The penultimate Tuesday of 2016 is upon us, and we continue on from last week’s Tabletop Tales that featured part one of my self indulgent top 25 games ever, more specifically positions 25 to 11.
After what have must have been a very restless week for the dedicated Tabletop Tales readers, with the anticipation and excitement to see my top 10, I’m now delighted to bring it to you in all it’s glory. As per the rules set out last week, I have to have played the game for it to be considered for this list (only right) and many stellar titles you’d expect are missing, so don’t hold it against me – just not got round to them yet! That and they would have to be damn special to dislodge one of these behemoths!
Enjoy, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts with me.
10. Puerto Rico (Ravensburger / 2002)
Kicking off my top 10 is this highly regarded Euro game from Ravensburger which occupies the number nine overall rank on boardgamegeek.com. Published from its native German into English by Rio Grande Games, Puerto Rico is a worker placement and resource management game for 2-5 players who assume the role of Governors on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The goal of the game is to gain victory points through shipping goods from the colony back home and building a thriving town on the island. Players grow the crops of their choice to either put on one of the shared ships to earn money to buy buildings which will increase their production capabilities, or alternatively can exchange them for victory points. On top of that, the would be Governors must manage their colonists and assign them to certain tasks, such as manning the buildings, etc. The actions a player can take is controlled by drawing a role card – such as “trader” or “builder”, with the first turn token passing clockwise at the beginning of each round. While the games theme is a little lacking and dated, it contains a perfect blend of multiple gaming mechanics to present a gorgeously deep and strategic game. Its has been incredibly influential in the boom of modern tabletop gaming and despite the fact I have only ever played this game once, it left a lasting impression. A true heavyweight that with more playtime could propel itself up my list.
9. Fuenmployed (IronWall Games / 2014)
What’s this?! A game that was second on my 12 Board Games of Christmas feature ahead of the game that was first (Spyfall is in 12th) – something doesn’t add up?! Well, when it comes to party games there is no doubt Spyfall is my top tip, but it is limited to the 30 locations and therefore doesn’t have the shelf life of Funemployed, which for me is probably the most igneous fill-in-the-blank game ever designed! I adore this game, as I said as much in its very own feature (Board Game Help Getting a Job) back in September. It is a comedy spectacular, with its strength being that it is made by the people playing it, with a different group of people making for a very different game. As far as uniqueness from play through to play through goes, Funemployed is unrivalled. Players are dealt four random (literally) qualification cards and must use them all in applying for a job drawn from the deck, with one player being the interviewer and deciding who deserves the job. Between frantically switching cards from the skills bank, ten face-up cards on the table for all players to use, to stringing together their skills in the most convincing manner possible; this game is an absolute blast. As a game hard to come by these days, it takes pride of play in my collection.
8. Loony Quest (Libellud / 2015)
In the number eight spot is a game that absolutely blew me away this year – without question the best new game I have played this year! And all for one very simple reason; the expectations of what is essentially a kids game were so non-existent to a point that I only bought it because it was the exact same cost as the balance I had on a ready to expire gift voucher. Yet, this simple fun for all game is an absolute marvel! I featured it on Tabletop Tales back in October calling it The Kids Game you Need to Own. It’s a outstandingly illustrated drawing game, where against a timer 2 to 5 player draw a line on a transparent sheet that is then placed over a level map. Points are awarded for the line hitting certain points or targets, while deductions come for striking obstacles. It is further enriched by the outrageous power up and penalty tokens that bring a take-that aspect, turning the hilarity level up to 11. With massive variation in levels and a very steep increase in difficulty, this game is simple faultless and as far as kids game go, nothing else comes close.
7. A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) (Fantasy Flight Games / 2011)
Adapted from George R.R. Martin’s iconic novels rather than the much lauded TV show, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game was originally released in 2003 with an improved second edition arriving eight years later. This is everything you’d expect from a Game of Thrones game; war, politics, betrayal and deceit. Three to six players take on the roles of the great houses of Westeros following the death of King Baretheon and battle it out for the Iron Throne. Using a wide array of game mechanics, players must make (and break) deals, recruit troops and conquer territories through secret planning and deployment. While players focus on their goals, they must collectively be mindful of the wildling armies building at the great wall. Played over three phases; the Westeros phase that will dictate the overall situation across the land; the planning phase where players secretly plan their actions such as where to expand, where to consolidate power, where to recruit and who to invade; and the action phase where all the planned actions are carried out. All players also have house decks, which included powerful game changing character cards that can dramatically impact the on the action phase. Overall A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is a deep, complex and completely engrossing battle that transcends its origins. This game has a bit of everything, from hand and resource management, secret deployment, diplomacy, auctions and area control. It’s a fantastic saga of epic proportions, playing in around three hours. As we have come to expect from Fantasy Flight Games, the components are first class and the game has an abundance of substance to it that its more than worthy of George R.R. Martin’s incredibly rich creation.
6. Cosmic Encounter (Fantasy Flight Games / 2008)
Last week I mentioned Tom Vassel of The Dice Tower who has posted his top 100 games list to Youtube every year for a decade, and the only constant is his un-moveable number one – Cosmic Encounter. It also happens to be Rab Florence’s favourite ever game, a reviewer whose opinion I value over all others as it strikes a chord with my personal taste. And there is no denying this is a truly stellar game. Original released in 1977, this iconic game of galactic domination saw reprints in 1991 and 2ooo before Fantasy Flight Games brought the most recent incarnation to life in 2008. Three to five players play as a bizarrely random alien race drawn from a pool of over 50 in the base game, each vividly unique. Starting on their home system with a fleet of ships, the goal of the game is to establish colonies on other players worlds by sending forth their fleet of ships, with the winner being the first player to secure five colonies on distant worlds. This is achieved by a mixture of brute force, strategic diplomacy and intelligent cunning. On a players go they take the hyperspace gate and point it at a planet they with to move to, placing the ships that will be making the journey. At this point both players facing off can make deals with others for offensive or defensive support. Destiny cards are then played to determine the outcome of the confrontation, trying to tip the balance of the confrontation in their favour. The strength of Cosmic Encounter is the player interaction, almost unrivalled in games of this type. The sheer scale of aliens and the vividly unique abilities make this one of the most replay-able games around, with one game potentially completely different from another. And yet, despite the overwhelming level of randomness in this game, its so precisely balanced. Playing in as little as an hour, it is a highly enjoyable and very amusing adventure. The fact Cosmic Encounter only makes it to number six on my list actually says more about those above it as this is simply a wonderful game.
5. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (Z-Man Games / 2015)
Despite the fact I love Matt Leacock’s iconic creation Pandemic, it was his involvement legacy system pioneer Rob Daviau that birthed his pièce de résistance; Pandemic Legacy – which currently holds the acclaimed number one spot at boardgamegeek.com. Released in 2008, Pandemic is a co-op game for up to four players who work together to fight of four viruses that are sweeping the world. They must juggle the quest for a cure with treating the diseases and limiting the spread as much as possible. Each player selects a specialist with a unique strength, gambling what will be needed to overcome the random outbreak. Devilish challenging, it is a game that perfects the concept of AI in a board game. However, what would happen if the game world and the viruses evolved from play through to play through? Well that’s exactly what Pandemic Legacy is, turning a challenging game into an epic struggle waged over 12 to 24 games, each game changing from the previous. In hindsight, Pandemic was the absolute perfect choice for the legacy system and the game that these two designers at the top of their game managed to serve up is a testament to the scope of modern tabletop gaming. I previously wrote about the legacy system in depth (see Seafall and the legacy system), such a magical game mechanic that takes influence from other medium to provide a real adventure into the unknown, rich in narrative and enshrined with harsh repercussions for unwise decisions. While it is not my number one, this is one of the most fantastic experiences I have ever had playing a board game and I firmly believe it is a title everyone should experience, whether you are a board game fan or not. It’s not just a special board game; it’s an unrivalled co-op gaming adventure. A Season 2 is currently in the pipeline, easily my most anticipated game right now.
4. Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine / 2013)
I’m truly in my element when you offer up a truly immersive open world gaming experience. Naturally this tends to be with video games, but Gale Force Nine managed to achieve it with a board game to quite mesmerising effect. Not only that, they achieved it with of the most beloved and short lived franchises of all time in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. As discussed in detail in my Tabletop Tales feature You Can’t Take the Sky From Me: Firefly the Game back in September, this is a magically journey into such a fantastic world, presented quite superbly by Gale Force Nine. While a story card selected at the start does lay out a “goal” of the game, it is also an irrelevance to the overall gaming experience of this open world. Essentially, its just a case of get a crew, get a job and get paid. Thematically it is my number one, with outstanding game components, wonderful nods to the source material and an abundance of first rate expansions, this without question serves up one of my favourite gaming experience of all time. For one to five players, the game is played by travelling the ‘Verse, evading the Alliance and dreaded Reavers, visiting planets to hire crew, buy equipment and take on jobs all so you can earn some coin. Certain jobs carry more risk and captains must always be mindful of their crews wellbeing. Expansions bring a bigger world, more job contacts, more market planets and an enhanced element of player vs player with the ability to be a goram space pirate! If you adore Firefly, this will be right up your street. And if you don’t but love a good open world experience, then I can’t think of any better option out there. It is a uniquely outstanding board game.
3. 7 Wonders (Repos Productions / 2010)
A game that reintroduced me to modern tabletop gaming; a game that I have played more as an adult than any other; a game that I judge all other games on; and a game that is simply outstanding. From one of my favourite designers, Antoine Bauza, 7 Wonders is a card drafting Euro game focussed around the ancient wonders of the world. While the theme may not inspire, this game is almost impossible to flaw. Gorgeously complex yet simple to digest, it offers a strategic battle for 2-7 players, playing in less than an hour. Using the mechanic of simultaneously play where every player plays at the same time to avoid any advantage (that has arguably been perfected in this game) the object is to score victory points over the course of three ages. This is achieved by playing various cards offering multiple strategies and options. Players play a card from their hand then pass the remaining deck on to another the player on their left or right depending on the age. Brown and grey cards are resources that are needed to build other buildings; yellow are market cards that bring financial gain; red are military cards that can result in easy victory points if you have more than both your neighbours; blue are buildings that bring victory points; green are science cards, with sets and multiples gaining potentially massive victory point totals; and purple are guild cards that can dramatically alter your fortunes. The key is in balancing the cards and maintaining a strong level of resources both in terms of raw goods and money. Players also have a double sided wonder board that has three stages that are built in order by discarding a card, offering bonuses and usually victory points once they are built. Multiple expansions have been released for this game, with 7 Wonder: Leaders bringing iconic people from history who provide bonuses and 7 Wonders: Cities which brings black cards that are tied to commerce. Other than this being my origin point for modern tabletop gaming, it is also an unquestionably fantastic strategic game with multiple paths to victory, resulting in an engrossing and tense gaming experience.
2. Risk Legacy (Hasbro / 2011)
Many hardened gamers will be somewhat gobsmacked to see a Risk game at the upper echelons of my list given the stigma over the classic game. I’m sure they will also be greatly bewildered at it being above its sister game, Pandemic Legacy. Yet as this is my personal top 25, I have no issues whatsoever placing Rob Daviau’s absolute game changer as my number 2 for one simple reason – playing this was probably my favourite gaming experience ever! Sure, weighing it all up, Pandemic Legacy probably is a better game than Risk Legacy but when I got my hands on this a few years back and played it I had no idea what the legacy system was and had absolutely no expectations whatsoever. I’m someone who doesn’t hate the classic world conquest game Risk although I get why many do. The luck of the dice is a truly horrific ball and chain weighing down the game, and this legacy version doesn’t escape that. Yet playing this it soon became apparent that it was an organic, evolving adventure into a world that you will help shape; a world where you are utterly oblivious to what is about to come. And over the 15 games on the planet of “Minebitcheez” (which I named it after winning the most games) my game group and I were swept away in the unbelievable ingenuity, giddy with excitement every-time we got to place a sticker on the board or destroy a card. While I would in all likelihood recommend Pandemic Legacy (or possibly Seafall) to a newcomer to the legacy system over this, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this was the game that made me fall in love with the revolutionary system, it was bold, brave and utterly spellbinding. While 7 Wonders was the game that got me back in love with board games, this was the game that supercharged that passion to an obsession. My regular group adored this so much we actually got a second copy to do it all over again! Simply put, Risk Legacy absolutely blew me away and that is why it is my number two. Just remember, Do Not Open Ever!
1. Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery (Gale Force Nine / 2012)
A somewhat surprising title that takes the gong as “that guy who writes about board games for That’s Not Currents favourite board game ever!” Yet, when I strip everything back about all the games I have ever played and dissect what I like and what I don’t, this adaptation of the STARZ TV show seems to have a very unbalanced split of thing I do like; it ticks all the boxes and then some. I love a game that not only invites, but encourages social interaction with players, and for me Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery does it better than any other game I have ever played. As is the form with Gale Force Nine who have brought multiple licensed games to the table, it is deliciously crafted, overflowing with thematic brilliance and presented with first class components. Up to four players take control of rival dominus and must cheat, scheme, bribe and battle their way to glory. The goal is to gain an influence of 12 and this is achieved through playing cards and sending your gladiators to fight in the arena. Players build their stable of gladiators, equipment, slaves and guards through secret bidding in the marketplace, and make money through successful schemes and by betting on the great arena battles. Its unbelievable strength comes in the necessity to make (and break deals) with players, which come with no guidelines and can literally be anything and everything you want. And truth be told, I absolutely love everything about this game! Even with my critical hat on I struggle to think of a weakness. It is an absolutely joy to play and provides me with absolutely everything I’d want from a board game! And for that reason, there is really only one place it can go on my Self Indulgent Top 25 Board Games Ever list.
So NEXT WEEK, for the final Tabletop Tales of 2016, I’m going to go into all the nitty gritty of why this is the greatest game ever (as voted by a panel of me).