Last month, I finished a long (some would say TOO long) project on my blog: my top 100 board games of all time. I started it around towards the end of 2019 and didn’t finish it until March of this year. Perhaps a little embarrassing, especially since I had the year 2019 emblazoned in the title of every post for it. Despite how long it took, I still had a blast doing it and I’m already looking forward to getting a new top 100 together for later this year. It is in the contract of all board game content creators, after all.
However, like anybody with deep seeded abandonment issues, I’m not ready to say bye. I figured I’d do one more bit of content related to my top 100 before I had to actually get creative and think of something else to do. Welcome to Gone but Not Forgotten!
(Which in hindsight, is maybe a pretty depressing title to choose considering the literal pandemic strangling the world at press time.)
In this post, I’m going to highlight games that were on my Top 100 Games of All Time from 2018 but fell out of it by the time I did my 2019 top 100 (which was the one I just featured on my blog). I’m going to describe why it was jettisoned and see if there’s any hope that it may return.
I’m not going to do every single game that left my top 100 because there’s actually a decent number of them and I don’t want this to go on for too long (something I struggled with during my top 100 posts). So, I’m cherry picking the ones that either surprised me the most with their absence and/or had the biggest falls from grace. Let’s get started!
Previous Ranking: 95
Insider is a social deduction game from beloved Japanese publisher Oink Games. I featured one game from Oink on my 2019 top 100 and that was the fantastic Fake Artist Goes to New York. While Fake Artist is a hidden traitor game meets Pictionary, Insider is a hidden traitor game meets Twenty Questions.
Insider fell from my top 100 for a couple reasons. The biggest one is that it’s in a very crowded social deduction genre. This works against it in a couple ways. One, it’s a genre that feels incredibly same-y from game to game, so once you latch onto a couple of favorites (for me it’s Spyfall, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and aforementioned Fake Artist) it’s tough to convince yourself to deviate from those. Case in point: I played Insider a few months before making my top 100 and the entire time I was playing it I was thinking, “This is fun, but I’d rather be playing Spyfall/Deception/Fake Artist.”
This is further exacerbated by the fact that social deduction games don’t hit the table that often for me. It is by far the most polarizing genre of games within my game groups. I have multiple friends who flat out refuse to play social deduction games which means if they’re present at game night, none of those games are an option. So, when I finally DO get a chance to pull out a social deduction game, I’m going to make sure it’s one of my favorites and not one that is a tier or two below. Such is the cruel fate beset onto Insider.
Will Insider ever find its way back onto my top 100? I highly doubt it. The reasons I just mentioned for its exclusion are not going anywhere and it’s made even worse by my recent acquisition of Detective Club. Detective Club is a newer social deduction game that focuses on Dixit style cards and clues and it has rocketed up to the top of the list of my favorite social deduction games, along with the other heavyweights I mentioned earlier. An already restrictive field got just that much tighter for Insider, which means its days on my top 100, and possibly in my collection, are over.
Previous Ranking: 94
Immediately following Insider on my 2018 list was Hanabi. Hanabi is a pretty popular cooperative game in the hobby and it was one of the first games to ever enter my collection. Loyal readers of my 2019 Top 100 may already have a good idea of why Hanabi was booted out: Beyond Baker Street.
Beyond Baker Street is a game that made it into the 60s of my 2019 top 100 and is basically Hanabi, but better. For one, it has a theme I appreciate much more (Sherlock Holmes vs. near sighted mole-people putting together a fireworks display). Two, it has an actual win state whereas Hanabi has what is essentially a high score variant. Listen, I’m not plugging quarters into a Frogger machine at the local arcade; keep your high score chart out of my board games. This fact alone makes Beyond Baker Street the better option for me.
I go into more detail about why I think Beyond Baker Street kills Hanabi in this part of my top 100, so I won’t bother repeating myself. Ultimately though, I can’t remember the last time I’ve played Hanabi since I added Beyond Baker Street to my collection. Because of that, I’d be shocked if Hanabi ever found its way back into my top 100. I respect the brilliance and elegance of its design, which is one of the reasons it’s still in my collection, but it just can’t compete with Beyond Baker Street for actual table time.
Previous Ranking: 91
Muse is a party game that flew under a lot of radars, despite being part of the immensely popular “Games that have surreal, Dixit style art” category. In this game, two teams are trying to give clues to their teammates in an attempt to get them to guess a specific picture.
The catch: the opposite team not only chooses the picture but also the type of clue the player can give. Clue prompts range from broad (“Name a movie”) to hilariously specific (“Name an appliance/furnishing”). Your opponents are not just trying to pick an awkward, cumbersome clue prompt for you to deal with but also try to pick a picture that collides with the other pictures that will be in the display, making it that much tougher for your teammates to pluck out the one you’re nudging them towards.
I actually really like Muse. I love the concept and I’ve had a good time with it in the few plays I’ve had. The problem: I appear to be the only one in my game group that feels this way.
A common complaint is downtime, which I will admit is enough of a problem that we instituted timers. Since so much of the game is one team quietly whispering to each other as they look at cards and deliberate while the other waits, it can feel like you’re rarely even playing the game. I felt the timer we established did a good job of mitigating this flaw, but even with that the other players seemed to find it to be a ‘meh’ experience.
Considering this is a party game that requires at least four people, that makes it very tough to get to the table. I’ve given up on it and I have this on my ‘sell’ pile. Therefore, unless there are some abrupt, radical changes in opinions on this game among my friends, Muse will likely never return to my top 100.
Previous Ranking: 89
It’s funny that Concept follows Muse on this list. Whereas Muse is a game I love but my friends didn’t, Concept is the opposite. My friends are crazy about it and it’s one of the most requested party games in my collection. Buuuut, I’m not so jazzed about it anymore.
Now obviously, I like Concept. It was on my top 100 at some point, after all. The problem with Concept is one of burn out.
Concept is a simple game that’s basically Charades, but with pictures. A large board of icons representing certain concepts is used, with clue givers placing out different colored cubes and tokens on the icons to try and get their team to guess what the prompt is. Now, when I first bought Concept, it got played constantly. It was brought out at almost every single game night for a couple months in a row, to the point that I was starting to memorize the prompts. As it traveled from game group to game group, I found myself biting my tongue when somebody started a prompt and I knew what it was by the second cube simply from overplaying the game.
This obviously resulted in me just having less and less desire to play the game. I would sometimes even ‘forget’ to bring the game because I simply wasn’t in the mood to play it. Even casting burnout aside, I also feel the game has some major balance issues. Prompts are either way too easy (‘bubblegum’) or way too hard (‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions’) and the points doled out for them often make no sense for their difficulty.
Funnily enough, I recently got Concept back to the table a couple times over the past few months, ending a long hiatus from the game. The arc was similar to my initial experiences. I went from loving it, not believing I had waited that long to play the game again, to frustration and fatigue. For this reason, I’d be surprised if Concept came back to the top 100. Though I suppose it’s a matter of at what point in my love/hate cycle for this game you find me in.
Oh My Goods!
Previous Ranking: 75
Oh My Goods! is an Alexander Pfister design that takes a mere deck of cards and turns it into a satisfying engine builder of crafting supply lines and chaining them together for big points. It’s interesting that Oh My Goods! fell off my list, because at the time I ranked this game in 2018 I hadn’t even played it multiplayer yet. The game managed to get onto my top 100 off the good graces of its solo campaign alone. Fast forward a year and I’ve had the chance to play OMG with actual other humans a handful of times. So is OMG that bad a multiplayer game, that it managed to sink it off the list despite strong impressions from my solo plays??
The answer is sort of yes and sort of no. On the one hand, a big reason OMG is off my list is because I had played soooo many more games between my 2018 and my 2019 top 100 that a lot of games got kicked off just because I had the chance to have so many new experiences. What was ‘great’ in 2018 might seem merely ‘good’ in 2019 after being compared to so many fantastic new games. This is one thing that kept OMG off my top 100. Even though I do like it, it just couldn’t compare with the deluge of excellent games I had the chance to try in between rankings.
BUT on the other hand there is one other niggling issue that kept OMG off my top 100 that it is indeed a flaw with the game that became apparent in multiplayer sessions. This game has a slooooow start. It says 30 minutes on the box, but that’s a lie. Every game I’ve played of this has been at least an hour. And I would say for the first 30 minutes, a.k.a. the time it takes the play the game according to its deceitful packaging, you’re simply building the engine that you’ll run in the second half of the game.
That second half is great. When you’re able to pull the lever on your machine a couple times and watch as cards conveyor down the line of your tableau, getting more and more valuable the farther they go? It’s incredibly gratifying and I’d even argue this is the most satisfying engine builder I’ve ever played from that standpoint. But getting there can be a slog. Constructing the buildings you need to make your engine feels like it can take forever in the early stages, especially if card draws are not kind to you. This isn’t as much an issue in the solo game but in the multiplayer game, it definitely drags.
For those reasons, Oh My Goods! fell off my top 100 and is certainly my least favorite Pfister design. It’s still a good game, but not one that I hold in nearly as high esteem as his other classics.
Previous Ranking: 70
In terms of uniquely visceral, cinematic experiences, I don’t think I’ve played a game quite like Captain Sonar. It’s a real time, team vs. team game of rival submarines trying to sink the other. It’s meant to be an 8-player game, with the two teams boasting four players each and each person having their own specialized, individual job on the sub.
There’s the Captain, who moves the sub around on a grid; the Engineer who is playing a mini puzzle of efficiently crossing out symbols in a spiderweb like network; the Radio Operator who is listening to the other team’s Captain in an attempt to suss out where the enemy sub is; and the First Mate who is…filling up meters? Hey, not all of them can be badass.
It’s a fast paced, frenetic duel of wits, with teammates yelling down the line to each other, torpedoes and bombs exploding, and a hilarious mini game of every player having to initial a part of the sub when it’s time for repairs, making it feel like you’re accepting a FedEx package on a plane that’s careening to the ground. No game will get your pulse pounding like this and by the end of the intense 30-45 minute skirmish, everyone slumps down and pants like they’re in need of a post coital cigarette.
So why on earth did this game fall off the top 100? Well, let’s see. I bought this game at the end of 2017 and the last time I’ve played it was…roughly the end of 2017. This game is borderline impossible to get to the table. As I mentioned, this game plays up to 8 and it honestly is best at 8. You can play with less but you’re not getting the full experience and even then, you’ll need at least 6 to render the game truly playable. This basically locks it down to only playable at parties and guess what: this is NOT a party game. The same people you primarily play Codenames and Just One with are absolutely not going to be ready for Captain Sonar. This is a game with four different jobs which means four different rule sets which is on top of the overall rules that form the framework of the game. The last time I tried to teach this game I had people gaping at me with slack-jawed, open mouths like I had just sacrificed a live goat in front of them. I mean, I had done that, but that was HOURS before the game.
You need experienced, serious gamers to play this game and I can’t remember the last time I had a game day with four ‘gamers’, let alone six to eight. For this reason, Captain Sonar is on my tentative list of games to sell which is likely also a one-way ticket off my top 100 for good.
Previous Ranking: 68
I love me a good microgame and Coup, a hidden role bluffing game set in a dystopic future, was one of my favorites for a while. I first tried Coup and Love Letter both around the same time, which is fitting since those are probably the two most popular microgames in the hobby. Dedicated readers of my 2019 top 100 will notice, however, that Love Letter is still on my top 100 and Coup is nowhere to be found. What gives?
Quite simply, the more I have played Coup, the more I grew weary of it. It feels very same-y from game to game and bluffing doesn’t feel nearly as rewarding as it does in, say, Skull or Cockroach Poker. In fact, it seems like bluffing is the surest way to get eliminated early, with honest players winning more often than not. I’ll make a bold claim and say that is a pretty big flaw for a BLUFFING game.
There are also many situations, especially in the late game, where players seem like they’re going through the motions, inching along to amass enough coins to eliminate another player. When it’s down to two players, it’s often mathematically clear who is going to win which robs all the suspense and tension out of the game.
Listen, I still like Coup. While I would never suggest playing it anymore, I won’t turn it down if someone else wants to play it. It’s also created some real great gaming memories of daring bluffs resulting in the table erupting in surprise and excitement. But I just don’t think it’s top 100 material anymore, especially with so many excellent new microgames that have outshined and supplanted Coup.
Previous Ranking: 65
This is perhaps the saddest one for me. I LOVE Viral. It’s an area control game set in the human body, with players controlling armies of viruses that are attempting to control the various organs. Definitely not the best theme for a game in the current times we live in BUT when the world isn’t battling a historic pandemic, it’s such a unique, great theme. It’s also got incredible art from The Miko, one of my favorite artists in the industry, giving it a highly stylized, cartoonish look that instills heaps of charm and personality.
I also love the gameplay itself. It’s got a cool card driven system where players simultaneously play action cards and region cards, meaning you’re trying to figure where best to use your actions while trying to predict what the other players will do so that they can’t interfere with the plans. It has got a vague whiff of programming, which feels fresh in an area control setting.
So, between its theme, art and great gameplay, how the hell did this miss my top 100? Well let’s be fair and say that Viral just baaarely missed it. If I did a top 125, Viral would definitely be somewhere on that list. Like many games that either fell in my rankings or off my top 100, Viral is simply a casualty of not getting played enough. I haven’t played it since, like, the Spring of 2018 and it’s tough to keep a game so highly ranked if you can’t get it to the table. This is something that’s compounded by the sheer number of new games I played between lists.
It’s not from a lack of desire to play, at least on my part. It’s just a tough game to get to the table because you need at least 3 players (there’s a 2 player variant but it sounds awful) and mean, area control games such as Viral are, like social deduction games, incredibly polarizing among my game groups. Anything that involves negative player interaction eliminates a handful of potential players, making it that much tougher to get Viral played.
I think out of all the games on this list, Viral has the best chance of making a triumphant return to my top 100. I really do love the game, I just need to play the damn thing.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Previous Ranking: 58
This is one that really shocked me. As I was compiling my top 100, I kept wondering when Freedom would show up. And yet, every time I thought Freedom might appear, I just couldn’t talk myself into putting it anywhere on the list.
This is surprising because in terms of sheer design, Freedom is one of the tightest, most well-crafted cooperative games I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a LOT of cooperative games. It’s also a beautifully made package, featuring immersive art and use of real-life photos and portraits to further steep the game in its volatile time period.
The problem with Freedom, and it’s an issue I’ve become more and more aware of the more I play the game, is that it’s not…very…fun? As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title, this is a game set in the period of slavery in the United States, covering a span of years up through the Civil War. It’s an incredibly dark and harrowing period of history, one that the game deftly handles with respect and care. But as such, it’s tough to get excited playing this game. It’s a melancholy experience that feels almost overwhelmingly stressful from beginning to end. I can’t think of a co-op that puts a knot in my stomach on turn one that doesn’t uncoil till the game is back in the box.
On the one hand, the fact that a game is able to provide this kind of physical and emotional response is a huge credit to its designer and publisher and provides a great piece of evidence supporting the ‘Yes!’ side of the “Are board games art?” debate. On the other, it doesn’t make for an experience I want to go back to again and again and, as such, I rarely have the desire to play this game anymore.
I doubt this game will ever leave my collection because there will be a moment in the future when I want to revisit it. As I said, from a pure game design standpoint it is top shelf quality. But I am skeptical if it will return to the top 100 due to its emotionally heavy, demanding nature.
Previous Ranking: 55
The Resistance is perhaps THE quintessential social deduction game in the hobby. Its clean, elegant design makes it an easy starting point for anyone new to the genre and I’ll be the first to admit that this game is genius. It’s an incredibly tense 30-45 minutes of angry accusations, traitorous backstabbing and, wow, just a whole lot of yelling.
But like Insider, The Resistance finds itself in a very crowded space and as much as I respect this game’s razor-sharp design, it also feels a lot more hollow than other games of its type. Unlike other social deduction games which give a solid framework for the arguments that drive their experiences, allowing players to point out concrete evidence to convince others of their pleas, The Resistance often comes down to who is loudest and/or most charismatic.
Sure, there is a logic puzzle underneath the surface of the game, with player decisions providing the jigsaws needed to put it together BUT so much of the information is obfuscated that it rarely feels like you can use actual, yanno, LOGIC to figure it out. It’s like if you were trying to complete a Sudoku with friends but it was torn into different pieces with everyone getting their own and you just have to rely on their word on how to complete it. This brings me back to what I was saying: rarely is a person who cracked the puzzle the winner in The Resistance. It’s whoever was loudest and most obnoxious.
Compare this to Deception: Murder in Honk Kong, which allows players to deduce information based on the cards in front of others. You can actually see evidence that can then be used to zero in on who is lying and who is likely trustworthy. Or my new favorite social deduction game Detective Club, where the players are able to once again use cards to flesh out their defenses as others question them. In The Resistance, it’s all nebulous and so often comes down to players screaming “NUH UH, I’M NOT THE BAD GUY” and “UH HUH, YES, YOU ARE THE BAD GUY” back and forth until either the end of the game or someone collapses, whichever happens first.
I’ve had some great memories playing The Resistance, but it’s ultimately a game that feels more stressful than fun and has been usurped by a handful of other games that I’d rather play. I don’t own The Resistance either, so it’s chances of ever coming back to the top 100 are pretty low.
Previous Ranking: 23
I went into detail in the 40-31 section of my most recent top 100 as to why Paperback is missing. That’s because Paperback has been replaced by its younger sibling, Hardback, a game that was not only on my top 100 but will likely remain there for the foreseeable future.
Both Paperback and Hardback are word based deckbuilders, where players are crafting a deck of cards to create words that will hopefully net them things like money, to buy better cards, and points, which win the game. I played Paperback first and absolutely loved it…but then I played Hardback and I loved it even more.
Again, I do a deep dive into why I prefer Hardback over Paperback in that section of my top 100 so I don’t want to repeat too much of it here. But if you forgot your snorkel, let’s wade through the shallow end and briefly go over a few my points.
For one, I prefer Hardback’s theme (Paperback has a modern-day, pulpy vibe while Hardback sends you to a more Dickensian era of literature). Granted, the theme is just window dressing for both BUT it drives the aesthetics of both games, so it does matter enough to warrant mentioning.
Two, Hardback institutes a system of wild cards that feels much more strategically satisfying and less restrictive. In Paperback, wild cards are specific cards that enter your deck. You just have to hope they come out to use them. In Hardback, ANY card can be a wild. All you have to do is play a letter card facedown and boom. Book that card a plane to Spring Break because that card’s gone wild. However, you lose any abilities or rewards on that card which creates an interesting decision of which cards are worth ditching for creative freedom and which ones should form the groundwork for your word. It not only means you’re not backed into a corner as often as you are in Paperback BUT it adds to the decision space! Win-win.
Three, Hardback has a superior system of drawing new cards into your hand. Paperback simply had cards that let you draw new cards when played, which is pretty standard deckbuilder fare. So, whereas Paperback’s system feels generic, Hardback’s feels unique and exciting. You use leftover crash to grab inkwells which can then be spent to draw new cards…HOWEVER, if you use an inkwell to draw a new card, that card MUST be used in your word or else you forfeit your turn. It adds a suspenseful touch of push your luck, which is my favorite board game mechanism (something I mention no less than, like, 80 times over the course of my top 100).
Finally, both Hardback and Paperback feature surprisingly enjoyable solo and cooperative modes, but Hardback kicks Paperback’s cardboard ass when it comes to this area. Paperback’s cooperative/solo modes feels a bit like an afterthought, something the designer threw in at the last minute that just happened to work pretty well while Hardback’s feel like there was actual design time put into its variant. I still prefer to play this game competitively, but when I’m all by myself (something that happens quite often), it’s great to know that Hardback’s solo mode is an option.
I know some people say Hardback and Paperback are different enough that you can own both. I slightly disagree with that and I honestly can’t see a time when I’d ever choose Paperback over Hardback. Because of that, I just decided to toss Paperback off the list for good and leave Hardback in its place, representing them both in some strange way. Paperback is a great game, no question about that, but there’s only room for one word based deckbuilder from Fowers Games around here, pardner.
Previous Ranking: 16
The last game on this list is also the one that floored me the most with its absence: Antoine Bauza’s classic co-op Ghost Stories.
Ghost Stories is a cooperative game of monks defending a village from ghouls and ghosts and unspeakable horrors, getting rid of them as you do with any supernatural threat: by rolling dice and yelling lots of curse words.
Part of what caused in Ghost Stories’ massive fall from grace is just a general change in gaming taste. When I first got into gaming, I rarely played competitive games. It was cooperative games as often as possible and they formed the keystones of my collection. As time has passed though, I have cooled on cooperative games, to the point where I vastly prefer competitive experiences. I still like co-op games, especially if they’re of a certain type (which I’ll get into) but they rarely excite me as much as they once did.
This is especially true for the type of co-op that Ghost Stories is. Ghost Stories is an open information cooperative game, where the game gives you a puzzle that you and your other players need to solve as bad things happen (usually from a deck of cards controlled by the game). I refer to these as ‘Pandemic style’ co-ops. In this case, the puzzle is trying to efficiently ward off ghosts by using special abilities and picking battles that will give you the best odds of success.
These types of co-ops just don’t do anything for me anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m burned out from playing SO many of them when I first got into the hobby, but I just find them a lot more boring than I used to. Since everyone is engaged with the same puzzle with the same information, I tend to disconnect and my mind wanders. Compare this to a limited communication co-op, a subgenre of cooperative game that I am still very much in love with. Think of games in the style of The Mind or The Grizzled, where you HAVE to be engaged because you have information other players don’t. These games kill the Pandemic style co-op for me, and this especially rings true when you consider how many fantastic limited communication co-ops have come out over the past few years.
So, Ghost Stories is already at a disadvantage based on the type of game it is. But I still had Pandemic style co-ops on my top 100 (Dead Men Tell No Tales, Spirit Island and Pandemic itself), so it has to run a bit deeper than that, right? Right you are, dear reader.
You see, I played Ghost Stories somewhat recently and I discovered a pretty fatal flaw: this game is repetitive AF (did I use ‘af’ right? Let me know in the comments). It’s basically just bouncing around the grid of tiles, firing off the same abilities over and over and rolling dice over and over. Rinse and repeat for about an hour. The first couple times you play this game, the repetition is masked by how tense and difficult the game is. As you start to learn the game a bit more and the freshness of the cinematic experience wears off, the game begins to feel mechanical and rote. During that most recent play of Ghost Stories, I found myself repeatedly checking my phone to see the time, and I was constantly eyeballing the deck of cards to see how much more we had to go before the game was over. That’s…not a great sign, huh.
I don’t mean to sound too negative about Ghost Stories. I obviously loved it at one point and I still do really like it. It’s just not nearly the exciting experience it once was, and it’s a game I will only play if someone else requests it. Therefore, despite its once esteemed ranking, I unfortunately wouldn’t expect Ghost Stories to come back to the top 100.
And there we have it, a collection of games that missed my top 100 despite being on it the previous year. This is not an exhaustive list, as I said. There’s quite a few more that fell off but a lot of them are due to the same reasons (haven’t played it in a while, don’t own it so I can’t replay it, etc.), so I felt repeating the same thing over and over would get annoying after a while. You know, moreso than my blog usually is.
Anyway, this will probably close this chapter on my 2019 Top 100. Unless I figure out a way to milk it even more, I’m likely going to pivot back to normal reviews or lists. Since I’m currently writing this under quarantine, I think I’m going to do a list of my favorite solo games since solo games are becoming pretty useful these days. Either way, stay tuned!