We’re back with another ten great games. This time we start the top half of the list with Numbers 50 to 41. Let’s get started.
Number 50 — Through the Ages
Through the ages makes a return to the list, though significantly demoted. The game is a civilization game that approaches empire building from a very abstract perspective. Rather than moving around a map and fighting, players are indirectly competing with each other (though there can be military actions as well). Very much a Euro game, Through the Ages sees players try to manage their resources, balancing growth with increased costs.
The engine of the game is the individual player boards, which have a variety of yellow (population) and blue (resource) disks. By activating one of the disks, players are able to expand, grow, and gain additional income. However, by using a disk, players will uncover uncover different costs that must be paid each round.
The game is actually quite simple, and the engine of costs and resources is elegant to behold. Some of the more advanced mechanisms (such as war) are a little hard to grasp at first, but once mastered, the mechanisms of the game dissolve and allow players to revel in the gameplay.
The game has recently been reprinted, but I have not yet had a chance to try the newest version. Still, the old game is a true classic and one of the best designs Vlaada Chvatil has produced.
Number 49 — Theseus: The Dark Orbit
Theseus is an asymmetrical strategy game set in space. I love asymmetry in games…and this new entry by the designer of Neuroshima Hex! does it perfectly! The game sees 4 (well, five technically) factions moving around a space station trying to eradicate (or investigate) each other. Each turn, players move one of their pieces (using so-called mancala rules) and trigger the abilities of the space they land on. With only three pieces, there are really only three options at a time, though this allows players to plan strategies 2 or 3 turns in advance without much difficulty. Certain actions will trigger a fight, and if someone is eliminated, the game ends.
Each different faction is well balanced but plays very differently. One player may be a team of marines who just shoot everything, while one may be an alien race that likes to hide in the shadows and probe those who get close. Also, all the special abilities are printed on the cards you use in the game, so there is really not much that has to be remembered. The rules are super-simple, but the game conceals a lot of depth and possibilities. Also, it does not have the chaos that Neuroshima Hex! features so heavily.
Although technically playable with up to 4 players, Theseus is best as a two player game. And because there are so many great two-player games available, this one does not get as much table time as it deserves. It’s another one of those games that I seem to be the only person who plays, unfortunately. But if you are looking for an elegantly-balanced strategy game, or if you’re tired of Five Tribes for your mancala fix, Theseus is an excellent place to look!
Number 48 — Here I Stand
And here we are again. This is my war-game. Here I Stand shows the entire story of the Reformation, and it is one of the best experiences for 6 players available. With each player taking a different side, from Protestant missionaries to Ottoman invaders, Here I Stand is a lesson in history and a masterful game design.
The game is card-driven, much like Twilight Struggle, in which players use cards to determine their various actions. And since the six different factions play differently and have different goals, the game gets a bit complicated but is also extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, Here I Stand’s intricate mechanisms and total asymmetry make it practically impossible to teach. Even without AP, the game can also take several (6 or more) hours. And because of this, I only rarely get to play it. Though top 10 material, Here I Stand continues to hover in the 40s, as my favorite game I never play.
Number 47 — Abyss
Abyss came out late last year and was an instant hit for me. First of all, look at the artwork. Not quite as good a Ashes (from Plaid Hat Games) but pretty close!
The game involves collecting resources (sea creatures) to but the favor of different undersea noblemen. These noblemen provide points, grant special abilities, and potentially allow players to acquire end-game scoring bonuses as well. Component quality is excellent (including plastic pearls as currency), and the game plays very quickly and is engaging from the start.
Unfortunately, the game is very difficult to describe, and the theme is somewhat pasted on. This makes the game very difficult to describe. However, the smooth mechanisms and absolutely gorgeous artwork make that easy to overcome. Abyss is a pleasure to play and is deserving of a place in anyone’s collection!
Number 46 — Mission: Red Planet
Mission: Red Planet is an area control and action selection game on Mars. The game uses the ascending action selection mechanisms found in Citadels, but adds different levels of strategy. Players use their roles to load space ships, pilot them to areas of Mars, and of course, divert and subvert the plans of their opponents.
Scoring happens at specific times, and it can be either open scoring as players collect resources, or hidden scoring based on secret end-game goals. The game is also highly interactive, as players must out-think and outguess their opponents, as well as interfering with their plans directly.
Mission: Red Planet was out of print for a long time, but has recently come back. The new version features streamlined mechanisms and improved components, but maintains all the charm of the original.
Number 45 — Rampage
In the same vein as Flick ‘Em Up comes another highly-thematic dexterity game. In Rampage, players take on the roles of giant lizards destroying a city and feasting on its inhabitants. And while that may should somewhat gruesome, it makes for hilarious fun.
Players take actions involving flicking discs around the board, dropping their monsters on buildings from above, flicking bus tokens at opponents, and blowing on the board trying to knock things over. Each monster also has a special power, and players score points for a variety of different forms of destruction. However, scorekeeping and winning are often forgotten in the hilarity of destruction that ensures.
The name of the game was a nod to the old video game featuring monsters destroying a city. Perhaps the name was too much of a nod, because the title of the game quietly shifted to “Terror of Meeple City” after the first print run. And although the new version’s title is inferior, gameplay is the same. Ultimately, Rampage is a hilarious romp from the moment it starts. It breaks the ice with any game group and provides a memorable game experience unlike anything else out there.
Number 44 — The Golden Ages
Another new game on the list, The Golden Ages is a civilization-themed game. However, unlike many other civ-themed games, The Golden Ages sees players changing their civilizations multiple times through the game in order to exploit the ever changing game state.
In The Golden Ages, players also manage a technology tree, developing more efficient means to expand and grow. While some games get bogged down in war mechanisms and military strength, The Golden Ages offers allows players to focus on their own efficiency engines instead of becoming mired in complexities. Gameplay is fast and engaging, distilling the best parts of civilization games and providing a streamlined and refreshing experience.
One thing about the game that I don’t like: it has really terrible artwork. It’s not so important, since the game itself is so clean, but I wonder whick 10 year old they found to draw these pictures. And while Stronghold Games chose to reprint the game in wide distribution, they chose to preserve cheap components instead of making it nice. I really wish they had put a bit more into that area, because the game is so great but is really thrown down a few spots by how terrible it looks!
Despite this, The Golden Ages is an excellent game and one that I look forward to exploring more in the future.
Number 43 — King of Tokyo/King of New York
I am cheating again, cramming two games into one spot. However King of Tokyo and its younger brother, King of New York are so close in both theme and gameplay that forcing them to share seems appropriate.
King of Tokyo sees players playing the role of monsters storming the city of Tokyo (which inexplicably is home of the Eifel Tower as well) and trying either to race to 20 points or to outlast their opponents. King of New York features monsters doing the same thing, only in New York. The games combine Yahtzee-style dice rolling with a king-of-the-hill style push your luck element to produce a lighthearted and fun family game. And while the monsters all start off the same (unless using an expansion), monsters can also evolve over the course of the game to gain special abilities.
King of New York adds some additional complexities, as it allows players to interact with the city in different ways, including being attacked by the army and destroying buildings.
Both games are simple to learn, quick to play, and fun for both new and experienced players. I think I prefer the New York variant slightly, but since the games are comparable in most aspects, I store them in one box and really think of them as one game. Either one you pick, the games are fast paced and engaging from the moment the first monster starts its rampage.
Number 42 — Cash n Guns
Cash n Guns puts players in the roles of criminals with the unenviable task of dividing the loot from a major heist. Rather than trying for an even distribution, the players opt for a more…beneficial division. Each player has a foam-rubber gun, as well as a set of 8 bullets, 3 of which are real and 5 of which are blanks. Each turn, players select one of their bullets, then point a gun at a target, whereupon targets have a chance to hide. Afterwards, the guns are fired, and anyone facing a real bullet is wounded. This usually takes a few players out of the running for the loot, and the remaining players who weren’t shot and didn’t hide take turns dividing the round’s loot.
Because it is so simple and handles so many players seamlessly, Cash n Guns works well for any kind of gathering. I like it as an activity at a church or office party, where it serves as an excellent ice breaker. Nothing sheds players inhibitions faster than pointing a foam-rubber pistol at each other!
The game’s rules are simple, allowing it to work with any skill level. Components are excellent, although the box is a bit small. The game also features optional player powers and an expansion with more types of guns and different types of loot. However, even the base game is an excellent game, particularly for a game night with a large group.
Number 41 — Blood Rage
Last up is one of the big releases from GenCon. Blood Rage is a hard game to describe. Equal parts drafting and combat, the game is most about customization. Each turn players draft and play cards to upgrade different aspects of their factions. The game presents multiple means to earn points, and players must make the most of their unique abilities in order to maximize these opportunities. One of the more exciting aspects of the game is that several unique monsters are included not as NPC enemies, but as figures players will be able to control.
The game also shares a mechanism with another of my favorite games, Chaos in the Old World, in which players use a resource (in this game, “rage”) to perform their actions. Managing this resource requires players to time their actions carefully in order to preserve their actions.
Component quality is stunning, featuring large sculpts of heroes and monsters. One of the best parts, though, is how easy the game is to teach and how fast it is to play. The designer’s choice to streamline what could have been an extremely complicated game makes it accessible, fast-paced, and enjoyable. The game may be new, but it sees plenty of table time; Blood Rage is one of the best games to come out this year.
That’s all for this week. Join me next time for a look at another 10 excellent games.