My Top Ten Favorite Games (Nov 2015)

I’ve been wanting to do a rundown of my favorite games, but it’s always a bit odd as the list is ever changing as I play new things. I recently came across a wonderful blog entry by Jamey Stegmaier embracing that change and periodically updating his personal list. So I’m adopting his great idea and will likely be checking in every so often with updates to the below.

Ground rules:

  • This reflects my favorite things to play right now. I love everything on this list. Order is pure personal preference and whole list HIGHLY subject to change, as ten is a small number to cover all the great games I’ve played and something’s bound to be missing.
  • I need to have played something at least twice for it to be eligible. I think something has to hold up to at least a second play to be considered a favorite. So Imperial Assault, Suburbia, Tragedy Looper, and Impulse (and several others) all get automatic honorable mentions. I expect these the first two, at the very least, to jump into the list next time. I also have several interesting looking games I’ve never played in the waiting pile. Should be fun. 🙂
  • Expansions I have are considered with the base game and won’t be listed separately.

10. Alhambra

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A point that will pop up several times in this list is that I love games that are both accessible and deep. Alhambra shines in these respects. The basic mechanics of purchasing tiles and placing them in your own area with the player with the most of each type scoring points is easy to grasp, but the differing distributions and changing costs of tiles keeps things varied and challenging. There are numerous expansions containing several modules that can be swapped in and out to customize things even more exactly to your group’s particular preferences. This is one of my go-to gateway games.

9. Castles of Burgundy

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Castles of Burgundy is unlike any other game I’ve played, and it shines in the unusual way uses dice to determine both which tiles a player can buy and which purchased tiles can be placed on their personal player boards. There are a lot of “moving parts” and things to keep track of, but it’s all logically laid out and intuitive once you get the hang of it. There’s tons of replayability and different viable strategies, even before considering the numerous different player boards available.

8. Pillars of the Earth

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Pillars of the Earth is one of those games that looks VASTLY more complicated than it is. There are a lot of components and mechanics, but it all fits together seamlessly and makes sense. The use of worker cards and execution of resource management is perfectly balanced and well constructed within the theme. Pillars also has the best expansion I’ve ever seen for any game. It adds depth and challenge to the game without losing anything and makes every aspect it touches better. This is always a big hit with my groups and one of the first “heavier” board games we introduce people to.

7. Euphoria

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Stonemaier Games’ second offering, a fantastic dice-as-workers game with an incredibly unique theme of trying to achieve prestige and status in a dystopian world. Little touches like artifact cards depicting objects from today’s world and trying to keep your workers happy and stupid bring the theme to life and it’s very well intertwined with gameplay. Also, the production quality is absolutely unreal, with realistic resources, wooden commodity pieces, wonderful art, etc all making this as great to look at as it is to play.

6. Anima

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It can be hard to capture the feeling of exploration and combat in a card game without getting too bogged down or complicated. Anima and its expansions walk the line perfectly, creating a framework where you’re leveling up your team, gradually facing tougher monsters and opponents, and preparing to defeat the great evil and win the game in a natural progression without needing 100+ page rulebooks. This is the best “simplified” role playing experience I’ve found, and I continue to adore this game years and years after my first play.

5. La Citta

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La Citta is fifteen years old and feels so timeless and classic I’m actually surprised it’s not older. Wonderfully thematic game that combines tile laying and resource management as players try to build the most attractive cities and lure the greatest population (the game’s victory points) to them. Details like needing water sources to grow beyond a certain point, having to produce enough food to feed your population, and a changing priority system signifying what people value most in their cities each round make this a fantastically deep, balanced game.

4. Viticulture

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The debut game from Stonemaier, which instantly made them one of my favorite publishers. Beautifully realized worker placement game that is just completely infused with the unlikely theme of winemaking. The Tuscany expansion adds several great aspects that make it even more amazing, and the game scales incredibly well and feels like the same game no matter the player count. As usual with Stonemaier the production quality is absolutely unreal, with individually shaped building pieces and gorgeous art elevating the immersion.

3. Ghost Stories

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Fantastic co-op game that’s fairly easy to teach but has a lot of variation and depth. Best on its own or with Ghost Moon (Black Secret has fallen flat with my group so far). Notorious for its difficulty, but we’ve found it challenging rather than frustrating. The changing board, player powers and enemy cards make every game significantly different, which greatly aids its longevity. It’s also great to have a go to co-op game on hand, as many of my “non-gamer” friends have really enjoyed trying something that has them working with, rather than against, the rest of the group.

2. The Duke

Game in progress.

I amazed how quick this skyrocketed up my list. The Duke is an incredible two player game with elements of chess reworked into a much more accessible and variable experience. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The combination of each piece having its movement grid printed on it and the fact that the pattern is different on each side is just fantastic, and makes this both incredibly new player friendly and deep.

1. Princes of Florence

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Despite tough competition, Princes of Florence is still my favorite game of all time. It incorporates what’s usually one of my least favorite mechanics (the auction) in a quick and enjoyable way that enhances the balance of differing strategies greatly. The combination of resource management, strategic choices and maximizing opportunities is just perfect and I could (and probably will) play this a million times.

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And that’s a wrap. Will be interesting to track how this list changes in the future. What are everyone else’s favorites?

Looking Ahead: New and Different Board Games

Having too many awesome games to play and try out is a good problem to have. Here are a few games I’m anxiously awaiting an opportunity to try. Each of these has some new twists on established mechanics that seems extremely interesting.

Between Two Cities

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Stonemaier Games previous two games (Viticulture and Euphoria) instantly became favorites of mine, and despite being the first of their games not designed by their founder Between Two Cities looks to keep up their extremely impressive track record. It combines tile laying and drafting, but the real innovation is a concept of “competitive co-op.” Each turn you choose two tiles from your hand and will play one into each city on each side of you. Your opponents will do the same, so you are cooperating with those players to build the cities. There is only one winner however and your score at the end of the game is that of your LEAST valuable city, so balancing things is key.

The idea is fantastic and playtesting feedback and early reviews are very positive about how well it was executed. The fact that other players will always be placing tiles to “your” areas at the same time you do brings discussion and bargaining into the game, which should be a refreshing additional element.

Dark Moon

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I’m a big fan of co-op games with hidden traitor roles, although they can be tough to balance. In addition to having a great, atmospheric sci-fi theme, Dark Moon plays around with different elements of such games in ways I haven’t really seen before. The “uninfected” players are trying to survive through a certain number of game events. The secretly “infected” players are trying to destroy the outpost and doom the crew. When there are more than 1 infected players, they won’t know who each other are. This brings up interesting possibilities of deception and/or working at cross purposes.

But the really interesting part of Dark Moon is that the “voting” system consists of contributing dice to attempt to complete actions or quarantine suspected players. Dice are rolled in secret, but the one you choose to contribute is always public information. This seems to provide a lot more to go on when trying to identify the traitors than normal games of this type, and I’m excited to see how it plays.

Mysterium

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Mysterium is a co-op centered around a group of psychics trying to solve a murder and set a wandering ghost’s soul to rest. All of the co-op games I’ve played so far have either been symmetric (outside of individual player powers) or asymmetric with one player being the villain or game master and the rest working against that player. This is a completely cooperative asymmetric game. There are no traitors, villains or gamemasters among the players, but one player will be the ghost of the departed and is trying to provide clues to the psychics to help them solve the mystery. The theme and setup of the game sound great and I adore the unique take on asymmetry game roles here. Really looking forward to trying it out in both roles.

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Just a quick look at some innovative and intriguing games in the pile. Hope to be back with reviews in the not too distant future. 🙂

Suburbia Board Game First Impressions

I recently picked up Suburbia based on strong reviews and good word of mouth, but didn’t know a lot of details about it going into my first game. We tried it with three players, and all found it as accessible yet satisfying as advertised.

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Suburbia is one of those games that might look daunting at first given the numerous components but is quite straightforward at its core and easy to pick up once you start playing. Nearly every turn consists of picking a tile from the current real estate market (or taking one of three always available basic tiles) and placing it in your play area. That simple. The depth and appeal of the game  come from balancing the benefits and drawbacks of each tile, along with the changing cost as they move along the real estate market track. Wait a bit and you could get a great deal on a powerful tile, but you’ll miss out on it if an opponent decides it’s worth the extra cost.

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Different buildings affect your “income” and “reputation,” which both affect your ability to grow your suburb. All of this combines to draw people in, and “population” is the victory point system for the game. The theme is extremely well integrated and fairly intuitive. For example, airports provide greater income the more airport there are in play, but will “upset residents” and damage your reputation if you place them next to living areas. It’s a nice touch that makes it easier to really get sucked into the game.

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In addition to using the buildings as is, there a couple more options. For just the cost on the real estate track (not paying the base cost of the building) you can take a tile to use as a lake. All tiles have lakes on their backs and all lakes are identical – it gives $2 per adjacent building (other lakes don’t count). Not only is this an interesting strategic income choice, it allows players to “pass” in a way if they need to or potentially block an opponent from getting a valuable building. Each player also has three investment markers to use during the game, which can double the effects of one of their buildings.

The game plays until a certain tile, always placed towards the middle of the final stack, is flipped. When that happens the current round finishes and then everyone gets one more turn. So everyone gets a chance to make a play once they know the game is ending, and all players end up with the same numbers of turns. The number of tiles used varies depending on the number of players. There are also both public and secret bonuses for achieving certain things at the end of the game, like lowest income, most blue buildings, etc. Highest population wins.

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I’m glossing over some details in the mechanics, but I’ve hit the gist. I loved the balance and the strategic choices present while still having some chance involved that forces adaptability. Having some buildings depend on the total number of similar buildings in play, including in your opponents areas, makes you focus on what they’re doing as much as what you’re building. The combination of tile laying and resource management really worked for me, and I can’t wait to play this one again.

“Framed” T-Shirt Tutorial

I have a fondness for t-shirts of all kinds of artistic directions, from pop culture to abstract imagery to designs featuring my favorite pro-wrestlers. Of course I can only wear so many shirts, some no longer fit, and some I hesitate to wear because I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to get them signed, etc. A few years back I came across a great idea for turning such t-shirts into wall art using canvas stretchers. I loved the results and it’s become a hobby of mine, and made several “framed” t-shirts to adorn my walls.

For anyone who may be interested I thought I’d share how, demonstrating with a fun design I picked up to help Cherry Bomb with medical expenses from a recent shoulder injury (which she is thankfully recovering well from), and was lucky enough to get signed at the recent Shimmer tapings. The process is straightforward, just takes a little patience … and a staple gun.

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Materials needed:

  • 4 canvas stretchers (2 of each required length)
  • staple gun
  • staples (I use 3/8″)
  • scissors
  • t-shirt to be framed (obviously 😉 )

Measure the design ahead of time to figure out what size rectangle you’ll need to create. Keep in mind the neck and sleeves of the shirt will limit the amount of border you can have around the design. For this shirt I used 17″ x 14″, so I purchased two canvas stretchers of each length and assembled them together.

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The first pic above is the frame laid over the image, just for reference. Notice it partially covers the image this way, which is fine since the frame is actually placed on the other side of the shirt and the edges of the shirt wrapped around the frame (as shown in the second pic).

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Once the shirt is arranged on the frame to your liking start by stapling the middle of each stretcher. This is to get things in general position and the shirt does not have to be pulled taut here.

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The corners are next. Pull on the corner from behind a bit and flip back and forth to the image side to make sure the image is positioned how you want. Pinch the material at the corner and staple either side. Then flatten or fold the pinched material and staple it down.

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Center staples and all four corners done.

Once the corners are done the rest is simple, but requires care. Each side needs to be completely stapled down, and this is where the material needs to be pulled taught each time. Be sure to constantly check the image side to be sure you’re not distorting or tilting the image as you do so. This is especially important if the design has straight horizontal or vertical lines – it’s easy to turn them curvy if you’re not careful.

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Once all four sides are stapled just cut away the extra material.

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And done. Easy way to turned loved shirts into a kind of keepsake, and fun to decorate with. 🙂

The final result:

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Thanks for checking this out. Hope it proves helpful.

I LOVE ME

So I stumbled upon an interesting link while perusing Twitter that led to a blog entry with the same title that I gave this one. The challenge at the end (as well as the blog itself) was both fascinating and terrifying, and this is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written.

I LOVE my determination to turn setbacks into opportunities.

I LOVE that I know the value of enjoying games and hobbies.

I LOVE my brain and the way it sees the world.

I LOVE my dry, twisted sense of humor.

I LOVE my love and appreciation for art.

I LOVE being a good friend.

I LOVE being able to face my problems with a blend of logic and empathy.

I LOVE being good with children, and my ability to make them smile.

I LOVE the peace I feel from music.

I LOVE that I’m taking steps towards lifelong dreams and goals.

I LOVE that I’m there when my loved ones need me.

I LOVE ME.

I challenge everyone who reads this to write down how they love themselves today.

Now I’m going to hit publish before I succumb to my self-conscious impulse to delete this whole entry. Great exercise in acknowledging the positive though, which we should all do more often.