Following on from my previous post, here are the next ten games in this year’s top 50 list. Just to reiterate, there are my top 50 of all time, as they currently stand, rather than just a list of games that were released this year.
Designer: Tim Fowers
So, I like word games and I love deck building games. You’d think a deck building word game would be a no brainer, wouldn’t you? Well, it seems I was not so sure. Paperback has sat in my spare room for about a year untouched until relatively recently when I finally got around to giving it a go.
Turns out it’s pretty great and I should have been playing it all along!
The deck building side of the game is pretty formulaic, which is not a bad thing. That the cards you are purchasing and adding to your deck are letters and pairs of letters that you must then use to create words, is a really cool twist. I like the further depth that special abilities on specific cards can give, and I really like that the game comes with several variants and mini expansions right out of the box.
Not my favourite deck building game (there are at least two more on the list, and this game knocked Star Realms off altogether), but refreshingly different.
39: Wings of War
Designers: Andrea Angiolino, Pier Giorgio Paglia
Oh, sure, nowadays people are all about their X-Wings and Star Treks and Dragons and stuff (yo!), but before all of those dog-fighting games, there was Wings of War! This was a great game that saw you using miniature planes (these were optional, but, come one, please…) and moving them around by plotting three moves at a time using movement cards. This meant you were locked into a movement path that may take you into shooting range of the enemy, or may leave you vulnerable. Exciting!
You’re going to find a successor to this game higher on the list, but I still maintain that this game was fantastically themed, and I loved a lot of the cool little details, like WW1 planes who had engines on one side and whose cards therefore favoured one side over the other for turning.
I had a particularly good time playing a massive game of this with eight players in Edinburgh several years ago. Myself, I only own the deluxe set pictured above, but it’s enough for a good – if infrequent – game.
38: Forbidden Desert
Designer: Matt Leacock
Plays: 2-5 players in ~45 minutes
The thing about games in tins is that they look really cool, but do not stack well with other games. it’s a right pain that is not helped by the lack of a ‘standard’, widely used tin that might at least mean that those tin-bound games are at least stackable with one another. I’m sure there’s a saying about not judging games by their packaging, so I will move swiftly on…
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game from the master of cooperative games, Matt Leacock. In this game your group takes on the role of the crew of a crashed airship, searching the treacherous desert for the parts required to get back into the air. As you search, the sun beats down, you get thirsty and vicious sandstorms tear across the landscape.
This is a solid, relatively straightforward cooperative game that encourages teamwork and critical thinking. Like many cooperative games, this can suffer from alpha gamer syndrome, where one player can take charge and dictate the course of play. If you take care to avoid such dictatorship, you’ve got a really solid little cooperative game.
37: Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Plays: 1-7 players in ~30 to 210 minutes
Caverna is the second worker placement game on my list. This is the successor to the hugely popular Agricola, but as I’ve never played that game, this is really my first experience of Uwe Rosenberg’s take on the worker placement genre. I love the sort of choices you can make in this game, focusing on mining, arable or animal farming or adventuring, and the boards make it really easy to see your options and lock in your choices.
I also like the obligation that comes with expansion. As your grow your family of dwarfen farmers, you will open up more actions per turn, but at the cost of the food it takes to feed them.
The game feels well balanced, but does suffer a little from a lack of interaction between players – you’re very much doing your own thing in the vicinity of other players rather than competing against them directly. That said, not all game need to be the same and there are plenty of other games on this list that do give that sense of direct competition and this game does what it does very well.
36: DC Comics Deck-Building Game
Designer: Matt Hyra, Ben Stoll
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Plays: 2-5 players in ~45 minutes
Like Paperback, the DC Comics Deck-Building Game is another largely formulaic deck building game that follows the basic structure set out by Dominion, the originator of the genre. The game is a lot looser than Dominion and is very easy to learn. One of the big selling points for this game is the theme, being packed full of all of your favourite DC heroes, villains, items and locations.
This is a great game to break out with comic fans who don’t have a lot of experience with modern board games, or any group looking for a quick, fun game that is entertaining without needing a huge amount of thought.
The game is also very expandable, and each expansion seems to put a new and refreshing spin on the core game. I particularly like the refocusing on trashed cards that comes with the Forever Evil expansion. Definitely a good title for the expansion junkies out there.
35: Rex: Final Days of an Empire
Designers: Bill Eberle, John Goodenough, Jack Kittredge, Corey Konieczka, Peter Olotka, Christian T. Petersen
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 3-6 players in ~120 minutes
Right, so, years ago there was this really cool game from Avalon Hill called Dune. Dune, perhaps unsurprisingly, was based upon Dune, the series of novels by Frank Herbert. A few years ago, Fantasy Flight got the rights to remake the Dune game. This was great, because it had been out of print for years and had been really popular. The only problem? They bought the game, but the Frank Herbert estate would not grant a license for the Dune IP. Jerks. This is how Rex: Final Days of an Empire was born. Fantasy Flight took the game and rethemed it to act as a prequel to their sprawling space opera, Twilight Imperium, as the various player races fought one another for control of the planet, Mecatol Rex.
Basically, it’s an area control game with some combat and negotiation in the mix. What really sells it for me iis the diplomacy. There are some really cool mechanisms around fixed alliances and variable win conditions which depend on whether you intend to win solo or as part of an alliance. There are also both ‘traitor’ and ‘betrayal’ cards, which pretty much tells you what to expect from this game. It’s a lot of fun, but you’ll get the most out of it with a robust group who can properly buy into all of the intrigue.
This is also the first of many Fantasy Flight titles in my list. I really adore this company. Like, really…
34: Dystopian Wars
Designers: Neil Fawcett, James Flack, Julian Glover, Alain Padfield, Franco Sammarco, Derek Sinclair
Publisher: Spartan Games
Plays: 2 players in ~120 to 240 minutes
Dystopian Wars is a tactical miniatures game. Unlike most of the miniatures games I play, this does not use a 28-30mm scale, but instead uses much smaller naval models. Actually, whilst I mention the models – which are fantastic and have a really impressive level of detail – here are my Italians:
Oh look, they are flag coloured. How original!
I’ve not played a lot of this game yet and my Italians have only had a couple of outings, but I’m really impressed with the tactical depth of the game, particularly around movement and the management of the ships. With comparatively few plays under my belt – and a desire for more – I don’t have a lot more to say at the moment, except that if anyone happens to be holidaying near John O’ Groats and fancies a game, you can drop me a line!
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~30 to 45 minutes
A modern classic, Carcassonne is a really simple, straightforward tile-laying game. Players take turns placing tiles to build roads, castles and churches and plopping down meeples to claim said features for points. The simplicity of the game makes it a fantastic gateway game and a really good game to play with children.
I have played a lot of this game, partially because it was one of the first games to make it into my collection, but also because it’s quick and fun, and because my family all love it. It’s a very accessible game, and one I have played with very diverse groups.
Again, for expansion junkie, there’s a ton of additional content which ranges from the great to the ridiculous. Myself, I picked up a German copy of the big box edition which includes the core game and several expansions.
32: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~60 minutes
As a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, this game was really a must-buy to me, regardless of whether it would actually turn out to be good or not. Luckily for me, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork is actually a very good game.
A simple area control game, it sees you competing with other players to control areas of the city of Ankh-Morpork. Each card you play represents one of the many colourful characters from the Disc and shows a number of symbols representing the abilities of the card.
One of my favourite parts of the game is the accident symbol, usually used by the wizards. These lead to horrible disasters that rains destruction and ruin upon the city such as troll invasions, dragon attacks or demons emerging from the dungeon dimensions.
This is a really good starting point for the area control genre, consisting of quite simple rules and a funny theme – especially for existing fans of Terry Pratchett.
31: Shadows Over Camelot
Designers: Bruno Cathala, Serge Laget
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Plays: 3-7 players in ~60 to 80 minutes
One of the first in a spate of cooperative games with a hidden traitor mechanism, Shadows Over Camelot is a fantastic game in which you take on the role of a knight of the round table in order to fight against – or for, in the case of the traitor – the forces of evil.
There’s a lot going on in this game with several quests to manage, a couple of invasions to repel and the mounting problem of all of these siege engines that are amassing outside the gates of Camelot. Oh dear…
With your fellow knights, you must take on these challenges and succeed, even as evil moves against you. For each triumph of good, a white sword is placed upon the round table. For each triumph of evil, a black one. By the end of the game, you are aiming to have a majority of white swords. All of this is then complicated by the possible presence of a traitor who is aiming to fill the table with the blackest of swords.
The game works really well and is absolutely a modern classic. In my collection, it still sees play with certain groups, but for ‘gamer’ groups there are other games I would turn to first.
Ten more great games, of course. The list will feature treachery, tiny boats and a whole lot of shuffling!