Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 30-21

We’re driving down the highway of my top 100, the air blowing through the windows as the fresh smell of cardboard and plastic from amazing board games wafts in. What’s that ahead? Is that an exit for the top 30 of my top 100? Let’s take it, shall we?

Here is the beginning of the end, my 30-21.

RECAP:

100-91

90-81

80-71

70-61

60-51

50-41

40-31

30. Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye cover

My 2nd favorite designer, Alexander Pfister, made his first appearance on my last post with his excellent card drafting game Tybor the Builder. Here he is making a swift return with his Scottish themed tile layer, Isle of Skye.

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 and it’ll feel like you didn’t even get a good return on it. Price it too high though and you may end up 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. I always look forward to playing it again and would be shocked if it wasn’t around this same spot next top 100.

29. Tricky Tides

Tricky Tides cover

On my last post I talked about Skull King, an amazing trick taking game that I made special care to call “one of my favorite” and not “my favorite” trick taking game. That’s because my favorite all time trick taking game is right here at number 29: Tricky Tides.

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.

28. Menara

Menara cover

My top 100 has only seen one dexterity game so far, way back in my 60-51 section with the game Drop It. My number 28, Menara, is another dexterity game, but while Drop It is competitive, Menara is cooperative. Already that’s a huge point in this game’s favor. Cooperative dexterity games are surprisingly rare, so being able to play one is always a treat.

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.

This is, however, one of the unfortunate handful of games I don’t actually own. Its availability is also suspect, making this a game I may not own for quite some time. Funnily enough, unlike the other games I don’t own on this list, this might actually help Menara’s position for next year? A common critique I’ve heard for this game from critics and friends alike is that the game starts to feel more repetitive and mechanical the more you play it. I can’t speak to that so, as of now, Menara is quite comfortable at spot 28.

27. Bruges

Bruges cover

Despite being one of the most popular and influential designers in the industry, Stefan Feld has only one of his games appear on my list so far. That was Notre Dame, which appeared alllll the way back in my first Top 100 post, the 100-91 section. Wow, I was so young and hopeful then. Anyway, Feld makes a return with his second (and final) game on my list, Bruges.

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.

26. Concordia

Concordia cover

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.

25. Dixit

Dixit cover

Kicking off my top 25 is a game that’s been in my collection longer than pretty much every other game on this list: Dixit. 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!?

24. Spyfall

spyfall cover

At number 24 is my favorite pure social deduction game, Spyfall. 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.

Regardless of these ‘flaws’, Spyfall has given me so many memories of fun and laughter that it was an easy choice for me to put it this high on the list.

23. Broom Service

Broom Service cover

After failing to appear in most of my list, Alexander Pfister has now been the designer of three of the last ten entries. That’s including this one right here; my number 23, Broom Service.

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.

22. Just One

Just One cover

Along with Tricky Tides, Just One is one of the few games from 2019 on this top 100. This is mostly because I simply don’t have the means to play as many recent releases (lack of money, space and friends being the biggest obstacles). But Just One is a game I just HAD to play when it first came out. As a fan of word association party games, Just One sounded like it would fit perfectly with majority of my game groups. Considering it’s here at number 22, I guess you can say I was right. For once!

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. If that isn’t worthy of a top 25 spot, I dunno what is.

21. When I Dream

When I Dream cover

Closing out this section of list is yet another word game, this one blended with hidden roles and some traces of social deduction. This is When I Dream, a game about fairies, boogiemen and sandmen battling it out for the attention of someone taking a nap (which isn’t creepy at all). This is yet another game that I’ve already reviewed on the blog, a review you can read right here.

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. It’s a party game that will forever be in my collection and has easily earned its spot here in the top 25.

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Ahhh, we’re almost there! Just two more posts to go! See you in a week for 20-11!

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