Thursday, March 16, 2017

After the Top Ten

In my last post, I enumerated out my Top Ten and some thoughts about them. Here then are the next 15 games, in alphabetic order (as the idea of trying to order out the rest seems, well, hard). I'd say that I find all of these games good in their own right and often better than others in the right situation or if I'm in the right mood.

Ave Caesar
I love racing games. This one is especially fun, fast, and full of pull out your hair (or punch your buddy) kind of actions. The game is fast enough that the urge to clobber your friends goes away quickly and then you are on to the next race. This is also a really great game for non-gamers and a fair number of players. That's also the downside - it really needs 6 players. I think the original game had better tracks than the reprint, but they were nominally different.

Battles of Westeros
The Command and Colors system of games are really fun battle games (I can't really call them wargames). This one is easily my favorite of them all. One, I love the theme. Two, I think they really made good improvements to the system that make it much more interesting and less likely that you want to do something but can't because of a bad run of command cards. Otherwise it is much the same. If you generally like the system, this is one of the better ones. Sorry, there are no dragons or Others.

Carcassonne the Castle
I like Carcassonne well enough, but it really is a "who can be the bigger jerk" kind of game. There are also too many expansions, which make the game a little long. This version is for two players only and has the added bonus of you trying to score exactly a certain number of points in order to get tiles which give you advantages in future turns. This, coupled with easier placement rules really adds some fun tactical play to the mix. If this was somehow not a two-player game, it might have cracked my top ten. As it is though, it is really a great game.

I am fortunate enough to own a very nice Helinski made board. These boards are not only works of art, but the vehicle (literally) for playing one of the best dexterity/skill games out there. The game is fast, exciting and tense. It is also superb as a partners / team game. The need for a pricey (or at least well crafted) board takes it out of my top ten. Also, being a skill game, it is hard for non-owners to learn to play well. Much like a pool table, owning a nice board is a huge advantage.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd ed)
I may have mentioned my fondness for this game once or twice before in other blog posts... I have always been a fan of fantasy and love the concept of the dungeon crawl. I know I'm not the only one, based on how many dungeon crawl games there are (table top boardgames, video games, RPGs, etc). The original Descent was fun, but long and slightly flawed. Well, they revised it and fixed a large number of those flaws. Then after releasing an insane amount of stuff for me to paint (because you have to play with painted figures), they released a companion app to let players play without an overlord (the app explains how the monsters will behave via an AI) AND to play random dungeons. It isn't the perfect game, but it is a lot of fun. With so many expansions, there is a ton of variety available. About the worst thing I can say about the game is that it takes up a ton of space and there isn't a good all in one storage solution.

Dominant Species
Here is another incredible game by the designer of one of my favorite games. It is long and meaty and fun. It also is best with 6-players with at least 5 hours of nothing better to do. There is a LOT of "take that" (you are fighting to be the dominant species after all), and you will be up one second and down to nothing the next. You'll feel like you have no chance, then suddenly you do. Sadly, there is a ton of counting that you have to do and it isn't easy to just glance at the board to know who is doing well, because the system for determining that is in flux all the time (it is based on matching player features to board features and you and the other players will be changing both a lot). Because of that complexity, making decisions in the game isn't always easy (especially for players with AP). That aside, it is a great, complex game that rewards being able to manage (survive) the chaos.

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
I don't know if I've ever said it before, but I'm not as excited by the whole worker placement craze as some people are. They normally sound appealing, but a lot of them fall into the same trap for me - that is, the first thing you need to do is get more workers and then after that, there are not many paths to victory. And yet... I really like the concepts in this game. You can certainly get more workers, but you can lose them (you also can only get a couple more and they aren't hard to get). I also like that there are lots of ways to "score". Except that this game doesn't have points. You are trying to achieve various goals and achieve a certain number faster than your opponents. To do so, you have to cooperate a bit, take advantage of your positions, and have a little luck. And while it is fun, there is no way to stymie anyone. Either you did it faster or you didn't. Looks like one person is a ahead of you by a couple goals? They probably will stay that way.

A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame
I read the books first. There, I said it. When I first discovered and played this game, there was no HBO show, only the books. Man they did a good job with this game! But first the bad news - this game needs 6 players. Period. It will take you about an hour a person, unless you play with Jay Moore, Robert Bolan, and Nathan Winchester, then they will let Nathan win in like turn 3. Don't hold that against the game, it isn't the game's fault. This is a marvoulous diplomancy/strategy game with a number of really good mechanics that play off the theme and tie it all together. All the factions are asymetrical and yet balanced (except maybe Stark, who seems doomed). When you win (unless you are Nathan in the previously mentioned game), there is a true sense of accomplishment. You'll probably need to play diplomat at points and you'll eventually need to stab someone in the back before they do it to you. If you dislike confrontational games, stay away. The 2nd edition of the game has a couple expansions that change the game up a little, including one variant for 4-players. It isn't quite the same.

This is an older game from Knizia and is a glorious masterpiece of an auction game. There is strategy and a press your luck aspect to the game (along with your standard Knizia kind of math). Despite my love of this game, it really only shines with 5-6 players. You also have to find people that like auction games. If you can find that combination, you will be rewarded with a wonderful game. One more thing of note - I have yet to find a production of this game what wasn't flawed in some way. Most of the productions have HORRIBLE art - horrible in that the scoring track is unusable. Or pieces that don't really fit onto the tracks well. It can't be that hard can it? I haven't seen the newest Grail Games version in person. The board looks ok, but that doesn't really solve the scaling issue.

Ora et Labora
Ewe fans fawn over Agricola and Le Havre. Both are fine games, but I really prefer Ora et Labora. Ora introduced the dial mechanism (which was modified a bit for Glass Road) but is a super cool and easy way to add goods each round and track game rounds. This is a worker placement/engine game where you are trying to turn your goods into better and better ones while building your land out to both support you and score points. It is a bit more forgiving than Agricola and Le Havre, but is still meaty. It is a bit longer and there is a lot going on at first, which (like most of his heavy games) makes the barrier to entry a little higher. Really a good game that I haven't played in a while just due to weight/length.

Here is a really good deckbuilder, except the deck is really of a bag of workers tokens. You draw your workers and assign them to your buildings in order to accomplish things and score points. There are lots of ways to score points, and a good variety of buildings you can acquire to help make your approach variable from game to game. If you have some expansions, you can vary the available buildings each game as well. A really good game that just missed out on the top ten for me.

Another Knizia auction game, this auction is more "on rails" as you can only bid with one of the three point tiles you have available to you. This game has a fair bit of push your luck to go along with it, but it is not luck fest - skill wins out here. Why didn't this make the top ten? Like a lot of auction games, it is best with 4-5 players (ie not good for 3 or less), which limits the opportunities for it to get played. The other slight drawback - it can be confusing trying to remember all the scoring combos and what you keep and score at the end of the game vs what you discard between rounds. This makes it less likely to appeal to non-gamers. Lastly, though I listed this here, I think I like the slightly revised version - Priests of Ra better.

Here is a wonderful little abstract game with a 3D spatial aspect to it. Lots of good opportunity for clever plays. This might be best two-player. It suffers from the Samurai syndrome I described in my top ten list - which is, an unskilled player tends to throw the game to the person who plays after them - one reason I think it is best as a two player game. I do really enjoy puzzling out my turn and what I can do to block my opponent. This also just missed my top ten list because while it appeals to me, it has limited appeal to others, so I don't tend to think about playing it as much or as often as I should. This one seems to get better the more I play it though (at least in my mind).

Through the Desert
ANOTHER Knizia. This is also a good game from Dr. Knizia, that isn't quite as math-y as a lot of his games. It does have the familiar "Knizia says you can't score everything and win" thing going on, but it still holds up on its own. The game is also pretty quick - not really filler, but not a long game  either and there are good choices to make along the way. Plus one for having game bits that everyone will comment on as looking like they are meant to be eaten.

So there it is. Did you see how many Knizia games I liked? Four here and one in my top ten. Four? Yeah, he designed one of the above games, but I didn't mention it was his. You could say he was my favorite designer, but Ingenious (not listed here) might be the last game of his I really liked. He had a good run, but then didn't really put anything out that didn't fall flat for me.

1 comment:

Matthew Frederick said...

I'm not a fan of racing games in general but love Ave Caesar. Great choice.

Carc the Castle I actively dislike. I'm not sure why, but each time I've played I wonder why I'm playing again.

I'd love Crokinole more if I wasn't so clumsy. It's still fun, despite knowing with complete certainty that I'll lose. More than likely to you.

I'd love to play Descent. I may have played it once or may be confusing it with Runescape or something, but it seems awesome.

Euphoria is still a fave, I'd play it at least once a year if I owned it and had a group. Glad you bought it. :D

Medici is still awesome after all these years. I just wish my beloved didn't hate it. It is, admittedly, a pure auction game, so if you don't like auctions then it's definitely not for you.

Ora et Labora has always been fun and clever.

I've forgotten Orleans already, which probably means I should play again.

Ra has faded. I'd play again, but I'm not called to.

TTD has always been too abstract, despite the clearly edible cameras.

Good list!