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.

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

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