Friday 2 August 2019

top 50

The last time I did a ranking of games I have played was in 2012, seven years ago. I did a top ten list then. This time I go up to 50. In the new top ten, six games had appeared in the previous top ten. It's either I'm a loyal and sentimental person, or I have not progressed much from seven years ago. I don't have a very scientific method to this. Up to 24 Jul 2019 I have played about 800 games. I first listed them by how many times I have played each, and then I did several rounds of categorisation and elimination. The first round was simply assessing the likelihood that a game would be in my top 50. If I judged it impossible, I put the game in Group 9. If it was a game I loved, I put it in Group 1. Other games I placed into Groups 2 to 8 accordingly. After Round 1, the Group 1 games totaled fewer than 50. The Group 1 + 2 total exceeded 50, so I needed to trim Group 2. I re-examined all groups, reconsidering the Group 1 games too. Gradually I broke them down to smaller groups, e.g. games I felt should be in my top ten, games I felt should be roughly 11-20, and so on. Eventually I did the final ranking within these small groups. The end result was the list below.

I don't play many games, compared to other hardcore gamers. 800 is a crazy number for normal people, but it won't impress gamers. My list does not carry much authority, since there are many games I have not played, including many which are well known and highly regarded. The list is a highly personal one, reflecting my journey as a boardgame player and reflecting my tastes. My judging criteria is all over the place. The first criterion is, of course, I like the game a lot. That's completely subjective - I like it, it makes me happy. Another criterion is I admire the design. I think it's clever, or it's artful. Yet another criterion is I have played the game many times. If I don't get tired of it after many plays, it must be doing something right, e.g. Ascension, Race for the Galaxy, Star Realms. Some games are on the list because of nostalgia, because of memories they gave me. Ra, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, Carcassonne are such games. Some games on the list are not there just for themselves. They also represent their families or multiple versions of the game, e.g. the Axis and Allies series, the Ticket to Ride series, Through the Ages, Power Grid. When I did elimination, I got rid of some games simply because they already had siblings on the list. I made way for more different types of games.

  1. Race for the Galaxy - I played many many games with my wife Michelle. We mostly played the base game and the expansions in the first story arc. We played the advanced 2-player game, with each player choosing two actions. I barely play it now, but it's still one of my favourite games.

  2. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization - This too I have played a lot with my wife. Our games were effectively a peaceful variant, because we didn't attack each other. So our games were distorted, and I never learned to handle warfare properly for normal games.

  3. Sekigahara - A clean and exciting design.

  4. A Few Acres of Snow - I greatly admire how the deck-building mechanism conveys the difficulties of the Britsih and the French in managing this colonial war.

  5. Automobile - Martin Wallace has two games in the top ten, this and A Few Acres of Snow. Automobile is very structured and actions are limited. You need to think hard to make good use of your actions.

  6. Lord of the Rings - This Reiner Knizia cooperative game was published well before cooperative games were a hip thing.

  7. Innovation - Seven years ago when Han, Allen and I did our top ten lists in "simultaneous action selection" fashion, this was the only game that appeared in all three of our top ten lists.

  8. Hammer of the Scots - Inspired by the movie Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson. I loved that movie. Later I found out it was rife with historical inaccuracies. Still, good movie, just that it's historical fiction and not a documentary.

  9. Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal - This kind of represents the Axis and Allies series. This is my favourite in the family.

  10. Love Letter - A microgame that made me happy, and made many people whom I introduced it to happy.

  11. Pandemic Legacy - It was a memorable journey with a group of good friends. It has a place in my heart because of that journey, more than because it represents the Pandemic series.
  12. Agricola - I played a lot of this with my wife.
  13. Carcassonne - This was the game that attracted my wife and my Taiwanese friends to boardgames. I first played it at Witch House cafe, Taipei, and it was Yoyo who taught me the game. It felt weird to me, because at the time I was unfamiliar with Eurogames. I had thought Axis and Allies was the pinnacle of boardgaming. The game grew on me gradually and became one of my most played games.

  14. Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - Excellent spouse game, relatively short, and convenient. Michelle and I played a lot when the children were young. When we dealt the cards quickly, it made Shee Yun laugh. With two players, Ripper Escaping is difficult to do, but also very rewarding. I love this element. It is always tempting. Should you gamble or not? Is your opponent shooting for the moon and do you need to take precautions? Ripper Escaping is easier with more players, which lessens the excitement.
  15. Princes of Florence - Some people label this as the when Eurogames started going down the multiplayer solitaire path, i.e. when things took a wrong turn. I can see how some aspects of the game lack player interaction, but I still think this is a great game. It's a game about good planning, accurate valuation and clever bidding.
  16. In the Year of the Dragon - Stefan Feld is a super star, but his most popular games are just okay for me. My favourite among his designs turns out to be this lesser known title. This game is about disaster management.
  17. Food Chain Magnate - Published by Splotter Games. Time and again I tell myself to try before buy, and time and again they make me regret not buying earlier. I should just preorder any next game they make, even if they say it's a Tic Tac Toe variant. There's a signature in their games. They are unapologetic, brutal, and they basically tell you to swim or die. They don't hold your hands.

  18. Civilization - A old game, and a great game, about the rise and fall of civilisations. And disasters. Holy smokes a lot of disasters.
  19. Ticket to Ride: Switzerland - This represents the series, and this is my favourite among the many variants. I enjoy drawing tickets and feeling lucky when I find that I have already fulfilled some of them. Ticket to Ride was hot when it came out, and it was meh to me when I first played it. It took a while before I started appreciating the simple fun it brings.

  20. Brass: Birmingham - My copy is the original Brass. This is the newer, generally better, version. I treat them as a series. I never tried the Age of Industry series though. I'm not sure how good it is.
  21. Age of Steam - This represents the series and the game system, including expansions not designed by Martin Wallace himself. This is an unforgiving and minimalistic game.
  22. Machi Koro - I had many joyful moments with my two daughters. They loved building fishing boats.

  23. China - By Michael Schacht. This version is now out of print. The first English version was Web of Power. A version later than mine was Han. The most recent version is Iwari. You know a game must be good if it refuses to go out of print for long.

  24. Le Havre - The Uwe Rosenberg game right after Agricola. I might actually like this more than Agricola, just that I hadn't played it as much as Agricola. I enjoy seeing the port city grow. I enjoy seeing how old industries fade, and new industries sprout, and evolve.

  25. Taluva
  26. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation - The Lord of the Rings story condensed into a small package, yet retaining so many important details and so much flavour.
  27. Die Macher - A game very much ahead of its time. It was a long and complex Eurogame, when all Eurogames were short and simple. Also German elections is not exactly a popular setting for boardgames.
  28. Antiquity - Another Splotter game. There is tremendous pressure in the early and mid game as you struggle with depletion of natural resources and pollution. You need to be able to climb out of the downward spiral in order to move towards your win condition.
  29. Twilight Struggle
  30. Indonesia - Another Splotter title.
  31. Glory to Rome - My blackbox edition is a gift from Allen and is now a grail game.
  32. Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition - This list has two games from the Axis and Allies series, which means the series has special meaning to me. Axis and Allies was a game I played even before I was a boardgamer. I first encountered the 1984 edition when I was in primary school. I saw it at a toy shop when I was on holiday with my family in Singapore. It looked amazing, but it was expensive, and we didn't buy it. Many years later, after I had finished my studies and started working, I came across the game again when I was on a training trip to the USA. I happily bought it, and played it with my colleagues. I later got into PC games because I found out there was a PC game version of the game. All these stories are related to the 1984 edition. There are fewer stories related to the anniversary edition, but it is one of my favourite versions of the game.

  33. Here I Stand - Allen, Han and I once spent 9 hours playing this. For a few years we played together regularly. We all liked speed play, so we clicked.
  34. Ticket To Ride - Also a series with two appearances.
  35. Blue Moon
  36. Power Grid and expansions.
  37. Puerto Rico
  38. The Message: Emissary Crisis - I realise it is not easy to teach, but once you internalise the process and the concepts, it is pretty straight-forward. The procedure is simple. What can be confusing are the many situations that may arise and what needs to be done in each situation. Once you are able to play it smoothly, it is a very enjoyable secret identity team game.

  39. Hansa Teutonica - Highly interactive.
  40. Roads & Boats - Yet another Splotter game. There are five on this list.
  41. Attika
  42. 7 Wonders
  43. The Great Zimbabwe - Splotter again.
  44. Panamax - I have only played this once, but somehow I like it a lot.
  45. Vanuatu - The action selection mechanism is full of danger and brutal. One misstep may mean wasting a whole round making no progress.
  46. Three Kingdoms Redux - It's not a wargame. It's a worker placement game. It's a development game. It's fun seeing the many Three Kingdoms era characters come into play.
  47. Quartermaster General - So far I have played two games from the series, and I like the original better.
  48. Star Realms - I have played more than 500 games on the mobile phone.
  49. Ascension - More than 1200 games on the mobile phone. I have never played the physical game.

  50. Ra - A shared memory with my Taiwanese friends. This was a game we played a lot of in my early days in the hobby.

It was fun doing such a top 50 ranking exercise, even though the list is nothing authoritative and may not mean much to others. If the list brings your attention to some lesser known games, and they turn out to be fun for you too, then all the better.


BomberMouse said...

Great list!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hope you found something of interest to try out. :-)

dubs said...

Thanks for sharing as always!

Night Train said...

Great list and commentary. I love the wide variety of games represented here. Here I Stand appears right next to Ticket to Ride. Amazing.