kind of crazy-cool theme set (like Aliens on one side and Predators on the other).
 
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