Welcome to my first top 10 list in which I lay out a definitive, undisputable record of the Top 10 Games I Like. What does that mean exactly? Well, with thousands of games out there I have found that I’ve come to dislike some of them, but oddly enough, I’ve also come to like some of them. These are 10 of those games listed in the order in which I wrote them.
1. Masters of Venice
What if I were to tell you that there was a game set in Renaissance era Italy and, get this, you play as a merchant who buys and sells goods? …
Yes, Masters of a Venice is a trading in the Mediterranean game, but it’s so much more. There are blind auctions, unique roles, recipes to fulfill, stock shenanigans, supply and demand trackers, and more. This small, unassuming game from a publisher most known for family and party games manages to tie all these disparate parts into a tight and difficult game of wholesale economics. It basically boils down to buy low sell high, but with so many levers and knobs to fiddle with the best path to take is always up for debate. Should you just steal valuable goods from the docks or spread rumors as a sort of proto-viral marketing gondolier to increase the value of the goods you already have? Should you invest in underperforming stores, pump up their stock value only to tank it when you’ve cashed in on your investment? There’s a lot to like here if you can overlook the fiddly, thumb destroying plastic pegs. Considering that you can pick up a brand new copy for $25, it’s an easy game to recommend for the economically inclined.
“Board games? You mean like Monopoly?” It’s the standard refrain when explaining this strange hobby to the uninitiated. Well Chinatown is actually a little like Monopoly except its, you know, enjoyable. Everyone round players are dealt random building parcels and random business tiles. You earn money based on the business you have the board, but you’ll earn more money if those business are large and contiguous so it’s in your best interest to own close by parcels and have a lot of the same business tiles. In order to accomplish this you engage in real time wheeling and dealing. Just about everything is up for negotiation and there’s very little structure. Overhear a deal going on the other side of the table that you can profit on? Jump in and undercut the seller! There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling off a 4 person trade where you come out ahead. The later rounds can slow down a bit as the board state gets more settled and players begin calculating the ramifications of each trade, but some outside the box thinking can still spur on some exciting swaps.
3. Argent: The Consortium
I’ve never seen or read Harry Potter, but from my own experience in a school for the magically gifted, Argent gets it right. Wait a minute, I’ve said too much. Forget I mentioned that. Instead focus your attention of the huge array of spells and magic items along with all the double sided room tiles and large cast of characters. There’s a enough in the box to keep you occupied for a very long time.
As a professor in a magical university, you’re trying to impress the consortium enough be selected as the next chancellor of the school. The problem is, you don’t know what will impress the individual members. Much of the game is spent trying to discover the scoring criteria, lending a feel of exploration to the game and forces to consider your opponents’ actions carefully. The worker placement phase is complicated by the fact that your workers are magically inclined and can cast fireballs at opponents, freeze rooms, or even dabble in the shadow realm. Argent is loud, bombastic, and teeming with options. It nearly bursts at the seems, but thematic touchstones are enough to keep it all together.
When the ship went down, they ran for the lifeboats. When the lifeboats sprung leaks, they scrambled for shore. When the sharks started circling they never gave up hope. The one thing they couldn’t overcome was each other. Lifeboats is a silly, silly game. Every round one of the lifeboats moves closer to safety. Every round, one of the boats springs a leak. Every round, one of your sailors scrambles to a new boat. The problem is, when there are too many leaks in a boat, someone needs to be thrown overboard.
Everything is lifeboat is determined through the good ol’ fashioned democratic process of voting. What this leads to is begging and pleading not to get thrown off the boat. It creates alliances and grudges. And it sometimes devolves into ritualistic chants of “Green! Green! Green!” as everyone gets caught up in the communal bloodlust. Because if someone is going to be thrown off the boat it’s not going to be me and it might as well be green. Just watch out for the captain card which trumps any vote and turns the tables. Like I said, it’s a silly, silly game.
I like the idea of civilization board games more that I like actual board games about running civilizations. I’ve played so much Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, and Endless Legend on my PC that I always the feel limited with their cardboard counterparts. The tech trees aren’t as deep. The units aren’t as varied. The terrain isn’t as intricate. I want my Civilization games to be wide and vast and I can’t imagine a board game that could compete with a digital game in that respect without being unwieldy. But I do like board games about civilizations.
Patchistory uses quilts as a metaphor for civilizations. It’s odd and strange and brilliant. Every new advancement is represented as patch that must be woven into your existing civilization quilt. The past must reconcile with the future. It’s a spatial representation of a many faceted organism called an empire that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The quilt metaphor works surprisingly well and coupled with the off the wall scoring system makes Patchistory something I keep coming to over the more popular civilization offerings.