When it comes to the board gaming community, there seems to be a real appetite for lists. Part of this is no doubt thanks to the complex ranking system at the fantastic BoardGameGeek.com website with Tom Vassel and the team, as well as the equally excellent The Dice Tower.
It’s the latter of these two that has inspired this Tabletop Tales article. Every year Tom lists his top 100 games in a series of Youtube videos and as is human nature, the excitement of seeing what will be number one makes it compelling viewing, despite the fact that his number one has not changed in all the years he has undertaken the task!
Since the tail end of this summer, its been an absolute privilege writing for That’s Not Current, especially on the weekly Tabletop Tales series that allows this geek to write about his genuine passion and (hopefully) inspire a few folks to take the plunge into the wonderful world of tabletop gaming. While there is many plans afoot for next year with Tabletop Tales, I have decided to sign off 2016 with a little self indulgence as I bring you my best games list.
Given the fact I have only played a fraction of the games Tom Vassel has, I’ve opted for a top 25. Positions 25 to 11 are below in all their glory and next week we will have my top 10. As I am only listing games that I have actually played, there will be many obvious ones missing from the list. For example, Star Wars: Rebellion is a game I know I’m going to love (it’s 5th on BGG’s rankings) yet I haven’t played it, so its exempt.
What I am bringing you over the next two weeks is a list of 25 games that I can’t recommend highly enough and any one of them would be a worthy starting point for the hobby or just for another title worth checking out for the hardened gamers. So allow me a little self indulgence as I present my Top 25 Games Ever – Part 1…!
25. Labyrinth (Ravensburger / 1986)
Labyrinth is a special game for me. I played and loved this as a kid and it was one that was totally forgotten about until I picked it up a few years back. It merits its place on this list for the fact it is stunningly simple, yet enriched with a depth that you wouldn’t expect for what is essentially a kids game. The game is played on a board with a mixture of fixed and movable tiles. On a players turn, they take the top card from their item card deck that is dealt at the start of the game and place the lose tile onto the board where they wish in order, moving all the tiles in that row, to create a path between their player marker and the item on their card, which will be represented somewhere on the board. The first player to collect all their items wins. A beautiful basic idea that morphs into a real puzzler thanks to other players who move the maze of tiles on their go and potentially dramatically alter your best laid plans, even blocking you in. Kids will adore this and adults can bask in such a deliciously rich little game. It has also had multiple licensed versions over the years, such as Disney and Star Wars.
24. Black Fleet (Asmodee / 2014)
I really like pirate-themed games, not really sure why. Black Fleet is one of the most simple yet engaging pirate themed games on the market. Yet that’s only half the reason it merits a place on this list as this game has some the most fantastic components of any game on this list; wonderfully illustrated board and cards, fantastic model ships and the famed metal coins. The crux of the game is a simple pick up and deliver transportation game with a little bit of rock, paper, scissors thrown in. For 3-4 players, on each players’ turn they play a card from their hand that dictates the amount of spaces they can move their merchant ship, their pirate ship and one of the two navy ships. Merchant ships transport goods from island to island, earning money; pirate ships can attack merchant ships and steal goods; and the navy ships sinks those pesky pirates. With added bonus cards and the option to buy fix upgrades as the game progresses, the end result is a very fun game with a wonderful crafted theme.
23. Sushi Go! (Gamewright / 2013)
For me, sometimes even the simplest of games deserve wonderful acclaim for the ingenuity of their design, and Sushi Go! is one such game. This game recreates the dining experience at a sushi restaurant, with up to five players trying to get the best combination of cards. Using a pass and play mechanic, picking a card you need is only half the battle as its also about stopping your fellow players getting what they want. This hand management game takes the mechanic of more complex games and simplifies it with such refinement, presented in a wonderful theme and art style. Accessible for all ages and playing in no more than 20 minutes, this is a fantastic micro game and was rightly in top spot in my recent 10 Stocking Filler Under £10.
22. Ticket to Ride: Europe (Days of Wonder / 2005)
Generally regarded as the definitive gateway game to modern tabletop gaming, Ticket to Ride: Europe was released a year after the original Ticket to Ride. One of the biggest selling series of games of all time, Ticket to Ride can be picked up by complete outsiders to board gaming in 15 minutes and plays in around an hour. The Europe edition makes a few changes to the original game, and that’s my go to for this series (although the UK & Pennsylvania edition from this year may top it when I get round to it.) The object of the game is to complete train routes on a map (of Europe in this case) by playing the equivalent number of matching coloured train cards. Players either draw cards or play cards on their go and the objective is to have the longest train journeys, with each completed route scoring points. While it may not sound too exciting, the strength of Ticket to Ride is just how accessible it is for everyone, presenting a decent depth of strategy in a non complex manner. A version of this iconic series should be in every board game fans collection.
21. Deep Sea Adventure (Oink Games / 2014)
To the clued up hardcore gamers, there probably won’t be too many hidden gems on this list. Deep Sea Adventure being the possible exception. This is an igneous little game, gorgeously designed and package in a box not much bigger than a deck of cards. This independent abstract strategy game is for 2-6 players is all about deep sea divers venturing out of their shared submarine to gather treasures from the deep. The catch is, you have a limited oxygen supply and the more you carry the slower you move. If that wasn’t enough, naturally the best treasures are further away from the submarine. Playing over three rounds, the objective is to venture out, secure the valuable treasure and return to the submarine. The winner is the player with the most points of treasure. With a push your luck mechanic, this pick up and deliver game is a truly fantastic title that is crafted with a finesse you can’t help but admire. Despite being such a low key release, its far deeper than its title would suggest.
20. Codenames (Czech Game Edition / 2015)
Party games is one of my favourite genre of board games simply for the social interaction they bring into gameplay. The first game to fall into this category on my list (certainly not the last) is the 2016 Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames. Another wonderfully crafted game, players split into two teams and appoint a spy master in each side who learns the location of all the agents in the field. Spy masters must use one word clues to direct their team to one of the 25 face up word cards that represent locations. If their team guesses correctly, an enemy spy is uncovered. Yet a wrong guess could result in their own spies being uncovered, an innocent bystander being exposed for a penalty or the dreaded double agent appearing immediately ending the round. With such simple gameplay, the beauty is in the narrative and flow of the game which is dictated by players. As a very open game, the possibilities of clues are endless and can be applied to people of all ages. This is a sublime game that is a worthy Spiel des jahres winner, and I’m very keen to try the recently released Codenames: Pictures stand alone expansion.
19. Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games / 2015)
Gamelyn Games are the guys who love a big game in a little box, and their Tiny Epic series of games is best demonstrated with this wonderful game of colonising distant planets that was brought to life through a very fruitful Kickstarter campaign. Coming in a pocket size box, don’t let that fool you – this is a big game. Up to four players control their own galactic empire and must send out their ships to claim new planets. Using a intelligent dice rolling mechanic, conquering worlds is only half the battle as players must also manage their resources, expanding their armadas. Claimed worlds bring unique bonuses as well as the all important victory points that will determine the winner. The depth of strategy in a game this small is really a marvel, and while other Tiny Epic games are less defying for me, this is an absolutely stellar little game. Despite having quite a lot to digest, is not as complex as it first seems. The countless options and paths to victory ensure that every time it makes its way onto the table you could have a vastly different experience.
18. Zombicide (Cool Mini or Not /2012)
Another game born from a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, this is a fantastic zombie themed game littered with wonderful miniatures. Each game is a unique co-op scenario for 1-6 players in which a certain objective or goal must be met, with the multiple map tiles used as instructed to create the game world. Playing as one of the unique characters, players must scavenge for weapons and supplies as they fight off the ever increasing zombie hoards, using their skills and perks to stay alive as long as possible. A fantastically challenging game, it could quite easily challenge for my number one spot but is let down by some rather (very) frustrating game rules that can anger and frustrate me somewhat, and tragically they are issues that haven’t been resolved in the multiple spin offs Zombicide has spawned. Its also a hell of a lot to digest, and the first play through will take several hours. That all said, its incredibly well presented and does make for a generally fantastic experience, making it worthy of a place on this list, despite its shortcomings.
17. Forbidden Desert (Gamewright / 2103)
Earlier on I mentioned how the components of Black Fleet are probably the best of any game on this list – well this co-op game from Pandemic creator Matt Leacock is the one to test that claim. The spiritual sequel to 2010’s Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert sees 2-5 players working together to find and construct an ancient flying machine buried in a deadly desert that they have crashed in. This is achieved by navigating the desert, finding all important clues to help locate the parts, all while managing their limited water supply and braving the unforgiving storms that can arrive unexpectedly at any time. The game is brutally hard and a genuine challenge, with many games seeing defeat being snapped from the jaws of victory. Its an alluring puzzle that is enhanced by utterly sublime game components, none more so than the five pieces of the airship, most notably the metal engine. Despite its difficulty, this game is accessible by younger players and can act as a gateway to the more complex titles. A superb game.
16. Cube Quest
I have already covered Cube Quest with my Fun Squared – A Look at Cube Quest Tabletop Tales feature, and despite it being nothing more than a two player stand off flicking dice at each other, I utterly adore this game. As mentioned in my feature, it is simple to learn, quick to set up, rapid to play, offers countless hours of genuine fun and has boundless options for house rules. Sure, it lacks the depth of probably all other games on this list, but it genuinely ticks all the boxes for me when it comes to board games. All ages can bask in the simplicity of the utter gem, with it taking its rightful place in my top 25 games ever!
15. Survive: Escape from Atlantis (Stronghold Games / 2011)
Originally released in 1982 as Escape from Atlantis, Stronghold games repackaged this classic game with all its expansion in 2011 and released it as Survive! Escape from Atlantis and its another firm favourite of mine. The game is played with up to four players on a board comprising of a collection of hexagonal land tiles. The island of Atlantis is starting to fall into the sea and the players must try and rescue their meeples by getting them to one of the four shores in the corners of the board. On a players’ turn they move one of their meeples, with different allowances for being on land, in the sea of on a boat. They also move one of the many sea creatures patrolling the waters; the Kracken destroys all, whales destroy boats, sharks kills meeples. They must also remove a tile from the board, carrying out the action indicated on the reverse. This is a frantic game of plans gone awry and take that littered with so many underlying, subtle mechanics that results in a genuine all encompassing game. With fantastic wooden components, this is a perfect example of a remake done right.
14. Splendor (Space Cowboys / 2014)
On the face of it, Splendor doesn’t sound all that exciting – but its has a wonderful strategic depth to it and is ultimately a totally engrossing game. Up to four players play as a merchant from the Renaissance who deal in precious stones. Very simple to play, on a players go they may take a combination of the various tokens (which are excellent weighted poker chips), buy a card or reserve a card. The object is get to 15 prestige points from buying cards or attracting nobles to your cause. There are three tiers of cards, with the lower ones being cheaper but offering less rewards. However, every card you buy will provide a permanent supply of one of the precious stones. The end result is a very tense thinker that can play in 30 mins, usually in silence as players weigh up the countless options available. For me, this is a perfect gateway strategic gateway game that has somewhat replaced Ticket to Ride as my go to when introducing new players to modern strategic board games.
13. Dead of Winter – The Long Night (Plaid Hat Games / 2016)
Another game that has featured on Tabletop Tales before – If The Walking Dead Was Good (and a Board Game! – Dead of Winter – The Long Night is everything modern tabletop gaming is and then some. Enriched in a wonderful narrative, encompassing a hybrid of gaming mechanics, tense and engaging and a downright wonderful experience. As my previous feature says, this is basically the board game version of The Walking Dead (only less boring), a zombie survival game littered with betrayal and brutality. Its is wonderfully designed with first class components, adding some superb modifications and new modules from the original Dead of Winter game. I haven’t played this nearly enough since I got it and over time I’m very confident it will propel itself up my list.
12. Spyfall (Cryptozoic / 2014)
Last week I gave you the 12 Board Games of Christmas to play at this years festivities, with this absolute classic taking the very well deserved top spot. Playing in eight minutes, this is a simple game of a spy infiltrating your ranks and they must figure out where you all are and play along, while the others try their best to let everyone know they are not a spy without giving the game away. As a social game, it really is unrivalled and is a fantastic game accessible by all. The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is with only 30 locations is lacks the shelf life of other games, as everyone learns all the location it becomes very hard to unearth the spy. The upcoming stand alone expansion Spyfall 2 should hopefully rejuvenate this wondrous game and propel it up my list.
11. King of Tokyo
It really should come as no surprise that a lot of the games I have featured on Tabletop Tales before are on this list, with King of Tokyo the third such title (More Monster Madness – King of Tokyo). Just missing out on the top 10 and wrapping up part 1 of my countdown, King of Tokyo is another accessible by all, fun for all game that really ticks all the boxes. Essentially it is a game about rolling and re-rolling dice and choosing what actions you want to take in order to gain victory points or kill off all your opponents. There is something so innocent and youthful about this game that it is always an option for me, ready to play it at any moment either as a warm-up, wrap-up or just a little break in the middle. It encapsulates a wonderful player interaction and the possibilities offered through the power up cards (and the evolutions decks should you have expansions) make for a highly replayable game.
NEXT WEEK: The countdown continues with my Top 10 games of all time…what will be my number one??