Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 10-1

IT’S HERE. IT HAS FINALLY COME. WHAT EVERYONE HAS BEEN WAITING FOR!

No, not the COVID vaccine…though that’s pretty ace too. I’m talking about my top 10! Like a vaccine, it’ll get you sick for a day or two but it’s worth it in the long run!

ONTO THE LIST.

10. Orleans

Previous ranking: N/A

Let’s start things off nice and hot with a new to the list game: Orleans. Orleans has the distinction of popularizing the bag building mechanism in the hobby, a type of game that takes the beloved deckbuilding mechanism but uses some Fairy Godmother-esque magic to turn your deck of cards into a bag.

In Orleans, everybody will have their own personal bag which will be chock full of medieval themed character tokens, such as farmers, knights and craftsmen. It’s like a bagged lunch you take into school, but instead of a ham and cheese sandwich it’s your own personal Renaissance Faire. Every round, you’re going to pull out a ‘hand’ of these tokens from the bag and assign them to various spots on your player board, using various combinations to accomplish different actions.

One of the primary actions is using your existing tokens to add even more tokens to your bag, and herein lies the ‘bag building’ mechanism. At the start of the game, your token supply is fairly meager and weak, but clever use of them throughout the game’s first half will allow you to seed the bag with powerful combinations, which can then be used to further yourself along the game’s other action mechanisms. Every game of Orleans is like cooking microwave popcorn, with the flat bag of kernels slowly popping and bursting its way something that bulges with opportunity.

What makes Orleans even more special is that, if you oblige me in stretching this ill-advised popcorn metaphor even farther, you can flavor that popcorn however you damn well want. Orleans is certainly not a ‘sandbox’ game, but the freedom you have in deciding what strategy you want to pursue and the engine you build to accomodate that is unparalleled when compared to the rest of my top 100.

This facet particularly sings when considering the game’s ‘development tiles’, which are special spots you can grab and add to your player board so that only YOU can use them. This means you’re not only thinking about what tokens to put in your bag but also what development tiles complement them. If you’re building a bag with a lot of farmers, perhaps you’ll want to pick up some of the tiles that allow you to use farmers to grab free goods. Or maybe you’ll take all those monks you’ve been hoarding like a Gregorian Scrooge McDuck and grab tiles like that Sacristy and Brewery. Orleans gives you a medieval playground to explore and half of the game’s fun is deciding whether you want to go down the Ye Old Slide or climb the Ye Olde Monkey Bars.

I’ll admit, this style of free form, long term strategy doesn’t usually excite me. I’m far more of a tactical, turn to turn gamer and these mid to heavyweight Euros that put so much emphasis on making a long term plan and executing it are few and far between in my collection. Orleans gets away with it thanks to how damn satisfying and fun the bag building mechanism is. Reaching into your bag and grabbing a handful of tokens each turn is an exciting roulette wheel, with every opening of your palm a Vegas style thrill. Slotting your bounty onto your player board and then pulling the lever to run what you just built feels better and better as you get deeper into the game and the imagination sparkles with possibilities of what kind of strategy you’ll want to try next time. It doesn’t hurt that the game is beautiful either, with the woefully underrated Klemens Franz delivering his best work to date, a vibrant and evocative homage to medieval art.

My time with Orleans is very limited, making it all the more impressive that its debut on my list is triumphantly kicking off my top 10. Hopefully it’ll get back to the table before the next top 100 because this could make a serious run at the top 5, maybe even top 3.

9. Decrypto

Previous ranking: 14 (+5)

What I said last year

This is a team vs. team game, as many of these [word] games tend to be. Each team has a board propped up in front of them that only they can see. The board has four slots, each filled with a different word card. So, let’s say the words are ‘bear’, ‘ogre’, ‘beach’ and ‘kitchen’. The slots have a number so each of those words correspond to a number 1-4.

The active clue giver draws a card with a 3-number code that their team must guess. Let’s say they draw ‘3.2.1’. That means they need to give clues for beach, ogre, and bear, IN THAT ORDER, so that their team can guess the numbered code. Players guessing never say the words out loud, they say the numbers associated with the words that they believe their clue giver is trying to get across and in the order of the clues given. So, the clue giver can say ‘sand’, ‘Shrek’, and ‘grizzly’ to get their team to say “3, 2, 1.”

HOWEVER.

The clue givers do NOT want to give clues that obviously point towards something because, much like Cross Talk, the other team gets first dibs on intercepting the code. The first turn there is no intercepting codes, it’s just saying clues to provide a baseline. But after that, any clues that sound like they might be related to previous clues allows opponents to cross examine and nail down what the mystery word may be. For example, if the clue givers (which alternates every round) give the clues, ‘grizzly’, ‘polar’ and ‘cave’ for the word ‘bear’, there is a very good chance the opponents will zero in on that being something bear related. From that point on, anything else they think may be bear related, they will be sure to guess the number ‘1’ when they try to intercept the code. If the opposing team intercepts two of your codes, they win the game.

You’re probably thinking, then just be as vague as possible to confuse the other team….which is half right. You DO want to be vague so that the team can’t intercept BUT if your own team can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, then you get a failure token. And guess what? If you get two failure tokens, the other team wins the game. This creates a brutally tight balance between being obvious enough for your team to correctly guess the codes but being vague enough to prevent opposing team from catching the scent.

There are few games as nerve-wracking as Decrypto. The margins of error are ruthlessly thin and the slightest slip up can blow your whole game wide open. It feels like the other team is a flock of vultures circling overhead, just waiting for your team to collapse under the pressure so it can pick on your remains. In this tension, however, comes some of the most satisfying gaming moments I’ve ever experienced. When you do manage to sneak something by your opponents and your team immediately picks up on it, you feel like a genius. When you detect a subtle trend from the other team and intercept a code, you feel like Alan god damned Turing. There is no game that makes you feel as clever as Decrypto and the euphoric rush that gives you is hard to come by elsewhere in the hobby.

Also, Decrypto feels surprisingly thematic. As great as industry darling Codenames is, and while it may or may not show up on later this Top 100, it feels like an abstract exercise in word association. The spy theme is completely pasted on. Not so in Decrypto. Sporting an early Cold War aesthetic, this game makes you feel like you’re all codebreakers as you huddle with your team, desperately trying to get a leg up on the opponents in hushed whispers. It further adds to the endless suspense this game provides and, while it can be exhausting if the game is drawn out, it’s mighty impressive for a word-based party game to pull this off.

What I say now

I edited it out of the excerpt above, but I mentioned in last year’s entry that I wouldn’t be shocked if Decrypto found its way into my top 10. Those words were truly prophetic as here we are at number 9, with Decrypto experiencing a five spot surge into the top 10.

Everything I said last year about Decrypto and why it’s so brilliant stands today. In fact, it’s a very big reason why it’s in the top 10. One of the only reasons why Decrypto fell just short of a top 10 appearance last year was due to lack of play. This is a very particular party game for a very particular crowd, so it’s not nearly as easy to get this to the table as, say, Just One. But in year where most games suffered a lack of play due to a pandemic, Decrypto is one of the games that ironically got a bump up in table time due to its ability to be played remotely. Suck it, COVID.

Due to this increase in play time, I was reminded of the sheer genius of this game’s design and how no other game, even Codenames, scratches the word association itch in my brain like this one does. Decrypto has sidled on into the top 10 and it maaay be here a while.

8. Skull King

Previous ranking: 31 (+23)

What I said last year

I’ve had a lot of great trick takers across this top 100 and Skull King is one of the best. The funny thing is that this is one of my highest-rated trick takers on the list and it also happens to be the most traditional trick taker. It’s modeled after a traditional trick taker called Oh Hell, though there are some slight twists to make it its own beast.

Skull King is played over ten rounds, with players being dealt a number of cards equal to the round number (so 1 card for round 1, 2 cards for round 2, and so on). Once everyone gets a good look at their hands, wagering begins and this is where the heart of the game lies. You’re trying to bet the number of tricks you think you can win that round, with big points rewarded for nailing it and increasingly steep penalties for those who are farther away from it.

It’s fair to wonder how one can be expected to precisely predict how many tricks they think they can win with just a passing glance at your hand and guess what? You’re right! But that’s what makes Skull King so fun. Wagering in this game is like jostling a backpack and going, “I think there’s a parachute in here?” before jumping out of plane. You never know if you pull the ripcord and will happily float down to safety or if you will end up popping like a water balloon on the ground.

Skull King is controlled chaos in the best possible way. You can make guesses on what’s in your opponents’ hands by taking note of how aggressive their bid is along with what kind of cards they played so far, using those inferences to better time what cards you play. BUT winning tricks in this game can still feel like trying to grab a brass ring on a merry-go-round as it’s going at 80 miles per hour. When you manage to pinpoint it and nab the exact number of tricks you predicted, it’s an absolute rush. When you don’t, all you can do is laugh at the senselessness of it all and take solace that mostly everybody else is in the same boat as you.

I’m probably making this game sound like it’s just a cacophony of randomness and luck but Skull King is far from it. Like all great trick takers, there is a method to the madness which demands subtle strategy and constantly shifting tactics. There’s almost a push your luck feel to the proceedings as you try to determine when to play your best cards, especially if the titular Skull King, who automatically wins a trick, hasn’t been seen yet.

All in all, Skull King is amazing fun. The fact that it has a pirate theme is great, yes, and suuure, there is a rule that involves everyone yelling, “Yo ho ho!” at the same time but even with these things aside, Skull King is a masterclass in trick taking design.

What I said last year

One of the biggest jumps on my top 100 and maybe the most important since Skull King’s 23 spot climb gives it a cushy slot on my top 10. For good reason, too…this game encapsulates everything that makes trick taking great in one package. I’m talking about the agonizing hand management, the constant evaluation of your opponents to deduce what they might have, the climactic moments when someone plays a card and the rest of the table howls in either pain or excitement. It’s all here and it never fails to be an amazing time.

Before the world caught fire, this was one of the most requested and played games in my collection (another reason behind it’s precipitous increase). After my friends and I are vaccinated, I expect it to pick back up where we left off. Suck it, COVID.

7. Raptor

Previous ranking: 4 (-3)

What I said last year

Raptor is a 2-player only masterpiece.  At its core, it’s a card driven abstract strategy game, where you and your opponent are activating actions to move your pieces around the board to achieve your objective. The amazing thing is that Raptor breaks from the chains of its abstract design to become one of the most intense and cinematic experiences in gaming.

In Raptor, one player is a band of scientists who are suspiciously armed to the teeth and the other is a mother raptor and her babies. The scientists can win in one of two ways. They can either capture all the babies (I’m sure their intentions are harmless) OR shoot the mama raptor with five bullets, putting her into a deep slumber (again, I’m sure it’s fine). The raptor can either win by getting all her babies to safety, off the game board OR by eating all the scientists.

How the actual game plays is through a card based action selection mechanism that is so brilliant that I have no clue why another game hasn’t copied it. Each player has a deck of cards valued 1 through 9 with a special action listed on them. The special actions differ between the players, allowing the raptor to do things like teleport her babies to her tile or to scare scientist figures into a state of such catatonic terror that they spend the game on their back until the scientist player wakes them up. The scientist is able to do things like launching sleeping grenades to put babies to sleep from far away or using frickin’ flamethrowers to block movement on the board.

Players draw a hand of three cards from their deck and then simultaneously choose one to play facedown before dramatically revealing at the same time. The cards are then compared; whoever played the smaller number gets to immediately take their special action while the person who played the larger number gets a number of basic action points equal to the difference between the two numbers.

It’s an absurdly clever system that creates more moments of unbearable tension than any other game I’ve played. Every turn you’re trying to get into the head of your opponent, attempting to zero in on what special action they need in order to deny them it while also making sure you get a solid chunk of action points. Of course, there will be points where you desperately need to trigger a special action and your opponent is thinking the same thing. Once that meta is established, the endless spiral of double think swallows your mind hole. You know your opponent wants to get reinforcement scientists so you’ll want to cancel that out BUT they know that too so they likely won’t play that card but what if they’re banking on you thinking that and WILL play that card so do you just counter it anyway and then you reveal and GOD DAMMIT, THEY DIDN’T PLAY THE REINFORCEMENT CARD, THEY’RE GETTING SO MANY ACTIONS NOW.

The mind games above the table are a nerve-wracking battle of wits and it’s matched by the intensity of the game on the table. Deciding how to move your pieces and spend your actions to better your board position is just as excruciating as figuring out what card to play. As the scientists, you want to be as close to as many babies as possible, but that might mean splitting your figures across the map. That could spell danger for you when the raptor takes down a couple scientists and you’re left with a couple of useless figures who are now too far away to do anything. On the other hand, clumping them together makes it more efficient to take down and capture baby raptors one at a time but means that if the mama raptor gets near you, you might as well just hand her an after-dinner mint. As the raptor, you have to decide which babies are worth focusing on and which are, horrifyingly, worth sacrificing for the good of the family. You also want to make sure you’re in positions where you can reach much of the board but that often means being out in the open and that opens you up to being shot at by the scientists.

If you’re playing a drinking game where you take a drink every time I say the word ‘tactical’ then crack open a new beer and start chugging because that’s exactly what this game is: tactical. This game is perhaps the most tactical game on my top 100 and one of the most tactical games I’ve ever played, period. It’s impossible to plan more than one move ahead because you have no clue what cards you’ll have at your disposal and you have no clue if you’ll even be able to use them for what you intended.

You wanted to play that value 7 to get a handful of action points because you thought your opponent was playing low? Oopsies, they played an 8 and now you activate that action. Guess you gotta reevaluate your next turn! This sort of stuff happens constantly throughout Raptor, meaning that if you aren’t ready to adapt at a moment’s notice then you will have what we in the hobby call ‘a bad time’. As someone who salivates at the prospect of playing games that requires this much tactical thinking and adaptation, Raptor is so firmly in my wheelhouse that I should start calling it Captain Raptor.

(that was really stupid, I’m sorry, I’m running out of stuff to say)

I’ll end this fanboyish rambling by mentioning this game’s tightwire balance. When I first played the game, I thought the scientists had a huge advantage over the raptor. I didn’t mind it too much though, because games were still close and the raptor was still a lot of fun to play as. But as I’ve played it more and more I’ve realized that the scientists, while easier to use as a new player, are not overpowered and that the raptor is incredibly powerful after you get the hang of managing her arsenal. I now consider it a toss up between the two sides and this balance creates absurdly tight games. Every game seems to come down to the wire, with each side desperately trying to get just the ONE action they need that will give them the advantage. This also means that there are rarely quick, blowout victories, with even a slow start able to be overcome by one or two clever card plays.

I recently played six straight games of this with a friend one night over the course of two hours. That seems like a lot, but we honestly could have played six more. Every single game was fun, intense, and filled with nail-biting tension. My friend commented that no game gets his pulse racing like Raptor and I think I have to agree with him (something I don’t often do with friends).

What I say now

This one both hurt and surprised me to move down the list. Yes, it’s only 3 spots, but any sort of movement in, out and within the top 10 seems magnified.

That being said, I don’t like Raptor any less than I did when it was number 4. Other games have increased in favorability and Raptor was the unfortunate collateral damage. This was even more pronounced by the fact that Raptor hasn’t gotten played for quite a while. Even though 2 player only games are the main thing I’ve been playing with my girlfriend in quarantine, she’s not a huge fan of aggressive, confrontational games and this is a VERY aggressive, confrontational game. It’s also absurdly stressful and I personally haven’t been in the mood to willingly stress myself out lately. Can’t imagine why.

Raptor remains a masterpiece, however. It is firmly in my top 10 and I still whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys 2 player only games.

6. Inis

Previous ranking: 7 (+1)

What I said last year

Inis has players placing and moving clans on tiles representing various areas of Ireland, getting into clashes, building temples and fortresses, and getting super drunk at festivals (that’s not me being stereotypical against the Irish, there are legitimately festivals in the game). As they do so, they’re trying to strengthen their position in one or more of the game’s three win conditions, hoping to achieve them before the other players. How players manipulate these pieces on the board and complete actions is through card play.

You get these cards in a variety of way. The main nuts and bolts that stitch your hand together are green colored cards called Action cards. Action cards are drafted at the start of every round and the same deck is used throughout the game. This means that as you play the game, you get to know the cards better and better, allowing you to see which ones combine well together and which ones are less potent for a given situation. It creates a great meta game that evolves over the course of the game and even bleeds into future plays.

Other cards include the red Epic Tale cards, which are gained through various other cards in the game. They add a dash of chaos and unpredictability to the proceedings, allowing players to activate special powers that can drastically alter the board state. The strengths of these cards are often circumstantial, which is a gripe I’ve seen people level at this game, but I honestly don’t mind it. They’re a fun way to inject some variance and tomfoolery into the game state and turn any meta on its head.

The last kind of card you’ll see are the yellow Advantage cards, which are rewarded to players for being chieftans of location tiles. Being a chieftan simply means you have more pieces of your color at a location than any other player. Each location has an Advantage card tied to it, allowing a specific ability for that player to play and use. Some Advantage cards are definitely better than others, which lead to some locations being more hotly contested, like people are rushing to choose between vacation real estate in Hawaii instead of Montana. (Listen, no offense Montana, but the thing you’re best known for is dinosaur bones. If your most popular attraction is already dead, that’s a bit of a problem).

By the midway point of the game, players are fanning out hands that are a patchwork of green, red and yellow like proud peacocks in mating season. Since cards are the lifeblood of this game, your hand is the heart of it, meaning you need to maintain its health in order to succeed. The more cards you have, the more control you have. In order to deal with hand size disparity, Inis includes a wonderfully smart passing system. If you don’t want to take your turn, you simply say “Pass” and it’s the next players turn. As long as the rest of the players don’t consecutively pass before your next turn, the round still continues and you’re able to still participate. This allows you to stall and buy some time for the right moment to trigger a certain card or make a huge move, while hopefully thinning out the hands of your opponents to prevent them from getting the upper hand. I can’t think of a game where sitting back and doing nothing can be such an important decision. If only real life worked like that.

It’s tough to narrow down and focus on what makes Inis so great because Inis is a bit of a weird game. Its three different win conditions lead to strategy and direction and feeling a little opaque, especially for a first play. It has a mechanism where you must declare you have one or more of the win conditions like it’s god damned Uno, spending a whole turn to take a ‘Pretender’ token that you can’t win the game without. Its game length can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as 3 hours depending on how things play out.

And yet, here it is at number 7. So let me just talk about things I do love!

Thing the First: It has my favorite combat system in an area control game, ever. You literally just attack someone and they lose a soldier or a card. Then they do the same to you, causing both players’ armies to slowly erode away like you’re watching a time lapse video of ice melting. It does a great job of making war feel senseless and pointless, something you don’t expect from a troops on a map game. Even more brilliantly, before every action in the combat, players can unanimously agree to peace and end the conflict. This means that technically a game of Inis could end without a single battle and that it’s the players themselves who are choosing to not coexist.

Thing the Second: I’ve mentioned my love of tactical games so many times on this top 100 that you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘tactical games’ is the name of some publisher that’s sponsoring the blog. But what can I say, I like what I like and I love tactics over strategy. Inis is one of the most tactical games on my top 100, forcing you to change your plans every round based on the cards you draft and what your opponents have done. This game is a tactical player’s dream.

Thing the Third: I adore the theme and art in this game. I literally named this blog after the coat of arms from my family’s Celtic ancestry, so it’s safe to say that I’m all in when it comes to anything Celtic. The game does a great job of immersing you into its Celtic setting and mythology, with Epic Tale cards that are based on actual Celtic myths and evocative art on the location tiles that transports you to the setting. The psychedelic card art is maybe a little more 1970s than mid hundreds, but it’s still incredibly striking and attractive. Playing this with the Braveheart soundtrack in the background creates such a wonderfully engrossing experience that it almost makes you forget Mel Gibson was involved with that movie.

Thing the Fourth: This game has got a ton of replayability and variety. There is no static nature to this game. Everything comes out in a different order every time you play it: from the location tiles to the Epic Tale cards to the cards you draft at the beginning of every round. This breathtaking amount of variance allows for Inis to feel different and fresh every time you play it. That’s something I really put a lot of stock into, so the fact that Inis excels in this area is a huge notch in its pro column.

Honestly, I love Inis enough that I could see it being a top 5 or even top 3 game for me some day. The main thing keeping it from that hallowed company is that I have had one or two rough plays of this game, where it dragged on for almost three hours and it devolved into a ‘bash the leader’ slog. The good thing is that that has only happened at the four-player count. At three players, games last for little over an hour. Now, I’ve heard the expansion helps fix this problem at higher player counts which plops it immediately on my radar). If I play this a couple more times and find the game is at a more consistently trim run time, Inis is without a doubt in the running for my favorite game of all time.

What I say now

Ahh, Inis. How close you came to cracking my top 5 this year. Early in 2020, I had a couple of fantastic three player games of Inis and it’s the main reason it moved up. I simply adore this game’s richly tactical gameplay and the theme never fails to immerse me. It juuuuust missed the top 5 because I still have a somewhat sour taste in my mouth from over-long, repetitive four player games of this and I never did get the expansion I mentioned in last year’s entry.

When that day comes, I truly think Inis won’t just enter my top 5 but make a real run at the number 1 spot. I like it that much.

5. Grand Austria Hotel

Previous ranking: 6 (+1)

What I said last year

GAH casts players as hoteliers in pre-war Vienna, working hard to attract and feed guests so that they can be sent up to their rooms, all the while trying to make sure a very fickle (read: asshole) Emperor approves of their hotel. It’s a tight game of resource management, where you must keep track of things like time, money and coffee (which makes it sound like a Millennial Simulator, but it’s obviously a bit more than that).

GAH is a dice drafting game that has an immensely clever system for picking said dice. Every round, a bunch of dice are rolled and are separated into columns by number. The numbers denote what action those dice can be used for. For example, if you take a one, that allows you to take cake and pastry resource cubes, a four lets you take money or Emperor favor points, a five lets you hire a staff member, etc.

The cool twist is that the strength of that action is determined by the amount of dice in the column when you draft it. So, if the ‘four’ column has three dice, I get the four action at a strength of three. In this case, it allows me to take any combination of three dollars or Emperor points.

Obviously, this creates tense tactical decisions. If you take a die from a column that has a lot of dice in it, you’re getting a potent version of that action. But the more dice means the better you chance of that action sticking around till your next turn, so do you take something that’s less strong but scarcer? On the flip side, taking an action that only has one or two dice seems woefully inefficient. BUT its rarity means that maybe that action won’t be around by your next turn, which can put you in a huge bind if it’s an action you really need.

This mortifying tight walk defines Grand Austria Hotel and its all the more petrifying by the sheer amount of stuff you need to get done in this game. To get points, you need to fill rooms which means you have to get guests (which costs money) and then you need to feed them which means getting resources like cake and wine and coffee and then when they’re fed you need to make sure you have a room prepared that matches their color and also there is an Emperor who visits three times a game who will give an absolutely brutal penalty to anyone who hasn’t gotten far enough along on his Emperor track and by the way did I mention you only have fourteen turns to get this all done???

It’s like the board game version of the children’s book When You Give A Mouse A Cookie. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of these types of Euros in which you need to take countless baby steps just to achieve one thing BUT Grand Austria Hotel gets away with it because of one thing.

Do you know what that thing is? Come on, you can guess it. I’m sure you know what I’m about to say.

Yes, Grand Austria Hotel manages to be so good, for me, because it’s more tactical than strategic. Told you that you could have guessed it!

Don’t get me wrong, like many games, Grand Austria Hotel involves some degree of long-term planning. You’ll need to look ahead at the public objectives and Emperor track and figure out things you might want to work towards during the game. But every decision made to get to those points is purely tactical. The board state changes so much from round to round and even from turn to turn that you are constantly making reactionary decisions, picking things based on what the dice are offering as well as what kind of guests are available. So many Euros are about picking a long-term strategy at the start and then mechanically following that path like you’re a just activated Manchurian candidate. So, when a Euro like GAH provides fluidity and a need to constantly shift your plans, I’m drawn to it like a hipster to an IPA.

Within this whirlwind of tactical decisions, you’ll find satisfying moments where you trigger a guest’s special power that triggers another’s and maybe even another’s, which results in a cascade of rewards and future opportunities for your hotel. GAH can be tough, but it’s never not gratifying. Few Euros I’ve played provide the rush that Grand Austria Hotel does.

What I say now

Like Inis, Grand Austria Hotel gets a one spot bump thanks to an early 2020 play that once again showcased what a masterclass in design the game is. The consistent tightness of this game’s puzzle makes it seems like it’ll be impossible to achieve your goals and yet somehow the game gives you juuuust enough to pull it off. It’s a truly delicate line that no other Euro has walked so nimbly.

And similarity to Inis: this is one of the few games on this top 100 that I could see becoming a contender for my number 1 overall spot if I get to play it more consistently. We’ll see what 2021 brings!

4. Port Royal

Previous ranking: 5 (+1)

What I said last year

Alexander Pfister makes one last stop on my top 100 with what is, in my opinion, his best game. It’s another one of his lighter games: the push your luck card game Port Royal.

Port Royal checks a surprising amount of boxes for me. A lighter weight Pfister game? Check. Push your luck? Check. Pirate/nautical theme? Check. Klemens Franz artwork? Check. The fact that all these elements come together in a brilliant design doesn’t hurt its cause either.

I love Port Royal so much that I’ve already reviewed it on the blog. You can read that here, but here’s the recap. This is a game of pushing your luck against a deck of cards so that you can draft cards into your tableau. The cards going into your tableau not only give points (importantly, since it’s a race to 12) but also some special abilities, giving this game just the faintest whiff of that new engine builder smell.

When it’s your turn, you draw cards from a deck one a time and place them into a face up display (I’ll refer to it as the harbor from here on out). You can stop whenever you want, allowing you to enter a drafting phase in which you take some of those cards allowing you to either discard them for coins or purchase them to go into your tableau. The number of cards you can take is determined by the number of unique ship cards you’ve drawn into the harbor. If zero to three country’s flags are represented by ships in the harbor, you can only take one card. However, if there are four flags represented, you get to take two cards. If all five flags of the countries present in the game are represented by ships, you get to take a whopping three cards, which is pretty huge in this game.

The rub is that if two cards of the same flag ever show up in your harbor, you bust. Your turn ends immediately and as Willy Wonka once said, “You get nothing!” Not being able to do anything on your turn is devastating, so knowing when to stop drawing and be content with what you have versus going all in to get exactly what you want is a big part of this game.

There’s a lot of stuff I love about Port Royal outside of the general stuff I mentioned earlier. One cool mechanism is that after you draft your card(s), your opponents also get an opportunity to draft one card from the display you made with the caveat that they have to pay you one coin for doing business on your turn. This sort of positive interaction is always welcome in games and it helps inform how much you want to push your luck. Sometimes you’re not going to want to give your opponents a chance to get something juicy outside of their turn, even if you get a gold in return, causing you to stop drawing a little earlier than usual. Other times you may feel it’s in your best interest to be generous, pressing your luck a bit further so that your display is a smorgasbord of options for the other players. It’s a real cool touch and one that I wish other games would take a nod from.

What I say now

Hey, another game moving up one spot on the top 10! It’s like I really, really like these games or something. I talked last year about why, mechanically, Port Royal is so great, so allow me to delve into the emotional resonance I’ve realized this game has with me.

My favorite board game podcast, Board Game Barrage, did an episode a few months ago about ‘comfort food’ games. A comfort food game is a game that gives you a warm, nourishing feeling whenever you play it, while also being simple and accessible enough to enjoy in just about any setting or mood. Imagine a bowl of steaming mashed potatoes on a cold Winter’s day.

I’ve come to realize that Port Royal is my comfort food game. It’s a game that never fails to brighten my spirits with a sense nostalgic glow. It is basically a given that any game night will end with a game or two of Port Royal and just thinking of that makes me yearn for those days to be a reality again.

Seems like I might be getting too deep and reflective here so let me end by saying this game is really fun to get super drunk to while blasting sea shanties in the background. OHHH, THE YEAR WAS 1778

3. Mr. Jack

Previous ranking: 8 (+5)

What I said last year

True OG fans of this blog will recognize Mr. Jack as a very special game. It was the FIRST review I ever wrote for this site. It’s right here if you want to read it and see how this blog has grown over the past year (hahaha, it hasn’t at all).

Mr. Jack was a deliberate choice as my first review. It was the first game I ever bought in a hobby board game shop, the first one I ever taught myself without videos (a mistake I’d never make again), it was the first Bruno Cathala game I’ve ever played and it was the first game I fell in love with that wasn’t called Pandemic. Because of these things, I have a huge nostalgic fondness for it and I’ll be the first to admit that may be why it’s so high on my top 100. Even if I disregard that nostalgia and bias, however, Mr. Jack is still a masterclass in 2-player game design.

In Mr. Jack, one player is the titular Mr. Jack, a depraved criminal stalking the streets of Whitechapel disguised as someone else, while the other is the investigator, trying to figure out which character on the board is the true identity of Mr. Jack. In my review, I describe this game as a mixture between Clue and Chess and I stand by it. Players are manipulating pieces on a board and activating special powers trying to achieve their goal, which often has to do with adjusting how much information will be revealed about Mr. Jack’s identity at the end of the round. Mr. Jack wants to make sure that as little information is revealed while the investigator wants to eliminate as many possibilities as they can, hoping to whittle them down to one by the end of the game.

How this is all achieved is through a character draft. Every round, a snake draft occurs where the first player picks a character to move and activate and then the next player chooses two characters to move and activate. The first player chooses the remaining character and then an important question is asked by the investigator: is Mr. Jack visible or invisible? If Mr. Jack is visible, it means the character who is secretly Mr. Jack (which is assigned at the start of the game) is either next to another character token or next to a streetlamp. If the character is not next to a character or streetlamp, then that means Mr. Jack is invisible. Whatever the answer, this allows the investigator to flip over all characters in the opposite state to their grayed-out side, which means they are no longer a suspect. It’s kind of like flipping down characters in Guess Who when you eliminate a certain physical feature.

Obviously, the deduction is pretty basic. It’s just fifty-fifty and you’re simply eliminating possibilities rather than doing actual hardcore, Holmesian deduction. But where the magic in this game lies is in that character draft. I mention it in my full review, but it’s such a unique take on drafting. Most games that drafting based involve drafting things to a tableau or drafting actions to accomplish, but I’ve never seen a game where you’re drafting characters to then move around on a board and activate abilities with. This system is crafted to perfection in Mr. Jack, creating torturous decisions on who to take and who to leave for your opponent based on board position, their special powers and who has been eliminated as suspects. It’s like picking players for your team in Victorian gym class and it’s bursting with tactical play.

Mr. Jack is perhaps Cathala’s most underrated game. When people discuss their favorite games he designed or co-designed, it’s rarely, if ever, brought up. Even general discussions of favorite 2-player games often leave Mr. Jack out in the cold like Fred Flintstone at the end of The Flintstones’ title sequence (thank you, reader, for participating in the most stupid metaphor I’ve ever used). This is an absolute crime and if you enjoy tactical games or 2-player only games, then you need to rectify this.

What I say now

Like Decrypto earlier in this entry, Mr. Jack is one of the VERY few games to get a bump up due to quarantine. As mentioned before, most gaming has been done between my girlfriend and I so two player games are heavy in the rotation. One those two player games is Mr. Jack, a game I already loved (obviously) but have a newly rekindled adoration for.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Jack was once my favorite game ever. Granted, that was a long time ago, back when I first got into the hobby and when I had only played a couple dozen games as opposed to over a couple hundred. Still, the fact that it once was my favorite game and that it’s still stubbornly sticking around my top 10 (and now my top 3!) shows how deep my affection for this game goes.

Like I said last year, this game is criminally underrated. If you enjoy puzzle-y and tactical games, there are few better in the hobby than this one.

2. Codenames

Previous ranking: 3 (+1)

What I said last year

If there’s one game I likely don’t have to explain it’s Codenames. It’s one of the most popular, famous games in the hobby and is the game to most effectively penetrate the mainstream market since Ticket to Ride. I mentioned it in my Codenames: Duet discussion that even my parents own a copy of Codenames and I just want to mention that again. My 60+ year old parents went out and bought a copy of this on their own accord after I introduced it to them. That’s amazing.

That being said, I’ll still briefly explain it just so that there’s context to what I talk about later. Codenames is a game of word association and deduction where two teams are trying to guess their words from a grid. A spymaster for each team has a key that shows which words pertain to them and they must give clues linking those words. Neutral cards are also seeded throughout the grid, gumming up the works, but worse than that is the assassin. One word on the grid is the assassin, a card that means your team instantly loses if they pick it. So, if the assassin word is ‘river’ you better damn well not give any clues that accidentally point your teammates to ‘river’.

Codenames is ingenious in so many ways. Let’s take, for example, it’s exquisite simplicity. Codenames can be taught to anyone in under five minutes. People super new to board games may need half a game to understand all the concepts but the gist of it can be understood quite quickly. What makes this simplicity such a feat is when you realize the surprising depth and thinky-ness of this game. Trying to link words together without accidentally leading your team to your opponents’ words or the assassin is going to fire off the synapses in your brain like a Tommy gun, especially for new players.

With repeated plays, you’ll find yourself acquiring a certain deftness with giving good clues. The subtle ways you can lead your team to a word while eliminating other, more unsavory possibilities is a skill that grows with each play, proving once again the subtle brilliance of Codenames’ system.  Codenames is perhaps the most played game in my collection (it’s between this and Skull) and I still find myself astounded at the clever associations either I or other players can make. It’s a linguistic playground that I never get tired of visiting.

Lastly, let’s talk about the assassin. The assassin is perhaps my favorite rule in the game. From a mechanism standpoint, it’s there to prevent players from just guessing willy nilly. If the specter of an instant loss looms over the table, players tend to be a lot more timid when guessing potential words. BUT if one team starts to get a sizable lead, teams are forced to start making wild guesses and to stretch out possible associations to incredulity. As the board shrinks, the chance of hitting that assassin grows and, beautifully, it’s at these points in the game when those aforementioned shots in the dark need to occur. It creates such incredible, edge of your seat moments that you wouldn’t expect from a 15-minute party game.

When I first bought Codenames and experienced it, I made it my mission to bring it to EVERY party I could. These parties were often with different groups of people and every time I would meet back up with one of these groups, I would discover someone from that party had immediately gone out and bought their own copy of the game. It spread like a contagion all over my home state of Pennsylvania, and I can’t think something that better exemplifies how good Codenames is. It deserves every copy sold and every bit of recognition it gets.

What I say now

Another game getting a bump up the top 10 and another one due to remote play during quarantine. CGE, Codenames’ publisher, developed and released a free web-based version of the game for players to use and it’s fantastic. I appreciated it not only for re-forging social connections that I have so desperately missed over the past year(s???), but also because it once again proved to me that Codenames is one of the sharpest, most clever designs in the hobby.

Considering how much I’ve played Codenames over the years, I’m shocked whenever I do my rankings and see how highly I still rate it. Burn out usually happens at this point, but Codenames keeps trucking along, boasting an insanely long shelf life.

Like I said last year: this game is a bona fide classic and deservedly so.

1. Viticulture : Essential Edition

Previous ranking: 1 (no change)

What I said last year

Viticulture is a worker placement game in which you are running a vineyard in Tuscany, trying to wine things up better than your opponents. This means you’ll be planting vines, harvesting grapes, turning those grapes into wine and ultimately fulfilling wine orders. In the meantime, you’ll also be trying to build a workforce and infrastructure which makes these things easier and more profitable.

There are some things that make me wonder why Viticulture is my favorite game. For one, worker placement is a mechanism I’m not even THAT crazy about. Sure, I like it, and if I made a top 10 list I’m sure it’d sneak on there but I don’t think it’d even hit my top 5. On top of that, it is a pretty vanilla worker placement game in terms of how it uses the mechanism. There’s no crazy hook here or twist to the genre that makes you go, “Ohh, I haven’t seen this before!” It’s pretty standard ‘place a worker and do the action’.

And yet…here we are. Number one out of 100 and number one out of the 300+ games I’ve played over the past four years. Why?

Let’s start with the theme. I’ve been withholding my use of the ‘f’ word this entire top 100 but now that I’m on number one, I’m cashing it in: I fucking love this theme. I am much more of a craft beer guy than a wine guy, but I still love the whole idea of vineyards and the wine making process. I live in Pennsylvania where there are lots of vineyards on rural stretches between towns and I just love the calm, pastoral look of them. Viticulture manages to capture this theme perfectly despite being, like many board games, an abstract representation of it.

One big reason is the art. Here’s my second ‘f’ word: I fucking love this art. Beth Sobel, an artist I’ve praised throughout this top 100, has her best work to date in this game. Her serene arts style flawlessly encapsulates the relaxing feel of running a vineyard and wine culture. Every time I see this game’s art, whether from opening the board or sifting through its cards or by simply seeing it on my shelf, I instantly get a warm feeling that rushes through my whole body. It’s rare for art to give me a physical reaction but when you combine it with this setting and this gameplay, I can’t help but feel legitimately comforted by it.

The game’s gameplay and flow also help to add to the game’s tranquil atmosphere. I already mentioned that Viticulture has a somewhat basic approach to worker placement, but I actually think that’s to its benefit when you consider the theme.  The act of simply placing a worker and getting its action and then moving onto the next person is wisely elegant and keeps things immersive. There’s no fiddly rules to distract you, no edge cases to stumble upon. It’s simply you, your worker and the goal you have in mind. As you harvest grapes and place them on your crush pad and prepare your cellars to transform them into wine, it’s impossible to not feel like you’ve just pulled on a cozy sweater.

Don’t mistake this for an ‘easy’ game, though. Despite the game’s elegance, warmth and welcoming demeanor, Viticulture still requires precise planning and execution. You need to complete actions in a proper, efficient order and mistiming something or allowing yourself to be blocked out can set you back an entire round. Because of this, there’s still plenty of tension. Yes, the game does have the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) grande worker, a plus sized worker pawn which allows you to muscle in and activate an action even if all the spaces are blocked. Some people complain this takes the bite out of Viticulture’s tight systems and is too forgiving when compared to the classics of the genre like Agricola or Caylus. I disagree. The only thing it removes is frustration. Besides, there’s still the agonizing decision of when to use your grande. Do you use them earlier for an action you sort of need, risking not having it later when you’re stonewalled from getting an action you ABSOLUTELY need? Players are always nervously fidgeting with their grande worker, rubbing it like a rabbit’s foot as they flip flop over when to use it.

Another thing I love about Viticulture that it doesn’t get enough credit for is its hand management. I truly believe this game is as much about hand management as it is about worker placement. The game has a hand limit of seven which seems loose…until about halfway through the game. By that point, smart players will have stuffed their hands full of cards like ambitious taxidermists, meaning they’re constantly juggling which ones to discard at round’s end. The game’s visitor cards, which are special powers that can be used when they’re discarded, provide so many useful abilities that it’s impossible to narrow down which ones to keep and which ones to turn away like some sort of vineyard bouncer. Figuring this out is one of the many joys of Viticulture.

What makes this even better is that this hand management puzzle feels fresh and different every time. I have played this game a handful of times multiplayer and countless times solo (more on that later) and during every play I see a brand-new combination of cards used to pull off impressive moves and strings of actions.  Another common complaint leveled at this game is that it’s ‘too random’ and the cards are ‘too swingy’ which I again disagree with. While there are sometimes an opponent plays a card where you go, “Damn, that would have fit perfectly with what I have going on here”, chances are you can answer right back with something really good too. In my opinion, there are no bad cards in this game. You just have to plan and use them right.

The last thing I’ll talk about is this game’s solo mode. All Stonemaier games now institute solo modes known as Automa modes, solitaire variants designed by Morten Monrad Pederson and his Automa Factory development team. But this was the first game to include it when the base game’s first expansion came packaged with it. I have become an active solo gamer over the past two years and one of the big reasons is this Automa mode.

Viticulture’s solo mode manages to take feel of the multiplayer game and condense it down to one player without losing any of the feel of the normal version. Sure, you lose the competition against actual human beings, but no solo mode can replicate that (yet). The game retains its feel and flow and there’s barely any extra rules. You have a deck of cards that tells you where to put enemy workers to simulate another opponent and there’s one extra rule about how to activate bonus actions and that’s all. Set up, play and tear down can be done in under an hour and you are able to get the same Viticulture experience without having to call a single friend. This solo mode blows my mind every time I play it. And oh boy, I have played it. A ton. Too many times, some might say. But I keep coming back to it because it’s so addictive and such an easy, hassle free way to continue experiencing my favorite game of all time no matter the time or place.

What I say now

Yep, I still fucking love Viticulture.

*

And that’ll do it! Phew! I know I bled into the following year AGAIN, but yanno, I’ll just do what I’ve done with all my shortcomings for the past year and blame it on the pandemic.

Like I did last year, I hope to do a ‘Gone but Not Forgotten’ post wherein I talk about games that dropped off the top 100 that surprised me or that I feel need mentioning. Expect that sometime within a week to, oh, I dunno, maybe a couple months.

But seriously, if you made it through all of these posts: THANK YOU. These posts are a lot of fun to do but they’re also pretty exhausting, so if even a couple people read them and enjoy them, that’s enough for me. I will definitely be doing another top 100 for 2021, so keep an eye out for that later in the year. Hopefully another pandemic won’t erupt and I’ll get to have game nights again?? Who knows. Till then, thanks for reading!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 20-11

Last entry, we grabbed our machetes and started hacking our way through the jungle of my top 25 games of all time. As with all things related to my mind, it’s only going to get darker and more twisted the deeper we go so let’s have some fun!

20. Rurik: Dawn of Kiev

Previous ranking: N/A

I’ve mentioned a couple times throughout this list that I really love troops on a map games with Euro style roots (Blood Rage and Cyclades being the prime examples so far) and my number 20 snugly fits under that umbrella. That game is Rurik: Dawn of Kiev.

Rurik takes place in everyone’s favorite time period: 11th century Eastern Europe. That alone should explain why it’s on this list, but I guess I’ll go ahead and actually talk about the game too. In the game, you’re looking to win the throne of the kingdom by controlling regions, building structures and collecting resources like bear skins and honey (which hints at a disturbing fate for this game universe’s Winnie the Pooh). These things will allow you to slowly clamber up point tracks which is important because, believe it or not, most points will win the game.

That probably sounds so generic that I likely just sounded like an AI bot that regurgitated that summary after reading through the BoardGameGeek database but I promise that Rurik is far more unique than that introduction would lead you to believe. This uniqueness comes in large part due to its central mechanism: a so called ‘auction programming’ mechanism.

This auction programming mechanism is the core to Rurik’s action selection phase, the phase in which most of the game’s heaviest decisions are plotted. When selecting actions, players have numbered workers in their arsenal to place out on various spaces. When placing a worker, you look at the number and compare it to other workers already placed in that action’s column. Any lower numbers get bumped down while any higher numbers keep their ground. Though still neat, this isn’t hugely innovative on its own, so here’s the next twist: the number on your worker also denotes when you’re able to take that action in the next phase.

This essentially means that heavyweight five you just plopped down like it’s Andre the Giant entering the ring can’t actually do that action until the end of the round. Meanwhile, that value 1 worker immediately springs to action like an overeager elf on December 26th (or whenever elves get back to work after Christmas, I’m not up to date on my North Pole labor laws). Balancing getting good, impactful actions that you need to accomplish your goals while making sure they’re done in the proper order is the crux of Rurik’s delightfully hellish puzzle and it’s one of the biggest reasons why Rurik stuck with me so long after playing it.

Though the phase in which you actually take these actions isn’t quite as unique or fresh as this auction programming, it still manages to be engaging enough that the game’s momentum doesn’t suddenly falter. Yes, your actions are technically preordained but puzzling out what to do with those actions is still a ton of fun. Deciding which regions to bolster your forces in, which resources to collect and which opponents to attack are vital choices that demand lots of furrowed brows and threatening glances across the table. Combat itself is also an elegant joy, wherein you simply remove opponent forces and then draw from a deck of cards to determine if you take casualties. Choosing which player gives you the best chance of escaping unscathed when attacking makes this push your luck system a nifty contribution to this genre.

For me, there’s not much negative to say about Rurik. Everything from its tense, creative gameplay systems to its beautiful components and art combine to make a package that really speaks to me. As high as number 20 is, I could see Rurik being even higher come next top 100.

19. Kemet

Previous ranking: 13 (-6)

What I said last year

Kemet trades Cyclades’ Greek mythology and auction mechanism for Egyptian mythology and an action selection system. Players will be selecting actions on a player board and then using action points to referred to as prayer points (or PP *chortle*) to activate them. These actions including adding soldiers, moving soldiers, upgrading your different pyramids or buying tiles that grant special powers. The player board has a pyramid shape with three rows, with a rule stating that you must end your round with an action token on each row. This prevents you from spamming an entire row and forces you to consider the timing of certain choices, so you don’t back yourself into a corner and take a suboptimal action at the end just to satisfy this rule. It’s rare that anyone does find themselves being screwed up so the puzzle here is pretty minimal but it’s still an interesting layer to add to another wise standard action selection mechanism.

Managing your actions and your PP (tee hee) economy are certainly fun problems to wrestle with, but what makes Kemet truly special is its tech tree system. I mentioned earlier that one of the actions you can do is buy tiles that give you special powers, creatively called ‘power tiles.’ The tiles come in three flavors: strawberry, blueberry and vanilla. Or, red, blue and white. Red focuses on attacking and favors aggressive strategies while blue is all about defense, making you an unfavorable target for others to attack. White is all about your action point economy, giving you discounts and more bang for your prayer buck. The types of tiles available to you are determined by the level of your pyramid for that color. If you only have a level 1 red pyramid, you only have access to level 1 red powers.

Figuring out which strategies you want to focus on and then crafting your war engine to fit that via power tiles is unbelievably fun and exciting. It’s easily my favorite part of this game, giving everyone their own asymmetrical feel. What makes this asymmetry special is that YOU chose those powers and YOU crafted your arsenal of weapons, giving a feeling of ownership that other games don’t offer. Most other games of this type that offer special powers dump it on your lap like unwanted paperwork and says, “Here, you’re good at attacking so only do that, have fun.” Not so in Kemet. If you’re looking to pick fights and be an ancient Egyptian bully, you pick the powers to do so. If you want to create an economy engine of action efficiency and creating a surplus of prayer points, then it’s up to you to figure out how to get there. Did I mention there were also monsters you could recruit? Yep, there’s monsters with their own miniatures that become yours and ONLY yours when you take their corresponding tile, once again instilling a satisfying sense of ownership that I have yet to see another game come close to.

Outside of this addictive retail therapy that you get from shopping for powers and abilities, the actual things happening on the board are also fun and exciting. The whole point of the game is to get to 8 victory points and one of the most effective ways to get there is by consistently winning battles in which you’re the attacker. This makes Kemet an incredibly aggressive, bloodthirsty game and I absolutely love it. There’s barely any build up before people are already in each other’s faces and this game probably beats the record for most curse words said in its opening ten minutes. The combat can be a little fiddly, which is probably my biggest complaint with Kemet, but that doesn’t stop the near constant fighting from being cinematic and thrilling.

What I say now

Kemet finds itself treating the 20-11 range like a slip and slide, going from one end at 13 to the other at 19. This is mainly to do with simply not playing it. This is a game I need a very specific group for (I need both people who like games that go above 90 minutes as well as people who like mean, fight-y games and that’s a very small Venn Diagram of my gaming friends) so that combined with COVID simply means Kemet has collected dust for the past year.

Despite its inaction and slight drop, it still remains one of my favorite troops on a map games and it is one of the games I will demand to play when I get the chance.

18. Codenames: Duet

Previous ranking: 10 (-8)

What I said last year

Codenames is one of the most popular games in the hobby and is maybe the game to hit the mainstream audience the most effectively (my parents own their own copy, for Christ’s sake). My number 10 is not Codenames but rather its 2-player cooperative version, Codenames: Duet.

Codenames: Duet takes the same basic concept of trying to get players to guess words set out in a grid from its older sibling but turns the team vs. team competitive structure into a purely cooperative one. The key which shows players which words are good vs. bad is now double sided, meaning both players need to take on the role of clue giver and guesser. It’s an incredibly clever and creative twist on the formula and it works to perfection.

I won’t say whether I prefer Duet or normal Codenames since that would spoil the latter’s potential appearance on this entry, but I will say that this is easily one of my favorite cooperatives that I’ve ever played. Obviously, it’s in my top 10, but it just hits so many of the right spots for me. Co-op with limited communication? Check. Word based game? Check. Easy to pick up and play? Check. The fact that it’s based off a game that I already love is just the icing on the Codenames cake.

The game even comes with a mini campaign mode. Now I usually recoil in horror when I hear the words ‘campaign mode’ in a board game, but this mode is literally just a sheet of paper with a map that you’re trying to forge a path through. The different cities on the map have slightly altered set ups which cause the difficulty to vary from game to game. Some of them are brutal, allowing close to no margin of error, but that just means you have an excuse to play it more and more. Even if you have no interest in playing through a series of games, I’ve had plenty of fun simply playing the game over and over again with its standard set up.

I have so many great memories with this game. I’ve spent countless nights drunkenly staying up past two in the morning to play this and it’s a game that has been a staple of many a brewery date with my girlfriend. 

What I say now

First, let’s pour one out for the concept of brewery dates, or just going out on dates in general, that I mentioned at the end of that excerpt. Then, let’s pour another out for the first game to slip out of my top 10.

Look, dropping 8 spots is not THAT bad, it just seems worse since it left the premium, exclusive members only club that is my top 10. I still LOVE this game. The main decrease is, ironically, due to it being a COVID casualty.

Confused? I’m sure you have been the moment you accidentally clicked on this link when you meant to click on the Shut Up & Sit Down tweet above it. But perhaps you’re moreso confused that a 2-player game is a COVID casualty when COVID has extinguished my ability to play anything BUT 2 player games. Here’s why that pesky, meddling virus struck again. You mischievous little pandemic, you! *wags fist*

Codenames, a game that was in my top 10 last year and may or may not be there still, is one of the few party games I’ve been able to play remotely over the past year. As such, my desire to play the 2-player only version of it has dramatically tumbled downwards since I would rather spend that time playing games I can’t play remotely.

(Huh. I guess that explanation isn’t as long or drawn out as I expected. I tend to turn everything into a long and drawn out endeavor, though I’m sure my girlfriend would disagree. *snare roll*)

As such, the desire to play is positively correlated to the standing in my top 100: when one goes down, the other often does as well. It’s still a brilliant reinvention of the Codenames system for a 2-player cooperative setting and I have had a strong itch to pull it out lately. It just wasn’t enough to stay in that vaunted top 10 spot.

17. Skull

Previous ranking : 11 (-6)

What I said last year

In terms of rule set and components, Skull is perhaps one of the simplest and most bare bones (HAH) entries on this top 100. It’s just some coasters and playing mats, something that could easily be proxied with playing cards or actual coasters at a bar or brewery. But from this simplicity blossoms one of the most lively and addicting games I’ve ever played.

In Skull, everyone has four coasters: three with a flower on it, one with a skull. To start off the round, everyone simultaneously chooses one of their coasters to put face down on their mat. Then the active player gets things started proper by making a choice. They either place another coaster face down, ending their turn, OR they make a wager. When they make a wager, they say, “I can flip over X amount of coasters without hitting a skull” with X being any number of coasters out on the table. Then, bidding begins. The rulebook says you should go in turn order, raising bids one at a time or passing like many auction games BUT I personally prefer a more freeform, yelling based approach. It seems like that tends to be the popular opinion on the internet as well. Regardless of your favored method, people keep bidding till somebody makes a bid that no one wants to top. When that happens, they need to put their money where their overeager mouth is and start flipping.

One of the twists of Skull starts here. When you begin flipping coasters, you MUST start with your own. This means that if you have a skull and you were simply trying to raise the bid to goad others into making careless, panicked wagers, then you’re going to have a bad time. If you make it past your own coasters safely, you then begin flipping other coasters around the table. You can go in any order and flip over any coasters you want, as long as it’s the topmost on any player’s pile. If you make your wager without hitting a skull, you get a point! If you DO hit a skull, you immediately stop and lose your wager. You lose a random coaster as punishment and a new round begins. First to two points wins!

There’s Skull. That’s it. You could literally play this game right now with stuff lying around you. And yet, it’s tough to find a game that elicits more emotion and shouting and laughter and memorable moments than this game. The meta that develops and evolves over the course of the game (or multiple games) is hysterical. My group has people who are the reckless gunslingers, making wild bets and gambles as they fire from the hip, trying to earn a point with a daring wager. When they do land a shot, it’s always a cheer worthy moment, even though it’s not a point for you. On the other side, we have the stoic sentinels who sit silently, constantly putting down skulls so that players fail their wager when they foolishly flip one of their coasters (“They can’t have possibly put down a skull AGAIN”, we say as we flip over the coaster to promptly reveal a skull). What’s amazing though is that among all the laughter and hilarity is a superbly tense game of playing odds and trying to get into your opponents’ heads. This game has a wicked set of fangs to it, even if they’re revealed through a jovial grin.

This game can be hit or miss depending on the group you play it with, but I’ve had it hit FAR more often than miss. And when it does hit, it is an absolute riot. I have begun and ended many a game night with Skull and it is quite possibly the most played game in my collection.

What I say now

I ended that entry last year by saying it’s possibly the most played game in my collection. Ironically, I think that explains Skull’s decline. I’ve played it SO much over the past couple years that my desire to volunteer it as a game to play has waned. Combine that with the fact that, like Codenames, this game is easy to play remotely and therefore continues to still get played over and over again, the burnout factor on Skull is real.

Enough negative talk: Skull is an absolute masterpiece and I’d be shocked it fell much further or off my top 25. It is a game that, even with my over exposure to it, I still have a blast with when it comes out. It is one of the few games that I think EVERYBODY should play and own.

16. The Grizzled

Previous ranking: 9 (-7)

What I said last year

The first time I ever went into a game store was in 2016 and that was the day I saw The Grizzled. It caught my eye because of its art style and theme, both of which reminded me of a video game called Valiant Hearts: The Great War that I had just recently played. I didn’t buy it that exact day but I did eventually get my own copy of The Grizzled and fell in love with it.

The Grizzled is set in World War I, where you and your fellow players are soldiers simply trying to survive the war. This is abstracted into gameplay that is basically a push your luck card game. Players are trying to play as many card from their hands as they can before the end of the round. The cards have different elements on them called ‘threats’. These threats involve symbols like gas masks, artillery shells and whistles as well as weather such as freezing snow, torrential rain and the darkness of night. If three of the same threat are ever played onto the table (in an area aptly called ‘No Man’s Land’), the round ends and the players fail the mission (which is what rounds are referred to as in this game). In true limited communication co-op fashion, you can’t discus what’s in your hand so trying to time what threats to play can make all the difference between getting out of a mission alive or failing miserably.

If you think you can’t add any cards to No Man’s Land without endangering the rest of the table, you can withdraw. Withdrawing means you no longer play cards which means whatever is left in your hand is carried over to the next round, which is often not a good thing. This is because a number of cards equal to the amount of cards leftover in players’ hands will be moved from a deck known as the morale deck onto a deck known as the trial deck. So, more cards left in hand means more of a morale drop.

This is bad because in order to win the game, everyone needs to have no cards their hands and the trials deck needs to be completely empty. If the morale deck ever empties before the trials deck, that represents you and your squad succumbing to the horrors of war and not coming back home. That’s a fancy way of saying, “Game over, man, game over!” Trying to stay one step ahead of the morale deck is the key to winning the game and ending missions with as few cards as possible is the best way to achieve this.

I do feel a little weird discussing this game from a ludological standpoint because so much of what makes this game special is how it handles its heavy theme. This is a game that takes place in a war, but there is no battling or conflict or killing enemy soldiers. It’s simply about surviving, trying to cope with the horrors of war as it scars and irreversibly damages you. This idea of PTSD is explored through Hard Knocks cards, cards that inflict ongoing penalties on the person who plays them. These Hard Knock cards look like pages ripped out of a journal, with their names and descriptions written in curvey handwriting, as if the soldier is reflecting on the person they’ve become. Gameplay is married with theme in the way in which these maladies are represented. A demoralized soldier causes extra cards to be dropped from the morale deck while a fearful one is forced to withdraw from a mission if 2 identical threats are present. But outside of what they do from a gameplay perspective, they also provide a somber, thoughtful look into the type of horrific mental trauma a soldier carries with them far beyond the front lines of battle.

Because of this, it’s awkward calling The Grizzled ‘fun’. This isn’t the type of push your luck game in which players clap and high five when they avoid busting. Instead, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, slumping their shoulders as the tension finally slackens. Because of this, The Grizzled is more about an immersive, evocative experience rather than pure, dumb fun. That certainly isn’t for everyone, and even I have my limits with that sort of thing. Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a great example of a game that is amazing from a design standpoint and at educating players on the terrible nature of its subject matter but is so mentally and emotionally draining that I rarely attempt to play it anymore. The Grizzled avoids tipping too far in that direction, perhaps thanks to its lean 15-20 minute play time (as opposed to the 90+ minute playtime for Freedom).

I will end this entry on The Grizzled by touching on this game’s beautiful artwork. The art in this game is my favorite art in any board game. It has a hand drawn aesthetic, like it’s been plucked from a sketchbook. I compared it to the video game Valiant Hearts earlier so if you’re familiar with that, think along those lines. It’s simplistic but I’m always blown away by the art in this game whenever I’m playing it. Tragically, the artist of this game, Tignous, died in the Charlie Hedbo shootings. It makes an already solemn game that much more affecting.

What I say now

Uh oh. Cover your heads, folks, games are falling from my top 10 at a rapid pace! Get to the storm cellar!

I will admit, out of all the games that fell out of my top 10, The Grizzled is the one that surprises me the most. It was once my favorite cooperative game and felt like a game that, when combined with the palpable nostalgia it evokes for me, would stick around my top 10 for a looooooong time. The reasons for its fall sounds like a greatest hits compilation of the reasons I’ve mentioned for most falls on this list:

-I’ve played it so much in my gaming life that it feels just the teensiest bit run through.

-Other newer games have moved up/onto the list, including a game that has now replaced The Grizzled as my favorite cooperative.

-Even though the vast majority of my plays of this game are with the 2-player variant, I’ve come to terms recently that it’s not the ideal way to play and therefore prefer to wait till there are 3-4 players to play it. We all know how that’s gone, recently.

All of these factors, though of less magnitude than other games affected in similar ways in this top 100, caused The Grizzled to stumble a bit. It saddens me but I can’t see The Grizzled being worse off in the next top 100; my fondness for this game runs so deep through the murky channels of my heart that I would be shocked if it still wasn’t in my top 25.

15. Bruges

Previous ranking: 27 (+12)

What I said last year

Set in the titular city of Bruges (it’s in Belgium) during Medieval times, players are going to build houses to recruit influential people, help to construct the canal, and gain reputation in the town square all while trying to avoid various crises tearing through the city. All of this is done with multi-use cards, which have so many uses that it’s borderline comical.

Players will be spending cards to (takes deep breath) gain workers, gain gold, build houses, build the canal, get rid of threat markers and to recruit characters with special powers to your tableau (deep exhale). On your turn, you play one card and choose ONE of these six actions to activate. Unless you’re hiring the character on the card, you’re mostly concerned about the card’s color. The color determines what color workers you take, the threat markers you can dispel, the amount of gold you get (based on how many pips are on the die of that color), whether or not you can add a canal section based on what color is up next in the line AND determines what color house you’d be building (which can matter based on certain character abilities).

This means some colors might mean more to you than other players and some colors may be hotly contested depending on the dice rolls. Brilliantly, players draft cards purely based on color. There are two decks that you refill your hand with and you can see what color the card is based on its back. So, if you really need blue and yellow, you can take any that are at the top, but you’ll have no clue what character will be on the other side of the card. It’s simple but a neat little twist to how you ‘draft’ cards in this game.

Like most of Feld’s games, this is very much a point salad. You can get points through a metric butt ton of ways, giving it a very free, open feel. While the absurd amount of uses for a card is hilarious, especially when you see the border with all the icons reminding you of the actions on every single card, it also means that you’ll never have a useless, dead turn. You always feel like you can accomplish something, even if it’s as simple as getting two workers. Sure, there are times where there’s stuff you’d rather do but can’t because of the colors in your hand, but I rarely leave a turn in Bruges thinking, “What a waste.”

Perhaps my favorite thing about Bruges, however, is just how tactical it is. I’ve mentioned in this top 100 that I am a fan of games that favor tactics over strategy and Bruges is as tactical as they come. You can certainly build towards long term goals or go into it with a certain focus in mind, but this game is all about looking at your hand of cards for that turn and trying to come up with the most efficient use for them. Then, when it’s time to draw back up, it’s all about picking the colors that best suit you as they come out and it’s back to puzzling out what you want to do with the new hand. It’s all about adapting and keeping your possibilities open for the next round, and I adore that style of play.

If I have one tiny nitpick that keeps Bruges from being one of the top 3 Euros on this list rather than in the top 5ish, it’s that it can maybe go on a couple rounds too long. The game ends when one of the decks is empty and that can take a decent amount of time. By the end, your tableau is going to be quite sprawling and unwieldly on the table and that could have been saved by shaving off maybe twenty minutes.

Outside of that minute criticism, Bruges is among the best Euros I’ve personally played. It’s very much out of print outside of Europe, which is a real shame because this one deserves to be an evergreen. If you can track down a copy to try, it’s absolutely a must play.

What I say now

FINALLY. After having to spend the last couple games having to gloomily defend why games I love are descending the top 100 like an over eager Sam Fisher repelling the side of a government embassy, I can talk about a game that’s moved UP. Bruges, a mid-weight Euro tantalizingly close to my top 25 last year, has bounded 12 spots up to cement itself as one of my all-time favorite Euros.

Bruges was obviously a game I already adored, but what made me fall even deeper in love with it has been my recent plays of it at 2-players. My least favorite thing about Bruges was that it tended to drag towards the end and that I always felt it could have been a round or two shorter. Playing 2-player neutralizes this criticism, as the game flies by a brisk pace and doesn’t outstay its welcome like at 3 or 4.

Being able to play this game without its biggest detractor present makes me appreciate it even more. I standby that this is one of the most wonderfully tactical Euros I’ve ever played. It seriously feels more like a hand management game than an engine/tableau builder, with every card draw bringing new decisions on how to adapt to what you got but didn’t need vs. what you needed but didn’t get.

Tragically, this game is getting a reprint but it’s being severely reworked. That’s usually a good thing, but the changes that are being made to it seem to gut the things I love about Bruges in the first place. It no longer takes place in medieval Bruges but in turn of the century Hamburg, which feels less charming to me. Maybe it’s just because In Bruges is my favorite movie of all time, but I find the setting of Bruges so quaint and pleasing, with its iconic town square and canals providing a setting that I love to visit again and again. Hamburg is…fine? I guess? It’s fine, I’m sure it’s fine, but it’s not Bruges (and yes, they’re renaming the game to Hamburg though I think it would have been hysterical and daring to just keep it called Bruges).

More egregious, though, is how they’re changing the card draw system. Bruges simply splits all its cards into two decks and you draw from either one, hoping to dig for colors you may need. This is what makes Bruges such a tactical game, since you’re likely going to be left with things you don’t necessarily need. Of course, this makes all the purist Euro gamers out there pop out their monocles in distress, because it ‘mAkEs It ToO lUcK dRiVeN’. Now, in Hamburg, the colors are neatly separated into their own piles, allowing players to pick the ones they need as they need them. Gone is the tension and pushing your luck of not knowing if you’ll be able to snag what you need, gone is the tactical improvisation this game requires when a bad card draw appears to stall you, gone is the player interaction when someone draws three blues off the deck you were planning on drawing from, why did you take those blues, YOU DON’T EVEN NEED BLUES. Now, players can robotically draw cards from the exact decks they want, with no competition or need to be spry and versatile. Yay.

Also, as a third thing that bugs me, the game no longer has text on the cards telling you what it does. It’s all icon driven. I understand this makes it language independent which helps create a wider reach for the game, but I think there is a hidden collateral damage to this. People who are casual gamers can easily play Bruges since everything is spelled out on each card, making the rest of the game much easier to learn. With a jumble of icons and symbols all over the place, spread across almost 200 cards?? I can already see some of my friends frozen in fear when they draw their initial hand of cards. I feel like this could lock out just as many potential people and as someone who has a lot of casual gamers between his game groups, Hamburg has officially shrunk the option pool with this well-intentioned but perhaps damaging change.

All of this has me doing my best Don Corleone “Look what they did to my boy” impression. Maybe I should have made this discussion its own blog post rather than hijacking my sacred Top 100, BUT I wanted to explain these differences because it helps illustrate what makes Bruges so special to me. It makes me sad that the Bruges I know and love will be lost to the secondhand market forever and it makes its placement here at number 15 that much more meaningful.

14. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Previous ranking: N/A

Like the game Aerion in my 60-51 post, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is new to the top 100 BUT I have actually talked about it before. SHCD made it onto my Top 10 Solo Games post I wrote this past summer. It was my number two solo game and it honestly made a strong run at being my number one. Rather than just repeat everything I wrote in that post, I’ll let Kyle from June 2020 take over.

Thanks, Future Kyle! How are things? Is COVID FINALLY over?

Hahahahahaha nope.

Darn. Well. Did you finally iron out that drinking problem, at least?

Aren’t you here to talk about Sherlock Holmes.

Right! I forgot, we’re incapable of change. On with the show:

In SHCD, you are an underling to Sherlock Holmes, one of the so co called Baker Street Irregulars. You need to solve a mystery before Sherlock does and to do this you’re given a map of 1800s London, a directory of addresses in the city, and ten separate case books, each one providing a new mystery to solve.

When you want to tackle a case, you simply take its book and read its introduction. It’s usually a scene that provides you the basic details to the crime or mystery you’ll be tasked with unraveling and when you’re done reading it, the game just kind of lets you figure the rest out on your own.

And I absolutely LOVE this. The game doesn’t provide any sort of “Maybe you should check here, first!” or “Go to this location to begin the case” style prompts. It’s literally a couple of paragraphs and the rest is on you. The murder took place in Hyde Park? Then maybe you should check there. Is there a suspect that’s already been detained? Go to the jail to see if you can interview them. A firearm was used? Maybe start visiting all the gunsmiths in town to see if any shady customers came in recently. This lack of hand holding makes it so satisfying when you decide to track down a lead that actually ends up being fruitful.

Whatever you decide, you find the address you want to go to in the London directory or on the map and then you look up that address in the case book. So, if you want to go to Hyde Park and its address is “95 NW” you flip to the “95 NW” entry in the case book. If a location isn’t part of that case, it simply won’t have an entry. If it does have an entry, you read another section of text (some short, some long) depicting a scene that occurs while you’re there and hopefully you can find new hints or leads that will lead you to other locations.

There’s also a newspaper that is paired with every case book, showing the headlines and news for that particular day. If you thought the hints in the case book were vague, they’re somehow even vaguer here. To figure out which bits from the newspaper are helpful requires a little more outside the box thinking. For example, you might find out the murder victim was an actor. You then might browse the newspaper and see a very brief blurb about a new show at a certain theatre, a show you know the victim was a part of. This now opens up a new place to investigate if you want to perhaps give the theatre a visit.

You keep doing this, going from location to location, hoping to find leads or clues that will help you crack the case, until you think you have enough information to solve the mystery. At that point, you go to the end of the case book and answer a handful of questions. If you know the answers, awesome! You get points. If you have no clue what the question is even referring to, you don’t receive anything except a creeping sense of embarrassment. After you tally up your points, you read an epilogue where Sherlock smugly tells you how you how he solved the case and how many leads he used to figure it out. You subtract a certain amount of points based on the difference in leads between you both and if you end up with over 100 points, you have won!

You will not win.

Sherlock’s maddening, supernatural senses of deduction means he will use, like, 3 leads and insane leaps of logic to ascertain the solution to the puzzle. It’s one of the biggest complaints about this game and is often a source of frustration to many players. For me? I don’t mind it too much. I just have sort of come to terms that I’ll likely never break the 100 point barrier and instead try to make sure I can answer all the possible questions correctly. If I manage that, I consider the game a success.

I adore the elegance of this system. It manages to create a sense of discovery and immersion while simply being a couple of books and a map. I am one of those Luddites who can’t stand app integration in board games and I think SHCD is a prime example of how to create a richly engrossing, cinematic experience with a minimalist, technology-free approach. Plus, it doesn’t create any sort of disconnect that would occur from being like, “Let me just grab my 1800s era iPhone to trigger the next lead.”

Speaking of immersion, that’s the next thing I’ll discuss. When I’m playing SHCD, I’m transported to Victorian London. I can feel the cobblestones beneath my feet, the choking smog in the air and the taste of a jet-black stout at the local tavern. Okay, maybe that last one is just the beer I’m drinking in the real world, but you get my point. The act of taking down notes throughout the investigation further immerses me into my role as a Victorian era detective, as I jot down leads and attempt to draw connections between them. As someone who really likes the whole Victorian London era and aesthetic, this is endlessly entertaining to me.

This is a game that can technically be played with others. It’s often touted as a great couples game, where you and your partner can spitball ideas and possible leads, passing the case book between each other like it’s the beer list at a brewery. But for me, this is exclusively solo. I like the idea of trying to come up with connections myself rather than debating them with someone else and the thought of bringing others into the game makes me fearful of breaking that beloved immersion I was just gushing about. I’m sure I’d like it just fine with one or two others, but I can’t see a situation where I’d even want to try it. I adore this is as a solo experience, so why bother?

Out of all the games on this list, this is likely the most divisive and it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. For one, it is, as I said at the beginning, not exactly a typical board game, straying closer to the realm of a Choose Your Own Adventure or interactive novel. There is lots of reading in this game and if you aren’t prepared to take pages of notes, you will not get anywhere close to solving the mystery. Lastly, the open-ended nature of this game has also been loudly complained about by its detractors. As someone who grew up on old school point and click adventure games, I have no problem with this game’s nebulous nature and lack of guidance. I love that the case ends when you feel like you have enough information and that the game offers no hints as to when that might be. Again, personal preference, so if that sounds like something that would cause you to pull your hair out, SHCD may not be for you.

Thanks, June 2020 Kyle! Everything he just said still rings true for me today. SHCD is such a wholly unique experience, especially when compared to the rest of my top 100. Some of my favorite gaming memories have been sitting down with a beer and a notebook, completing a case over the course of a few hours.

Ranking SHCD is going to be tough in the future thanks to its one-off nature. Games that are ostensibly only playable once, like escape room games or legacy games, tend to not sniff my top 100 because one of my big determining factors with judgement and ranking is based on how much I want to play the game at that point in time. If I literally can’t play the game again, how do I reconcile that with my process, especially if the game gave a great experience? It’s one of the reasons why Pandemic Legacy Season 1 will never make my top 100. It was an incredible gaming experience, but I won’t ever play that game again, nor do I have the desire to.

Luckily for SHCD, it won’t have to worry about that for a little while; it has the luxury of having plenty of content left for me. I’m almost done with the first collection of cases, but I still have three more after that. At ten cases a pop, I’m looking at over 30 new experiences. That’ll take me a while to comb through and I absolutely can’t wait.

13. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

Previous ranking: N/A

Earlier in this post I hinted how The Grizzled was no longer my favorite cooperative game. That’s due to my number 13, a game that is not only new to me but also the newest game on my top 100. That game is one of the hottest of the past year, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine.

The first time I heard of The Crew, I was immediately intrigued. A cooperative trick taking game?? “What wizardry is this!?” I asked, like a time travelling Medieval nobleman standing in front of a Coco-Cola Freestyle machine. I paid close attention to reviews coming from its European release and the unanimous love pouring out of them made me even more amped to try it once it came to the States.

How sweet it was that even with these stratospheric high hopes and expectations, I was still blown away upon my first plays of the game.

The Crew casts players as adventurous astronauts blasting off into space to find the mysterious and titular Planet Nine, while hoping to avoid running into and having an awkward conversation with Pluto when it asks, “Wait, I thought I’m Planet Nine???” This provides the framework for the game’s semi campaign style mission system, which provides a loose story and thematic excuses for what you need to accomplish.

Now, the meat and potatoes of these missions are task tokens and goal cards. These components are combined in a way that create missions wherein players have to win specific cards in a trick, often at specific times; someone has to win the yellow 1, for instance, or that player not only needs to win the yellow 1 but it also needs to occur before someone else wins the blue 8. The complexities of these tasks begin to layer on each other like a brisk snowfall, before finally accumulating into a blizzard of difficulty and trickiness.

This ingenious system of task tokens and goal cards creates a new, perplexing puzzle within each mission. Even playing the same mission over again will present a new riddle to crack, as everything will be reshuffled to reset the scenario. Trying to figure out what cards to play and when, so that neither you nor your teammates gets painted into a corner is a confounding delight.

Playing The Crew feels like you’re putting on magic act, only none of you were given a script. Your hand of cards will feel like a pair of shackles that your teammates need to unlock, only they have to hold the lockpick in their teeth and your mouth is covered with duct tape. When everybody manages to supernaturally align in a way that your shackles are unlocked and you can play the exact card at the moment everyone else’s shackles become unlocked, it creates a NSFW amount of pleasure and ecstasy.

I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this top 100 that limited communication cooperation is one of my favorite game types. Quite simply, The Crew is this mechanism at its absolute zenith. Every move feels like a piece of information, a clue about what your fellow players have in their hands and what you should play to accommodate that. Each trick is a bread crumb trail and following it to a successful mission is eternally satisfying.

Amazingly, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with this game. I still have a ton of missions to play since I’ve be introducing it to different groups (albeit mostly through Board Game Arena, but it’s a great implementation) and I have really only played the first ten missions over and over again. And even with that, The Crew manages to sit comfortably in my top 15 games.

With so much more to discover and experience, don’t be surprised if The Crew is in my top 10 by the end of 2021.

12. Bohnanza

Previous ranking: 12 (no change)

What I said last year

When I first got into gaming and started to learn more about the different games available in the hobby, Bohnanza was a game I saw repeatedly mentioned. Looking into it, I saw some somewhat ugly cover art and that it was about trading beans and thought, “Nah, I’m good.” Fast forward a year or so to me surfing through YouTube looking for something gaming related to watch, because that’s what my life has become, when I saw that the YouTube series ‘Game Night!’ had an episode where they played Bohnanza. Curious as to why this game got so much attention and love, I gave it a watch.

Literally twenty minutes into the video, I paused it and bought a copy of the game on Amazon. It looked that fun.

Turns out, it is that fun! The first few times I played Bohnanza it was an absolute blast and I wondered how long the fun would last before it started to feel same-y. That time has yet to come and every time I play Bohnanza, I love it a little bit more. It’s just so, so good and so, so fun.

Bohnanza is actually the brainchild of Uwe Rosenberg who is more known for his midweight to heavy worker placement games, usually about farming in some way. This game is still about farming (what a surprise), but it is most certainly not a worker placement game. Bohnanza is a fast paced, frenetic card game of wheeling and dealing to get the best possible payouts for various beans you will be collecting.

The cards in the game represent various beans which go into your bean fields, planted there until you eventually decide to sell them. Only one type of bean can go in a field, so deciding when to sell them to make room for a new bean is a crucial sticking point in the game. The beans have increasing payouts for your beans when you sell them, obviously goading you to keep collecting and collecting till you maximize profit. This would all seem quite simple if it wasn’t for Bohnanza’s most important rule.

That rule I so expertly teased right there? In Bohnanza, unlike in pretty much every card game since the dawn of card games, you can NOT move the cards around in your hand. They go in one way and out the other, like they’re being placed on a conveyor belt. At the start of your turn, you must always plant the first bean in your hand. Does that bean help you? No? Too bad! It needs to go in a field and if that means ripping up the precious plot of stink beans you’ve been working so hard to cultivate than that’s tough luck.

Because of this, Bohnanza is all about manipulating your hand so that the beans you want to plant stick around and move down the line while the less favorable ones don’t get anywhere near your fields. This is done through trading. On your turn, you get a chance to trade with the other players and this is how you manage your hand without actually reordering it. Any beans that you give to others are immediately handed over, allowing the rest of the beans in your hand to inch forward like they’re at the bean DMV.

This, of course, causes the table to erupt into a storm of negotiations, with every player trying to get the better end of the deal. The amazing part is that Bohnanza manages to conceal the ‘better end’ of a deal because people are going to value certain beans more than others. Sure, it seems like 3 wax beans and a chili bean for one cocoa bean is lopsided, but if you take into account the rarity of cocoa beans and the bind that the cocoa player might be stuck in if they can’t get an extra one and suddenly it’s a little more opaque. There will definitely be moments when players get downright swindled or when a player is so desperate that they start donating beans to others just to unjam their hand, but the game moves by so quickly that it’s tough to cry foul too often.

There’s not much more to say about Bohnanza besides the fact that it’s just one of the most consistently fun games in my collection. Like Arctic Scavengers earlier in this post, this is also one of the most requested games I own. Friends of mine are always asking for ‘the bean game’ or ‘Beanboozled’ (because that’s apparently what they remember the name as). If I want to play a game as often as I want to play Bohnanza and if my friends want to play it as often as they do, then what else do you need to know? Bohnanza is freaking great.

What I say now

I ended last year’s entry by saying “Bohnanza is freaking great” and I will start this entry by saying Bohnanza is freaking great. It is the exact same spot as it was last year and it honestly fought hard for a spot in my top 10. It just barely missed it this year, but I wouldn’t count it out as a potential top 10 game next year. It’s not only that good but it’s starting to gain the ‘nostalgia factor’, which can often cause me to subconsciously bump up a game. Bohnanza is officially one of those games where all I have to do is look at the box on my Kallax and I get a rush of warmth and fond memories.

Bohnanza is a classic of the hobby for a reason. Everybody needs to play it at least once.

11. Scythe

Previous ranking: 2 (-9)

What I said last year

Scythe is set in the beautifully realized world of Eastern Europa, drawing from a universe called 1920+ created by the game’s artist Jakub Rozalski. This universe takes place in a dieselpunk style, alternate 1920s where a World War I style event has left the continent decimated but up for grabs. You and your opponents take control of factions vying to pick over the remains of Eastern Europa, doing things like building a workforce, hoarding resources and building mechs to protect what’s rightfully (or not so rightfully) yours.

Despite the game’s daunting size and ruleset, it’s pretty simple when you boil it down. Each turn, you simply pick one of four actions on your action board and perform the top action, the bottom action or both. A rule preventing you from using the same action twice (save for the red faction, whose ability breaks that restriction) means you essentially only have three choices per turn. BUT a small number of choices certainly doesn’t mean the decision space isn’t large.

Every choice in Scythe is magnified by the fact that the actions you do on this turn GREATLY affect the actions you do on later turns. At its heart, Scythe is an action efficiency puzzle and it’s a puzzle that I delight in trying to crack. I will admit, it’s a little more strategic than I tend to like. In order to succeed in Scythe, you really need to visualize at least three turns ahead. Normally that makes me dry heave, but in Scythe it feels more palatable. Perhaps because the game’s theme immerses you so deeply into its world or maybe it’s the tactical nature of moving and managing your pieces on the board that help wash down the astringent taste of long-term planning. Whatever it is, during the one to two hours that I’m playing Scythe, I’m fully engrossed and completely oblivious to anything outside the game. As I try to efficiently map out what actions to take and in what order to take them, while simultaneously dealing with the increasingly crowding board state, I’m utterly hypnotized.

Lots of people poo-poo this game, claiming that it looks like a war game but barely has any conflict. To that I say: so? Who cares? This game isn’t a war game so we shouldn’t compare it to one. I’ve heard ti called a cold war game and THAT I agree with. Conflict isn’t the driving force of this game, despite the mechs that permeate the game’s illustrations. It’s the threat of conflict that makes this game so tense and interactive.

The moment a mech gets plopped onto the board like an egg from a hen, everybody stiffens. This player now has power that the others don’t, which immediately initiates an arm race to defend yourself. By the halfway point in the game, everybody’s got a line of mechs defending their territory, like grade schoolers forming a game of Red Rover. The message is clear: I don’t want to use these mechs, but I will if I need to. The fact that combat is such a drain of resources from both parties further intensifies this feeling of mutually assured destruction, reinforcing this feeling of a cold war that no one wants to ignite.

What I say now

Uhhh ohhhh, what’s that I hear!? Is that the Controversy Express pulling into the station!? Choo choo, mother effer!

Despite only falling 9 spots, Scythe feels to me like the most seismic shift in my top 100. Entrenched in the number 2 spot last year, I didn’t expect it to fall out of the top 3 let alone the top 10. And yet, here we are at number 11. Why the decline?

The answer is very simple: I dunno.

In all seriousness, it is tough to pinpoint why Scythe is now on the outside looking in when it comes to the top 10. And of course, it goes without saying that being my number 11 favorite game of all time means that I still like Scythe a whole, whole lot. But it does feel like it’s lost just a tad bit of luster.

First, I haven’t played Scythe since pre pandemic. Lack of consistent play is always gonna hurt a game in some shape or form.

Second, this style of game (a Euro style game masquerading as a troops on a map affair) is becoming more and more crowded for me and Scythe is struggling to stand out against them more than ever. I’ve already talked about Blood Rage (which itself fell), Cyclades, Rurik and Kemet and there’s another one coming up on my top 10. There is constant jostling between these games and Scythe felt a slight shove down because of it.

Thirdly (and I think lastly?), I have been keeping an eye on criticisms levelled against the game and have started to feel those critiques gain a bit of merit over my last few plays. The biggest one is that the game can feel ‘scripted’ and I’m really starting to buy into that narrative. There are legitimate strategy guides where it begins by scripting out your first third of the game or so and any game that enables that sort of rigid decision space is a turn off for me. Another critique is that the game feels very heads down for its first half, with everybody so focused on their own boards and action efficiency that the actual play on the map feels like an afterthought. I used to contend this but after having played it more and seen how successful Scythe play is enacted I am slowly starting to concur. It really does feel like you’re lost in your own board for a bit too long for my tastes.

None of these factors feel huge on their own, or at least not huge enough to dethrone Scythe from its number 2 spot. But swirled together into a cocktail of doubt and uncertainty? It’s taken its toll on what was once a juggernaut in my collection.

Let me end on a positive note by saying I STILL LOVE SCYTHE. IT IS A FANATASTIC GAME. Honestly, I could see it reclaiming a spot in the top 10 come next list if I get a chance to play it. But as of now, it solemnly hands me back the top 100 silver medal and watches as I launch into my top 10…

*

Speaking of top 10, that’s what’s coming next! Come back soon(ish, hopefully) to see my 10 favorite games of all time!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 30-21

Like Mr. Fantastic giving an unwanted proctology exam, we’re getting deeper and deeper into my top 50. Let’s kick off the 30-21 range!

30. Isle of Skyle

Previous ranking: 30 (0)

What I said last year

In Isle of Skye, players are Scottish chieftains aspiring to be king/queen, which is done by building out your kingdom in a way that satisfies as many scoring objectives as possible. One of the many cool things about this game is that what scores points changes from game to game. Some games the people REALLY want livestock to be surrounding their homes like they’re zombies in a Romero movie while other games they’re obsessed with ships and in others they want a very long, winding road because they’re presumably huge Beatles fans. As if the randomization of scoring objectives wasn’t enough, the order in which they’re scored varies from game to game too. Different rounds have different scoring objectives, which not only makes for a lot replayability but also creates many interesting choices on how to pace the construction of your kingdom. Do you focus on getting lots of little points for the short term in the early rounds or do you spend time building up towards later game objectives to get a large swath of points then?

But the REALLY cool thing in Isle of Skye is how you procure tiles. At the beginning of every round, players draw three tiles and then secretly price them behind a player a screen. One tile gets the literal ax, being discarded back to the tile bag while the other two get any amount of gold that you can spare. When players reveal their prices it’s time to go shopping, Scottish clan style! Every player has a chance to buy a tile from another player by paying the cost they’ve set. If someone takes one of your tiles, you not only get their money BUT the gold you put out to set the price in the process. You essentially gain double the value that YOU set for it! BUT if somebody doesn’t pay for your tile, you are forced to discard the gold you used to set its price, essentially paying for it for yourself. This creates a fascinating mix of auction and ‘I Cut, You Choose’ mechanisms that never fails to fill your stomach with bubbles of dread. Price a tile too low and somebody will snatch it away from you, often feeling like you didn’t even get a good return on it. Price it too high, though, and you’ll be forced to take, probably paying more for it then you would have liked. It’s even worse if it’s a tile YOU personally want. How high of a paywall do you put on the tile to prevent others from getting it without bankrupting yourself? It’s mortifying and delightful at the same time.

Between Isle of Skye’s dynamic scoring system and its intriguing and unique auction mechanisms, this was an easy pick to be in the top 30.

What I say now

The epitome of consistency, Isle of Skye hasn’t budged, making it the first game on the list to be at the same exact position as in 2019. Not too terribly surprising, considering what a rock-solid game this is. I had a chance to play this shortly after my 2019 Top 100 and was once again reminded of what a fantastic, replayable design Pfister created.

Whaddya say, Isle of Skye, same place next year? See ya then.

29. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Previous ranking: 65 (+36)

What I said last year

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a game very similar to Mysterium, in that a silent clue giver is trying to give hints and clues to a group to determine how a murder was committed. The twist here is that unlike Mysterium, this is not fully cooperative. One of the players is the murderer and the other players need to root them out.

Every player, except the clue giver, has two rows of cards in front of them. One row is potential murder weapons and the other row is some specific clue that was left at the scene of the crime. Everyone closes their eyes and the murderer points at one of the weapons and one of the clues in front of them and now the clue giver knows what they’ll be trying to get the others to guess. The clue giver has a bunch of clue boards in front of them with specific categories and items of that category, such as ‘Day of the Crime’ and ‘Murderer’s Personality”. These categories are mostly randomized throughout the game, meaning all cases are going to have a different set of clues. The clue giver needs to figure out how to take these fairly disparate clue elements and create a pattern for the other players to see, allowing them to link that to two items in front of the murderer. How do you let someone know the murderer used a garden trowel and left behind a stereo speaker by only telling them something random, like the victim’s expression? Who knows! That’s for you to figure out! But it does create hilarious images of the world’s most maddeningly cryptic investigator, trying to lead people to figure out a murder by saying, “Well, what I can tell you is that the victim appeared to be very, very scared!”

And speaking of hilarious, I know it’s weird to call a game literally about murder ‘hilarious’, but that’s kind of what this game is. When the murderer gives an extremely flimsy argument over something in an effort to deflect suspicion but immediately gets caught because of it, it’s hysterical. When the clue giver is having a bad round and gives a series of clues that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, it’s also a riot. Like any good social deduction game, the arguments and debates are the lifeblood of this game, and those arguments and debates more often result in laughter. This is a nice change of pace from other social deduction games like, say, The Resistance where most arguments end with everyone wanting to strangle each other.

Social deduction games are incredibly polarizing, but I do find Deception: Murder in Hong Kong one of the more accessible ones. The presence of a clue giver means someone who isn’t fond of being stuck in the center of heated exchanges can simply request to play that role more often and the presence of public clues allows the murderer to deflect a little more easily than, say, Spyfall. Every game I’ve had of this, even at lower player counts, has been amazing.

What I say now

Someone’s been drinking their Red Bull, I see! Deception has flown up the list all the way from 65 to 29 and it honestly doesn’t come as a surprise to me. When I ranked Deception last year, I didn’t have my own copy but have since procured one as a gift. It’s amazing how much more you’ll play a game when you actually own it.

These recent plays have solidified Deception as one of my favorite social deduction games, causing it to even surpass Spyfall which had appeared in the 50-41 range. Spyfall’s tumble came in big part due to Deception’s ascension. It’s an absolute riot of a time and is just barely edged out as my favorite in the genre by a new game that will appear oh so soon.

28. Hardback

Previous ranking: 32 (+4)

What I said last year

Hardback is a word-based deckbuilder that is the spiritual successor to Paperback, which is also a word-based deckbuilder. Both are published by Fowers Games and both are great, but I prefer Hardback to Paperback. I’ll touch on why throughout this entry, but first let’s talk about Hardback on its own terms.

Casting players as Dickensian authors in Victorian times, Hardback is all about trying to build words with cards. The cards in Hardback have letters on them and players must make words with said letters as they also attempt to build a deck that allows them to consistently make even more powerful, higher scoring words. Cards also grant rewards such as points and money, with points getting you closer to winning the game and money allowing you to buy cards to add to your ever-fattening library of letters.

At the beginning of your turn, you draw your hand of five cards (because that is apparently a mandatory rule in every deckbuilder) and that is your selection of letters that you’re trying to make a word with. Can’t make a word with those letters? Don’t worry! Hardback has a very clever mechanism where you can play any card facedown as a wild card with the caveat that you won’t be given the rewards that card grants. This is already one thing that I much prefer over Paperback, where wild cards were actual cards that you had to hope to draw if you wanted to use them. This extra versatility means you’re rarely backed into a corner and trying to decide what cards to sacrifice for wilds is a constant, interesting decision in this game.

Another cool mechanism in this game is ink. In many deckbuilders, drawing more cards to supplement your hand of five is generally done by playing cards that allow that ability. Not so in Hardback. There is no “Draw ‘x’ amount of cards” action in this game. Instead, you need to buy ink which you can then spend to draw an extra card at a 1:1 rate. The catch is, whatever cards you draw with ink you MUST use in your word. If you’re unable to use the letter(s) you drew in a word, you essentially forfeit your turn. This simple bit of push your luck feels incredibly fresh in this genre and makes yet another thing that I vastly prefer in Hardback over Paperback.

The last great mechanism I’ll discuss is slightly less original, and that’s the idea of building combos in Hardback. In Hardback, each card you buy is part of a genre, such as horror or romance (but really, what’s the difference between those?? *snare roll*). If you combine cards of the same genre within the same word, you often get to activate a bonus ability on those cards, thus encouraging the synergizing of like genres within your deck. Like I said, this is far from original (it’s pretty much lifted straight from another deckbuilder called Star Realms) but the way this combo building is partnered with letters helps make it a little more thoughtful. Sure, you have a couple of cards in the mystery genre in your deck but do you really need another ‘Y’? Building a deck in Hardback isn’t as simple as just blindly buying cards of the same type, because you still need to actually make words with those cards.  You’ll be cursing yourself when you have a hand of cards that looks more like the name of a Lovecraftian Old One than an actual word.

Hardback would likely be higher on my list if I played it more in its competitive multiplayer form. Truth be told, I’ve gotten the vast majority of my plays in its solo mode and when I have played it with others, it’s mostly been with the cooperative variant. And while these modes are surprisingly excellent, I can’t help but feel like I’m not playing the game the way it is truly meant to be experienced.

What I say now

Hardback remains one of my favorite deckbuilders in the hobby and it even finds itself a couple spots higher than last year. That is because, as I foreshadowed in last year’s entry, I finally got to play it competitively again. I’ll gladly go to bat for this game’s solo and cooperative modes, but the competitive play is truly where this game shines. Gee, who would have thought, a game designed as a competitive game plays best as a competitive game.

Obviously, this means all the positive stuff I rambled about last year still stands. I don’t know how much farther this can creep up, as I have a suspicion this may be Hardback’s ceiling but I guess I’ll just have to play it more to find out. Oh, the things I’ll do for science.

27. Arctic Scavengers

Previous ranking: 17 (-10)

What I said last year

Arctic Scavengers plunges players into a future where climate change has resulted in a second ice age which I guess means it takes place ten years from now. Players will be crafting a deck that represents their tribe trying to survive in this harsh world, with cards representing various tribe members, tools and weapons. The end goal is to have the most tribe members in your deck by the end of the game, which is an interesting twist on deckbuilding. Most deckbuilders reward you for creating razor thin, streamlined decks that you can churn through in one turn, recreating powerful combos like the world’s nerdiest version of déjà vu. But in Arctic Scavengers, you’re looking to stuff your deck to the brim with tribe members, sometimes sacrificing the ability to fall back on reliably drawing synergies in order to just load up on victory points. It’s an interesting balance and creates a fresher, more tactical experience compared to the more mechanical Dominion clones out there where it feels like you’re simply trying to program a scoring algorithm.

The cool twists don’t end there. Another neat wrinkle is how Arctic Scavengers treats trashing cards from your deck. Most deckbuilders offer avenues for you to discard less useful cards to make it more likely for you to get your more powerful ones in a draw. The thing is, you usually need a card that allows you to trigger that ability to trash stuff, meaning you have to wait to get that card and a card you’re willing to trash in the same hand. Arctic Scavengers wants none of that ‘waiting’ nonsense and, hilariously, allows you to trash cards whenever you want. You simply take any cards from your hand that you don’t want and then send them to a communal deck of cards known as the junkyard, which players can sift through to find potentially useful stuff (including the cards you just sent there!).

I love this for a couple reasons. One, it obviously gives a lot more freedom. Is there a card gumming up your deck? Just get it right out of there whenever the hell you want. Two, this card isn’t permanently out of the game. As I said, it simply goes to the junkyard where other players may happen upon it. Every deck starts out with semi-useless refugee cards, who count as tribe members but can’t do anything without the help of a tool. This makes them very inefficient for the start of the game, meaning players channel their inner Republicans and banish them out of their deck for not earning their keep. Hysterically, as the game starts to wind down, players often go back to the junkyard looking for the very refugees they banished earlier, trying to nab them for their points.

(That has to be a very awkward walk home from the junkyard with the refugee shuffling along with trash stuck to them as you cheerfully say, “Hey, sorry about that whole exile thing.”)

Yet another neat mechanism that Arctic Scavengers employs is its multi-use cards. Deckbuilders tend to have cards with very specific functions, while the cards in Arctic Scavengers can be used for a variety of things. The trick is, however, some cards are better at certain actions than others. For example, the Scout is good for drawing extra cards but less useful in other areas while the Brawler is great for fighting (more on that in a bit), but not so helpful otherwise. It feels like you’ll never have a useless hand, something that can’t be said for a lot of other deckbuilders. Even if you aren’t able to use a card for its more effective action, you can pair it with others to help strengthen some other action. Granted, there are still cards that can’t do certain actions so there may be moments of ineffective draws BUT even then you can find uses for those cards.

This comes in the form of the final mechanism that I think REALLY separates Arctic Scavengers from other deckbuilders: the skirmish. Every round, someone peeks at a card from a deck known as the Contested Resources. Contested Resources are powerful cards that aren’t available to buy in the public display. Winning one is often a huge boon to your deck. After players play cards from their hand on their turn, they then take any leftover cards they want to save for the skirmish and put them facedown in front of them. Hell, you can put your entire hand face down if you want to. When the skirmish occurs, everyone flips their cards over and calculates their ‘fight’ rating, which is essentially an action just like everything else on the card. Whoever has the highest fight rating wins the Contested Resource and secretly adds it to their discard pile to become a part of their deck.

I love the skirmish because it adds interaction and an element of bluffing. As much as I love deckbuilders, they can often be multiplayer solitaire affairs, with an occasional ‘take that’ card to add some forced ‘interaction’. Arctic Scavengers is very interactive thanks to the skirmish, with everyone keeping an eye on how many cards their opponents have devoted to the end of the round brawl. This also adds some slight bluffing, as I intimated earlier. Have a bad hand? Devote it all to the skirmish and watch with glee as you win a Contested Resource with nothing but two shovels, two pickaxes and a bottle of pills. On the flip side, if it’s your turn to see the Contested Resource and you know it’s something good, putting down just one or two good cards for the skirmish might make others think it’s nothing worth fighting for, letting you pull off a cheap win. It’s such a cool, unique part of this game that I’ve never seen in any other deckbuilder and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I love this game so damn much.

If you don’t trust me, it’s worth noting Arctic Scavengers is one of the most requested games in my collection. If I’m having a gaming weekend with friends I don’t see that often, Arctic Scavengers is almost always brought up. This makes its lack of popularity in the hobby all the more baffling. If you skipped out on Arctic Scavengers, it’s never too late to try what I believe to be the best deckbuilder around.

What I say now

Arctic Scavengers has slid 10 spots, enough to take it out of my top 25. While I’m sure that’s disappointing for Arctic Scavengers to hear, it shouldn’t beat itself up too much.  This decline is almost exclusively just because I haven’t played it in a while. In fact, I haven’t played it since last top 100 and that usually precipitates a tumble down the list.

It’s just a little difficult to get Arctic Scavengers to the table because it doesn’t play super great at 2. With the skirmish mechanism, you need at least 3 for this game to really shine. Once I get a chance to play this again, I’m sure it will recover some of its placing. I do, in fact, still consider this my favorite deckbuilder and think anybody who is a fan of the genre NEEDS to play this game.

26. Detective Club

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Juuuust barely missing my top 25 is a ‘new to the list’ game that proudly wears a badge declaring, ‘Kyle’s Favorite Social Deduction Game’. That’s right, my number 26 is my new favorite social deduction game, something I masterfully teased a few entries back. That game? Detective Club.

Detective Club is cut from the same cloth as social deduction games like Spyfall and A Fake Artist Goes to New York, wherein one person out of a group doesn’t know something and they need to blend in as the other players try to determine who is the odd one out. These games often tend to be equal parts mortifying and hilarious and Detective Club is no different.

Whereas Spyfall is a game of interrogating your friends about a specific location, asking each other maddeningly vague questions and getting even vaguer answers back, and Fake Artist is Pictionary but with one of the players waking up from a coma halfway through, Detective Club is a game of interpreting pictures with Dixit-style surreal art. Every round, a rotating game master looks at their hand of Dixit-style cards and picks a theme. They write that theme down on a bunch of notebooks and they hand one to each other the other players.

BUT, and there’s always a BUT, one of the players gets a blank notebook. That player has no idea what the theme of the round is and they have to, and this is the technical term, ‘bullshit their way through it’. Why this matters is because after the notebooks get handed out, the game master plays a card that ideally follows that theme. Everyone else must do the same, playing a card from their hand that best exemplifies whatever the chosen, secret theme is. After this, a second card is played from everyone’s hands in this fashion and now I’m sure you see where the whole ‘bullshit their way through it’ comes in.

If you’re the person unlucky enough to get saddled with a blank notebook, you need to keep a keen eye on the cards that have been played and try to play something from your hand that might fall in line with it. Notice the other players’ cards all have water on them? Maybe the theme is something aquatic, so pull a card from your hand that can fit in with that.  See lots of red on the other cards? Try your luck with a red heavy card and hope the theme is red or red adjacent. Trying to pick apart what threads the pictures together makes you feel like you’re Tom Hanks from The Da Vinci Code, except you’re doing it in a matter of seconds and you likely have a better haircut.

This would all be fun enough, but the REAL fun comes in when everyone stands trial. After two cards have been played by everyone, the Game Master reveals the theme and then describes why they chose their two cards. Then, one by one around the table, everyone must do the same, taking the stand in this kangaroo court in hopes that they can persuade the others that they knew the theme was ‘farts’ all along.

This phase of the game is by far my favorite, resulting in hysterical moments of players tugging at their collars like a used car salesperson weeks behind on commission, desperately trying to hide their nerves as they do their best to pitch their argument. Even if you knew the theme, it can be hard to convince the others if you were stuck with trash in your hand. A running joke in our group is starting off your defense by saying, “Okay, OBVIOUSLY I knew the theme was ‘farts’ but I had a bad hand so these will be a stretch…” which is then immediately answered with loud boos and groans.

Wonderfully, Detective Club fails to be as overbearingly intense for players uncomfortable with lying since you get to hear what the theme is before making your case. I’m sure there are some people out there who are uneasy with any sort of lying or thinking on the spot, but it’s nothing compared to Spyfall’s assault on one’s nerves. This automatically makes it a game I’m more liable to play, since people in my game groups who can’t tolerate the merciless anxiety of Spyfall tend to find this one much warmer and more welcoming. Plus, this game is so funny that it manages to diffuse any sort of tension that may arise. 

Detective Club is truly social deduction at its best: a cocktail of humor, quick thinking and playful arguing. If you like the genre, this is the next crown jewel in your collection. Even if you don’t like these types of games, this is still one worth trying out since it kneads out the genre’s more stressful knots. Don’t be surprised if this manages to sneak on the top 25 by next top 100.

25. Letter Jam

Previous ranking: N/A

Welcome to the top 25! Our first stop is another ‘new-to-the-list’ game, a unique and brilliant mix of cooperative deduction and word building called Letter Jam.

In Letter Jam, you and your teammates will be cast into the roles of the world’s most confused wordsmiths. You’ll be collectively spelling words together using letter cards BUT the game sports a Hanabi style twist: you can see everyone else’s card, but you can’t see yours.

What this entails is everybody attempting to spell words using the letters of their teammates in a way that those players will be able to deduce what their mystery letter is. The clue giver places little numbered poker chips out in front of everyone’s whose letter is in the word, the number denoting where in the word their letter is located.

So, if I receive the ‘2’ chip and I see the rest of the word is spelled out as ‘S-?-I-T’, OBVIOUSLY my letter must be a ‘P’, right? No other possible word, eh? Definitely not! Now that I’m confident letter is a ‘P’ and definitely not anything else, I can place that card facedown and move onto my next one. The goal is basically for everyone to deduce what all of their letters are in front of them, with the number of cards being determined by difficulty level.

Obviously, the trick of the game is including as many people in a clue/word as possible while also making sure that the word is unique enough that you narrow the letter options down for the people trying to guess. If you give the clue ‘sand’, the person with the ‘s’ is gonna have a rougher go of it. Is it ‘land’? ‘Band’? “Wand’? You have to maximize your efficiency by giving as few clues as possible, so getting your teammates to nail their letter in one word is optimal.

Okay, I said it was optimal, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Letter Jam is a deviously tough puzzle, made even harder by the fact that it’s essentially puzzles within puzzles. There is the ‘trying to formulate a word and give a clue out of the visible letters’ puzzle (probably a pithier way to say that) and then there’s the actual deduction of figuring out your letter when given a word. Wading between these two layers of riddles feels like your brain is jogging on two separate treadmills, one for each foot (assuming your brain had feet, I guess).

Keeping the proceedings moving and helping the game from ever being bogged down by indecision is a great free form clue giving system. Quite simply, anyone can step forward and spell a word for the group, which they’ll have to mark by taking a delicious little jelly looking token, which I can assure you doesn’t taste as good as it looks or so I was told by my, uh, dog. This means the game, despite being very thinky, won’t gridlock at one player while a basic restriction system forces everyone to give at least one clue so that some Chomsky wannabe can’t dominate the conversation.

Every time Letter Jam gets played, I’m impressed with how smart and clever it is.  While it’s certainly quieter and more pensive than your average party game, it is such an engaging, interactive experience that it’s become one of my go to games for groups of 5-6 (insert obligatory ‘whenever it’s safe to do that again’ pandemic comment’). It also scales surprisingly well and, while I definitely prefer it at the higher player counts (with the max of 6 being ideal), I wouldn’t turn down a game of this at either 2 or 3.

To round this out, Letter Jam is an amazing word game that I honestly expect to inch deeper into this top 25 by next list.

24. Tricky Tides

Previous ranking: 29 (+5)

What I said last year

A common thread among the trick taking games on this top 100 are that they usually involve some sort of hook or twist that shakes the trick taking formula like a bottle of Snapple. Such is the case with Tricky Tides, which perhaps has the biggest twist of all. The curveball in Tricky Tides’ arsenal? It’s not only a trick taker, but it’s also a pick up and deliver game. Insert Chris Pratt surprised face gif here.

I’ve already raved about Tricky Tides in a full length review this past summer. I loved it so much, I just had to talk about it, so click here to soak it in like a pirate thrown overboard.

The ‘long story short’ version is that players are moving ship tokens around a chain of islands, picking up goods and delivering them to score contracts. The way in which players move is determined by the tricks played. Cards have a compass on them with certain directions highlighted and when you play that card, those are the directions in which you can move the ship. When you move the ship and arrive at an island, you can either take all the cubes of a certain good type or spend cubes that you’ve already gathered to satisfy a contract. It’s all about efficiently moving around the grid, taking resources at the right time to make the most of your limited ship’s hold. It’s like being a nautical logistics company, except there’s also sea monsters. Oh, I didn’t mention the sea monsters did I?

Players who play the highest value on suit card ‘win’ the trick and therefore get to move their ship first, giving them first dibs on whatever is available at the contract and resource cube buffet. BUT play the lowest value on suit card and you get to trigger a sea monster’s power. Stationed around the board at different spots like security guards at a concert venue are sea monsters, all of which are linked to one of the four suits in the game. Whatever suit has been used for that trick determines what monster the ‘loser’ of the trick is able to activate. The powers all have some sort of form of resource manipulation, such as the Octopus’ ability to grab or throw resources to and from adjacent islands or the Shark’s ability to gobble up a cube which then appears on your ship through some sort of gastrointestinal black magic. Being able to activate these monsters not only makes for a nice balancing mechanism if you end up with a crappy hand of low values but also provides nice tactical choices to make. Sometimes you may want to purposely play the lowest card so you’re able to possess a certain sea monster for your own advantages.

I’ll admit that I may be a bit biased towards Tricky Tides thanks to my love of all things nautical, especially when the theme comes through so beautifully in this game’s wonderfully striking art. The art looks like something out of an old sailor’s sketchbook, giving this game an authentic Age of Sail vibe that never fails to give me a warm feeling.

Even with these biases aside, though, I think Tricky Tides is an amazingly clever and unique mix of trick taking and pick up and deliver that feels fresh and fun. It’s one of 2019’s hidden gems and deserves more attention.

What I say now

As someone who’s grown to love trick taking games even more over the past year, it’s no surprise Tricky Tides got a bit of a bump. I’m still obsessed with this game’s marriage of theme and aesthetics, and the balance of tactical hand management with strategic resource management is a scrumptious peanut butter and chocolate style pairing.

I’m not shocked Tricky Tides snuck into the top 25 and I’m frustrated more people haven’t played this one. Play it and thank me later, I’ll even allow you to Venmo me something.

23. Five Tribes

Last year’s ranking: 15 (-8)

What I said last year

Set in an Arabian Nights style setting, players will be guiding meeples around a grid using the aforementioned mancala mechanism, activating the special actions granted by the Five Tribes (hey, that’s the name of the game) of Naquala (hey, that kinda sounds like mancala). Meeples will be randomly strewn about the grid of tiles, looking like someone set off a bomb underneath eight boxes of Carcassonne. On your turn, you take a group of meeples and walk it on a path, dropping meeples off along the way. The last meeple you drop off allows you to grab all meeples of that color from the tile and activate the tribe ability associated with that color.

I won’t go too deep into all the tribes, but they let you do things like grab cards from a marketplace, buy Djinns which grant victory points and special powers, and kill other meeples. In addition to the tribe actions, the tiles themselves have actions which are also activated, meaning you have to think not only about what tribe is the most profitable but what location tile would be great to pair it with. Considering the sheer amount of possibilities every turn gives you, with every potential group of meeples you can grab and airdrop around like Santa tossing presents from his sleigh having strong ramifications for the next turn, you can see why this game is described as puzzle-y. In fact, some could argue it’s a bit too puzzle-y. While I have yet to experience the pleasure of playing this with a person prone to analysis paralysis, I can certainly see this being a nightmarish slog if someone had to min/max every single permutation.

Since I don’t have to deal with that, I become hopelessly engrossed in Five Tribe’s Rubik’s Cube of a game state every time I play it. Mapping out which paths I should take and which ones would give me a good return on points is never not satisfying and being able to pull off a huge turn that gives you a boatload of points is an absolute rush. I can’t think of a game where I get more excited for my turn to come up because I know that it’s going to be a blast to try and figure out.

It’s no surprise I love this game. Five Tribes is like a Greatest Hits album of Bruno Cathala’s design traits: it’s incredibly puzzle-y, as I mentioned; It is one of the most tactical games I’ve ever played, with players being forced to adapt and react based on what the person on the turn before them did; It’s got lots of fun powers in the form of its Djinn cards; It’s just the right length, never outstaying its welcome yet giving you a good sense of getting lots of things done. I have mentioned countless times that Cathala is my favorite designer and while this isn’t my favorite Cathala game, I can’t think of a game that better reflects why he’s my favorite designer.

What I say now

A bit of slippage for Five Tribes, but it still remains in my top 25. And for good reason: this game rules. I feel like Five Tribes’ stock only decreased because of other games invading the top 25, because I’m still in love with the endlessly puzzle-y gameplay this gem provides. If I get a chance to play this again before next top 100, which I don’t see why I wouldn’t, I could see it bouncing back towards the teens like Jennifer Garner in ’30 Going On 13’. Yes, I just referenced ’30 Going On 13’, who else in board gaming content creation can you say that about?

22. 7 Wonders: Duel

Previous ranking: 16 (-6)

What I said last year

In this version of 7 Wonders, the pick and pass card drafting system that has been mimicked by so many other games is now replaced with a public draft from a card display. Cards are put into a specific shape (which changes round to round) with some cards being dealt face up and some being dealt face down. The cards are displayed in such a way that cards overlap each other, which plays into which cards are available for you to take on your turn. On your turn, you simply take one card and either put it in your civilization, discard it for gold, or burn it to build a wonder. Very much like the original 7 Wonders, but what makes this one superior to the original is its tactical back and forth nature.

Like some sort of empire building based ping pong, you and your opponent are constantly trading volleys, taking quick turns to draft the card that best suits your current and potential future needs. The drafting system is brilliant because it adds an exceptional puzzle element. You can look ahead up the shape to see what will be available based on what cards your or your opponent take. When a card is no longer overlapped, it becomes available to draft and if it’s a face down card then it also gets revealed. The tension that comes from trying to figure out what you want to make available for your opponent haunts every decision like Casper the Min-Max Ghost. Flipping over a facedown card is always a gamble because if it’s something that could greatly help your opponent, they’ll just snatch it right up on their turn.

This is further amplified by the three different win conditions in the game. If the game ends after three rounds, it’s just simply about counting victory points in your civilization to see who scored more. BUT there are ways the game can end abruptly before that point with either a Military Victory or a Science Victory.

The Military Victory is a constant tug of war between the opponents. There is a military track with a shield pawn that moves towards the players and if the shield ever ends up in your city, then you’ve immediately lost. The shield is moved by simply taking cards with the shield icon, allowing you to move the shield as many spots as there are icons towards the opponent.

Meanwhile, the Science Victory is about collecting symbols. On certain cards in the game there are scientific symbols and if a player ever collects six unique symbols they automatically win the game through a Science Victory. To further tantalize players to grab these symbols, players get a reward token if they collect two of the same symbol, which often grant some sort of special power or action.

The addition of these two automatic win conditions is such an ingenious touch. It expands the decision space to include more things that just “grab resources and points” and forces your opponent to have to play defense. If you take a couple of military cards in a row and start bearing down towards your opponent’s side of the military track, they suddenly have to shift their own strategies to deny you shields. This opens up your opportunity to start grabbing cards they have to ignore in their quest to deny you the Military Victory. Same goes for the Science Victory which seems very tough to get at first, but surprisingly snowballs when opponents don’t properly defend it. It seems like every game I’ve played of this comes down to one of the players needing just one card to complete the victory, making the last round an absolute nail biter. Facedown cards could be just the card your opponent needs to trigger the win condition, putting even more emphasis on the order in which cards are drafted.

Every time I play 7 Wonders: Duel I am reminded of just how brilliant and great it is. It truly is one of the best two player only games in the hobby and one that should be in everybody’s collection, whether you have the original or not.

What I say now

Another beloved Cathala design (though this one is a co-design) that’s fallen just a tad. But like Five Tribes, which I apparently just barely rank behind this game now, this isn’t an indictment on 7 Wonders: Duel. Hell, it’s still in the top 25. It’s just there is a LOT of competition and as much as I still love this incredible, tight design there’s only so much room towards the top.

Don’t fret too much, 7 Wonders: Duel. I suspect you’ll still be on the top 25 come next year too.

21. Ethnos

Previous ranking: 34 (+13)

What I said last year

Designed by Paolo Mori (one of the most underrated designers in the business), Ethnos feels like Ticket to Ride with splashes of Small World in it. It’s a fantasy area control game of collecting sets and playing them on a map and it’s tough to think of a game on my top 100 that moves as smoothly and quickly as this one.

Turns are very simple. Either draw a card (from the deck or a face up display) OR play a set. Playing a set involves you playing a set of either the same color or the same fantasy race and includes a couple of clever wrinkles that help make this game feel so fresh and special.

First up is the leader mechanism. When you play a set, you choose one of the cards to be your ‘leader’, which does two things. One, the location on the card determines where you’re going to put your disc, which is used for area majority purposes. Two, your leader choice determines the special power you get to activate. The cards all represent different fantasy races, all with unique special abilities. Whichever race your leader is, allows you to activate that race’s power.

Another clever aspect of Ethnos’ card play is that the size of the set you must play is determined by the number of discs you have on the location the set is being played to. Your set must contain, at minimum, a number of cards equal to the number of discs on that location. So, if you’re playing a set to add a disc to the blue area and you already have two discs there, your set must contain at LEAST two cards. This is a  design choice because it means the stronger you are in a location, the harder it is to get even stronger allowing a natural way for players to catch up and contest it.

The final twist in Ethnos’ Rummy-esque set collection and card play is that when you play your set, ALL remaining cards in your hand are discarded to a face up display. That’s right, years of Ticket to Ride training you to hoard cards like a doomsday prepper with canned beans means absolutely NOTHING here. Keeping cards for the future is useless, so Ethnos is a superbly tactical game of adapting to card draws and figuring out when it’s time to strike and when it’s time to hold out for just oooone more card.

This is made even more tense by the push your luck mechanism that decides when it’s time to move onto the next round. Randomly strewn throughout the second half of the game deck are dragon cards and when the 3rd dragon card is drawn, the round IMMEDIATELY ends. Nobody gets an extra turn to play one last set. Once the first dragon card is drawn, tension immediately descends upon the table like a pop-up Florida thunderstorm, drenching everyone in angst with each draw of a card from the deck. It’s a small but brilliant touch and makes the somewhat simple decisions of Ethnos feel a bit weightier.

What I say now

Jumping 13 spots from a place in the mid-30s into my top 25, Ethnos is a game that I grow fonder and fonder of with each play. The eternally underrated Paolo Mori turned in his masterpiece with this design, I believe. It’s got incredible variety, it’s lightning quick and breezy yet still satisfying and substantive while its delicate balance of grabbing quick, short term points vs. entrenching yourself for the long game never fails to sparkle.

I have a lot of issues with the game’s publisher CMON, but I have perhaps no bigger beef with them than when it comes to their treatment of this game. Not only is this game screaming for expansion content and they’ve failed to deliver any, but they don’t even keep this game regularly in print. It got a soft reprint a little while back but since being out of stock since then? Nothing. I really, really hope this game gets the second chance it deserves, whether it’s with a new publisher or through a shinier second edition from CMON themselves. This is truly a must have game in everyone’s collection.

*

That’ll do it for my 30-21. Next time you visit, we’ll be even deeper into my top 25 with the 20-11 range! Come back soon! But not like, too soon, I need to get it finished and I’m lazy, but yanno, soon-ish!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 40-31

Last entry marked the popping of my top 50’s cherry and I’m too afraid to take that metaphor any further so let’s talk games!

40. Just One

Last year’s ranking: 22 (-18)

What I said last year

Just One is stupidly simple to explain. It’s a cooperative party game where one player is a guesser and the rest of the group are clue givers. The guesser has a card with five words in front of them so that they can’t see it and name a number one through five. The clue givers write a word on a little whiteboard that they think will help the guesser guess that word.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern party game without a twist, so what is Just One’s? After everyone writes their clues, the guesser closes their eyes and the clue givers reveal to each other their clues. If anybody has written a duplicate, ALL copies of that clue are erased. Afterwards, the guesser opens their eyes and must guess the word based on what’s remaining.

Like many party games, including some on this very portion of the top 100, it’s all about straddling a line between obvious and obscure. Go too obvious and you’ll likely collide into someone with a duplicate. Go too obscure, and the guesser will be left scratching their head when all they’re left with is an obtuse, incoherent string of words. It’s incredible fun to get in the heads of your teammates and try to determine what direction they’re going to take so that you can avoid it yourself.

I’ve already taught you the game, so there’s no excuse to go and play it right at this moment. Go on, I’ll wait, I’m used to it.

Back? See? Wasn’t that just a load of fun? Just One is everything I want from a party game. Easy to teach and instantly accessible for just about anyone while still providing enough meat for your brain to chew on (or tofu, if you’re vegetarian/vegan). The game has the open armed feel of a mass market game while not boring me like those tend to do. It’s fast, fun, addictive and so simple that it’s a wonder it took till 2019 for it to exist.

My only complaint is with the scoring mechanism. You’re simply making a random deck of 13 cards and then scoring yourself based on how many cards you correctly guess. There’s even a whole rule with passing that literally everyone I’ve ever heard talk about this game completely ignores (some don’t even realize it’s a rule in the game). I wish there had been some sort of concrete “You win” or “You lose” condition, but I also recognize that adding extra rules for scoring would probably result in a game that hasn’t been streamlined to perfection.

Regardless of my own personal qualms with a less than stellar ‘win’ condition, Just One has managed to stand out against a lot of competition in both the industry and my very own collection as a word game that demands to played over and over again. In less than a year, I’ve already had to invest in new dry erase markers thanks to the ones in my copy being dried from overuse.

What I say now

Just One remains one of my most fun and accessible party games, but it has dropped a bit. Honestly, I think that has to do with how simple the game is. When you have a game this streamlined and light, you can only dip back into the well before it starts to feel a bit repetitive. Combine that with the loosey-goosey scoring system that offers no real drive to keep coming back to it and it’s easy for me to see why Just One’s stock has dropped.

It’s not enough to fully torpedo my love of this game, though. It’s still a popular cornerstone of my collection and one that I will always bring to a party or family gathering.

39. Tybor the Builder

Previous ranking: 33 (-6)

What I said last year

Tybor the Builder marks the first appearance by Alexander Pfister, who is my second favorite designer in the hobby. This game is an installment in his Oh My Goods Universe, which is kind of like the MCU but instead of superheroes it’s generic European medieval people. I quite like Oh My Goods, the progenitor of this ‘universe’, but some pacing issues keep it from my top 100. Tybor the Builder, however, finds itself firmly implanted here at number 33, mixing simple but tactical decisions with fast flowing, smooth card drafting.

In Tybor, you’re drafting cards and using them to build out a little tableau. The cards in the game are multi use, meaning when you choose one to draft you can do one of multiple things with them. You can either put them at the top of your player board to station them as villagers, which helps with scoring end game points based on symbols they provide as well as providing discounts for buildings. You can hire them as part of your workforce, which allows you to spend them later on building buildings. Which brings me to the last thing you can do: actually building things. After all, it’s called Tybor the Builder, not Tybor the Union Rep. When this is done, you simply discard the card you drafted as well as the necessary amount of strength from your work force and choose a building from a face up display to put in your village. These buildings provide the bulk of your points, as well as the occasional power to activate.

This multi-use card mechanism gives a lot of versatility not seen in other drafting games. It never feels like a card you draft is wasted since you’re always able to use it for something. This also makes hate drafting feel a lot more impactful. In so many drafting games, hate drafting (which is when you take something that’s less useful for you simply to keep it out of the hands of an opponent) feels like you’re punting away your turn and that you’re better off just trying to bolster your own points rather than subtracting potential points from an opponent. In Tybor, hate drafting is a viable option as there’s usually something you can do with the card as well.

I love games that do a lot with very little and that’s very much the case with Tybor. You essentially have three options on your turn but trying to puzzle out the best course is surprisingly satisfying. The game also moves at a very brisk pace, allowing you to build up a village quickly but ending at just the right time.

What I say now

I like Tybor roughly the same as last year. In fact, I played it just a month or two ago and it was a refreshing jump back into its world of long-term engine building and tactical efficiency. The only gripe I could see myself developing with it is that the public objectives that are randomized every game kind of force you down a certain path and that can feel limiting.

But that’s a minor complaint. The main reason Tybor has dropped a bit is because there’s a ‘new to the list’ card drafting game that has surpassed Tybor as my favorite of the genre. And guess what? It’s coming up later in this very post! How’s that for a tease, eh?

So, yeah, Tybor the Builder is still a great little card game that deserves way more attention.

38. Startups

Previous ranking: N/A

Japanese publisher and industry darling Oink Games hasn’t appeared on my list since pulling a double shift in my 70-61 post, when they went back to back with Maskmen and A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Now they’ve made a triumphant return with a little card game called Startups, which is not only my number 38 but also my favorite Oink game.

In Startups, you and your opponents are investing in various startup companies, hoping to gain a majority in them so that you’ll be the one reaping their points. The suits in the game represent said startups, and you’ll be managing a small hand of them in your effort to most shrewdly pick which suits to collect and which ones to cast aside for the other players to pick at like Silicon Valley based vultures.

Turns are quick and simple: every turn, you’ll draw a card and play a card. Drawing a card can occur from the top of the deck or from a face up display of cards that is seeded throughout the game by the players. One of Startups’ clever twists is that if you take a card from the top of the deck, you must place a coin on every card in the display. Coins are points, so this can be either a mild annoyance (“Ugh, it’s only one card, I guess I can spare the point”) to an absolute catastrophe (“FIVE CARDS I need to put coins on??? I guess I’m gonna be in the coffee business now.”). On the upside, these coins will pile up on these cards and go to whoever picks them up so it’s possible to make up some losses with a well timed draft.

When it’s time to play a card, you have two choices: play a card in front of you, representing that you’re now invested in that company OR dump it into the face up display for somebody else to deal with. Investing in a company means you’re aiming to have a majority in that suit at the end of the game while the display acts as a glorified ash tray with everybody’s discarded cigarette butts left behind to smolder.

At this point you’re probably scratching your head (which is admittedly probably a common occurrence during your reading of this top 100) and thinking, “Okay, but what makes these rules so special? Seems like stuff I’ve seen before.” Well, allow me to blow your skeptical mind. The mechanism that makes the rest of these rules stitch together like a paper cut on Wolverine’s finger comes at the end when scoring.

After the deck runs out and it’s time to score, everybody’s going to score points based on the majorities they have of each color. BUT those points don’t just come out of nowhere; nope, the points are paid from other players’ piles of coins.

Any player who has a color in front of them that they did not manage to nab the majority of must pay a coin to the person who DOES have the majority, at a one coin per card in front of you rate. So, if I win the red color with four reds and two other players have three reds in front of them, they must each pay me three coins. Capitalism, FTW babyyyy!

This makes those decisions I mentioned earlier so much weightier. You don’t want to fire from the hip and just start investing in every company you come across. You need to pick and choose which ones you want to strive for majority in or else you’ll spread yourself too thin like some publicly traded butter. But go too hard on a company and you may scare others away from investing in it, since they know you’re likely to win and get their points at the end. It’s all about balancing attempts to gain a foothold in companies you’re confident in while leaving a glimmer of false hope for the others to try and topple your monopoly.

One more ingredient that makes this hand management sandwich even more scrumptious is that at the end of the game, whatever 3 cards remain in your hand are immediately invested in front of you. This can be either very good for you, where you swoop in and invest in a company you can now win like a ninja cosplaying as Gordon Gekko OR it can be dreadful, forcing you to now add shares to companies you have no shot at winning. It’s a great ‘aha!’ moment that adds more delicious tension to a game that is already teeming with it.

Yes, at its heart, thisis a fairly simple set collection and hand management game. But the small little twists and turns that designer Jun Sazaki has woven into its design cause it to sparkle with an addictive energy, making it one of my favorite card games in the hobby.

37. Histrio

Previous ranking: 38 (+1)

What I said last year

Histrio is set in a Shakespearian world of anthropomorphic animals where you are trying to make a troupe of actors to put on a play that fits the king’s mood. This is done through a simultaneous selection system. There is a long board of eight different cities which are then populated with cards representing different things players can collect, such as actors, coins or characters with special abilities. Players have a hand of eight cards, one for each city, and every round you choose one to secretly play. Players reveal and travel to that city with an adorable blimp pawn. If you’re there alone, you collect all the cards, being as smug as you want in the process. If others also chose that city, however, then all the cards are discarded and you and the others get a consolation prize in the form of a secret objective card that can be scored at the end of the round.

You’ve probably noticed games with simultaneous selection have started popping up more as we get deeper into the list, including Cathala’s own Mission: Red Planet a few posts back. It’s a mechanism I really like. It includes lots of suspense and double think as you try to figure out what other players are doing and then making sure you exploit that. One thing Histrio does well with this is that if you do make a boo boo and go to the same spot as someone, it’s not a total loss. The secret objective cards you receive can actually be pretty powerful, and I’ve won games solely because of the points they supplied. There’s still plenty of tension in getting the cards you want, but Histrio allows you to adapt when things don’t go as planned.

Another thing I think Histrio does brilliantly is its king’s mood mechanism. At the end of the round, you score points if you managed to make a troupe of actors of the type of play the king demands to see. He either wants a comedy or a tragedy and like your average Millennial trying to choose something on Netflix, he has no clue what he wants. Players can manipulate his mood by adjusting a dial throughout the round, which is done by discarding an actor of that type whenever you collect one or more actor cards from a city. The value of the actor dictates how far the dial moves towards that genre’s direction. So, if I discard a level three comedian, the dial moves three ticks towards comedy.

Of course, in pure Cathala fashion this cleverly presents a dilemma that players are wrestling with the whole game. Discarding high value actors is the best way to make drastic changes to the King’s mood BUT that means you’re losing out on that high value actor in your troupe. You only score big points from actors if the King is in the mood for them, meaning that level 5 tragedian will be awfully useful when the King is in the mood for a tragedy. But then you’re risking him NOT even wanting a tragedy and you can see why this game offers such tasty decisions.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I talked about Histrio and didn’t mention its lavish production values. The game is beautiful, with playful, colorful art and wonderfully chunky pieces. And the stage…my god, that stage. It’s a cardboard, 3-D stage that has the King’s mood dial on top and a rotating backdrop that you can twist around whenever the King changes said mood. It’s got incredible table presence and adds to the gleeful nature of this game. I have heard many call this overproduced, especially considering the game’s weight (it’s barely a Gateway+ style game), but I find it really adds to the experience.

What I say now

Histrio has inched ahead one spot, which sort of surprises me since I don’t think I’ve played this since my last top 100. Well done, Histrio, I guess? Like one of the Trump children, you’ve done absolutely nothing and somehow have gotten ahead.

To be fair, this lack of table time isn’t from lack of desire. I am always in the mood for a game of Histrio, but it requires at least 3 players. Yes, there’s a 2-player variant, but it feels lacking when compared to the truly multiplayer experience. Since it’s just me and my girlfriend cooped up in our personal 2020/2021 hell cocoon, getting it played isn’t viable at the moment.

When my board gaming horizons expand after the pandemic ends, I’m really looking forward to getting this one played.

36. Broom Service

Previous ranking: 23 (-13)

What I said last year

Broom Service puts players in the cloaks and pointy hats of witches, trying to deliver potions to various castles. They’re like a magical Amazon Prime, with less illegal working conditions. It’s a pick-up and deliver game at its core but its brilliance lies in an incredible role selection mechanism.

Like a couple of other games on my top 100, Broom Service gives players an identical hand of action/role cards to choose from. Every round, players secretly choose four to play and then a starting player leads off with one of them. Whoever also chose that card as one of their four must also play that card BUT, there’s a twist. Starting with the lead player, players who play that action must immediately declare whether they are going to take the ‘cowardly’ version of that action or the ‘brave’ version of that action. The cowardly version of the action is much weaker and less efficient, but players get to do it immediately upon declaring it. The brave version is stronger and much more rewarding BUT only one player can complete it. If you declare brave and somebody else declares brave after you, you lose out on the action and your turn, which is devastating.

Pfister takes this idea of role selection, something that’s been used in plenty of games before, and infuses it with a socially driven element of push your luck to create some of the most tense but raucous 45-60 minutes you can experience in gaming. Trying to figure out when to play it safe and declare an action cowardly versus pushing your luck and calling brave is a sense of constant dread and terror in this game. Calling brave early means you’re on the edge of your seat as the rest of the players say whether or not they’ve played that card, breathing a sigh of relief if nobody does or banging your head against the table in frustration when somebody steals the brave right out from under you.

I have heard some people in the hobby poo-poo this game for being too punishing when you get your turn skipped due to an ill-timed brave declaration. I can certainly see why some might get frustrated with that but, much like with Spyfall, I find it more comedic than demoralizing when people don’t get their brave actions. That’s including myself! Usually there’s lots of taunting as the one player groans. It’s equally funny when somebody calls cowardly early and it’s revealed they’re the ONLY person who even used that action that round. Again, some may grind their teeth when stuff like that occurs but I think this game is just light and short enough that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Besides, the moment when you do correctly call an action brave and reap the benefits is exhilarating enough for me to forgive the more downtrodden moments.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this whole cowardly/brave action mechanism is in my likely in my top 3 favorite game mechanisms. It’s so unique and clever and creates such moments of equal parts drama and comedy that it’s baffling to me that this game isn’t more popular. While I may or may not have a Pfister game appear later on this top 100, I don’t think he’s made a mechanism more creative or joyful to experience than this one.

Broom Service deserves way more love and attention than it gets and it’s even forgotten in the conversation of Pfister’s own catalogue. So many people focus on his bigger games like Great Western Trail and Mombasa and, much more recently, Maracaibo, that his light to midweight games get left behind like Kevin McCallister on Christmas. Don’t be Kevin McCallister’s parents. Play Broom Service.

What I say now

I’m a little surprised Broom Service dropped double digits for me since I feel like I like it as much as I did last year? I even played it over Halloween and had a blast with it. AND that was at 2 players which, even though this game scales very well, is certainly the weakest player count.

I believe Broom Service’s fall is simply to do with the games ahead of it on the list. Yes, I like it as much as last year BUT there are some ‘new to the list’ games or returning games that I like even more than this masterpiece. I could see Broom Service making a comeback and storming up the list again come 2021 if I get to play it more consistently.

I guess you’ll just have to follow this blog to stay in touch, eh???

35. Hanamikoji

Previous ranking: 19 (-16)

What I said last year

Hanamikoji is a microgame, so it’s basically just a deck of cards and some tokens. Every round you and your opponent will play four actions. Both players have access to the same actions, but they can be played in any order. One action involves the player stashing away a card for scoring at the end of the round while another has the player secretly burning two cards to be removed from the round. The other two actions are of the ‘I Split, You Choose’ variety. One has you displaying three cards to your opponent and they get to pick one, with the other two going to you. The last action forces you to make two pairs of cards and, once again, show them to your opponent to get first dibs on which one they want.

As you accumulate cards through these actions, they are placed on the geisha that they represent. Whoever has majority of the cards for that column wins that geisha. You’re either trying to win four of the seven geisha or earn 11 ‘charm points’ (each geisha is worth a certain amount) worth of geisha.

It’s so simple but so terrifying to play this game. Every action feels like it’s going to help your opponent and hurt you and somehow your opponent feels the EXACT same way. It brings shades of games like Lost Cities and Arboretum, which both showed up in my 80-71 section. Every action feels like it’s working against you, you never want to commit to one and it feels like no matter what order you choose to play them in will be suboptimal. Playing the ‘I Cut, You Choose’ actions early feels like a gamble because you have so much less information about what your opponent might have in their hand. You could be gift wrapping them the exact cards they need and be completely ignorant. But playing these actions late means you may be divvying cards that are a lost cause by then. On the flip side, completing the actions that involve storing and burning cards seems silly to do early because you don’t know what geisha you will be aiming to win, making it feel like you’re just firing from the hip with a blindfold. Wait too long, however, and you may end up storing a card you have no interest in or burning cards that have suddenly become important to you.

All of this angst and horror is distilled into a suffocating 15-20 minutes, giving Hanamikoji a more potent punch than many games three or four times its length. I love when small card games put you through torture, as I made clear when discussing Lost Cities and Arboretum way back when, and there’s no other card game that demands a blood sacrifice quite like Hanamikoji. 

What I say now

This is another game that’s got some slippage that feels less due to a decrease in favor and more like it’s just a victim of a top 40 that is getting very crowded with some primo games. Hanamikoji remains one of my favorite 2-player card games and, though it has lost some luster over time (mainly due to playing it so much + the introduction of newer, shinier games of this type), I will NEVER turn down a game of this.

34. The Blood of an Englishman

Previous rank: 40 (+6)

What I said last year

The Blood of an Englishman is pound for pound maaaybe the most underrated game on this list. It’s sitting at a ho hum 6.7 on BGG and it is NEVER talked about by anyone. I take in a LOT of content from the board game media sphere and I have heard about a lot of hidden gems because of that but TBoaE is never mentioned.

I guess it’s up to me then, huh. After all, I’m technically a board game content creator, right? HEY, stop laughing!

TBoaE is an asymmetrical 2 player only game with a Jack and the Beanstalk theme, where one player is Jack and the other is the Giant. The deck of cards that makes up the entire game is dealt out into five stacks of ten cards each, and then the entire game is Jack and the Giant trying to manipulate those stacks of cards in order to achieve their objectives.

Jack is trying to create three beanstalks of ascending order, capping them off with a treasure card at the top. The Giant is trying to align cards that say ‘Fee’, ‘Fi’, ‘Fo’, and ‘Fum’ next to each other OR to make it impossible for Jack to finish off a beanstalk. I really harp on about this in my review, but the asymmetry in this game is fantastic. Not only do the players have different objectives, but the actions they can accomplish are also different. Jack has three actions, but they’re very minor. The Giant only gets one action, but the choices they have drastically alter the board state. This feels immensely thematic, with Jack feeling nimble, quick and annoying while the Giant is slow but incredibly powerful.

And wow, this game is balanced. Once again, I mention this in my review but in 10 plays of this game, I have seen five of those go to Jack and five of those go to the Giant. Thanos would be proud. Anytime anything this asymmetrical manages to strike a 50/50 win rate deserves celebration.

The gameplay itself is excellent as well. Players are basically taking cards from various parts of the stacks and moving them around, hoping to either set themselves up for a big turn or to trap their opponent into unwittingly helping them. It has an abstract feel, for sure, but the thematic way in which the characters behave and the sheer cleverness of the puzzle at hand help this game feel immersive and engaging with every turn.

What I say now

From one brilliant 2-player card game to another. This game has seen a rise in 6 spots thanks to a recent play I’ve had of it. I wanted to play it before finalizing my top 100 to see where it sat and I had such an amazing time with it that it couldn’t help but trundle up the list.

I’m still blown away by how asymmetrical and thematic this game feels despite being just an abstract puzzle with stacks of cards. And that puzzle itself? It never fails to tickle my brains in just the ways it wants to be tickled.

I wholeheartedly standby this being not just the most underrated game on my list but perhaps in the entire hobby.

33. Medieval Academy

Previous ranking: N/A

Earlier in this list, I noted that Tybor the Builder had fallen a bit due to a new card drafting sheriff sauntering into town. That sheriff? My number 33, the slightly overlooked gem Medieval Academy.

While Medieval Academy is new to me, it’s not a new game by any means. From IELLO and Blue Cocker (*chortle*), this was actually released back in 2014. It’s flown far too long under my radar and getting to play it late 2019 was one of the most pleasurable new gaming experiences since my last top 100.

Medieval Academy is a drafting game where the cards you’re picking and passing correlate to several tracks laid out on the table. Each card has a value and when you play that card, you move your token up the specified track that number of spaces. It’s incredibly simple but what makes this game such a devilishly sharp mix of tactics and strategy is how those tracks differ.

Some tracks are simply end of round points, where whoever is in the lead on the track gets some small point tokens. Others are end game focused, where leading the track at the game’s conclusion means a beefy point payout. Meanwhile, there are some that are focused on avoiding penalties, with those farthest behind on the tracks getting slapped with negative points. Trying to decide which tracks to focus on based on the cards cycling through the draft is a fiendish delight.

Even better is that you can mix and match these tracks to great effect. I’ve seen more than a few pathways to victory in my plays of this game. I’ve seen one player pitter patter their way to victory by consistently winning the end of round points, forgoing the bigger end game bonuses. I’ve seen another focus on literally just not taking negatives and trying to win the big end game point track, which led to a pitiful score of ‘0’ for most of the game that instantly transformed into the winning score once end game points were doled out. It makes every combination of paths seem viable, meaning every hand feels like its bursting with opportunity.

Lastly, the interaction in this game is just about perfect. This is the board game equivalent of leaving a stadium after a football game, with lots of jostling and elbow bumping and mumbled curse words and threats. Plenty of late round theatrics as someone pulls ahead on a track at juuuust the last second make every turn feel sacred. Luckily, it rarely feels too mean, with much of the cutthroat nature drowned out by the game’s goofy art (courtesy of famed board game artist Piero, who really hits this out of the park here) and the feeling that every new round brings new chances for every track to pull within reach.

I don’t have much negative to say about this and I am anticipating this game to be even higher next year. This was introduced to my game groups right before the pandemic started and the 2-player variant is not well loved, so this game’s momentum got unfairly stopped short. After getting this to the table more in 2021, I’m suspecting a potential top 25 game right here.

32. The Grimm Forest

Previous ranking: 37 (+5)

What I said last year

In The Grimm Forest, you are a relative of one of the original Three Little Pigs, who have gotten too old and demented to keep up with their rock star lifestyle of building houses. Your job is to go out and build three houses to continue their legacy because that’s what pigs do, dammit. I don’t know if this is canon, but that’s the premise for the game.

Like I briefly mentioned earlier, the game features a similar Histrio style system, where you’ll be choosing one of three to four locations (depending on player count) in secret and then revealing at once to see where everybody goes. The locations all produce a resource of some type, with the fields providing straw, the forest providing trees and the brick yard producing bricks. If you go there alone, you get everything, just like Histrio. But if you go there with others, the resources are split equally with the remainder being left on there for the next round.

So that part of the game is awesome, capturing what makes simultaneous selection so great. Having only three/four locations really narrows the scope of your options and means the chances of clumsily butting into somebody feels like a constant threat. But after that resource gathering phase, there’s another phase where you actually manage the resources. In this phase, called the Build Phase, you can use those resources to construct parts of your houses, gather small amounts of extra resources or draw cards with special powers known as Fable cards.

Speaking of Fable cards, those cards are what really spice the game up. Fable cards are cards featuring different fairy tale creatures or tropes that allow you to pull off a special ability in a later round. Many of them are placed face down at locations and then are revealed after everyone has already picked their destination, allowing either a boon to whoever is at that location or, more likely, a destructive power to really screw with an opponent who was foolish enough to go there.

I’m usually not a fan of ‘take that’, but when it’s so baked into the design of a game I find it much more agreeable. Also, since you generally target locations rather than players, it feels much less direct and confrontational. It’s more like, “Well, how was I supposed to know you’d be at the forest!?” as you slyly grin. There’s also plenty of times when you misjudge a player’s destination and end up targeting nobody with your Fable card which is often hilarious, especially when that happens to the other players.

Another batch of zany powers you’re able to get access to are from the Friends cards. Friends cards are like Fable cards, except they are rewarded whenever you build the walls section of a house, because they’re coming to shack up with you. Unlike Fable cards, which are basically one use, Friend cards stay in front of you and provide a passive bonus or special ability of some sort. They’re all modeled after fairy tale characters such as Pinocchio, Snow White and Tom Thumb, and the cool thing is that when you procure a Friend, you choose to either put it in front of you or in front of someone else. This means that if somebody is absolutely killing it with a super powerful Friend card, you can force them to discard it by giving them someone less useful. It also allows you to avoid giving yourself a crappy Friend card if you’re really attached to the one you have. The Friend cards are very obviously not balanced but this mechanism allows players to do the balancing themselves, which I found to be a very sharp design decision.

Last thing I’ll rave about are the production values. The game includes minis for everyone’s pig character as well as a couple of the monsters BUT I will say I actually find them superfluous. I would have, in fact, preferred standees featuring the game’s art because wow, talking about amazing. The art in this game is phenomenal, featuring a warm, vibrant color palette that never fails to give me a feeling of comfort and peace when looking at it. It perfectly fits the whimsical fairy tale theme of the game and it’s easily among my favorite art in all of board games. And while the minis feel unnecessary, the game does include another 3-D component that I feel IS crucial to the experience. The houses you build throughout the game are chunky plastic pieces, which you literally build piece by piece like LEGO blocks. Not only is this insanely tactile, but it’s also practical. Being able to look around the table and clearly see the progress on everyone’s houses helps you plan and strategize as to where you need to go and who might need to be knocked down a peg.

Simply put, The Grimm Forest is fantastic and it’s a game I’ve grown to love more and more with each play. This game had a lot of buzz when it was Kickstarted and it has unfortunately died down since then. Don’t let that dissuade you, this game is a treasure.

What I say now

I think more than any game in my collection, The Grimm Forest is the game that surprises me the most with how much my love for it increases with each play. There’s just something about this game and its simple but punchy gameplay, its warm and cozy art, and its lavish components that never fails to bring a grin to my face when it comes to the table. It remains one of my favorite games to introduce to new groups and it always lights a candle of nostalgia in my heart when I see it on my game shelf.

Will this fondness keep growing or has The Grimm Forest officially hit its ceiling? I dunno, but I can’t wait to play it more to find out!

31. Similo

Previous ranking: N/A

The last game on this part of the section is a new-to-the-list game but not a new-to-the-site game. It’s Similo, a small cooperative card game I actually gave the review treatment on this site over the summer.

Since you can just read the Similo Review, I won’t go too deep into the game though I’ll graciously provide the Spark Notes. The best way to describe Similo is that it’s a mixture of Mysterium and Guess Who. A clue giver is assigned a secret character in a grid of 12 cards and they must use other character cards to get their teammates to find the correct one.

Playing character cards as clues is done by playing them vertically to declare that they are similar to the secret character OR by playing them horizontally to represent that they are different from the secret character. Each round, the guessers have to collectively eliminate a growing number of characters that they don’t think is the secret one, with each round getting more and more tense as their net grows but their options shrink.

It’s a brilliantly simple system that is simply brilliant. Games of Similo are no more than 10 minutes, maybe 15 if you’re playing with the cast of 12 Angry Men, but that compact time frame is going to be brimming with suspense as your teammates double and triple guess themselves. So many great moments blossom from play to play, whether it’s the clue giver languishing in their seat as one player emphatically says the secret character should be eliminated as the others meekly shrug or it’s the guessers rambling off every character and explaining why THEY must be the secret one. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s a game you’ll want to play many times in one sitting.

One thing worth noting is that Similo is more of a system. It comes in different themed packs, such as History (with historical people), Fables (with fairy tale people) and a soon to be released Animals (with animal non-people). At around $10 a pop, these different decks are some of the best value in gaming, especially if you enjoy this type of limited communication co-op.

*

Alrighty, we’re rounding up to the top 30 of my list! Come back soon!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 50-41

And so it begins…my top 50 games of all time. If you’ve made it this far, you may as well keep going. Sure, you could argue is a fallacy of sunken costs kind of situation to which I say, yeah, probably, but what else are you going to do as the world burns around us? It’s much better in here than out there and that’s saying something.

On with the show!

50. Dixit

Previous ranking: 25 (-25)

What I said last year

One of the go to gateway party games, Dixit is quietly one of the most influential games in the hobby. Its art style has been aped and copied in countless games since and people still refer to it as “Dixit-style art” despite how long it’s been since Dixit’s release. It is also one of the first games to popularize the idea of communicating concepts without being too forthcoming, something that party games today still revolve around.

To tighten the scope of Dixit’s influence, it’s also one of the most important games in my collection. It was one of the first games I ever went out and bought myself and was therefore a keystone in the early days of my collection. It was easily one of the most played games for me and my various groups at that time and was even the first hobby game I ever taught to my parents. You could argue that Dixit gets a big bump in the ranking on this list for nostalgia purposes, but I think that’s unfair to say. Both Pandemic and Carcassonne were games I played quite often around the same time and yet I’ve suffered some degree of burnout on both, resulting in neither game even cracking my top 50. Dixit has no such burnout. I still adore this game as much as the first day I played it and will never turn down a chance to get it to the table.

I suppose I should describe the game at this point? I’m sure most of you know what it is anyway. You have tarot sized cards of surreal, dream like art and one player, called the storyteller, gives a clue for one of their cards. It can be a phrase, a word, even a sound. Then everyone else picks a card from their hand that they think matches the clue, they’re all shuffled up and then put on display for a vote: which one was the original card chosen by the Storyteller?

The brilliance in Dixit lies in its scoring system. If you want people to guess your clue, why not be obvious? Why not just say, “Married couple playing chess underwater as an octopus checks its pocket watch in the background”? Because in Dixit, the Storyteller scores no points if either everyone guesses the card OR if nobody guesses the card. So be too obvious or too vague and you’re just giving your opponents free points. It’s such a clever, sharp system that has, as I mentioned, laid the groundwork for dozens and dozens of party games since.

I love games that require you to stretch your creative muscles over your logical ones and Dixit was one of the first games to scratch that itch for me. Being the Storyteller and having free reign on what clue to give allows for such boundless creative choices, while trying to play a card that matches the Storyteller’s clue allows for equal amounts of devious imagination.

I know many have cooled on the game as time has passed and they’ve moved onto shinier, newer party experiences but for me, Dixit will always have a place in my heart and in my collection. If this is still one you haven’t played, what the hell are you waiting for!?

What I say now

Dixit is no longer in my top 25 and is now *merely* in my top 50. That ‘merely’ is sarcastic, by the way. Number 50 out of all the games I’ve played is still good, especially when you consider how long Dixit has been in my collection and how much I’ve played it over the years. The pandemic has made party games tough (read: impossible) to play, so it hasn’t gotten much table time lately. Perhaps the reason behind its fall, though one could wonder if a tiny bit of Dixit’s shine is finally starting to dull after all these years. I’m interested to see how it plays out over the next year and to discover where I rank Dixit in 2021.

Till then, kicking off my top 50 is still a laudable place to be.

49. When I Dream

Previous ranking: 21 (-28)

What I said last year

In When I Dream, players take turns being the Dreamer, someone who will don a sleeping mask and be given clues, one at a time, by the rest of the players to guess words. Sounds like a straight up word association game, so where’s the twist? The twist is that the other players, who are giving the clues, are given hidden roles and those roles determine how helpful they want to be to the Dreamer.

There are Fairies, Boogiemen and Sandmen. Fairies want the Dreamer to guess the words as they come up, so they have a very straightforward task. They simply want to link their clues as strongly to the clue as possible. Boogiemen, however, are a little more insidious. They do NOT want the Dreamer to guess the word, so they’ll be giving clues to throw off the Dreamer. The Sandman, meanwhile, is the Thanos of this world and they want the number of correct guesses and incorrect guesses to be as even as possible.

What this means then is that the Dreamer has to be wary of which clues they trust because the person giving the clue may not have their best interests at heart. There is no phase in which the Dreamer accuses someone of being a Boogieman or Sandman; they simply have to internalize the information and make guesses based on clues given by the people they think they can rely on. If someone is consistently appearing out of left field with nonsense words compared to the rest of the group, then it’s safe to say the Dreamer will ignore them like everyone ignores the “let sit for one minute” instructions on the back of a freezer meal.

On the clue giving side of thing, it’s perhaps even more interesting. Fairies admittedly have a pretty unexciting task but having a chance to be a Boogieman or Sandman involves a fun game of misdirection and subtle deceit. In order to be effective as a Boogieman, you have to fool the Dreamer into thinking you’re a trusted voice. This means giving clues that kind of fit the word but are just distanced enough that the Dreamer may go the wrong way. I use this example in my review, but imagine the word is ‘lion’. If one player says, ‘big’ and another says ‘cat’, a cunning Boogieman will throw out a word like ‘stripes’ or ‘Asia’. This suddenly points the Dreamer towards ‘tiger’ and unless the Fairies can redirect towards ‘lion’ with enough clues, there’s a good chance the Dreamer will guess incorrectly. Since the Dreamer has no idea which ones they’ve gotten wrong, clues like that essentially give no information to the Boogieman’s true identity.

It’s like the Dreamer is being led through a dark tunnel where the clue givers are taking turns grabbing them by the shoulders and pushing them in a certain direction. It’s amazing fun to see how the clues develop and how to best use your role given the information. One or two awful clues from the Boogieman will be all it takes for the Dreamer to essentially mute them like a Twitter troll, making their job the most tense but also the most fun. I always love being the Boogieman, trying to figure out clever ways to introduce small amounts of chaos to the proceedings. The Sandman is also very interesting to play as, since you’re hopping from side to side like a dream world Littlefinger, and it requires constantly being aware of when to shift gears when one side starts overtaking the other.

When I Dream is just so great because it takes elements many gamers are familiar with (word association, hidden roles) mixing them together in a way we’ve never seen before while also maintaining an extremely accessible ruleset for non-gamers to join in. It also scales amazingly well, a very odd quality for a social deduction-esque to have. I played this at the lowest player count of four and found it still surprisingly works while the higher player counts flourish even more. 

What I say now

Another game falling from my top 25 and it’s fitting that this one is right after Dixit, since When I Dream’s artwork clearly takes a cue from Dixit’s surreal, deamy style. This is another party game that feels like it might be unfairly tarnished due to the cruelty of 2020 since I haven’t played it in well over a year. BUT even with that considered, I will admit the last time I played When I Dream it started to feel a bit…same-y? It felt like a lot of clues and misdirection from previous games were being used and it’s very easy to burn through the deck of cards in just a few plays which compounds the problem. I think this sudden discovery/concern bubbling up to the surface has hurt When I Dream’s standing in the list.

That doesn’t stop this from being one of the cleverest party games in my collection, though. When I can play games with big groups again, this is sure to be one of the first party games to hit the table. I can’t wait to see if my aforementioned fears were misguided or if maybe this is a game in dire need of expansion (which I actually think may be on the way? I would check but what do you expect from me, it’s not like I’m getting paid for this). Either way, it’s sure to be a blast.

48. High Society

Previous ranking: 43 (-5)

What I said last year

High Society is a small little card game built around auctions. Everyone gets a hand of identical money cards which they then use to bid on point cards which are drawn randomly from a deck. Like many auction games, you raise the bid or you pass. When everybody’s passed, the person remaining spends their money cards and takes the points in front of them.

Sounds a little straightforward and maybe even a little boring, huh. Well, it would be, if it were not for that good old fashioned Knizia Twist ™. High Society has a very important rule. At the end of the game, everyone counts how much money they have left. Whoever has spent the most money over the course of the game is IMMEDIATELY disqualified. They can’t win, even if they have the most points.

And just that tiiiiny little wrinkle takes a vanilla game of bidding on points and turns it into one of the most clever, exquisitely tense card games money can buy.

Every choice is fraught with anxiety and indecision. Do you raise bids, hoping to get people to waste as much cash as possible but risk getting caught spending the money yourself? When you do want a point card, how much are you willing to spend? Do you focus on taking smaller point cards for super cheap, hoping it’s enough to get you where you need to be? Or do you spend big on one or two of the larger amounts, going quiet for the rest of the game as everyone else is lulled into a false sense of spending security? In just a mere 15 minutes, you’ll have these thoughts racing through your head like a prize horse you just spent way too much money on, why did you spend that much money, WHY DID YOU SPEND THAT MUCH MONEY!?!?

To further add to the agony, there are negative penalty cards which do things like remove a point card you’ve already bought or cut your total points in half. When those are up for auction you are bidding to pay money to NOT take it and the person who ultimately decides to fall on the grenade is the only one who doesn’t have to spend cash. This means you always feel like you have to subconsciously stash money away for the purpose of avoiding those penalties because it’ll make any money you’ve already spent on points seem worthless. Yet another way in which Knizia takes a subtle little rule change and uses it to make his game into an instant classic.

What I say now

High Society remains my favorite Knizia game. For what is essentially a dry auction game, it packs a lot of laughter and tension in its brisk 15-20 minutes. One recent game had a memorable moment where my friend sat on his money the entire game, refusing to pay for anything until the last couple cards, thinking he could go on an uncontested spending spree since everyone else would be bled dry by that point. Hilariously, even though he did just that, he STILL ended up being the one who spent the most money because he was too aggressive in trying to get those final point cards. It’s moments of hubris and schadenfreude like this that really make High Society shine.

It has moved down, but only five spots. This is mostly because of some of the new games that have entered the list rather than any inherent problems I’m starting to spot with High Society. The only worrying thing that could cost High Society is how easy it’ll be to get to the table. You see, I’ve introduced this to two groups: one group absolutely loved it, wanting to play games of it back to back to back. The other? They didn’t care for it, like, at all. And it just so happens that the group that didn’t like it is my main gaming group, so, uh, this is awkward.

Will High Society’s stock diminish due to lack of play time? I sure hope not, but time will tell!

47. Longhorn

Previous ranking: N/A

As if my top 100 needed more Bruno Cathala, here is another ‘new to the list’ game that he designed. Interestingly, it’s not even a recent game from him. Longhorn, my number 47 game, is alllll the way back from 2013, which in board game terms means it might as well be mummified in a tomb somewhere.

Don’t let this game’s age fool you. Throughout this list, I’ve mentioned a couple of games as being some of the industry’s most hidden gems and I think Longhorn deserves a similar title; it’s a game that rarely gets talked about and I only heard of this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if you hadn’t heard of it, so please step into the Church of Cathala, grab an empty pew, and allow me to spread the Gospel of Longhorn.

Longhorn is a two player only game of collecting cows in the Old American West. The game uses a quasi-mancala style mechanism. Players alternate moving a shared token around a grid of tiles, collecting cow meeples (or should I say MOOples hahaha someone please drown me) as they do so. The mancala style twist is that the token gets moved as many spaces as cows collected; so, when you collect cows from a space (choosing all of one color present) you’ve got to keep in mind where that will allow you to move the token.

Sure, you can take three white cows but the only tiles three spaces away will give your opponent something good. But hey, maybe that’s not so bad? Because what makes Longhorn such an unexpectedly juicy puzzle is that you not only need to keep in mind what you’re immediately giving to your opponent, but also to what your opponent can give to YOU. For example, I know moving the token to that tile gives my opponent a cow color they’ve been collecting all game BUT their options for moving the token afterwards may give me something nice in return. Is it worth setting up your opponent if it then sets you up in return? It’s a dilemma that constantly teases you throughout Longhorn’s swift but surprisingly dense 10-15 minutes runtime.

And that’s just the game’s basic mechanism! I haven’t even mentioned all the other wrinkles Cathala has managed to sneak in. For example, there are special action tokens on each tile. When you clear a tile of its last cow, you then take the token. Some are simply end game points, while others let you steal cows from your opponents or take an immediate extra turn. BUT some are bad, like the rattlesnake that scares some of your cattle away or the Sheriff badge which causes you to automatically lose the game if you collect it. These tokens make the game’s tough decisions that much more painful, because you never want to give your opponent the chance to get a good token OR to saddle you with a negative one.

Oh, oh! And the scoring system! So, at the end of the game you’re going to get points for the cows you’ve collected. Duh, you probably say, but mind your tongue because I’m getting to the good part. Cows are worth points equal to the number of cows of that color left on the board; if there are 2 orange cows left, each orange cow you have is worth 2 points. This means that the more you collect of a certain color the more you’re diluting its point value, adding the slightest hint of market manipulation to this already deceptively thinky game. This can even result in your opponent completely tanking the color you’ve collected a lot of by taking the last cows off the board, meaning their worth is now ‘0’. This is balanced by the fact that if one player collects all of one color, they automatically win the game, adding yet ANOTHER cool layer to this parfait of a game.

I’ve gone on much longer than I anticipated about this unassuming and small two player game, which clearly shows how much I enjoy it. I could easily see it moving up the ranks by 2021, considering this is a game I’ve only added to my collection earlier in the year.

46. Jamaica

Previous ranking: 44 (-2)

What I said last year

Jamaica is a game where you and your opponents are racing around the titular island, using a mixture of card play and dice placement to efficiently collect resources and move your ship. It’s yet another game on the resume of one Bruno Cathala, who will somehow show up on this list even more frequently than he already has. Every turn an active player referred to as the Captain rolls two dice and then chooses to place them on spots representing a day action and a night action. Whatever the pips on the dice show denotes how powerful the action will be.

What are day actions and night actions? Those are the actions you’ll be activating throughout the game and those are selected by playing cards. Everybody has their own personal deck of cards which they draw from for a hand of three. The decks are all identical, but through shuffling everybody will obviously get different cards at different times. When the Captain decides where to place the dice, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and then reveals. On one side of the card is the day action and on the other is the night action. Everyone takes turns resolving their cards based on the dice and the round ends. That’s basically the game until someone crosses the finish line.

Like many of Cathala’s games, Jamaica is rich with tactical play. Taking a look at the board, at your hand of cards and what the dice can give you requires constantly adapting your plans to what is most effective for that turn. Maybe you really wanted to move forward, but you only have that available as a day action and the day action die has a weak value. Perhaps you move backward instead, to minimize the damage from such an action? There’s also some surprisingly puzzley resource management involved as well. Traveling around the board requires one of two types of currency: food and gold. If you’re short on the cost to end your turn on that space, you get pushed back to a space you can afford and that can be devastating. Everyone has a ship hold of six squares but those fill up fast, and a devious mechanism wherein you can’t add to squares (you either have to fill a new square or completely replace the resource) means you’ll be pulling your hair out trying to figure out the best course to sail.

As if that isn’t enough, there’s also combat to worry about. Landing on the same space as another pirate is apparently an act of war because those ships need to fight. Combat is resolved by a simple dice roll, made more intriguing by the presence of gunpowder. Players can choose to add gunpowder to their combat roll, giving an addition of one point per gunpowder token used. It creates a nice sense of push your luck as you try to figure out the odds so that you give yourself a comfortable buffer without overspending. Hilariously, there is an insta-kill side of the die that completely blows up your plans anyway. The winner of the fight gets to rob a player of one of their holds’ squares or to steal a treasure card (bonus point cards seeded throughout the race track), adding a nice bit of interaction to the game.

Like many games on this list, Jamaica is just pure fun. The charming art adds to the fun pirate theme and helps give the game a lighthearted attitude (just like real piracy, right). Watching your best laid plans falter because of a bad die roll or an inopportune combat would seem frustrating, but here it’s part of the game’s appeal. Everybody is getting screwed over and that’s what makes the moments when you chain together a couple of well-timed card plays to get you zipping ahead of the pack so satisfying. Even better, winning the race doesn’t necessarily mean winning the game. Yes, you most likely will BUT people get a certain amount of points for where they finished and they also get points for gold in their hold. Knowing when it’s time to gun for the finish line and when it’s time to pace yourself and hoard gold can be the difference between a last second loss or a surprising win from nowhere.

My only complaint with Jamaica is that it can go a little long, especially if there are a lot of combats dragging the pace of the game down. But that nitpick aside, Jamaica is a game I will always want to play, especially if it’s with a group of five or six.

What I say now

Not much to add about Jamaica, as it’s only dropped an almost imperceptible 2 spots. I love Jamaica as much as I did last year and would be interested to see if it would have had a chance to rise ever so slightly had I had the chance to play it this year. As a game that is best with at least 4 players, it’s another one of those COVID casualties. Really looking forward to the day I can play this again.

45. Concordia

Previous ranking: 26 (-19)

What I said last year

God bless Shut Up & Sit Down. If it wasn’t for their glowing review of Concordia, I likely would have never given it a second look. Even after their review, I honestly still wasn’t convinced. How could this game, with its bland cover and bland theme and bland sounding rule set, be anywhere near as good as everyone is saying?? But more and more people continued to keep raving about it and I had to get a copy just to satiate my curiosity.

For like the 87th time on this Top 100, it’s time to admit I was wrong. Concordia IS as good as everyone says.

I’ll try to get through describing the game without falling asleep. (I promise this game is good! It just sounds so dry and boring!) Players are playing cards in order to complete actions that include producing resources, selling and trading those resources, building little outposts to further your production power, and zzzzzzzzz OH, shit, I got so close! Listen, this is game is Euro 101, so let’s get into what makes this game different and great.

First off is the hand management and hand building aspect. In Concordia, everyone starts off with an identical hand of actions cards. How you use those cards is entirely up to you. Once you use a card, it’s in your discard until you play another card that allows you to pull your discard pile back in your hand. That card rewards you for pulling up more cards, so timing it till the last possible moment while not waiting TOO long is a constant dilemma that teases you throughout the game.

Managing your hand is a tense efficiency puzzle, but Concordia also offers you a chance to build your hand. Throughout the game, a display of cards will be oozing along a track at the top, offering players a chance to buy cards to add to your arsenal of potential actions. Many of them provide more efficient versions of the cards everyone starts with, allowing everyone to laser in and focus on an avenue to victory they find fun and/or advantageous to pursue.

This is all made even more intriguing when you internalize how the game scores. It’s a little tricky to explain, but basically all the cards have a certain Roman God or Goddess listed on its bottom and those cards score in specific ways. Whatever points you get from that God or Goddess based on your board state is then multiplied by the number of cards you have of that God or Goddess. So, if you get 8 points from your Mars cards and you have 3 of them in your hand by game’s end, that’s 24 points. I looove this scoring system, even if it’s a bit of a bastard to teach to newcomers. It makes you really think about what cards you want and also makes for the most exciting final scoring round in any game I’ve played. Since you technically don’t score throughout the game, it’s just an explosion of points after points as you and your opponents tally everything in your hand, your score markers sprinting around the board like it’s the Kentucky Derby.

It doesn’t hurt that this is all contained in one of the most superbly elegant rulesets in any game I’ve played. You literally play a card, do what it says, and there’s your turn. There aren’t any edge cases nagging at you like a stubborn hangnail and referencing the rulebook is almost never needed. Scoring can sometimes trip up players but even that requires just an example for them to understand it. The absolutely only thing keeping this from being higher on my list is simply lack of play. I haven’t played this game in over a year and a half and it felt weird putting a game that’s suffered that long a drought much higher than this spot. When I finally do get a chance to play this again, I see it being in my top 15, easily.

What I say now

Ohh, Concordia. What am I gonna do with you. I’ll be honest, I have no clue where to rank this game. In terms of the one play I’ve had of it and how much of a masterclass in design this is, this feels like a top 20 game for me. BUT, and it seems like there’s always a BUT, I haven’t played this game since the summer of 2018. It is incredibly tough to rank a game sorely off of one play from two and a half years ago, no matter how good it is.

With that in mind, I guess you can say 45 is a pretty good spot for it. If I don’t get a chance to play this by next top 100, I dread Future Kyle having to rank this. If I DO get to play it, which I am going to try like hell to, then don’t be surprised if Concordia finds itself back up in the top 25 area of the list.

44. Spyfall

Previous ranking: 24 (-20)

What I said last year

In this game, players are given a secret location as well as some sort of occupation or person you’d find there. That is except for one person, who is given a card that merely says ‘Spy’. Then, players simply begin asking each other questions. Things like, “Are we outside or inside?” or “What do you do here?” or “ARE YOU THE SPY, TELL ME YOU TRAITEROUS COWARD”. Players need to answer the question in a way that lets people know that they’re aware of the location they’re in.

However, like Sir Mix-a-Lot, I like big BUTs and I cannot lie and Spyfall has a very big BUT. Players want to let others know that they are clued in on the location BUT they don’t want to be too obvious or else the spy might catch on. If at any point the spy can declare what the mystery location is, they automatically win the game. Even if they don’t get to that point, giving the spy possible ammunition to fit in with good answers of their own is enough to torpedo a win for the non-spy players. If the non-spies can’t suss out the spy and accuse them before time runs out, then that’s another way for the spy to win.

I believe Spyfall was the first pure social deduction game I ever played and it has continued to be my favorite. One of the big reasons is just how damn funny this game is. Everybody is trying to be as cagey as possible, which leads to hysterically vague answers. Even funnier, though, is when the spy thinks the location is one thing and gives an outrageously out of left field answer, shining a huge spotlight on their cluelessness. One time I was the spy and I was confident we were at the zoo, so when asked what my favorite time of day was I said, “Feeding hour.” Turns out we were NOT at a zoo but at a casino, which led to everyone staring blankly for five seconds before simultaneously saying, “Kyle’s the spy.” It also created an image of people at slot machines hearing a dinner bell and rushing over to a feeding trough that had the table rolling in laughter.

Another reason I love Spyfall so much is its snappy length. Whereas games like The Resistance has players relentlessly bickering for close to an hour, Spyfall has a timer of eight minutes. This swiftness not only keeps things from getting too heated and barbaric but allows multiple rounds of it to be played in quick succession. This means more people get a chance to be the spy and an ever shifting meta can grow and evolve like an aggressive flu virus. It makes the game hopelessly addicting and one game of Spyfall easily melts into seven or eight over the course of an hour.

Sure, Spyfall has its warts. Like any social deduction game, it is very group dependent and is maybe the most polarizing game in my collection. I have friends who outright hate this game and refuse to play it because they find it too stressful. For me, I don’t find it stressful because the stress is what makes this game fun. Sweating it out as you try to bullshit your way through a question you have NO clue how to answer is a riotous good time to me but others find it a lot less funny. This is also a game that can grind to a halt if people keep giving the same vague responses, not allowing any new information to enter the game state. There’s a running joke in my group that if somebody asks “What do you do around here?”, you respond, “My job.” It gets a lot less funny, though, when it actually interferes with the game.

What I say now

Had you asked me in 2019 where I thought Spyfall could potentially be in 2020, I would have said I could see it falling out of my top 25. Those negatives I mentioned above-its polarizing nature and the occasional logjam of a game state-certainly portended an eventual decline. But 20 spots? Definitely more than I anticipated.

The reasons are the ones mentioned above but also one that I did not foresee: there are two social deduction games I now rank higher than Spyfall and have more or less replaced it in my collection.

Now, I don’t want to sound too extreme. I still LOVE Spyfall and if given the chance, I’d play it in a heartbeat. But it’s already a game that was already tough to get played and now with two new games that are both more well liked between me and my friends? That’s not helping Spyfall’s standing.

That being said, Spyfall is still one of the funniest and most addictive party games in my collection. I have no clue where it’ll end up on this list in 2021 but it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

43. Bang! The Dice Game

Previous ranking: 39 (-4)

What I said last year

Back when I was in college, when I wasn’t too busy being either awkward or drunk (wow, things haven’t changed much), my friends and I consistently played the card game Bang!. I guess you could technically say that was my first hobby game but I didn’t realize it was part of a bigger picture at the time. Fast forward to 2017 and I got to play Bang! The Dice Game, the dice version of Bang!. I wasn’t in love with it, which surprised me because I had heard that Bang! The Dice Game had replaced the original for pretty much everybody.

Luckily, I gave the game another chance later that same year and ever since I’ve considered it one of my top 100 games. I don’t know what clicked in between those plays but I will officially never go back to the original.

People familiar with the original card game will recognize the same basic skeleton. It’s a hidden role game set in the Wild West where one person is a Sheriff and the other players are a mixture of Deputies, Outlaws and Renegades. Deputies want the Sheriff to stay alive till the end, Outlaws want to kill the Sheriff and Renegades just want to be the last ones standing. Whereas the original was built around playing cards that helped you achieve these objectives, this one features a Yahtzee style dice rolling mechanism. The custom dice have icons which allow you to complete actions such as shooting other players and drinking beer to heal (remember kids, beer solves EVERYTHING).

What makes Bang! The Dice Game feel more immediately engaging and exciting than the card game is the push your luck aspect that this game brings. You’re trying to roll the dice to get the actions you need BUT there are negative icons that loom over every reroll. There are dynamite which lock your dice and make you blow up as well as Native American arrows which can cause you to take a lot of damage if you take too many of them. Knowing when to stop and be content with what you have is a key part of the game and one of the reasons it’s so fun and addictive.

And not to keep comparing this to the original, but this game is waaay quicker. The original had a long build up period of people setting up their arsenal and then the actual fighting could drag on as well. A game of this could take as little as ten minutes and certainly no longer than twenty. This makes the somewhat archaic mechanism of player elimination present in the game much more palatable, as people who get killed rarely have long to wait for the next game to begin. And believe me, you will want to play this game again. Many a party has started with three or four consecutive games of this and it never fails to be a rootin’ tootin’ good time.

What I say now

Boringly, I don’t have a whole lot to say here. If I have a game night with a big group, Bang! The Dice Game remains of my favorite games to open with and I can’t wait till that sort of thing is possible again.

42. Air, Land & Sea

Previous ranking: N/A

The second ‘new to the list’ game in the 50-41 range is a 2 player only card game called Air, Land & Sea. It is in the same mold of card games like Lost Cities (which appeared earlier on this list) and Schotten Totten (which has fallen off my top 100 but is still an excellent game); I’m talking games where you and your opponent are on opposite sides of a line and playing cards to specific columns, often in an effort to ‘win’ them.

In the game, players have three columns they’ll be battling over: the titular Air, Land and Sea theatres. When you play a card to a column, you can play it face up for its face value (but it must match the theatre type) or play it face down for a base 2 points (but then it acts as a wild). The sum of the values determines your score in that theatre and whoever has the highest score in two of the three theatres wins the round.

So far so 2-player-Lost Cities-style-card-game, right? Ahh, yes, but here’s where Air, Land & Sea takes this proven 2-player recipe and adds some of its own herbs and spices, making it the Colonel Sanders of the genre (which is definitely a comparison no one asked for, including Air, Land & Sea itself).

Let’s go back to what happens when you play cards face up. When you do so, you often get more points for them than when playing them face down for a mere ‘2’ but you also get to activate a special ability. You see, every card has a power that allows you to either break a rule or manipulate cards on either side or to change up how the column scores. The true strategy and tactics in Air, Land & Sea lie in making the most of these powers and triggering them at the right time for maximum potency. Puzzling out the various combos that bubble beneath the surface of this game’s tiny 18 card deck is one of the pure joys of playing this game. Even after double digit plays, I still find new ways to link up cards and time their abilities for powerful swings in my favor (and, sadly, so do my opponents).

And that’s not even the coolest part of the game! By far my favorite rule is that you can literally just quit. During the round, if you see that with the cards in your hand and with how things are playing out on the table that you’re likely going to lose, you can surrender the round. Doing so gifts your opponent points but if you do it early enough in the round, it’s less points than they would have gotten had it been played out to the end.

This idea of ‘tactical retreats’ is such a brilliant, sharp mechanism and one that leads to lots of sweaty palms and darting eyes as you and your opponent math out how imminent defeat could be. It makes you feel surprisingly clever when you retreat early with a bad hand and it’s exhilarating when you’re about to retreat but your opponent beats you to it. Plus, quitting things is one of my favorite things to do in life, so it’s about time a board game rewarded me for doing so.

The main thing keeping this game from my breaking the top 40 is its generic art and theme. I don’t necessarily mind the World War II theme but it’s partnered with art that is tofu levels of bland and uninspiring. A fresh, flashier coat of paint could go a long way for this game.

Make no mistake, though. This game’s smart, engaging mechanisms more than make up for any of its boring art. It’s one of the best 2-player only card games I’ve played and deserves a spot in just about anybody’s collection.

41. Cyclades

Previous ranking: 36 (-5)

What I said last year

Cyclades is the first of a trilogy of games put out by publisher Matagot. The games in the trilogy-Cyclades, Kemet and Inis-are all loosely related in that they’re all Euro style troops on a map games set in some sort of ancient mythology. The similarities end there, however, as all the games have different designers and fairly different mechanisms. Will Kemet and Inis appear later on my list? STAY TUNED TO FIND OUT.

Enough about that, let’s dive into Cyclades. As I said, it’s set in the world of Ancient Greek mythology and players are trying to win the favor of the different Greek gods and goddesses as they aim to build two metropolises on the board. Once somebody has two metropolises under their control at the end of the round, they win. Players accomplish this by building fleets of ships, sending soldiers over to conquer islands, and building different types of buildings, such as forts and temples.

These actions are given to you by the gods and goddesses available for that round who are essentially put up for auction. Players bid to try and take control of that god or goddess so that they can use the actions associated with them. Most of them are thematic as well, making it easy to remember who does what. Poseidon builds ships and lets you control your fleet, Ares lets you create soldiers and move them to battle, Zeus demands you buy priests and temples while Athena attracts philosophers and universities.

I won’t go much deeper than that because there’s a lot of minutiae to talk about with what those actions do and the implications they carry. The main thing you need to worry about is that auction. Shrewd bidding is the key to winning this game, not storming around the map, conquering islands. A clever rule states that if you get outbid for a god, you cannot immediately rebid on that god. You have to find someone else to bid on and the only way you can go back that original is if you get outbid AGAIN on that 2nd god. This means if you really want to activate a certain god this round, you want to try and price it high enough so nobody wants to bother outbidding you. But spend too much and you might have enough gold to do anything impactful on your turn, because everything requires gold in this game. This push and pull of trying to decide what gods and actions are worth spending your precious gold on is one of the delightful dilemmas that this game pressures you with.

Another aspect I love about this game are the creatures, who come out one at a time from a big deck. The creatures are all from Greek mythology, obviously, and, like the gods, feature thematic powers. Medusa freezes soldiers in place while the Sirens attract ships to their doom and the Cyclops builds you a building because apparently he’s a contractor in the Greek myths? Whatever, MOST of them have thematic powers, and it’s always fun to pay for a card and then use it on an unsuspecting opponent.

Cyclades also has a surprising number of effective ways to win. You need two metropolises but how you get there is up to you. Want to focus on military, constantly using Ares to invade other islands and take their hard earned buildings for your own? Go ahead, ya big jerk. Want to go early on Zeus so that you can load up on priests and temples, which provide big discounts on bidding and buying monsters? Sure, you do you. Want to sneak a victory with Athena, recruiting philosophers that give you an automatic metropolis when you obtain four of them? You think therefore you can.

Really, I love Cyclades enough to almost consider it for my top 25 but one thing holds me back: Pegasus. Seasoned veterans of the game probably already know where I’m going with this. Pegasus is one of the cards in the creature deck and his ability is that he’s able to teleport all the soldiers off one of your islands to an opponent’s island, basically paratrooping them into battle. It’s the only way someone can invade an island without winning Ares and in the right context, it is EXTREMELY powerful. A common strategy at the end of the game when somebody already has two metropolises and is about to win, is to win Zeus and then use his ability to mill through the creature deck until you find Pegasus so that you can then teleport an army in order to steal one of those metropolises at the buzzer.

You probably think that’s an incredibly specific scenario, but this is how HALF of my games of Cyclades have ended. It’s gotten to the point where I warn players about Pegasus at the start and say, “Here’s what this card does and why it can ruin the ending of the game” and yet it still occurs. I could remove Pegasus from the deck, I guess, but I hate doing that sort of thing. And outside of the end, the threat of having Pegasus attack is integral to the rest of the game. It just sucks that it can be used to anti climactically take the game away from someone, even if it does seem to require specific context.

What I say now

A shallow drop of five spots for Cyclades. The main reason behind Cyclades failing to hold strong in the mid-30s is the criticism I ended last year’s write-up with: Pegasus. He still feels like a borderline broken card/mechanism and I have yet to grab myself a copy of the Titans expansion which purportedly fixes it (and irons out a few other wrinkles too).

If I get a copy of Titans, I would love to see if Cyclades makes a run at the top 25 because it truly feels like a game of that caliber for me. Till then, Cyclades faces a slow but steady decline down the list.

*

And so it goes for the first installment of the top 50 of the top 100 (there’s probably a more elegant way to say that). Come back soon for the start of the top 40!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 60-51

Welcome back! We’re just outside my top 50, so let’s not waste any time. Well, any more than we already have, at least.

60. Mission Red Planet

Previous ranking: 58 (-2)

What I said last year

Mission: Red Planet is set in a Victorian steampunk universe where people are being sent to Mars in order to stake claim and pillage it of all its resources, something humans are exceptional at. Players will be loading little astronauts into rockets that are then blasted off to specific regions of the titular red planet. The ultimate goal is to secure an area majority in these regions, which then gain you resource chips that give you the bulk of your points by game’s end.

All these things are powered by a wonderful role selection system. Each player has a hand of the same nine roles, each of which does something different. Some involve loading ships, changing a ship’s destination, moving astronauts around on Mars or even blowing a whole damn rocket up. Hey, I’m sure those astronauts totally didn’t have families, don’t sweat it.

At the start of the round, player simultaneously and secretly choose one of their roles to play. Then, counting down (like a lift off, tee hee, get it), when the number associated with your role is reached you announce that you played that card. All players who chose the same role also resolve it and the countdown resumes till everyone has played. Cards played are put into a temporary personal discard but can be picked back up with one of the roles.

What makes Mission: Red Planet such a blast to play is the lunacy and chaos that unfolds around every corner. Yes, it’s certainly possible to plan based on what other roles players have already played and what the board state looks like. But the slightest misread can result in your strategy for that round being totally torpedoed. You thought that Amanda was going to use her Femme Fatale card on Joey? Ha! Nope, she just used a Saboteur and blew up the rocket you were planning on sending to Phobos. You thought Dingus was going to use his explorer to move over to the region with the 3-point chips, allowing you to sneakily gain a majority on that region producing the 1-point ice chips? Why would you think that? Oh you sweet, sweet, child, of course he was going to use HIS Femme Fatale to replace one of your astronauts with one of his, allowing him to gain majority on the ice chips. It’s these crazy moments of unpredictability that create not just moments of fun and laughter, but chances to pivot and cleverly use the role cards in your hand to salvage the situation.

The game has a decently high player count for an area control game (up to six) and even with the full six, this game breezes by. Since players make a lot of their big choices simultaneously and the fact that roles are resolved fairly swiftly, Mission: Red Planet packs a lot of game in a snappy one-hour playtime. It’s so rare to have a legitimate strategy game that plays up to five or six players and does so with little downtime, which makes Mission: Red Planet an absolute gem.

The last positive I’ll mention is the theme. While I don’t care for space or sci fi themes (as touched on when discussing Space Base) I actually really like the way it’s implemented here, thanks to the steampunk coat of paint they’ve sprayed onto it. Seeing the illustrations of goofy Victorian era characters on the role cards brings the game loads of charm and personality, made even better by the cute little steampunk astronauts that make up your playing pieces.

What I say now

I don’t have much to add here, really. I will say that like Tournament at Camelot and Brew Crafters from my last blog post, it’s impressive that Mission: Red Planet has only dropped 2 spots since I literally haven’t played it since my last top 100. It’s a game I want to play, but it can be tough to get to the table since it’s area control (a polarizing mechanism among my gaming groups) and is best with at least 4 people.

Mission: Red Planet will likely find itself crawling back up once I get to play it again.

59. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Previous ranking: 35 (-24)

What I said last year

I’m one of the many people that find the use of the Lovecraft mythos in the hobby as completely overdone BUT I think it’s law that I must include at least one Lovecraft game on my list so this is my choice. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is, in my opinion, easily the best of FFG’s Arkham series and the best Lovecraft game in the industry, period. It is an LCG, or Living Card Game, which means you buy scenario packs and booster packs with preset cards in them over the course of a campaign. This allows you to experience a cohesive story with decisions and consequences that matter from scenario to scenario.

This game has been difficult for me to rank because there are some things I really don’t like about it. Let me get those out of the way. For one, the LCG model is predatory, plain and simple. To even get into the game you need a core set, which includes starter cards and a mini campaign that spans three scenarios. But something that many people don’t realize is that if you really want to get into the deck building aspect of the game, you’ll need to buy a SECOND core set so that you can get extra copies of starter cards. Not having those extra copies to construct your deck with means you’ll be playing with a sub-optimal deck and making an already brutally hard game into a nigh impossible one. If you don’t care about deckbuilding, then fine! You don’t need a second core set. But if you want to explore the rich possibilities that constructing a deck can offer and to truly experience the game for what it’s meant to be, then a second core set is a necessity. So that’s $80 MSRP right there.

After buying two core sets, you’ll soon realize that the three scenarios can be played rather quickly, especially since one of them is ostensibly a tutorial scenario that’s much shorter than the other two. To really experience Arkham Horror: TCG you need to dive into the other campaigns, which are broken up into things called ‘cycles’. To get into a cycle, you need to buy the core set for THAT cycle ($30) and then the booster packs which offer the rest of the campaign’s scenarios (usually 8 of them at $15 each). Did I mention there’s like 4-5 cycles to choose from?

What’s that sound? Oh, nothing. Just the sound of my bank account plummeting to zero like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to begin a rant on the rampant exploitation of consumerism that FFG exhibits with this game. Let’s go onto my next big negative and that is the set up this game requires. Since this game is scenario based, you have to set up the scenario and that requires sifting through cards and looking for matching symbols and compiling them into decks. Sometimes the scenario even requires very specific cards from past scenarios that’ll have you going, “where the hell did I put that”, and you’ll find yourself digging through your boxes of past sets and scenarios, helplessly trying to find the exact character or item. THEN there’s often more set up, trying to get the locations in the proper order and choosing some cards to set aside while others get shuffled and god, it’s just really tedious. I often have long hiatuses between scenarios because the thought of setting up the next scenario just fills me with dread, and not the kind Lovecraft intended.

By this point I’m sure you’re wondering, “Kyle, how on earth is this game on your top 100, let alone at number 35 if you’re whining this much about it.” I’ll tell you why. Because outside of the predatory business practices this game is a poster child for and outside of the fiddly set up scenarios often require, this is one of the most superbly immersive, atmospheric and cinematic games in the hobby.

The basic gameplay structure of AH: TCG is nothing special. It’s fairly Pandemic-like in its approach, featuring an action point system and a deck of mean cards that try to ruin your day. You could even argue it’s a little mechanical, but the stories and settings this system takes place in more than make up for that. The scenarios all take place in their own unique setting, such as a university campus or a museum or literally the whole town of Arkham. This, along with special objectives that differ from scenario to scenario, provide a feeling of freshness with each new episode you play and they do a great job of immersing you into the story.

That’s not to mention the cool cinematic moments that AH: TCG manages to create using just cards and generic tokens. One scenario has you rushing towards the front of a train as the cars in the back slowly get ripped into a portal, the location cards being discarded as this happens. A night time trek in a museum is made all the more frightening as you find yourself being stalked by an enemy that randomly respawns and happens to be stronger each time it appears. One scenario has you sneaking around a club owned by the mob, with mobsters that only react if they see you doing something odd in a location, turning the experience almost in to a stealth game. AH: TCG has provided me with some of the most truly memorable moments in gaming and I still have so many scenarios to explore.

The art, supplied by a deep roster of artists from within the industry, also does a great job of immersing you in the world. The locations, characters and items are drawn in an incredibly evocative way and help add atmosphere to a game that is already dripping with it. Thrown a soundtrack from any number of survival horror games, and you have an experience that is almost oppressively atmospheric.

So yes, this game is flawed, but most of my problems come from OUTSIDE the actual design of the game. When I’m actually playing the game, I’m fully drawn into the world and story, experiencing something that is truly one of a kind.

What I say now

Wow, I had a lot to say about this game last year! And somehow you expect me to say even more?? Fine, I’ll try.

The drop for Arkham Horror: TCG comes from, quite simply, the tedium of setting it up. I haven’t played this game in ages due to the sheer effort it takes to get the scenarios and decks set up and that’s…kind of sad. Because as I said last year, this game is really special when you’re actually playing it and immersing yourself in its horrors. But getting to that point? Just drown me.

I’m trying to get the energy to get back into this game soon. If and when I do, I’m interested to see where it ends up next year.

58. Blood Rage

Previous ranking: 20 (-38)

What I said last year

When I first got into the hobby, Blood Rage was a game I was resistant against trying. The cover art didn’t appeal to me, the title sounded like the name of a high school death metal band that was trying too hard, and the fact that it was so miniature heavy led me to believe that it would have shallow, mindless gameplay. Of course, as anyone reading this top 100 can attest, I am quite often wrong, to the point that “Wow, Kyle sure was wrong a lot” will be the thesis scholars take away from this blog when they study it hundreds of years from now. Blood Rage is another such occasion of my eternal ineptitude.

It took me just one play of Blood Rage for me to realize how good it was. What I thought was going to be a brain-dead slugfest with shoehorned Norse gods and miniatures turned out to be a thoughtful Euro driven game of building card combos and action efficiency. The game centers on drafting cards and then using those cards with allotted action points in a way to maximize your points. Figuring out what cards you want to take and what possible combos you want to exploit is fun in itself, but then the actual game of moving figures around the map, getting into combat and trying to figure out when to time the cards you’ve drafted is a wonderfully tense but action packed puzzle.

The variety of strategies you can take is a huge draw for me. Do you focus on combat, recruiting high powered monsters and investing in the payout of victory points from winning battles? Do you strategize around ‘quests’ which are essentially objectives you can work to achieve from round to round? Or do you employ the now infamous Loki strategy, which involves purposefully killing off your own warriors and losing battles to reap victory points from your own failures? All of these and more are viable and they’re all entertaining in their own ways to employ. It can be a little frustrating when a card you desperately need to complete your engine is randomly not in the game (a certain amount of cards are burned every round), but the stuff happening on the board is so entertaining that it’s not a deal breaker.

Honestly, the first time I played Blood Rage I was convinced it would be in my top 10 for my entire gaming life. It sits here at 20 for two big reasons. One, I’ve simply played more games since Blood Rage that have bumped it up the line. Two, and more tragically, I simply haven’t played Blood Rage in quite some time. It’s going to be close to two years since my last Blood Rage play and I don’t own a copy or have anyone local who does. Like Concordia on my last post, it’s tough to keep ranking a game super high if I haven’t even played it recently and, unfortunately, Blood Rage is the latest victim of that reality.

I do hope to get my own copy some day because Blood Rage truly is a fantastic game. Underneath its Iron Maiden exterior is one of the sharpest and most tactically bountiful designs in the hobby.

What I say now

Another game with a considerable drop. I closed out last year’s entry talking about how I don’t own Blood Rage and that, unfortunately, hasn’t changed since. That’s certainly not going to help a game hold high positions on the list and that proves true for Blood Rage here.

Another reason behind the fall is that since the last time I’ve played Blood Rage, I’ve played more of these types of games (area control, troops on a map games with Euro style mechanisms and roots) and I like them all more than Blood Rage. This genre has honestly become one of my favorites, so it’s becoming a bit crowded in my collection, causing Blood Rage to get lost in the mix like Bilbo Baggins at a crowded concert. These games will be showing up later on the list and are a key factor in Blood Rage’s decline.

But hey. Blood Rage is still in my top 100 and only just outside the top 50 which shows that it’s still a fantastic game. If I had a chance to pick up this game cheap, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

57. Kingdomino

Previous ranking: 52 (-5)

What I said last year

Kingdomino isn’t just one of Cathala’s simplest games, it’s one of the simplest gateway games you can find in the hobby. It’s a tile laying game (hey, been a while since we had one of those! Welcome back, buddy!) where the tiles are chunky little dominos. Instead of numbers, the dominos have land types (such as fields, forests or swamps) and you’re placing these dominos in a 5 by 5 grid to form your kingdom.

One thing you’re keeping an eye on is crowns. Crowns are important because they’re how you score points. At the end of the game, everyone takes a look at their contiguous groups of land types and then they multiply the number of squares present times the number of crowns also present in that area. So, if you have a patch of forest that is four squares big and has one crown, that’s four points. But if you had two crowns, that’s eight points! No crowns present? Absolutely nothing. It creates an interesting decision space where you have to choose going all in with one or two big land areas populated by a few crowns or whether to focus on putting a lot of crowns spread across smaller land areas. I’m happy to report that after many plays of this game, both strategies are viable.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part of this game! My favorite part of Kingdomino and one of the reasons why it’s remained such a favorite of mine is the drafting system. Players draft tiles using a little king meeple, which they place to stake claim on a domino in a column. The dominos are generally ordered by how good they are, with the better tiles being towards the bottom of the column. If you put your meeple on the bottom domino, that’s great! You likely got yourself a good tile. But where your meeple is in the column determines drafting order for the next set of dominos. So, the top dominos are not as good but taking one guarantees you get first dibs on the next batch whereas going for a domino on the bottom means you’re taking a risk at getting absolute garbage in the next round. It’s a wonderful bit of push your luck that never fails to feel clever and interesting whenever I play this game.

The game is also very quick. A two player game of this can be finished in ten minutes and a four player game can easily clock in at under twenty, closer to fifteen with experienced players. Combining this with its ease to teach and introduce to people, especially non gamers, makes Kingdomino a stalwart entry in the gateway portion of my collection.

Even if I’m not using it for gateway purposes, Kingdomino is still an incredibly fun and cute game that I still enjoy after countless plays. Like most of Cathala’s games on this list, it’ll have a place on my top 100 for years to come.

What I say now

Kingdomino is down five spots, but that’s, as we say in the hobby, small beans.  In fact, I recently had a chance to play this before making this top 100 and it reinforced what a fun, charming game this is. The drafting system is still engaging after all these years and the push and pull of managing land types vs crowns is a fantastic decision space.

Kingdomino is Bruno Cathala at his most elegant and that results in a game that will, as I said last year, likely be on my top 100 for a looooong time.

56. Shh

Previous ranking: N/A

There are three ‘new to the list’ games in this section, with the first of those being Shh. Shh is perhaps the most obscure game on my top 100, an incredibly small game from a line called the ‘Pack-O’ games. This line’s hook? All the games are so tiny that they’re in boxes that look like little packs of gum.

Don’t let this game’s diminutive, bubblegum size fool you. This is a word-based cooperative game that has a lot of bite to it.

The game is a small deck of cards representing each letter in the alphabet. All the vowels are put to the side and the rest of the cards, the consonants, are dealt out to all the players. Players then need to work together to try and empty their hands of their cards. How do they do that? By cooperatively building words with the letters.

The trick is players can collectively only work on one word at a time, so once somebody begins a word, everyone is locked in with that one word until it is complete. The other twist? You can’t talk or discuss any sort of strategy. I mean, what did you expect? The game is called Shh, not Talk Amongst Your Friends.

The limited communication variety of cooperative game is among my favorite game types and when you combine it with a word game, another type of game I’m quite fond of, it’s a surefire recipe for a game I’ll enjoy. Shh does not disappoint. Trying to figure out what word your friend is trying to get you to spell while not revealing whether or not you even have the letters to continue it is excruciating, especially when said friend is biting their lip, red in the face over how you can’t make out what they’re aiming for. Conversely, when you start a word and you get nothing but blank stares in return, it’s hilariously painful.

But when you are able to sync up with the other players, effortlessly playing down letters to form a long word without skipping a beat? It’s a pure, unadulterated hit of dopamine. I still remember specific moments, like when we managed to end the game by playing QUIVER or when we played TEQUILA to get ourselves out of a corner (which is the first time in history alcohol solved a problem for me rather than creating one). These type of limited communication co-ops live and die by these moments, so the fact that Shh is chock full of them in such a microscopic package is quite the feat.

My biggest worry about Shh was how its size and depth would hurt its replay value, as I assumed there would be certain strategies or words that would be used time and time again and be easy crutches for the players to fall back on. After playing this game well over 10 times, I’m happy to report that was mostly unfounded. Sure, there are some words that involve the letters Q or Z that I find my groups use game to game, but outside of those few it’s really astounding how much shelf life Shh has.

The REAL problem with Shh, and the reason why it misses my top 50 is its scalability with player count. It plays 2-4, but I don’t think this game is worth playing unless you have EXACTLY 3. Four players is a chaotic nightmare, like everyone is trying to bake a cake together while blindfolded on a sinking ship. Meanwhile, two players is the opposite; since the consonant cards are dealt out between the two of you, you know EXACTLY which letters your teammate has, robbing all tension and uncertainty from the game. But 3? *chef’s kiss*

Like I said, this game is pretty obscure so if you haven’t heard of this one, it’s absolutely worth checking into. If you like cooperative games and/or word games, it’s a must have for your collection.

55. Aerion

Last year’s ranking: N/A

The next game is another ‘new to the list’ entry, although I have actually written about this one before. My loyal readers/groupies will recognize Aerion as a game that made it on my Top 10 Solo Games blog post from a few months back. It was good enough to earn the bronze medal on that list and here it is at number 55, which I think is pretty darn good for a game I only play solo.

Because I feel like I’ll be repeating myself anyway, here’s an excerpt from that post describing Aerion and why I love it so much:

Aerion is the Oniverse’s foray into the Yahtzee style dice rolling genre, where players will be attempting to build airships according to specific blueprints. The blueprints have resources that must be gathered to complete them and you gain these resources by rolling dice.

Each resource has a poker hand style requirement to gain it, such as ‘three of a kind’, ‘full house’, ‘two pair,’ ‘straight’, etc. If the dice you rolled match the requirement, you can gain that resource and put it into one of your two hangars. This two hangar limit already imposes restrictions on what you can do; since you can only build two ships at a time, some of the resources are presently useless to you, forcing you to make tough decisions on which airships keep your probabilities high and your possibilities open.

Even if you make a wise choice on which airships to work on, there’s going to be plenty of points you don’t roll the dice you need. So, what then? Like any Yahtzee style game, Aerion allows you to reroll dice…at a price.

Any time you want to reroll and get a better combination, you must discard a resource from the available display. Since there’s a limited supply of, well, everything in this game, you’re narrowing your options for Future You. Choosing what to keep and what to sacrifice is at the heart of almost every turn in Aerion, and it’s an excruciating tight wire act.

Aerion ranks so highly on this list for a lot of reasons. First and perhaps, most importantly, it’s just damn fun. Rolling dice is such a tactile delight and there’s something just deeply satisfying about making gambles that pay off over the course of a couple rolls. Aerion moves extremely quickly, so you’re always rolling, always calculating the odds, always cheering or groaning.

Another is because, like Viva Java earlier on this list, it has the exact difficulty I look for in a solo experience. While I win more often than not, it never feels like it’s spoon feeding me victories. I still have to work for it and I still have to make smart choices to pull out the win.

Lastly, I just love the aesthetics of this game. Art is subjective and I know that the art in the Oniverse is particularly polarizing, but I love it. There’s something about its scribbled, hand scrawled look that is so endearing to me. The fact that the dice are a cotton candy blue with purple pips further enhances this game’s cheerfully charming demeanor.

June 2020 feels like three decades ago, but it’s only actually been about 6ish months. So, unsurprisingly, not much has changed with my feelings on Aerion. It continues to be one of the most consistently played games in my solo gaming rotation and I STILL haven’t even tried the plethora of mini expansions that come in the box.

Aerion still has a ton of life in it for me, so don’t be surprised to see if even higher next year.

54. Sagrada

Last year’s ranking: 48 (-6)

What I said last year

In Sagrada, you are tasked with making stained glass windows, which is done via putting multicolored dice down in a grid. As you draft dice to put them in the grid, you need to keep in mind some simple placement rules. You can’t put the same number next to each other and you can’t put the same color next to each other. There’s also set restrictions on your grid that you may need to follow, such as having to place a yellow die on the yellow spot.

What comes from this is basically Board Game Sudoku, a surprisingly crunchy puzzle of trying to align your dice in a way that doesn’t break any rules but also doesn’t screw you over on a future turn. Meanwhile, there’s how you actually win the game in the form of scoring objectives, which give prompts such as ‘score your pairs of 1s and 2s’ or ‘score rows with all unique numbers’ and so forth. There’s also private objectives that give everyone a color, wherein they score points equal to the value of all the pips of that color in their window. Trying to balance all these things while dealing with the random luck and chance of the dice pulls and dice rolls is headache inducing, but in the best possible way.

An easy thing to praise Sagrada for is its table presence. It’s chock full of tiny, translucent multicolored dice and when everybody’s windows start to take shape, it’s one of the prettiest sights in board gaming(not counting the selfies I take of me and my Kallax, stay tuned for info on a calendar coming soon). I’m a sucker for great board game components and Sagrada’s dice are some of the best looking in the business. There is one huge caveat, unfortunately: they are not colorblind friendly. I have some colorblind friends who are able to play just fine, but another who can’t play this game because the blue and green are impossible for him to tell apart. Something like that to occur in today’s day and age of gaming is fairly unforgivable, so that’s definitely a knock against it.

Outside of that accessibility issue, there’s not much to complain about with Sagrada. Its puzzley gameplay, beautiful table presence and easy to learn rules make it a must have in any collection.

What I say now

When I first played Sagrada, I knew it would be a cornerstone of the gateway game section in my collection and that’s held up pretty well. It remains one of the most satisfying puzzle-based games of this weight. I recently introduced it to my girlfriend after having not played it for a while and it felt like I had wrapped myself up in a nice, warm blanket that had been stowed away for far too long.

It has dropped 6 spots, but that is, as with many games on the list, a product of new games entering the top 100. I still love Sagrada and would rarely turn down a game of it.

53. Stew

Previous ranking: 42 (-11)

What I said last year

Stew is a game that mixes push your luck, deduction and bluffing and squeezes it into a tight fifteen minutes of tension and misdirection. Players take turns secretly drawing ingredient cards from a deck and then putting them facedown on a vermin card or into the center of the table in the stew. At any point a player can call “STEW!” (the louder and more obnoxious, the better) and reveal the stew one card at a time. If the point values of the ingredients in the stew equal 12 or more, they get two points! If not, everyone else gets a point. First to five points wins.

One of the things players have to keep in mind are those vermin cards I briefly mentioned earlier. Each vermin has a favorite ingredient and if they are unfed by the time the stew is served, they’ll suck up the first ingredient of that type like a hungry, furry little Hoover. Ingredients also interact and score points in different ways so keeping track of what ingredients you put where and how other players are behaving need to be taken into account when you’re trying to determine if a stew is worth eating.

Every time I talk about this game I compare it to Welcome to the Dungeon, a much more well known game where players are either putting monsters into a dungeon or choosing to remove equipment that can be used to counter those monsters. Like Stew, there’s a lot of hidden information and you must glean what other players know based on what decisions they’re making. The difference is that Stew captures the same feeling with a more streamlined system, in a quicker play time and with no player elimination. Quite simply, Stew is everything Welcome to the Dungeon wishes it could be. If you like Welcome to the Dungeon, that’s fine, but I would implore you to try Stew.

I don’t know the availability of Stew because Button Shy games tend to periodically go out of print. I was aware of a Kickstarter they were running in which a Stew reprint was unlocked as a stretch goal, but when that comes to fruition, I have no clue. If and when Stew is available, there are few games I find as easy to recommend as this one. It’s cheap, it’s extremely portable and it’s accessible enough to teach to just about anyone. Despite its small size and countless plays (the wallet for my copy has literally ripped in half from being carried around and opened so much), I have yet to tire of this microgaming masterpiece.

What I say now

Stew has suffered a bit of a decrease but nothing TOO major. I will say the amount of times I’ve played this game may finally be starting to catch up with it, as it’s a game I rarely suggest on my own to play. But if somebody else suggests it? I’m all in, and I always have a great time with it.

Despite this slight hint of Stew burnout, I am excited to see where it ends up next year. I finally got the game’s expansions, which add new ingredients and vermin, and I can feel that Stew shaped fire in my heart beginning to rekindle. Till then, Stew remains one of the industry’s most hidden gems and just barely misses a repeat appearance in my top 50.

52. Menara

Previous ranking: 28 (-24)

What I said last year

In Menara, you and your fellow players are trying to build a temple together, playing the role of archaeological contractors, apparently.  The temple is going to be constructed with wooden pillars which are placed on wonkily shaped platforms. You’re trying to get your temple to be a certain amount of levels high before time runs out while also trying to make sure the temple doesn’t fall over like your drunken uncle at a Christmas party.

I mentioned one of the reasons I love Drop It so much is that it isn’t a completely mindless affair. You aren’t just dropping shapes down a slot, you’re trying to pick shapes and aim based on what makes the most tactical sense. It’s far from deep but having things to consider and ponder is what separated Drop It from other dexterity games I’ve tried. Menara is similarly not just about dumbly placing columns, with shaky hands being the only determiner of whether you win.

For one, there is a slight element of resource management. Players have ‘hands’ of pillars and at the start of their turns can trade some pillars from their hands with pillars in a communal reserve known as the camp. Pillars can only be placed on spots that match their color, so there is a constant need to rotate the colors you have at your disposal. Again, this isn’t MENSA level stuff, but the need to think about what colors should be in your hand and at the camp is quite welcome in a dexterity game.

The real strategy and tactics, though, lies in how players pace themselves in the game. On your turn, you have to flip over an action card that tells you what action you need to complete on your turn. This includes things as simple as placing a pillar or two to more advanced things like finishing off an entire platform of pillars or even moving entire platforms from one level to another. These actions are separated into decks by difficulty and players choose what deck they want to draw from on their turn.

This creates an excellent sense of pushing your luck and hedging your bets on what you think you’re able to accomplish in the short term without screwing yourself over in the long term. Starting off with easy cards and working your way up seems simple, but you’ll be setting yourself up for a murderous second half of the game. Dip into the hard cards too early, however, and you may not have the proper foundations to even accomplish the actions. Not being able to complete an action results in another level being added to your endgame win condition, making your job that much tougher.

It’s such a unique way to handle the pacing of a game, because players literally control it themselves. Being able to pick what difficulty to try at the right time is key to winning and it felt like a really fresh take on the cooperative game. Add in the actual dexterity elements which is a bundle of nerve-wracking fun and it’s easy to see why this game ended up so high on my top 100.

What I say now

Menara is a game I recently added to my collection, as it was one of the few in last year’s top 100 that I didn’t have ready access to. As such, I was able to finally play it again for the first time in over a year and I was excited to see how that would affect its ranking.

As you can see, it’s actually suffered a sizable drop down. Whoops?

Listen, it’s still a great game. I love the idea of cooperative dexterity and it’s got some tough decisions to make as you try to pace yourself across the different decks of cards. But it’s also got a very procedural feel to it that makes your choices feel more by the book and scripted than organic and naturally clever. This was a common complaint I’ve heard about Menara and I’m starting to come around to this viewpoint.

The other big negative I’ve discovered in my recent reintroduction to Menara is that I suddenly suck at the game? I used to be pretty good at it and I had never been the person to knock down the tower. But now? I can’t even make it past the 15-minute mark. Usually lasting 15 minutes is worth bragging about, but not in Menara’s case.

You’re probably asking, “Kyle, how is that the game’s fault? Shouldn’t you be blaming your parents that you suck so hard?” and you’re right. I’m not holding my sudden lack of dexterity against the game but what I am saying is that if you lose this game at the 15-20 minute mark, as I’ve been doing consistently since having bought the game, it is a VERY underwhelming experience. A winning game of Menara is going to take you around 45 minutes to an hour complete, so losing the game that early makes me feel like I just got done sat down after cooking a big pot of pasta and then having Slimer from Ghostbusters flying through to eat it all on me. Losing a game in the later stages of the game sucks, but at least you feel like you got a worthwhile experience. Losing a game before you even hit 20 minutes? It makes Menara feel like a waste of time and a somewhat tedious experience.

I guess my point is that my recent suckage at the game leads me to believe that Menara could have benefited from a shorter, tighter run time. It was honestly something always in the back of my mind, that 45 minutes to an hour for a dexterity game was perhaps a little overboard. I’m now convinced of that even more, that this is a game that should have been trimmed down to 20-30 minutes. That way if you do lose early, as has been the case with my plays recently, it doesn’t feel like such a daunting ask to set it up and try again because I know I’m not staring down the barrel of a possible hour long game.

Okay, so, that was a pretty negative write up over a game I consider my 52nd favorite game. So, let me end by saying that even with my recent frustrations, Menara is still a lot of fun and can create some real memorable experiences. It’s just starting to show a few cracks here and there.

51. Queenz

Previous ranking: N/A

The last entry in my 60-51 range, and the game to just barely miss a coveted spot in my top 50, is a ‘new to the list’ game called Queenz. Co-designed by designer-I-most-definitely-don’t-stalk Bruno Cathala, Queenz is a tile lying game about building a garden to attract Jerry Seinfeld and his other bee friends to hang out and make honey.

In Queenz, the gardens you will be growing will be made up of two types of tiles: polyominoes and circular flower tiles that go on top of them. On your turn, you draft flower tiles by controlling a gardener pawn that walks around a grid. Whatever row or column they’re on, you can take flowers following some Splendor style rules (take 3 of different colors, 2 of the same, or 1 with bees (more on bees later)). When you hoard enough of these flower tiles, you can then spend your turn grabbing an actual garden tile which are the polyomino, Tetris style pieces.

As you place these polyominos into your garden, joining them together with other polyominos you’ve gotten throughout the game, you place the flower tiles you’ve recently collected on top of them. You’re generally trying to get the same colors adjacent to each other because you get points for doing so, including from colors you’ve already placed in your garden from previous turns. If I place a big batch of blue that’s touching an already present swath of blue in my garden, I get points for ALL the blues now touching each other (sounds kind of dirty, but let’s ignore that). This creates an almost illegally gratifying exponential scoring system, where a small group of colors starts off getting you 2 or 3 points but then turns into 5 or 6 and that swells to 10 or 11. Your garden feels less like patches of flowers and more like hurricanes swirling and forming across the tableau, slowly getting more monstrous as the game goes on.

As rewarding as it is to do your best impression of Poison Ivy from Batman and become an unstoppable botanical terror, flowers aren’t the only way to get points in Queenz. Remember when I mentioned Jerry Seinfeld? Yep, there are bees in this game, hence the Queenz title (complete with the obnoxious ‘z’ at the end). Though harder to come by, you can grab flowers that have bees on them and when you place those out in your garden you can partner them with beehive tokens. Doing so scores you points for every bee surrounding the beehives you’ve seeded your garden with, even allowing you to score bees multiple times if they surround multiple hives. This can result in humongous end game points, dwarfing even the most impressive point gains your opponents may have gotten from their flower colors throughout the game.

What’s that? You want even more ways to get points? Okay, all right. Here’s one more. You can also race to get a honey diversity bonus. While that sounds like something an organic cooking blog would espouse as a benefit to eating natural honey, it’s actually another scoring mechanism. Whenever you score a certain color of flower in your garden, you receive a honey pot of that color. If you collect a honey pot of every flower color in the game, you get a token that rewards bonus points.

The rub is that the tokens decrease in value, meaning it pays to be the first to accomplish the milestone. I really love this extra mechanism because it rewards people for not just focusing on building one or two huge areas of the same color. It lets you diversify your garden and adds yet another avenue to win the game.

So, for better or worse, Queenz feels like a greatest hits collection of mechanisms seen in other tile layers. It’s got the polyomino puzzling of modern day classics like Patchwork and Barenpark, a tile drafting system reminiscent of obscure and out of print but delightful Maori, and a scoring system that evokes the satisfying exponential system of gateway game behemoth Azul. And yet, despite all these obvious inspirations, all of these disparate parts and mechanisms are molded together in a way that makes the game still feel refreshing and ‘Cathala’esque rather than derivative and trite. The tactical considerations when moving to gardener to draft flowers, the multitude of ways to score, the plethora of satisfying choices every turn…it reeks of Cathala’s design ethos and it is an oh so pleasant smell. I mean, ‘Essence of Cathala’ should totally be a perfume or cologne.

Perhaps it’s because it’s one of Cathala’s new-ish games, but this one doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of buzz (HAHAHAHA) yet. It’s an absolute gem, though, so hopefully this gets more attention soon.

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We’re almost at the top 50! Congratulations everyone, you’re doing great! See you again soon!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 70-61

Welcome back, everyone. We’re getting closer and closer to the halfway mark of this top 100, which I’m sure is a huge sense of relief to all of you. Let’s not waste any time!

70. Circle the Wagons

Last year’s ranking: 81 (+11)

What I said last year

Circle the Wagons is a two player tile laying game (played with cards) where both players are competing to make the best frontier town. Cards involve symbols of various Wild West tropes, like six shooters, bottles of moonshine and forts. These icons are laid on top of various land types, such as mountains, plains and deserts. The goal is to take these cards and puzzle them together in such a way that you earn the most points, combining points given from your biggest contiguous areas of each land type AND points from three random public scoring objectives.

This is all pretty typical tile laying stuff, so what separates Circle the Wagons from the rest? That lies in its brilliant drafting mechanism. Taking its name quite literally, you take all the cards available in the game and put them in a giant circle. Players then take turns drafting the cards they want to use from the circle starting with the first available card. BUT you have a choice: take that first available card for free OR jump ahead in the circular queue to grab something that might seem a little more beneficial for your landscape. The catch being, all the cards you skipped? They go straight to your opponent.

With this simple but incredibly clever system, Circle the Wagons becomes a superbly tactical experience that has you sweating every decision, despite the fact that it’s a mere 18 cards. Do you jump ahead to take that card that fits perfectly in your landscape, knowing you’re giving your opponent a ton of stuff for free? Or do you play conservatively, tip toeing down the circle, daring your opponent to be the first to jump ahead and play the part of a Wild West Santa Claus? It’s tight, it’s addictive and at just around ten minutes per play, it’s incredibly quick. Like many of the microgames and fillers I’ll have on this list, it’s one you’ll easily find yourself playing repeatedly in the same sitting, the board game equivalent of a bag of potato chips. If you’re new to Button Shy and are looking for a starting point, Circle the Wagons is as good as any.

What I say now

Circle the Wagons is a game that, despite its small stature and breezy play time, continues to move up for me. Every time I play it, I’m astounded at how much satisfaction is packed in such a tiny package (which, incidentally, is how many of my ex-girlfriends describe me).

I love how you’re constantly pulled between tactically choosing good short term options while keeping an eye for what’s later in the circle, trying to set your landscape up for the long term. It’s like you’re forced to play with a jeweler’s eye in one hand and a looking glass in the other. I think that metaphor makes sense? It did in my head, at least.

Anyway, as I said last year, this game is mighty impressive for being an 18 card microgame. I can easily see it continuing to rise up the ranks, especially since I recently got my hands on the solo module expansion. It remains one of Button Shy’s must own classics.

69. Tournament at Camelot

Last year’s ranking: 63 (-6)

What I said last year

Tournament at Camelot casts you and your opponents as different characters of Arthurian legend, duking it out to see who can be the least dead by game’s end. I once described this as Super Smash Bros meets King Arthur, and I feel like that is an apt description. Play is pretty standard trick taking fare; someone plays a card and everybody has to play a card of the same suit if they have it. Whoever plays the lowest card must take all the cards played in the trick, which is going to count as damage points at the end of the round. This marks the first twist the game provides. You’re not trying to win tricks, you’re trying to not lose them. It flips the script on a tried and true formula and it helps keep TaC fresh compared to other trick takers.

The twists don’t stop there. What truly makes TaC special is the wide range of special powers that players can use throughout the game. Each player starts with a character from the tales of King Arthur, such as Morgan le Fay, The Lady of the Lake and King Arthur himself. Each character has a unique ability to start the game off with, as well as a companion with an ability that triggers after a certain damage threshold has been reached. “But that’s not all!” I say in my best infomercial voice possible. In addition to these powers there are also Godsend powers. Godsend cards are special abilities (tied to items and characters that are also references to Arthurian legends) that are given to players below the leader(s) as a sort of catchup mechanism. It’s a nice pick me up for the tournament attendees, but instead of a 5-hour Energy or cooler of Gatorade, it’s things like a flaming sword or a gigantic lion with a human face (for some reason). These powers all bend the rules and break the game in fun, often hilarious ways. By the third round, almost everybody is armed with some sort of zany arsenal of abilities, creating a raucous, chaotic slug fest to the finish line.

As if the game wasn’t fun enough, TaC also sports some of my favorite board game art. It’s actual, authentic medieval style art, which is something I absolutely adore. I know, I know, I’m a weirdo, but I’ve always loved that art style. TaC contains tons of it, allowing the already ever present theme to drip through even more.

Tournament at Camelot was one of my first modern day trick takers and I still rank it among the best of them. If you have any interest in trick takers at all, this is a must own.

What I say now

A slight 6 spot drop for TaC, which is actually pretty impressive when you consider how little I’ve played it since last year’s ranking. Wanna guess how many plays it got?

None. It got none plays.

So, maintaining itself in the same 70-61 range as it was last year ain’t too shabby for a game that hasn’t hit the table in literal years. The main reason it hasn’t seen much play lately is because of the introduction of other trick takers in my collection. TaC was the first trick taker I fell in love with, but it’s had a lot of competition since then. I can only imagine how jealous it is, sitting on my shelf like a jilted lover as other trick takers get chosen over it. Hmm…maybe that’s where that sloppily written “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME ANYMORE” note at the foot of my Kallax came from. I had assumed Pandemic wrote that.

Don’t feel so bad, TaC! You’re still great! And while I can’t guarantee it won’t slip even more if this playing drought continues, there’s no way this game doesn’t stick around by next year’s list.

68. Notre Dame

Last year’s ranking: 98 (+30)

What I said last year

Explaining Notre Dame feels like I’m running down a Stefan Feld Design Checklist. Mid weight, dry Euro? Check. Setting is Medieval Europe? Check. Point salad? Check. A looming threat you need to keep at bay, lest you take a penalty? Check. Lots of browns and a somewhat dull look? Check. Those of you playing Stefan Feld Bingo at home likely have most your card filled by now, I wager.

Notre Dame is a heavily card driven game set in Medieval Paris where players control districts surrounding the titular cathedral. Every round, players draft a hand of three cards and then spend two of them to complete certain actions. Majority of the actions involve placing a cube into specific boroughs of your district and then completing the action associated with that borough. The cool thing is that the strength of the action is often determined by the amount of cubes already present. For example, if you place a cube at the bank, you get one coin. But when you place a SECOND cube there, you get two coins and it keeps going up from there. It reminds me of a sort of tighter version of Architects of the West Kingdom, a worker placement game that featured a similar ‘your actions get more powerful with each piece you have at that spot’ gameplay loop.

This creates an interesting decision space where you’re constantly wrestling with the fact that you need to do a little bit of everything vs. the fact that focusing on just two or three boroughs is a more efficient, powerful use of your cubes. Further complicating this is the ever-present plague, something that activates at the end of each round and will wreak havoc on your game if you let it get out of control. I had a friend in one game who flippantly said, “I’m not gonna worry about the plague” and then he proceeded to lose by a mile. Turns out being a grimy slumlord DOESN’T pay. You HAVE to take actions against the plague which means it takes away from actions you could spend bettering your engine and collecting more resources. It’s an agonizing balancing act and creates a richly tactical experience.

I have only played a few of Feld’s designs, but Notre Dame definitely makes me want to play more. And I know I was being a bit of a dick earlier about the color scheme and art, but I actually find the somewhat bland art style in this game charming.

It’s a little tricky for me to get to the table since most of my friends find it too dry, but I think Notre Dame is a joy to play and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of old school Euro.

What I say now

The biggest jump on the list so far goes to Notre Dame, the unassuming card drafting Euro from Stefan Feld. Why the jump? Well, unlike some games that dropped due to lack of play this got bumped up thanks to a rise in plays. I got to play it a couple times since last year’s list and it confirmed a lot of what I loved about this game.

The game is teeming with tough, tactical decisions and I love the various ‘mini games’ that are sprinkled throughout its design: the area control mini game of the Notre Dame cathedral spot, the racing mini game of sprinting around Paris on your carriage to collect tokens, the pocket sized engine building of the resource based spots. These provide a fun variety of different feeling strategies while feeling like they’re all part of a coherent experience.

I doubt Notre Dame has hit its ceiling and could foresee it being even higher next year. I do have some suspicions about the plague mechanism, in that I feel like it’s impossible to ignore and win (I’d love to see somebody flat out ignore the plague and still win, but I’m skeptical). That could potentially hurt its upside going forward, but a 30-spot bounce is impressive enough for now.

67. Maskmen

Last year’s ranking: N/A

One of two ‘new to the list’ games for this 70-61 post is Maskmen. It’s an adorable, quirky card game from the adorable, quirky publisher Oink Games. Oink Games is a Japanese game company that is among the most beloved in the hobby and they’re known for putting out weird, somewhat opaque games.

And boy, Maskmen is a weird and somewhat opaque game. Let me try and explain it.

Maskmen is a card shedding, ladder climbing game about luchadores (which is, in itself, enough to get me to try the game). The card suits are the masks of various wrestlers and here’s the first weird thing about the game: there are no numbers on the cards.

If you don’t know about ladder climbing games, here’s why that’s strange: they are games in which, generally, you play cards wherein the values need to ascend in order. So how the hell can you ascend with no numbers??

Because the cards don’t have values, the players are the ones who assign strength to the suits based on how they’re played throughout the round. Let’s say I start the round by playing 1 card of the green wrestler. The next player then plays 2 cards of the orange wrestler which now means orange > green. From that point forward, no one can ever top an orange card with a green card because green is considered ‘weaker’.

But wait! After that, the next player plays 3 cards of the blue wrestler on top of orange which means it’s now blue > orange > green. So, orange can top green but not blue, while blue can top both. As these suits’ relative strengths are determined, players form little power rankings for the wrestlers by stacking tokens off to the side, with these rankings often times branching off as new wrestlers enter the arena. Like what happens if someone tops green with gray cards in a future turn…we know gray is stronger than green, but is it stronger than orange or blue??

And you can see why this game is a bit of an odd duck. I mean, how many other card games force you to make flow charts as you play?

And yet despite this weirdness (or maybe because of it?) Maskmen is a joyous, addictive game. The way in which suits dynamically change importance and strength means you’ll constantly be reevaluating your hand. Which suits do you push to make strong? Should you dump powerful batches of cards early or save them for a last second momentous rush to the end? Maskmen is like playing a frantic game of musical chairs that randomly turns into a game of soccer then into a ballroom dance. The constant shifting and jostling between players creates an eccentric style of panicked hand management.

There are occasional moments of fiddliness when you’re trying to parse some of the more confusing power ranking situations. I think that’s what keeps Maskmen from competing for a spot in my top 50. But even with that in mind, Maskmen is a bizarre take on a literally ancient game mechanism that needs to be experienced to truly be appreciated. Easily one of my favorite Oink Games.

66. A Fake Artist Goes to New York

Last year’s ranking: 46 (-20)

What I said last year

In Fake Artist, a game master comes up with a hidden prompt for the table to draw. They write it down on tiny little white boards and hand them out to the players, also giving a category for some extra direction. So, if the game master writes the prompt “Mickey Mouse”, they’d say “character” as their category (I really hope Disney doesn’t copyright strike this blog now). The twist is that one player does not receive this prompt. They’re simply given a blank board or a board with an ‘X’ or, if you’re my game group, an expletive. Regardless of how the game master conveys it, this means that person is the Fake Artist and they’re job is not letting the other players know that.

Players then take turns adding to a drawing of the prompt, adding one single uninterrupted line to the communal picture. After everyone has had two turns, a vote is held: who is the Fake Artist? Players point to their choice. If the Fake Artist isn’t caught, the Fake Artist wins. If they ARE caught, however, they have one last chance. If they’re able to correctly guess what the prompt is, then they win!

I’m sure you see why this game is so clever, then. If the players who know the prompt draw something too obvious, then the Fake Artist will have a much better chance of guessing it if caught. Draw too vaguely, however, and you’ll find yourself with a giant Fake Artist shaped target on your back. Going back to the Mickey Mouse prompt (please Disney, don’t, I’m begging you), does a player draw two circles representing the ears? Or is that too obvious? Maybe instead they draw the turrets of the Disney castle, letting those in the know that they’re aware it’s a Disney character they’re drawing. But what if they don’t catch on??? Then it looks like you think it might be a Harry Potter or Game of Thrones character or something and while Disney owns everything, they don’t own those (yet).

It’s hilarious fun. Watching players squirm as they draw otherworldly shapes with no apparent connection to any prompt at all, let alone the prompt at hand, will have the table roaring in laughter. On the flip side, somebody drawing something so blatantly obvious will have the table groaning as the Fake Artist slyly grins to themselves, knowing they’re in the clear no matter what. A recent game of this had the prompt “Genie”, which I partnered with the category “Disney” (wow, I’m really tempting fate here). One of the players drew an obvious genie’s lamp which resulted in the rest of the table pursing their lips in frustration and, as the game master, it was hysterical to watch their silent fury. The best part though is looking at the final picture, admiring it in all its surrealist nightmare glory.

I will admit, the first time I played this was such a fun experience that I thought it was guaranteed to be a perennial entry in my top 25. It’s since fallen a bit and the main reason is because this can be very hit or miss depending on player count. Most social deduction games have a more the merrier approach to player count, but I actually find Fake Artist to be much better on the lower end of its player count range. It plays 5-10, but anything above seven is problematic. By that point, the drawing not only takes forever to go around the table, but there’s so many players to add to it that by the end, no one knows what to draw. This results in pictures that clearly show what the prompt is and when it doesn’t, there’s so many different colored markers that the Fake Artist almost always gets away, no problem. With five to seven, though, the game sings. The drawing moves around quickly and there’s just enough people to add some confusion as to who the Fake Artist might be without it being impossible to crack.

What I say now

Hey, an Oink Games double feature! First Maskmen, now Fake Artist!

Looking at Fake Artist, however, reveals a sizable fall of 20 places. This is a game I once considered one of my favorites of the social deduction genre, so what gives? Well, just take a look at what I wrote last year. The writing was actually kind of on the wall.

Like I wrote last year, this game is very hit or miss with its player count. I’ve decided the sweet spot for this game is 6-7 players and anything outside that miniscule range is not worth the attempt. Five players is too little and anything above seven is just too big and cumbersome. This narrow a range for a party game is not ideal and there are other social deduction games higher on this list that are just much more consistently fun and rewarding.

Despite that glaring flaw, Fake Artist is still on this top 100 for a reason. When you do have the right number, with the right group, this game is a hell of a lot of fun. I have plenty of great memories creating grotesque drawings as we laugh at our unholy creation while trying to suss out who didn’t know the prompt. For that reason, Fake Artist will likely be top 100 game for a while longer, even if its shine has dulled.

65. Take 5!

Last year’s ranking: 84 (+19)

What I said last year

Also known as 6 Nimmt!, Take 5 is an incredibly clever and chaotic card game that can be taught to just about anyone.  In the game, you and the other players are simultaneously playing cards face down and then revealing, watching as they get sucked into an ever growing display of cards, hoping they latch onto a spot that doesn’t result in you taking any cards from said display. This is one of those games where taking cards means taking points and points = bad.

The display of cards is made up of four rows, all of which have a maximum card capacity of five. When you play a card from your hand, starting with the lowest number played, you must then place that card at the last spot of one of the rows following these two rules: rows must be in ascending value AND you must place your card next to the card it’s closest in value to. So, if I play a 28 and the four rows end in a 57, 83, 17 and 26, I would place my card next to the 28.

But what happens when you can’t place a card down? What if your card is lower than the ends of all the rows? As a penalty, you take a row of your choice and replace it with the card you played. Sounds awful, BUT it’s not as bad as the other thing that might happen. Remember when I said each row only has a max capacity of five cards? Yeah, this game is called Take 5 for a reason. If you play a card that would end up being the 6th card in that row, you’re forced to take ALL five cards in that row, leaving behind the card you played to start a new row as a shameful reminder of your folly.

Thus creates a wild, raucous experience of pushing your luck and playing the odds, hoping that you can dodge sucking up any cards like an over eager vacuum cleaner. Every card you play feels like a coin you’re dropping into a slot machine, with the revelation of everyone’s cards acting like the pull of the lever as you desperately hope to see that nobody interfered with your plans. When things go well, you breathe a sigh of relief as you harmlessly place your card into its rightful spot, your muscles relaxing as you live to see another day. But when something you didn’t predict does happen, and you’re stuck putting your card at the end of a truly nasty row? It’s a hilarious exercise in futility, as you watch helplessly as your card slides into spot as if being drawn in by a tractor beam that you can’t control. Then, like a rogue Mento falling into a bottle of Diet Coke, the row explodes and ends up in your lap as the entire table laughs and high fives.

It’s tense, it’s exciting, it’s hilarious. Yes, it sucks when you get stuck with a bunch of cards with high point values (represented by bull horns for some reason), but this is a rare game where failing can be as fun as succeeding. This is mostly because EVERYBODY is suffering at the table, as volleys of groaning and cursing go back and forth in an exercise I can only call Misery Tennis. But while everybody else is groaning, you’re laughing and when YOU’RE groaning, they’re laughing. After all, this in just a small 30 minute card game, not some sort of 3 hour Euro. Best to not take it too seriously and enjoy it, even if you just had a stratospherically bad round.

What I say now

Take 5 has ascended on the list, proving to be one of the most consistently fun card games I have in my collection for big groups. An outstanding implementation on Board Game Arena (though it’s under it’s other name 6 Nimmt! on the site) has helped Take 5’s standing even more, as I’ve been able to play it fairly regularly with friends remotely.

Take 5 may as well make itself comfortable, because I don’t see it leaving this top 100 any time soon.

64. Brew Crafters

Last year’s ranking: 61 (-3)

What I said last year

In Brew Crafters, you and your other players will be collecting ingredients, brewing beer and building infrastructure for your burgeoning brewery, all while trying to avoid horrifying amounts of debt (something many of us can relate to!). It’s pretty standard worker placement fare, but the way that the cozy looking art mixes with the theme and the gameplay makes it a surprisingly immersive jaunt through the world of craft beer and brewing.

The game’s rounds are broken into two distinct phases. The first phase has you doing a lot of resource gathering; you’re going to spots to pick things like hops, malt and yeast or hiring workers that provide passive special powers. The second phase involves brewing beer and building your brewery, which includes things like building additions and advancing up tech trees to grant you more efficient actions. Managing both phases is pivotal in making a well balanced brewery that can consistently pump out beer like an 80s hair metal band pumped out power ballads. There are various beer recipes for everyone to brew, allowing everyone to focus or specialize on different types. Do you focus on the lighter, easier beers that require fewer ingredients but net fewer points? Or do you try to brew the heavier, tougher beers that are chock full of hard to get ingredients but give more points? There’s also a tiny race element in the form of Gold Labels, which are little bonus point tokens given to the first person to brew a certain type of beer.  All the while, you’re desperately trying to get a steady flow of cash coming in, so you don’t have to take debt tokens throughout the game (there are no mobsters in the game, but it’s heavily implied that SOMEONE is not happy with you spending money so flippantly). It’s a surprisingly tough, tight game that will have you hand wringing in between turns, telepathically begging your opponents not to take the hops you oh so need.

I mentioned earlier that I find this to be a very underrated Euro, mainly because this game is rarely mentioned when great worker placement games are being discussed. This is a damn shame and I’d honestly rate Brew Crafters even higher on this list if it wasn’t so hard to get to the table (both figuratively and literally (this game’s footprint should have its own zip code)). As a disclaimer, I can kinda see why it didn’t catch fire. If you’re not into the theme of craft beers and breweries, this will likely seem like a very dry, vanilla worker placement game. In an era of board gaming where game designers sneeze and accidentally shit out two new worker placement games, you really have to add some sort of wrinkle or fresh take to the genre to really stand out. Brew Crafters, as good as it is and as much as I love it, doesn’t really have that.

BUT if you’re like me and love a good craft beer or a weekend trip to a brewery, then Brew Crafters will engross you with a deep, thoughtful experience that goes down as smoothly as a chocolate marshmallow stout.

What I say now

Much like Tournament at Camelot, Brew Crafters has suffered a very small drop that feels like it should be a bit bigger. Because, like TaC, Brew Crafters just hasn’t had a chance to get played over the past year. Like, at all. And that was already a problem with Brew Crafters when I initially ranked it!

Make no mistake: I want to get Brew Crafters to the table. Badly. It’s just such a commitment to set up, teach and then play that I can only bring it out in very specific circumstances with very specific people and the stars haven’t lined up lately. When I can start seeing people for games again, this is going to be one that I try hard to get played. I could see it soar back up the rankings once I do.

For now, Brew Crafters’ stubbornness in holding its place in the 60s is a testament to how much I like the game.

63. Incan Gold

Last year’s ranking: 45 (-18)

What I said last year

In Incan Gold, you and the other players are diving into a temple, trying to end up with the most treasure at the end of five rounds. Play is simple: a card is turned over from a deck displayed for all to see. If it’s a treasure card, it’ll have a value of gems that are then divided equally among all the players in the temple with the remainder being placed on the card. If it’s a threat card (representing things like snakes and fire and lots of rocks), it simply gets placed in the row UNLESS it’s the 2nd threat of its type. In that case, the round ends and anyone still in the temple ‘busts’.

After each card draw, however, each player is given the chance to either keep going through the temple OR to run back to their tent to fondle their treasure like Gollum after a two-week hiatus from the One Ring. If you do go back to your tent, all the treasure you’ve accumulated on that run through the temple is safely banked away for end game points. If you keep going, you can increase your treasure stockpile BUT at the risk of losing it if the round ever ends due to two identical threats.

This decision is made all the more delicious by a couple of other factors. One, everyone makes this decision simultaneously. There’s no chance for group think to dictate who stays or goes. Part of what makes this game so suspenseful is trying to get into the heads of your opponents to figure out what they’re gonna do, allowing you to make the most efficient choice for your plans. The other reason why staying or going isn’t as simple as it seems is because it’s possible to grab more treasure on the way out. I mentioned earlier that when treasure cards are divided, the remainder is left over on the treasure card. That’s because anyone who leaves grabs any leftover treasure for their own, just as you’d expect from a selfish COWARD. Of course, this is muddied if OTHER people leave too. If you leave at the same time as others, the leftover treasure on the cards is once again divided equally. If that’s not possible, nobody leaves with anything extra. This makes that simultaneous selection process even more agonizing. If you think a mass exodus is going to occur, it might do you good to wait a bit longer to try and grab more of the treasure scraps on your way out. Conversely, leaving earlier than expected is a great way to sneak out with all the leftover treasure and to keep yourself safe from an abrupt bust that may occur. Factor in ‘relics’, special cards that CANNOT be split on the way out and are only awarded to lone escapees and you can see why Incan Gold is Heart Palpitations: The Game.

There’s so much to love about Incan Gold. It is beautifully tense, with moments of great triumph and deflating failure. It has a great player count range, playing comfortably with as little as four all the way up to eight, making it a great option for parties where you aren’t necessarily in the mood for true ‘party’ games. It’s fairly quick, meaning you can probably get two to three games done in under an hour. I have only two minor complaints. One, if somebody gets real lucky in the first round or two, this can be a very hard game to catch up to them in. And two, there are also times where rounds can be major duds, with two of the same threat being drawn before there’s even a treasure card revealed. These flaws are what keep this game from my top 25 but let’s not pretend that the top 50 isn’t a great place to be.

If you enjoy push your luck, Incan Gold is an absolute must have. If you are on the fence about push your luck, as I was when first getting into the hobby, I can’t think of a game that’s better to convert you into a fan than this one.

What I say now

A mildly deep drop for Incan Gold, but it isn’t all THAT much in the grand scheme of things. I still love Incan Gold and it’s an easy recommendation for anyone looking to try push your luck for the first time.

I think what makes Incan Gold so great and immediately intense and accessible is also what might be contributing to its decline. Incan Gold’s beauty is in its simplicity, the fact that every turn is a mere “Stay” or “Go” decision. BUT that means that when you play it as much as I have, its wonder starts to dim as what was once masterful elegance transforms into thin repetition.

Incan Gold is still good enough for spot 63, however, and that’s no small feat. In fact, I recently got a chance to play this on Board Game Arena and had a really good time with it. Good enough, in fact, that had I played it before the list was finalized it maaay have gotten a bump up into the 50s. It’s a good sign that means Incan Gold could move back up come next top 100…we’ll have to wait and see!

62. Abyss

Last year’s ranking: 64 (+2)

What I said last year

At its core, Abyss is basically a set collection game. You’re trying to collect cards to then spend on other cards which you can then spend to gain big scoring tiles and you’re trying to collect the types that synergize well with each other. All of this done in a somewhat moody but beautiful underwater fantasy world that really helps immerse you into the gameplay.

On your turn, you choose one of three actions. The action you’ll be doing most is gathering ally cards which are then in turn spent on the bigger character cards (which provide points and special abilities). This is done through a really cool push your luck mechanism. You’ll be turning cards over from the deck of allies, placing them on a track. When you turn over a card, however, the other players get first crack at whether or not they want to purchase that ally from you. If they do, they pay a certain amount of pearls (another of the game’s currency) to you and then they’re blocked from buying again on your turn. This puts a cool twist on the usual push your luck formula, because in this case you’re trying to prevent high cards from getting into the hands of your opponents. As such, you may be prone to calling it quits a little early and taking a card you may not want as much.

This clever drafting system is the fuel in Abyss’ engine, but there are other things to do as well. A second action is taking all of one type of card from a place called ‘The Council’, which is just the place where discarded allies go after a player’s draft ends. The other action you can do is to actually spend these allies on characters, which come in the form of big tarot sized cards. These are the cards that will be getting you most of your points and, as mentioned, sport some cool special powers as well. Some characters also have keys which allow you to get another type of prize: location tiles. Location tiles are long tiles representing a certain location in the world of Abyss, and they often have some sort of scoring condition. These are things like “Get x amount of points for your red characters” or “Get x amount of points for unique characters” and so forth. It’s self-explanatory stuff and they also provide direction. You’re obviously going to want to take characters that gel with the locations you’ve drafted and vice versa. The one caveat with locations, though, is that when you take a location tile it is placed on the bottom of three of your character cards, thus erasing their special ability. This creates a tough decision: how badly do you want a location if it means losing a really useful power? Just another thing I love about this game.

The art and production values of this game are stellar as well. The art is incredibly detailed and immersive, helping to craft a world that feels lived in and authentic. It feels unique and original, like Game of Thrones meets The Little Mermaid. I also briefly mentioned the pearls above, a currency used in the game to pay players on their turns, as well as to supplement purchasing character cards. The pearls are little plastic balls that you keep in a shell shaped cup and wow do I love those little guys. It’s so satisfying and tactile to put a handful of pearls into your cup as they clink and roll around, ready to be spent on something that bolsters your tableau.  Easily one of my favorite board game components and just another small touch of why I love Abyss.

What I say now

I consume a lot of board game content and I’ve noticed that out of all of Cathala’s designs, Abyss seems to be getting a lot of resurgent love lately. For good reason! Its tightly woven mix of push your luck and set collection never fails to be engaging and its stellar production values immerses you even deeper into its murky, tactical depths.

For me, Abyss does see a bump but of only 2 spots. That’s pretty good considering how many games have moved down, but not as drastic as I might expect. I could see Abyss having gotten a bigger jump had I been able to play it with three or four players; my most recent play of Abyss was at two players and, while it’s perfectly fine at that count, it really shines with more. The play was good enough to reinvigorate my love for this game, but not enough for it to leap-frog what I consider the true classics of Cathala’s catalogue.

Abyss’ stock is moving up, but is this its ceiling? I’m interested to find out!

61. Dice Town

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Speaking of Cathala, here he is again! My number 61 is another ‘new to the list’ game: Dice Town. Dice Town is a game of rolling dice, screwing over your opponents and speaking in very bad Old West accents.

In Dice Town, everyone gets a set of poker dice and a Yahtzee style dice cup. At the start of every turn, everyone rolls their dice in the cup and obnoxiously slams it down on the table. Everybody takes a peek under the cup and chooses one die to set aside (spending money to keep more or less, if they desire). This is done until everyone has set aside all their dice; after that, it’s time to visit the titular town.

Each area on the Dice Town board pertains to a die face and who ever rolled the most of that face gets to activate that spot. For example, whoever rolled the most 9s gets to go to the gold mine and take as many nuggets as 9s they rolled, whoever rolled the most Jacks gets to go to the General Store and snatch a special ability card, whoever rolled the most Kings gets to take the Sheriff’s badge, etc.

This very simple gameplay loop results in is a loud and lively experience of smashing down dice cups, hurling curse words and generally just being really annoying to each other.  You have moments where everybody reveals their first die and half the table groans when they see they’re aiming for the same thing or where two players frantically negotiate with the Sheriff because the Sheriff is the person who breaks ties or where everybody is laughing at a player who routinely gets shut out of majorities because of bad dice rolls (hint: that player’s usually me). There are lots of games on this top 100 that I bow down to in terms of brilliance in their design, but Dice Town is a game that I admire for one simple reason: it’s just pure, damn fun.

Dice Town has quickly become my go to game if we have a group of 4-5 casual gamers. Its immediate atmosphere of exciting chaos and boisterous player interaction sparks everyone’s dopamine centers and it has yet to fail. I expect Dice Town to be a perennial entry on this top 100 from here on out.

*

Another entry in the books. Next entry will be the last one before we enter the top 50, so don’t miss it!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 80-71

We’ve gotten done with two posts in this top 100 and, unfortunately for you, what happens twice happens thrice. Let’s get going with the third entry, my 80-71!

80. The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Last year’s ranking: 57 (-23)

What I said last year

Originally published in Germany under a name I will not ever attempt to pronounce or spell correctly, Quacks is a scrumptious blend of bag building and push your luck. Push your luck is my favorite mechanism and pool building is my second favorite mechanism, so I guess you could say I’m inclined to maybe like this game. In the game, you and your opponents are ‘quack doctors’, which is another term for a charlatan or snake oil salesperson. You’re brewing potions to sell at a fair in Quedlinburg but because you’re all terrible at your job, there’s a constant chance of you blowing yourself up.

How this comes across in gameplay is via its bag pulling mechanism. Everyone simultaneously pulls chips out of their bag and places it into their cauldron, which has a number track that spirals out from the middle. You look at the value of your chip and place it that many spaces ahead on the track, creating a snaking path of different colored ingredients. You can stop at any point; if you do, are able to get the gold and victory points labeled on the spot you stopped at. If you don’t stop, however, and end up with seven points or more of an ingredient called cherry bombs, you blow up. This is this game’s version of ‘busting’ and your turn immediately ends.

The one nice thing about this game, especially when compared to others in the push your luck genre, is that busting is not the worst thing in the world. Yes, it’s definitely better to NOT bust but you still get to pick a reward for that turn (either the gold or the victory points at the last spot you stopped at, rather than both). You also disqualify yourself from rolling a bonus die that’s rewarded to the person who advanced the farthest in their cauldron but considering most push your luck games have a very ‘all or nothing’ approach to busting, this is surprisingly friendly.

After everyone is done pulling from their bags, whether from choice or violent explosion, the bag building part of the game takes over like a night shift security guard coming into relieve someone of their post. Everyone takes the gold they won that round and spends it on new ingredients to put into their bags. The ingredients all have unique abilities and properties and many of them combine well with others. For example, there is the mandrake root which helps erase a cherry bomb from your cauldron or the crow skulls which grant you points if you have more than your neighbors. The bag building portion is certainly not the deepest. If you’re expecting Orleans, go play that instead. But there’s still fun to be had figuring out the most efficient use of your money while making sure to pick ingredients that synergize well.

There’s not much else to say about Quacks except that it’s just pure fun and excitement. Every pull from your bag is one tinged with suspense, as you’re desperately hoping for the ingredient you need. It’s like grabbing into a bag of Halloween candy, with every pull either coming with a triumphant ‘aha!’ (“Yes, Twix!”) or a dejected moan (“Oh God, Three Musketeers…where’s my dog…”). There can certainly be moments of frustration when you manage to pull nothing but cherry bombs despite your bag being loaded with pumpkins and mushrooms, but the game is so light that it never feels overwhelming.

What I say now

Quacks is, unfortunately, one of the few games on this top 100 that I don’t own. In fact, it might be the only? Hold on, let me check.

(checking rest of list)

Nope, there’s a few others I also don’t own!

Anyway, back to Quacks: believe it or not, this whole ‘not being in my collection’ has negatively affected it.

I haven’t played Quacks in over a year and a half and not having a copy of it means I don’t see that being fixed any time soon. It’s routinely out of print as well, with new print runs being swooped up like toilet paper in a pandemic (too soon?). It’s a game I’d love to own, but this lack of availability (and a surprisingly hefty price tag) isn’t helping me achieve that.

It’s always weird ranking games like this because I’m going sheerly off of memory. Quacks is obviously a fantastic and fun game, but with each passing month I feel its position on this top 100 wearing away like the kingdom of Ozymandias.

The future of Quacks wholly depends on whether or not I snag a copy of it by next top 100. If I do, I’d be shocked if it didn’t rocket back up the list. If I don’t, this may be the last time you see it for a while.

79. Naga Raja

Last year’s ranking: 71 (-8)

What I said last year

Naga Raja is a two player only game (…) by my favorite designer, Bruno Cathala. In this game, you and your opponent are rival archaeologists trying to explore their temples and uncover prized relics before the other player does. This is done with multi use cards, tile laying and dice chucking, which all simmer and cook together to make a fine fondue for two.

Players are going to use their cards for one of two things: they are either going to commit them to use the dice that’s printed at their top OR they’re going to spend special dice called naga to activate a card for its special ability. I’m a big fan of multi-use cards, and I love how they’re used here. Having to choose one of two uses for them helps keep things tactically rich and engaging, but simple and streamlined.

But that’s only half the game. The other half is the actual exploration of your personal temple board, which starts out as a 3 by 3 grid surrounded by nine face down relic tiles. Throughout the game, you’ll be rolling dice (given by cards, as I said) and whoever rolls more pips gets to grab a tile that’s up for auction. The tiles involve pathways that, when put into your temple, you’re trying to link together in a way that it connects the relic tiles to the entrance. Doing so flips over the tile, getting you points. The game is a race to 25 points, so being as efficient as possible with getting the right tiles and placing them in the right place is key.

There are some other subtle things that make Naga Raja great. For one, there is a mini push your luck element involving cursed relics. There are three of these things among your nine treasure tiles and they are worth the most points. But if you expose all three, you automatically lose the game (which is not the first time someone would get in trouble for exposing something). This creates a great deal of suspense when somebody has two cursed relics flipped over. Every flip of a relic tile after that becomes a hold your breath, peek through one eye kind of affair.

The special abilities you can activate on the cards are also a ton of fun to manage. Some are straightforward, like being able to draw more cards or allowing you to add pips to your dice rolls for the sake of the tile auction. But others allow some deviously clever plays, like the ones that allow you to rotate or slide tiles around your temples, or to even screw around with your opponent’s temple like the world’s least wanted interior designer. When you pull off a game changing move with one of these abilities, it creates such satisfying moments of feeling like you outwit your opponent…until they do the same thing to you, of course.

Naga Raja is such a cool, unique blend of different mechanisms that create a great back and forth battle of tactics and luck for two players. Partnered with some really great art by the always fantastic Vincent Dutrait, and you have yourself an easy top 100 pick for me.

What I say now

Naga Raja has slipped 8 spots, but that’s barely anything in the grand scheme of things. Honestly, it’s worth noting that any game that slips an amount that’s in the mere single digits, it’s safe to say I like the game just as much as last year. There are so many new games entering the list at high positions that any sort of minor drop is likely nothing for that game to worry about.

Such is the case with Naga Raja. I like this 2-player game just as much as last year, if not a teensy bit more. One thing that I love about Naga Raja is that it reveals more subtleties with each subsequent play. Tiny little new strategies and tactics blossom into your mind with extended experience.

I particularly noticed on a recent play just how important the tile laying aspect of the game is. In early plays, it seems like setting up the layout of your temple is pretty common sense and results in some of the more autopilot decisions. BUT play it enough times and you notice how much you can hamstring yourself or fall behind your opponent with a poor tile placement. I once played against a friend whose temple looked like it had been designed by a drunken MC Escher and it very much ended up losing him the game. Realizing which tiles to take and when, thus knowing how to preserve your dice heavy cards, becomes an extra, satisfying aspect to consider.

There are TONS of two player only games out there, but Naga Raja still stands out as one of the better ones.

78. Hand of the King

Last year’s ranking: 79 (+1)

What I said last year

Hand of the King is an abstract strategy game set in the Game of Thrones universe, designed by my favorite game designer, Bruno Cathala (spoiler alert: he’s gonna show up on this list a LOT). In this game, you’ll be maneuvering a bald man around a grid, grabbing cards representing members of the various Houses from the books. As you gain majorities in these Houses, you’ll gain that House’s banner BUT other players can swipe the banner away from you if they either match or beat your current majority. The result is a constant tug of war over the various houses, with banners flying between players faster than crossbow bolts at a wedding hosted by Walder Frey.

There are also some nice decisions that come from the presence of ‘Companion’ cards representing other GoT characters that activate a special ability. Players can grab and use one of these cards if they take the last character of a House from the board. This creates a constant sense of tension throughout the game: do you take that last character from House Stark, even though it won’t give you a majority and the banner is already lost? Or do you shore up your majority in House Lannister, guaranteeing yourself the banner till game’s end? For just a quick 10-15 minute game, Hand of the King packs more punch than a House Clegane family reunion.

Another lovely bit about this game is that it scales incredibly well. One would think this would be best at 2 players, given its back and forth, extremely tactical nature. But it actually plays really well at 3 and also features an amazing 4 player team variant, where two teams of two are trying to share between them more banners than the other team. The best part about this variant is you can not discuss strategy with your teammate unless you spend a raven token, of which each player only has one of. Then you can find a corner of the room to discuss strategy like you’re Littlefinger scheming in the back of a brothel.

I feel bad for this game and think it went really under the radar. I think I may have mentioned this in my review (what, you expect me to go back and read it? Pssh), but I can’t help but feel that the game’s license is what held this back. Which is ironic, because Game of Thrones is gigantic, even with the show’s less than stellar (Read: shitty) final season.

If you are one of the people that dodged this game due to its license, please give it a shot. Though the game’s Companion cards are surprisingly thematic, this game is an abstract and the theme is mostly window dressing. If you DO like the license, then what the hell are you waiting for!? Buy this game, it’s super cheap and you’ll have more fun with it than two Lannister twins with a free, secluded bedroom.

What I say now

A very slight bump for Hand of the King in my rankings which shows that I like this game perhaps even a bit more than last year. It is just such a gratifyingly tactical puzzle. This is definitely one of those games that whenever I play it after a while, I’m thinking, “Man, I forgot what a great game this is.” Considering how simple it is, that’s pretty praiseworthy.

Not much else to say about this one!

77. Beyond Baker Street

Last year’s ranking: 70 (-7)

What I said last year

I’m not a huge fan when somebody loudly proclaims, “’X’ game replaces ‘Y’ game!” and it’s not just because loud people make me nervous. It’s because I feel like any good game, even if similar to another, has its place and time with the right crowd and the right setting. Beyond Baker Street is an exception for me. This game completely and utterly destroys Hanabi for me, to the point where I don’t see myself ever playing that game again.

Before I go any further, allow me to explain Hanabi, just in case somebody doesn’t know what it is. Hanabi is a cooperative game where everybody is nearsighted fireworks technicians trying to put on a fireworks display on the world’s darkest night. I’ve made a couple of assumptions on the theme because the central mechanic is that you and your teammates hold out your cards so that everyone else can see them, but you can’t. The game is then spent giving players clue on the contents of their hand, hopefully hinting to them what is safe to play to the table and what should be discarded.

Hanabi isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination and it is objectively a pretty brilliant design. BUT I have some hang ups with Hanabi that have kept it from being a co-op that I loved rather than merely liked. The first kind of goes hand in hand: the boring theme and abstract nature. The theme of fireworks is completely pasted on and is only there to disguise the fact that this is basically an abstract exercise in card counting and probability crunching. It’s a very mechanical, dry experience and that was always a huge drawback for me. The second big minus is the win state, or lack thereof. In Hanabi, you don’t win or lose. You simply either suck or sucked a little bit less, and a score chart will tell you which of those pertain to you. There is a perfect game you can aspire to attain, and that is basically the win state my friends and I have adopted, but that is super hard to the point that it barely feels fun trying to get it.

By now, you’ve probably forgotten what game is even on this spot because I’ve talked about Hanabi for so long, but there is a point! I hope! I’m saying all this to explain why I find Beyond Baker Street such a better game than Hanabi. It takes the general conceit of Hanabi (trying to play cards that are facing away from you in the proper place), but gives it a much better theme, an actual win/loss condition and just an all around more appealing package.

Whereas Hanabi cast you as the world’s least qualified fireworks operators, Beyond Baker Street has you inhabiting the wonderful Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes. Your goal is to solve a mystery before Holmes can, using the exact mechanisms from Hanabi. You have a hand that’s facing away from you, you have to give very specific clues to the other players, you have to play them in the proper place, blah blah blah. I already went over this during my Hanabi rant (see, told you I had a point!), so I won’t retread too much ground.

There are a few extra elements here in Beyond Baker Street that make it a bit of a deeper experience. For one, rather than trying to get numbers 1-5 in ascending order in columns of specific colors, you’re trying to get a certain value of a card color in one of three spots on the board (for example, you might need a sum of 11 in blue cards). This allows for a little more creativity and freedom in how you play, rather than Hanabi’s much more rigid, ‘three mistakes and you literally blow up’ mentality. Also present is an added condition you must meet before you win the game. This is a track called the “Impossible”, which must reach EXACTLY 20 by the time you finish the three spots I mentioned earlier. How you move this track is by discarding a card to the ‘Impossible’ section, which basically acts as a discard pile, but a discard pile with a point. You do need to be careful, though, because discarding too many cards in this fashion accelerates Holmes on his personal track, which results in a loss if he gets to the end of it. I quite enjoy the image of Holmes on an anachronistic mo-ped, cackling with delight as your failures somehow power his engine to go faster.

Jesus, I just realized how much I’ve been rambling about this game, so I’ll end it here. Basically, if you like Hanabi, you’ll love Beyond Baker Street.  It’s everything Hanabi is, but better.

What I say now

A single digit slide for Beyond Baker Street which, again, means no big shift in opinion has occurred. If you want to maaaaybe nitpick, you could say the slight decrease could be due to my increased pickiness with cooperative games these days. But even with that in mind, I still like Beyond Baker Street about the same as last year (which is: quite a bit).

One quick, tangential observation worth mentioning: in my entry last year, that I’ve quoted above, I really ragged on Hanabi; especially in the context of comparing it to Beyond Baker Street. I’ve recently been playing a lot of Hanabi on Board Game Arena and I kind of, maybe have to recant some of what I’ve said about it? Hanabi really is a brilliant design and I’ve been having a blast rediscovering it with friends in that remote, virtual setting.

Could this renewed love for Hanabi hurt Beyond Baker Street in next year’s ranking? Could Hanabi climb back up to my top 100?? STAY TUNED TILL 2021 TO FIND OUT.

76. Claim

Last year’s ranking: 85 (+9)

What I said last year

2019 brought a lot of big life events for me. I moved in with a girlfriend for the first time, I was asked to be my best friend’s best man in his wedding, I got my first ever paid freelance writing job. But these are all dwarfed by one realization I made in 2019. And that realization is: I really like trick taking games.

Now, I don’t want to be too broad here. I still don’t care for your standard, ‘old fashioned’ trick taking games like Euchre or Bridge. Things that you would play in the kitchen of your grandparents’ house/apartment need not apply here. But when a trick taking game takes that basic premise of playing suited cards and trying to win tricks mixes that up with some other mechanism or clever twist? I discovered in 2019, that I adore those kinds of games. The first game of this type is Claim, a two-player trick taking game about trying to win factions in a goofy, medieval fantasy world.

There are a lot of cool little twists that make Claim so unique and clever. The first is the round structure. Claim is played over two rounds, where the first round is spent winning cards that will then form your hand in the second round. This itself is brilliant, but then when you add in the faction abilities, Claim somehow gets even better. You see, the suits in Claim are different factions/ fantasy races. You have things like Knights, Goblins, Dwarves, etc. These factions all have a specific ability that activates at certain times. For example, a Knight card will always beat a Goblin card, even if the Goblin card has a higher value. Then there’s the shape shifting Dopplegangers, which act as wild cards and can allow you to play them instead of the led suit. These abilities add an extra layer to an already delicious parfait of subtle strategy and quick, satisfying card play.

Add to this some incredible art by The Miko, who is easily one of my top 3 favorite artists in board games, and you’ve got an amazingly charming card game that you’ll want to play again and again.

What I say this year

My love for trick taking has only grown since 2019 and so has my love for Claim. Though it’s only a modest 9-point gain, that’s pretty good considering what else has been added to my top 100. Claim oozes personality in both its gameplay and art and even as I play more trick takers, it manages to stand strong against them.

I have yet to check out any of Claim’s myriad of expansions, which mostly add new factions/suits. The sheer amount of content for this game is pretty staggering, so if vanilla Claim is able to make it to the 70s of my top 100, I can only imagine where it’ll be once I do get to buy some expansions.

75. Arboretum

Last year’s ranking: 73 (-2)

What I said last year

Arboretum is a game that found life in two different editions: once published by Z-Man Games, and now published by Renegade. The Renegade version has vastly prettier art (in my opinion, of course) done by the always wonderful Beth Sobel. A game that has enough popularity to be published twice by two different publishers is usually a good sign for a game, and such is certainly the case for Arboretum.

Arboretum, besides being a word I’ve already misspelled like five different ways while writing this entry, is a card game about planting trees and making the best, well, arboretum. Planting trees requires placing them out in a grid like fashion in front of you, making Arboretum yet another tile laying style game on my list. But the heart of Arboretum is in its hand management. And it is not a warm, gentle heart at all. It is a dark, gnarled, brambly heart that lies in the tree hollow of this game.

Let me explain. Like Lost Cities, Arboretum has a very simple gameplay loop. On your turn, you draw two cards (either from the deck or from one of the personal discard piles in front of each player) and add them to your hand. You then play one to your arboretum and discard another card to the discard pile in front of you. Playing to your arboretum is where you’re gonna get points; you want to play cards of the same type (suits are tree species in this game, like oak and maple) together and in ascending order, because that’s how you score each species. But like Lost Cities (again), there are some scoring twists that make a relaxing game of walking through an arboretum into a game that will trigger PTSD the next time you look at a tree.

As mentioned, points are given based on how you laid out your species of trees in your arboretum. You score a species based on finding a continuous path of ascending trees that start and end with that species in your arboretum.  The twist here is that only one person will score any given species per game. That honor goes to whoever has the cards of that species left in their hand that adds up to the highest total value.

Welcome to Tree Hell.

Every decision you make in this game will be overflowing with self-loathing and doubt, as you’re constantly second guessing every choice you make. When playing into your arboretum, you never want to commit to a certain suit of card because that will cause others to prevent you from getting it. When playing into your discard, you never want to give your opponent something they can use. But if you’re wishy washy and conservative with every decision, you’ll clog your hand and never gain any ground on anything. It’s brutal, it’s mean, it’s infuriating and I love every single minute of it.

The 30-45 minutes you spend playing Arboretum is a white knuckled adrenaline rush, with every synapse in your brain is begging for mercy. By the time it’s all done, you’ll feel like you’ll need a cigarette.

What I say now

Arboretum is more or less in the same position as last year because I more or less like it the same. Last year, I was predicting that Arboretum to contend for a spot in my top 50 but I played it a lot less than I expected to. I have only played it a couple times since last top 100, and it’s tough to move the needle on any game after just a few more plays. In fact, that’s usually a recipe for noticeable decline so Arboretum’s mere difference of 2 spots is actually an indicator of how good the game is.

I’ll even go so far to say that I still stand by Arboretum being a potential top 50 game for me…IF I get to play it!

74. World’s Fair 1893

Last year’ ranking: 72 (-2)

What I said last year

World’s Fair has a modular board where five areas, each representing a different department of exhibits at the World’s Fair (like agricultural and electrical), are situated around a big Ferris wheel which acts as the round tracker. Cards are randomly dealt out to each area, with more cards being added at the end of every turn. On your turn, you’re going to place one of your cubes in the area of your choice, which does two things: one, it allows you to take all the cards and add them to your player area and two, it allows you to have a cube in that area for area majority purposes at the end of the round (more on that later).

The cards you’re collecting come in three flavors: cards representing exhibits that pertain to each department, cards representing tickets for midway attractions and historical figures from the real life World’s Fair. The historical figures have special abilities you activate on a subsequent turn and the midway tickets give you a point per card and move the round tracker around the Ferris Wheel but the cards you really need to pay attention to are the exhibit cards. These exhibit cards all match the color of an area on that board, the very areas you’re vying for area majority in throughout the round. This is important, because players get to cash in a certain amount of exhibit cards for scoring tokens at the end of the round. But how many? That’s determined by the rankings of the area majority in that area. If you have the majority in that area, you get to cash in more exhibits than anybody else.

Like all great games, this system creates an interesting balance. In order to get a green card you might need to place a cube in the red area, which seems counterproductive because then your cube is counting towards an area majority that doesn’t even allow you to cash in green cards. It’s incredibly tactical and you’ve got to weigh the benefits of certain areas on a turn by turn basis. It’s a surprisingly crunchy puzzle given how simple the gameplay and choices are on a given turn.

I’m also a huge fan of this theme. I’ve always been drawn to the look of the late 1800s/early 1900s (yanno, minus the horrifying amounts of racism and sexism back then) and this game captures that aesthetic brilliantly. There is flavor text on all the cards, giving you a little bit of trivia about that specific exhibit at the fair, doing a great job of immersing you even further. Even the damn round tracker evokes the theme perfectly, the Ferris Wheel carriage moving around the circle to indicate how quickly the round might end.

All in all, I think it’s a damn shame that this game doesn’t get more respect. I truly believe it should be in the same conversation as Carcassonne and Splendor when we talk about evergreen gateway games, but World’s Fair never quite got that amount of attention. Correct this injustice by giving this game a try.

What I say now

An extremely small 2 spot slip for World’s Fair 1893, which, like the other minor declines on this post, means basically nothing. I love World’s Fair and continue to believe that this is one of the most criminally underrated gateway games in the hobby. Every time I play it I’m surprised with how rich the experience is considering how simple the gameplay is.

Like I said last year, if you haven’t had a chance to give this game a try, PLEASE do. It seriously deserves it.

73. Friday the 13th

Last year’s ranking: N/A

The only ‘new to the list’ game in this 80-71 range is a little filler card game from Reiner Knizia. I personally find Knizia at his best when he’s designing simple but tight card games and it’s tough to find a card game as simple but tight as this one. That came out much sexier than I meant to. I have a habit of doing that, sorry, it’s a bit of a curse.

Anyway, Friday the 13th is incredibly easy to teach. Everyone has a hand of cards of three different suits of varying values. The suits are various bad luck omens in American culture: black cats, walking under ladders and broken mirrors. On your turn, you’re going to play a card to one of three rows (one for each suit). If the total value of the cards in that row is 13 or lower, you’re fine. But if you play a card that causes the cumulative value to go over 13, you bust that row and you need to take the cards into your score pile.

That’s not good, by the way. The player with the least amount of points is the winner, so you’re trying to avoid taking cards whenever possible. And as you might expect from Knizia, the card count and values have been sharpened to a razor’s edge, making it feel like you’re always on the precipice of busting a row and adding it to your worryingly expanding score pile. Everyone around the table squirms as their internal, swear laden monologue pleads with the others to “just leave that row be, that’s the only row I can play on, PLEASE DON’T PLAY THERE.”

In addition to that tightwire balance act that so often comes from Knizia, there’s even one of his world famous Knizia Twists™ (callback to last year’s top 100!). At the end of the round when everyone splays out their score pile, you determine who has majority of each suit. Whoever has the most of a suit gets to discard all of that suit’s cards, erasing all those points! This adds even more tension to the turn to turn play, as you wonder when it’s time to aggressively chase after a suit and when it’s smart to lay low and maybe prey on other people’s appetites for majority.

Wild cards further complicate things. These wild cards feature a picture of a day by day calendar with the 13th on it and they can be placed in any row. BUT if you collect them when busting a row, they always count against you as 2 points in your score pile (as opposed to the 1 point per card for normal suits). Nobody can claim majority on wilds, which means taking too many can scuttle whatever progress you made in discarding cards in which you had majority. So, while it’s tempting to throw out wilds whenever you can to avoid busting a row, you might actually just be seeding the board with land mines that you yourself may trigger.

All these little wrinkles folded into such a simple rule set makes for a card game that’s as tense as it is accessible, as bitey as it is quick. Combined with some very cute art that reminds me of the video game Costume Quest (and yes, of COURSE I play the Costume Quest soundtrack in the background whenever this game is played, don’t even bother asking) and you’ve got one of Knizia’s most underrated gems.

72. Tiny Towns

Last year’s ranking: 68 (-4)

What I said last year

Tiny Towns involves a lot of stuff that we’ve seen in other games but puts a fresh new spin on them. In Tiny Towns, everyone is the mayor of a, well, tiny town. You’re all woodland critters trying to escape the predators of the forest by forming your own idyllic little medieval style village. It’s like you’re creating a witness protection program, but for mice.

How you build this town is by placing different colored cubes on your personal player board grid. The cubes represent different building materials, like brick, glass and wood. Resources are doled out by someone called a Master Builder, who yells out the resource that they and everyone else must place in their town on that turn, like the bingo operator at a retirement home. As you do this, you’ll (hopefully) manage to arrange a combination of specific colors in a specific shape, which allows you to remove those cubes and build the building associated with that pattern. You’re ultimately trying to build buildings that synergize well with each other and create nice little batches of points across your town, while also making sure to fill as much space as possible because empty squares are negative points at game’s end.

It’s a very simple game, but don’t mistake that for it being an easy game. This game is anything but. It is a vicious wolf in a gateway game’s clothing. As you place resources in your town, the panic sets in by, roughly, the 3rd cube. Your early misplaced confidence turns to dread when you realize you’ve already blocked off a corner of the board by placing glass in the wrong spot or when you notice that where you were planning on building your farm isn’t as efficient if you had planned to build it over there or when the Master Builder calls out stone as the resource, what the hell are you going to do with this stone, YOU DON’T NEED STONE, DAMMIT.

By the halfway point of the game, everybody is drenched in sweat, panting and gasping with each cube, cursing at themselves for not realizing 8 turns ago that obviously they should have been aiming to build a tavern and not another cottage. When each new, useless cube has to come into my village, I hide it in a corner of my grid like a hoarder stuffing things away in their attic, hoping that I’ll just never need to worry about that again.

It’s stressful, but also very fun. It also helps that when things are going well, the game is incredibly satisfying and tactile. Your town pops up in front of your very eyes, each cute little building springing up out of your carefully planned moves and forming an eye pleasing village for you to admire (until everything goes wrong, of course).

Tiny Towns also offers great amounts of replayability. The different buildings you play with are randomly selected at the beginning, meaning there are lots of different combinations that can be played with and explored. There’s also a variant called Town Hall that takes away the Master Builder and instead uses a resource deck that spits out the resources for you, with everybody picking their own resource to use every third turn. This is mainly for higher player counts, where more players means less control, but it can still be used to freshen things up at lower player counts if you feel like the Master Builder thing is getting stale. I’ve even seen reviews that say they prefer the Town Hall variant and use it as the base rules. Lastly, for lonely people like me, the game offers an excellent solo mode. It’s a score based solo mode which is not how I prefer my solitaire play, but it’s otherwise such an elegant and addictive mode that I’m able to forgive it.

With a robust player count of 2-6 players and a package that oozes variety and replayability, it’s tough to find a game on my list that offers more bang for your buck than Tiny Towns.

What I say now

Dropping only four spots, Tiny Towns remains a really great game that is in the ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ category. Since the last ranking, I’ve had a chance to play it a couple times at 3 players and I LOVED it at that player count. The subtle interaction of choosing resources to screw over your opponent’s boards while not calling stuff that you know they’ll end up calling absolutely sings at this player count, and results in lots of heavy sighs and muffled, smug chuckles.

The one thing I could maybe knock against Tiny Towns, and perhaps the reason why it slid rather than rose, is because there’s a particular strategy that seems really easy to go for. Every game, one of the buildings that’s always available to build is the Cottage and they’re one of the easiest buildings to make in terms of resources and shape. They also combo well with another type of building that’s easy to construct, thus making this a very tempting strategy to go for on any given game…and that’s what people usually do. Every game, it seems like the entire table is working towards some sort of Cottage strategy and that’s a shame considering how much building variety there is game to game. To be clear, I don’t think this is an overpowered strategy. It’s just an easy strategy and in a game that is surprisingly brutal and unforgiving, it’s no wonder every group I’ve played this with seems to drift to it.

Besides that slight concern, I still think Tiny Towns is an excellent package. Whenever I play it, it’s a game I think about for days after, pondering the possible building combos I can try next time (before I inevitably build nothing but Cottages, at least). It’s definitely one you should seek out, especially since the publisher (AEG) is heavily supporting it with expansions and consistent community live streams.

71. Lost Cities

Last year’s ranking: 74 (+3)

What I said last year

In Lost Cities, players are partaking in expeditions to various regions, such as the Amazon, the Arctic and to what is either the center of a volcano or literally Hell. Like Schotten Totten, players play a card and draw a card. When playing a card, you either play it to a specific expedition on your side of the board (making sure the card values are in ascending order) OR to a communal discard pile for that specific expedition. When you draw a card, you either take blindly from the top of the deck or take the top card of any one of those communal discard piles.

What could be a fairly standard game of drawing and playing cards efficiently is transformed into a panic inducing game of chicken and press your luck thanks to one little rule in the scoring. Knizia is known for little twists and wrinkles that take simple designs and rulesets and turns them into beautifully tense experiences that make your brain scream for mercy. Lost Cities involves one of his best ‘Knizia twists’

(No, ’Knizia twists’ is not an actual term in the industry and yes, it sounds like a brand of German pretzels, but I’m coining it anyway).

In Lost Cities, players score the cards they played to their expeditions by simply adding the values together. So, if I play a 1, 2, 4, and 6 in the Amazon, that is 13 points for me! There are also handshake cards which can multiply that by 2, 3 or even 4. That means if I play two handshakes there, I get 39 points! Awwww, yeeeeah, I just kicked the Amazon’s ass. BUT…remember that Knizia Twist ™ I mentioned earlier? The moment you play a card into an expedition you immediately start at negative twenty points for that area. Thematically, that is the capital you’re investing to jumpstart such a grand adventure. In gameplay terms, it means you need to get a value of at least 21 in that expedition if you want to score any sort of positive points. That example I used earlier means that I would have scored 13 minus 20 which equals… (checks calculator)…negative 7 points. And those handshake cards? Those are applied AFTER the twenty point deduction, so let me check my calculator again….ah, yes, that is now negative TWENTY-ONE points. It appears the Amazon kicked MY ass.

This creates such an agonizing dilemma. You don’t want to play into an expedition before you’re pretty sure you can amass the cards needed to get over that 20 point threshold. BUT doing so means you have to tread water with your hand, discarding cards to the communal discards before committing to an expedition. BUT doing this means that you may give the exact cards that your opponent needs to get started on any expeditions they’re working on so you just never wanna play a card to an expedition or to a discard but you have to so what do you do and ahhhh, i want my mommy!

Lost Cities is everything I want in a card game: simple and quick but packed with suspense and tough decisions.

What I say now

Hey! You can see the exact moment I coined the (definitely not trademarked) term Knizia Twist™! How fitting!

Anyway, Lost Cities is a classic of the industry for a reason. It’s an amazing, ingenious design that somehow manages to stay fresh and exciting despite my countless plays of it. I played it last month and was once again blown away by the delightful agony Knizia has baked into the design despite it essentially being a RACK-O variant.

If someone is getting into the hobby and looking for simple but engaging games to get their collection started with, Lost Cities is an easy recommendation. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this keeps climbing even higher.

*

That’ll do it for part 3. See you next week for 70-61!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 90-81

Welcome back! We’re one down, nine to go in this 2020 edition of my top 100! I’m already exhausted! Somebody help! PLEASE.

90. Spirit Island

Last year’s ranking: 55 (-35)

What I said last year

Spirit Island tasks you and your fellow players to defend an island from colonial invaders, putting you in the role of powerful, vengeful spirits who can summon the forces of nature and beyond to do their bidding. The theme is fantastic and is a wonderful middle finger aimed at all the “Let’s colonize some indigenous people!” games out there.

How the game actually plays is quite similar to Pandemic, in that players take their turns trying to manipulate the board state which is then followed by an A.I. deck wreaking havoc on everything you just accomplished. The colonists in this game even act similarly to Pandemic cubes, slowly spreading out like an uncontrollable mold, generally doing more damage the more densely located they are.  Like the disease cubes, one of your main worries is to constantly keep this  spread at bay because the moment it becomes too much to handle, it’s probably too late.

However, don’t mistake Spirit Island for just another Pandemic clone, but with more rules. There are structural similarities, but the game plays vastly differently. Rather than a rigid action system, Spirit Island is all about hand and resource management and savvy card play. Your spirit comes with its own unique set of cards and tech trees to level up, as well as supply of energy that you must dutifully manage. Throughout the game you’ll be leveling up these tech trees and spreading your own presence out on the board, which allows you to further your reach in swatting down those pesky colonists. There is even a hand building aspect to the game, with players gaining the ability to add new cards to their arsenal at certain points. One of my favorite parts is drawing and picking new cards that gel with my spirit’s playstyle. It adds a touch of ownership and customizability to it that many other cooperative games of this type lack.

Another excellent aspect of Spirit Island is that it’s a cooperative game that actually requires cooperation. A novel idea, I know, but Spirit Island does this brilliantly through a few ways. One, the game has so much going on that it’s impossible for one player to quarterback (though I’m sure some will still try). The wealth of stuff to manage requires players to say, “Okay, what can you do? I can shore up over here pretty good but there’s no way I can handle that area” and stuff like that. One of the things that’s gotten very old with Pandemic is that it’s so easy for an alpha gamer to essentially play the game by themselves thanks to perfect information and its somewhat transparent puzzle. Not so in Spirit Island. Not only does everybody have their own hand of cards to parse and manage, but there’s just so much to compute that unless you’re playing with Alan Turing, an alpha gamer is unlikely to take over.

Perhaps more importantly, spirits are designed purposely to have blind spots in their abilities. This means that spirits will HAVE to cooperate because there are things they simply can’t accomplish without another spirit around to hoist them up. Lightning’s Swift Strike, for example, is a quick, offensive powerhouse that can constantly remove colonists off the board, like a mobile bug zapper. But when it comes to actually defending the island, they’re completely helpless, resulting in the invaders doing a ton of damage of their own. On the flip side, you have Vital Strength of the Earth who is a defensive juggernaught but makes molasses look like Usain Bolt. Combine these two spirits, however, and you got yourself a dream team of abilities and powers that are able to tag each other in when they desperately need it, like Undertaker and…uhh…The Rock? Were they both around at the same time? I don’t know wrestling.

Anyway, this reliance on cooperation makes Spirit Island a constantly engaging puzzle for everyone involved and makes the game decently long run time (2-3 hours, depending on player count and experience) go by like a tropical sea breeze. I haven’t even mentioned the insane amount of content this game offers, such as the wide array of spirits, colonists with special powers and even scenarios to try. It’s a game that will keep you busy for quite some time.

What I say now

Spirit Island has the distinct honor of being the biggest drop thus far, careening a whole 35 spots down to number 90.  This is due to two and a half big reasons.

Reason 1: In general, my opinion on this style of cooperative game has cooled. These Pandemic style open information puzzles just don’t engage me like they used to, especially with the influx of fantastic limited communication cooperative games in the past few years. Spirit Island does do a better job at keeping everyone involved and removing quarterbacking than most cooperative games of this ilk, but it’s still not enough for me to want to consistently play this game.

Reason 2: This game is an absolute chore to get to the table. Its depth and complexities means there’s a great deal of fiddliness and edge cases and tiny rules to remember, meaning any time I want to play this I’m faced with the daunting task of relearning it. It’s also longer than most cooperative games, meaning I don’t have to just carve out a huge swath of time to relearn everything but also to play the damn thing.

Reason 2 and a half: Because of this game’s somewhat demanding nature, it’s a game I don’t generally want to pull out with others. This leaves its solo mode as the main option for me and even though it’s a good implementation, the solo mode leaves a lot to be desired compared to the multiplayer game. When playing solo, you play with just one spirit which means one of the biggest draws of the game (trying to combine different spirits’ powers in clever and satisfying ways) is removed. Yes, I can play two handed (where I control two spirits and act like I’m just playing a two-player game) but I get a nosebleed just thinking about how excruciating that would be on my brain.

All that being said, Spirit Island is still an amazing design packed with a buttload of content, which is a big reason why it’s still here in my top 100. It just may not be around much longer, however.

89. Cursed Court

Last year’s ranking: 66 (-23)

What I said last year

Cursed Court is a delicious concoction of bidding, deduction and bluffing. The game board represents a nine by nine grid of Medieval era characters and players will be placing plastic poker chips on various parts of the board to bet on who they think will be present in that current round. This is determined by a deck of cards that contains four copies of each character. At the start of the round, a card is dealt facedown between the player to your right and the player to your left. This means you and LeftPlayer McLeft have some information about who will be present, as well as RightPlayer O’Rightley. But, they of course have cards dealt between their other sides as well, which means they have some information you don’t know.

After this hidden information is dealt out, a card is flipped over face up for the entire table to see and bidding begins. Players then place any amount of chips they have (starting with a supply of 20) on a part of the board either representing a single character OR a specific combination of characters. You placing a wager there essentially means you think that character or combination of characters will be present by the end of the round. Places with another player’s chips can be bumped off, but the cost is double what’s already there. So, if RightPlayer O’Rightley has four chips on the King character, you can bump them off by placing eight of your chips there.

After four cards are flipped face up from the deck and everyone has placed four wagers down, all the face down cards are revealed and people score based on where they bet. If you bet on a single character, you get points based on how many copies of that character are present. If you wagered on a specific combination of characters, you get points only if every character in that combo is present. After four full rounds of this, whoever amassed the most points from the smartest wagering wins! I just hope it isn’t RightPlayer O’Rightley, they’re so smug when they win.

Cursed Court deserves so much more love. I imagine it’s generic name and artwork may have had something to do with its lack of popularity, but that needs to be remedied as soon as possible. It is such an interesting cocktail of mechanisms. You’re using deduction, making decisions based on what you know versus how other players are playing their wagers. You need to be economical with your chips, making efficient bidding another element you need to keep in mind. Twenty chips sounds like a lot, but they go fast. The bluffing is one of the more subtle pieces of Cursed Court and may not even seem apparent to new players. You can use big bids on areas you don’t think are showing up to entice someone else to bump you off, then cackle in their face when it’s revealed you were completely full of crap. Combine all of this with the incredibly tactile chips you use for wagering, and Cursed Court never fails to be a good time.

What I say now

There is a boring, simple reason for Cursed Court’s fall from 66 to 89: I simply haven’t been able to play it lately. Like Celestia and Condottiere on my previous post, Cursed Court is a game best played with 4-6. That ain’t happening in 2020. I suspect Cursed Court will find its way climbing back up when I finally get a chance to play it again.

88. Thunder and Lightning

Last year’s ranking 78 (-10)

What I said last year

I love me some good 2 player only games and Thunder and Lightning is a VERY good 2 player only game. Set in Norse mythology, Thunder and Lightning casts 2 players as Loki and Thor squaring off, each one trying to find a specific card in the other player’s deck. Anyone who has played the classic game Stratego (one of the few mass market games I’d vouch for and still be willing to play today) will instantly feel familiar with this game.

Both players have their own decks of cards which are functionally the same but differ in some art and card names. The cards represent various figures and tropes of Norse mythology and players will be playing these cards to a battlefield. Cards are placed facedown in a 3 by 4 grid, where your opponent can then try to fight their way through it using cards on THEIR side of the battlefield. There are also other cards that you can play immediately for powers which allow you to do things such as draw randomly from your opponent’s hand, target specific cards on the battlefield, bring back some cards from your discard, etc. If at any point a player can find the card they’re looking for (Odin’s Crown for Loki, Odin’s Ring for Thor) then they win!

Thus begins an agonizingly intense game of bluffing, hand management and secretive tableau building. Every decision is fraught with tension as you try to sneak into the mind of your opponent, trying to discover why they’ve played cards in certain positions or why they’re triggering certain powers. Are they keeping their hand so large because they drew your MacGuffin and are trying to lower the odds of you plucking it out with an Odin’s Ravens card? Or is it to throw you off the scent that they’ve already played your MacGuffin into their battlefield, waiting innocently in a corner as you pay no mind to it? Or is it simply because they like having a lot of cards and options? And what do YOU even do? Do you play strong solider cards to your frontlines, creating a sturdy defense? Or do you space them across your battlefield to provide a nice surprise for your opponent as they get deeper into your lines? Questions like this will pinball around your brain and you’ll constantly doubt and rethink your actions as you try to come up with the best use for the cards in your hand.

My only complaint about Thunder and Lightning is that the game can go on pretty long, especially if neither player draws their opponent’s MacGuffin until late in the deck. It’s entirely possible for both player’s MacGuffins to be buried in the 2nd half of their decks, meaning it will be a long time before anyone even draws it. Considering there are also cards that can raise casualties back from the dead further elongates a game that can take over an hour. This complaint is amplified by the fact that a bad bit of randomness can literally lose you the game, thus making an hour plus runtime a little tougher to swallow.

What I say now

Thunder and Lightning dropped 10 spots, but that’s small potatoes considering how many new games entered the list this year. I still like it roughly as much as last year, it’s just facing stiffer competition. I still have some qualms about its length since some games can be long, drawn out affairs while others are as quick and anti-climactic as a mouse’s fart. But this is still a great 2-player game that I love getting to the table.

87. Love Letter

Previous ranking : 67 (-20)

What I said last year

Love Letter is the game that many credit with kicking off the microgame craze, games that are incredibly small but manage to offer compelling, replayable experiences. In Love Letter’s case, it’s a deck of a mere 16 cards that somehow manages to be not only a game, but one that’s damn fun too.

In Love Letter, players are competing to get a love letter to the princess, which I guess was the Medieval version of sending unsolicited nudes. Everyone has a hand of just one card and on their turn they draw one from the deck and choose one of their two cards to play. The cards represent different characters in the kingdom, like the guard or the priest or the princess herself. They each have an ability when played and you’re essentially just trying to survive until the end of the round with the highest numbered card in hand. First person to win a set number of rounds wins, ostensibly because you’re the best at pestering the poor princess.

Congratulations! I’ve officially taught you the entire game! This is one part of what makes Love Letter so amazing. Its simplicity makes it so accessible and easy to pick and play. And once you are playing, it immediately gets the endorphins going. Cards are thrown on the table as players laugh and groan and cheer and as soon as one round is done, you’re ready to start the next one. It’s such an addictive, lively experience.

It’s tough to really say much more because Love Letter is such a small but pure experience. When my friends and I have spent the whole night drinking and it’s two in the morning, but we want to get just one last game in, Love Letter is often the go-to choice. This game has created so many great memories from that type of scenario and for that reason alone, I don’t see Love Letter leaving my top 100 anytime soon.

What I say now

Love Letter is one of those games that I think is simply starting to play itself out a bit. I still love playing this game and I have fun whenever I do, but it’s slipping due to the sheer number of times I’ve played it. I wouldn’t say I see it leaving the top 100 because it’s still one of my favorite wind down, end-of-the-night-after-too-many-beers-kind-of-games, but it’s getting close. Love Letter? More like Reluctant Break Up Letter, amiright??

86. Everdell

Last year’s ranking: N/A

The first ‘new to the list’ game for this 90-81 section is Everdell. Everdell is a worker placement, card driven tableau builder that I think can best be described as ‘51st State but for furries’.

In Everdell, you and your opponents are various woodland critters, building up the kingdom of Everdell through your own personal cities. What that actually means is that you will be placing workers to obtain resources which you will then spend to place cards in front of you, hoping those cards will form an engine that net you even more resources and/or end game points (giving you that aforementioned 51st State feel).

The absolute first thing you’ll notice about Everdell is its stunning art and production values. It’s a breakout performance from artist Andrew Bosley, whose gorgeous art adorns every inch of this game, creating a universe that brims with charm and personality. The components are also top shelf quality, with tactile resources, like chunky twigs and squishy berries, and a cardboard god damned tree that sits at the edge of the board. From a practical standpoint, the tree actually kinda gets in the way more than it helps but it’s a GIANT CARDBOARD GOD DAMNED TREE. I’m not going to ask questions.

These stratospheric production values help instill what is my favorite thing about Everdell: atmosphere. Aside from Viticulture, I can’t think of a Euro that does a better job of immersing you in its world and providing you an almost palpable sense of ambience. As I place my workers and collect my resources, shifting through my hands of cards to see what I should focus on, there is a feeling of warmth and serenity that bubbles up within me. I practically feel like I’m in the kingdom of Everdell itself, fraternizing with the other critters and gossiping about how the skunk is sleeping with the otter or whatever it is that forest animals do (remember: what happens in Everdell, stays in Everdell).

Everdell finds itself not quite as high as other Euros on this list mainly because of lack of multiplayer experience. The bulk of my plays have been solo, with one two-player game being my sole multiplayer session. What I have played is obviously top 100 material already but keep your eyes on Everdell next year. I could see this making a big jump up the list.

85. Old West Empresario

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Another new game to the list!This one is Old West Empresario and it is a real chocolate and peanut butter situation. It takes two awesome things-tile laying and dice drafting-and mashes them together to make the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of tableau builders. And that is as far that metaphor will go, don’t worry.

In Old West Empresario, you are building up a frontier town, building things like distilleries, saloons and graveyards (because you only did two things back then: drinking and dying). Every round, dice are rolled and placed in columns depending on their number. When it’s your turn, you take a die and then take a tile from the column to build in your town. As you build, you’re hoping to set it up so that the tiles are next to things that score them lots of end game points.

But I’m burying the lede here. Sure, you’re trying to set the tiles up in an efficient, geographic formation but that’s a mechanism you can file under “Every Tile Layer, Ever”. The real draw of Old West Empresario is that all the tiles have special powers which are activated by a certain die number. When you draft a die, you don’t have to take a tile from that column. You can instead use that die number to activate all tiles in your town that have that activation number.

This adds so much richness to the otherwise standard tile laying fare of Old West Empresario. Suddenly you’re not just looking to the end game, trying to get specific tiles next to each other for a big point payout at the finale. You’re also keeping an eye on what powers work well together and what their die numbers are. Do you place a bunch of tiles with different die numbers, so that no matter the rolls you have something to activate? Or do you load up on tiles of one or two numbers, so that when you get a die of that type you can trigger a domino fall of powers? It’s an engrossing dilemma to wrestle with and one of the reasons why I love this game.

Old West Empresario finds itself in a similar situation to Everdell. It’s in the 80s now due to having only a few plays of it, but it’s something I could see rising come next top 100. Regardless, it’s a fantastic combination of two of my favorite mechanisms and I can’t wait to get it to the table again.

84. Biblios

Last year’s ranking: 18 (-66)

What I said last year

In Biblios, you are living through everyone’s biggest power fantasy by donning the cowl of a medieval monk and trying to create the best damn library around. If that doesn’t get your pulse racing, then you’re probably a pretty normal person. But don’t worry about the theme (even though I secretly like it because I’m a weirdo). The real magic in Biblios comes from its gameplay.

Biblios is simply a set collection game at its heart but where it blossoms into a beautiful monk shaped flower is in its unique structure. The game is divided into two phases. There is a card drafting round known as the Gifting Phase where you’ll be gaining and divvying up cards, and then an auction round where you’ll be buying even more cards in an auction format.

First, the Gifting Phase. During this phase, players draw cards from the deck and must do the following: keep a card, give a card to the other players and put a card into the auction deck to be auctioned off in the following phase. The cards are either gold cards to use for the auction, cards that control the dice that mark the point values for the different colors in the game and then the cards of said colors.  The key here, however, is that players draw these cards one at a time and must decide immediately what to do with it. If you draw a high value blue card, do you keep it? What if you’re not working to collect blue? Do you willingly give it to another player, knowing it’ll greatly help them out? Or do you just stow It away in the auction deck, waiting for Future You to deal with it? Every card draw in this phase feels like a mini game of push your luck, trying to decide what to do with each card so that you don’t end up getting stuck with something crappy or giving your opponent something amazing.

The next phase is just a straightforward auction but it’s no less intense. The gold you accumulated in the Gifting Phase is used to buy the cards from the player crafted auction deck, with everyone raising their bid or bowing out to save up for the next card. Even if you made an effort to get a nice, fat stack of gold, it feels like you’re always on the precipice of being completely broke. It’s a tightrope walk of getting good value for cards you want while making sure your opponents don’t get things they need for cheap. This often results in you feeling like you’re overspending or letting your opponents get cards too easily and, like Hanamikoji, the brilliance is that your opponents are thinking the same thing.

Every turn and decision is loaded with anxiety and panic, which culminates in a climactic reveal. At the end, players reveal their hands to see how much of each color they have, which then shows which colors they’ve essentially ‘won’. Points are awarded based on what the die of that color says and whoever has the most points, wins. It’s always a surprising and thrilling revelation, a dramatic release of tension like a slingshot snapping a rock through a window after being held for twenty straight minutes.

I’ll end this by saying that even if you find the theme of monks and libraries to be empty and boring, you’d be doing a disservice to Biblios to not play it. It’s such a superbly designed game with two unique halves that somehow flow together seamlessly. Try it out, Biblios is amazing.

What I say now

That sigh of relief you just heard is from Spirit Island up above, which no longer has the honor of being the game to fall the farthest. Now it’s Biblios, which was in my top 20 last year, falling down to my bottom 20. What the hell happened, Biblios!?

Okay, it’s easy to see a huge freefall like that and be like, “Well, guess Kyle hates Biblios now” but that’s far from the truth. I still REALLY like this game. It’s still an amazing card game. My big issue with Biblios is that its luster has worn off a bit. It was one of the first card games I really loved when getting into the hobby and I think a there was a shred of nostalgia behind its high rating last year. I also just have to admit that since playing and falling in love with Biblios for the first time a couple years ago, I’ve played so many small, tense card games that I, frankly, like more than Biblios. This realization occurred some time between last year’s ranking and now, hence the dramatic plummet.

But again: Biblios is an incredible card game that I would recommend to anybody. In fact, I’d be SHOCKED if Biblios falls off the list entirely come next year. It’s still firmly a top 100 game. It just isn’t as high up, that’s all!

83. Sheriff of Nottingham

Last year’s ranking: 53 (-30)

What I said last year

In Sheriff of Nottingham, you and your opponents take turns being the titular Sheriff. When you’re the Sheriff, players hand you a bag stuffed with up to five cards, claiming a certain good, such as cheese or chicken. BUT, in pure bluffing game fashion, they may be lying. If you call them out on it and open their bag only to find they’ve been telling the truth, you pay a penalty per card. If you open it and discover they’re sneaking in contraband, such as crossbows or pepper (the law really hates pepper in this game), then THEY pay the penalty.

That’s pretty much the game! As you can see, this is far from a deep experience. But what makes Sheriff of Nottingham so much damn fun is the negotiation and the role play that blossoms from the simple mechanisms. You can bribe the Sheriff to open a bag or to not open a bag or even offer them goods if they let you go through. They can haggle right back, threatening to open unless you provide something in return. All the while, players are (hopefully) doing this in shoddy British accents, dramatically playing the parts of humble merchants or of a ruthless Sheriff.

This game was firmly in my top 25 for a while but has recently fallen because I’ve realized how much the game relies on everyone buying into the role-playing aspect. If you have everybody being goofy and doing stupid voices, this is one of the most fun games you can play. But if even half the table is playing it straight, it will sink the experience. My last playthrough of this had me being the only one acting like a dumbass and it was not nearly as pleasurable as past playthroughs. Waaay back in my 100-91 section, I talked about a game called Goodcritters and said that if everybody isn’t getting into it, the game will fall flat. The same can be said for Sheriff, unfortunately.

Ultimately though, if you think you have a group that will really buy into it and act like a bunch of assholes at the Renaissance Faire for an hour, Sheriff of Nottingham is incredible amounts of fun.

What I say now

My main critique of Sheriff of Nottingham last year-that it requires everyone to act silly and role-play a bit-still stands strong today and is the reason behind Sheriff’s slow but noticeable decline. I’m now much pickier with my plays of Sheriff and thus have not gotten it to the table in a while. When I get the chance to play this again with the right group, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheriff starts to claw its way back up; it’s too fun a game not to. But for now, 83 will have to do!

82. Oriflamme

Last year’s ranking: N/A

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve come to realize that role selection is one of my favorite mechanisms and here’s another game to spotlight why. Oriflamme is my number 82, an under the radar game that feels like someone took the bluffing and role selection mixture found in the game Coup and added a dash of programming to it.

In Oriflamme, you and your opponents are fighting over some random throne because some random king decided to randomly die without an heir. How irresponsible of him. To win the throne, players need to cleverly activate roles while building up influence chips throughout the game. Whoever has the most influence chips, wins.

Lots of role selection games involve players simultaneously selecting their roles and then flipping them over to activate. Oriflamme manages it a bit differently. Every round, players take turns playing a role from their hand face down into a display, adding it to either end. Then, an activation phase commences in which the players go down the display and decide one of two things: do they want to flip over the role and activate it OR do they want to keep the role face down and place an influence chip on it?  Letting these chips build up is essential to winning since they are victory points but doing so means you’re not activating a potentially important role AND you’re painting a huge target on your back for somebody to attack that card and remove it, and all its influence, from the game.

These tantalizing decisions during every activation phase makes for a perpetual game of chicken between you and your opponents. You and the others around the table are constantly side eyeing each other, wondering who’s going to draw first blood. Making it even more intense are the presence of the Scheme and Ambush roles. The Scheme card allows you to reap DOUBLE influence when you activate it, meaning anybody who lets the card sit for half the game is going to get a massive return on investment. Buuut, don’t let that persuade you to attack each other blindly because there is the Ambush card. The Ambush card means that whoever attacks it loses THEIR card and the ambushed player receives a payout of 4 influence, which can be a surprisingly huge swing in this game. The mere threat of these two cards looming over the display creates a tense game of double think and bluffing, giving every choice surprising weight given the game’s brisk 15-20 minute run time.

To go even more inside baseball, you can stack your own cards on top of each other in the display, giving you more control over what activates and when. Combining this with some savvy ordering of your other cards in the display can trigger big chain reactions that create a huge knockout punch in your benefit. This injects some of that programming element I alluded to earlier, a unique feature in a role selection game. Thanks to extremely important timing, it can feel hard to pull off some of these power moves, making you feel more like Hodor than Littlefinger. This can give the game an air of frustrating chaos BUT the prospect of doing so outshines that occasional negative feeling.

All of these small, subtle elements to your decision making creates a game that is far more crunchy and cunning than it lets on. My time with Oriflamme is still relatively fresh, so I could definitely see this climbing in the ranks. For now, it is a rock solid 82.

81. Small World

Last year’s ranking: 62 (-19)

What I said last year

Small World [is a] cartoonish fantasy area control game of drafting different races and powers in an effort to wipe other players’ races off the map. It’s genocidal fun for the whole family!

The main draw of Small World is the myriad of fantasy races and goofy special powers that are combined randomly every game and then allowing players to pick which of those combos they want to play. Do you want to play as the Alchemist Trolls, a heavily defensive race that will produce extra gold every turn? Or do you take the Flying Merfolk, who can zip around wherever they want on the map, cherry picking the areas that border water and give them extra points?

This system of picking and using randomized armies brings two cool things to Small World. The first is the draft itself. When you pick your race and power combo, you have a whole column to pick from. The first combo is free and you can take it without spending precious gold. But if it’s a relatively weak combo that you want no part of (“Seafaring dwarves?? Absolutely not”), then you can pick a combination farther down the column with the caveat that you must place a gold coin on every race you skip. Then later on, if you anybody picks a combo with gold on it, hey! Free points! This is one of the first games that used this clever drafting system and we are finally starting to see other games copy it for use in their own systems (Century: Spice Road, Majesty: For the Realm and Micropolis to name a few). It creates a wonderful decision space where you’re constantly trying to figure out the value of how powerful a combo will be versus how much it’ll cost you to get to that.

The other cool aspect that this brings comes in the form of the decline mechanism. Like The Beatles or Butterfinger BBs, nothing lasts forever, and such is true for your races in Small World. As time goes on, your race is going to start to thin out more and more and you’ll have to decide when you’ll want to put them in decline. This simply means you spend a whole round taking most of those units off the board, flipping the remaining ones over to a black and white side and then getting ready to pick a new race in the next round. Timing for going into decline is absolutely crucial. Go into decline too early and you’re not being as efficient with your race’s powers. Go into decline too late, however, and you’ll end up having some very low scoring rounds since your current race is mere scraps on the board. If you time it just right, you can maximize points from your race in decline AND the new active race and that is ultimately the key to success in Small World.

What I say now

Not a huge drop for Small World, but sizable enough to do a brief double take. Unfortunately, this is another game in which it’s a fairly boring answer: I just haven’t played it in a while. Small World is best with more than 2, so being stuck in a pandemic fueled Groundhog’s Day scenario of nothing but 2 player games hasn’t helped it to get to the table. My girlfriend, the one subjected to playing games with me during this lockdown, is also not a big fan of Small World so that hurts its chances even more.

What I will say is that I DO feel the urge to play Small World. For a game I played so much in the early days of my hobby gaming, I don’t quite feel the burnout that I do with other games of that era, like Pandemic or last post’s Carcassonne. I really would love to dive back into this game’s fantasy world of wacky wanton warfare.

Until then, Small World has to be satisfied with a place in the low 80s.

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Congratulations! You’ve completed Part 2! Not so hard, was it? See you next week for 80-71!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2020 Edition): 100-91

I interrupt your horrifying 2020 to bring you a bright ray of board game sunshine: it’s my top 100 games of all time!

Last year, around the late Fall/early winter period, I shared with the public for the first time ever my top 100 board games of all time. However, that was the 2019 edition. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that a LOT can change in a year. Therefore, I think it’s fun and far more accurate to update the list year to year and this right here is the start of my 2020 list.

If you’re completely new to this, you can check out my 2019 list on my site. I obviously still have it posted, both for posterity and because there’s no way something I spent that amount of time on is getting removed. I made a little post (Yep, That Time Again, Let’s Do Another Top 100!) a week ago introducing how I’m gonna handle this year’s top 100 versus last year’s, particularly when it comes to games that I already wrote about. Check out that link above for a quick primer to see what’s in store.

With those things out of the way, let’s get into it!

100. Monikers

Last year’s ranking: 86 (-14)

What I said last year

Monikers is a game that is based on a public domain game that has several different names: Fishbowl, The Hat Game and Celebrity are a few of the names given to the DIY versions you play with your friends, while people in the hobby will recognize Time’s Up as an officially published version of the game system….Monikers/Fishbowl/The Hat Game/Celebrity/Time’s Up is a game where two (or more) teams are trying to guess more words and phrases than the other team(s). These words and phrases are on cards that make up a unique deck for that game. On your team’s turn, a clue giver is trying to give clues to lead your team to guessing whatever is on that card. Pretty standard party game stuff, so far. But there are two unique twists that make this game as memorable and funny as it is.

The first twist is that the game is played over three rounds and each round narrows the amount of stuff the clue giver can say and give to their team in order to guess the word. First round is easy: the clue giver can say whatever they want as long as it isn’t part of the word or phrase itself. Second round is tougher: in this round, the clue giver can only give ONE word to lead their team to winning the card. Third round is madness: only charades/silent gestures can be used to get your team to guess the card.

Which of course leads me to the second twist that makes this game system so brilliant. During these three rounds, the SAME deck of cards is being used. This means players have to remember from previous rounds what words have been guessed and use that to their advantage as the clues get vaguer and more stupid as the game goes on

The end result is a hilarious game where inside jokes and callbacks run rampant. As you get deeper and deeper into the game, your brain latches onto references from previous rounds, creating a cacophony of laughter whenever they pop back up. This leads to situations like in a recent game for me, where somebody pantomiming a fire breathing dragon led to someone (correctly) shouting, “BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.” Another saw a friend of mine running to block a door with his back, fear and panic on his face in order to get across the word “Hodor”. Perhaps my favorite of all is a very simple moment when my friend gave a serene, welcoming gesture with his hands and face which got me to correctly guess, “Richard Attenborough”.

It’s these little moments that pepper a night of Monikers that make it such a fun, hysterical experience. There’s not much else to add, so I’ll close with my favorite Monikers story. One night, I introduced it to three friends and we were playing 2 v. 2 for an hour or so. Another friend came in during the third round of a game and saw us guessing extremely specific prompts off of fairly basic charades gestures. She stood there dumbfounded, not realizing it wasn’t normal Charades, and just softly said, “how did you guys do that.”

What I say now

Yeah, Monikers is still a blast. It does, however, find itself sinking on my list, dangerously close to falling out the bottom, because of its fairly specific niche it fills. I really only play Monikers at big parties, where we have at least 6-8 willing players, and outside of that setting, I don’t find myself drawn to it. The fact that I haven’t had a social situation like that since (checks watch) mid-March due to a deadly virus raging across the planet, perhaps compounds this issue.

Still, the fun memories Monikers has provided me with and the always hilarious experiences that occur when it’s pulled out means it can feel secure here in my top 100 for at least another year.

99. Silver & Gold

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Well, that didn’t take long! Just two games in and we already have a newcomer. Welcome to the list, buddy!

Our fresh face here is Phil Walker-Harding’s Silver & Gold, a roll/flip and write that has the distinction of being my favorite in the genre. In this game, you won’t be crooning Christmas songs as the name may imply. Nope, here you’re in the role of pirates crossing off ‘X’s off treasure maps, as you do between binging rum and hanging out with Johnny Depp.

The game is essentially a deck of cards that represent these treasure maps. You start the game with two and then a separate deck reveals a polyomino shape for that turn. That shape is the shape all players must draw on one of their two maps. “Wait,” you say, your face flushed with panic, “draw on a card!? What am I, some kind of serial killer!? That’s how John Wayne Gacy started!”

Relax, friend, because one of the coolest things about Silver & Gold is that the cards are all dry erase. That means you take a marker, mark out the squares  and at the end of the game, everything comes off! Your goal is to mark off all the squares on a card as quickly and efficiently as possible. As you fill in cards you place them to the side like a pirate secretary filing paperwork and then you grab a new one from an ever-changing display.

Playing these minigames of Pirate Tetris as efficiently as possible is made all the more fun by the extra small but meaningful decisions Walker-Harding has peppered along the way. Some of the squares on the maps have different icons. There’s coins and palm trees which can provide big point bonuses when filled in at the right time, as well as ‘X’s that allow you to immediately cross off another square (which can be chained together to satisfying effect). Plus, many of the cards include end game point bonuses for completing certain color cards. Trying to formulate a strategy around one of these mechanisms gives Silver & Gold a slight but noticeable extra oomph and provides a solid amount of replay value.

The biggest criticism I have of this game is that it can be a very heads down experience. Aside from occasionally having a card you wanted taken from the display and the race to gold coins, it feels like you’re just paying attention to your own maps with little room for player interaction. This is, of course, a common thread among roll and writes, a big reason why the genre often falls flat for me. Silver & Gold does what it can to mask this, but even that feels like not quite enough.

But as I’ll say quite often throughout this list, making it anywhere on this top 100 means it’s a great game, so 99 is quite impressive for Silver & Gold!

98. Brave Rats

Last year’s ranking: N/A

One thing I was surprised by when I looked through my 2019 top 100, besides how insufferable I am, is how much I apparently like role selection games. I’ve always known it to be a mechanism I liked, but I like it a LOT more than I realized. We can add another piece of evidence to the sprawling “Does Kyle REALLY like role selection??” cork board that some haggard detective is currently standing front of: my number 98 game, new to the top 100, Brave Rats.

Brave Rats is designed by Senji Kanai, designer of Love Letter, another role selection game that happened to make my top 100 last year (will it return? STAY TUNED). And when you squint at both Love Letter and Brave Rats, you can certainly see the connective tissue. In fact, I’ve often described Brave Rats as a 2-player version of Love Letter.

Like Love Letter, Brave Rats has players picking role/character cards, trying to trigger their powers and/or ensure that their character’s number is bigger than their opponents. Whereas Love Letter involved players drawing from a deck, managing a teensy tiny hand of two, Brave Rats is a 2 player only game where both players have an identical hand of 8 cards. The cards (again, like Love Letter) are different characters that are numbered and include some sort of zany special power that will obliterate any chance of your game following those pesky things called ‘rules’.

You see, at its core, Brave Rats is basically a game of War (that sounds dreadful, but keep reading). You play a card and the number on it needs to be higher than the number on your opponent’s card. If it is, you win the round! First to four rounds wins.

Okay, sounds simple, but imagine playing a game of War in which you and your opponent are crammed into a giant clothes dryer and you’re spending the game tumbling together around in a kinetic blur. That’s what Brave Rats truly is.

So, let’s say you play the ‘Assassin’, a 3, which means the lowest strength wins but your opponent played ‘The Wizard’ which cancels out your card so never mind, the ‘Wizard’ has a higher  value so they still win BUT WAIT, ACTUALLY on the previous round you played the ‘General’ which provides +2 to your card in the next round so your ‘Assassin’ isn’t a 3, it’s a 5, so it’s a tie which means this round is put on hold and the cards are put to the side so that whoever wins the next round wins both that round and THIS round and this is just a small example of the nonsensical, topsy turvy fun that Brave Rats provides.

Games can even last, hilariously, less than 5 seconds. A ‘Prince’ card automatically wins the round they’re played in BUT if your opponent plays the ‘Princess’ card, they automatically win the game. I’ve played many a game with my girlfriend where I play my ‘Prince’ as my first card, thinking, ‘No way she plays her Princess THIS early, heh heh oh look she did, I just lost” and the game is over just like that. It’s moments like this and the example above that make Brave Rats such a supremely silly but memorable game that I have a blast playing over and over again.

This has been an amazing game for me the past couple months in quarantine, since it’s just me and my girlfriend playing lots of two player games. The main reason this sits at 98 and not higher is because, like a powerful blood magic spell, the whirlwind of chaos this game conjures comes at a price. Often times there’ll be edge cases as to who truly wins the round and there’s a player aid devoted to tiebreakers with a surprisingly daunting spreadsheet to resolve who wins what and when.

Despite that fiddliness, Brave Rats is an absolute delight of a microgame and one that I anticipate could climb up the more I play.

97. Majesty: For the Realm

Last year’s ranking: N/A

My number 97 comes from designer Marc Andre, who is best known for making the smash hit Splendor. While I quite like Splendor, it isn’t quite a top 100 game for me. Therefore, I find it a little disappointing that his follow up, Majesty: For the Realm, hasn’t gotten near the buzz Splendor did because I, obviously, find it to be a better game.

Like Splendor, Majesty is a gateway level engine builder perfect for rookies to the genre. Whereas Splendor had players collecting and spending poker chips to buy victory points, Majesty has you drafting cards to slot into a tableau so that they can net you exponential returns. Every player starts with a row of cards representing a village, with locations like the Mill, the Brewery and the Castle.

On your turn, you draft a card from a display, following a Small World-esque system; the first card is free and every card past that requires you to drop a meeple on everything that comes before it. You then take the card and put it in its proper location: Millers go the Mill, Brewers go to the Brewery and so on. This gives you an amount of points, the amount of which is determined by the number of cards already at that location and/or the number of cards at other places in your tableau.

The points you’re rewarded start off small, like the drizzle before a spring shower, and eventually become laughably huge, turning that drizzle into the monsoon scene from Jumanji. So many engine builders revolve around building engines that either make actions more efficient or allow you to trigger chain reactions that lead to an eventual windfall of resources or points. In Majesty, it’s far simpler. Things just snowball till you blink and suddenly you have 200 points. It’s a refreshingly elegant and satisfying way to tackle a mechanism that, I think, can sometimes transform its games into downtime filled slogs as every player needs to wait for their opponent to trigger 14 different cards that lead into each other.

These point explosions that come at you like a fireworks display’s grand finale are made all the more satisfying by the chunky point tokens you get from scoring. They aren’t quite the tactile delight that the Splendor poker chips are but they’re damn close. Obviously, this is a fairly shallow observation to make, but components can add a lot to a game and the gratifying clickety clack of these point chips elevate the already rewarding engine building that Majesty provides.

The interesting thing about Majesty is that this isn’t new to my collection or a game I just played this year for the first time. I’ve had Majesty since it released back in 2018 and it’s always been a game I’ve really liked. I just happen to rediscover my love for it this year, thanks to quarantine gaming with my girlfriend. We’ve been playing it a bunch over the past few months and it’s been a wonderful experience, like greeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Majesty certainly isn’t the deepest game and there’s a certain strategy that I think is perhaps overpowered (there is a ‘variety point bonus’ for getting all your locations filled that seems to always decide the outcome), but this is one hell of an underrated game that deserves more love.

96. Celestia

Last year’s ranking: 83 (-13)

What I said last year

Celestia is a push your luck game in the style of Incan Gold, where you and a group are pressing forward on an increasingly dangerous path, and the crux of the game is deciding whether to stay and take guaranteed points or to stay juuust a bit longer to squeeze out a bit more. While Incan Gold has you going through a fairly generic temple setting, Celestia has you travelling on a steampunk style airship, making pit stops in a vibrant Wonderland-esque cul-de-sac of floating cities.

Celestia is played over a series of ‘journeys’, which involve moving from city to city. At each city, a new captain takes over making this either the most fair, egalitarian group of air travelers ever assembled or the most indecisive. Whoever the captain is must roll a certain number of threat dice, the number of which gradually increases throughout the journey. These threat dice might be rolled to a blank side, which reveals no threat (awesome!), or show some sort of threat icon (booo!). The threats involve things like ‘Sky Pirates’, ‘Lightning’ or ‘A Whole Shit Ton of Birds’. The captain must beat these threats by playing cards from their hand which have a matching icon. If the captain does, congratulations! Onward to the next floating city that definitely isn’t just an LSD hallucination! However, if the captain CAN’T play cards to beat the threats? Well. Hope your family took out a nice life insurance policy, because that airship is going DOWN.

The key here is that before the Captain reveals whether or not they can defeat the threats and safely fly everyone to the next city, every other player gets to decide whether to stay with their fearless leader or parachute on down to the current city tile the ship is on, grabbing a victory point card from the city. Victory points increase down the path, which entices people to stay on board but the chance of getting NO points can scare even the most stronghearted explorer. After all, you know what they say: a bird in the hand is worth two in the flaming airship wreckage.

While players decide whether or not to drop out, the Captain can say whether or not they have the cards to beat the dice. The fun part is, they can tell the truth or bend it to their advantage. This extra bit of bluffing is what makes Celestia sing, and it creates lots of table talk and negotiation as people try to figure out what to do. Every game I see alliances form, with two or three people becoming each other’s Ride or Die, always jumping ship at the same time or sticking together during even the darkest of times. It’s hilarious when one of these alliances goes deep down the journey’s path, managing to snag a high point victory card from one of the final cities as everyone else bitterly mumbles under their breath. It’s even funnier when an alliance foolishly crashes together, making one wonder if Kool Aid is one of the in flight refreshments.

Like many push your luck games, Celestia is full of laugh out loud and stand up moments. Add in the extra social dynamic of bluffing and table talk, and you have an easy top 100 entry for me.

What I say now

Celestia finds itself falling down my list. One of the biggest reason for this is Celestia’s player count. The box says 2-6, but like an insecure man stuffing the groin area of his pants with a sock, that’s way overcompensating. This game is ostensibly a 4-6 player game and that’s bad news. Not just because of *gestures to the pandemic* that, but also because Celestia faces a lot of competition in my collection at that player count. If I’m in a situation where I need a game that plays best with 4 or more, Celestia finds itself low on the list of options.

One reason for this is my main criticism against this game. It’s a criticism I swore I brought up last year but, looking back, it appears not. It’s never too late to complain, though, so let me complain! My biggest critique of Celestia is that has a very slow pace in the first half of the game. It’s a game to 50 points and I always feel like the first 25-35 points take FOREVER to get. I have a couple specific memories of playing this game for 20-25 minutes, looking at my stock of points to discover I only had, like, 12. I will admit that the last third of the game feels much quicker and more intense, with everybody suddenly within arm’s reach of the 50 point target. But getting to that final act feels like climbing up a hill made entirely of treacle.

I still obviously quite like Celestia; any game on this top 100 is a game that I really enjoy playing. When/If the pandemic ever ends and I get a chance to play this again, I could definitely see this solidifying a place on the list. For now? Let’s just say its facing a little turbulence and that there is a faint whiff of whiskey wafting from the captain’s cockpit. (It’s an airship metaphor. Like the game. Get it? Venmo me your tips)

95. Condottiere

Last year’s ranking: 97 (+2)

What I said last year

Anyone who has played The Witcher 3 will immediately recognize Condottiere as something familiar: this game is basically Gwent…In Condottiere, players are vying over control of 13th century Italy with the end goal being to either control 3 adjacent territories on the board or simply controlling 5 in all. These territories are won by playing battles, which is where the Gwent similarities start to pile up. Players are playing cards from their hands, most of which are soldiers with values attached to them. Ultimately, by the time the battle ends you want your little battle line of cards to have the highest value so that you can claim the territory with one of your cubes.

Of course, it’s not that simple. There are a handful of special cards that spice things up like Grandma’s marinara. There are drummers which double the value of your battle line, there’s a Bishop who destroys every copy of the highest valued soldier (what a cranky old man), there’s even a card that ends the battle abruptly, resulting in hilarious moments where someone wins a territory with one dude holding a crossbow in their line.

At its core, Condottiere is a tense game of hand management. You’re constantly debating whether you want to spend your best cards and really commit to winning that territory, or if you just want to retreat and save your hand for another day. In a clever rule, if you’re the only person with solider cards in your hand in between battles, the round actually ends and you have to discard your whole hand, thus meaning hoarding till everyone else is depleted won’t work. When you throw in some politicking with your friends, the game REALLY comes alive. The last game I played of this was an absolute blast, and a lot of that had to do with the constant fragile alliances being made and immediately being broken as people were selfishly trying to win each territory for themselves.

If there is a main gripe I have with this game that keeps it from being higher on the list, it’s that you can really be boned by a bad hand of cards in this game. I usually don’t mind luck of the draw, but in this game it stings a lot more for some reason. Probably because there isn’t much of a way to mitigate a bad hand and since you’re stuck with it for an entire round, it can be deflating to watch battle after battle being lost. I once drew a hand that was essentially a high school marching band, with nothing but drummers and very few soldiers and it was not fun.

Outside of this unfortunate luck of the draw, Condottiere is a fantastic card game that seems to get even better with each play.

What I say now

It’s funny that Condottiere follows Celestia on the list. Remember when I said Celestia is competing against a lot of great 4-6 games in my collection? Condottiere is one of the games I’d choose over Celestia! Well, this is awkward. Sorry, Celestia, I didn’t think you’d still be in the room.

I don’t have much to add or change to what I said last year. Everything still stands and this is one of many games I can’t WAIT to play again when game nights are safe to have again.

94. Kodachi

Last year’s ranking: N/A

My number 94 is another new game to the list, a push your luck, hand management game called Kodachi. Set in 12th century Japan, players find themselves in the roles of ninjas breaking into various estates, hoping to defeat guards and grab some loot in an effort to get the most points. Just like real 12th century Japan!

Kodachi is a push your luck game in same vein as Incan Gold or Port Royal; you’re revealing cards from a deck and hoping you don’t bust. What separates this game from those, however, is its hand management system. The cards you’re revealing in Kodachi represent guards and they have a number you must beat by playing a value from your hand. What value must you play? Ahh, that depends on how you decided to approach this round.

You see, when you turn over the first guard to start your turn, you have a choice: are you going to break into this estate using stealth or strength? If you use stealth, then to beat the guards you draw you must play a value lower than their number. If you use strength, however, then you must play a value higher than their number. This decision to either tip toe around like Solid Snake or lay waste to every living thing in your path like John Wick is a reliably tense one, forcing you to compare the first guard to the cards in your hand, trying to figure out what is the safest bet going forward.

If you ever draw a guard you can’t beat, you bust and your turn ends. If you decide to end your turn before that happens, though, you get to draft cards from the various cards you’ve drawn. You can take guard cards, which provide a treasure to represent the loot they’ve dropped, or you can spend treasure gained in this fashion to grab new cards to add to your hand/deck. This adds a subtle dash of deckbuilding to the game and helps you fashion a deck that can go in any number of ways. Perhaps you grab cards of varying values, hedging your bets so that you can be prepared for any roster of guards you face; or maybe you focus on exclusively low or high values, so you can consistently approach your turns with the same mentality; or maybe you don’t even focus on the cards that provide values and instead grab ones that reward end game points, sacrificing deck versatility in an effort to bolster your final score. For a game that isn’t primarily a deckbuilder, it’s a surprisingly robust amount of strategic choice you have in crafting your deck.

This unique combination of three mechanisms I love (push your luck, deckbuilding and hand management) makes Kodachi a veritable parfait of gaming excellence. It’s a little slower and more deliberate than most push your luck games of this time, which is perhaps a reason it finds itself in the 90s of this list rather than higher, but the more you play the more you’ll appreciate Kodachi’s expertly woven patchwork of elements. It’s a game that doesn’t get talked about too often, so definitely keep an eye out for this one.

93. Carcassonne

Last year’s ranking: 76 (-17)

What I said last year

Carcassonne tasks players with building the titular city as well as its surrounding countryside, placing tiles out in a communal landscape…and placing their meeples on various features to try and score them if they ever finish them before game’s end. As the landscape grows, players become invested in certain areas, creating a tense race to the finish line as each player hopes and prays the tile they draw is the exact tile they need to complete something (Narrator voice: “They won’t.”)

There’s just so much to love about Carcassonne, but one thing I’ve always adored is how it’s very versatile in the type of game it can be. If you want to play a peaceful game of city building, not getting in each other’s ways and just enjoying the piece of art everyone is creating, this game allows that. However, if you want a vicious game of cutthroat maneuvers and constantly butting heads, Carcassonne can be as mean as all hell. I have some friends who enjoy the more peaceful playstyle, and it’s always a serene, relaxing experience. But I have other friends who will ALWAYS place tiles in a way that either attempts to snipe your territory or that makes it incredibly difficult for you to complete the feature you’re working on. Whether it’s a lovely stroll through idyllic France or an absolute massacre, Carcassonne manages to be a great time either way.

I am a little surprised Carcassonne is relatively low on this list (not that spot 76 is anything to sneeze at!) and I simply think that’s because I played SO much of this when first getting into the hobby. When first getting into board gaming, I pretty much exclusively played cooperative games. When I did play a competitive game, though, Carcassonne was ALWAYS the one to hit the table. It certainly holds a nostalgic corner of my heart, but I do think the constant play of it in those first few years has resulted in a tad bit of burnout.

Regardless, Carcassonne is still amazing and anybody who hasn’t played it absolutely needs to. It is an evergreen classic in this hobby for a reason, and there are so many tile layers we have Carcassonne to thank for.

What I say now

I express surprise in last year’s entry for Carcassonne that it was lower on the list than I expected. And here we are, a year later, and Carcassonne is even lower at 93. Turns out my suspicions of burn out last year turned out to be true. I simply don’t have the desire to pull out this game too often because of how much I played this game in my days of being a youthful, vigorous 26-27 year old.

I did get to play this a few months ago for the first time in AGES and I definitely enjoyed it, marveling at it from a design and innovation perspective. But it also didn’t fire me up like many of the games higher on my top 100 do. It’s still an excellent game, but I have a feeling this old timer may retire to a life in Florida by the next top 100.

92. Lanterns

Last year’s ranking: 80 (-12)

What I said last year

Despite never catching fire quite like Ticket to Ride or Splendor, Lanterns is still one of the more popular gateway games in the hobby. This is for very good reason, and I actually like it more than those gateway behemoths I just mentioned. Lanterns is simple, quick, but incredibly puzzle-y and interactive, something every great gateway game should strive for.

In Lanterns, you’ll be dropping the titular paper lanterns into a big ass lake, watching them float around like multicolored lily pads. Normally this would be littering, but this is the big Harvest Festival, which means who cares if they’re not biodegradable! This is for the Emperor!

You’ll be placing tiles down into a communal landscape (like many tile laying games) and collecting different colored cards based on how you place them. The tiles are sectioned off into quarters, each with a different batch of colored lanterns inside. Upon placement of the tile, the players all receive a colored card matching the colored lanterns that are facing them. As the game goes on, you’re trying to cash in sets of these cards to gain points from constantly diluting pile of tokens.

Not since this past Thanksgiving with your Trump loving Uncle have you cared more about where people are sitting at a table. You have to constantly be peeking at the cards they’ve collected and making sure you don’t allow them to get a set while also being sure to get colors that YOU could use. Bonus cards applied from color adjacency and getting tokens from decorative floats that allow you to exchange cards add even more layers to this scrumptious puzzle. You’ll be fidgeting with your hand of three tiles, rotating them and squinting at the board, imagining the ramifications of each decision. The fact that this is all done in a brisk 30 minutes and that it can be taught to all your non gamer friends helps cement Lanterns right here at spot 80.

What I say now

Lanterns, like Carcassonne, is another tile laying gateway game that finds itself slipping. Unlike Carcassonne, though, I actually think the slippage here isn’t due to me liking the game less, but rather it getting pushed back thanks to so many new games entering the top 100 (or returning games moving up the list). I played Lanterns about a month ago, in fact, and had a blast with it. I’d say I enjoy it just as much now as I did in 2019.

That being said, stagnation can spell doom for Lanterns’ presence on my next top 100. If more new games come onto the list, the sheer lack of space could cause Lanterns to float away without a trace.

91. Hive Mind

Last year’s ranking: 75 (-16)

What I said last year

Designed by industry legend Richard Garfield (the guy who designed Magic: The Gathering, perhaps you’ve heard of it), Hive Mind is a ridiculously simple party game that can be explained by simply saying this: it’s reverse Scattergories. On your turn, you pick a card from a box and pick one of the six prompts it has (or even create your own if you’re feeling adventurous). These prompts are things like “Name 5 rides you’d find at an amusement park” or “Name 3 things that are red” or “Name 10 reasons why Boar & Arrow is your favorite board game blogger”. After the prompt is given, players write their answers and then, one by one, share what they’ve written. So, using the “Name 3 things that are red” prompt, I might write ‘firetruck’, ‘Elmo’, and ‘bricks’. As I say these answers, anyone who matches with me announces (read: shout excitedly and obnoxiously) that they have the same answer and people get points based on how many others they matched with. Whoever has the least matches gets knocked down a level in a big beehive (there’s a bee theme to this game, by the way, so I’ll try and fit my ‘beeconomy’ joke in here somewhere), and a new round is played until someone is kicked out of the hive.

The fun in this comes from the loud, raucous conversations that these prompts and answers ignite. Going back to the example prompt I gave, I say firetruck and the entire table cheers that they match except for one person, who puts their head in their hands and groans, moaning, “How did I not think of firetrucks.” But then I get to ‘bricks’ and nobody matches on that so I complain for two straight minutes about how on earth can you not say bricks, things are literally described as ‘brick red’, come on! All of this with slightly more cursing, of course, this blog is trying to stay in the PG to PG-13 range. Then it goes onto the next person, which starts a brand-new batch of groans and high fives. It’s an incredibly social game, one where you want to agree with people which is a delightful change of pace from many social board games.

Hive Mind has easily been one of the most successful games with non-gamers for me. It’s sooo easy to teach and the fact that most people already have played Scattergories means they have a touchstone to help them understand it even easier. It’s a favorite at holiday family functions for me, with my mom constantly asking me if I’ve “brought the bee game”. My 90+ year old grandfather, who was in the last months of his life and entering the nasty stages of dementia, was able to play this game with us and everyone had an absolute blast with it. Not to get sappy, but aren’t moments like that what board games are all about?

If you have a game group that enjoys these casual kinds of party games, it’s tough to find a better recommendation than Hive Mind.

What I say now

Similar to Lanterns, my opinion on Hive Mind hasn’t really changed. I still think it’s one of the best mass market style party games in the hobby and is an essential part of anybody’s collection, gamer or non-gamer. But my love also hasn’t really increased, either. And that’s not a bad thing!

I will admit, I’m a little surprised this fell as much as it did. This is one of the few games I have been able to play remotely with friends during the pandemic. I thought those recent plays, partnered with the rare instances of solace and companionship I’ve felt over 2020 that those plays brought, would have either kept it where it was or even nudged it upwards. The fact that it didn’t makes me wonder…am I…am I a bad person?? I mean, I’m awful, just the worst, but seeing proof is always a little disarming.

Anyway, Hive Mind is still great.

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That’ll do it for part one! I think this format I’ve come up with for this year is working pretty well, so I’ll stick with it for now. Come back next week for 90-81!