Monday, September 08, 2008

My Top Five Games

Following are my top five favorite games as I list them on Boardgamegeek. Choosing any list of top games out of the hundreds I play is really kind of silly. Different games are better in different situations at different times and what may be a great game at a particular time with particular people might be a disaster with different people at a different time. Or something.

Nevertheless, since we humans like to rate things, below is what I have decided are my favorite games.

Please note that Agricola is not on the list. It is a fantastic game and I anticipate playing it for years to come. I certainly rank it among my favorite games but I haven’t settled yet where it will go. Besides, I rate Agricola a 10 and I suspect that I may be a shill. So I’m leaving it off the list to balance out my obvious bias. I will further flagellate myself later.

All of these games are medium intensity, requiring sound strategic choices over the course of the game with important tactical opportunities that must be considered. Throughout these games players develop resources and make steady progress towards victory. All of these games are intense yet fun.

All images from Boardgamegeek.

# 5 - Railroad Tycoon by Glenn Drover and Martin Wallace

In Railroad Tycoon, the goal is to create a network of awesome-looking railroad lines allowing you to ship goods longer and longer distances while taking advantage of numerous tactical scoring opportunities that crop up. There are multiple routes to victory and agonizing choices throughout.

The newest entry into my top five. When we first started playing this game, we played it at every opportunity. A couple of times when we were out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night, we would retire to our game room and start playing after midnight. What’s even more notable is that I’ve never won a game of RT. I’ve done really well, in fact I’ve lost several times by a single point, but someone always manages to do slightly better than me. During my first half dozen plays the game frustrated me so much that on more than one occasion, I swore never to play it again. Now I can’t wait to play again and I hope to one day win my first game.

#4 - Princes of Florence by Richard Ulrich and Wolfgang Kramer

In Princes of Florence, players are Renaissance patrons seeking to inspire craftsman and artists to create great works on the player’s manor. An auction for landscapes, builders, jesters and various cards leads off each round followed by the purchase of buildings, freedoms, other cards and the playing of Work cards. Once a work is created, the player must decide whether to take the proceeds in cash to assist in future auctions or to sacrifice the cash to gain victory points, a fiendishly tough decision. The player whose works gain the most prestige is the winner.

A sophisticated theme and a wonderful blend of many different mechanics make Princes of Florence challenging and satisfying. Player interaction is mostly limited to the auctions that start each round but the auctions can make or break your strategy; depriving an opponent of a crucial element of his Work can cost him the game. What I really love about POF is the necessity of intricate plans to produce the highest possible value work at the right time and managing your resources to make it happen. It’s a juggling act, but a heck of a lot of fun.

#3 - El Grande by Richard Ulrich and Wolfgang Kramer

El Grande is the quintessential “area control” game where players place their Caballeros in Spanish provinces, hoping to have multiple majorities when scoring occurs after every third round. There’s virtually no luck, so skill in taking advantage of which action cards are revealed each turn to manipulate Caballeros is key.

El Grande is an awesomely balanced five player game, undoubtedly one of the best five player games we play. Each turn calls for tactical decisions to maximize your action, while simultaneously keeping all of your competitors at bey. Pulling off a double-whammy of taking control of a province while simultaneously knocking an opponent off his perch in another province is incredibly satisfying.

#2 - Euphrat & Tigris by Reiner Knizia

In E&T, the players represent the very first civilizations rising in the fertile crescent. You place your leaders on the map and build civilizations with farmers, traders, priests, and government tiles. Build adjacent to another civilization and you may go to war with potentially devastating results. Civil war is also possible as leaders clash. Build a monument and receive a steady income of victory points, but be careful; too many riches can draw the attention of greedy enemy leaders looking to usurp your position.

The oldest game on my list, E&T is the masterwork of my favorite designer, Reiner Knizia. In the original Hans Im Gluck version, the pieces are beautiful and fantastic, and the play is tense and brain-burning. You have almost limitless options and on any given turn while you play what you think is your best move, you’re almost certain that there’s a better move you could have made.

#1 - Taj Mahal by Reiner Knizia

In another Knizia gem, players represent different political factions in India. Play cards to establish your position in various areas, hoping to build palaces in the current province. Leave the battle when you’re in the lead to collect your prize. Leave when you’re behind and get nothing. Establish chains of palaces for big points or collect province tiles and score when collecting resources.

Taj Mahal is seemingly a one-note game. The mechanics are fairly simple. You do the same thing for 12 rounds and then whoever has the most points wins. So, what’s to like? Turns out, everything.

Taj Mahal is one of the most tense games I play. There’s a definite poker aspect as you play chicken with the other players, hoping they’ll back off while you’re in the lead. Are you bluffing or do you have the cards? Heads-up contests between two or three players can be absolutely devastating to those who stay in too long and end up with nothing. Other times you go in hoping to take one quick palace and end up taking most of the province. Rarely in a game does accurately reading your opponents pay off such large dividends. Best with five players, Taj Mahal is simply a great gaming experience.

And those are my five favorites. (Currently.)

1 comment:

ahtitan said...

Interesting to see that nothing has knocked Taj Mahal off the top of your list in the last decade. I liked it when I played, but still feel no need to purchase it. Perhaps with more plays I'd like it better.

Also interesting to see some games not make the list, like Puerto Rico.