Sunday 26 February 2012

our top 10 lists

To spice things up a little here, and also for my own interest, I decided to do a top ten list comparison among my most regular gaming buddies. I asked both Han and Allen to share with me their top 10 games and do write-ups about the kinds of games they like. We did our lists in simultaneous selection fashion, not knowing what others were going to put in their lists. I will start with Han's write-up, then move on to Allen's, and finally end with my own. This was an interesting exercise for me, and I hope you will find it entertaining too.

Han says...

Top ten games:

  1. Here I Stand
  2. Twilight Struggle
  3. War of the Ring
  4. Through the Ages
  5. Mage Knight
  6. Risk Legacy
  7. Nightfall
  8. Innovation
  9. Britannia
  10. A Few Acres of Snow

Here I Stand.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Chaos in the Old World
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. Maria
  4. Successors
  5. Arkham Horror
  6. Hammer of the Scots

Types of games I like:

Dudes on a map:
  • The dudes-on-a-map type of game is my first love. The best thing in life is “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women”, said one famous Cimmerian.
  • Risk Legacy is one of the most innovative designs in 2011. I started playing this game on 1 Jan 2012. It’s a joy every time we reveal another pack, tear up a card or apply a sticker. We now only have the World Capitol pack and the last pack unopened. WHAT IS DONE CANNOT BE UNDONE. So what if you'll only play the game 15 times (game components will not be modified anymore after 15 games)? How many games can boast 15 plays anyway?
  • I have 3 other Risk variations in my collection - Lord of the Rings, 2210 AD and Star Wars. I will rank Star Wars the highest among these, but it’s mostly a 3-players game, with cool powers and different strategies for each faction.
  • Axis & Allies is another prominent franchise in this genre. Hiew is a diehard fan. I only have the Anniversary edition. We have only ever done online games, but those 2 sessions that we played were exciting.
Horror games:
  • I am a horror fan, both movies and books, especially the subgenre of zombies, even before zombies became the "in" thing nowadays. Unfortunately, horror-themed games are difficult to do well. You can’t put cheap scares or gore or convoluted plot twists in a boardgame. It is difficult to create a scary atmosphere using just a few lines of description and flavor text.
  • For me, Arkham Horror is probably the best horror game (I only have the base game and have yet to try Mansion of Madness). Last Night On Earth can be fun but is not very deep. Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead is mostly solitaire stuff. Where did the tagline come from anyway? Diplomacy with the dead? What diplomacy?
  • Zombie movies are the poor man's horror movies because the special effects are simple. Video and mobile gaming is flooded with zombie-themed games, and there are many print-and-play zombie-themed boardgames too. Strange coincidence, right?
  • Let me explain my fascination with zombies. It’s the ultimate symbol of human mindlessness and extreme materialism turned cannibalism. In any horror film, no human can hope to overcome the monster, be it vampire, werewolf, alien, demon, etc. But in a zombie apocalypse, you can always fight back or outrun the zombie, but the future is bleak with hordes of undead roaming the world and you cannot run forever. The great novels / comics / movies about zombies are always about how the humans survive in this undead apocalypse; about the best and worst in human nature coming out when society collapses, and all those Lord of the Flies stuff.
  • There are some other interesting upcoming releases like Dark, Darker, Darkest; I am also waiting for the iOS release of Victory Point Games' Dawn of the Zed.
  • Cave Evil deserves a mention for disturbing artwork.
Historical wargames:
  • Military history is also one of my interests, although I am not a grognard by any means. I haven’t really tried any hex-and-counter, CRT-loaded wargames. All the wargames I enjoy are either CDG's (card-driven games), block games or hybrid wargames.
  • I like epic grand strategy history games, to see empires wax and wane and cities fall and rise, huge armies rampaging and clashing. Britannia is a good example here, I have played all 4 colours at least once.
  • CDG's put a lot of events into play without bloating the rules. I particularly like the Twilight Struggle system where an opponent's event will occur even if you are the one playing it for operation points. It creates more angst and more difficult decisions as opposed to just playing enemy events as points.
Fantasy / dungeon crawlers:
  • Lord of the Rings brought elves, dwarves and orcs to the world, and I can still remember the first few times I played War of the Ring. It was intoxicating, like the book coming alive, an epic 6 hours for my first game; I do hope I can play this game more.
  • Dungeon crawling is also the hallmark of geekhood / nerdism. I once read an article describing why RPG's (role-playing games) appeal to social misfits such as geeks. We imagine ourselves as fearless barbarians, noble knights, powerful wizards and such, going forth and battling dragons which represent everything wicked in our lives: bullies at school, social awkwardness … and this also explains why sports games don’t appeal to geeks.

War of the Ring - fantasy and dudes-on-a-map.

  • Civilization building is yet another love of many gamers. The holy grail of civ building games is forever a topic of contention, but for me, Through the Ages comes close to claiming that. Despite an abstracted military and a total removal of the map, it manages to capture the spirit of Sid Meier’s PC game very well. The FFG version is more a race than an epic game.
  • Innovation surprises me with its wild and whacky powers especially at the later ages.
  • I tried Twilight Imperium 3 once, although I didn't complete the game. I can see the appeal but that game is difficult to bring to the table due to game length. I haven’t tried the newer Eclipse yet.

I guess it’s fairly obvious I am AT (Ameritrash) guy. I will play any cube-pushing Euro, no problem, just that I am less likely to buy them, that’s all.

I put Here I Stand as my number one because of all the effort involved in doing a full game (3-players), the reading of rules by everyone beforehand, time allocation (9-hour session for 3 busy adults who have wives and children), the discussion afterwards. It’s pure joy! I can still remember the game vividly. It’s not only about the game; it’s also about the players whom you play with. Good gaming, everyone.

Allen says...

I was requested by Hiew to provide a write-up on my top 10 games of all time. I have a hard time remembering games that I’ve played. In fact I can barely remember what had happened after my gaming sessions. I have to take my hats off to all the guys who can write long and interesting session reports with all the minor details in them.

I have played many different games with my group and most have been played only once or twice. There are some games that I really like after the first play but I’m not sure if I’ll still like them after repeated plays. With that being said, there are some games that really stood out after a few plays and I can vividly remember the enjoyable time I had playing them. So here is the list of my top 10 games of all time (with more than 3 plays).

Top ten games:

  1. Innovation
  2. Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game
  3. Maria
  4. Acquire
  5. Le Havre
  6. Automobile
  7. Troyes - Mostly played online, I was once in the top 3 at
  8. Dominant Species
  9. Samurai
  10. Struggle of Empires



Most of the games in my top 10 were first played in 2011, but there is one game that has a special place in my heart - Acquire. It is the first game that got me hooked into the world of gaming and I like it so much that I’ve acquired 5 copies of different versions of the game (1962, 1972, 1995, 1999 and 2008). Although I hardly play this game nowadays, I will gladly bring it out to teach new gamers if I get the chance to do so.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Mage Knight (1 play)
  2. Here I Stand (1 play)
  3. Successors (2 plays)
  4. After the Flood (3 plays)
  5. Liberte (1 play)
  6. Merchants & Marauders (3 plays)
  7. Sekigahara (1 play)
  8. Glory to Rome (>3 plays)
  9. Agricola (>3 plays)
  10. 7 Wonders (>1000+ plays, mostly playing with AI's)

On dice, cards, randomness and luck:

  • I used to hate too much luck and randomness in games. The Settlers of Catan was the first Euro game that I bought and it was also the very first game that I traded away because I felt that it was too random.
  • It is quite ironic because my favorite game of all time is Innovation, which some complained of being a very random game. I guess my tastes have shifted after all these years.
  • Another element in games that I like is the dice and cards. In fact The Settlers of Catan has it all (dice, cards, randomness and luck), but I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to play that game again.
  • Glory to Rome is also one of the games that I really like that is very random.

Martin Wallace:

  • I’m a big fan of his designs, in fact I’ll even play any crappy game that he designs.
  • I guess me and his designs really click. So far I own 9 games by him and will continue to hunt for some of his older games (After The Flood and God’s Playground).

Automobile, by Martin Wallace.

Historical wargames:

  • I used to hate war themed games. Twilight Struggle is one of the games that I traded away after one play. CDG is a mechanic that I despised in the past but this year (2011) after playing Here I Stand and Successors, I began to appreciate its beauty.
  • My interest in historical wargames began this year, thanks to my gaming buddies who are willing to invest their time to play.
  • Maria is one of my favorite games of 2011 even though I have never won a single game.

I’m not really sure how to classify myself as a gamer (AT or Euro) because I will play any type of game and I’ll most likely enjoy myself. I guess I can be classified as a ‘game taster’ because I like to ‘taste’ different types of games, although there are some games that I won't add to my collection (Risk Legacy for example).

If I were to choose a single game to play for the rest of my life, I would certainly choose Innovation. This shows how much I love this game. I will always request it if we have some time to spare and if I’m asked to suggest a game. I hope they will release it on iOS so that I can play it all the time.

Hiew says...

Top ten games:

  1. Through the Ages - My ideal civ game. There is long-term planning and long-term strategy. You need to keep tabs on every aspect of your civilisation and not let any part fall behind and drag you down. You need to keep upgrading your civilisation to remain competitive.
  2. Race for the Galaxy - Compact, decision-packed card game.
  3. Le Havre - I like the long-term planning aspect. The game telling the story of a developing port city is a bonus.
  4. Automobile - Few actions but much thought required to fully utilise every action. Tight game.
  5. Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition - The Axis & Allies series is special to me because I liked Axis & Allies (1984 version) long before I became a boardgame hobbyist. I still think it is a great game now that I am exposed to many more games.
  6. Innovation - Many possibilities, lots of potential for twists of fate.
  7. China - Succinct, clever game. Fulfilling despite being a quick game.
  8. Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - Excellent when played as a two-player game. Gambling on Ripper escaping is fun. Hard to pull off, but exhilarating when you do.
  9. Lord of the Rings - Cooperative game. Difficult to learn by yourself, which is unusual, given that this is a Reiner Knizia game. The tile draws and die rolls are exciting, but despite these elements, there is much planning to do and many tough decisions to make.
  10. Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal - I have only played this once, but I really really enjoyed that game. It may drop off the top 10 list after my second play, but for now it belongs here because of that one great game.

Through the Ages

Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal

Honourable mentions:

  1. Die Macher
  2. Age of Steam
  3. Hammer of the Scots
  4. Merchants & Marauders
  5. Carcassonne - Many many plays, and I still think it's a great game.
  6. Brass
  7. Ticket to Ride: Switzerland - My favourite among the Ticket to Ride games. I get a kind of perverted joy when I draw tickets that are already completed, which happens more often in this version.
  8. Here I Stand (1 play) - That one play made me realise how I actually don't mind luck in games as much as I had thought I did, as long as a game delivers a good story and an immersive experience.
  9. A Few Acres of Snow - I have played this 5 times now, and I have enjoyed myself a lot. Still keen to play more.
  10. Antiquity (1 play) - Need. To. Get. A. Copy.

Some of these honourable mentions are not in the top 10 simply because I have not played them enough or I have not played them frequently enough, so I don't feel I have a solid opinion of them yet.

Heavy Eurogames, mostly

  • I have always thought of myself as primarily a heavy Eurogames guy, so one sub-topic is probably sufficient for me. I like challenging games, games that require you to plan, to consider various possibilities, to strategise. I generally like the Euro design approach, which generally means low luck, and streamlined - the "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler" mentality. Low luck means your decisions and actions matter. Rules being streamlined means you are spending less effort on "maintenance" and "overhead" and more effort on actually playing and strategising. A good game should be lean and concise, but that does not necessarily mean it is has to be simple or short. China is very lean and compact, and I'd say Automobile is too, despite the different game lengths. Through the Ages is a little fiddly because of the tiny wooden markers you need to shift around, but compared to other civ games that try to achieve the scope and width of human civilisation, it brings out that civ feeling very successfully in a pretty compact time.
  • The fantasy theme, space theme, horror theme, medieval trading (heh heh) don't particularly interest me, but I don't dislike them either. The civ theme, history and warfare interest me somewhat, but in the end it is the game mechanism that must be interesting and must work for me to like a game.
  • I have always thought of myself as anti-luck and anti-randomness, but two games threw that theory out the window - Innovation and Here I Stand. Innovation has wild swings. In Here I Stand, sometimes even one die roll can be very critical. I think the reason I still like these games is at the macro level I always feel there are things I can do to improve my situation. I still feel that my decisions matter, or at least they had mattered earlier in the game, i.e. I was the one responsible for getting myself stuck in an irrecoverable situation.


If I compare all three lists, Innovation is the only game that appears 3 times. Through the Ages, Le Havre and Automobile appear twice. If I consider the honourable mentions, Maria, Hammer of the Scots, Successors, Here I Stand, Mage Knight, Merchants & Marauders and A Few Acres of Snow all have more than one appearance.

1Here I StandInnovationThrough the Ages
2Twilight StruggleSid Meier's Civilization: The Board GameRace for the Galaxy
3War of the RingMariaLe Havre
4Through the AgesAcquireAutomobile
5Mage KnightLe HavreAxis & Allies: Anniversary Edition
6Risk LegacyAutomobileInnovation
8InnovationDominant SpeciesMystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
9BritanniaSamuraiLord of the Rings
10A Few Acres of SnowStruggle of EmpiresAxis & Allies: Guadalcanal

In our group, Han tends to be the one buying the more complex wargames and AT games. Allen buys all sorts of games and (at least from past record) is the most trigger-happy. Well, he started boardgaming later than Han and I, so it's understandable that one's game collection grows rapidly during the formation years right? I'm the only one who tries to self-enforce a quota. I realise that a significant portion of games that I buy are either games that I can play with my children, or games I can play with my wife. That's because between Han, Allen and I we have more than enough games to pick from for our regular sessions. In fact, we always have a backlog of unplayed games to "work on".

We rarely coordinate our game purchases, and yet usually end up buying different games. Because of our different buying habits, we get to try many games that we would not have been able to try otherwise. I certainly had a number of interesting discoveries, like Famiglia (via Allen) and Successors (via Han).

Successors (3rd edition)


I realise after all that rambling there is not much to conclude about. But it was an interesting exercise for me because despite playing together regularly, we've never discussed our top tens. In fact, I haven't seriously thought about my own top ten before. Have you thought about your top ten, and what your favourite types of games are?

18 Feb 2012. Left to right: Han, me, Allen's son Ethan, and Allen. I didn't ask Ethan to write a top ten list because I think he still needs to complete his first ten list.

Han is now away from Kuala Lumpur on a one-year overseas assignment, and Allen and I will miss him dearly, especially the lamentations of his women.


SuperEliteGames said...

I never thought about my top ten either.
... guess now I have something to think about...

Anonymous said...

Long time reader first time commenter. I have been gaming since 2004 and am an active member of boardgamegeek. As such I regularly update my top 10 games and enjoy tracing my gaming tastes and trends over time.

Currently my favorite games are (in order): Container, Commands and Colors Ancients, Fresh Fish, Reef Encounter, Dominant Species, Greed Inc., Cavum, Chicago Express, Memoir 44, Genoa.

The above lists shows a tendency toward spatially dynamic games with lots of interaction and non-zero sum solutions. I typically don't care for party games or traditional war-games (though the C&C system is fantastic) and while I appreciate the contributions of games like Settlers of Catan and Acquire I find both have been surpassed within the last decade.

One side note: I am surprised that none of you mentioned Indonesia as it graces the top of your site.

Happy Gaming!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have played Container once and quite like it too. Fresh Fish is also quite unique, although the components are below average. I often find Friedemann Friese games interesting theme-wise, but other than Power Grid, I don't seem to actually like them much. Fresh Fish is one of the exceptions.

I quite like Indonesia, but have not really played enough of it. I use a photo of it as my header background because I think it's a good representation of heavy Eurogames.

deck said...

Very nice post. Good to read what you all like and why.

As an aside, I recently discovered that Book Depository, which the online store where I usually buy most of my books, is now offering a very limited selection of boardgames. The incredible thing is that they claim to be offering free worldwide shipping for everything. I can understand how this is possible for books, but boardgames?

Anyway, I have no idea how this compares to other places price-wise. Just thought you might want to know.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks Wan. I just checked their boardgame range, and they have some non-mainstream games but the range is nothing fancy. Prices are a little higher than US online stores, but with the free shipping I think they are cheaper. Didn't find anything in particular I wanted to buy though.

Anonymous said...

Awesome lists love the selection :)

Tom H said...

Found this blog while trying to learn about Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Some really thoughtful insights without getting too far in the weeds. I think it's easy to say this gets put on my favorites. Top 10 huh? In no order:

Axis & Allies - all the global ones, although the regionals such as Pacific 1940 are alot of fun.

Space Hulk - Quick to learn, you can customize your own games, and quick to play. Out of print and highly sought after by collectors, though.

Shanghai Trader - You need to play it a few times to get it down since the rules can be ambiguous. Run rackets and interfere with your opponents. Rack up as much cash as possible and try to escape with your life before the Boxer Rebellion hits.

Blackbeard: Golden Age of Piracy - Run around looting ports and ships, sent privateers and navies after your opponents. Alot of rules, but flows well once you get the hang of it.

7 Wonders: I can play game after game of this one.

Battlestar Galactica: The deception, suspicion, accusations...simply awesome.

Diplomacy: I played it only once, and it took forever. Rules are pretty simple, and players move simultaneously. Most time is spent away from the board negotiating/lying to other players.

Illuminati: Tongue in cheek card game about building a powerful organization to rule the world. Plenty of laughs.

Munchkin: I played this constantly in college, and had alot of fun. It's fun to win, but more fun to mess with others.

Axis & Allies Guadalcanal

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks Tom for the list. I have never heard of Shanghai Trader before and it sounds mighty interesting! I looked up BGG. Looks like it out of print unfortunately.

Also I recently managed to bring out Axis & Allies Guadalcanal again, and had a great game.