The Top 100 list continues with a look at ten more great games! This time, it’s Numbers 80 to 79!

Number 80 – Dawn Under

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A frequent visitor to every Halloween game night, this light-hearted vampire-themed game is a resurrected version of memory. Players try to place different colored vampires in appropriate tombs. However, as the game progresses, tombs fill up and players find that space is at a premium. Players can further complicate this by garlic-salting the earth, placing garlic in key tomb locations to try and thwart vampires who would like to rest there.

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Thematically, the game makes very little sense. However, the game mechanisms are light-hearted and simple enough to make the game a favorite of both old and young. And while it may be memory-oriented, players quickly realize that memory alone will not be enough. Dawn Under is an under-loved game that really should get more table time than it does, but one of my favorites nonetheless.

Number 79 – Xia: Legends of a Drift System


Xia is an immersive experience from the moment you open the box. The game is a sandbox style game, in which players can do whatever they want to get points. There is exploration, warfare, trading, and completing missions, and each provides ample means to reach the game’s goal. In Xia, the game evolves naturally as players develop their own playstyles. Additionally, the game is gorgeous and features tons of pre-painted miniature spaceships.

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One other thing about Xia is that it refines the tired old roll and move mechanism that modern gamers have learned to hate. However, in Xia, it blends seamlessly into the game’s narrative and does not interfere with gameplay. The game’s only real fault is perhaps too much randomness, but a careful and strategic player can also avoid this in favor of a more secure path to victory. Any way you slice it, Xia is a great time for all.  Besides, in what other game can you blindly fly into the sun?


Number 78 – Evolution


Evolution is an excellent little game in which players try to evolve their species to survive. Each species can develop different traits to give it certain advantages in the fight for food. At first, players are herbivores competing for a dwindling supply of plant food…until someone figures out that other players make a fine food source too!


The game has everything a great game should have: simple rules, fast play, and a giant Sinclair Oil first player marker. Fast, fun, and oddly thematic, Evolution is a great game for both new and experienced gamers alike. It also has an expansion which I have yet to try, but which promises to add increased play options and may bring the game higher on the list next time.


Number 77 – Merchant of Venus


I already talked about Xia, but now let’s turn to its older brother, Merchant of Venus. Shakespearian puns aside, the game has really aged well. Merchant captures the story of space exploration and trading nicely and does so in a straightforward way. Unlike Xia, Merchant is a more constrained environment, where players are essentially racing around the galaxy trying to make the biggest fortune first. Where Xia offers freedom, Merchant offers slightly more direction, and is a stronger game for that.


The current edition has two play modes, one being a race to a certain amount of money, and one being an attempt to have the most money when the game ends. The game forces clever decisions about how best to use limited resources of time and money, forcing players to maximize their runs across the galaxy in order to earn the most profit the fastest. Merchant is probably the best roll and move game out there, and it is worth the long and complicated set up time.


Number 76 – Thurn & Taxis


Thurn & Taxis is one of those games that I played to pieces when it first came out, then put on the shelf and forgot about. Recently, though, I saw it on my shelf and decided to dust it off, and I was really glad I had done so. The game retains the same level of charm it did almost 10 years ago when it won Spiel des Jahres. Although the game has a dull look to it, underneath is surprising depth and entertainment.


Set with the scintillating theme of establishing a postal network across Germany, Thurn & Taxis does more than teach German geography. The game is a savvy combination or hand management, risk taking, and a race game. The rules are simple, but game play is always tight and tense and rewarding. Who knew making postal networks across Bavaria could be so engaging?!

Number 75 – Poseidon’s Kingdom


While Thurn & Taxis may look quite dull from first glance, Poseidon’s Kingdom is absolute eye candy. The game, infamously over-produced by the Lamont Brothers, features numerous adorable resin sea creatures and a gigantic wave that tips dice all over the board. It is visually very engaging from the moment the game hits the table.


However, unlike other Fragor games titles, Poseidon’s Kingdom also has a game to back up the bling. Players carefully construct an engine to allow them to collect sets of dice needed to score points, all the while avoiding a rather irksome shark who has a habit of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rules are simple and straightforward, and the game is played at a fast pace that promises fun for old and young alike.


Number 74 – ShadowRift


From the over-produced Poseidon’s Kingdom, we turn to the underproduced (read “Game Salute Production”) ShadowRift. ShadowRift is a cooperative deck building game in which players attempt to fend off a horde of monsters. The game comes with multiple monster factions, each of which plays differently and feels unique as players try their hardest to survive.


The game has a lot of things going against it, unfortunately. Ultra-cheap components, thin cards that stick together, and one of the worst rulebooks ever created for a game combine with drab artwork and an utter lack of marketing to make what should be a recipe for failure. Yet, despite all that, the engaging game play manages to fend off all those monsters, while allowing players to do the same with their towns. ShadowRift is one of the best deckbuilding games out there, and it brings one of the best cooperative experiences available. The game also has an expansion which unfortunately kept the same rulebook author, but which offers players a different challenge in fending off the hordes of darkness.


Number 73 – Alhambra


I remember very clearly the first time I played Alhambra. I was living in Germany at the time, and Alhambra was probably the game that kicked off my game collecting problem. I was just blown away by the deceptive simplicity the game offered. Players try to build a palace using four different types of currency. While players can overpay for their acquisitions, change is not available, and paying exactly not only conserves resources but also allows bonus actions.


The game is an old one, true, but it still retains all the charm it had back in 2005 when I first played it. It is easy to teach to anyone, has plenty (read “too many”) expansions to add to its replayability, and lasts just the right amount of time. And while the artwork may not be all that good and the theme isn’t particularly strong, the game itself transcends these minor problems to provide what was a ground-breaking experience in its day and one which still holds strong after all these years.


Number 72 – Flick ‘em Up!


Yeeeeeehaaaaaah! Flick ‘em up! is a game that just screams FUN! The game involves flicking cowboys around a western town. Movements and shots are determined by flicking wooden disks. The game also comes with multiple scenarios that players can try, each changing the rules and manipulating the system slightly to provide a fast paced and enjoyable narrative. The game also features an expansion that includes horses, which just adds to the Western flavor.flick1

Really, there is very little that can be said against this game. From component quality to immersive gameplay, Flick ‘em up! Has it all. My only potential complaint is that sometimes the rules interfere a little with the theme, but this is excusable. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that it doesn’t get as much play as I would like. It will probably be higher next time! On the whole, Flick ‘em up! is a “a rootin, tootin, shooting, fighting son-of-a-gun—and a good one!”


Number 71 – Escape! The Curse of the Temple


Escape! might just be the most tense game out there! A ten minute game with a heart-pumping soundtrack, Escape! is a cooperative dice rolling game in which players try to find an exit from a collapsing temple. Working together is key, but splitting up may also be necessary, as the game ends after exactly 10 minutes, and if players have not all found their way out, the game is lost. It is probably the most stressful ten minutes of gameplay you will ever experience!


Escape! has probably too many expansions at this point, some of which are a little underwhelming. However its base game (with maybe one expansion thrown in) is an excellent, heart-pounding experience that will not soon be forgotten. The game does require a CD player or electronic download in order to enjoy the full experience, though a boring sand timer is also included just in case. There is also a far inferior Zombie themed version which you can pretty much ignore. Despite that, the game is an excellent, cooperative, immersive experience which is probably literally not for the feint of heart!

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