Here’s the final installment of my list. See the previous part. Now we’re getting to seriously good games.
String Railway — Build railways of strings. Simple, sometimes frustratingly imprecise, but all the same very charming. This is a delightful game, a lovely filler in a small box that works with a full range of players from two to five. Beautiful game. Just don’t take it too seriously, that’ll suck the fun out of it like a vacuum. The strings just aren’t that exact.
Carcassonne — The classic tile-laying game. I got into this when the game was new – the copy I still have is imported from Germany and has home-made River expansion. I never really got into expansions, and eventually got a bit bored (between 2003 and 2010 was a seven-year period when I played exactly two games of Carcassonne). The excellent iOS version of the game got me back playing Carcassonne, and now that my son is old enough, we’ve started to play Carcassonne a lot more. This is a keeper, but I still prefer the game without expansions, or using just one expansion at most.
1825 — I bundled all the different 1825 games in one package for the purposes of this list. I’ve mostly played 1825 Unit 3 as a two-player game, and I’ve only played Unit 1 and Unit 2 once. I haven’t tried any of the combinations yet. That’s on my to-do list. Anyway, 1825 is the best 18xx games on this list, and perhaps slightly overrated, as it’s almost four years from my previous play and I haven’t really felt the need to play this… but at the same time, I know this set has a permanent place in my collection, considering I own all of it.
Kingdom Builder — Many people complain about this game, but many also like it. I’m firmly in the camp that likes the game. It’s such a clever game. Simple rules, simple gameplay, yet so engaging. It’s not all luck, either: I’ve won more than just random distribution would suggest, and I rarely lose to the hard AI of the iOS version. I think there’s a rather real skill element to this game, even if the cards can sometimes work against you. As a family game or casual game, Kingdom Builder is very good.
Preußische Ostbahn — My favourite game from Winsome (well, almost). I think this is the best one of the Winsome historical cube games: all the different railroad companies with their special powers, the brilliant turn order mechanism where turn order is random and weighted depending on your success in the game, so that the losing players can get several turns per round and the leading player gets one turn, if she gets a move at all. That’s just so unfair and so much fun. It’s an interesting challenge to win by not taking turns at all!
Go — No Chess on my list. Go, however, earns a spot. It’s been years since I last played Go face to face, but considering I have online games going all the time, I’ve already played several hundred games of Go, more than any other game. I’m not particularly fanatic about it, though, and haven’t really studied the game, I’ve just read couple of books. I’m not that interested in devoting lots of effort to one game, no matter how good.
Mahjong — Another classic on my list. I like Rummy games, and Mahjong is the ultimate Rummy game. This one I never get to play – it’s just too hard to organize a game, and most people enjoy the wrong kinds of Mahjong. My favourite style is Zung Jung, designed by Alan Kwan (who is a fan of eurogames). The key word here is “designed”: Zung Jung is thoughtfully designed to follow reasonable principles. It just hasn’t evolved in a haphazard way, like Riichi. It also isn’t overly complicated, like the Chinese official. But most Mahjong players these days are Japan-influenced and prefer Riichi. Also, Mahjong requires four players, who all should be familiar with the game, otherwise it’s painfully slow. It’s not a complicated game and should move fast – if it doesn’t, it’s really boring.
Agricola — When this one came out in 2007, I played it in the Helcon convention and were suitably impressed. I was originally going to wait for the English edition, but then I just had to purchase the German edition. That’s still what I have, but of course after that I’ve got the animeeples and vegimeeples. I’m slightly odd in the sense that I don’t like the advanced game with the cards; I only play the family game. It’s much better that way. Agricola is also not particularly game group friendly, because I don’t like the way it takes closer to three hours, if there’s five players and newbies involved. These days I play Agricola with my son, and we crank a two-player game in 30–40 minutes or so. That’s a game I like.
Machi Koro — Is Machi Koro really better than Agricola? That’s a good question, but I’ve clocked over 25 plays in the year or so the game has been around. It’s a family game: I play it with my son, who really likes it. The important thing here is the expansion: it really is mandatory. I don’t think the game has lasting power in itself: having all cards available all the time allows one to use the same strategy every time. The random card draw and the increased variety the new buildings bring are essential for enjoying the game.
Innovation — Goofy, luck-heavy, prone to amazing swings. That’s a Carl Chudyk game to you. Innovation is the best of them, thanks to the clever theme. I’ve been itching to translate the game in Finnish, because I think my son would like it… I’d also appreciate a regular opponent, because this is an entertaining game that gets played too rarely.
The City – This game may be in the featherweight group, but it’s always a pleasure. Sometimes the matches are terribly lopsided, when somebody gets an engine rolling, but the pain is quickly over – and then you can play again. This is a top-notch filler and once everybody is familiar with the game, it’s very easy and quick to play. As light games come, it’s one of the best. This game is always a pleasure to play. I really hope Tom Lehmann can get the English edition out at some point, because this game deserves wider distribution.
Oregon — This was a bit of a surprise… I’ve played lots of this at Yucata, and for some reason I really like Oregon, especially as a two-player game. The game flows well, there’s some urgency to it, a good mix of skill and luck. The better player will win most of the time, but sometimes you can get lucky or unlucky (I never enjoy drawing a coal mine). There are some delightful tactical situations: it’s always very satisfying to be able to play all cards from hand, using both special tiles while flipping them back up. Rushing the cowboys on the board to keep upper hand on tempo, while trying to build a decent infrastructure of buildings… It’s all very pleasing.
Brass — I passed this game for many, many years. Then I tried it, played some on Brass Online, and realized this is a great game. I’m not particularly good at this game, winning is quite difficult for me, but playing the game is fun. I see a small danger here, of getting stuck to a particular strategy – I should learn to use Cotton Mills better. But this is always a pleasure to play, and so far I have no need for the alternate maps Age of Industry provides. I’ve played Age of Industry once, and prefer Brass.
Tarock — A catch-all for a family of games, but mostly this includes two variations: the two-player game of Strohmann-Tarock and the Slovenian Tarock we play with three or four players. These are all very good trick-taking games in the Austro-Hungarian Tarock family. I found the games when I wrote a book on card games and had to figure out what these Tarot games were. I’ve tried many games, but the Slovenian game stuck with us: it’s an excellent and exciting game. Of course, playing with tarock cards is an extra bonus, as the cards are pretty and perhaps a bit special compared to regular playing cards.
Age of Steam — This is my favourite game I never play… after 2010, just two plays. For some reason Age of Steam is particularly difficult to play, even though it’s not a really long game, or very complicated game. I’ve sold bunch of expansions I collected, when they were just collecting dust. Age of Steam is an exciting, challenging game, that really should see more play, because it is an excellent system – but it is the apex of a long development, there are plenty of games that came before it (couple of them on this Top 100 list, too), so no wonder it is so good.
Suburbia — Very much my kind of game. Building cities is fun, there’s just the right amount of interaction (ie. not much) and lots of variety, thanks to the different buildings and their random appearance. The Suburbia, Inc. expansion is a must-have, it brings extra variety without making the game any more complicated. It just expands the possibilities. I’m glad that my son has shown interest for Suburbia, we’ve already played the game twice. He can’t read English, but fortunately there’s not much text in the tiles, and they’re all public. This will see lots of play in the years to come, I’m sure of that.
San Juan — Forget Puerto Rico, forget Race for the Galaxy, San Juan is much better than either of those games. Here the expansion is also highly recommended, but I notice the new 2014 edition includes the expansion buildings right away. That is very good, because a game like this benefits from variety. San Juan is one of those games that I always enjoy playing. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit so far: it’s one of the few games where I’ve logged over hundred plays. I should probably do a Finnish translation so I could play this with my son.
Die Dolmengötter — This is one of the personal oddities in my top 10. I have couple of friends who really understand this game, but most people don’t see what’s so great about this game. But it is excellent: the way you have to co-operate with other players, and how you have to figure out a way to get your best dolmens on the best possible positions. Against skilled opponents, there’s no mercy available: in order to win, you have to maximise the scores from your most valuable dolmens. And all this in just 20 minutes or so. The game plays swift and is exciting until the very end. The only problem is that despite the wider player range printed on the box, this is actually a four-player game.
Dominion — This is the one boring game in my top 10, but I can’t help it: over 120 plays, and I still enjoy the game a lot. Of course, just the basic set would’ve run out of steam by now, but the stream of expansions have kept the game fresh. Well, all of them are not equally necessary and probably just four or so expansions would’ve been enough, but well, I don’t complain. Dominion has also seen regular play in the last few years, because my son likes it a lot. Fortunately the game has been published in Finnish. Dominion is a modern classic and still the best deck-building game there is. I would recommend this to just about anybody looking for a challenging, interesting and exciting game.
Samarkand: Routes to Riches — Removing the auctions from a Winsome auction-based share-and-train games worked out quite well! I’ve yet to play Age of Scheme, the more complicated original version of Samarkand, but I know it can’t be this good. This is such a perfect game: it plays fast, is full of interesting maneuvers and end-game timing decisions. The game is over sooner than you expect. You really have to be alert and aware of the consequences of your moves. There are many ways to score, and a skilled player will find many ways to win. This is delightful in many ways. I just recently acquired the Family Connection expansion to this game, but I’m not sure if that will get any use.