Tag: kingdomino

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

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

60. Mission Red Planet

Previous ranking: 58 (-2)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

59. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Previous ranking: 35 (-24)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

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

58. Blood Rage

Previous ranking: 20 (-38)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

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

57. Kingdomino

Previous ranking: 52 (-5)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

56. Shh

Previous ranking: N/A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

55. Aerion

Last year’s ranking: N/A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

54. Sagrada

Last year’s ranking: 48 (-6)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

53. Stew

Previous ranking: 42 (-11)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

52. Menara

Previous ranking: 28 (-24)

What I said last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I say now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51. Queenz

Previous ranking: N/A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 Games of All Time (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.

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