We’ve arrived! It took us till 2020, but we’re at the top 50 of my Top 100 Games (2019 Edition)! Let’s get on with 50-41, before 2021 gets here.
Previously on my top 100:
50. Lorenzo il Magnifico
Starting off the top 50 is another mid-heavy Euro, this one being set in the Italian Renaissance. It’s Lorenzo il Magnifico, a worker placement game using a clever dice mechanism that will give you nightmares. More on that later.
In Lorenzo, you’re taking on the role of Italian noble families trying to gain favor and influence across many different tracks. I basically just played Euro Mad Libs with that description, but hey, that’s what the game is. You’ll be placing your family members, represented by cylindrical pieces, on certain columns. The columns contain cards which can then be added to a certain part of your player board and you’re hoping to build an engine that will spew you out resources and/or advance you up certain tracks.
What makes Lorenzo special is how it uses dice. Each round, three dice are rolled to determine the strength of your workers. The dice are colored the same as your workers (orange, black and white) and whatever the dice value is will be how strong your worker of that color is. If the orange die rolled a three, everybody’s orange worker has a strength of three. This is important because the worker placement spots you’re sending your family members out to are all locked by a certain strength value. Some spots may only require a strength of one, while others require seven. If your worker doesn’t have the available strength, you can use servants to supplement the value at a one to one ratio.
Remember when I said this mechanism will give you nightmares? That’s because working around the rolls of the dice is the lifeblood of Lorenzo, and it will seem quite often that the dice have declared a blood feud against you. When the dice are rolled and it’s revealed that none of them rolled higher than a four, the entire table slams their heads down in frustration. While the board doesn’t literally shrink, low dice rolls means the available spaces tighten to an almost suffocating amount. Getting to higher spots means spending more servants, something players are often hesitant to do since resources like that are hard to consistently come by. This results in the lower spots on the columns being quickly taken up, forcing players to either pay big or to settle for something less enticing.
This is made even more difficult by the penalty imposed when a player enters a column. The first player in a column gets in for free, but all other players must pay a three-gold fee to go to a spot in that same column. I mentioned earlier resources are hard to come by, so yeah, that’s not great. I think the phrase “knife fight in a phone booth” is a bit overused, so I’ll instead say that Lorenzo feels like a Scottish dirk fight in a phone booth. I can’t think of a worker placement game where being first player was so important. Last time I played this game, whenever somebody placed their worker on the spot that allowed them first dibs in the next round, the table would erupt into curse words and threats.
I will admit, Lorenzo very nearly straddles the line to the side of ‘too tight’. I enjoy my Euros to feel tough, but if I’m constantly just one resource short of what I need to do, that can get a little exhausting. Lorenzo strays into that territory a little more than I like, which is why it’s not deeper in my top 50 despite having lots of things that I absolutely love.
I don’t want to end on a negative note since I really do love this game, so let me conclude by saying that despite this somewhat punishing difficulty, Lorenzo still packs an immensely satisfying puzzle in a tight 90 minutes. It’s one that I could see rising a bit when I get to play it more and learn to be more efficient with its systems.
It’s been a while since I featured a game I’ve already reviewed, but that changes with Trapwords. As always, you can click here to see the full review.
Trapwords is one of the newer entries in the word association party game craze , something that began back in 2015 with Codenames and really hasn’t subsided since. In Trapwords’ case, it takes inspiration from the old mass market game Taboo. In Taboo, players had to get their team to guess a word but had a list of ‘taboo’ words that they could not use in their description. By mass market standards, it was somewhat fun, but the static nature of the list of words held it back. Trapwords fixes that by making a much more dynamic system, wherein it’s YOU who makes the list of words for your opponent and, oh, by the way, you keep it a secret from them. So, they have no clue what they can and can’t say as they try to get their team to guess the word.
I’m sure you can immediately see why this will be hilarious. Watching the opponent clue giver start and sputter and stop and start again as they helplessly try to obtusely describe the word like a robot short circuiting during a Turing test never fails to be a riotous occasion. That is until it’s your turn to attempt the same and you suddenly forget what a sentence is, let alone how to use one.
When you’re making up your secret list of trapwords, you’re going deep into your Sherlockian mind palace, trying to figure out what obscure term the opponent clue giver will think is safe in an effort to trip them up. If the word is tiger, do you go with the obvious ones like “cat” and “stripes”? Or do you go deeper, thinking of less common ideas like “Tony” or “Asia”? Or do you go even DEEPER and say “lions” and “bears”, hoping the clue giver fancies themselves clever by doing a Wizard of Oz themed fill in the blank ? Creating trapwords is just as fun and suspenseful as the actual clue giving, which is a real feat.
The unfortunate thing that holds Trapwords back is simply how many other word games it’s competing against, especially in my collection. I won’t list them because it would spoil what’s likely to come later, but Trapwords finds itself in a very crowded space. When I have a group of friends over for party games, it tends to get lost in the shuffle, not quite standing up against the heavyweights of the genre.
When it does get to the table, though, Trapwords has yet to fail. It’s always been a good time and writing this entry has me really wanting to get it played for the first time in a while.
Dice drafting made a long overdue debut in my last entry with My Village, a mid-heavy euro about managing a village and being stalked by the Grim Reaper. Dice drafting returns at my number 48 spot with Sagrada. Sagrada is much lighter than My Village, but it’s a wonderfully addictive puzzler of a game.
In Sagrada, you are tasked with making stained glass windows, which is done via putting multicolored dice down in a grid. As you draft dice to put them in the grid, you need to keep in mind some simple placement rules. You can’t put the same number next to each other and you can’t put the same color next to each other. There’s also set restrictions on your grid that you may need to follow, such as having to place a yellow die on the yellow spot.
What comes from this is basically Board Game Sudoku, a surprisingly crunchy puzzle of trying to align your dice in a way that doesn’t break any rules but also doesn’t screw you over on a future turn. Meanwhile, there’s how you actually win the game in the form of scoring objectives, which give prompts such as ‘score your pairs of 1s and 2s’ or ‘score rows with all unique numbers’ and so forth. There’s also private objectives that give everyone a color, wherein they score points equal to the value of all the pips of that color in their window. Trying to balance all these things while dealing with the random luck and chance of the dice pulls and dice rolls is headache inducing, but in the best possible way.
An easy thing to praise Sagrada for is its table presence. It’s chock full of tiny, translucent multicolored dice and when everybody’s windows start to take shape, it’s one of the prettiest sights in board gaming(not counting the selfies I take of me and my Kallax, stay tuned for info on a calendar coming soon). I’m a sucker for great board game components and Sagrada’s dice are some of the best looking in the business. There is one huge caveat, unfortunately: they are not colorblind friendly. I have some colorblind friends who are able to play just fine, but another who can’t play this game because the blue and green are impossible for him to tell apart. Something like that to occur in today’s day and age of gaming is fairly unforgivable, so that’s definitely a knock against it.
Outside of that accessibility issue, there’s not much to complain about with Sagrada. Its puzzley gameplay, beautiful table presence and easy to learn rules make it a must have in any collection.
47. The Fox in the Forest
In my 90-81 entry, I raved about a two-player trick taking game called Claim, which took trick taking and injected it with a unique round structure and zany special powers. My number 47 is another two-player trick taking game and one that is a lot more popular and well known. This is, of course, The Fox in the Forest.
The Fox in The Forest whisks players off to a beautiful fairy tale style world of witches and foxes and swans. You know, the usual. Players are playing rounds of 13 tricks with some fairly standard trick taking rules. The player leads with a suit which must then be followed if able, with a trump suit looming over the proceedings. Much like Claim, though, there are some clever wrinkles that provide a breath of fresh air to the stale attic smell that can sometimes accompany trick taking games.
Like Claim (I’ll stop comparing them at some point, I swear), TFitF includes special powers to create some unpredictability in how things are going to unfold. Things like being able to change the trump suit or exchanging a card from the deck with a card from your hand adds just the right bit of wonkiness, as well as an extra layer of tension as you try to time these powers for maximum effectiveness.
What really makes The Fox in the Forest stand out among other trick takers, however, is its brilliant scoring system. At the end of the round, you’re going to score based on the amount of tricks you’ve taken. This is something lots of trick takers do, but The Fox in the Forest has a scoring rubric for how many points you get for the amount of tricks you take. While being handed a scoring rubric might make you feel like you’re back at school and about to write an essay, you’ll immediately forgive it when you realize how sharp this system is.
It scores like this: If you get zero to three tricks, you are considered Humble and your humility awards you six points, which is the highest amount. But after that, the points diminish drastically, dipping down to only one point if you won four tricks. This steadily climbs back up with each extra trick won until you hit yet another sweet spot: the seven to nine trick range. If you manage that (called the Victorious ranking), you get six points, just like when you were busy being humble (not that you’d ever bring that up again, you humble humbler, you). But guess what? After the Victorious range is the Greedy range, which is what you get if you win 10-13 tricks. Your reward for that? Zero points. Yep, win TOO many tricks and you leave the round empty handed.
Many trick takers involve betting at the start of the round on how many tricks you’ll win, with the game then centering on trying to hit as close to that wager as possible. TFitF’s system feels like a modern reinvention of that system. It feels much more fluid and tactical and exciting as you try to figure out where on the scoring spectrum you want to hit as you actually play the round. Those other trick takers can feel slightly frustrating as you try to hit your static number and you realize you misjudged at the start of the round but in TFitF, you get to adapt and change your plans turn by turn. There’s also a wonderful push your luck element that bleeds through because of this. Trying to not win any tricks at all or trying to hit the seven to nine sweet spot is fun and rewarding but winning just one trick too many is devastating. Figuring out when to commit or when to zig when your opponent is zagging is what makes TFitF such a smart, satisfying game.
TFitF falls a bit into the trap that some trick takers unfortunately do, and that is that it can feel a little bit samey round to round (and therefore game to game). Because of this, I have a feeling this 47 spot is probably it’s ceiling on my top 100. But this isn’t Kyle Hanley’s Predictions for Future Top 100s, this is Kyle Hanley’s Top 100 as of 2019. And right now, The Fox in the Forest is very comfortable right here, thank you very much.
46. A Fake Artist Goes to New York
Social deduction has only showed up once on my list so far, courtesy of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong back in my 70-61 entry. It pops up again here at spot 46 with A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Published by the quirky and lovable Oink Games, a Japanese company with a fervent cult like following in the industry, Fake Artist is what happens when you take Pictionary and add a hidden traitor to the mix.
In Fake Artist, a game master comes up with a hidden prompt for the table to draw. They write it down on tiny little white boards and hand them out to the players, also giving a category for some extra direction. So, if the game master writes the prompt “Mickey Mouse”, they’d say “character” as their category (I really hope Disney doesn’t copyright strike this blog now). The twist is that one player does not receive this prompt. They’re simply given a blank board or a board with an ‘X’ or, if you’re my game group, an expletive. Regardless of how the game master conveys it, this means that person is the Fake Artist and they’re job is not letting the other players know that.
Players then take turns adding to a drawing of the prompt, adding one single uninterrupted line to the communal picture. After everyone has had two turns, a vote is held: who is the Fake Artist? Players point to their choice. If the Fake Artist isn’t caught, the Fake Artist wins. If they ARE caught, however, they have one last chance. If they’re able to correctly guess what the prompt is, then they win!
I’m sure you see why this game is so clever, then. If the players who know the prompt draw something too obvious, then the Fake Artist will have a much better chance of guessing it if caught. Draw too vaguely, however, and you’ll find yourself with a giant Fake Artist shaped target on your back. Going back to the Mickey Mouse prompt (please Disney, don’t, I’m begging you), does a player draw two circles representing the ears? Or is that too obvious? Maybe instead they draw the turrets of the Disney castle, letting those in the know that they’re aware it’s a Disney character they’re drawing. But what if they don’t catch on??? Then it looks like you think it might be a Harry Potter or Game of Thrones character or something and while Disney owns everything, they don’t own those (yet).
It’s hilarious fun. Watching players squirm as they draw otherworldly shapes with no apparent connection to any prompt at all, let alone the prompt at hand, will have the table roaring in laughter. On the flip side, somebody drawing something so blatantly obvious will have the table groaning as the Fake Artist slyly grins to themselves, knowing they’re in the clear no matter what. A recent game of this had the prompt “Genie”, which I partnered with the category “Disney” (wow, I’m really tempting fate here). One of the players drew an obvious genie’s lamp which resulted in the rest of the table pursing their lips in frustration and, as the game master, it was hysterical to watch their silent fury. The best part though is looking at the final picture, admiring it in all its surrealist nightmare glory.
I will admit, the first time I played this was such a fun experience that I thought it was guaranteed to be a perennial entry in my top 25. It’s since fallen a bit and the main reason is because this can be very hit or miss depending on player count. Most social deduction games have a more the merrier approach to player count, but I actually find Fake Artist to be much better on the lower end of its player count range. It plays 5-10, but anything above seven is problematic. By that point, the drawing not only takes forever to go around the table, but there’s so many players to add to it that by the end, no one knows what to draw. This results in pictures that clearly show what the prompt is and when it doesn’t, there’s so many different colored markers that the Fake Artist almost always gets away, no problem. With five to seven, though, the game sings. The drawing moves around quickly and there’s just enough people to add some confusion as to who the Fake Artist might be without it being impossible to crack.
The fact that this game is so high on my list despite it failing miserably at half of its player count should show you just how good this game is when it does fire on all cylinders. As of the creation of this list back in November of 2019, it was my favorite Oink game and it’s definitely one you should check out if you consistently find yourself with five to seven players.
(SHAMELESS PLUG FOR THE BLOG YOU’RE LITERALLY READING RIGHT NOW: While I haven’t reviewed Fake Artist, I did write a blog post about it. It was a post wherein I took pictures from past games of Fake Artist I’ve had and wrote descriptions of them as if you were walking through a museum. Check it out here if you want to see the absolute garbage fires that people end up drawing in this game.)
45. Incan Gold
Also known as Diamant, Incan Gold is one of the most popular push your luck games in the industry. For good reason, I say. I actually credit Incan Gold as being the game that made me fall in love with push your luck, the mechanism that I consider my favorite in all of board games.
In my 90-81, I talked about a game called Celestia, a game where you and other players are flying on an airship and trying to decide whether you want to keep flying farther down the line or whether you want to jump off to safety. Incan Gold has this same “stay or go” decision, except it’s streamlined and distilled down to its simplest, purest form.
In Incan Gold, you and the other players are diving into a temple, trying to end up with the most treasure at the end of five rounds. Play is simple: a card is turned over from a deck displayed for all to see. If it’s a treasure card, it’ll have a value of gems that are then divided equally among all the players in the temple with the remainder being placed on the card. If it’s a threat card (representing things like snakes and fire and lots of rocks), it simply gets placed in the row UNLESS it’s the 2nd threat of its type. In that case, the round ends and anyone still in the temple ‘busts’.
After each card draw, however, each player is given the chance to either keep going through the temple OR to run back to their tent to fondle their treasure like Gollum after a two-week hiatus from the One Ring. If you do go back to your tent, all the treasure you’ve accumulated on that run through the temple is safely banked away for end game points. If you keep going, you can increase your treasure stockpile BUT at the risk of losing it if the round ever ends due to two identical threats.
This decision is made all the more delicious by a couple of other factors. One, everyone makes this decision simultaneously. There’s no chance for group think to dictate who stays or goes. Part of what makes this game so suspenseful is trying to get into the heads of your opponents to figure out what they’re gonna do, allowing you to make the most efficient choice for your plans. The other reason why staying or going isn’t as simple as it seems is because it’s possible to grab more treasure on the way out. I mentioned earlier that when treasure cards are divided, the remainder is left over on the treasure card. That’s because anyone who leaves grabs any leftover treasure for their own, just as you’d expect from a selfish COWARD. Of course, this is muddied if OTHER people leave too. If you leave at the same time as others, the leftover treasure on the cards is once again divided equally. If that’s not possible, nobody leaves with anything extra. This makes that simultaneous selection process even more agonizing. If you think a mass exodus is going to occur, it might do you good to wait a bit longer to try and grab more of the treasure scraps on your way out. Conversely, leaving earlier than expected is a great way to sneak out with all the leftover treasure and to keep yourself safe from an abrupt bust that may occur. Factor in ‘relics’, special cards that CANNOT be split on the way out and are only awarded to lone escapees and you can see why Incan Gold is Heart Palpitations: The Game.
There’s so much to love about Incan Gold. It is beautifully tense, with moments of great triumph and deflating failure. It has a great player count range, playing comfortably with as little as four all the way up to eight, making it a great option for parties where you aren’t necessarily in the mood for true ‘party’ games. It’s fairly quick, meaning you can probably get two to three games done in under an hour. I have only two minor complaints. One, if somebody gets real lucky in the first round or two, this can be a very hard game to catch up to them in. And two, there are also times where rounds can be major duds, with two of the same threat being drawn before there’s even a treasure card revealed. These flaws are what keep this game from my top 25 but let’s not pretend that the top 50 isn’t a great place to be.
If you enjoy push your luck, Incan Gold is an absolute must have. If you are on the fence about push your luck, as I was when first getting into the hobby, I can’t think of a game that’s better to convert you into a fan than this one.
At some point in this top 100 (it’s all starting to blur together, my god, what is even real anymore) I mentioned that the pirates theme is my favorite theme in board game. Anything remotely pirate themed or even nautical themed automatically gets a bump up due to my biases. My number 44 is a pirate themed game and in addition to having my favorite theme, it also happens to be an excellent game.
Jamaica is a game where you and your opponents are racing around the titular island, using a mixture of card play and dice placement to efficiently collect resources and move your ship. It’s yet another game on the resume of one Bruno Cathala, who will somehow show up on this list even more frequently than he already has. Every turn an active player referred to as the Captain rolls two dice and then chooses to place them on spots representing a day action and a night action. Whatever the pips on the dice show denotes how powerful the action will be.
What are day actions and night actions? Those are the actions you’ll be activating throughout the game and those are selected by playing cards. Everybody has their own personal deck of cards which they draw from for a hand of three. The decks are all identical, but through shuffling everybody will obviously get different cards at different times. When the Captain decides where to place the dice, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and then reveals. On one side of the card is the day action and on the other is the night action. Everyone takes turns resolving their cards based on the dice and the round ends. That’s basically the game until someone crosses the finish line.
Like many of Cathala’s games, Jamaica is rich with tactical play. Taking a look at the board, at your hand of cards and what the dice can give you requires constantly adapting your plans to what is most effective for that turn. Maybe you really wanted to move forward, but you only have that available as a day action and the day action die has a weak value. Perhaps you move backward instead, to minimize the damage from such an action? There’s also some surprisingly puzzley resource management involved as well. Traveling around the board requires one of two types of currency: food and gold. If you’re short on the cost to end your turn on that space, you get pushed back to a space you can afford and that can be devastating. Everyone has a ship hold of six squares but those fill up fast, and a devious mechanism wherein you can’t add to squares (you either have to fill a new square or completely replace the resource) means you’ll be pulling your hair out trying to figure out the best course to sail.
As if that isn’t enough, there’s also combat to worry about. Landing on the same space as another pirate is apparently an act of war, because those ships need to fight. Combat is resolved by a simple dice roll, made more intriguing by the presence of gunpowder. Players can choose to add gunpowder to their combat roll, giving an addition of one point per gunpowder token used. It creates a nice sense of push your luck as you try to figure out the odds so that you give yourself a comfortable buffer without overspending. Hilariously, there is an insta-kill side of the die that completely blows up your plans anyway. The winner of the fight gets to rob a player of one of their holds’ squares or to steal a treasure card (bonus point cards seeded throughout the race track), adding a nice bit of interaction to the game.
Like many games on this list, Jamaica is just pure fun. The charming art adds to the fun pirate theme and helps give the game a lighthearted attitude (just like real piracy, right). Watching your best laid plans falter because of a bad die roll or an inopportune combat would seem frustrating, but here it’s part of the game’s appeal. Everybody is getting screwed over and that’s what makes the moments when you chain together a couple of well-timed card plays to get you zipping ahead of the pack so satisfying. Even better, winning the race doesn’t necessarily mean winning the game. Yes, you most likely will BUT people get a certain amount of points for where they finished and they also get points for gold in their hold. Knowing when it’s time to gun for the finish line and when it’s time to pace yourself and hoard gold can be the difference between a last second loss or a surprising win from nowhere.
My only complaint with Jamaica is that it can go a little long, especially if there are a lot of combats dragging the pace of the game down. But that nitpick aside, Jamaica is a game I will always want to play, especially if it’s with a group of five or six.
43. High Society
It’s been a while since Reiner Knizia has been on the list. He was last spotted in the 70s (in the list I mean, not the decade) with Lost Cities and he’s back at number 43 with my favorite game of his: High Society.
High Society is a small little card game built around auctions. Everyone gets a hand of identical money cards which they then use to bid on point cards which are drawn randomly from a deck. Like many auction games, you raise the bid or you pass. When everybody’s passed, the person remaining spends their money cards and takes the points in front of them.
Sounds a little straightforward and maybe even a little boring, huh. Well, it would be, if it were not for that good old fashioned Knizia Twist ™. High Society has a very important rule. At the end of the game, everyone counts how much money they have left. Whoever has spent the most money over the course of the game is IMMEDIATELY disqualified. They can’t win, even if they have the most points.
And just that tiiiiny little wrinkle takes a vanilla game of bidding on points and turns it into one of the most clever, exquisitely tense card games money can buy.
Every choice is fraught with anxiety and indecision. Do you raise bids, hoping to get people to waste as much cash as possible but risk getting caught spending the money yourself? When you do want a point card, how much are you willing to spend? Do you focus on taking smaller point cards for super cheap, hoping it’s enough to get you where you need to be? Or do you spend big on one or two of the larger amounts, going quiet for the rest of the game as everyone else is lulled into a false sense of spending security? In just a mere 15 minutes, you’ll have these thoughts racing through your head like a prize horse you just spent way too much money on, why did you spend that much money, WHY DID YOU SPEND THAT MUCH MONEY!?!?
To further add to the agony, there are negative penalty cards which do things like remove a point card you’ve already bought or cut your total points in half. When those are up for auction you are bidding to pay money to NOT take it and the person who ultimately decides to fall on the grenade is the only one who doesn’t have to spend cash. This means you always feel like you have to subconsciously stash money away for the purpose of avoiding those penalties because it’ll make any money you’ve already spent on points seem worthless. Yet another way in which Knizia takes a subtle little rule change and uses it to make his game into an instant classic.
High Society is a game that’s been around for a while but has really seemed to have gotten cult status from its latest edition from Osprey Games. That is the version I own and it’s a gorgeous production, making an already amazing game that much better. I can see this game being even higher by the time I do this list next year because it’s really that good.
The small publisher Button Shy has already appeared on this list once, way back at number 81 with the fantastic Circle the Wagons. They’re back with yet another wallet game and it happens to my favorite offering of theirs: Stew. I already gave this game a full review because I loved it so much, so check it out here if you want a more detailed runthrough.
The abridged version is this: Stew is a game that mixes push your luck, deduction and bluffing and squeezes it into a tight fifteen minutes of tension and misdirection. Players take turns secretly drawing ingredient cards from a deck and then putting them facedown on a vermin card or into the center of the table in the stew. At any point a player can call “STEW!” (the louder and more obnoxious, the better) and reveal the stew one card at a time. If the point values of the ingredients in the stew equal 12 or more, they get two points! If not, everyone else gets a point. First to five points wins.
One of the things players have to keep in mind are those vermin cards I briefly mentioned earlier. Each vermin has a favorite ingredient and if they are unfed by the time the stew is served, they’ll suck up the first ingredient of that type like a hungry, furry little Hoover. Ingredients also interact and score points in different ways so keeping track of what ingredients you put where and how other players are behaving need to be taken into account when you’re trying to determine if a stew is worth eating.
Every time I talk about this game I compare it to Welcome to the Dungeon, a much more well known game where players are either putting monsters into a dungeon or choosing to remove equipment that can be used to counter those monsters. Like Stew, there’s a lot of hidden information and you must glean what other players know based on what decisions they’re making. The difference is that Stew captures the same feeling with a more streamlined system, in a quicker play time and with no player elimination. Quite simply, Stew is everything Welcome to the Dungeon wishes it could be. If you like Welcome to the Dungeon, that’s fine, but I would implore you to try Stew.
I don’t know the availability of Stew because Button Shy games tend to periodically go out of print. I was aware of a Kickstarter they were running in which a Stew reprint was unlocked as a stretch goal, but when that comes to fruition, I have no clue. If and when Stew is available, there are few games I find as easy to recommend as this one. It’s cheap, it’s extremely portable and it’s accessible enough to teach to just about anyone. Despite its small size and countless plays (the wallet for my copy has literally ripped in half from being carried around and opened so much), I have yet to tire of this microgaming masterpiece.
Wolfgang Warsch has appeared twice on this list and he’s back to make it a trilogy. This will be his last appearance, sadly, but it’s with a real good one: Fuji.
Fuji is perhaps Warsch’s most overlooked and underappreciated game. Like The Mind, it’s a cooperative game with limited communication (yep, I still love them) but this one is about dice rolling and pushing your luck. It’s also a bit of a doozie to try and explain, especially without the components in front of us. Let’s give it a try!
In Fuji, you and your fellow players are hikers walking along Mount Fuji when it decides to erupt. Those pesky volcanoes, always choosing to become massive agents of death and destruction at the worst possible times! You and the rest of the group must escape to a nearby village for safety, trying to outrun the lava. I mean, I’ve seen lava before, it doesn’t exactly reach Olympian speeds. This can’t be hard…right?
How you escape the lava is by rolling dice and moving along a path of cards. The cards all have certain prompts on them pertaining to the different colored sides of the dice you roll and potential values. Everyone rolls their dice behind a player screen and then they decide what card they’re going to mark as their destination. In order to get to that destination, you need to have rolled a higher combined sum of the specific dice faces and colors that make up that card’s prompt than your neighbors on your left and right. So for example, if I want to go to a card that has a prompt marked as all pink and blue faces with even numbers, that means that if I add up all my dice that have pink or blue faces with even numbers, I need to make sure that sum is higher than the sum of my neighbors’. Still with me? No? Okay, cool, let’s keep going. I rolled five dice: two yellow threes, two blue fours and a pink six. According to that prompt, I would have a value of 14 (from my two blue fours and the pink six). When we all reveal our dice behind our player screen, I need to hope that my neighbors don’t exceed 14 with their pink and blue faces of even numbers.
Okay Kyle, you’re not trying to write a rule book here, just tell the folks why you like this game so much.
Will do! One of the things I love about this game is how unique and weird it is. It’s so tricky to explain because it’s really not like anything that’s out there. I can’t think of any other co-ops that are built around secretly rolling dice and trying to intimate to your teammates what you’ve rolled. Every time I’ve played this, it manages to feel fresh and exciting and I think that’s partly because of its one of a kind nature.
It’s also just a great push your luck game, where you’re basically pushing your luck against your own teammates. Again, very weird but awesome. There’s also some decisions to be made outside of just trying to race to the village. Equipment cards are strewn about the pathways and they’re constantly teasing you to take that extra turn to grab it in hopes of getting something good. When you do have equipment, there’s always discussion about when to trigger it and how to make the most of their powers. This is pretty common in cooperative games, but it also feels fresher here because of the unique context it’s featured in.
Admittedly, the whole ‘you can’t communicate’ thing is a little hackneyed and contrived here. You can discuss basically everything EXCEPT the actual values you rolled. You can say things like, “This is the best place for me, everywhere else is awful” or “PLEASE don’t go there, you will regret it” or just curse over and over again, hoping everyone else takes the hint that you’re not moving anywhere. But even if it does feel a little tacked on, I appreciate it from the social aspect. It makes the game about reading between the lines and thinking about the probabilities and then trying to hedge your bets from there. Does the lack of communication create magical moments as found in The Mind or Kreus, another game from earlier in my top 100? Not exactly, but it’s still damn fun.
All in all, Fuji is a strange but incredibly fun beast. Partnered with some real striking art that has a slightly scrawled, hand drawn aesthetic (a style that I adore) this game keeps me coming back for more. It’s flown under the radar a bit, and it seems like one of Warsch’s more polarizing games, but I absolutely love it.
That’ll do it for another one. We’ve just cracked off the lid of the top 50 and we’re ready to get even deeper! Come back next week for 40-31!