Welcome to this year’s top 50 games list in which I list my personal top 50 games at this point in time. My choices are not limited to games from this calendar year, but instead represent my current thoughts on the top 50 games out there. Next year, some of the games featured may move up and down as my opinions change and I get the chance to play more games or revisit old favourites.
10: Among the Stars
Previous Position: 15 (+5)
Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Publisher: Artipia Games
Plays: 2-4 players for ~30 minutes
This is my favourite card drafting game, by far. Among the Stars uses its theme quite well. I love the feeling of putting together your space station, balancing the cost of each time/room/facility with power requirements and generator placement, synergies between and across facilities, and denial of good/beneficial tiles to other players. The game, already high on my list last year, has grown on me further and I’m glad that I backed the Kickstarter for the reprint a few years back, as it’s hard to find the game for a reasonable price these days. The game is accessible and quite simple, with tile synergies bringing a bit of depth to your construction strategy. This game is a regular feature on my table.
Previous Position: 12 (+3)
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Plays: 3-4 players in ~30 minutes
The original deckbuilder, Dominion, has gone up in my list, despite the fact that there are so many deckbuilding games that have built on the foundations it created. What I like about Dominion is the clear structure it provides. Unlike titles such as DC Comics Deckbuilding Game, Clank and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, you’re not just putting down your entire hand, but are having to make choices based on a limited number of action and buy slots per turn.
I’ve expanded my game a little more this year, giving a lot of new cards and opening up many new options and configurations for our games. The variety, structure and speed of this game keeps it firmly in my regular gaming rotation.
8: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Previous Position: New to the list!
Designer: Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, Andrew Wolf
Plays: 2-4 players in ~30 to 60 minutes
I didn’t have high expectations for this game. USAopoly is not exactly known for producing interesting and engaging titles, but after buying this for my wife I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. It doesn’t have the rigid structure of Dominion, but I like how it brings in random events each turn, and how the villains work. The game is cooperative but is also genuinely challenging in later stages, which I really appreciate.
The story-based progression system is a great way to learn the game, adding new features, complexity and difficulty with each game as you work through rounds based on each of the 7 books. This was a surprise hit for us this year and I don’t know if it will hold its position over time, but I’m really enjoying it for now.
Previous Position: New to the list!
Designer: Paul Dennen
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Plays: 1-4 players in ~30 to 60 minutes
Clank is the third deckbuilder in a row, and the third in my top 10. Again, it doesn’t have the nice, tight structure of Dominion, but it does bring in another really unique set of elements. The combination of a deckbuilder and a dungeon crawl ticks a lot of boxes for me, and I love a lot of what this game offers. The cards are interesting, the art is good, the dungeon crawl aspect is well presented and the titular Clank mechanism makes each dragon attack genuinely nerve-wracking, especially in later stages of the game where you have already taken damage.
This was a game that passed me by when it first came out, but I noticed it in a store in Reading whilst on holiday and my interest was piqued. I am delighted with this purchase and have played this a lot since picking it up in the summer.
6: Vampire: The Masquerade (Revised Edition)
Previous Position: 6 (No change)
Designer: Graeme Davis, Tom Dowd, Mark Rein-Hagen, Lisa Stevens, Stewart Wieck
Publisher: White Wolf Publishing
Plays: Ideally 4-6 over however long you want. Again, RPGs…
One of the games that has been in my collection the longest, and certainly my longest-owned game on this list, Vampire: The Masquerade is a fantastic roleplaying game from White Wolf. This was the original title in the World of Darkness game line.
This blog has had a fair bit of content around V:tM, so it should come as no surprise that it’s still high on my list. It’s not moved at all, actually. I’ve a new game of this hopefully coming up soon, but getting my group together can, at times, be quite akin to herding cats.
There are newer editions than the Revised Edition that we use, but it’s the one we are familiar with and have the most content for. I’m cautiously optimistic about 5th edition, but will have to wait and see whether it unseats Revised for me.
5: Dead of Winter
Previous Position: New to the list!
Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~45 to 210 minutes
Dead of Winter narrowly missed out on a place in last year’s list. At the time of putting 2016’s list together, I had only played this game once, maybe twice. It didn’t resonate with me right away, but I’ve had a lot more time with it this year and, having sorted a few of the mistakes we were making with early plays, this became a real hit with the group. October and early November saw a particularly high number of plays.
I think the game works well and what I really like is how destructive selfishness can be, and yet how much selfishness is promoted, whether that is because of the traitor in some games or, more often, by each player’s secret objective. Some people really dislike the secret objective, feeling that it encourages bad play, or selfish play and can undermine the group, but I think this really fits the theme. The Crossroads cards, which represent random events triggered by specific gamestates and actions, are also a great mechanism that I want to see in another game. Yeah, they’ve made expansions, but I want this mechanism explored somewhere else.
4: Twilight Struggle
Previous Position: 4 (-2)
Designer: Ananda Gupta, Jason Matthews
Publisher: GMT Games
Plays: 2 players in ~180 minutes
On the surface, this has dropped two places since last year, but if you look at slots 2 and 3, you will see that it’s still my second favourite board game. I feel I should say this as although it has dropped a little, I love this game. It’s great. It’s engaging. It’s exciting.
I adore the tug of war that this game creates between two global superpowers, and how tense things can become as attentions get focused on specific areas. I think the card driven system is applied perfectly here, working better than in previous games, like Washington’s War and subsequent ones, such as 1960: The Making of the President.
This is also the game that introduced me to GMT Games, starting a love affair that would bring me both joy and poverty. Oh, and try the app, too! It’s available on mobile, as well as on Steam. Really good translation with online multiplayer. Go get it!
3: The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game
Previous Position: 3 (No change)
Designer: Leonard Balsera, Jim Butcher, Genevieve Cogman, Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Chad Underkoffler, Clark Valentine
Publisher: Evil Hat
Plays: Ideally 4-6 players over several evenings, preferably with food and drink
FATE is a fantastic RPG system and this is my favourite implementation of it. Last year, this was my top RPG and although it has been slightly displaced last year, you will notice it hasn’t moved down the list all. Instead, another has just slid in above it.
The game is simple and accessible, which is a compliment you will see throughout this list. That gives some insight into what I’m looking for in a good game, and what I value.
The Dresden Files license is a very specific property with a lot of backstory to it from a loooong series of novels and short stories, as well as short-lived TV series. That said, you don’t really need to know much about Dresden Files to enjoy this game. Because it has a modern setting with a world of magic just below the surface, it’s instantly relatable to a lot of people – not least Harry Potter fans.
The wider FATE system, which I’m lumping into this entry, is also incredibly flexible and setting-neutral. There is a lot of material available, including full settings and toolkits to adapt other settings to work within the system. Like all of my favourite RPGs, the whole thing is light on rules and doesn’t let ‘crunch’ get in the way of the storytelling which is at the core of all good RPGs.
2: Paranoia (Second Edition)
Previous Position: 21 (+19)
Designer: Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, Eric Goldberg, Ken Rolston, Paul Murphy
Publisher: West End Games
Plays ~2-7ish players in however long you care to play for
I think this game has probably had the biggest positive move out of any on this year’s list, moving up 19 places since last year. Paranoia is a classic RPG that is full of humour and satire. Set in dystopian future, not dissimilar to the sort you would find in the works of Orwell or Kafka, Paranoia manages to find a grim comedy in this and bring it to the surface.
I feel that this game works best for stand-alone games, rather than long campaigns. Perhaps my favourite bit is in playing as the GM, using the all-knowing construct of ‘Friend Computer’ so turn players against each other, encouraging them to report one-another for various real, imagined and fabricated infractions of a vague set of rules. That even knowing these rules is in itself an infraction should give an idea of how chaotic this game can be.
A canny GM will keep a stock of forms of various types for players to fill in, simulating the beaurocratic hell that their characters inhabit. If this stock is maintained, as well as keeping a small handful of props and tokens, this game is quite playable with relatively little preparation – something quite for me amongst RPGs.
In no other RPG have I spend so long laughing. That is the most ringing endorsement I can give.
1: Star Wars: Rebellion
Previous Position: 1 (No change)
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~180 to 240 minutes
Up until December, this game had actually slipped to number 2 on my list, with Paranoia taking the top slot. Around the start of December, I played a few games with a new group who had not played before and it really reminded me why this game works so well and why I hold it in such high regard. I’ve also now had the chance to play the expansion. There are a stack of changes and new features in this expansion, but I really like the changes to the combat system. Combat has always been my one gripe with this game, and the revised rules make it work a lot better.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. Combat is a bit clunky and problematic, even with the changes. This one negative pales in comparison to the huge positives of the use of characters, missions cards, construction, probe droids, research and development projects and more. It just works and flows. It’s my top game.