I’m continuing the countdown of my favorite board games, now with what are currently my top ten of all time! Make sure to check out #30-21 and/or #20-11 if you missed them, but here are the games that rose to the top of my rankings this year.
#10 – Ticket to Ride (NEW)
Calling Ticket to Ride “NEW” to the list is a little bit misleading. It has been in my top ten games for many years now, but was missing from the list last year simply because I did not own it at the time, and I limit this list to games I currently have in my collection. But no worries, it is back in its place now as one of my longest running favorite games. Ticket to Ride is really a relatively light “family weight” board game, but yet I still find it engaging and fun despite it being one of my most played games of all time. The entire game is just taking cards, playing sets of cards, and taking new routes; but the tension of the game comes from the fact that there is incentive to do all three of those actions sooner than later, but you can only choose one on any given turn. Expansion maps have certainly helped keep the game fresh, and I have really enjoyed the UK and Pennsylvania set that puts some interesting twists on the classic formula. I’m sure over time Ticket to Ride will have trouble competing against new, heavier strategy games in my rankings, but for now the elegant simplicity still fires on all cylinders for me.
#9 – Millennium Blades (NEW)
Level 99 Games has a tendency to put a ridiculous amount of content into their games, and Millennium Blades is no exception. In this case though, it is that insane variety that absolutely makes the game work. In total meta style, the game has you actually playing as someone who plays a collectible card game. That’s right, in the game you actually spend money to buy packs, build a deck, and compete in tournaments. It is one of those game design ideas that sounds crazy, and it is amazing that designer Brad Talton was actually able to pull it off. There is a very narrow niche audience for this game, but I happen to fall squarely inside of it. The majority of the game is played in real time as you spend money to buy new cards and try to figure out which ones work together, which is a process that I find supremely enjoyable. Every game uses different sets of cards and there are countless strategies to explore, so I can’t see myself tiring of it anytime soon. It is unlike any other game I’ve ever played, and that is a big reason why it shot up into my top ten so quickly.
#8 – Cosmic Encounter (-3)
Cosmic Encounter is a game that has created more memorable moments than just about any other game I can think of. While it definitely has a higher probability of occasionally falling flat than other tight, restrictive Eurogames, it also has the potential to create simply amazing moments and entertaining situations. I have been spoiled having played the game consistently with the same players so much that it is now hard to bring it out with any other group; it just isn’t the same as playing with a bunch of friends that really know the ins and outs of the game. But when I do get the opportunity to bring it to the table, I know I am getting a unique experience with a new combination of alien powers and other randomized variables that will make the session unlike any game of it so far. The original edition came out in 1977, and it is really remarkable how innovative of a design it was then, and how it remains unique and innovative after 40 years of new board game designs.
#7 – Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) (NEW)
Twilight Imperium is a beast of a game. It is easily the longest game in my collection clocking in at around 8 hours, but it is truly impressive how engaging it remains the entire time. I found it very hard to compare it to other games as it is so large, long, and epic; and really a whole different animal than playing other strategy games. It is a game you schedule an entire day for and make it an “event.” I have to admit that some of the fun comes from that buildup; the scale of things just feels way more epic than any other game in my collection. The game mechanics are solid and interesting in and of themselves, but it is the overarching narrative and story that really gives it the edge over other similar games. It isn’t likely to hit the table often, but when it does, Twilight Imperium is going to offer an experience that I simply cannot get from any other game.
#6 – Mechs vs. Minions (NEW)
When I first heard about Mechs vs. Minions, I can’t say I predicted it to be a successful game. It is the first board game offering from the makers of the uber-popular League of Legends computer game, and it looked like they were just cashing in on the successful brand and using “shiny” and over-produced components to cover up what was likely a pedestrian game design. Boy was that first impression wrong! Mechs vs. Minions is a brilliant cooperative game that revolves around programming mechanized units to move around and kill enemies, while working together to complete the goal for the scenario. The best part is that they managed to keep the rules extremely simple and the play time around only an hour! Despite being one of the largest boxes of any game I own, I find it to be accessible and have taught it with great success to friends with a variety of gaming experience. The core mechanics of drafting new cards and slotting them in your programming line doesn’t seem to get old, and I love that damage in the game comes in the form of “malfunctions” that often make the game more fun and entertaining than if you had avoided getting hit! I have only played half of the scenarios provided with the game, but I am already a total believer and convinced that it deserves every bit of recognition and hype that has come its way.
#5 – Twilight Struggle (-1)
Twilight Struggle is one of the best strategy game experiences that I have found for two players. You definitely have to budget three hours to get through it, but it provides an epic representation of the Cold War with several brilliantly intertwining game mechanisms. I don’t get to play it very often as I have only played with my brother and he is gone at college these days, but when I do have the opportunity, I love experiencing the escalating tension and strategy that Twilight Struggle has in spades. “Wargames” aren’t generally a genre that draws me in, but I am glad I pulled the trigger on this one because it is truly a sublime game.
#4 – Mage Knight (+6)
Mage Knight is the second longest game in my collection, only bested by Twilight Imperium, and it has to be one of the most difficult to learn from the massive rulebook with tiny font packed into page after page. That said, Vlaada Chvátil has created an epic adventuring experience around a deck-building mechanic, and it provides a satisfying progression as your character “levels up” and gets more powerful over the course of the game. Mage Knight is also the only game from last year that actually moved up in my rankings. Why? I finally tried the cooperative scenarios. I now feel that the game is at its best in the cooperative modes as players can collaborate to resolve complex battles and scenarios instead of waiting for opponents and not wanting to help them. It also keeps you more interested in other players’ turns and adds new interesting decision making as the group discusses the best way to split and conquer the map. I am now itching to pick up the Lost Legion expansion which adds a bunch of new content and more dedicated cooperative scenarios, but even with just the base game, I am eager to find a time to play this one again.
#3 – Terra Mystica (+0)
Terra Mystica is a perfect example of one of those “heavier eurogames” that fits squarely inside the category of more strategic games that hit the spot for me. It provides an awesome resource management engine as you try to expand your structures on the map, and great player interaction as you compete over limited board space. Throw in variable player abilities with each player having a unique race with its own powers and variations, and you have an extremely replayable game that gives you a nice meaty puzzle for your brain to chew on. Despite being a longer game and heavy on the strategy, I actually have had a lot of success teaching this game to new players as it has fairly intuitive actions available each turn and nice short-term goals to work towards such as building your larger structures, doing actions that take advantage of the round bonuses, and working towards creating a town. The Fire and Ice expansion makes the game even better, and I find it to be a game that I love playing even if I don’t feel that I am winning.
#2 – Eldritch Horror (+0)
Another year passes, and Eldritch Horror still holds the spot as my favorite cooperative game. The biggest strength of the game is its sheer variety: every game has a different Ancient One that changes the rules with its own abilities and decks, each player gets their own unique investigator, and there are tons of decks of items and encounters that ensure that each game plays out differently. Much of the game is simply rolling dice to resolve checks, but it always tells a story and gives players the opportunity to amazingly beat the odds or fail miserably in comic fashion. I love how the game starts out calm and slowly turns from bad to worse as the players work together to try to eliminate the biggest threats and make progress towards solving the Ancient One’s mysteries. It is going to be tough for another cooperative game to surpass Eldritch Horror for me, and it doesn’t make it any easier when I slowly add in new expansions that keep the game fresh and put the variety through the roof.
#1 – Agricola (+0)
And yes, Agricola still holds its spot as my favorite game. In fact, the top 3 (Terra Mystica, Eldritch Horror, and Agricola) all managed to hold onto their spots from last year. Agricola’s core system is rooted in heavily strategic resource management as you work to build up your farmyard while scraping by to feed your family. The heavy strategy already makes it a game I am bound to like, but the X factor that raises Agricola above the rest is the cards. Every game you get fourteen cards out of a gigantic (especially with expansions) stack, and in that hand of cards are options for strategies and combinations that you have never encountered in any previous game. A recurring theme you will see in my favorite games is my love for variable setup and elements that change from game to game, and the cards in Agricola just knock that out of the park while layering it on top of an already satisfying strategic building experience. The board game industry is booming and tons of amazing games are coming out every year, and it will be interesting to see over time if there are games that can best Agricola in maximizing the aspects that I love in a board game. But for now, I haven’t found one that beats the overall satisfaction that I get from playing this game.
And that’s it! Every year I add to my board game collection (as well as sell/trade games for a variety of reasons), and I keep up to date on all of the options that are out there in the world of modern board gaming and which ones I might like best or may fill a niche in what I own. There were many new games to the list this year, and there likely will be next year as well. Which games will hold their own or even improve their ranking? It will be fun to see, and I’ll back for this process again next August!