Let’s Talk About Asmodee’s Awful New Policy, Shall We?

If you are ensconced in the board game hobby like a beautifully nerdy butterfly in a meeple-shaped cocoon, you’ve probably heard of Asmodee. You know them, right? Huge company that bought lots of other publishers to essentially take over the industry? Well, as Asmodee unhinged its jaw and began swallowing up other companies with indiscretion, many people side-eyed the developments, grumbling about how a company becoming this gluttonous would result in negative impacts on the hobby.

As is often unfortunately the case, the skeptics and cynics may have turned out to be right. Asmodee has become an unchecked quasi-monopoly and they unveiled a monumentally selfish and short-sighted business decision this week. In doing so, they have gone from the 2nd worst monopoly in gaming  to the worst.

Oh, jeez. What did they do?

Here’s what Asmodee did: they released a new policy claiming they will no longer be servicing requests for replacement parts and components, whether those components are defective out of the box, broken through use, or simply lost to the ether between plays. They are essentially shuttering their customer service department and telling us that if we have a need for a replacement part, to take it back to the store we got it from and have them replace the entire game.

I probably shouldn’t even refer to this as ‘policy’. There is no policy…it’s actually a lack of policy. Asmodee is asking you to refer to others for their policies. Part of the press release even literally says to take the game to the stores and to follow THEIR policies. This is Asmodee playing the part of a preoccupied, hungover parent telling you, “I dunno, ask your mother/father.” Suddenly, the biggest umbrella of board game publishers in the industry feels like they don’t have to worry about petty things like “board game components.” Who needs those, anyway?

Hmm. Sounds like you’re being an entitled gamer.

Okay, let’s handle that entitled thing. I saw that used a lot when people got upset about this news breaking.

Yes, board gamers are entitled, I’m not arguing that. I accidentally spent two minutes in the comment section of a Kickstarter I backed and immediately had to shotgun a beer. In this case, though? I don’t see how THIS is evidence of entitlement. Components are kind of important to board games. When an important piece is missing, it can literally make a game unplayable or greatly alter the balance. If someone goes complaining to CGE that they no longer have the word ‘tiger’ in their deck of words for Codenames and demand a replacement, that’s entitlement. If someone loses one of the spider cards in Incan Gold, that greatly affects the game. It affects the balance of the deck and you can’t just proxy the card because it’ll be readily apparent when you’re ready to draw your homebrewed spider (which incidentally, sounds terrifying). Unless you proxy the whole deck, but who has the money and time to worry about that? Oh yeah, Asmodee, one of the biggest companies in gaming.

Sure, but anything else you buy you return to the store if there’s an issue!

Cool, let’s do this one next. Yes, you’re right. If I plug my toaster in and it sparks and starts floating and begins chanting in Aramaic, you sure as shit can bet I’ll be taking that back to Target to say, “This toaster is possessed, can I get a replacement?” And you know what they’ll do? They’ll immediately replace it! And hopefully exorcise the toaster, but that’s not my problem anymore. But the reason why I’m confident they’ll replace it is because they’ll more than likely have non-possessed toasters in stock. And if they don’t, they can probably point you to any other local stores in their chain.

Ever been to a board game store? You’re lucky to find ONE copy of a board game you want, let alone multiple. If I come home to find my copy of Cyclades came with an entire player color’s set of pieces missing, there’s no guarantee that game store can replace it. They’ll likely have no more in stock which means they now have the logistical nightmare of getting in touch with Asmodee to send a replacement Cyclades, and who trusts Asmodee to send them a new one? Board games regularly go out of stock and out of print. Ask anyone who waited anxiously for Wingspan to restock like late 90s parents ready to use a battering ram against a department store so they could buy a Furby.

And by the way, this scenario is assuming your problems are out of the box. Lose a game piece after a few plays? Hope it’s within the time frame of that store’s return policy!

Add to the fact that I need to keep my receipts and proofs of purchases like Asmodee is the god damned IRS and you have an immensely frustrating experience.

It’ll be even more of a migraine for the game stores, who will have to personally deal with Asmodee in trying to get it replaced. I’m sure THAT will go over well. These sort of ulcer-inducing hypotheticals will probably result in board game stores either instituting more strict return policies of their own, to close the door on such madness, or (more likely) in them simply carrying less stock.

Fine. But did you ever think Asmodee did this because it’s simply too much for them to handle?

Hahahahaha okay. Who was it that told Asmodee to buy a quarter of the industry? They’re out there grabbing companies like Thanos collecting Infinity Stones, except Thanos didn’t complain the gauntlet was too heavy to lift afterwards .

The frustrating thing about this is that Asmodee was well-known for its customer service! Board Games Reddit was peppered with “Shout out to Asmodee customer service” threads on a monthly basis. I personally had a missing Inis piece replaced a mere month ago and was incredibly satisfied with how it was handled. Now all of a sudden it’s too much?

Listen, I’m not saying even saying publishers should replace the parts for free. I would gladly pay shipping to replace a part that I either misplaced or broke. Hell, wanna throw in a small-but-fair replacement fee? Go ahead! Unless it came out of the box as such, it’s probably my fault, and I’m willing to shell out five to ten dollars to return my game to its maximum playable state. But to not even offer that? That’s, pardon my French, straight up dookie.

Well, complain all you want. What are YOU gonna do about it??

Have you seen the board game industry? We’re in such a glut of choices that the Dice Tower’s review backlog probably looks like the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Even with how monstrously big Asmodee is, board gamers have plenty of choices. And from now on, if given the choice between a game under the Asmodee umbrella and a game NOT under Asmodee, I am 100% choosing the latter. Knowing that I won’t have to deal with the anxiety of possibly losing a piece and never having it replaced is worth it. Even with how big Asmodee is, there are still dozens upon dozens of other options out there for me. I hope I’m not the only one who does this and that maybe juuuust enough of a dent can hit Asmodee’s sales to make them rethink this. I’m doubtful, but ya never know.

 

Okazaki – Kickstarter Preview

Okazaki – Kickstarter Preview

It’s not often (read: never) I get asked to do a Kickstarter preview so when it does happen, you better believe I’ll take up on it. Patrick Engro of Engro Games reached out to me to preview a game for his first ever Kickstarter, a little micro card game called Okazaki. It’s being Kickstarted along with another game called Reach and while I haven’t had the chance to play that one, I did get to play Okazaki a handful of times. So, what do I think of it?

Full disclosure before I get into my thoughts on the game. I’m actually close friends with Pat in real life. We went to college together and we stayed in touch afterwards. Pat is actually the person I entered the hobby with and he was my primary gaming buddy before he moved to Japan early last year. So, if you want to take what I say with a grain of salt for that reason, you’re more than free to do so. I am simply doing this preview because he asked and because it helps give Okazaki and his Kickstarter a little more exposure. Besides, it’s not like it’s a paid preview, since we all know the furor that sort of thing gets.

Now that the boring administrative stuff is out of the way, let’s get back to Okazaki. Okazaki is a two player only trick taking game in which you’re trying to replicate a sequence of cards that sits in the table between you and your opponent. The first unique thing you’ll notice about this game is that the cards are all identical. They’re double sided cards with two halves on each, separated by a helix which helps add to the whole DNA replication theme that the game is portraying. The point of the game is to manipulate these cards and get them into their proper orientation. It’s a real clever use of identical cards and the game never feels restricted by what you would assume is a fairly restrictive conceit.

The gameplay itself has a quasi trick taker feel to it. Anyone reading the top 100 on my blog knows that I love a good trick taker, so this excited me going in. It’s important to note, though, that this isn’t a TRUE trick taker in the common sense. There are no suits and thus no following of suits, but players play a card from their hand and whoever plays the higher card wins the trick. This allows them to get first dibs at drafting a card from the play area, of which there are three (the two cards played by the player as well as a common card that sits in the middle between them). This can be hugely important as it allows you to get a card you may desperately need for your hand or your sequence while also depriving your opponent of something tasty.

okazaki in play

Luckily, losing a trick is not the end of the world. Smartly, Okazaki has a mechanism called mutation abilities, which are activated by the person who lost the trick. These mutation abilities are the key to getting cards orientated the way you need them to be and often results in players losing tricks on purpose so that they can change a card around. It’s nice to get a consolation prize for losing a trick, especially when that prize can play such a big role in winning the game.

The best way to describe Okazaki is puzzle-y. I love a good puzzle in my games, where you have to twist knobs and press buttons in your brain to try and figure out the solution. When this mental safecracking results in a successful play or move, there are few things as satisfying in gaming. Okazaki is right in this wheelhouse, featuring lots of maneuvers and manipulation to get the cards you need in your sequence.

As fun as this puzzle is to solve, I do have a few quibbles with Okazaki that are worth mentioning. The first criticism kind of goes along with what I just discussed. It’s a very puzzle-y game, which I love, but it’s more strategic puzzle than a tactical one. I much prefer tactical puzzles, where the board state is constantly changing and you have to adapt and make plays based on what your opponents have done before you. Okazaki is not quite that. This is a game where you need to think several turns ahead, setting up plays that will eventually pay off like you’re stuffing mementos in a time capsule for Future You to find later.  This is totally subjective, though. If you really like that long term planning over more reactive turn to turn decision making, Okazaki should be right up your alley.

My second criticism is that sometimes I felt like I was spinning my wheels, trying to achieve something but constantly having it undone. In order to get a card into your sequence, you need to link it up with the common card in a specific fashion and that can be tough depending on the board state. A game between me and my friend took twice as long as it probably should have because we both got stuck into a rut where we just were having trouble accomplishing anything. Is this simply because we’re trash at the game and just hadn’t gotten a hold of the nuances and subtle strategy required to be successful? That’s more than likely, yes, but it still created moments of frustration that I felt needed to be admitted here.

Outside of these two things, Okazaki is a good, fresh feeling micro game. It’s a fun puzzle that is addictive and sharp and certainly deserves checking out. It launches on February 18th and you can find it here.

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 40-31

Last entry we cautiously dipped our toes into my top 50. By the end of this entry, we’ll be ankle deep, wading peacefully through waves of amazing games as the soft summer breeze of opinion blows through your hair and yanno what, this metaphor isn’t working, let’s get on with it.

RECAP:

100-91

90-81

80-71

70-61

60-51

50-41

40. The Blood of an Englishman

blood of an englishman cover

Another game that I’m sure loyal readers (lol) will remember me featuring for a full review. You can read it right here. Though I’m sure you’ve read it already, right?

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.

There’s a solid chance you haven’t heard of or played this game, so let me dust off this diamond in the rough on your behalf. Give it a shot because it really deserves more love and attention.

39. Bang! The Dice Game

bang the dice game

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.

If you tried the original and liked it, I absolutely recommend Bang! The Dice Game. Even if you didn’t like the original I’d still recommend it, because this version streamlines a lot of the fiddliness out of the card game and massages out its flaws into a much smoother, more fun package.

38. Histrio

histrio cover

Just a few entries ago I mentioned that The Blood of an Englishman was the most underrated game on my list but my number 38 game is a VERY close second. That game is Histrio, yet another codesign from Bruno Cathala. Sitting at a bafflingly low 6.6 on BGG, this game also doesn’t get enough attention and love. The main reason I consider The Blood of an Englishman more underrated, though, is because Histrio does have some evangelists in board game media who have helped bring this game a little bit more in the public eye.

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.

If you’re looking for a game that provides surprisingly tense decision making and gorgeous production values, Histrio is one that you can’t ignore any longer.

37. The Grimm Forest

grimm forest cover

My number 37 is a game that has some similarities to Histrio. They both have out of this world production values and they both are centered on a simultaneous selection mechanism where you’re trying to go to locations by yourself. This game is The Grimm Forest, a game of fairy tale characters, building houses, and just so many god damned wolves.

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.

36. Cyclades

cyclades cover

This section of the top 100 has so far been populated by lighter, more Gateway level games so let’s beef it up a bit with something heavier. My number 36 is Cyclades, a mid weight area control game set in Ancient Greek mythology. It happens to be codesigned by…(checks notes)…ahh, yes, Bruno Cathala. Who could have guessed.

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 dudes 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 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 buy 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 is to get Zeus at the end of the game when somebody already has two metropolises and is about to win, to then use Zeus’ 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, effectively winning the game for yourself.

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.

Outside of Pegasus, this game is awesome. I love dudes on a map games, especially when they’re driven by Euro style mechanisms. Cyclades is exactly that and will probably be in the top 50 of this list for a couple more years.

35. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

arkham horror the card game cover

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.

34. Ethnos

ethnos cover

Okay, so that last entry was a little packed with lots of wildly rambling thoughts, so I promise it’ll be smoother from here on out. My number 34 doesn’t have near the baggage as Arkham Horror: The Card Game came with, and that’s because it’s an exceptionally clean, fun design. My number 34 is Ethnos, a game that’s popular for not being as popular as it should be.

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.

The main criticism levied at Ethnos is its theme and aesthetics. It’s got a generic pasted on fantasy theme and look to it, with somewhat dull art that evokes a bygone era of Tolkienesque dwarves, elves and orcs. I will admit the art is somewhat drab looking and could have used some more color and vibrancy, but I take issue with all the other complaints. The fantasy theme doesn’t bother me because I love fantasy so I may be biased, but I wouldn’t even say it’s pasted on. Sure, some of the races have abstract powers, but plenty of them have thematic powers. The Wingfolk fly to anywhere on the map while powerful Minotaurs count as an extra card when cashing in a set. Playing Giants rewards you with playing bigger sets than other players and Skeletons crumble into dust when it’s time to score sets at the end of each round. Could Ethnos have been themed something else? Sure, the theme doesn’t run THAT deep but to call it lazy and pasted on as so many people have is a disservice to this game.

Luckily, the ostensibly tepid sales and outspoken groaning towards the game’s looks and themes hasn’t been enough to kill off Ethnos outright. It’s still in print and plenty of people in the hobby have spread the Gospel about its stellar quality. If you passed by this one because you were turned off by the look, it’s not too late to try this amazing game.

33. Tybor the Builder

tybor the builder cover

While I haven’t reviewed Tybor the Builder, I have briefly discussed it in a previous blog article. That article is here, and it’s a recap of some gaming I did over the course of St. Paddy’s Day weekend in 2019. In that article, I rave about Tybor and it was easily my favorite game from that weekend. Almost a whole year later from that first play and I still absolutely adore this card drafting game.

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.

I don’t have much more to say about Tybor. If card drafting is something you enjoy, it’s tough to find a game that does it better than this one.

32. Hardback

hardback cover

I briefly mentioned how much I like pool building in a previous post and deckbuilding is probably the most common/popular form of pool building. It just so happens my number 32, Hardback, is one of my favorite deckbuilders.

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.

Therefore, I’m quite interested to see where Hardback is next year. I have a feeling it could sneak into my top 25 if I get to play it against others a few more times.

31. Skull King

skull king

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.

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We’re getting there, people. Just three more posts to go! Next stop: the top 30!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 50-41

We’ve arrived! It took us till 2020, but we’re at the top 50 of my Top 100 Games (2019 Edition)! Let’s get on with 50-41, before 2021 gets here.

Previously on my top 100:

100-91

90-81

80-71

60-51

50. Lorenzo il Magnifico

lorenzo cover

Starting off the top 50 is another mid-heavy Euro, this one being set in the Italian Renaissance. It’s Lorenzo il Magnifico, a worker placement game using a clever dice mechanism that will give you nightmares. More on that later.

In Lorenzo, you’re taking on the role of Italian noble families trying to gain favor and influence across many different tracks. I basically just played Euro Mad Libs with that description, but hey, that’s what the game is. You’ll be placing your family members, represented by cylindrical pieces, on certain columns. The columns contain cards which can then be added to a certain part of your player board and you’re hoping to build an engine that will spew you out resources and/or advance you up certain tracks.

What makes Lorenzo special is how it uses dice. Each round, three dice are rolled to determine the strength of your workers. The dice are colored the same as your workers (orange, black and white) and whatever the dice value is will be how strong your worker of that color is. If the orange die rolled a three, everybody’s orange worker has a strength of three. This is important because the worker placement spots you’re sending your family members out to are all locked by a certain strength value. Some spots may only require a strength of one, while others require seven. If your worker doesn’t have the available strength, you can use servants to supplement the value at a one to one ratio.

Remember when I said this mechanism will give you nightmares? That’s because working around the rolls of the dice is the lifeblood of Lorenzo, and it will seem quite often that the dice have declared a blood feud against you. When the dice are rolled and it’s revealed that none of them rolled higher than a four, the entire table slams their heads down in frustration. While the board doesn’t literally shrink, low dice rolls means the available spaces tighten to an almost suffocating amount. Getting to higher spots means spending more servants, something players are often hesitant to do since resources like that are hard to consistently come by. This results in the lower spots on the columns being quickly taken up, forcing players to either pay big or to settle for something less enticing.

This is made even more difficult by the penalty imposed when a player enters a column. The first player in a column gets in for free, but all other players must pay a three-gold fee to go to a spot in that same column. I mentioned earlier resources are hard to come by, so yeah, that’s not great. I think the phrase “knife fight in a phone booth” is a bit overused, so I’ll instead say that Lorenzo feels like a Scottish dirk fight in a phone booth. I can’t think of a worker placement game where being first player was so important. Last time I played this game, whenever somebody placed their worker on the spot that allowed them first dibs in the next round, the table would erupt into curse words and threats.

I will admit, Lorenzo very nearly straddles the line to the side of ‘too tight’. I enjoy my Euros to feel tough, but if I’m constantly just one resource short of what I need to do, that can get a little exhausting. Lorenzo strays into that territory a little more than I like, which is why it’s not deeper in my top 50 despite having lots of things that I absolutely love.

I don’t want to end on a negative note since I really do love this game, so let me conclude by saying that despite this somewhat punishing difficulty, Lorenzo still packs an immensely satisfying puzzle in a tight 90 minutes. It’s one that I could see rising a bit when I get to play it more and learn to be more efficient with its systems.

49. Trapwords

trapwords

It’s been a while since I featured a game I’ve already reviewed, but that changes with Trapwords. As always, you can click here to see the full review.

Trapwords is one of the newer entries in the word association party game craze , something that began back in 2015 with Codenames and really hasn’t subsided since. In Trapwords’ case, it takes inspiration from the old mass market game Taboo. In Taboo, players had to get their team to guess a word but had a list of ‘taboo’ words that they could not use in their description. By mass market standards, it was somewhat fun, but the static nature of the list of words held it back. Trapwords fixes that by making a much more dynamic system, wherein it’s YOU who makes the list of words for your opponent and, oh, by the way, you keep it a secret from them. So, they have no clue what they can and can’t say as they try to get their team to guess the word.

I’m sure you can immediately see why this will be hilarious. Watching the opponent clue giver start and sputter and stop and start again as they helplessly try to obtusely describe the word like a robot short circuiting during a Turing test never fails to be a riotous occasion. That is until it’s your turn to attempt the same and you suddenly forget what a sentence is, let alone how to use one.

When you’re making up your secret list of trapwords, you’re going deep into your Sherlockian mind palace, trying to figure out what obscure term the opponent clue giver will think is safe in an effort to trip them up. If the word is tiger, do you go with the obvious ones like “cat” and “stripes”? Or do you go deeper, thinking of less common ideas like “Tony” or “Asia”? Or do you go even DEEPER and say “lions” and “bears”, hoping the clue giver fancies themselves clever by doing a Wizard of Oz themed fill in the blank ? Creating trapwords is just as fun and suspenseful as the actual clue giving, which is a real feat.

The unfortunate thing that holds Trapwords back is simply how many other word games it’s competing against, especially in my collection. I won’t list them because it would spoil what’s likely to come later, but Trapwords finds itself in a very crowded space. When I have a group of friends over for party games, it tends to get lost in the shuffle, not quite standing up against the heavyweights of the genre.

When it does get to the table, though, Trapwords has yet to fail. It’s always been a good time and writing this entry has me really wanting to get it played for the first time in a while.

48. Sagrada

sagrada cover

Dice drafting made a long overdue debut in my last entry with My Village, a mid-heavy euro about managing a village and being stalked by the Grim Reaper. Dice drafting returns at my number 48 spot with Sagrada. Sagrada is much lighter than My Village, but it’s a wonderfully addictive puzzler of a game.

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.

47. The Fox in the Forest

the fox in the forest cover

In my 90-81 entry, I raved about a two-player trick taking game called Claim, which took trick taking and injected it with a unique round structure and zany special powers. My number 47 is another two-player trick taking game and one that is a lot more popular and well known. This is, of course, The Fox in the Forest.

The Fox in The Forest whisks players off to a beautiful fairy tale style world of witches and foxes and swans. You know, the usual. Players are playing rounds of 13 tricks with some fairly standard trick taking rules. The player leads with a suit which must then be followed if able, with a trump suit looming over the proceedings. Much like Claim, though, there are some clever wrinkles that provide a breath of fresh air to the stale attic smell that can sometimes accompany trick taking games.

Like Claim (I’ll stop comparing them at some point, I swear), TFitF includes special powers to create some unpredictability in how things are going to unfold. Things like being able to change the trump suit or exchanging a card from the deck with a card from your hand adds just the right bit of wonkiness, as well as an extra layer of tension as you try to time these powers for maximum effectiveness.

What really makes The Fox in the Forest stand out among other trick takers, however, is its brilliant scoring system. At the end of the round, you’re going to score based on the amount of tricks you’ve taken. This is something lots of trick takers do, but The Fox in the Forest has a scoring rubric for how many points you get for the amount of tricks you take. While being handed a scoring rubric might make you feel like you’re back at school and about to write an essay, you’ll immediately forgive it when you realize how sharp this system is.

It scores like this: If you get zero to three tricks, you are considered Humble and your humility awards you six points, which is the highest amount. But after that, the points diminish drastically, dipping down to only one point if you won four tricks. This steadily climbs back up with each extra trick won until you hit yet another sweet spot: the seven to nine trick range. If you manage that (called the Victorious ranking), you get six points, just like when you were busy being humble (not that you’d ever bring that up again, you humble humbler, you). But guess what? After the Victorious range is the Greedy range, which is what you get if you win 10-13 tricks. Your reward for that? Zero points. Yep, win TOO many tricks and you leave the round empty handed.

Many trick takers involve betting at the start of the round on how many tricks you’ll win, with the game then centering on trying to hit as close to that wager as possible. TFitF’s system feels like a modern reinvention of that system. It feels much more fluid and tactical and exciting as you try to figure out where on the scoring spectrum you want to hit as you actually play the round. Those other trick takers can feel slightly frustrating as you try to hit your static number and you realize you misjudged at the start of the round but in TFitF, you get to adapt and change your plans turn by turn. There’s also a wonderful push your luck element that bleeds through because of this. Trying to not win any tricks at all or trying to hit the seven to nine sweet spot is fun and rewarding but winning just one trick too many is devastating. Figuring out when to commit or when to zig when your opponent is zagging is what makes TFitF such a smart, satisfying game.

TFitF falls a bit into the trap that some trick takers unfortunately do, and that is that it can feel a little bit samey round to round (and therefore game to game). Because of this, I have a feeling this 47 spot is probably it’s ceiling on my top 100. But this isn’t Kyle Hanley’s Predictions for Future Top 100s, this is Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 as of 2019. And right now, The Fox in the Forest is very comfortable right here, thank you very much.

46. A Fake Artist Goes to New York

fake artist cover

Social deduction has only showed up once on my list so far, courtesy of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong back in my 70-61 entry. It pops up again here at spot 46 with A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Published by the quirky and lovable Oink Games, a Japanese company with a fervent cult like following in the industry, Fake Artist is what happens when you take Pictionary and add a hidden traitor to the mix.

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.

The fact that this game is so high on my list despite it failing miserably at half of its player count should show you just how good this game is when it does fire on all cylinders. As of the creation of this list back in November of 2019, it was my favorite Oink game and it’s definitely one you should check out if you consistently find yourself with five to seven players.

(SHAMELESS PLUG FOR THE BLOG YOU’RE LITERALLY READING RIGHT NOW: While I haven’t reviewed Fake Artist, I did write a blog post about it. It was a post wherein I took pictures from past games of Fake Artist I’ve had and wrote descriptions of them as if you were walking through a museum. Check it out here if you want to see the absolute garbage fires that people end up drawing in this game.)

45. Incan Gold

incan gold cover

Also known as Diamant, Incan Gold is one of the most popular push your luck games in the industry. For good reason, I say. I actually credit Incan Gold as being the game that made me fall in love with push your luck, the mechanism that I consider my favorite in all of board games.

In my 90-81, I talked about a game called Celestia, a game where you and other players are flying on an airship and trying to decide whether you want to keep flying farther down the line or whether you want to jump off to safety. Incan Gold has this same “stay or go” decision, except it’s streamlined and distilled down to its simplest, purest form.

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.

44. Jamaica

jamaica cover

At some point in this top 100 (it’s all starting to blur together, my god, what is even real anymore) I mentioned that the pirates theme is my favorite theme in board game. Anything remotely pirate themed or even nautical themed automatically gets a bump up due to my biases. My number 44 is a pirate themed game and in addition to having my favorite theme, it also happens to be an excellent game.

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.

43. High Society

high society cover

It’s been a while since Reiner Knizia has been on the list. He was last spotted in the 70s (in the list I mean, not the decade) with Lost Cities and he’s back at number 43 with my favorite game of his: High Society.

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.

High Society is a game that’s been around for a while but has really seemed to have gotten cult status from its latest edition from Osprey Games. That is the version I own and it’s a gorgeous production, making an already amazing game that much better. I can see this game being even higher by the time I do this list next year because it’s really that good.

42. Stew

Stew cover

The small publisher Button Shy has already appeared on this list once, way back at number 81 with the fantastic Circle the Wagons. They’re back with yet another wallet game and it happens to my favorite offering of theirs: Stew. I already gave this game a full review because I loved it so much, so check it out here if you want a more detailed runthrough.

The abridged version is this: 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.

41. Fuji

fuji cover

Wolfgang Warsch has appeared twice on this list and he’s back to make it a trilogy. This will be his last appearance, sadly, but it’s with a real good one: Fuji.

Fuji is perhaps Warsch’s most overlooked and underappreciated game. Like The Mind, it’s a cooperative game with limited communication (yep, I still love them) but this one is about dice rolling and pushing your luck. It’s also a bit of a doozie to try and explain, especially without the components in front of us. Let’s give it a try!

In Fuji, you and your fellow players are hikers walking along Mount Fuji when it decides to erupt. Those pesky volcanoes, always choosing to become massive agents of death and destruction at the worst possible times! You and the rest of the group must escape to a nearby village for safety, trying to outrun the lava. I mean, I’ve seen lava before, it doesn’t exactly reach Olympian speeds. This can’t be hard…right?

How you escape the lava is by rolling dice and moving along a path of cards. The cards all have certain prompts on them pertaining to the different colored sides of the dice you roll and potential values. Everyone rolls their dice behind a player screen and then they decide what card they’re going to mark as their destination. In order to get to that destination, you need to have rolled a higher combined sum of the specific dice faces and colors that make up that card’s prompt than your neighbors on your left and right. So for example, if I want to go to a card that has a prompt marked as all pink and blue faces with even numbers, that means that if I add up all my dice that have pink or blue faces with even numbers, I need to make sure that sum is higher than the sum of my neighbors’. Still with me? No? Okay, cool, let’s keep going. I rolled five dice: two yellow threes, two blue fours and a pink six. According to that prompt, I would have a value of 14 (from my two blue fours and the pink six). When we all reveal our dice behind our player screen, I need to hope that my neighbors don’t exceed 14 with their pink and blue faces of even numbers.

Okay Kyle, you’re not trying to write a rule book here, just tell the folks why you like this game so much.

Will do! One of the things I love about this game is how unique and weird it is. It’s so tricky to explain because it’s really not like anything that’s out there. I can’t think of any other co-ops that are built around secretly rolling dice and trying to intimate to your teammates what you’ve rolled. Every time I’ve played this, it manages to feel fresh and exciting and I think that’s partly because of its one of a kind nature.

It’s also just a great push your luck game, where you’re basically pushing your luck against your own teammates. Again, very weird but awesome. There’s also some decisions to be made outside of just trying to race to the village. Equipment cards are strewn about the pathways and they’re constantly teasing you to take that extra turn to grab it in hopes of getting something good. When you do have equipment, there’s always discussion about when to trigger it and how to make the most of their powers. This is pretty common in cooperative games, but it also feels fresher here because of the unique context it’s featured in.

Admittedly, the whole ‘you can’t communicate’ thing is a little hackneyed and contrived here. You can discuss basically everything EXCEPT the actual values you rolled. You can say things like, “This is the best place for me, everywhere else is awful” or “PLEASE don’t go there, you will regret it” or just curse over and over again, hoping everyone else takes the hint that you’re not moving anywhere. But even if it does feel a little tacked on, I appreciate it from the social aspect. It makes the game about reading between the lines and thinking about the probabilities and then trying to hedge your bets from there. Does the lack of communication create magical moments as found in The Mind or Kreus, another game from earlier in my top 100? Not exactly, but it’s still damn fun.

All in all, Fuji is a strange but incredibly fun beast. Partnered with some real striking art that has a slightly scrawled, hand drawn aesthetic (a style that I adore) this game keeps me coming back for more. It’s flown under the radar a bit, and it seems like one of Warsch’s more polarizing games, but I absolutely love it.

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That’ll do it for another one. We’ve just cracked off the lid of the top 50 and we’re ready to get even deeper! Come back next week for 40-31!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 60-51

Welcome back to my 2019 Edition of my Top 100 Games of all Time. Yes, it’s 2020, and yes I’m regretting starting this so close to the end of last year. But if I had made a smart decision, it wouldn’t have been on brand. Here are my previous posts, if you haven’t caught up yet:

100-91

90-81

80-71

70-61

Let’s get right back into it with my 60-51!

60. Space Base

space base cover

I’ll be honest, I had NO interest in Space Base when it first came out. A super generic sci fi theme with a super generic title and super generic art and super generic “roll dice, get stuff” gameplay? No thanks. But I had heard so many good things about it and I had a friend who I thought would really enjoy it the mechanisms and theme, so I bought it for him for his birthday. And hey, if I just happened to give it a try, then let’s see how it is.

Well. I was indeed able to try it and like many, many times in my life before, I was proven dead wrong. The hype is well deserved for Space Base because this game is loads of fun.

I already very briefly mentioned what this game is about but allow me to go into a bit more detail. Space Base finds you creating a fleet of spaceships, each with their own special powers and abilities that are activated by dice rolls. You’re trying to build a fleet that will create some sort of engine that you can activate with dice as often as possible, eventually rocketing (teehee) you to 40 points. If you’ve played Machi Koro, this is basically the deeper, more gamer-y version of that game, except not garbage.

Okay, I’m being a little hard on Machi Koro, there was a time when I actually liked that game. But when I played it enough times, I realized it was completely luck based and that your best strategy was to just choose a certain combo of two buildings that VERY obviously went together and just pray the dice rolls went your way. Space Base fixes these issues with some very clever design decisions.

The first is that you’re always rolling two dice, whereas rolling two dice was a benefit you had to unlock in Machi Koro. In addition to being able to dual wield dice like a Wild West outlaw twirling six shooters, you can split those dice across your fleet however you see fit. Meaning if you roll a four and five, you can either attach one die to the four spot and one to the five spot and activate your ships in those areas OR you can combine the two to make nine and activate the ship in your nine area. This small little change immediately transforms the autopilot gambling of Machi Koro into a satisfyingly strategic game of hedging your bets and dice mitigation.

Another amazing little tweak: dice rolled on other players’ turns can ALSO be used to activate ships in your fleet. Once again, you can use the dice however you see fit. The difference is rather than activating active ships in your fleet, you’re actually activating ships that have been sent out of your fleet. This occurs when buying a new ship for a certain dice slot; you remove the old ship, flip it upside down to show a new benefit when activated on your opponent’s turns and slide it underneath the top of your board. These ships stack as more and more are sent out, meaning you can really set yourself up for some powerful activations when it’s not even your turn.

All these small improvements to the “chuck dice, get stuff” formula that Machi Koro made popular make a game that is 45 minutes of non-stop, thrilling fun. Every single dice roll is worthy of your attention and everyone’s calling out numbers they want like a rowdy roulette table in Vegas. In addition to this primal joy one gets from gambling, picking ships and crafting your fleet is also good fun. The ships have a fun range of powers, getting you simple things like advancements on one of the three tracks in the game to more advanced things like dice manipulation or activating other ships in adjacent slots. There’s even a ship that literally wins you the game if you activate it enough times! Puzzling out how to combine certain ships in a way that’ll give you a rip-roaring engine and then eventually being able to pull the levers on that engine never fails to be amazingly fun.

Ultimately, Space Base is a game that will likely find its way higher on the list after I get the chance to play it more. Its generic space theme and lackluster art do it no favors (god damn, I wish this game was themed with pirate ships instead!) but ignoring it like I did for so long would be a huge mistake.

59. Drop It

drop it cover

I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think dexterity games were for kids. Why would I want to flick pebbles or stack building blocks when I could be doing grown up things like rolling dice and playing cards?? Exactly! Well, I was an idiot, as I’m sure you’ve realized at this point in the top 100. I got to play a handful of dexterity games over the past year and they are, admittedly, a ton of fun.

Out of that handful, the best competitive dexterity game I’ve played yet is Drop It. If you’ve ever seen Plinko played on the Price is Right, this is essentially the board game version of that. You have an array of shapes in your player color and one by one, everybody’s dropping them down a hollowed out plastic window, trying to get points based on where the shape is located. However, if you don’t adhere to certain restrictions (such as two of the same shapes touching each other or two of your own shapes touching each other), then you don’t get any points. It’s a game of dropping and stacking shapes in such a way that you can earn yourself maximum points while setting things up to make it very hard for your opponents to get anything.

Like most dexterity games, this is silly fun but there are some surprisingly tactical decisions here. You get to choose which shape you drop next and there are definitely places you can drop the shapes that make it hell for the next players’ turn. These tiny decisions help make Drop It just a bit less mindless than your average dexterity game, and one of the reasons why I consider it my favorite of the competitive type.

I honestly don’t know how high Drop It will be next time I do my top 100. I don’t own a copy and I feel like the shelf life of most dexterity games are somewhat short due to their shallow nature. But that’s for future Kyle to worry about! Right now, I love Drop It and anybody who turns there nose up at dexterity games should just drop the Grey Poupon and give it a try.

58. Mission: Red Planet

mission red planet cover

Another entry, another Bruno Cathala game. At this point, I should just ask him to sponsor the blog. My number 58 is one of his more popular games, Mission: Red Planet, a game he happened to co-design with the other well known Bruno in the industry: Bruno Faidutti.

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.

I find few things wrong with Mission: Red Planet, though I will say that this is a game that may need more than one play before it really comes to life. The first time I played it I liked it but didn’t love it. The second time though, I had a better idea of how to use the role cards and the combinations you can pull off with them over a series of rounds. This brought a cadence to my playstyle that caused the game to sparkle, and it’s a game that gets better every time it comes to the table. Like many games on this list, I feel like it could be even higher if I was just able to consistently play some of these damn games more.

Anyway, check it out, it’s awesome.

57. The Quacks of Quedlinburg

quacks cover

It’s tough to think of a more unique and exciting designer to gain notoriety in the past few years than Wolfgang Warsch. He’s already appeared once on my list with his experimental but amazing silent co-op game The Mind, and he makes his return in my 57 spot with the game many consider to be his best: The Quacks of Quedlinburg.

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.

I unfortunately don’t own this game, but it’s definitely one I intend on adding to my collection someday. If you enjoy fun, this game is for you. If you don’t, stick to Twilight Struggle.

56. Pandemic

pandemic cover

While Pandemic is only at spot 56, I don’t think there’s a more important game on this top 100. Without this game, it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t be here. Not literally here, Pandemic didn’t save me from a fire or something. But what it did do is introduce me to the hobby and is the game that got me obsessed with trying as many other games as possible. So, if you’re looking for who to blame for me writing this, send all your hate mail to Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic. (Though don’t ACTUALLY send hate mail, he seems like a very nice fellow).

If you’re reading this list, you’ve probably played Pandemic. It’s the one cooperative game in the hobby that pretty much everyone has played and it’s the one that created the system of ‘take actions, bad stuff happens’ co-op games that have been one of the dominant forces in the industry this decade. In it, you and up to three other friends are various rapid responders trying to stop the spread of four deadly diseases (it’s apparently not a great time for Earth, making it perhaps a little too true to life). You take actions doing things like moving around the map, removing disease cubes, building research stations and ultimately trying to cure all four diseases by handing in five cards of each disease’s color.

The catch is that after your turn, the game takes a turn, done by flipping over cards from an annoying stack of cards called the ‘Infection Deck’. This deck is an unfeeling, merciless force that adds cubes to the various cities on the map, possibly creating outbreaks in the process. Outbreaks spread cubes out which can lead to more outbreaks which accelerates the clock to end the game. Another thing to worry about is that at certain points in the game, you have to shuffle the Infection Deck’s discard pile and place it back on top, meaning cities that may have just gotten cubes will be susceptible to even more.

It’s a brilliant system and it’s no wonder that so many other co-op games have copied it or at the very least, iterated on it. Pandemic combines a tight, brain burning puzzle of efficiently using actions with a palpable cinematic tension as you flip over cards at the end of every turn, wondering if it’s going to be the ONE city you can’t afford to see.

Another shining star sticker to place on Pandemic’s accolade chart are the Role cards. The different roles everyone play as all have a special ability and they’re all fun and useful to exploit. Pandemic is one of those rare co-op games of this style where every character feels crucial to victory. When I’m playing as the Dispatcher, I think, “Damn, if I was the Medic I’d be in good shape right now” and when I’m the Medic I’m cursing the fact that I’m not the Scientist because THEY’D be so useful at that moment and when I’m not the Scientist I lament that I’m not the Operations Expert and so on and so on. Listen, not a day goes by where I don’t wish I was somebody else, but in board game terms it’s awesome to see a roster of characters so deep and powerful. A lot of co-op games of this style have very clearly overpowered characters or character combinations where it feels like playing a game without them present is going to result in a loss 90% of the time (I’m looking at you, Water Carrier from Forbidden Desert).

So, with how incredibly sharp and important Pandemic is, why is not even in my top 50? Quite frankly, I just played it too damn much. As the big game that got me into gaming, this was one that I played over and over again before I started to get a big collection. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the game feeling just a bit stale. But like a delicious loaf of French bread left out on the counter overnight, this doesn’t make it bad! It just means that my desire to play it has gone down and that I’ve moved onto newer and fresher (and therefore more exciting) experiences.

Don’t let that deter you. Pandemic will ALWAYS have a place in my heart for introducing me to a hobby that I’ve been obsessed with for the past 4ish years and I implore anyone who hasn’t experienced it to amend that immediately.

NOTE: Hey, Kyle here, just gonna interrupt myself because I couldn’t find a natural way to bring it up when discussing Pandemic up above. Even though I discussed only the base game here, I’m including all the games of the Pandemic system for this entry. I’ve played Pandemic Iberia, which is awesome, and Pandemic Legacy Season 1 which is even more awesome. But I feel like it’s a waste of entries to include all those games of such a similar system on the list, so consider them all under the same umbrella at this 56 spot. On with the list!

55. Spirit Island

spirit island cover

It’s fitting that the game immediately following Pandemic on my list is Spirit Island, a game that many gamers have claimed to replace Pandemic with. In fact, Spirit Island is often referred to as ‘gamer’s Pandemic’ and while that has a sniff of elitism to it, I see that meaning that it’s just a deeper, more complicated version of Pandemic. And honestly? That’s pretty spot on.

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.

I’ve raved about this game, so it’s probably a bit puzzling as to why it’s not in the top 50. For one, I’ve simply cooled on this type of Pandemic style cooperative game, so I think that causes me to subconsciously rank these types of games lower. Another reason is that this game’s depth comes at the cost of some fiddliness. Unless you play this game consistently, getting it back to the table and reteaching yourself all its intricacies and edge cases is daunting. Therefore, I just don’t play it nearly as often as I probably should.

Still! Number 55! That’s pretty damn good and doesn’t change the fact that Spirit Island is an amazing cooperative experience.

54. 7 Wonders

7 wonders cover

Much like Space Base, I had hesitance with trying 7 Wonders. Despite praise being thrown around like, “instant classic” and “hugely important to the hobby”, I just never had an interest in it. Part of this reluctance was that I had already played drafting games before trying 7 Wonders and I felt that 7 Wonders probably didn’t offer anything new to hook me. Being the ostensible godparent of the genre, I figured the games I had already played were basically 7 Wonders, but better since they had 7 Wonders to iterate off of and to evolve from. Another big reason is I had already played 7 Wonders Duel, which I loved and heard was widely considered to be better. So why go back, I thought?

Why, Kyle? Why?? WHY!? BECAUSE IT’S 7 FRICKING WONDERS, THAT’S WHY.

Yes, yes, I know. Just like I said with Space Base, I was proven wrong (told you it happens a lot!). Despite my misgivings, I got to play 7 Wonders and found it to be an amazing design.

As mentioned, 7 Wonders is the game that kind of started the whole card drafting craze. I know there were some before it, but 7 Wonders is the one that really made the mechanism a household name. When I’m talking about card drafting, I am talking about the mechanism in which everyone has a hand of cards, they pick one to keep and then pass the rest over to the next. You keep picking cards in this manner till the hands have been played. Different games use this system in their own unique ways. In 7 Wonders’ case, whatever card you pick immediately goes into your tableau.

Your tableau represents an ancient civilization that you’re building, and the cards grant you things like resources, military strength (to bully your neighbors into taking negative points) or synergistic combos that will helpfully net you big time end game points. The decisions are often tough but rewarding. There are so many ways you can build your civilization and all the strategies seem viable in their own ways. Even if you don’t like the choices the cards give you, you can trash a card for gold or use a card to build underneath a wonder which grants its own rewards. Because of this, turns are constantly satisfying and every card you play feels worthwhile.

There’s also lots of positive player interaction in 7 Wonders that I love. If you have a resource symbol another player doesn’t have, they can pay you gold to ‘borrow’ it for a purchase. There are also cards that give YOU points for cards your neighbors might have. So, if you see your neighbor is building up a big science-based infrastructure, you can snag the card that gives you points for science cards your neighbors possess. I can’t think of many games that offer me anything other than pure, unbridled hatred for my opponents, so it was such a cool, refreshing thing to see in 7 Wonders.

I’ll be interested to see where 7 Wonders stands next top 100 because, like others I’ve mentioned, I don’t own a copy of it. And honestly, as much as I love 7 Wonders, I’m not sure if it’s a game I need to own myself strictly because my collection is already at critical mass and I have some drafting games that I like better (STAY TUNED). But if ever given the chance to play it again, I’d absolutely jump on it because there’s a lot to love about 7 Wonders.

53. Sheriff of Nottingham

sheriff of nottingham cover

One of the most popular bluffing games in the industry holds my 53 spot: Sheriff of Nottingham. 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.

52. Kingdomino

kingdomino cover

Who’s that French man setting up a cot in the corner? Oh, that’s just Bruno Cathala. I figured since he’s been on this list so many times, he should just make himself at home and stay till the end of the top 100.

Yep, Cathala is back again at my number 52 spot. This one is Kingdomino, a game he designed by himself and is also the only game for which he won a Spiel des Jahres. You can use that for trivia at your next party, by the way, it’s a great conversation starter.

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.

51. My Village

my village cover

A mechanism that I’m surprised hasn’t shown up on this top 100 yet is dice drafting, because dice drafting is a god damned delight. It’s become one of my favorite mechanisms over the past year or so and My Village is one of the games that brought me to this epiphany.

My Village is a spiritual successor, quasi sequel to the game Village. I have yet to play that game, but from my understanding it is an action selection game where you’re picking cubes and taking the action associated with them. There’s also a cool mechanism in which your family members can die and wow, that came out a lot harsher than I expected.

My Village takes the juice of a lot of similar concepts and actions from Village but squeezes it into a game of dice drafting and dice placement. Throughout the game you’ll be drafting dice to activate things in your own personal village board, something that will grow and develop over the course of the game. These things include a crafts stall where you can make items to sell, a church to build so that you can score its number of windows at the end of the game (no, seriously), and even a man with a stick who’s clearly on a pretentious journey to find himself.

There are a lot of avenues to take in My Village. The things I mentioned above are just a small sliver of what your board is capable of, making this one of those Euros where you clearly need to focus on just one or two things unless you want your brain to start leaking out your nose. It’s certainly not a sandbox style game but it is a very open point salad game.

This freedom is one of the things I adored about My Village when playing it. Even though it’s a game with some very tense decisions, I found it strangely relaxing to tend to my village, picking the most efficient spots for my dice, trying to build up clusters of points to try and win the game. There are plenty of options you have with the dice so it’s rare to feel railroaded by bad rolls.

Another mechanism I really liked was the plague mechanism. Remember when I maybe a little too cheerfully said people would die in this game? That comes at the hands of the plague, a push your luck mechanism that’s constantly looking over your shoulder, awkwardly breathing down your neck. Whatever you activate in your village will cost time, which is then represented by the Grim Reaper (no, seriously) making a circuit around your village. When he makes a complete circle, the bell tolls for someone in your village and they pass away. You then bury them on a cemetery board and roll a plague die because if there’s one thing rats love, it’s fresh family corpses. A rat token moves forward as many spots as rolled and when it reaches the end of its track, players could potentially lose a whole ton of points. In a neat twist, players can draft black dice which accelerates the Grim Reaper on his quest to erase your family name (jesus, did you kill his dog or something) which then in turn causes the plague die to get rolled more often. This can be beneficial for you if you’re either trying to race to the end game or if you really wanna try and screw over your opponents into losing any points they foolishly didn’t bank away in their house.

My Village is very much a point salad Euro but its great drafting mechanisms and the way it uses time as a currency to whittle down your work force and march impending doom upon you helps separate it from the pack.

*

Ahhh, that’s it for the first half of my top 100! Tune in next week for the start of my top 50!

 

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of all Time (2019 Edition): 70-61

You’re still here, huh? Awesome! I thought I’d be the only one! We’re officially on the fourth entry of my top 100 games of all time (2019 edition), which means we’re getting closer and closer to the top 50. Here’s links to the other entries if you’ve been somehow to busy to read them:

100-91

90-81

80-71

Let’s keep it going!

70. Beyond Baker Street

beyond baker street cover

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.

69. CrossTalk

crosstalk cover

As we get deeper into this top 100, you can expect word-based party games to pop up more and more often. I love this type of game, since it’s usually an incredibly social experience that still forces you to use your ol’ noodle (I believe that’s the technical term). CrossTalk has the honorable distinction of being the first game of this type to appear on the list.

CrossTalk is a word association game with a twist. Players are split into two teams, with teams being made up of a clue giver and a clue guesser. The clue givers on each team choose a clue or phrase they need to get their teammates to guess and then they proceed to write down a private clue that only THEIR team will get to see. As in most games of this type, clues can only be one word. After this private clue has been shared, clue givers begin giving public clues and this is where CrossTalk gets interesting.

Whereas most games of this type have a clue giver giving a clue and their team guessing the word, CrossTalk flips it on its head. Instead of your team guessing, the OTHER team guesses. Now the importance of the private clue becomes clear. With your public clues, you’re likely going to want to be as cagey and obscure as possible so that your opponents can’t zero in on the word. Using the private clue to provide some direction for your team as you spout nonsense allows them to maybe have a leg up when it’s their turn to guess. It’s like the party game version of The Da Vinci Code, with both clue givers crafting elaborate riddles in the hope that their team can crack it before the other. When it works out, it’s incredibly satisfying and creates high five moments on your side of the table. When it doesn’t, you’re left screaming, “HOW WAS ‘JELLY AND ‘HELICOPTER’ NOT OBVIOUSLY ‘COWBOY’??” which is equally fun.

This game bears a lot of similarities to another word association game in the hobby called Decrypto. I can’t say whether or not I like this better than Decrypto because I don’t want to reveal whether or not it ends up on my list, but I can say that if you like Decrypto, you’ll like this. I feel like it’s basically the family version of that game, a sort of “Baby’s 1st Decrypto”. It scratches the same word association plus deduction itch in a shorter time frame and with a much less intimidating rules explanation. It’s great fun for any fan of these types of party games.

68. Tiny Towns

tiny towns cover

Tiny Towns was an industry darling earlier this year and I feel like the buzz has died down on it considerably. Which sucks, because this game’s awesome! Obviously! It’s my number 68 and will probably climb by the time my next top 100 comes around (oh god, if I ever finish this one).

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.

67. Love Letter

love letter bgg

I’m going to be honest. I’m shocked that after all these years, Love Letter still manages to find a place on my top 100. It’s one of the smallest and simplest games on this list and yet I still find myself going back to it again and again.

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.

66. Cursed Court

cursed court bgg

 

I always love when I get to shine a light on a lesser known, under the radar game and Cursed Court is certainly in that category. It’s got a bit of a cult following and this year I’ve heard more and more podcasts get the chance to play it and love it. Hopefully this results in more people getting the chance to play this unique game, because it’s a real gem.

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.

I don’t know how available this game is currently and I fear this game’s lack of big success dooms it to not being reprinted. If you can track down and try this game, you absolutely need to. Perhaps word of mouth will give this game the second chance it so desperately deserves.

65. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

deception cover

My next game is an unfortunate casualty of the simple fact that I don’t own it and nobody in my area does anymore (EDIT: I have since gotten this game for Christmas! Thanks, Santa!). Otherwise, I feel like this game would get played a lot more consistently and it would find its way quite a bit higher on this top 100, because it is an excellent social deduction experience.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a game very similar to Mysterium, (which was on my 90-81 section), 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. It’s a game I really want to get into my own collection (EDIT: AGAIN, THANKS SANTA) and when I finally have it, I’d be shocked if Deception doesn’t find a way into the top 50.

64. Abyss

abyss cover

Who’s that? Oh, don’t mind him. It’s just Bruno Cathala again! Abyss is another game that I feel would be higher if I had a chance to play it more before finalizing this list. I do own Abyss but it just hasn’t hit the table as much as I’d like.

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.

Like Deception, more consistent play of this would likely see this game in the top 50. As it stands, it’s still an excellent game worthy of my 64 spot.

63. Tournament at Camelot

tournament at camelot cover

In my 90-81 section, I made mention of my newly discovered love of modern trick taking games. Tournament at Camelot is the next trick taking game on my list and another prime example of why I’ve fallen in love with the genre.

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.

62. Small World

small world cover

My number 62 is another one of the hobby’s most popular gateway games and one that I definitely played to death when I first started gaming. I am talking about Small World, the 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.

Like many of the great gateway games, it’s easy to see why Small World has been so popular. The art is colorful and inviting, the gameplay is simple to explain (though the amount of powers can make new players’ heads spin), and it offers a ton of replayability and variety. Small World only misses cracking my top 50 mainly because, as I mentioned earlier, I played the mess out of this game when I first got it and have suffered a tad bit of burnout. Another big reason is because I’ve played a lot more area control games since my Small World days and those games are, quite simply, better than Small World.

Still, I can’t foresee a day where Small World will leave my collection and I also don’t expect it to leave this top 100 any time soon.

61. Brew Crafters

brew crafters cover

As a millennial white male, I have two main loves in life: board games (obviously) and craft beer. My number 61 just happens to combine those two! Brew Crafters is a worker placement game about making craft beer and running your own brewery and, for my money, it’s one of the most underrated Euros in the industry.

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.

 

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 80-71

We are at the third installment of my Top 100 Games of all Time (2019 Edition), which means we’re about to wrap up the original trilogy. And immediately after this I’m going to run it into the ground with needless sequels like it’s a Disney franchise. If you haven’t caught up (SHAME ON YOU) here is my 100-91 and here is my 90-81.

And now, onto 80-71!

80. Lanterns

lanterns cover

Tile laying is in my top 3 game mechanisms of all time (why yes, I did rank my top 10 favorite game mechanisms while I was bored at work one day, why do you ask?), so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see some pop up on the list. My last entry had the wonderful tile laying microgame Circle the Wagons and we’re continuing the trend with my number 80: Lanterns.

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.

79. Hand of the King

hand of the king cover

Hey! I’ve already reviewed this one! You can read it right here! That means I can take this entry off, right? I’ll see you in ten minutes.

FINE, I guess I’ll still actually write about it. 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.

78. Thunder and Lightning

thunder and lightning cover

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.

Besides that one sticking point, Thunder and Lightning is a fantastic addition to anyone’s 2 player only game collection.

77. Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden

cabbagehead's cover

A common complaint we board gamers have is that we have so many games and we constantly want to play those games, but there’s only so many opportunities to play them. Sure, you can emotionally blackmail your friends into feeling sorry for you so that they’ll come over and play but take it from me, they catch to my, I mean YOUR, tricks pretty fast. So, what’s a board gamer to do when they have that old craving for board games but no one around to help satiate it?

What’s that? Do something productive and meaningful, like volunteer or clean your house? Hahahaha, goodness no! Just play a solo board game instead!

I’ve already mentioned solo variants to games on this Top 100 and how I’m on the lookout for great solo modes, but I haven’t mentioned any solitaire only games. Allow me to rectify that with my number 77, Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden.

Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden throws you into the role of the titular Mr. Cabbagehead, who finds himself trying to win the blue ribbon for his community’s garden contest. How you make that garden is by playing cards representing specific vegetables in a grid, trying to situate them in a way that gets you a lot of points from getting like vegetables together in a big patch as well as trying to complete certain formations. Which means, yep, another tile laying game. Told you I liked them!

Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden has a couple of cool mechanisms in it that help make it unique in this very crowded genre. The first is how you draft the cards that go in your garden. Every turn, you draw three cards and put them in a row and then you have to manage these little bee tokens based on which of those cards you want. If you want the middle card, you can just take it for free and you don’t have to involve any of those pesky bees in your affairs. But if you want the card on the left you need to pay a bee token from your supply to the beehive next to the deck. Meanwhile, if you want the card on the right you have to take a bee token from the beehive. If you can’t do either of these, because either your supply or the beehive is empty, you cannot take that card. This cute little drafting system introduces a small element of push your luck to the game, causing you to carefully consider how much of a bind you’re willing to put yourself into for future turns. I guess you could say it’s all about managing your beeconomy.

Ah yes, there’s the reason I’m forced to play solitaire only games like this, glad I can skip the therapist bill for that one.

Moving on, let’s talk about neighbors. Like, not in general, but in the game. Mr. Cabbagehead has an awful cast of characters in his neighborhood, and they’re constantly stalking outside the garden gate, waiting for Mr. Cabbaghead to go on holiday so they can slink through and steal some vegetables. How this is represented in game terms is that at the end of every turn, your draw a certain number of neighbor tokens (decided by the vegetable cards you didn’t draft) and place them on the neighbor they represent. When it’s time for Mr. Cabbaghead to go get lit at some music festival for the weekend, the neighbor with the most tokens steals a specific type of vegetable. Unless there is a tie which means no neighbors visit. So, on top of managing your beeconomy (no, I’m not letting it die) you also have to be thoughtful of how many neighbor tokens you’ll have to pull based on which vegetable card your draft. Having vegetables stolen is back breaking in this game. I’ve had one measly stolen vegetable cost me well over 30 points once because of where it was placed and how central it was to my strategy. Managing your neighbors to avoid this from happening is as essential as the actual gardening itself.

The last thing I’ll rave about is this game’s theme and art. The game sports a very Victorian era aesthetic and feel that makes it incredibly charming. The illustrations are even inspired by old vegetable drawings you would find in Victorian literature and the anthropomorphized vegetable people that inhabit the game world are also ripped straight from the era. Sure, it can be a little creepy looking, to the point that the characters look like something the Umbrella Corporation would engineer in their company garden. But the somewhat grotesque nature perfectly falls in line with the tongue in cheek humor that oozes from the game’s flavor text and its rulebook (the rulebook for this game might be my favorite rulebook ever, it’s hilarious). The end result is a super unique and charming look and feel to this game that really elevates it from the more generic looking tile layers out there.

My one complaint about this game is that it can feel very swingy if you run into bad luck. I mentioned earlier that a single vegetable being stolen from your garden can result in you losing 30-40 points, and there’s many times you lack the control to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening. Yes, there are ways to mitigate the random draw of neighbor tokens and you can plan ahead and situate your garden in a way that losing a certain vegetable won’t be devastating, but there are a ton of times where you’ll play the odds in your favor and still come out with a negative outcome strictly because of bad luck. I’m convinced the only way to get the blue ribbon in this game (which is the ‘top’ score) is to not only play perfectly mistake free but to also not have ANY sort of bad luck plague your garden. Any Cabbaghead experts out there willing to prove me wrong, I’d be more than happy to hear it!

All that being said, this game is a quick 15-20 minutes, so it’s not like you should really care that much about swingy randomness. Because despite it, this is such an enjoyable, charming little game that any aspiring solo gamer should have in their collection.

76. Carcassonne

carcassonne cover

All this talk about tile laying games, and we haven’t even mentioned the grand poohbah of them all: Carcassonne. Arguably the game that really brought tile laying into the mainstream of the board game hobby, Carcassonne continues to be one of the most popular gateway games into the hobby; if there was a Mount Rushmore for gateway games, Carcassonne would 100% be on it. I credit Forbidden Island and Pandemic for getting me into the hobby, but Carcassonne is the first competitive game I truly fell in love with. Here we are, over four years later and Carcassonne is still on my top 100.

Carcassonne tasks players with building the titular city as well as its surrounding countryside, placing tiles out in a communal landscape (wait, didn’t I just say that a few games ago), 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.

75. Hive Mind

hive mind cover

This is perhaps the most mass market-y game on my list. In fact, if it didn’t have the name of an established publisher and of literally one of the most influential designers to ever work in the industry on the box, it’d be easy to think this was mass market. But to cast it aside simply because of that would be a grave mistake, because Hive Mind is one of the most purely fun party games you can buy.

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.

74. Lost Cities

Lost Cities cover

My next game marks a triumphant return of Reiner Knizia, who hasn’t been seen since doing double duty in my 100-91 blog post. On that list, one of his two games that appeared was Schotten Totten, a two-player card game that involved playing cards on your side of the table in a tug of war match over different areas. My number 74 is often compared to Schotten Totten and it’s another one of Knizia’s classics. I am, of course, talking about Lost Cities.

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 hand shake 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.

73. Arboretum 

arboretum cover

Going from one card game that will give you a panic attack to another card game that will give you an even bigger panic attack, we’re here at number 73: Arboretum. 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. The only reason why Arboretum isn’t higher is because I just haven’t played it as much as I’d like. I wouldn’t be shocked if in 2020, this game creeps its way into my top 50.

72. World’s Fair 1893

world's fair cover

I’ve already mentioned a couple of gateway games this list with Lanterns and Carcassonne and my number 72 is perhaps the most underrated gateway game of them all. This game is World’s Fair 1893, an area control and set collection game set in, surprisingly, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

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.

71. Naga Raja

nagaraja cover

We end this section of my top 100 with Naga Raja, another game I’ve already reviewed. Read that very post right here or continue reading for the Cliff Notes version.

Naga Raja is a two player only game and the second appearance on this list 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.

*

Three down, seven to go! Thanks for reading and come back in another week or so to see what makes the list in the 70-61 section!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of all Time (2019 Edition): 90-81

Welcome back! This is the second part of my Top 100 Games of all Time (2019 Edition)! This means I’m tackling 90-81. If you need a recap on 100-91, click here. Otherwise, let’s get on with it!

90. Dead of Winter

dead of winter cover

Dead of Winter is a tough one for me. On the one hand, it’s given me some of the most memorable and truly cinematic moments of my board gaming career (is career the right word? Using it anyway). On the other hand, it’s got some serious flaws that have prevented me from getting it to the table lately.

Let’s deal with that icky stuff first so that we end on a high note. For one, this game is loooong. And I don’t mind long games, but this is also a game where a lot of what you’re doing is really similar. You visit locations, mill that location’s deck looking for what you want, maybe kill some zombies and rinse and repeat for 2-3 hours (make that even longer if you’re playing with the full five player count). The game’s drama comes forth in the uncertainty of whether there is a traitor or not and the infighting that should hopefully begin brewing but if you have an uneventful game where nothing triggers that sort of dissention, Dead of Winter can draaag.

Like most semi cooperatives, this is also a very fragile design. One player can torpedo the whole thing, and I’ve even experienced it happen. I played a 5 hour game of this (at the 5 players, which I would not recommend) once and it all ended with one of the players saying, “If I don’t win this, no one will” and then she proceeded to throw all the hard work we spent the entire night doing and cost us the game. You can argue that’s a player problem and not a game problem, which is valid, but I’d also argue that a player making those kinds of moves is perfectly allowed in a semi cooperative design space so we shouldn’t blame a player when they take that avenue. Her decision is even pretty thematic given the game’s post apocalypse theme. While I applaud Dead of Winter for creating a moment that we could see in a zombie movie, I’ll also point out that there’s a reason every character in those movies is miserable. Add to this that luck can WILDLY swing this game (and not in a fun way) and you can see why I have reservations about Dead of Winter.

Okay, so this is a top 100 list so maybe I should say good things about the game, eh? Despite these things I just mentioned, this game still has a place in my top 100 because it does other things very, very well. I mentioned before that the game can often create moments of infighting and mistrust and when those do occur, the game comes alive. One of the first times I played this game, there was an incredible moment where me and another player had a ten minute debate about whether or not to cast out our third member of the colony. That third member pleaded with us as we discussed his fate, and I was full of dread and guilt as we made the decision to exile him. The fact that a game was able to create such an intense, visceral moment with just bits of cardboard continues to impress me to this day.

Dead of Winter is also richly thematic and atmospheric, something that will always draw me to a game. Characters all have appropriate special abilities given their occupation before the end of the world, items make thematic sense and this is all supported by wonderfully immersive, blood drenched art. There is also the famed Crossroads system found in this game, in which players can trigger story moments based on something specific they do on their turn. While they don’t trigger as often as I’d like, when they DO it once again creates great, cinematic moments that make this game feel one of a kind.

So, yes, I have problems with Dead of Winter, but when it’s good, it’s freaking good.

89. Samurai Spirit

samurai spirit cover

The next game is a pure cooperative, this one designed by Antoine Bauza. His most famous cooperative is Ghost Stories (now reprinted as Last Bastion), but I actually think I prefer Samurai Spirit.

Samurai Spirit is a push your luck game that basically rips off the plot of Seven Samurai. You and your friends are a bunch of samurai protecting a village from bandits and you can also turn into animals. Okay, I don’t remember that scene, but I’m sure it’s in the Director’s Cut.

How you defend the village is by drawing cards from a deck of bandits and placing them on either the left or right side of your character’s player board. Placing it on the left means you’re matching up  symbols that may be present on the bandit card, which helps prevent various penalties at the end of the round. If you’re not able to match symbols or simply don’t want to, you can place it on the right which triggers a mini game of Blackjack. Every bandit has a number and when you place that card to the right of your board, you adjust a little meter by that amount. Every samurai has a number on that meter that is a ‘sweet spot’ that allows them to activate a special power but if you go beyond that you bust and you’re out of the round. So, yeah, totally Blackjack but with samurais.

Players also have the option to instead support another player and pass a token representing their passive special ability to someone else. This is at the cost of placing a facedown bandit card by the village board, which could result in the village being harmed if that bandit card is revealed to have a ‘fire’ symbol at the end of the round. This adds yet another element of push your luck, but this ability to support other players can create really cool combos between everyone at the table. It’s a cooperative game where you actually feel like you’re cooperating and that’s always a plus, yanno?

Samurai Spirit isn’t perfect, which keeps it here in the high 80s. The game can be somewhat hit or miss depending on the construction of the bandit deck. Since the bandit deck is built from a bigger supply of bandit cards that are randomly chosen, you can end up with some bandit decks that are way too hard or way too easy. This is particularly true at the lower player counts, where the deck is smaller and therefore the deck makeup could be a lot less balanced. Will you be facing Satan’s Personal Army or the bandit equivalent of The Three Stooges? It’s a toss up, and that can create either very frustrating games or very boring games.

Despite these balance concerns, when Samurai Spirit is firing on all cylinders, it’s a hidden gem of a cooperative game. Lots of fun, with just the right amount of cooperation, luck and tactics.

88. Magic Maze

magic maze cover

Let’s move onto number 88: Magic Maze, the cooperative game about fantasy characters stealing their equipment back from a mall.

Magic Maze has a couple of real unique selling points. One, it’s real time which isn’t SUPER unique but it does separate itself from a lot of other turn based co-ops. Two, you don’t control a pawn or character in this game. You control actions. I may be the guy who moves characters north and east, but you may be the character who moves them south and through portals and Jenny over there may be the one who can trigger escalators and move pawns west. The game is played out over an ever-evolving map of tiles that come out throughout the game and you need to pay attention to when it’s your turn to move a pawn and navigate this sprawling labyrinth as it spreads across your table like a fungus.

Did I mention you can’t talk? Because you can’t talk. Between this and The Mind on my last entry, I’m beginning to think I just don’t like talking to people? Anyway, you’re not allowed to communicate and direct people around unless a pawn goes to a little hourglass symbol. This helps reset the clock and allows players to talk until the next pawn is moved, in which case it goes back to pretending like everyone’s at a funeral.

There is one way to communicate and it’s hilarious. It comes in the form of a big red pawn called the “Do Something” pawn and it is a hellish invention. When you see somebody blankly staring at the board when they’re OBVIOUSLY supposed to move the dwarf pawn down to the next tile, you simply pick up the “Do Something” pawn and start smacking it down in front of them like a gavel to get their attention. If you’re a jackass, at least. You could just set it down in front of them politely, but where’s the fun in that? Watch with delight as your friend frantically darts their eyes around the board, wondering why you’re going to town on the “Do Something” pawn like the world’s most coked up judge.

All these rules combine to make one of the most manic, fun gaming experiences you can ask for. Magic Maze is easily one of my favorite games to bring out to new people, watching their eyes light up as they realize they’re about to experience something they’ve never had before. And then watch that amazement and wonder turn to pure hatred and fury as you’re slamming the “Do Something” pawn in front of them.

Magic Maze would be higher if it was a little bit deeper. The game offers a wide range of scenarios and extra rules as you get longer and longer into the game, but most of them are kind of ‘meh’. The best scenarios are definitely the first three or four, where the game is much more basic. I hear the expansion fixes some of this, but I unfortunately don’t have it. Despite this, it’s still a solid entry on my top 100 and I never have anything less than a blast when playing this game.

87. Kreus

kreus cover

Kreus is definitely one of the more obscure and underrated games on this list. It is yet another cooperative game with limited communication, which leads me to believe this top 100 may have just been an excuse to confess my issues with communicating with people.

ANYWAY, MOVING ON.

Kreus is a game where you and your fellow players are gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, trying to create a planet because you’re bored or something. I’m dreading having to explain it and the rules beyond that, because this is a surprisingly tricky game to explain despite how simple it is. The first four or five times I taught this game, I managed to miss a rule every time and somehow it was always a DIFFERENT rule. Very embarrassing. So strap in!

(takes deep gulp of air)

In Kreus, the planet you and your teammates are trying to make is represented by a flowchart. The flowchart is made up of features of the planet, like mountains, river, fish, flowers, etc., as well as the Elements that make up those features. The Elements are just different colored orbs. A deck of cards that contain these features and elements is completely dealt out to the players. Then, round by round you and everyone else are going to try and make the planet according to the flowchart, starting from the top and working your way on down until you’re able to cap it off with the “Planet” card, which is the cherry on top of this cosmic sundae. The actual gameplay is playing cards simultaneously and face down. Starting with the first player, you reveal and place your card into the flowchart you’re trying to make, as long as its legal. If it’s not legal (as in you played an element that isn’t needed for the played features or you played a feature that doesn’t have its prerequisites built yet), the card is discarded and your margin of error get that much thinner.

(long exhale)

Okay, so that’s a sort of okay description. The trick in this game is, as I mentioned, the lack of communication. Obviously if this game allowed you to just freely discuss the contents of your hands, you would be able to find the perfect order to play your cards. Having restrictions on that makes this a tense puzzle of reading your players moves and making your best guess of what they played so YOU know what to play. You can spend gems to activate special actions that help alleviate the restrictions, like showing a card to another player or exchanging cards, but even that comes with some sense of reading between the lines (“why the hell did they show me a fish”).

This game is very reminiscent of The Mind, in that you’re trying to play cards in a certain order without being able to actually discuss it. The Mind is more based from a social perspective however, while Kreus is more seeded in trying to game the system. Based on what’s in your hand, versus what has already been played, versus what special abilities other players have triggered that round, you can make your best assessment on what you need to play. When you and your teammates manage to play the correct sequence of cards without a single word spoken? That’s the kinda magical moment that keeps Kreus on my top 100.

86. Monikers

monikers cover

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. So, you could technically put any of those versions here at my 86 spot but Monikers is the version of this game that I own and have played endless hours of, so that’s the one I’m putting on my list.

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.”

If you like party games or often find yourself playing games in big groups, it’s tough to go wrong with Monikers. Just be prepared for the entire night to go by without realizing it.

85. Claim

Claim cover

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.

84. Take 5

take 5 cover

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 I 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.

Take 5 is one of the most recent additions to my collection (thanks to an amazing review by Shut Up and Sit Down) and the fact that it has already broken onto my top 100 shows all you need to know about it. I can definitely see this game being even higher come 2020.

83. Celestia

celestia cover

I may have mentioned it on my previous list (jesus, two entries in and they’re already starting to blend together, please help), but if I haven’t then allow me to say it now: I effing love push your luck. In fact, it is my favorite board game mechanism. As such, when a game is centered on that mechanism, I’m inclined to like it. It’s no surprise, then, that Celestia finds itself on my top 100.

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.

82. Mysterium

mysterium cover

Ohh, Mysterium. I have such conflicted feelings about you, you beautiful bastard. Mysterium is a cooperative party(ish) game where one player is a ghost who has been murdered and the rest of the players are trying to figure out the who, where and how of said murder. The ghost does this by giving cards with surreal, dream like illustrations on them to try and point the other players to pictures of suspects, locations and weapons.

It’s easily become one of the most popular gateway games in the hobby over the past handful of years and it was one of my favorites upon first becoming a board gamer. I do have conflicted feelings about it, however, and I simultaneously think the 82 spot is too low AND too high for this game.

Let’s start with the negative: this game is a bear to set up. This is ostensibly a party game, which means you’ll be playing it in, you guessed it, party type settings. The problem is, party games should take no longer than five minutes to set up and play and even that is pushing it a bit. I can’t count how many times I’ve been setting up Mysterium with a big group of people watching me expectantly, as I apologize profusely for taking so long to set up as I rummage through the box like it’s a crate of Legos, looking for the exact right piece. There’s lots of shuffling, randomly picking cards, finding duplicates of all those cards, shuffling and randomly picking again based on each player in the game, then getting everything set up in the exact right area, and more and more and more. What’s worse, a lot of what’s being set up is the secret information for the ghost which means nobody else can really help them out. This results in scenarios like mentioned above, with most of the group staring blankly at one person as they clumsily sort through cards like the world’s least prepared amateur magician. I have decided against bringing Mysterium to many parties because I dread that cumbersome and long set up time.

Another big minus for it is that despite this game’s fairly simple rules overhead (person plays a card which other players then have to link with another card), there are some real fiddly bits that can grind the game down, ESPECIALLY with the end game. I HATE the final round of this game. I won’t go into the gritty details of it, but the last round, assuming your group makes it there, has this real contrived, convoluted set up and pay off that never fails to feel like the game has fallen flat on its face. If there was ever a second edition of this game which smoothed out the end game and streamlined set up (WITHOUT app assistance, that’s cheating), Mysterium would probably be in my top 50 games, not just my top 100.

Phew. Okay. Now that I’m done railing against this game, let’s talk about why it is in my top 100! That’d probably be helpful.

Despite its rough edges, Mysterium still sits on my top 100 because I love the rest of the game so damn much. I love its theme and concept. It’s unique and immersive and the rule where the ghost can’t talk and can only communicate via knocking on the table is one of my favorite rules ever. The art is astounding. And I’m not just talking about the dream like vision cards the ghost is doling out for clues. I mean the art representing the suspects, the parts of the mansion, and the weapons is fantastic as well. It has this somewhat dark, Victorian era tone to it that perfectly fits the theme and further helps to make this one of the most atmospheric games you can play. And speaking of playing the game: that’s amazing too! I am very much a right brained individual, so games that focus on creativity and imagination (usually a staple of party games) are right in my wheelhouse. I love being the ghost and trying to figure out how to link the cards in my hand with the cards I need to get the other players to guess. As the paranormal investigator, I love trying to get inside the ghost’s head and to spot connections among the visions I’ve been given. All of these things combine to make a truly special gaming experience, even with the loud complaints I logged against it.

So, yeah. As you can tell, I have mixed feelings on Mysterium. It might be the most flawed game on this list, but the fact that it’s on here tells you all you need to know.

81. Circle the Wagons

circle the wagons cover

Loyal readers of this blog know I love me some Button Shy. Button Shy is a game publisher that’s been making a ton of waves in the industry lately, thanks to their portable wallet games. They’re appropriately named since they literally come in a little wallet. Besides the unique packaging, these games also have another trademark: they’re all comprised of only 18 cards. These microgames often pack a big punch despite their diminutive size and I’ve reviewed Stew, Sprawlopolis, Tussie Mussie and Seasons of Rice over the past year in an effort to showcase how awesome this publisher is.

Yet here we are at number 81 with a Button Shy game I HAVEN’T reviewed yet, something I quite regret because it’s one of my favorites from the company. 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.

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That’s another one in the books, folks! Thanks for joining and check back in a week or so for 80-71!

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (2019 Edition): 100-91

Hello there! And (*extreme John Hammond voice) ‘Welcome to my Top 100 Games of all Time!’ (*end extreme John Hammond voice*)

If you took a mosey on through my blog, you’ll notice my most recent post was announcing that I have been ranking my 100 favorite games so that I could post them over the course of the next couple months right here on the blog. I’m sure you thought it was a bluff and that there was no way I’d ever go through with it and so did I. But here we are! My parents will be so proud, FINALLY.

I’m gonna get to the games ASAP, but just a few bits of housekeeping. As most content creators do when they make a list of this type, I’ll be doling it out in sections of ten games, starting with 100-91. I’m sure this goes without saying, but these are MY favorite games and not necessarily what I’m saying are the BEST games. These are just the games I’ve grown to love over the past few years, particularly in 2019. It’s insane how many games there are that I truly, truly love and it’s sad how many had to miss the cut. It’s also worth noting just how fluid a lot of this list is. A game in the 90s today could easily see itself in the 50s next week based on a great play or two. That’s how close a lot of these games are for me. So, if you’re wondering how certain decisions are made, or why ‘x’ game is ahead of ‘y’ game, you are completely in agreement with me. I mentioned in that earlier blog post that I held tortoise races to decide close ties and that probably wasn’t smart because the authorities came to collect all my tortoises shortly after that post went live. Not only is it incredibly lonely now, but I had to actually THINK and DECIDE what games were better than others. Sigh.

With all that in mind, let’s start the list!

100. The Mind

the mind cover

 

One thing you’ll notice on this list is that I really enjoy cooperative games that have limited communication between players. I really enjoy trying to cooperate with teammates through intuition and subtext rather than having some Alpha gamer directing my pawn around the board like they’re an air traffic controller. So, it is no surprise that I love The Mind, a game where the most important rule is that you literally cannot talk to each other.

The Mind was a bit of a sensation when it came out last year, being nominated for the Spiel des Jahres (the ostensible Game of the Year award) and putting wunderkind designer Wolfgang Warsch on the map. The rules are so simple, I thought I misread them the first time I saw them. The Mind is comprised of a deck of cards number 1-100, and a certain number of cards are dealt to each player each round. Then, the group must simply play their cards in ascending order with no mistakes. The catch? You cannot communicate in any way. No talking, no gesturing, no subtle wagging of an eyebrow. You somehow need to play your cards strictly by reading the room and getting into a rhythm.

If this sounds bonkers, it’s because it is. Trying to get into a cadence with your friends simply by existing in the same space feels as much like an Orwellian sociological experiment as it does a game, but it produces some truly memorable moments. When you and two other people lay down a ‘27’, a ’29’, and a ‘30’ in quick succession, it’s magical. When your friend plays an 84 after a 62 with barely any time in between, the whole table will groan and curse at them. Every time I play this game a new great gaming memory is created and isn’t that what board games are all about (this is the part where the studio audience goes, “awwwww”)?

On a personal level, one thing I’ve been impressed with is how my love for The Mind increases with each play. When I first played it, I enjoyed it but had a feeling that the novelty would fade after repeated plays. The exact opposite has happened. Every time I play it, I love The Mind a little bit more.

And as someone who has spent most of his life in awkward silences, it’s tough to find a game more fitting for me than The Mind.

99. GoodCritters

goodcritters cover

I haven’t played many pure negotiation games, but I may need to change that if GoodCritters is any indication. GoodCritters, which is a retheme and reimplementation of a game called Tiefe Taschen, casts players as anthropomorphic animals in the Mafia trying to divvy up the loot after a heist. I dunno if there is a Venn diagram out there representing people who are both furries and fans of Scorsese movies, but boy would they like this theme! Loot cards come in different denominations, and every round a player takes the role of the Boss and takes a certain number of those loot cards and splits them up however they see fit. This is the part where everybody starts arguing with each other.

After everyone is done swearing, players play action cards which allow them to either approve the deal or reject the deal, which could result in the Boss being ousted. BUT there are also action cards which let you skim off the top of the loot deck or even rob another player. Playing one of these action cards mean you’re essentially abstaining from the vote which could have implications over the exchange of power.

The ruleset is incredibly open, which means a lot of the heavy lifting has to be done by the players and the various metas they create. This means that if you have a group of shy, sheepish players who are going to try and be nice and fair, Goodcritters maaaay fall flat. BUT if you have a group who is willing to form petty alliances and be mean to each other for little to no reason, congratulations! You may be terrible people, but you’ll have a good time with this game!

The first time I played this game, we played three games of it back to back to back. Over those games, hilarious moments and storylines formed that I still chuckle about. This is far from the deepest experience, but any game that can create such laugh out loud stories is worthy of a top 100 spot in my book.

98. Notre Dame

notre dame cover

After starting with two somewhat light games, let’s wade a bit into the deeper part of the pool. My number 98 is a mid-weight Euro by Stefan Feld called Notre Dame. 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.

97. Condottiere

condottiere cover

Anyone who has played The Witcher 3 will immediately recognize Condottiere as something familiar…this game is basically Gwent. Now before you start overloading the comment section (lol, someone commenting on one of my posts, that’s funny), I am well aware Condottiere came out before Gwent and that Gwent was inspired by this rather than the other way around. I’m just saying it so people have a touchstone. As someone who put hundreds of hours into The Witcher 3 and having roughly half that play time consumed obsessively with Gwent, Condottiere feels like spending time with an old friend who has a slightly different haircut from the last time I saw them (‘Hey Gramps…uh…nice mohawk’).

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.

96. Herbaceous

herbaceous cover

Perhaps the most charming and relaxing game on my list, Herbaceous is a lovely little push your luck game about collecting and potting herbs. If you were ever looking for a Hobbit Simulator, this might just be it.

Herbaceous’ gameplay is incredibly smooth and simple. There is a deck of cards made up of different types of herbs, like dill, bay, and Herbert Hoover (just kidding). On your turn you draw two cards from the deck and you need to put one in your private garden (a card stockpile only you have access to) and one into the public garden (a card stockpile that EVERYONE has access to). The catch? You draw these cards one at a time, meaning you must decide what to do with the first before ever seeing what the second one might be. Sure, that tarragon looks awfully tasty, but if you put that in your private garden, what if one of the rarer cards, like chives, shows up? Then it’ll be available for just ANYONE to grab, and nothing irks me more than my friends getting chives that belong to ME.

Further adding to this press your luck mechanic is the set collection mechanism that powers the scoring in the game. You have four different pots in front of you to collect sets of herbs and they all have different set categories. One pot only takes sets of identical herbs, while one only takes sets of pairs and another requires a set of unique herbs. Once you pot a set of herbs into one of those containers, it’s locked down for the rest of the game. Making things even worse, this decision needs to be made BEFORE you draw cards, meaning you must decide before knowing what kind of herbs you could potentially add to your sets-in-progress. Herbs haven’t been this tense since…well…ever.

What I love about Herbaceous is that despite the tension that comes from the push your luck mechanisms, it never feels too stressful. As I mentioned before, this is a very relaxing game. The fact that the art is beautifully done by Beth Sobel, one of the industry’s best artists, further adds to this game’s zen like charm.

Another quick point in Herbaceous’ favor is that it’s got a pretty good solo mode. I have been doing a lot of solo gaming over the past year, so I’m always on that lookout for a good solitaire variant. While I certainly wouldn’t buy this game SOLELY because of this mode, it’s good enough to burn 10-15 minutes and to keep this game always in the back of my mind.

Also: there is a bonus point card that is called The Biscuit and it’s literally just a picture of a biscuit on a plate and oh man does that never fail to make me smile.

95. Ex Libris

ex libris cover

There are going to be a lot of games on this list where I’m going to say, “This game would probably be a bit higher if it got to the table more often” and Ex Libris is one of those games. Ex Libris had a lot of hype when it was first released and it’s gone somewhat quiet since then, which is a shame because this game’s pretty damn good.

Ex Libris is a game that is set in a magical fantasy world, but instead of slaying goblins or diving into dungeons for treasure, you’re setting up a library. Yep, hope you’ve brushed up on the Dewey Decimal system lately!

It’s easy to raise a sarcastic eyebrow and go, “Libraries? Seriously? What, is this Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Overdue Book?” but the theme is one of the best things about this game. If you want a game about mindlessly killing orcs and dragons, go to Kickstarter and take your pick from the hundreds available. But how many games let you build a fantasy library??

How you build this library is through a fusion worker placement and tile laying. On your turn, you place a worker down on one of a constantly rotating batch of locations, and the actions you do help you with gaining cards or laying down cards. The cards feature the spines of books (all uniquely named!) as well as symbols pertaining to the genres of those books. The building of library involves putting these cards down in a tile laying style puzzle, trying to collect certain symbols while taking care to keep things in alphabetical order.

I will admit, I am much more fond of the tile laying aspect than the worker placement part of the game. Puzzling out where to put books in your library can be excruciating. Do you really want to jump from B to F? What if some ‘D’ or ‘E’ books come into your hand? You’re always pushing your luck against the clock. If you’re too conservative and barely build your library, other players can rush to the end and leave you with a library half their size. But play too cavalier and you may lock yourself out of good options that come down the line.

I love this puzzle so much that I wonder if maybe this game wouldn’t have benefited from being stripped down and turned into strictly a card game, where the only mechanic was tile laying. BUT, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to love about the worker placement chunk of the game. For one, everybody has a special worker who is some sort of fantasy archetype, like a wizard or witch or trash golem (huh?). Not only are these special workers adorable custom meeples, but whenever you place them on a spot they activate a special, often thematic power. The aforementioned wizard can use his magic to slide his book shelves around, giving him versatility in the construction of his library. Meanwhile, the Gelatinous Cube swallows and takes cards from any players foolish enough to share a location with it. I definitely sense there may be some balance issues as some powers seem waaay more useful than others, but that doesn’t bother me too much. It can be used as a handicap for players who aren’t able to grok the game as easily as others.

The other unique aspect of the worker placement portion of Ex Libris is a bit more of a double-edged sword. In this game, the worker placement spots are not a static selection of actions. Instead, they are location tiles that are constantly getting swapped in and out, meaning every game is going to have a fresh and somewhat chaotic feel to it. On the one hand, this is great. I love how each location feels thematic and the art that goes along with it, oozing personality with each tile. But what I don’t love is having to learn and relearn these locations throughout the game. If you play this consistently, it’s probably not an issue. But as someone who doesn’t get this game to the table nearly as often as I’d like, it can be a bit daunting for new players and it’s honestly one of the reasons why I sometimes hesitate to pull it out. Again, this makes me wonder if a straight up card game version of Ex Libris wouldn’t have been a smarter move.

Despite those complaints, there’s a reason why this game is still on my top 100. It’s got a great central puzzle, its whimsical art and theme burst with charm and personality, and it too has a very enjoyable solo mode. Give it a shot, I feel like this game has unfairly been lost to the annals of time (read: 2018, which is definitely the annals of time in board game years).

94. Schotten Totten

schotten totten cover

I love a good two player card game, especially if they’re packed with tough, tense decisions. If you do as well, look no further than Schotten Totten. Designed by game design great Reiner Knizia, this game has also been published under the name Battle Line. While Battle Line carried a Carthaginian ancient warfare theme, Schotten Totten is about Scottish clans trying to increase their territory by passive aggressively kicking boundary stones back and forth. They are ostensibly the same game, but I will take Schotten Totten’s theme over Battle Line’s any day and the difference in production values between Iello’s Schotten Totten and GMT’s Battle Line is laughable. One has humor and personality and vibrant colors (Schotten Totten) and the other (Battle Line) has art and graphic design that looks like it was made in Print Shop ‘95.

Schotten Totten is classic Knizia in its simplicity to depth ratio. On your turn, you play a card and you draw a card. When you play a card, you’re playing it to one of the many stones that divide your side of the board from your opponents. You’re basically trying to make 3 card poker hands on your side that beat the hands on your opponent’s side. And that’s it!

And from this simple seed blossoms a beautifully tense flower of a game. You and your opponent are in a constant game of Chicken over the stones. Commit to only a few stones and you show your hand too quickly, allowing your opponent to zig while you zag. But play to too many stones too early and you’ll wear yourself thin, not allowing you any escape valves when you realize a hand may be lost. You’ve got to balance keeping your options open with forming strong foundations and this is both scream inducing and addicting.

There’s not much else to say about Schotten Totten. The fact that it’s been around as long as it has in two different versions is all you need to know.

93. The Quest for El Dorado

el dorado cover

Hey, look who’s back! It’s Reiner Knizia again! That’s cool, he’s fun.

Whereas Schotten Totten is one of Knizia’s stalwart classics that has stood the test of time, El Dorado is a much more recent offering from the Good Doctor. That doesn’t make it any less respectable and it is in fact widely considered one of his best games in years. El Dorado is Knizia’s foray into deckbuilding and it makes you hope that he returns to the genre soon. He seamlessly blends deckbuilding with a race element that creates a super fun experience.

In The Quest for El Dorado, you are an explorer trying to make it to the fabled lost city of gold, El Dorado which seems fitting because El Dorado is the only damn place explorers seem to be going in board games. Like most deckbuilders, everyone starts with an identical deck of cards. These cards represent your movement abilities as well as some gold which aid in buying new cards for your deck. Green cards let you use machetes to slice your way through green spaces while blue cards feature paddles allowing you to move through blue spaces. Gold cards double as movement cards to move through yellow spaces (which are villages, so apparently you’re just bribing the indigenous people??) as well being the most efficient cards to use when buying new ones. On your turn, you have a hand of four cards which you can use to move your meeple along the (highly modular) map or buy new cards and then it’s the next player’s turn.

This brings me to the first thing I love about this game, and that’s just how silky smooth and quick this game is. Turns are brisk affairs and using a good hand of movement cards to march ahead of the pack never fails to feel satisfying. This satisfaction is multiplied tenfold when you pull out one of your big cards that you recently added to your deck which lets you machete your way through jungle thicket like a human shaped lawn mower.

Don’t mistake this simplicity and speed for shallow. There are still plenty of great choices to make and building your deck feels like a constant tactical exercise in preparing for what you need while ditching cards that you don’t. Since the maps are modular and full of variance, there will be times when you see stretches of certain types of spaces. See lots of blue? Load up on paddles like the world’s most paranoid sailor. See lots of green ahead? Grab so many machetes that your deck looks like the garage in the Voorhees household. And when you see the landscape changing again? The game offers campsites which allow you to ditch cards from your deck. Payers find themselves hauling ass over there to ditch their paddles or machetes into the campfire to make room for better stuff. It’s like you’re cooking a pot of soup and changing the spices on a constant basis to fit the tastes of the guests coming in and out of the kitchen.

Deckbuilding is one of my favorite genres and The Quest for El Dorado is one of my favorites to feature the mechanism. This is another game, like Ex Libris, that could easily find itself higher if I just had more time to play it. I definitely want to get it to the table again soon, and I would suggest you think of doing the same.

92. Dead Men Tell No Tales

dead men tell no tales cover

I feel like there are two breeds of cooperative games: puzzle-y co-ops and limited communication co-ops. I already mentioned my love for limited communication co-ops in my description of The Mind. But puzzle-y co-ops, in the vein of Pandemic or the Forbidden series of games? I have been starting to get burnt out on them. Those were the types of games that I pretty much exclusively played when getting into the hobby and I loved them then, but my desire to play that style of cooperative game has decreased with each passing month. BUT there are still games in that style that I greatly enjoy and will not mind playing no matter the mood. Dead Men Tell No Tales is one of those games.

DMTNT is a game where you and your band of fellow pirates are boarding a ship you just scuttled to loot your hard earned treasure. The trouble? The ship is burning (I mean, you should have seen that coming) and also populated with skeletons and ornery treasure guards. You need to work together to keep the fires at bay while constantly prepping for combat so that when you come across one of those aforementioned treasure guards, you can ask them nicely for their treasure (with your sword).

Let’s be honest, this game is a tad derivative. It’s a game where you spend action points to keep things on the board from getting out of control lest they spread to other parts of the board and cause a chain reaction that makes an untenable situation. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s basically Pandemic: But With Pirates. But that’s okay! I love pirates (it’s my favorite board game theme!) and the game adds a ton of thematic touches which help separate it from Pandemic: you have a combat meter which you’re constantly trying to keep at a healthy state in case you need to fight some fools; there are items you can use and swap with your teammates to adapt to new situations and problems; there’s a cool tile laying mechanism where you are basically building out the ship as you play; there’s rum.

These little thematic flourishes can sometimes bog down the game with edge cases and constantly checking the rules, but it’s worth it when you consider how much it adds to the atmosphere and cinematic nature. I already said pirates is my favorite theme in board games and this game absolutely revels in that theme. As such, no matter how much I cool on cooperatives of this nature, I have a feeling DMTNT will be a fixture in my top 100 for quite a bit longer.

91. Coloretto

coloretto cover

Small card games are going to pop up a lot on this list, so prepare thyselves. I already had Herbaceous and now I’m rounding out this portion of the list with Coloretto. Like Herbaceous, Coloretto is a set collection game driven by a push your luck mechanism. The deck of cards is comprised of different colored chameleons and you’re trying to collect certain colors by game’s end.

On your turn, you can either draw a card and add it to one of the stacks of cards being formed in front of the players OR take one of the stacks of cards and essentially bow out for the rest of the round. Each stack (the number of which differs based on player count) can only hold three cards so options get pretty tight fairly quickly. There’s a constant tension of trying to figure out when it’s time to get a stack and get out or to push things juuuust a bit longer to either make a stack that much sweeter for yourself or to maybe sabotage a stack that was looking good for your opponent.

The reason why there will be stacks of differing quality for the different players is the way Coloretto scores. You don’t simply score your sets of different colors, getting points for having as many chameleons as possible. Where would the game in that be? No, instead Coloretto has a devilishly clever system in which you only score positive points for THREE of the sets you collected and the rest net you negative points. And suddenly, that little rule transforms Coloretto into a peaceful game of trying to collect lots of cute little chameleons into a ruthless, cutthroat experience.

As you draw cards from the deck, you’re constantly aware of what colors your opponents want so that you can sully any potential piles that have those colors. Oh, you’re working on blue? And you’re eyeing up that stack of two blues? It’d be a shame if I put this purple chameleon there and OOPS, I JUST DID, GUESS YOU’RE WORKING ON PURPLE NOW TOO.

What I love about the bloodthirsty nature of this game is just how passive aggressive it feels. You’re just calmly adding a card to a stack and you hear groans erupt from another player. You play coy and be all, “Oh, sorry, were you gonna take that? Huh. Sorry” as you laugh uproariously on the inside. Of course, when it happens to you, it’ll fill you with an eruption of rage as you see your friend lackadaisically ruins the stack you wanted while very purposely avoiding eye contact despite the smirk on their face.

It’s a tense and thoughtful game despite its small package and short length. It’s without a doubt a game that you’ll play three or four times in one sitting and I have yet to get tired of its subtle but wicked tactics.

*

 

And that’s it! 100-91! Wow. That was a much longer trip than I expected. I really hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and ramblings on these games, and invite you to join in next week for 90-81!

WARNING: A TOP 100 GAMES LIST IS COMING.

“Hey Kyle, where have you been?” is something I’ve never heard before in my life. But if you HAD said that, then allow me to answer you!

As anyone can see, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on Boar & Arrow. My last review was for the wonderful Tricky Tides on September 16th. Then I went off the grid. Why? Is it because I spent way too much time laying on my couch, watching YouTube and drinking craft beer? Absolutely! BUT I also had other things taking my attention. I spent a good portion of October teaching myself how to use Microsoft Publisher so I could use it to make a newsletter for a freelance writing gig I have. While I’m sure many can use Publisher in their sleep (it really isn’t that hard a program to use), it still took a good deal of energy for me to learn and use, so I was in no mood to do any other writing at the time.

But there’s another reason why I’ve been dormant. You see, as a hobby board gamer I am legally obligated to do certain things. I am forced to own a Kallax, I have a framed picture of Tom Vasel hanging above my bed AND every year I must do a ranking of my top 100 favorite board games. The last one is the important one because over the past few weeks, I have been compiling and ranking my favorite games!

The end goal? To complete a top 100 games feature that will posted over the next 10ish weeks right here on the blog. The posts will be the different entries, comprised of 10 games each. So the first post will be 100-91, then the second will be 90-81 and so on. And this will lead all the way up to my number 1 favorite board game of all time. This will be my 2019 edition of the list and I would really love to make this an annual thing, where I update it towards the end of the year. This will likely bleed over into the first few weeks of 2020, which is a little awkward but hey, it still counts.

I would really like to get my 100-91 post up by the end of this week, but it will DEFINITELY be up by next week if not. In my enduring genius, it just so happens I have chosen to pick the holiday season to post these things, when internet traffic is usually at its lowest point. But it wouldn’t be a Boar & Arrow blog post without terrible decisions.

I am really excited for this, though. I did a top 100 last year for my own personal enjoyment and doing it this year was an even better experience. I have played a lot of new games since that last top 100, so I feel like this year’s list is far deeper in how much I love these games. I had a devil of a time picking which games to go where, and I honestly still have a couple that I’m pondering where to put. When in doubt, I’ve simply printed out pictures of the games, taped them to the back of a tortoise’s shell and had tortoise races to determine winners. Inhumane? Probably. Effective? Not really. But it’s been fun to watch.

And with that cheerful note, I will end this post and humbly ask that you keep an eye on this blog over the next two months or so. I imagine this won’t be as easy as I’m expecting, as nothing ever is, but it should be a fun ride nonetheless. See ya there!