I’m continuing the countdown of my favorite board games, check out #30-21 if you missed it! Reminder that each title shows its position relative to last years rankings, or if it is new to the list.
#20 – Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (-9)
I am a big fan of cooperative games, and Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is the first to make the list. The “survival on a deserted island” theme really works well for a cooperative board game, and it offers nice variety with several different scenarios that you can play. I enjoy when cooperative games are really difficult as it makes winning that much sweeter, and Robinson Crusoe definitely nails that “things going from bad to worse” aspect while keeping everything very thematic. The game has a lot of strategy and also a lot of luck; but it all works together nicely as you feel like things are outside your control, but you can always choose how you strategically respond to the unknowns.
#19 – Ghost Stories (-3)
Speaking of ridiculously difficult cooperative games, Ghost Stories might be the king in that category. Despite being one of the first cooperative games that I ever purchased, Ghost Stories still remains high in my rankings as it consistently delivers a quick and exciting co-op experience. Each turn is a tactical puzzle on how to best play the odds to give the team the best chance of surviving. Often times the “right choice” can be spoiled by a bad roll of the dice, but there are also times where the dice come through for you against all odds. Often times the team is on the brink of death as they reach the final boss, and all you can do is set up one player to get one last shot at attacking him. But man, when you manage to pull it off, it makes for one of the most climactic finishes in board games.
#18 – The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (-5)
Continuing on this stretch of cooperative games, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is one of my favorites to play with just two players. I always have enjoyed games in the vein of Magic: The Gathering where you customize a deck and then use it in a game of clever card play and combos. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game takes that formula and makes it cooperative, with each player trying to help the other overcome the obstacles that the game throws your way. The game never really gets old because you can always build new decks, and there are many scenarios to play against. And if I do happen to have an itch for some new content, there is no shortage of expansions available for reasonable prices. Fantasy Flight’s living card games can definitely be a money sink, but with the right approach they are a great way to enjoy a game system and always have the opportunity to inject some new flavor.
#17 – PitchCar (-5)
While my favorite types of board games tend to be heavily strategic, I will always have a soft spot for dexterity games. PitchCar is one of the best I have played in the genre, as it is pure fun to flick your race car around the track. Unlike strategy games where the amazing moments are bounded by rules and mathematical relationships, a game like PitchCar is governed only by the world of physics, which means there is always opportunity for amazing shots that seemed impossible. My current housing setup doesn’t lend itself well to playing PitchCar much these days, but just thinking about it makes me want to get it to the table and I imagine it will remain in my collection for a long time.
#16 – The Castles of Burgundy (-2)
For a lot of people, theme is a huge determining factor in their enjoyment of a game. While I enjoy a good theme, I have to admit that I am much more enthralled by game mechanics, and couldn’t care less about theme if the game gives me a system with interesting decisions and puzzles. Stefan Feld is one of the kings of mechanic-driven Eurogames, and sadly, The Castles of Burgundy is the only design of his that I have played. The game has such a nice flow to it as you simply roll your two dice each round, and then try to come up with the most efficient way to utilize your roll to meet your goals. It is no doubt a “point salad” where stumbling aimlessly will still cause you to score left and right, but it offers a wealth of interesting tradeoffs as you add tiles to your estate and try to complete regions. Certainly not a flashy game, but it is one that I really enjoy.
#15 – Tichu (-8)
Whenever I rank my top games, Tichu feels like an underdog, trying to secure its place among the bigger and more impressive games in my collection. But what Tichu is able to accomplish, with what is almost a standard deck of playing cards, is really remarkable. I don’t often get the opportunity to play a full game of Tichu as it requires exactly four players that ideally are familiar with the game, but when I do get the chance it always reminds me of how much I enjoy the game. The scoring and intricacies of the tactics and strategy give so much depth to this small game that it still holds its own against the heavyweights of my collection.
#14 – Dungeon Fighter (-6)
I love dexterity games and I love cooperative games, so Dungeon Fighter definitely has a lot going for it on this list. It is a game that I think is criminally underrated as it gets brushed off as just silly randomness. My experience could not be more different as my group has become extremely skilled and have used it as a “gamer’s filler” for several years now. The variety in cards and effects is great for keeping things fresh, and it is easy to teach new people as well. I have yet to play Dungeon Fighter with someone who did not enjoy it, and its versatility in fitting sessions with gamers just as well as with non-gamers is a big reason why it continues to rank so high on my list.
#13 – Escape: The Curse of the Temple (-4)
Ten minutes of frantic dice rolling and panicked communication between players. That is the experience that Escape: The Curse of the Temple offers, and while it is nowhere near the strategic offerings that tend to hit home for me, I just cannot deny the fun I have playing this game. Admittedly, expansions are a big reason why this game has stayed fresh after a ton of plays, but I just get such a concentrated dose of enjoyment whenever this one hits the table. The fact that it is cooperative certainly helps as well, and you have to love a game that is guaranteed to only last ten minutes.
#12 – Roll for the Galaxy (NEW)
My most played game of all time is Race for the Galaxy, but it was a game that I only played two-player with my brother as it was too much of a hassle to teach many other people. This year I ended up selling it to my brother (which, spoiler alert, removes it from eligibility on this list), and purchased Roll for the Galaxy with the hope that it would be a more approachable way to provide a similar experience. For the most part, Roll for the Galaxy accomplished exactly that. It is a game with a lot of strategy and deep decisions, while playing in under an hour once all players know how to play. However, it is actually different enough from Race for the Galaxy that I think owning both is completely justified. I am looking forward to exploring this game more, the simple mechanics around rolling your dice and trying to allocate them among the phases that may or may not trigger that round is fascinating and addictive.
#11 – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (NEW)
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is probably the most unique game in my collection. It is less of a board game, and more of an immersive choose-your-own-adventure that puts you right into the shoes of a detective trying to solve a case. Each case can only be played once, but that play-through is an entire evening of trying to figure out how different pieces of information might fit together to explain the events that took place. Just when you think you have a good theory, you find a new piece of evidence that completely changes everything. Finally you go to answer the questions at the end of the case and the excitement builds as you see how well you were able to figure everything out. If you ever have wanted to solve a mystery and “play” Sherlock Holmes, you absolutely have to try this game because it is the only way I know of to get a crime-solving experience that is so authentic.
Man, that is great grouping of games, but there are ten that I consider even better! Check it out in my #10-1 post.