#1 – Betrayal at House on the Hill

Betrayal

At a Glance: Betrayal at House on the Hill is a scary blast! Even as my #1 favorite game, I know it’s got quirks, but it reminds me of what games are ultimately always supposed to be about…FUN.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tile-laying, semi-cooperative, story-driven Horror adventure set in a weird haunted house filled to the brim with pretty much every horror movie trope you can think of. In the first Act of the game, 3-6 explorers will be discovering new rooms, acquiring new items, and experiencing creepy events. Then, at a certain point unforeseen to the group, the Haunt will begin. In the Haunt, one of the explorers is revealed as a Traitor and the rest of them (then known as Heroes) must work together to defeat the Traitor. At the start of the game, you are simply building the house by exploring rooms. Each explorer has a character card that has 4 stats listed on it: Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge. Speed and Might are the Physical traits and Sanity and Knowledge are the Mental traits. Each character has a starting value for these stats with a different possible number range, and you will be gaining and losing from these traits throughout the game. Many rooms have an icon that corresponds to a card that you draw. These could be Events, Items, or Omens. Events have narrative text on them and often involve a dice roll to see what happens. Items are useful objects or weapons that will help you, especially during the Haunt. Omens are objects or companions that may help you at some point too, but they carry greater significance, because every time an Omen is found, you make a Haunt Roll. The Haunt Roll determines when the Haunt begins. You roll 6 dice and must roll at least the number of face-up Omen cards on the table. The dice only have faces for 0-2 by the way, so after several Omen cards have been found, the Haunt Roll becomes tougher and tougher to accomplish. Once the Haunt Roll is failed, that’s when the Haunt begins. The game comes with 2 books: Secrets of Survival for the Heroes and the Traitor’s Tome for the Traitor, and within these books are 50 different scenarios that might be triggered depending on what the last Omen card was and in what room it was found. The Traitor goes to a completely different room (literally) to read what he must do to win, and the Heroes consult their book and discuss what their strategy will be. I won’t spoil anything, but you never quite know what to expect for the Haunt scenario. Pretty much every classic horror movie trope is represented in some way plus some other truly unique storylines. Whoever fulfills their special objective is the winner.

Betrayal just screams imagination and creepiness if you lose yourself in the story. There is some personal bias here, as Betrayal was one of the games that got me interested in more unique games. I remember thinking, “Games can be a hobby? Hm.” Some of my fondest memories of playing board games have been when playing Betrayal: crazy storylines, a bit of funny role-playing, and creepy atmospheres. Occasionally, the Haunt ends up being a dud, just due to how the House was laid out, who has what items, and where the explorers and Traitor are located. But when Betrayal is good, it is the BEST in my view. I’m not going to pretend it’s a perfect game…sometimes the explanations in the individual Haunt texts raise some questions, sometimes specific situations require a more, shall I say, flexible interpretation of the rules, but generally you do your best and have fun. And that is what this game is all about: FUN. There are times when I am in the mood for a really serious, “thinky” abstract or a casual light card game, or a word game, or a heavy strategy Eurogame. Betrayal is perfect for a candlelit, immersive, exciting experience. I enjoy all the different rooms and how the house will be different from game to game. Then you add all the different Haunt scenarios (100 with the expansion!), and this game has so much variability. As far as the mechanics, the action system is simple, and many times you just read the cards and do as they say. Here is where being a cooperative game is so helpful, because it is a breeze to teach, as everyone can discuss and work together, and the only thing you are doing for the whole first Act is building the house and exploring. We actually have a house rule too where you cannot be the Traitor if you have never played before. This really takes the pressure off newcomers, so that way they don’t have to try to navigate the Traitor’s Tome all by themselves.

The components are good and plentiful. There are so many tokens it can actually be difficult to find exactly what you need if a certain event calls for it, so an organizer helps. The painted miniatures are nice too. The event cards are interesting and written fairly well. Some are genuinely creepy. They released the Widow’s Walk expansion in 2016, and if you like Betrayal, this one is excellent, at the least for all the new scenarios, cards, and rooms. Other games might be more consistent, but the fun and unpredictability of Betrayal make it my favorite game of all time.

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#2 – Pandemic

Pandemic

At a Glance: Pandemic is the ultimate cooperative experience. A large scale virus-fighting theme with a tight, time-sensitive design.

Pandemic is a cooperative game for 2-4 players designed by Matt Leacock. In Pandemic, you play a team of scientists and personnel trying to cure 4 major diseases that are spreading across the globe. Players will take the roles of Medic, Scientist, Researcher, Dispatcher, Quarantine Specialist, Contingency Planner, or Operations Expert, each with their own unique special abilities. The 4 diseases are represented by colored cubes and at the beginning of the game, 9 cities are infected, and the tension begins! On your turn you may do 4 actions, and these may be split or 4 of the same action. You can Move one space to a connecting city, Fly to different cities by discarding cards, Treat a disease by removing a cube in your city, Build a Research Station, Share Knowledge with others by giving and taking cards, or Discover a cure. In order to Discover cures, you will be collecting sets of cards and if you ever have 5 of the same color, you may turn them in at a Research Station and cure that disease. Once you have done your 4 actions, you draw 2 cards from the deck, and then you Infect more cities. The problem with adding cubes to cities is that if you ever have to add what would be the 4th cube to a city, an Outbreak occurs, and you add a cube to every adjacent city. What if one of those has 3 cubes as well? You guessed it. Another Outbreak. If the Outbreak Track reaches 8, everyone loses. When you draw cards on your turn, if you draw an Epidemic Card, these are the nastiest thing in the game. You increase the Infection rate (more cities becoming infected), draw a card from the bottom and place 3 cubes on it, then shuffle the discards and put them on the top of the deck. That’s right, the cities that are already infected, will be infected again. It is easier than you might think for the world to get overrun. If you ever have to place one of the disease cubes and the supply is exhausted, you lose. Lastly, the most common way to lose is to run out of cards in the Draw deck, which basically means you run out of time. If you are able to cure all 4 diseases in time, without getting overrun, everyone wins.

Like a couple other games Matt Leacock has designed, there are multiple ways to lose, but only one way to win. Something about this idea just elevates a cooperative game to excellence. More than any other cooperative game I know of, EVERY turn in Pandemic is vitally important. Time and efficiency are of the essence. Many times in a close loss, you can even think back and point to just a couple things you could have done differently to win the game. The difficulty is customizable depending on how many Epidemic cards you include in the deck. This is important for increasing the replayability and challenge for more experienced players. The game is pretty easy to learn, hence its incredible success in the mass market. The virus-fighting theme is also something that can really draw people in who are new, and since you’re not just building a castle for example, this theme feels important and more dire. One thing I love in games is when each character or role is unique and has varying abilities, AND when those abilities are actually cool. That is the case here. You feel like you really can contribute something indispensable to the group’s objective. You need the special abilities for sure because the Epidemics are such a brutal idea, but they enhance the gameplay in both a challenging and thematic way since the virus is tougher to contain in certain locations. The marriage of theme and mechanics is just so strong and it is always very engaging when you play.

Components are decent. They’re not really the focus here honestly. I would say they’re more than merely functional though. I do like the wooden bits, and the cards are nice quality. No complaints, that’s for sure. The map has a sharp look to it, and the city connections form an interesting web to navigate. There have been a few expansions and even other stand-alone games in the same Pandemic family. It is one of the top-selling games for a reason. This is the ultimate cooperative experience. I would suggest that Pandemic can actually improve you, no matter your age or gaming background: communication, teamwork skills, and critical thinking. Amazing.

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#3 – Arkham Horror

Arkham

At a Glance: Arkham Horror is unadulterated Lovecraftian adventure. Exploring the unknown, fighting abominable monsters, seemingly insurmountable odds, and cosmic dread? Yes, please!

Arkham Horror is a cooperative adventure for 1-8 Investigators set in horror author H. P. Lovecraft’s town of Arkham. The object of the game is to close interdimensional portals that are opening up across the town, all while under the impending doom of a slumbering Ancient One, which is a formidable being that you do NOT want to wake up. Investigators will be using dice based on their traits to resolve different situations and picking up weapons, items, and spells along the way. In each round, players may first move their character around Arkham based on what their Speed is. Arkham is made of street spaces and locations. If you end your turn in a location, you draw an encounter and resolve it. Encounters are short narratives that usually involve some sort of dice roll based on one of your traits (e.g. if your Lore stat is 3, you would get 3 dice). Then, you have Other Dimension Encounters (more on that in a second). At the end of the round, you draw a card for the Mythos phase. These set the stage for the flow of the game. First, a Mythos card tells you which location receives an open portal (called a Gate) to another, terrible dimension. Each time a portal opens, an abominable monster appears there. Then, it lists where Clue tokens appear. Then, it tells you how the monsters move that round. Lastly, you read the text on the Mythos card, which may describe a temporary condition that will affect gameplay in some way. Various monsters will be roaming the town, and if you are in the same space as one or more monsters, you must either fight or evade them. Monsters have stats like Horror where you must successfully roll a Will check or lose sanity, and a Combat rating with modifiers. You roll dice based on your Fight trait, and if you are successful, you defeat the monster and take him as a trophy. If you fail, you lose Stamina, which is very bad. If you reach 0 in either Stamina or Sanity, you are unconscious or insane and must move to either the Hospital or Asylum respectively and lose half your items. One of the first goals is to Close and Seal as many Gates as you can. First though, you must go through the Gate to one of the Other Worlds, explore it (you will draw a couple Other World Encounters while you’re there), and return to Arkham mostly unscathed. Closing a Gate is not that difficult, but Sealing requires 5 Clue tokens. However, if you are able to Seal 6 Gates, that is one way to win the game. Also, if you are able to close all open Gates, you can win that way too, though it is incredibly difficult and requires some luck (I’ve never done it). As players try to survive everything thrown at them and acquire items, weapons, and spells, the Ancient One gets closer and closer to waking the longer the players take to try to win the game by Closing/Sealing Gates. Doom tokens are placed on the Ancient One every time a new Gate opens and if there are too many, the Ancient One awakens. If and when that happens, the Final Battle begins and players throw everything they have at the horrific creature. If they are able to defeat the Ancient One, they win.

Ancient Ones

I skipped over some of the smaller aspects of the rules, but the overarching idea is that you need to try to Seal those Gates, fight some monsters so the town does not get overwhelmed, and try not to wake the Ancient One. If it does wake up, give it all you got and try to blast it back to its freakish dimension! The learning curve is real, and there are quite a few moving pieces, but this is one that really pays off the more familiar you become with it. When I reached the point where I didn’t have to consult the rulebook for most things, it got even more immersive and enjoyable. The Encounters and Mythos cards provide a cool narrative, and the Investigators are created well enough that it encroaches on being a role-playing game if you so choose. Each character has their unique strengths and weaknesses, and it is awesome when your party has complimentary traits and the feeling of camaraderie under these intense circumstances is nearly unrivaled. The game length is fairly long, anywhere from 2-5 hours or so depending on player count and what happens in the game. The time investment is matched by strategic depth and complex decision-making. This game is pretty unforgiving and can be very difficult, even when the dice rolls and card draws are mostly going your way! You will lose often, BUT when you overcome the nameless evils and seemingly insurmountable odds, it feels oh so sweet. Certainly, it is satisfying and somewhat rare to win before the big baddie even wakes up by Sealing enough Gates, but games won in the Final Battle are often more epic, and even if everyone except one player is devoured, that is still a win, because the town is saved (for now).

Investigator Sheet & Inventory

The components are PLENTIFUL and very good for the most part. I appreciate that they used little tokens for money instead of cheap paper. A lot of bits and pieces means a longer setup time of course. You don’t want to play this game on a small table if you can help it. The artwork is a surprisingly good bonus, especially on the monsters, which look pretty creepy. Everything just comes together for an epically amazing experience. They have just recently released a 3rd edition that actually reimagines a lot of the gameplay, so that is an in-print version that you can get your hands on, though I can’t say if it improves on the older edition…I’m a bit skeptical. I own the 2nd edition and the first game was released way back in 1987, though was honestly a very different game. They released a ton of expansions, and I can vouch for the Dunwich Horror and King in Yellow expansions being excellent. Whatever you can get your hands on, if you are a Lovecraft fan, or a horror fan, or even if you just love thrilling fantasy adventures with a challenge, check this out! Epic.

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New 3rd edition: https://amzn.to/2CEQDAv


#4 – Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

Isle

At a Glance: Isle of Skye brings so many things I love together in a great Scottish-themed package.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King is a Eurogame for 2-5 players where you are trying to build a kingdom for your Scottish clan by connecting roads to sources of income and landscapes together to complete different features and score points. Each person starts with a castle tile that provides 5 coins at the beginning of the game and every round. There are 16 total scoring tiles possible, but only 4 will be drawn from random each game. So every game’s goals are very different. Each turn, players draw 3 tiles to set in front of them. Then, behind their screen, they choose one tile to “axe” (discard) and set prices for the other two. This is done from your own gold inventory. The players reveal the prices and take turns purchasing (or not) one of their opponent’s tiles. You keep what is not purchased by your opponent but lose the money you priced it with. Then you place your tiles in your kingdom, making sure to match up lakes, mountains, and fields. You do not have to match up roads, but if you have continuous roads from your castle that lead to gold income tiles, then that increases your income every round. Then you score at the end of every round. However, only certain scoring tiles score for each round. For instance, only the “A” tile scores at the end of the first round. Then the “B” tile is scored at the end of the second round, and so forth. By the last round, multiple scoring tiles are scored. At the end of the game you get bonus points for certain tiles in your landscape and a point for every 5 coins. Whoever has the most points is the winner.

This is my favorite Eurogame (in the style of Carcassonne or Catan). There are so many things I love that this game melds together. Tile-laying, check. Appealing theme, check. Great aesthetics and component quality, check. Cool price-setting mechanic, check. Variable scoring, check. Replayability, check. Quick playtime, check. I expected to like this one at first, but I did not expect to like it AS MUCH as I do. Placing sheep-filled Scottish countryside tiles may not sound exciting, but this game really gets the gears going and the economic system is dynamic and very interesting. Do you price something on the cheap side because you think your opponent won’t want it? But then maybe they buy it because they know it will help you too much. Maybe you put a steep price on something, but then if they don’t take it, you lose that money. What a great, clever concept. Then, we have the scoring tiles. You only use 4 scoring tiles for each game, and there are 16 possible! This provides a huge change in focus from game to game on what aspects are valuable. Yet another strength this game has is that it is just as enjoyable at 2 players as the full player count.

Top notch quality in the production design and components round out the excellent position this game already holds in my mind and collection. It’s like icing on the cake for me. The Scottish Isle of Skye theme is such a great one and the color scheme is bright and it just looks really good on the table too. I highly recommend this one—my #4 favorite game right now!

Check it out: https://amzn.to/2LC8o68


#5 – Ticket to Ride: Europe (& Series)

Ticket to RideTicket to Ride

At a Glance: Ticket to Ride is the ultimate gateway to cooler games and a flagship of the hobby that does not have a weakness that I can see.

Ticket to Ride was released in 2004 and has since exploded into one of the best-selling games, with many different versions offered now. My favorite that I have played is Ticket to Ride: Europe, released in 2005. The Ticket to Ride series of games involves connecting train routes between two cities on the map by turning in sets of cards, and amassing points along the way. On your turn, you may either draw two cards, build a section of train, or draw more routes to complete. There is a face-down draw deck and 5 face-up cards in a row. If you draw cards, you may draw one or both from either area, but if you select a wild card (locomotive), then you may not draw a second card. The route sections on the map have certain colors on them which denote which sets of colored cards you need to turn in to place your trains there. If the route is grey, then it may be a set of any color. Some routes are long, like 6 trains, and some are as short as 1 train. Play continues until one player has only 2 or fewer trains left and whoever has the most points is the winner. It is possible, dare I say likely, that you will not complete all your routes or someone will block a route that you needed. Any routes that you do not complete count negatively against you, as much as they would have counted positively! So incomplete routes are a big deal, and they can make or break a game.

In the Europe version, it adds Tunnels which may end up costing you a couple more cards to build, Ferries which only use the wild cards, and Stations that let you use one of someone else’s routes to complete your own. I also really appreciate the Europe version because it has regular-sized cards (where the original game had smaller cards). Ticket to Ride has one of the best risk/reward systems as routes are worth the same, either positive or negative depending on if you complete it. This adds a great tension, especially when faced with maybe tackling a new route toward the end. It is really simple to get the hang of, and with more familiarity, brings more charm and comfortable satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, you can get really competitive with it and there are brainy moments, but this can also be a good casual, coffee-drinking chilled out game.

As far as the Europe version, we do not play with the Stations very often. It is a bit too forgiving in my view, but everything else makes this my preferred version, but not by much. I own the original game as well and especially with new players, I pull that one out gladly. Like the first game, the map looks wonderful and the components are very good. I like how the city names are listed in their original language. Ultimately, whatever version interests you or that you can get your hands on will be a winner.

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#6 – Twilight Struggle

Twilight

At a Glance: Twilight Struggle is a perfect encapsulation of the Cold War: paranoia, provocation, power, prestige and propaganda.

Twilight Struggle is a strategy game for 2 players set during the Cold War where one person plays as the USA and the other as the USSR. Gameplay involves playing cards and placing Influence in different countries around the world. The game is separated into 3 periods, Early, Mid, and Late War, split into 10 total rounds, maximum. The game could end sooner than that, however, as the goal of the game is to reach 20 Victory Points, which are gained in a few different ways. Each round begins with Improving the DEFCON status. DEFCON starts at 5 (peace) at the beginning of the game and may go down to 1 (nuclear war). Certain events and military actions like Wars and Coups degrade the DEFCON status. If you ever cause DEFCON to reach 1 and nuclear war to start, you lose the game. Everyone is dealt a hand of cards and the Headline phase starts. All cards other than regional Scoring cards have an Operations number and event text. For the Headline phase, only the event text is resolved. Cards either benefit the USA, USSR, or both. So in the Headline phase you want to play a card that benefits you. Then, the meat of the game takes place, which is the Action phase where players will be playing cards from their hand and either using the Operations points or resolving the event. The catch is that if you use the Operations points on a card that benefits your opponent, that event still occurs. So in that situation, it is a tough balance of helping your opponent, but not as much as you’re helping yourself. Operations points may be used to place Influence across the map. Influence determines who controls certain countries and whenever the Scoring cards are played for each region, each player has a chance to score Victory Points at that moment depending on how much they dominate that region. Operations points are also used to try to overthrow control in countries by rolling a certain number for Realignment or attempting a more aggressive Coup. You may also use a card to advance on the Space Race, which gives you special advantages if you get to milestones first. And the other cool thing about the Space Race is that the event text does not happen, so it is a good way to get rid of a card that would really help your opponent. Players alternate playing cards, using Operations points, trying to spread their Influence around, and resolving events that help each other. After the Action phase, you check the Military Operations Track (you must complete a certain number of militaristic actions and if you don’t you receive a penalty). Then, the next round begins. If no one reaches 20 Victory Points before the 10th round ends, then whoever ends up on top in final scoring is the winner.

You would be hard pressed to find a better strategy game with a historical theme. It is so thematically sound, it is educational. Instead of nondescript chits on a map, it actually feels like you are playing through the Cold War years, albeit an alternate history, so to speak. There are literally thousands of options on your turn. And that may seem overwhelming, but it is also very freeing. Depending on what cards you have, things can go in very different directions from game to game. Do you try to penetrate the superpower’s hold on their side of Europe? Exercise your Influence over the Middle East? Advance on the Space Race? Attempt a risky Coup? If this topic interests you, you will find so many things to appreciate about these options and all they included in the game. I enjoy the way the Action phase works where you REALLY don’t want to play cards that help your opponent, but it is inevitable, so you have to make those Operations points count. The Space Race is a nice separate mini-game, and I really appreciate the way the current DEFCON status affects what you can or cannot do in certain regions, like making Coup attempts in Europe. The battleground countries end up being great tug-of-war matches too. Sure, it is certainly not a casual, beer & pretzels type game. Your brain will be firing on all cylinders. The tension is palpable. The paranoia is real.

The deluxe edition is very nice, and has a giant board. There are plenty of reminder tokens for different events that have lasting effects for instance. The cards are very thick, and would be hard to ever wear out. The rules are laid out more like a conventional war game would have, and I would definitely recommend watching one of the good video tutorials on YouTube before playing. What’s great though is that the game is actually fairly simple once you familiarize yourself with the first play. But the strategic and analytical depth is astounding. Generally, you might have a good idea if you’ll like this before you even play it, based on the theme and heavy strategy style. But if this really interests you like it did me, try it out! This one is a LEGEND.

Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SnGiOT


#7 – Dead of Winter

Dead

At a Glance: Dead of Winter is a superb survival horror game. If an intense, story-driven adventure set in a zombie apocalypse blizzard sounds amazing, it is!

Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative survival horror game for 2-5 players set in a zombie apocalypse blizzard. The game is set up with a main board that is the “Colony” and 6 external locations. Each person starts with a couple survivors at the colony and 3 dice. You may perform one action per dice result, like Attacking, Searching, or Placing a Barricade. Some actions do not require a die in order to perform them, but the main actions do. Each survivor has stats for their Attacking and Searching. If a survivor has an Attack stat of 3+, that means that you may use a die result of 3+ to do that action. Each game has a different scenario and main goal to complete. Everyone also has a secret private objective that they must also fulfill in order to win. However, there might be a traitor in your midst! If someone drew a Betrayal card at the beginning of the game, then they win if the main objective is failed and they meet their private objective. There is a Round Track that counts down and a Morale Track. Each round goes like this: first, you must deal with a crisis. You flip over a crisis card and throughout the round, players will be secretly contributing the requisite types of cards to the crisis. Nothing happens if you fulfill the requirements, but if the group fails, there are consequences. Everyone rolls the action dice simultaneously and take their turns. At the beginning of your turn, the player to your right draws one of the Crossroads cards. Crossroads cards have some sort of trigger at the top, and if at any point, the active player triggers it, Play is stopped and the Crossroads card is resolved. You can move to external locations and attack zombies, but every time you do, you must roll the dreaded Exposure Die. The Exposure Die may give you nothing (hopefully), wounds, frostbite, or (God forbid) a bite which means your survivor dies! That means every major action may have dire consequences. You may search locations for much-needed supply, barricade an entrance to protect against zombies, clean waste at the colony, attract zombies, play a card, contribute to the crisis, spend food to improve your dice result, give or take items, vote to exile someone, or a special action listed on your survivor card. Whenever the group votes to exile someone they think is a traitor, the accused is kicked out of the colony and moved to an outside location and their secret objective changes a bit. After the player turns, you feed the people at the colony, make sure there is not too much waste at the colony, and resolve the crisis. But then, more zombies show up! Then a new round begins, but you only have a limited amount of time to complete the objective. If the Morale or Round Track reach 0, or the main objective is completed, the game ends and if you have completed your objectives, you win.

Dead of Winter is an excellent semi-cooperative game (can be cooperative, and always is with 2-players). It may seem like a lot to take in, as there are a lot of factors in play, but once you get the hang of it, it is such an immersive experience. Always intense, it is challenging to balance the problems at hand…try not to get overrun by the zombie horde, try to feed your people, try to search for desperately-needed supplies, and don’t forget the dreaded RED DIE that you have to roll every time you attack a zombie or move to a location. I like the way searching works, as you can “make noise” to search more, but you risk attracting more zombies. So even if we stop right there, we have a great game on our hands. But what really pushes this game to the next level for me is the Crossroads deck, where events can trigger depending on what you do on your turn. It really adds a depth of narrative and decision-making that is truly innovative, and just plain cool. And in a market full of zombified things that are just mediocre, this game stands out.

There are definitely a ton of standees, one for every survivor character and a lot of zombies. The dice are small, but good, and the red Exposure Die is especially cool. There are a bunch of cards that you will never see in just one game, and with the different objectives and outcomes, the replayability factor is high. The box is high quality and the cover art is well done (kudos to Fernanda Suarez). The production, theme and gameplay come together for an excellent experience. Turn down the lights and immerse yourself in the survival horror of Dead of Winter.

See if you can survive: https://amzn.to/2AdBZhW


#8 – Carcassonne

Carcassonne

At a Glance: Carcassonne is the Godfather of tile-laying games and the funny term “meeple”. It is still going very strong for many good reasons.

Carcassonne is a tile-laying game for 2-5 players where the goal is to complete features of a landscape and score points for them by placing your “meeples” around the countryside. The tiles have some combination of field, city, or road, plus there are cloisters scattered around. On your turn, you draw one tile and place it adjacent to existing tiles so that the features connect properly (ex. road to road, field touching field). Then, you may place one of your meeples on a feature on the tile you just placed. Features are scored once they’re completed. If it is on a road, that meeple is a robber, and it scores 1 point for every tile for the total length of the road once it’s finished. A meeple placed in a city is a knight, and it scores 2 points for each city tile. A meeple placed in a cloister is a monk, and it scores 1 point for every tile placed around it, for a maximum of 9 points. If a meeple is placed on a field, they are a farmer and they are laid down flat. Farmers score a bit differently and only at the end of the game, scoring 3 points for each completed city that touches their field. Fields have the potential to be very large, but all farmers stay there until the end of the game. Otherwise, when other features are completed, they are scored and the meeple is returned to its owner. Once all tiles have been placed, the incomplete features are scored (only 1 point for each incomplete city tile), the farms are scored, and whoever has the most points is the winner.

Carcassonne was released in 2000, and is designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It is still going as strong as ever, and has had many expansions and versions released for it over the years. All this for good reason. Carcassonne has a satisfying simplicity, but has an ever-expanding set of strategic options as the game goes on and the landscape grows. It is great to see the countryside spread out across the table. The meeples are finite, so you are often faced with tough decisions like whether you should place your last meeple on something. It is risky to do so, unless you know you will get at least one back soon. The farmers, which are the toughest thing to get used to, can make or break a game. A field can become a huge interconnected web, and it can score really big. You can never place a meeple on a feature where there is already another meeple, but sometimes it happens that features merge together, deliberately or not. In this case, the points go to the majority or are shared in the case of a tie. Tile-laying is already one of my favorite mechanics in games, so this one gets a (probably) biased boost to begin with. I enjoy the extreme variability that it brings, as the landscape looks different every single time. And depending on your draws, you may focus on monks this time around, or focus on big cities next time. It scales very well, playing as well with 2 as it does with 5 (or 6 with expansion). And boy, is it accessible and easy to learn. At the top level you have a casual fun experience, then deeper in, you have some nice strategic nuance.

The components are nice. It’s hard not to like the wooden meeples. In fact, this is the first game to use that particular shape, and it is pretty much confirmed that the term “meeple” was inspired from this game back in 2000. If you like Carcassonne at all, I highly recommend getting at least one of the expansions. The best one for me is the Traders & Builders expansion, which adds a bonus turn opportunity, and resources to cities which adds some incentive to actually complete someone else’s city. The Inns & Cathedrals expansion is also very good, which adds a much-needed risk/reward mechanic. Sometimes we play an epic game of Carcassonne with all expansions we have included, which I love. This is a magnificent game—well-structured scoring, relaxing, and a good balance of strategy and luck.

Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SkA0iG


#9 – 7 Wonders

7 Wonders

At a Glance: 7 Wonders makes civilization-building more fun and engaging than ever. Will you focus on military, science, or grand architecture as you build an empire from the ground up?

The 7 Wonders

7 Wonders is a civilization-building card-drafting game for 2-7 players where everyone takes control of one ancient civilization as it develops over three Ages. The game uses a card-drafting mechanic for each Age. 7 cards are dealt to each player. Everyone chooses one card, then passes the rest to the player beside them. Everyone reveals theirs simultaneously, contributing the resource cost or trading with neighboring cities. Some cards provide resources so you can more easily pay for future cards. Some cards only score at the end of the game. Some cards create trading routes making it cheaper to use neighboring resources. The drafting & passing continues until the cards are gone, then the next Age begins. After each Age, you check the military strength between all the neighboring cities. Basically, you either get points for having a stronger military than either of your two neighbors or a penalty for losing. As you progress through the Ages, some cards may be paid for through previously built structures in lieu of their resource cost. For instance, if you build the Altar in the 1st Age, then you may build the Temple for free later on. In addition to placing cards in your area, you may discard them under your wonder board and attempt to build the seventh wonder of the ancient world that corresponds to your civilization. After the 3rd Age ends, you count up all your victory points and whoever has the most is the winner.

7 Wonders is an incredibly well-designed civilization-building game. It is nearly impossible to create a 100% balanced civilization, so there is quite an interesting strategic dynamic in selecting your pathway to victory: will you build up your military at the expense of science? Will you be ruler of the marketplace at the expense of your strength in battle? I definitely recommend this with 4+ players if you can, because this just adds to the depth of strategy. However, some of my games have been with just the 2 player variant too, and it still has engaging gameplay. Because everything is done simultaneously, this is one of those rare games that work well with 7 players with very little downtime. Also, the trading aspect is really great, as you can only purchase resources from the 2 people sitting on either side of you. It provides a cool level of interaction, but because it is only your neighbors, it is not overwhelming.

The components are very nice, especially the wonder boards, which are large and thick and the artwork is very well done which is a nice visual bonus. The Wonders boards are also double-sided with a more complex B-side you can play with. 7 Wonders plays quick but feels grandiose. It accommodates a larger group with little downtime. It just wins on a lot of different levels.

Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SieCLc


#10 – Mysterium

Mysteirum

At a Glance: Mysterium is not merely a board game but an experience. It is a social venture into abstract communication in an eerie atmosphere.

Mysterium is a cooperative deduction game for 2-7 players where one person will play the ghost and everyone else plays the investigative mediums. The investigators are trying to solve the old case of the ghost’s murder. Who killed him? How did they kill him? And where did they kill him? Sounds like Clue, eh? Well, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The catch is that the ghost cannot speak. The ghost may only communicate with the investigators through abstract visions and dreams to try to get them to ascertain who the suspects are. These visions are represented by large cards with abstract artwork, much like bizarre dreams. The game is set up with a lineup for suspect characters, locations, and murder weapons. Each investigator has a set of three answers (1 of each type) that is unique to them. Each round, which is represented by hours on the clock, the ghost gives at least one vision to every player that corresponds to their associated card. You must guess in order, starting with characters, then locations, then weapons, so it is possible and even likely that players will be at different stages at the same time. If everyone gets all three correct in time, then you move to the final round where everyone puts their sets in the middle of the table and only one set will be the correct interpretation. The ghost lays out exactly 3 cards that correspond to one of the sets and if the players vote correctly, everyone wins! The ghost’s spirit may now rest in peace. There is a Clairvoyance voting mechanic for a more advanced game. We do not generally play with it, but it allows other players to interact more and be more involved for every card played. Those who vote well gain on the clairvoyancy track. If you do well, then you may see all three vision cards before voting in the final round.

What an experience this game is. I love being the ghost, stretching my creativity and making the best with the vision cards I have. Sometimes, the answer seems so obvious you are silently yelling at the investigators in your head. Other times, you are stuck with poor card choices, and the investigators surprisingly follow your bizarre wavelengths of thought, and get it correct anyway, which is a sweet feeling. Once you are allowed to break your silence, it is fun to talk through the reasoning behind the clues. As the investigators, it is fun to discuss the possible interpretations of the abstract visions, and there are some really tough decisions to make. When the group prevails, it is a great rah-rah feeling. The difficulty setting is also very customizable too, which is awesome, as the hardest difficulty will challenge even the best communicative partners. I feel like the game works best with at least 4 players.

Mysterium has the best artwork of any game I have played. There are a lot of vision cards and each image is well done and multi-dimensional in that it is not just a simple picture of one basic object, but rather a conglomeration of things that are not always related in an obvious way. The game also comes with great translucent plastic crystal ball figures and a big unnecessary cardboard clock dial to keep track of time, which adds nice flair. Light some candles, put some eerie music on, turn on your telepathic skills, and enjoy this truly remarkable experience of a game.

Check it out: https://amzn.to/2RcvVjj