Saturday, April 11, 2015

Board Game Rankings

In our increasingly infrequent spare time, my girlfriend and I play board games.  When I tell people this, they either immediately assume that we're playing such games as Monopoly or Clue or whatever.  When we try and explain that we actually do play, people usually react with glazed over looks in their eyes.  So I decided to compile a list of the top 40 games that we have played.  There's a special emphasis on games that work for two players as that is what we generally play.

I've gotten rid of games off of the list if I wouldn't be able to explain the rules of how to play the game, so good-bye Glass Road, Ascension, Munchkin (sorry), Cuba, and Settlers of Catan (sorry, it's been way too long since I've played and couldn't justify putting it on the list without being able to explain how to play).

I also put a little extra boost on the rankings for games with easy to explain rules or games that are easier to play through the first time that you are handed the game. This was surprisingly difficult.  There are very few games that I have played that I do not like.  My rankings are totally different from what I've seen elsewhere, so enjoy. If I have enough time, I'll do individual reviews for each of these games.

These are mainly strategy based games so if you were looking for Telestrations or Quelf, you should know that I love both of those games and am now inviting myself to play these games with you.  I'll bring the beverages.

Note: There are a few games that we've tried since I created this list that would probably make the cut - Trains, Cappuccino, Blue Prints, Valley of the Kings, and Hey, that's my fish! 

Board Game Rankings:

40. Race for the Galaxy- Number of players: 2-4
Time: 30-45 minutes with 2 players
Synopsis: A deck building game where you try to get the most victory points by selling resources, colonizing planets, and building technologies.  To score the most points, you have to do all three.
Why it should be higher: The deck building aspect is a bit more complex than Dominion or others that followed the same general outline.  Instead of buying cards from a shared space, you choose cards from a deck.  The actions are not as stifling as you get to choose how your turn is going to go and build your strategy in advance.
Why it should be lower: We've played this game only a few times.  Apparently, there is a strategy that will pretty much ruin the game for you (although we never found it).  The real problem for us was that there were so many cards to learn what all of the cards did which is where the shared space hurts Race for the Galaxy, in my opinion.  Also, my girlfriend does not like anything about aliens, so this game does not appeal to her.  If you want to play, let me know and I shall teach you.

39. Asante- Number of players: 2
Time: ~30 minutes
Synopsis: Very similar to Jambo (even if Jambo is ranked much higher, I don't judge you for your inconsistencies).  You and your opponent are salesmen trying to sell your wares and collect the most coins.  You draw cards that represent your wares and you buy and sell them to get to 60 coins.  It's sort of a deck building game but you are limited to 5 actions including that you can only take one card from the draw deck on your turn.
Why it should be higher: Jambo is ranked much higher so this game should be, too.  It's not very complicated and the differences between it and Jambo should theoretically make it better.  In Asante you are limited to only 6 total wares that you can have at one time (in Jambo you can have up to 12 if you have the space) so there should be more strategy deciding what wares to keep.  The other major difference is that there are bonus actions which allow you to do something every turn replacing your other actions and allow you to collect the bonuses to get your money quicker.
Why it should be lower: The changes between it and Jambo don't work for me.  I was looking for a quicker game with less thought, similar to Jambo or Jaipur, but ended up with a game that has me balancing my resources and trying to determine if the bonus cards are worth anything.  That and I feel stifled by the stiff draw/keep one card on your turn.  For the complexity of the game, it takes a longer time to play.  Usually, low complexity means a short game and vice versa.  Although, 30 minutes isn't too bad.  I'll probably end up ranking this one higher or Jambo lower if I ever re-visit it.

38. Agricola
37. Camel Up!- Number of players: 2-4
Time: 15-30 minutes
Synopsis: You bet on camel races.  Seriously.  It's even more fun than it sounds.  On your turn, you can bet on who will win the round, bet on who will win the whole race, place a tile that will move the camel forward or backward 2 spaces, or choose to roll to move the camels up.  If a camel lands on the same spot as another camel it goes on top and is leading (hence, the name Camel Up!)  It's incredibly fun, easy to play, and quick to go through the whole game.
Why it should be higher:It's incredibly fun.  At Spielbound, there were two women playing this game and they were not smiling while they played which I thought was impossible.  I know I keep saying that it's fun but the game is silly and that's the easiest way to explain it.  You will never be as invested in camel racing as you were when you played this game.
Why it should be lower:While there is some strategy in betting on the camels, the game is heavily luck based.  It's more fun with more than two people as the betting gets more intense so I have to move this down a little bit compared to some of the games that work better for two people.

36. Rise of Augustus- Number of players: 2-6
Time: 30 minutes
Synopsis: This game is a more strategic version of Bingo.  You start out the game with three cards that you are trying to complete.  You complete the cards by pulling out the tiles of the bag and deciding to place one of your meeples on that region.  You have a set amount of meeples so you do have to choose where/how you want to place them on your card.  After completing a card, you get to say, "Ave Caesar" and are allowed to get a new card.  There are bonus tiles for completing certain types/colors of cards and completing a certain number of cards.
Why it should rank higher: The game is delightfully simple.  It requires very little setup.  Even though it is a modified version of Bingo, there is a lot more strategy involved in choosing where to place your meeple and especially for choosing the bonus card for completing a certain amount of cards.
Why it should rank lower: It's incredibly luck-based.  The only way to complete the cards is to have the tiles pulled out of the bag and sometimes you just can't get the right tiles to complete everything.  The two player version is quick and easy but the game seems to work better with more people.

35. Rummikub
34. Eminent Domain: Number of players: 2-4
Time: 45 minutes
Synopsis: A deck building game where you try to discover/explore planets and collect as many victory points as possible.
33. Hanabi
32. Sushi Go! - Number of players: 2-5
Time: 30 minutes
Synopsis: A card drafting game where you try to make the best sushi meal.  You start off the game with a set number of cards.  During your turn, you choose one card from your hand to play and pass the rest of your hand to the next player.  You try to collect as many victory points as possible as you work through all of the cards in the deck, requiring a minimum of 3 rounds.  You earn points by having the most puddings, the most or 2nd most Maki rolls, playing dumpling cards which are scored at a geometric progression, playing 3 sashimi cards, playing 2 tempura cards, or playing nigiri cards, getting more points for matching it with wasabi sauce.
Why it should rank higher: I've penalized Sushi Go! for being a game that we never play with two players.  Like most card drafting games, the game is not as much fun with just two players as you know the cards in both hands.  In theory, this would make the game more strategi but in practice, it really doesn't work.  The game is a lot of fun and really easy to teach if you have a group of 3 or more people wanting to play a game.  There still is strategy in trying to beat your opponents by taking the cards your opponents would want before they get there.  The point values for the cards seems about right and there's usually not blowouts during games.
Why it should rank lower: Not surprisingly, the game is luck dependent.  The pudding cards are the ones that drive this luck based portion.  The player who has the most pudding cards gets 6 points at the end of the round and the player who has the least receives negative six points.  The first round usually has all the players with pudding cards play a pudding card.  Other times you may play a card assuming you will have a chance to maximize the point value but the card you need is not even used in that round.
31. Love Letter

30. Pandemic: Number of players: 2-5 (with the On the Brink expansion)
Time: 30-45 minutes
Synopsis: A co-operative themed game where you take roles trying to cure diseases, by removing disease cubes, before there are too many outbreaks.  Each turn you can take a set number of actions (4) trying to remove the disease cubes before they spread into the next city.  Curing the disease requires five cards of the same color and you have to cure all 4 diseases before you go through the deck or have too many outbreaks.
Why it should rank higher:  It was the first of the strategy games that we bought.  It's a great introduction to turn based games and is much better than the other introduction to strategy games that people recommend (Forbidden Island, which was created by the same person).  If you were wondering where Forbidden Island ranks, it is definitely not in the top 40.  It's a co-operative game which makes it different than the other games on this list.  Because it's a crossover game, it is available at Target.  After we bought it, we played it every night for at least a week.   The game gets real intense as you try to cure the diseases.  The intensity does not necessarily carry over to the other games that are ranked higher on the list.
Why it should rank lower: Despite being the first strategy game that we bought, I think we've played it once in the last three months.  Maybe it's a combination of the fact that we played it so often when we first got it, other games are clearly better, and that it's a co-operative game which our competitive spirit does not permit us to enjoy too much.
Is the expansion worth it? We purchased the On the Brink expansion which gives new out Epidemic cards which makes the game tougher to beat.  It added a lot of enjoyment to the game. There is also a new disease, a virulent strain when combined with the new Epidemic cards makes the game even more difficult.  After playing so many times, this was definitely a plus.  There are new role cards to choose from which makes it a little easier although none compare to the Medic or Quarantine Specialist (wait until you play the game).  It also adds a new bioterrorist element to the game where one player can play as the bioterrorist while the other players try to catch him.  I haven't played it but it looks complicated.  Unfortunately, you need the original Pandemic game to play the On the Brink expansion

29. Carcassone
28. Puerto Rico

27. Star Realms - Number of players: 2
Time: 15 minutes
Synopsis: Star Realms is a deck building game where you try to destroy the opponent.  You and your opponent each start out with 50 hit points (or life whatever you want to call it) and the first one to lose all of their hit points loses.  You buy cards from the card row and inflict damage on your opponent with your cards.
Why it should be higher: For the cost, (like $13 on Amazon right now) you can scarcely find a more fun game.  The game comes in a box just a bit bigger than a deck of cards so it fits nicely in my game closet.  The game takes a little bit of strategy but there is still some luck, in terms of what cards are available in the card row.  Even with that, there are plenty of opportunities to not only screw up your opponent but strengthen yourself, as each card of a certain color allows bonus actions.  You can play this game a couple of times in a row before you would get tired of it, unlike many of the other games.  No mess, no hassle, just play.  We learned this game in less than 5 minutes and got through our first two games in under 45.
Why it should be lower: There is a set strategy that you will try to do every game once you start playing the game more.  This game will probably move up if I re-visit the rankings.
Is the expansion worth it? We got the expansion for Christmas and added it to the original set.  We have not played co-operative mode or the solo mode.  I can't say for certain

26. Morels
25. Mr. Jack
24. Ticket to Ride the Card Game
23. Eight Minute Empire
22. Steam Park
21. DC Deck Building Game
20. Machi Koro
19. Jambo
18. Railways of the World
17. Ticket to Ride
16. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
15. Zooloretto
14. Takenoko
13. Seasons
12. Splendor
11. Lewis and Clark: The Expedition
10. Rivals for Catan
9. Jaipur
8. Coloretto
7. Through the Ages
6. Castles of Mad King Ludwig
5. 7 Wonders
4. Stone Age
3. Suburbia
2. Castles of Burgundy

1. Dominion - players: 2-4
Time: 30-45 minutes
Synopsis: A deckbuilding game to end and begin all deckbuilding games, much copied, never duplicated.  You start with 10 cards, 7 treasure cards worth 1 coin each and 3 victory cards which do nothing until the end of the game.  Each turn you start with five cards in your hand, can take one action, and buy one card.  You buy one of the action cards or victory cards located in the common market area.  The action cards allow you to draw more cards, take additional actions, buy additional cards, or have their own special action.  Your goal is to have the most victory points at the end of the game which happens when all of the Province cards are bought or when 3 of the action card piles are depleted.
Why it's ranked #1:Every game of Dominion is going to be different because of the cards that are selected as the action cards.  Because of this, your strategy is going to be different each game.  I love that.  There are different ways to counteract whatever strategy your opponent is trying to pursue.  There is not any one card that will guarantee you victory.  We have played this game more times than I can count and not just because I can't count very high.  This is our go-to game when we can't decide on what we want to play.  At $30 for the base game, I can't recommend it more highly.
Why it should be lower: Deckbuilding games are not for everyone.  You buy cards so you can buy more cards so you can buy more cards.  Some people just don't like the concept.  In addition, the strict rules of five cards in your hand, one action, and one buy can make people feel stifled in their turns.  Some of the cards might be annoying to some people.  We rarely play with some of the cards as we think it changes the game too much and not for the better, such as the Gardens card which gives extra victory points for every 10 cards in your deck at the end of the game.
Are the expansions worth it?  We bought Seaside, Intrigue, Alchemy, and Guilds.  Seaside is not a standalone game, you need the Dominion base cards to be able to play this game.  The Seaside expansions have more action cards.  The biggest difference in the action cards is that the action cards allow the card to have effects for your next turn.  The Seaside cards also allow for more interaction with your opponents.  Seaside is a worthwhile expansion.
Dominion Intrigue can be combined with the base cards or can be played alone.  Intrigue has more action cards for you to choose from.  The cards allow you to choose what you want from the card which makes the game more interesting.  It is probably my favorite expansion.
Dominion Alchemy is not a standalone game.  The biggest difference is that it adds a new treasure card (potion) which allows you to buy various Alchemy cards.  The action cards are not as strong as Intrigue or Seaside, although it's a good idea, I'm not sure how highly I'd recommend the expansion.
Dominion Guilds: Guilds has more action cards to add to the Dominion base set which adds a new wrinkle of additional coins that you can use in addition to your treasure cards.  It's a novel concept but it doesn't add much to the game.    

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