Everyone loves a good top 10 list, right?
More than that, however, I wear my influences on my sleeve. As a designer, you can define me somewhat by what I like to play. Not completely, but at least a little bit. So to decide whether you might an enjoy a game I create, I invite you to peruse my list of favorite games, starting with number 10 and ending with number 1. As a rule, I’ve left my own games off the list, because, well, that would be tacky.
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.
Why is this game so good? It has the mechanics of a simple party game, but somehow it trancends its trappings to get deep down into the core of your brain. How well do you know the other members of your team? How well do you know yourself? How do you relate “unicorn” and “skyscraper?” The bottom line is that this is the most fun I have playing a party game because it engages your brain while providing meaningful social interation.
I am an absolute sucker for spatial reasoning in board games, and this game delivers that in spades. Plus it offers up a very clever deck-building mechanism that is perfectly executed. Sometimes I wish the game were actually longer. Sometimes I wish that stupid bird that drills through steel would just go die in a fire. But I always have good time digging up gems and buying strangely charicatured engineers. Best board game implementation of a video game, hands down.
First of all, I will admit Seasons has its faults. And the beginning card draft can absolutely kill inexperienced players before the game even starts, leading to a lot of frustration. When playing the game with experienced players, though, all this falls away to give a wonderful experience of cut-throat engine-building that leads to epic games of memorable plays.
I am in awe of 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.
Another Vlaada Chvatil favorite. It is so high on the list because I think I have played it more than any other game in my collection. 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.
I could go on and on about how much I love Agricola, it is the essential worker-placement game, starting a genre that never created a game better than original, though not for a lack of trying. 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. It’s great!
I will readily admit that I am not a fan of Pandemic. Add in a 12-game campaign full of twists, new mechanics, and evolving characters, though, and you get something far better than the original. I got this the Christmas after it came out, and my wife and I flew through it in a couple weeks, just devouring the story and loving every minute of it. It is not a perfect game (it’s based on Pandemic, after all), but it represents something truly innovative and engaging in board game design.
My love of Glass Road is well documented. It’s hard say I love an Uwe Rosenberg game more than Agricola, but this is great enough to make it happen, largely because of how much depth it packs into such a short play time. I have played this more than any other Euro in my collection, because it can be played so quickly. And through all these plays, I have never grown tired of the game. Trying to suss out what cards your opponents are going to play, and playing your own in such a way as to capitalize on that – it’s just brilliant.
Oh, Terra Mystica, we certainly have had a long, torrid love affair, haven’t we? That second play sent me on a bender that is still showing its effects today. I can’t get enough of this game. The economy of the buildings and the action mechanisms creates a very tight and rewarding game play experience that rewards proper plan-making. And then there is just so much variability thrown on top of it – it is a breath-taking design. Maybe all the races aren’t perfectly balanced, but covering that deficit with a weaker race is part of the fun. There’s nothing better than running away with the board as the Fakirs. The game has strong player interaction and competition over land without any direct conflict. It’s great. It’s fabulous.