Oh hey, look, we’re into the top 20! Woo and yay, we’re getting to the really great stuff, now! Feel free to go and read parts 1, 2 and 3 first, if you have not already. Once that’s done, you can proceed and take a little look at numbers 20 through 11 of my top 50 games:
20: The Resistance
Designer: Don Eskridge
Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
Plays: 5-10 players in ~30 minutes
A fantastic, quick and easy party game that is great for groups of new players and experienced ones, The Resistance is a ‘go-to’ social game for me. Like Love Letter, it’s also a very minimalist game in terms of components – so much so that I was able to knock together my own Adventure Time themed edition in an afternoon:
The game is fantastic with a group of strangers, but it really shines when you’re playing with a group of friends who know each other really well. Given the amount of deception in the game, it gets really interesting when friends try to read each other and group dynamics and relationships come into play. Familiarity just adds another layer to an already beautifully layered experience.
19: King of Tokyo
Designer: Richard Garfield
Plays: 2-6 players in ~30 minutes
Although better known as the creator of Magic: The Gathering, you won’t see Richard Garfield’s monster of a CCG on this list. It’s a good game, no doubt, but it doesn’t quite reach my top 50. You will find a couple of his other games on here though, with King of Tokyo being the first of these. King of Tokyo is a dice game in which players take on the roles of gigantic monsters fighting over the city of Tokyo. Each dice face represents a different action for your monster and you are trying to either be the first to reach 20 points or be the last monster standing. I really like the power cards you can buy to improve your monster’s abilities or add new ones.
The game really shines with the Power Up expansion, which adds unique powers to each monster. This fundamentally changes the game from a symmetrical experience where the only different between each player at the start is an aesthetic decision over which functionally identical monster to use, to an actual decision based not only on aesthetics, but also on different decks on unique powers. Although originally released in 2011, there was a new edition with updated artwork released in 2016. There’s also a sequel of sorts, called King of New York. This sequel is also a really good game and actually adds a nice layer of complexity to the game with the addition of city blocks, buildings and military units. These new features do come at the expense of the original game’s pure simplicity. Whatever version you’d rather play, you’re in for a real treat.
18: Battlestar Galactica
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 3-6 players in ~120-240 minutes
Game 31 in my list was Shadows over Camelot, a cooperative game with a hidden traitor mechanic. Battlestar Galactica is a mechanically similar game in which players take on the roles of human colonists who survived an apocalyptic attack from the mechanical Cylons. The humans must use the titular ship to protect the civilian fleet and escape from the Cylons, fighting off sttacks and jumping from system to system in search of a new home.
This is all done very well, mechanically, and the game usually gives you a few different things you can do each turn – though rarely as many as you would find in Shadows Over Camelot. What sets this game apart is their thematic handling of the traitor mechanic. In the Battlestar Galactica TV show, the Cylons develop the ability to take on human form and infiltrate the fleet. This game represents one of the finest marriages of theme and mechanism I’ve ever seen, and that is what puts it ahead of Shadows Over Camelot on my list. Take that, ya frakkin’ toasters!
17: Android: Netrunner
Designers: Richard Garfield, Lukas Litzsinger
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 2 players in ~45 minutes
Another Richard Garfield title, Android: Netrunner is a revival of the classic Netrunner CCG, using Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Game model. This is a fundamentally asymmetrical card game in which each player takes on a very different role. One player plays as the corporation, one of several massive conglomerates who control the dystopian future of the Android universe. As the corp, you will push your agendas, setting up resources and assets on remote servers that you protect with layers of powerful firewalls. Allowing the agendas to resolve over time will win you the game. Hurrah for capitalism!
Well, that’s the plan anyway. The other player may have something to say about it as they take on the role of the Runner, an elite hacker who is hell-bent on taking down the corporations by foiling their agendas. To do this, they must build up their computer rigs, install programs, trigger events and make run at enemy servers, breaking through the barriers and foiling the corporate agendas. I love the asymmetry of this game and how there’s not only a fundamentally different feel playing as the runner or the corp, but also the very different feels of playing as different corporations or different types of runner. My favourite group to play as is the NBN corporation – the closes the Android universe has to News Corp. This game would have been a bit higher on my list last year, and a lot higher the year before, but I’ve just not managed to get it onto the table all that much. I need to fix this in the coming year.
Designers: Nathaniel Barmore, Epidiah Ravachol
Publisher: The Impossible Dream
Plays: 3-6 players for, like, however long it takes. RPGs, yo!
The reason you don’t see roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu or Rogue Trader on this list is that I just don’t like rules-heavy RPGs. I like my games light on rules and heavy on story and theme. A roleplaying game should be as accessible as possible so that the focus is on what you are doing, rather than how you intend to do it within the rules. On that note, let’s talk about Dread. Dread does away with the arithmetic of most RPGs and even does away with dice. Instead of dice, players use a Jenga tower to do any and all skill checks that may occur. This is really cool.
The use of these towers ties so perfectly into Dread‘s theme. As a horror game, Dread depends entirely on the GM’s ability to build tension in their story. The tower helps with this, as early skill checks are easy passes, easy victories for the players. The more tests they take, the closer and closer they get to an inevitable collapse. When the tower collapses, the player responsible will see their character die. Following a character death, the tower is reset and the group enter another period of relative safety. Should a player not see a way out of a situation, he or she could even push over the tower, committing their character to a heroic sacrifice on behalf of the party. And that’s pretty much it. Dread is fabulously simple and is effective because the game gets out of the way and allows the story to take centre stage. That is what an RPG should be.
15: Among the Stars
Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Publisher: Artipia Games
Plays: 2-4 players for ~30 minutes
I backed the reprint of Among the Stars on Kickstarter and was delighted with what I got. Among The Stars is a tile-drafting game in which each player builds their own space station. They do this by choosing and paying for a tile from their hand before passing this hand onto another player. This rotation of tiles means that although you can have a general idea of what sort of space station you want to work towards, you can’t really plan ahead with any sort of reliability.
To further spice things up, there are variable objectives that can earn you bonus points at the end of the game, and a number of different player powers to differentiate each player. The game can be picked up really quickly, but it takes a few games to really get the most out of it, once you see the sorts of tiles that are available. The Ambassadors expansion adds a bit more depth to the game, too. Good thing that was also included in my Kickstarter pledge!
14: Blood Bowl
Designer: Jervis Johnson
Publisher: Games Workshop
Plays: 2 players in ~180 minutes
A classic Games Workshop board/miniatures game, Blood Bowl is the game of brutal fantasy football. The version I have played the most is third edition, but I do have first and second in my collection, as well as the new edition that Games Workshop released late this year. In terms of painted teams, I’ve got three fully painted and a couple in various states of incompleteness.
The game is very competitive and, even when you think you’ve stacked a situation in your favour, can be very unpredictable. That said, once a game starts to really go against you, it can be difficult to claw your way back and such games can be very frustrating. This would be my biggest criticism of the game, with another being that it takes a long time to play for what it is. Those quibbles aside, don’t let me put you off, as this is an absolute blast, especially when played over the longer term as a league where teams grow and gain experience, skill and crippling injuries form match to match.
13: Forbidden Stars
Designers: Samuel Bailey, James Kniffen, Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~120 to 180 minutes
Oh look, more Games Workshop! Well, only in that Forbidden Stars uses the Warhammer 40,000 license. The actual game is made by Fantasy Flight, and you can really tell. The huge number of miniatures and tokens, the modular board tiles, the long rulebook and the generally exceptional production values mark this out as one of Fantasy Flight’s premium titles. It’s a pity it’s been discontinued, really…
The game itself is a reasonably heavy grand strategy games in which you issue orders, move your units around from planet to planet and attempt to secure your objectives through conquest. The sides are asymmetrical and each have a very different feel. This is not an entry level game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a real meaty offering for experienced gamers.
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Plays: 3-4 players in ~30 minutes
One of my wife’s favourite games, Dominion created the deck building genre of card games. There are two other deck builders on my list, but Dominion is still my favourite. It’s a simple, clearly structured game with a huge number of available cards once all of the many expansions are taken into account.
This game works well with 3 or 4 players, but I really like it as a 2 player game. This setup gives a quick but satisfying game that should take about 15 minutes. This lets you get a few rounds in, preferably with slightly different setups each time. The game was revolutionary when it first came out and, although there have been many other deck building games since, it still holds up really well. This is one of, if not the, most played games in my collection.
11: Ticket to Ride
Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Plays: 2-5 players in ~30 to 60 minutes
The quintessential gateway game! Ticket to Ride is fundamentally fun. It’s a set collecting game where you are trying to build railways across the United States. You are given direction by your ticket cards, which give you specific and unique objectives which can reward you if completed and penalise you if not. I’ve yet to play this game with anyone who has not picked it up quickly or has not enjoyed the experience.
In addition to the base game, there are several expansions and spin-offs. Ticket to Ride: Europe adds a little more complexity to the game, as do the map expansions. I really like the Nordic Countries edition of the game, as it is built for 2 to 3 players and features some cute, winter/snowy cards. There are also great digital and mobile versions of the game which are great little diversions or as ‘try before you buy’ demos. My wife was shocked that this is did not crack the top 10, and I was a little surprised myself – it is an absolute staple of my collection.
Top 10! A good mix of heavier strategy, roleplaying and lighter fare.