Any reviewer is defined by what they like. Yes, some games are irredeemably awful, but a lot of the time enjoyment of a board game just comes down to what the player likes to do. When I play games, I love to make complex plans and exert control over the game board. Other people like to react to random events and destroy their opposition. Still others just like chucking dice and blasting zombies with a shotgun.
The point is that, as a reviewer, I thought it might be helpful to offer you my list of top 10 board games so that you can get a better idea of where I’m coming from. Sometimes my reviews can get a little scathing, but no matter what I say in the heat of the moment, know that it is just my subjective opinion – and that opinion is highly influenced by this list.
10. Power Grid: While the mechanics of the game are enjoyable and easily accessible, I have never encountered a game with such a dynamic endgame. You’ve really gotta pay attention and do your best to predict how everything will play out. I’ve lost this game in so many different ways, and it surprises me every time – relying too heavily on coal and running out on the last turn; preparing for a big push on the last turn and then have the game end early; losing to someone powering 19 and you’re powering 18 because you couldn’t get that 7 plant on the last turn…
You think it’s a simple economic game, but you’ve always gotta watch out for that end game blind-side.
9. Mage Knight: I absolutely love Vlaada Chvatil. He is a true innovator of board game design, and nothing speaks more to this than Mage Knight, a game I wish I had more time to play. I love the way every hand of cards you draw is a puzzle – you know what you want to do on the board, but can you do it with what you have? And when the answer to that question is a very non-obvious “yes,” well, that’s just a superb feeling. And even if the answer is “no,” that’s okay, too, since you’re not forced to play your whole hand each turn. You can do something small and wait for those couple extra cards you need next turn.
I love how it captures that beautiful fantasy role-playing feeling of wandering the wilderness and murdering monsters in a deterministic, Euro-ey game that is always interesting. And the fact that it plays so well even as a solo experience is just another testament to its power.
8. Spyrium: I’ve expounded at great length on the virtues of Spyrium. Great, wonderful depth in a small box – can’t go wrong with that.
7. Galaxy Trucker: Another Vlaada Chvatil favorite. It is on the list because I think I have played it more than any other game in the past year. It is just perfect in so many situations. It’s very easy to explain, you can run through it in an hour or less and it is always vastly entertaining. There is something very primal about racing to build your spaceship each round – studying the pieces and figuring out the best way to fit them all in. And I have never had so much fun losing at a game than when I watch in horror as meteors rip my ship into tiny pieces.
6. Caylus: Ah, Caylus, the shining beacon of pure non-random determinism. A game of such complexity and tactics, a 2-player session has been likened to chess – a game where knowing your own strategy and the strategy of your opponent are equally important. I don’t get this to the table often because it takes a while to play and has a significant learning curve, but I did recently, and it did not disappoint.
5. Legacy: Gears of Time: The mechanical beauty of this game is unparalleled. The way simple decisions about how to spend your turn branch out into forming and influencing a complex technology tree that must be built in reverse – it is stunning. Yeah, there’s a good amount of randomness to it in the fate cards and getting the prereqs for your high-point cards. But the randomness fades towards the end of the game and gives way to a very cut-throat, tactical game of influencing the right cards at the right time. I also like the expansion.
4. Glass Road: My love of Glass Road is well documented – so well documented that my wife sometimes gets jealous. This is another game of surprising depth for such a short play time. Maybe someday I will be as talented a game designer as Uwe Rosenberg. Probably not, though. But maybe.
3. Forge War: Admittedly, I am the designer of the game, so this is a very biased opinion. But the bottom line is that I developed my ideal game, and luckily I succeeded in my endeavor. I love this game more every time I play it. The spatial reasoning aspect of the mine is just plain fun, and when you’ve got all your resources perfectly chugging along in the quests, it just makes you feel smart, and that’s a great feeling.
Do I love it more than the next 2 games? Well, it’s a toss-up, but I guess I decided to reign in the self-promotion just a tad. If you want to know more about the game and its progress towards making it to the mean streets of board game land, you can sign up for my newsletter.
2. Terra Mystica: Oh, Terra Mystica, we certainly have had a long, torrid love affair, haven’t we? That second play sent me on a bender on terra.snellman.net that is still going on. Terra Mystica isn’t perfect – some of the races need some serious rebalancing – but what is there is supremely entertaining. Plan-making with just the right amount of variability. Strong player interaction and competition over land without any direct conflict. It’s great. It’s fabulous.
1. Agricola: I could go on and on about how much I love Agricola, but essentially it is perfect. The perfect worker placement game. There are so many different avenues to generate points and a great player must explore all of them. Developing a strategy for doing that, however, is a new experience every time based on your starting hand of occupations and minor improvements. The game challenges you to develop a truly unique strategy for victory every time you play, and I just love it.
I would also just like to add here at the end that these proclamations of love are meant to be silly. I love my hot wife more than any box full of cardboard chits.