Alright, let’s wrap this thing up! 10 games to go, the 10 that currently constitute my absolute favorites!
Number 10 — Deus
My process for ranking games produced a few surprises, and the position of Deus was one of them. The game came onto the scene in a storm at Essen 2014, was not available anywhere for a long time, then once it was available, it promptly vanished from game tables. This is unfortunate, because Deus is an excellent little game that combines careful planning, resource management, board control, hand management, and clever card play.
Each turn, players either play a card and add it to their tableau, or discard cards and redraw. Playing a card allows placement of one of six different types of “buildings” onto the board. More importantly, it activates the card’s text. The trick is that when a subsequent card of the same color is played, it will activate not only its own text, but the text of all cards of that type previously played. This makes for some interesting combinations, but careful planning is required in order to get them to work in the most effective means possible. The alternative, discarding cards, also give players a way to replenish resources and to get more cards for a future turn. For example, you can use discarding to get money, resource tokens, points, or more buildings to build in future turns.
The game plays very quickly, and it is always engaging. Some of the card effects keep things interactive, and the game is colorful and attractive. It is not too heavy, and even though the theme is non-existant, the game is just so much fun to play!
Now, lest I be accused of being too positive, there are several negative aspects to Deus, all of which have to do with the utter lack of quality control that went into producing it. For example, “mountain” is misspelled on most of the cards. The cardboard for the player displays is folded in half, which serves no purpose and makes them feel flimsy. The cards are also a bit thin, and the wood pieces are quite generic. However, the most inexcusable of the component problems in the game is the use of green icons on the cards to represent wood, but using brown disks to represent wood in the game. This causes needless confusion. I “upgraded” my copy by buying a set of green disks from a game supply store, but that is the kind of “upgrade” that really should not needed.
For me, Deus is an example of a game that is not perfect, but the amount of enjoyment I find from it takes it up to another level. And while I would welcome a nicer edition of the game, even as it is, it is excellent. Do not be dissuaded by how it looks, Deus produces a singular game experience unlike anything else I have have found elsewhere.
Number 9 — Memoir ’44
Memoir ’44 is nonetheless a fascinating gem. I remember first seeing the box for this and saying “That looks really boring!” And it does. But I’m sure glad I gave it a try.
Memoir ’44 is a game that simulates battles from World War II. Essentially, the game sees each player take an opposing side (e.g. British v. Germans) and attempt to win key battles. The game is scenario driven and comes with a small book of battle scenarios, each with different objectives and slight rule variations. Generally, players play to a certain number of points. Points can be scored either by killing enemy units of achieving certain scenario objectives.
Battle is very simple: players roll dice, and each die face that matches their target counts as a hit. Unit life is represented by plastic figures (e.g. tanks or soldiers). When the last figure is removed, that unit is defeated.
Additionally, the historical details and background are presented for each scenario, helping players to get involved in the theme. Also, Days of Wonder has historically done well at supporting it with many expansions and additional scenarios. And although nothing new has come out for a while, but the large number of existing scenarios and different armies still ensure that the game never gets old.
Now, while at its heart Memoir ’44 is a two player game, it can actually be played by either 2 players or 8 players. The 8-player overlord scenarios are also a ton of fun, with two 4-player teams going head to head. While many 2-player games feel stretched when they are forced into teams, Memoir ’44 actually shines best when played in Overlord mode. Unfortunately, a group of 8 players willing to go through a World War II battle is somewhat hard to find, and the scenarios take up more table space than most people have…fortunately my new game table is the perfect size for Overlord!
The only real drawback of Memoir ‘44 is that it can take a long time to set up and is really impossible to store. There are also lots of rules for terrain and units, but the game has done a good job of providing well-organized reference cards that make this manageable.
At its heart, Memoir ’44 is a wargame done right. I’m sure hardcore wargamers would disagree, but they aren’t writing this blog (or reading it for that matter)! It allows players the thrill of recreating a battle, the historical flavor, the uncertainty – but it does so without becoming needlessly complicated. And because it’s made by Days of Wonder and not GMT, the production values are high – the game looks great, plays smoothly, and gives a ton of flavor and variety in a short amount of time.
The game is part of a series of games that includes BattleLore and Commands and Colors, but I think Memoir ’44 does it best. However, I may someday replace it with BattleLore on the list if BattleLore gets a little more growth.
I love nearly everything about Memoir ’44. It’s immersive, simple, great fun, and looks great on the table. Above all, it is fun to play and easy to learn and teach. Yet despite the simplicity of the rules, the game is engaging and challenging each time it comes out. It’s a game I really would never turn down.
Number 8 — Galaxy Trucker
Galaxy Trucker is a game I think should be talked about more and played by more people. The game is frantic, chaotic, and utterly enjoyable.
Effectively, the game features several two-part rounds. In the building phase, lots of square tiles are dumped facedown onto the table. Players grab furiously at them, trying to find pieces that will fit and connect in their ships. The rules are pretty simple: connectors have to match, engines have to point backward and can’t have anything directly behind them, and guns can’t have anything right in front of them. The rest…well it’s best left to the players to figure out how to place them. The building round is timed, and there is pressure to finish quickly, as the first person done has significant advantages (initially) in the flight half of the round.
After this, the flight portion of the round begins. Players will fly through space by resolving a deck of cards. Some events are positive (such as allowing players to collect money or resources), but many are disastrous. Depending on the round and the expansions used, the list of potential calamities includes pirates, slavers, meteor storms, enemy fire, viruses, explosions, saboteurs, and predators. Each calamity can be combated in some way, provided a player placed the proper component on his ship.
Most of these are resolved by rolling dice, which determines the location of the misfortune. Players are allowed to look at most of the upcoming cards in the building round, though this consumes their time, but this allows players to anticipate what they will need to include in their ship to be successful.
If your ship does not get destroyed, you arrive to your destination at the end of the round, where you are able to deliver your goods for money. Players also receive bonuses for certain achievements, such as having the best-looking (usually read least-damaged) ship and arriving first at the destination. Players must also pay penalties for damage taken to their ships along the way.
The game is super crazy and very chaotic. And as I have said before, there is a subset of gamers who will not like it…gamers who don’t like fun. Because that’s all this game is: fun fun fun from start to finish! You will fight each other for ship tiles, shout at each other, franticly turn tiles trying to find the perfect fit and then realize you’re out of time and there’s only one crewmember aboard…many times you feel you are at the mercy of the game…and to that I wholeheartedly agree. And that is the fun of the game. It is less about winning and more about having a fast-paced adventure in space. Sure, you know you’ll be blown apart by asteroids and plundered by pirates, so sit back and enjoy it.
Galaxy Trucker also features a fantastic iOS version. The game implements the chaos and fun of the base game in a new, convenient, and fool-proof format. It is a great way to experience the base game, though many of the expansions are not yet available. However, if you need a little quick chaos, the iOS version does not disappoint!
Actually, whether physical or digital, Galaxy Trucker never disappoints. It is a hilarious game that I am always, always, always eager to play.
Number 7 — Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
One of the most visually stunning games to come out ever, Ashes is a new game, but a very strong one. The game is yet another iteration of a dueling wizard game, in which players summon creatures and cast spells to attack their opponent. In this extremely crowded genre, it takes a lot to stand out. But Ashes has what it takes.
A few game design choices made by the designer really set Ashes apart from the crowd. First of all, Ashes uses dice to represent the resource needed to cast spells. Each player has a pool of 10 dice from (currently) 4 different types. Customizing your dice pool is part of building your deck, so you can select which types of magic you want access to. These dice are rolled and give access to different levels of magic. However, even a poor roll is not too much of a problem, as players have multiple ways to manipulate dice to get exactly what they need with a little effort. Second, decks in Ashes are small — 30 cards. This keeps the game going quickly and makes constructing a deck a task that can easily be managed. Third, use of the spellboard — players can play many of their cards to the table to be used again and again. And finally, the use of Pheonixborns (the mages) that have different unique abilities, statistics, and playstyles.
In effect, Ashes takes the place of all living card games for me. I no longer play Netrunner or Warhammer Conquest, even though I quite like both of those. Ashes simply does it better! It solves some of the issues those games had, including keywords to look up, strange game terminology, too much randomness, and non-intuitive deck construction rules. Also, and this is somewhat odd to say, the slower release schedule of Ashes expansions means that I have time to enjoy the game without the pressure of keeping up. Whereas the other LCG style games required constant maintenance just to be able to play, Ashes works well right out of the box, while also giving plenty of customization options.
I can’t go any longer without addressing perhaps the greatest strength of Ashes: its phenomenal artwork. Seriously, this is worth the price of admission just to have access to the amazing illustrations. Plaid Hat Games found an absolute treasure in artist Fernanda Suarez. It may seem shallow to put so much emphasis on the visuals of the game, but I believe that if the game did not look so good, it would probably drop a couple of slots for me. Each card is a work of art, and even the plainer summon cards (which feature a drawing of a book) cards are artfully drawn to show differences and details based on the creature being summoned. Each card is lovingly illustrated and it is a glory to behold. I really hope for an Ashes artbook someday! I find that the way the game looks makes it much easier to get to the table, so that helps too!
Lest I be misunderstood, Ashes is also a fantastic game even apart from how good it looks. The game features a fast-paced back-and-forth duel of cards, creatures, and spells. And whether you play with a pre-built base deck or spend the time to construct your own, the game will reward you with an enchanting and engaging experience.
Ashes and I have had a long journey together. I was one of the early playtesters for the game. And honestly, back at that time, I really didn’t like the game all that much. What a difference a year makes! All the game’s problems have been fixed, the components and iconography tuned up, and graphic design implemented to make the game streamlined and easy to understand. Add in the artwork, which is breathtaking, and you get an absolutely excellent package! Ashes may well replace Mage Wars for me, which is something I thought would never happen (though you see it already because of the relative position of the two games).
Honestly, the two games I play the most these days are Ashes and Summoner Wars. Even in just the six months since it released, Ashes has taken over my game table in almost an embarrassing way! And even though it’s quite new, the fact that I love it so much speaks to its strengths. I look forward to seeing where this game will go!
Number 6 — Small World
“It’s a world of (S)laughter after all” proclaims the box. In that moment, I knew I would love the game.
I often describe Small World as “that first half hour of Risk while it’s still fun.” The game is an area control game, where player try to claim regions on a map that is just too small! Each round, players score points based on the number of regions they control. Since there aren’t enough regions for everyone, players are quickly forced into conflict, attacking each other in order to maximize points (and cripple your opponent).
Each player takes control of a fantasy race of creatures, each with a racial power and an additional special power. The race and power combos are set up randomly, ensuring variety. Some powers facilitate attacking, some are defensive in nature, and some provide extra scoring opportunities.
Combat is simple and almost no randomness is involved – to take over a region, you just need 2 of your own tokens plus one additional token for everything else that is in your target region (opponents pieces, mountains, and certain other fortifications). At the start of each round, you pick up your excess tokens and go conquering some more. Eventually players will be spread too thin and will need to disband their existing race and take a new one. The game lasts a certain number of rounds, then the player with the most points wins.
Small World is very simple at heart, yet there is a lot there to play with. First of all, there are lots of expansions, each of which increases the number of races and special powers are available, the exponentially increasing the number of possible combinations. But the game isn’t so much about conquering as it is about maximization and optimization of your individual strengths and the timing of taking new races.
There is a ton of interaction in the game too. While I prefer the game with 2 or 3 players, it can potentially be played by up to six with little difficulty. Larger player counts are a bit more chaotic, particularly as player personalities may force players to adapt their strategies to the actions (or inactions) of their fellow players. The game is also very easy to explain and teach, which gives it a wide reach.
I really enjoy Small World, and with each expansion, the game just gets better. Of course, there is the typical storage problem, as the game has quickly outgrown its boxes – this means I rarely travel with it, but even so, it’s great fun when I have people over.
And then there’s the little matter of the collector’s edition!
Housed in a solid wood chest, the collector’s edition takes component quality to the extreme. Weighing around 50 pounds, this version is ridiculously expensive and totally unnecessary, but for a game in my top 10, I’m happy to have it. Sadly Days of Wonder cut corners and didn’t paint the figures, but other than that, the collectors edition is an over-the-top spectacle!
Whether the collector’s edition or the normal version, Small World is a fascinating little game that I always look forward to playing. Let the (s)laughter begin!
Number 5 — Sentinels of the Multiverse
I was never big into comics – they are not the kind of reading I like to do. However, I love super heroes in general — I love the idea of men and women with amazing special abilities coming together to defeat an evil mastermind. And while there are many super hero games out now (including another one in my Top 100), Sentinels of the Multiverse is hands-down the best super hero game out there.
Each game sees players take the roles of a wide variety of original superheroes. Part of the strength of the game is that it does not use any licenses — this allows the universe to develop organically without the baggage of several decades of comics. Sure, some are obviously inspired by “real” superheroes, but each Sentinel’s character is its own complete package.
The hero team will go up one of several evil super villains. In the first set of the game, there were only four villains, and they quickly got a samey feel. However, with expansions many new villains have been added, and whether it is a team up of an evil speedster and a self-replicating man, a pantheon of rogue Egyptian deities, an invisible sniper, or a demonic rotting god from another dimension, each villain adds new challenges and new excitement. Added to this is a set of different environments to add additional variety.
At its heart, Sentinels is a card game. Each turn, players play one card, use one ‘power’ and draw one card. After each player’s turn, the environment has a turn, which could help the heroes, hurt the heroes, or just get in the way. The villain also takes a turn, playing one card from a villain deck and affecting the heroes in some way. This cycle repeats until the heroes or the villains are defeated.
So what’s so great about the game? I don’t know that I can point to one specific thing, because every aspect of the game is incredible. Each hero and villain and environment is unique and encourages a different playstyle. The art on the cards makes you feel like you are playing out a comic book. Careful attention has been paid to backstories, and you feel immersed in the game from the start. Also, there are so many different heroes, villains, and environments available now that no particular match will ever be the same.
Sentinels is also my favorite cooperative game. While it is also playable alone, the vast amount of information available makes it best suited with real-life players on your team. Also, the varying difficulty levels of the different heroes and villains make it easy to adjust play for newer or more experienced players.
One added bonus of the game is the fantastic app implementation. The app handles some of the mathier aspects of the game and allows the story to emerge.
In the end, Sentinels delivers on all counts. It is an excellent game and an engaging experience. The publisher is also actively supporting it with expansions which will ensure it never gets old. As I have said before, Sentinels of the Multiverse may not be the superheroes you grew up with, but after you meet these ones, you’ll wish you had!
Number 4 — Imperial Settlers
Unlike my number 1 game, which I am pretty sure everyone knows I adore, I am not sure how many people know what a fan I am of Imperial Settlers. From the moment I first played it, I knew it would become one of my all time favorite games. The game has a civilization-building theme, but only in name. In truth, the game is about building a point-scoring machine out of cards in a tableau. Players take on one of five different historical civilizations: Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians, Japanese, and Atlanteans. Then through careful card play and timing, players develop their own engines to generate scoring opportunities.
But Imperial Settlers is not just about playing cards that generate points. The game has some serious hand management aspects to it, as well as an aspect of resource management. At the start of the game, players have very few resources and plenty of cards. But quickly they will see their resources growing and their access to new cards dwindling. Finding a balance between both generating the resources to use cards and having enough cards to play is a key aspect of the game.
Imperial Settlers is a reimplementation of an older game called 51st State, which was set in the universe of Neuroshima Hex. The problem with 51st State was that all the cards described their effects with arcane symbols, much as in Race for the Galaxy. This made the game next-to-impossible to teach, and the game bogged down as players searched the rulebook for explanations of each and every card. And while 51st State was a fine game, this cryptography problem combined with the dark and unattractive artwork to make sure the game never got to the table. In Imperial Settlers, the designer took the same solid game mechanisms, but added a much lighter and friendlier art style. Then he made the bold choice of using text to describe card effects, rather than horrible symbols. This makes Imperial Settlers much easier to get into.
The title of Imperial Settlers seems somewhat poorly chosen. It calls to mind both Star Wars and Settlers of Catan, neither of which have anything to do with this game. But title aside, the game is utterly fantastic. It works well with all player counts, though I prefer it with 2 players to preserve the back-and-forth feel that makes the game so engaging. It also has a fantastic solitaire play mode that is challenging and engaging. The only thing the game is missing, honestly, is more civilizations to use, but those are coming!
It is hard to put into words how much I enjoy playing Imperial Settlers! And my brief description here does not do the game justice. I even recently received a lovely Christmas surprise from my friends Ilja and Alina at Würfel Reviews in Estonia — a wooden storage insert for this game! This will enable me to store the game in an organized manner, which will greatly speed set-up and will help me get it to the table more often.
Number 3 — Chaos in the Old World
While all the other 97 games on the list were a challenge to rank, my numbers 1-3 were easy. They won’t be a surprise to anyone who looked at my last list, but they represent the three games I am always most anxious to play.
Chaos in the Old World is Eric Lang’s best game. In the beginning, there was Chaos! Before Blood Rage and Arcadia Quest and their bling and glitz, players were fighting it out on a map of human skin with vile chaos deities. Each player takes on the role of some occult god in a struggle for power.
The game can be won in two ways: either by scoring points or by rotating a dial to the end. Each of the game’s five different factions has a different strategy to advance its dial. For example, one wants to destroy figures in battle, while another wants to spread its influence in certain regions. The factions are nicely balanced, and their asymmetry is a major strength of the game.
Component quality is fine, and although the dark and demonic art design may be somewhat off-putting for some, the game as a whole looks great. The figures are also high quality, though not the same level of Eric Lang’s later games.
For anyone who has played Blood Rage, the main mechanism of the game will feel familiar Each round, players spend a number of magic points to summon creatures or cast spells to achieve their different goals. Part of the game is managing the timing of actions and making the most of limited resources. Following th action phase, players figures will fight, and finally the remaining figures will be able to place “corruption” tokens into the various map spaces. These can trigger scoring as well.
Chaos is simple to play, though the five different strategies and playstyles mean that the game will always be fresh and new, and each player will be trying to accomplish something different. And this is really where the game shines. Because each of the game’s five factions is so vastly different, it makes for a very memorable and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Chaos in the Old World has been imitated by the extremely expensive (and grossly over-produced) Cthulhu Wars. The games are actually quite similar, but Chaos does it better. Chaos is cleaner and more streamlined than Cthulhu Wars, not to mention significantly cheaper and easier to store.
Chaos in the World is one of the very best games out there. Sadly, it looks like no new expansions will be coming, but even as it is, the game is close to perfect. It is the best experience money can buy for 3-5 players. Let it show you the true meaning of Chaos!
Number 2 — Twilight Struggle
Twilight Struggle is an epic game, a battle of wits and a struggle of wills that transcends time. One player takes on the role of the Soviet Union, while the other takes the role of the United States in a boardgame recreation of the epic tug-of-war that defined the Twentieth Century.
In Twilight Struggle (as in most card-driven games), each turn, a player plays one card and decides whether to use it for its event text or to carry out one of several actions using the numerical value on the card. If the card has an event that belongs to his opponent, however, the event occurs automatically. The actions a player can perform range from spreading influence across the countries in play to making an assault on a bastion of the opponent’s ideas.
Twilight Struggle is also one of the best examples of an immersive theme. I was born at just the right time to find Cold War references nostalgic and charming, having not actually had to live through the panic and fear. And the game uses real, historical events and brilliantly translated into the game, with each event affecting the board state much as the event actually affected history.
And much like the Cold War, Twilight Struggle is a battle of inches. It is rare that a game between two players of equal skill will result in a runaway victory for either side. The game is not one of global conquest, but one of anticipation. Each turn you must carefully work toward your overall strategy, knowing your opponent could undo much of your work on his own turn. Therefore it is the player who can execute subtle, careful plans who usually wins the epic ideological tug of war.
Twilight Struggle is a very cerebral game, a game of setting up plans, preparing for contingencies, and careful, relentless execution. It is a strategic masterstroke that is hard to duplicate. After a full 10 round game, I am mentally drained, exhausted, and totally satisfied.
Now, there is another version of Twilight Struggle called 1989. And in the last list, 1989 had its own spot. However, the two games are essentially the same. Although 1989 has some slightly different mechanisms, the games are so close in theme and in gameplay that they really can’t merit different spots on the list. So 1989 falls off (or shares a spot with Twilight Struggle, depending on how you want to look at it).
Unfortunately, as a GMT game, the production quality of Twilight Struggle leaves something to be desired, and the game can take a long time to play, especially with new players. But the game is so fantastic that I a more than willing to look past these cosmetic flaws. In the end, game of Twilight Struggle with a skilled opponent is one of the most thrilling experiences available. In fact, it is second to only one game…
Number 1 — Summoner Wars
SURPRISE! Shock of the year here, I know! And though it may be horribly predictable, Summoner Wars was and is my favorite game of all time, and I really don’t see that changing anytime soon. And as more expansions continue to be released, the game becomes only that much better!
If you don’t know Summoner Wars, drop what you’re doing and look it up. Basically, it involves two armies fighting for supremacy. Your task is to eliminate your opponent’s summoner. The game involves tactical movement on a relatively small/tight board, as well as clever hand management, risk, planning, thought, and just the right amount of luck as well.
Honestly, Summoner Wars is a perfect game for me. There just is no other game that does what this game can do. In 20 minutes, Summoner Wars gives me more fun than most games give me in 3 hours. I can play it any time of the day or night, be it on my iPad or on the table, the game is never far from me. And I have played it literally thousands of times, easily more times than all the other games on the list put together.
The charm of Yet each time I go back to Summoner Wars, it is a fresh, new, exciting experience. Perhaps this is due to the large variety in different decks. Currently, there are 32 base decks that have been released base decks, with 4 additional that have been significantly tested for release and yet another 4 in the pipeline. With all these different base decks, there are hundreds of different matches that can be played, and that is even without the game’s simply yet sublime deck building. Each deck features a different summoner who guides specific strategies and causes the deck to play differently.
And despite all the different combinations and decks, the game is still easily accessible to new players. I can teach the full game in less than 5 minutes, with the game’s easy mechanisms and clever synergies allowing even the newest of players a fighting chance.
The game has come a long way since the 2 deck starter sets and cheap paper playmat from back in 2009. Not only has it expanded, it has grown in depth, component quality, and artwork. Plaid Hat Games has supported the game well, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Also, the rules don’t get in the way of the game. There’s almost no need ever to open the manual after you’ve learned the game, as each card is carefully designed to contain all the rules you need to use it. No checking charts or referencing keywords here!
And while the genre of dueling mages is indeed somewhat overdone (and well-represented in my top 100 list with both Ashes and Mage Wars), Summoner Wars simply feels different from all the rest. Those other games may be good, but they don’t come anywhere near Summoner Wars for me.
Despite how much I have played (and continue to play) Summoner Wars, I will never get tired of it. I am always ready to play it and would never turn it down. I could literally play it all day (and have done so). Anyone who’s ever attended a game day with me knows that there’s really nothing I enjoy more than getting Summoner Wars to the table.
Now, I am sure no one was surprised by this choice. But isn’t that a good thing? Everyone SHOULD know what game is my favorite – it’s the game I always want to play and never get tired of. It’s the game that, if I could only play one game for the rest of my life, I would choose. For me, there are really just two classes of games: Summoner Wars and every other game that isn’t Summoner Wars. I am a proud Summoner Warrior!
And that’s it! We have another Top 100 behind us…and even though the ending was not especially surprising, I hope you enjoyed the journey and maybe even found a new game or two to try.