Jul 23

My Top 10 Board Games

So, here is a list of my top 10 board games. I have been playing board games regularly for about two or three years and have collected a decent library of games. Right now I have just over 100 board games scattered around different bookshelves and stacks around the house. Most of the games on this list are games I absolutely love to play. A couple are games I love to play because Emily loves to play them. A couple are here because the kids love to play them. They may not be my true favorites, but they are the favorites of the people I love to play with the most, my family, so they trump other games. Anyway, here we go.

1. Roll for the Galaxy – One word to describe this one: DICE! Turns out I love a good dice chucker game. This one fits the bill in a huge way with over 100 unique custom dice, and a plastic cup you use to roll them. In this game your dice are your workers. You roll the dice and the symbol tells you what job the worker will perform. There are ways to reassign workers and to make sure that certain jobs happen that round. By completing jobs, you gain victory points and the player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. There is absolutely no player confrontation in this one. You are really only concerned with building your victory points and what is going on in front of you. You are so separated from the other players that play happens simultaneously. Once you know what jobs are going to be done that round, you just do your thing and get ready for the next round. This helps keep the pace of the game brisk and allows my game group to play several games. It is the only game we pull out every month, usually at the end of the night because we know that once we start, we will play until we have to go home. The only real negative I can think of is the theme. There is a theme of space to fit the Galaxy in the name, but only barely. The tiles in the game have space and alien type pictures, the dice have names like Military and Alien, but I don’t really feel like I am in outer space exploring a new galaxy and conquering planets. Only being concerned with your own stuff and a light theme are not things I thought I would like, but this is an absolutely fantastic game. This game is easily my number one. The gap between number one and number two is the largest gap on the list. It doesn’t diminish the other games on the list, this game is just that good.

2. Splendor – This is one I bought because I thought Emily would like it. She loves this one. Turns out, I love this game also. In this game you are a jeweler and you are trying to collect cards that produce goods you can use to buy other cards. The object is to get the most victory points by the end of the game. Some of the cards give you victory points as well as producing goods. At the beginning of the game, you will not be able to buy cards right away. What you will need to do is collect gems that are poker style chips sitting beside the cards that are for sale. If you collect gems, you cannot buy anything until your next turn. This can be a little risky because one of the other players can grab the card you are saving to buy before your turn comes back around. To prevent this, you can pick up a card you can’t afford and collect a gold coin. This card goes into your hand, but is not in play yet. You can keep up to three cards in your hand at a time. This gives you a chance to collect coins to pay for them later. The gold coin you collect is considered a wild card, meaning you can use it instead of a gem when buying cards. What makes this game interesting is that you can only have ten gem chips at a time. This means you have to spend them to buy the lower level cards with no victory points so you can get the more expensive cards later. Again, this is a game where you are mostly concerned with what is in front of you. There is a bit of light player confrontation in this one. If you know your opponent is working towards a specific card, you can grab it before them. The game ends when a player reaches fourteen points. At this point, you finish the current turn and then see who has the most points. This is a unique way to end the game. For instance, if there are four players and player number two hits fourteen points, then players three and four get to take their next turn so everyone gets the same number of turns. But player one has already played that round so they don’t get another turn. I won once by hitting exactly fourteen points when I was the last player to play. I absolutely love this mechanic. This one simple rule adds a level of tension and strategy that the game needs. The theme here is again just the pictures on the cards, kind of light, but it is there. For some reason, this works for me again.

3. Marvel Legendary – Ever wanted to lead a group of your favorite Marvel comic book heroes against their arch rivals? Then this is your game. This is a standard deck builder style game that drips in the Marvel Universe as its theme. You start out with a standard set of cards in your deck with two generic characters on the cards, both of whom work for SHIELD. One offers you the ability to attack, the other offers you the ability to spend money. You shuffle your deck and put it face down in front of you. You then flip over a few cards every turn, this is your hand of cards for that turn. You spend the cards you flip over and discard them next to your deck. When your deck runs out, you shuffle your discard pile and place it face down to recreate your deck. When you flip cards, you have two options to spend them. There are lower level enemies traveling through the city on the board. You might be able to attack them and remove them from the city. You also have several heroes in the HQ that you can recruit into your deck by spending money. When you spend your recruit points to gain a more powerful hero, you discard the cards you use and then take the hero from the HQ and add it to your discard pile as well. Now when you shuffle your discard pile to recreate your deck, you have a chance to gain the more powerful hero. These heroes are where your favorite characters come in. The base game comes with some standard favorites, like Wolverine, Hulk, Spider Man, and several others. Once you have built a stronger deck, you can start going after the main bad guy. You have several to choose from when setting up the game, like Red Skull, Mysterio, and even Galactus. These guys are tougher to hit and you will need to create combos of regular attack power and special abilities to hit them. Defeat the main guy enough times, usually four, and you win. There are several ways the good guys can lose, so you need to work quickly to defeat your enemies. This a cooperative game, all the players are working against the game itself. There is a twist to this one. Each villain you defeat is worth points. You collect the villains you defeat and at the end of the game you total the points and see who collected the most. You all still win, this is just a way to assign an MVP to your team. The best part of this one for me? If I want, I can play this one solo and it is still great.

4. Pandemic – This is another cooperative game. There are four viruses infecting the world. You team is tasked with slowing down the spread of these diseases while finding cures. The board is a world map with several key cities labeled. The diseases are represented by little plastic cubes. Each disease is a different color and has several cubes of that color. The way the diseases spread is by flipping cards from the infection deck. Each card represents a city on the board. When you flip the card, you place a cube of the color of the card in the city on the card. If you let too many cubes collect in any one city, an outbreak happens, which lets the disease spread to the surround cities. There is a tracker on the board that counts how many outbreaks have happened that game. If it goes too far, you lose. Each player has four actions they can do every turn. These are selected from a list of actions that are on a player aid that each player has. Most of these actions are different ways to move around the board, share cards between players, and most importantly, remove disease cubes from the board. Each player has a hand of cards that also represent the cities on the board. These cards can be used to move around the board so you can try to contain the diseases easier. The main use for the cards is to create cures. If you collect five cards of the same color, you can travel to a research station, discard all five cards and create the cure. The disease is now easier to remove from the board. If you find all four cures, the players win. If the outbreak counter goes too far or you run out of the player cards or you run out of any of the cubes, you lose. One way to win. Three ways to lose. I have lost all three ways. The guy who created this game, Matt Leacock, has made several games that work similar to this. I chose this one because it feels tenser than the other games and just kind of sucks you in to the game. Quick FYI, I am a combined 1 and 7 against this guy. Yet I still find myself trying to get this to the table whenever I can. That tells you how good this game is.

5. Ticket to Ride – Who doesn’t love trains? This one is a great gateway game, meaning it is a great game to play with people who aren’t board gamers. You have a board that is a map of the USA. Several cities are labeled and have train tracks between them. You have cards that are tickets. They tell you the city the train needs to start in and the city it needs to end in.  How to get there is up to you. Have a ticket that goes from Los Angeles to Atlanta and the direct route is blocked by another player? No problem, go through Canada. The way you claim the routes is by cards you draw on your turn. Each set of tracks is a different color and tells you how many cards it takes to claim it. Once you have the cards necessary, you play those cards and put your trains on that set of tracks. The tickets you complete are worth points once you complete them. As you complete tickets, you can draw new tickets. But be careful, the tickets you do not complete by the end of the game will subtract points from your total score. Each set of tracks you claim is worth points also. Then there are bonuses at the end of the game for the longest train and most tickets completed. The player with the most points at the end wins. The brilliance of this game is in the simplicity of the game rules combined with the deep options and strategy. People who are new to gaming love it because it easy to understand and get into and people who are more experienced love it because they want to see how high they can go around the points track.

6. Carcassonne – Another really good gateway type game. This one is a tile laying game. There are a stack of tiles face down on the table. When it is your turn, you draw a tile, look at it, and play it face up on the table. The tile you lay must be touching edge to edge with another tile on the table. This means all the players are building on the same table, creating the board as they go. Each tile has different things on them that need to be built. You have roads, cities, monasteries, and farm lands. As you lay these tiles you can place your workers on the thing being built. You score points when the item is completed. For example, when the road your worker is on has an end point on both sides, you score points based on how long the road is and then collect your worker so you can place him somewhere else later. This is important because each player has a limited number of workers. You complete a city by having walls all the way around it. You complete monasteries by completely surround it by tiles. Farms are unique. If you place a worker on a farm, he stays there until the end of the game. Once the game is over, you see how many completed cities your farm touches and gain points based on that. The strategy comes in with the worker placement. If someone is already on the road, you cannot add your worker to that road. However, you can start a road somewhere else and place your worker on that road. Then, if you are able, you can connect that road to the one your opponent is on and when it is completed you both get points. Unless you manage to get more workers on that road than your opponent. Then you get all the points and they get nothing. This has caused more arguments combined with laughter than any other game in my collection. This point stealing tactic works everywhere except monasteries. The player in the monastery is the only one who can score. This game falls into the relaxing category around my house. You just draw a tile, lay it down, place a worker if you want, and score points. I think this game was the first game that my regular gaming group really liked and wanted to play multiple times in a row. The best part? Emily and several of the wives of the game group also love it. It hits that sweet spot like Ticket to Ride does. Simple but deep. The best part? You don’t have to be the best, most experienced player to outscore everyone and win. I would say the simple strategy wins just as much as the advanced strategy does. These two games are almost a 5 and a 5a for me. They are closer rated than any other games on the list.

7. Tsurro – Another tile laying game here. You have a board with several starting points for your game piece. You pick a place to start and everyone gets three tiles in their hand. When it is your turn, you lay a tile in front of your game piece. All of the tiles have roads on them. When you lay your tile, you move your piece to the end of the road you just created. If you are close to another player and lay a tile that puts a road in front of them, they also have to move to the end of the road in front of them. The board is not very large, so this happens very often. If your piece runs off the edge of the road, you are eliminated from the game. If you run your piece into another player’s piece, you are both eliminated. You win by being the last piece on the board. Painfully simple, painfully fun to follow another player around the board waiting for the chance to run them off the board. This one made the list for one simple reason. All four members of my family can sit and play it together. It is also the only game Abigail has not gotten bored and left the table. Not only that, she won. I loved this game before all of that occurred, but watching her and Matthew laugh and have fun with this one launched it up the list.

8. Firefly the Game – This game is absolutely fantastic. Just like Mal says on the show, your objective is to find a job, find a crew, and get paid. You choose from several ships from the show and movie and then a captain. You fly your ship through the Verse going to different planets hiring your crew, getting jobs, completing jobs, and getting paid. All of the people you can hire or get jobs from are characters from the show. Some of the jobs you get are taken straight from an episode of the show. At the beginning of the game you select an overall goal for the game. The goal card tells you what you need to do to win. There are several of these goal cards to choose from and it helps switch up how the game is played every time. Sometimes you need to collect the most money. Sometimes you need to do a certain amount of jobs to gain a solid reputation. It adds a nice variety to the game. The game board is split into three different zones. One zone is around the center of the Verse and you need to be careful if you are doing jobs that are somewhat less than completely legal. The Alliance rules this zone and may stop you and confiscate any criminals or contraband you are carrying. This means you have to start your job over from scratch. Another zone is ruled by the Reavers. If you watched the show, you know who they are and what they do. For those who don’t know, let’s just say you either run, sacrifice a crew member by handing him over to them, or you try to fight them and most likely lose. Running is almost always the best plan. This is a tremendously fun game which is why ranking this one is hard for me. It is a game based on one of my favorite television shows ever. It is dripping in theme. It is mostly non-confrontational. It has dice rolling. It is relaxing. It has jobs you need to complete, similar to the tickets from Ticket to Ride. It lets you build a team with cards. It has great components. It even has a single player setup. It has mechanics from almost every game on this list above it. It should be my number one game. It actually was for a very long time. There are three things that knock this one down. First, it is a huge game that takes up a ton of space. My table is six foot by four foot. This game won’t fit on my table. Second, Emily doesn’t really care for it. It is a bit dry if you don’t have a love for the show. Then it is reduced to a simple pickup and delivery game. Nobody likes games or quests that are go here get this and take it over there. The key to this game is the theme. If you love this theme, you love this game. If you don’t love this theme, you can skip this one. Third, the game takes over an hour to play usually. I spend about thirty minutes setting it up, around two hours playing, and then thirty or more minutes putting it all away. When I get it out, I try to play several games to make it worthwhile. That simply takes too much time for me to get it to the table as often as I would like. It will always hold a special place in my heart, but it can’t get the rating I want to give it.

9. Shadows Over Camelot – This is a very unique game. It is a cooperative game, unless one of the players is a traitor. This game takes place in the time of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Each player is dealt one of these character randomly. Then you are dealt a card that you keep hidden. This cards tells you whether you are loyal or a traitor. You then move your piece around the board trying to collect items from Arthurian legend, like the Holy Grail, Lancelot’s Armor, and of course, Excalibur. You also defend the shores from the Saxons and Picts and have a jousting match with the Black Night. The enemies of the kingdom are also placing siege engines around the castle. Every time the enemies win a battle or joust, black sword is put on the Round Table. Every time the Knights win, a white sword is placed. If the castle is completely surrounded by siege engines or there are more black swords than white on the Round Table when the game ends, the enemies win. If the Knights get more white swords than black swords on the Round Table, the players win. This is where the traitor can really ruin things. If you are the traitor, you are trying to make the Knights lose. As long as your traitor card is hidden, you play just like everyone else, you just don’t try as hard to help, you try to get in the way just enough to cause a black sword to be placed on the Round Table. If you are accused of being the traitor and you are, then you are exposed and can openly try to defeat the other players. The fun of this game is that you never know who the traitor is, or if there even is a traitor. There is a lot going on, but it is the tension of just not knowing who you can trust that really drives the game. This plus the fact that I have always loved King Arthur makes this a mainstay in my top ten. The more I get it played, the higher it climbs.

10. WWE Superstar Showdown – Here is an odd little gem. You pick the Superstar you want to use and place him on the board which is, of course, a WWE ring. The board has a grid on it for your Superstar miniature to go. You also get a deck of cards unique to each Superstar in the game. There are six to choose from; John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Big Show, Randy Orton, Big E, and Roman Reigns. Each player draws five cards into their hand and chooses three to play by placing them face down in the appropriate spot on the board. Then the players flip their cards one at a time. The cards follow a simple Rock-Paper-Scissors format to decide which card wins. You have Grapple, Strike, Maneuver, and Slam. Grapple beats Strike which beats Maneuver which beats Grapple. Slam beats everything. If there is a tie, you flip cards off the top of your deck until a winner is decided. The winner gets to perform the actions at the bottom of the card they played. Those are usually movement, damage, or setup maneuvers. The damage is how many cards your opponent needs to discard, which removes them from the game. If you ever run out of cards, you are “knocked out” and lose the match. If you win two out of the three cards then you can pin your opponent if you are standing next to them. If they have a card with the kick out symbol, you play that and get out of the pin. If not, you have a three count to get out. You flip over the top three cards of your deck and discard them. If one of the cards you flip has a kick out symbol, you get out. If none of the three cards you flip has the kick out symbol, you lose. There are match type cards that you can use that change the rules of the match and are just as silly as what happens on television. This is a simple, quick game that gets played often in our house. This is a game that Matthew loves and asks for all the time. That more than any other reason is why this game had to be on this list.

Well, there you go. A list that no one asked for created just because I love playing board games and writing. I hope that you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I may update it in the future if anything changes. Let me know what you think or any questions you have, either through comments here or on Facebook.

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