I’m kind of an addict for top 10 lists. If I’m procrastinating by reading articles online and I get to the bottom and see a compelling top 10 list, I’m usually hard-pressed not to click.
So here’s my first Top 10 of any kind: my 10 favorite games (that I didn’t create). My criteria is… um… whatever the heck I feel like. So yeah. This will likely change–frequently–but for now… let’s start with games 10 thru 6:
10) Walls of Light, by Jesse Catron
Every time I purchase one of my own games from The Game Crafter, I try to purchase at least one other game by another designer. I had seen this one talked about in the chat a couple times, and my brief interactions with Jesse portrayed him as a nice enough fellow, and his game won The Ice Pack Games contest, so I figured I’d give it a go. You can read my full review of the game on the shop page, but put simply, this is a wonderful little 20-30 minute game.
Essentially, each player chooses a glass color (red, yellow, or blue), and tries to fill up windows with their glass type. When a window is full, the last player to fill it receives points for the variety of colors, while all players receive points for the number of glass pieces they have in the window. Secondary colors can be made when the die color you roll corresponds to a glass type already in the window. This option can serve to block other players from getting points, or to increase the variety of colors when you score the window.
Except for a few nitpicks on clarity with the rules, this is one of the best 2 player, non-traditional games I’ve ever played.
Hoo-rah! Quick set-up time, unique mechanics, good balance between offensive and defense actions.
Blech… Too easy to block the +1 point and +1 card spaces. Needs more card-drawing opportunities!
9) Root Word, by Carl Chudyk
Here’s another great shorty. I’m always impressed when a game can be simple but still exciting, and able to fit into a random half an hour. And if the game can be done entirely with a very-portable deck of cards–even better. Mind you, the shortest games on my list are furthest back, so that should give you a sense of how I appreciate more epic games, but still, it’s not easy to make a quick, fun, original game.
In Root Word, players have cards with letters and colors. There are 3 actions available to you at any given time:
1) you put down a ‘root’ in front of you, which doesn’t have to be a root in the traditional sense– it can just be a letter or two that you imagine you’ll be able to make into a real word (but the colors need to align).
2) you can steal a root in front of another player (as long as colors align)
3) you can score a word in front of you using any number of cards from your hand (which don’t need colors to align)
After your turn, you always redraw so your hand is 7 cards. Game time is easy to establish– simply choose how much of the deck you want to play with, and play until it’s empty. This game makes use of a number of excellent strategic elements. There’s offensive and defensive maneuvers– ‘steal that player’s hand, or score my own? Wow, I have an entire word in my hand– should I play the whole thing at once, or start with just a piece of it? Ugh, I really need more cards. Can I just throw down this ‘KAB’ as a root and hope something comes up?’ Once the deck is empty, players simply count up their cards and the player with the most wins.
No points to keep track of, very little analysis paralysis. Weeee! Root Word has eliminated all desire for me to play Scrabble.
Hoo-rah! Extremely portable, strategic, easy to learn, amazing punch in just a game of cards!
Blech… Art design leaves something to be desired, sometimes the letters in your hand is awesome but the colors just don’t align like you need them to…
8 ) Wizard, by Ken Fisher
Speaking of card games that pack a punch, this was the first game I think I ever fell in love with. Sounds silly yes, but I still remember clearly that party where young David Sheerin, Benjamin Tripp, and I sat down to play Wizard, a deceptively simple card game using a normal 52-card deck with just a couple extra card types: a Wizard and a Jester.
Gameplay is simple enough— basically four events per round: dealing, bidding, playing, scoring. Everyone gets the same number of cards as the round it is. Then, everyone looks at the hand and guesses how many hands (‘tricks’) they’ll win that round once all their cards are played, taking into account the trump suit of that round. After the round ends, players score points based on how close the number of tricks they’ve won are to the number they’ve guessed. A Wizard is an automatic win and a Jester is an automatic pass. And everytime you play a Wizard, you have to shout ‘WIZARD!!‘ in a ridiculous voice.
What I love most about this game is two things: the increasing stakes, and the strategic element of not scoring points for how good your hand is, but rather for how well you predict how good your hand is. I had never played a game with that level of… self-awareness? I guess. Games like Poker, you just get dealt a crappy hand and there’s nothing you can do about it. But in Wizard, you can get a crappy hand, predict that you’ll score 0 tricks because it’s so crappy, then get 20 points because you were right!
In some ways, having a really good hand can be something of a liability, especially later in the game. For example, if you have 8 really good cards, maybe you’ll predict that you’ll win 8 tricks. But alas! Someone brought down your trump Ace of Spades with a ‘WizARD!!!‘ You only won 7 tricks. Does that mean you get 70 points? Nope. Scoring is such that you get 20 points guessing your number of tricks correctly, then +10 for the number of tricks themselves. If you’re wrong, you don’t gain any points; you lose 10 for every trick you were off. So yeah, if you were right about those 8 tricks, that’s a whopping 110 points, but if you were off by 1, that’s -10. And shucks, there was someone that round who guessed zero and got +20.
So yeah, I love that it’s possible for someone to have six rounds in a row with a crappy hand, guess all those right, then maybe have one good round that they guess right, and for that person to beat the one who got great hands every round. It’s good to feel in control of your destiny.
Hoo-rah! Ever increasing-hand size allows for magnificent underdog comebacks, trump suits along with Wizards and Jesters allow for very reasonable strategizing of trick-wins
Blech… Needs a pen and paper, some people just don’t shout ‘Wizard!!‘ like they should…
7) Satellite Salvo, by Dan King
I don’t like Battleship. And I don’t like Yahtzee. But I love this game… yet that’s exactly what it is: Battleship meets Yahtzee. This game was an honorable mention in TGC’s Mash-Up contest–won by yours truly–but while my game is still rough around the edges and being fine-tuned, this game was perfect the day Dan designed it.
Why do I love this game? It just works so well. It’s a simple concept, brilliantly executed. Essentially, you have a rectangular Battleshippy board. But instead of that boring, pansy, one-shot-at-a-time crap, you’re annihilating three at a time, entire blocks, or entire columns of the board.
This is determined by Yahtzee-esque die rolls. You roll 5 dice, then you can choose to reroll any or all of them. Based on what you end up with, you have single-use ‘cartridges’ that determine your attack. For example, three-of-a-kind let’s you destroy a 5-dot X, a full house let’s you destroy a 9-dot square, and a Salvo (rolling five-of-a-kind), allows you to fire 10 single shots in a row, learning with each whether it was a hit or a miss. Bammers.
A lot of the excitement comes in deciding what dice to reroll, and what cartridges to use. If, for example, you rolled four 6s, you could use your four-of-a-kind cartridge (5-dot t), or use your ‘6’ cartridge to fire four single-shots anywhere on the board (each of the ‘number’ cartridges allow you the same number of shots as the number of that number your rolled). And best of all, you’re destroying buildings, not ships. As I’m sure many a people have thought while playing Battleship, why can’t the ship just freaking’ move??!
Hoo-rah! Loads of fun in simply choosing how to use your die rolls, feels both more strategic and more devastating than Battleship.
Blech… Sometimes the ending drags, though there’s a number of exciting sudden-death options for just such an event
6) Settlers of America: Trails to Rails, by Klaus Teuber
In college, The Settlers of Catan was for me, like many, a gateway game that opened the door to many new, complex, and exciting role-playing games. That was both a blessing and a curse: the blessing was that I found my way to some truly excellent games that I otherwise never would have discovered, the curse was they quickly left Catan in the dust.
To be fair, the game lasted my friends and I a while. I can’t remember the last time we played the original basic version, but the ‘expanded’ version with Seafarers and Cities & Knights added some lovely depth to an otherwise chance-heavy game.
Still, you’ll notice the original Settlers didn’t make my Top 10 while this did. Why’s that? Isn’t this ‘Catan Histories’ series just a cheap knock-off, appealing to those Catanimaniacs who will drop $50 for anything with word ‘Catan’ in it, even if it takes place in space?? No. This is much, much better. In fact, I would go so far as to say this keeps every element of Settlers of Catan I enjoy, while minimizing or completely discarding those elements that drove me crazy.
To start, you’re no longer a slave to dice rolls. Not only will you control many more cities much quicker and therefore be producing resources on nearly every dice roll, but even if a number comes up that doesn’t produce for you, you still get gold. Gold can be used to ride your opponents’ rails and can also be traded at 2:1 for a resource of your choice.
Rails are not just the new word for roads– they’re a different mechanic entirely. You manifest-destiny across America by building and freely moving settlers–Oregon Trail-esque wagons–that settle at particular intersections and automatically become cities at no extra cost. Those allow you to produce resources. The rails come in as ways to connect to cities (your and your opponents’). Why do you want to do this? Because you also put trains on those rails to deliver goods to cities. After all, that’s how you win; no more silly victory point conditions, the goal here is to deliver all your goods to your opponents’ cities (goods are freed up by building your own cities). Each city holds one good, and you get free gold when you connect your rail to a previously isolated city, so there’s a lot of strategy in how you choose to build rails.
Finally, the new ‘development cards’ in this game are actually worth the resource-cost and are no longer just something you buy if there’s really nothing else you can do with those resources. They give you things like free rails, a bunch of gold, or a far-reaching settler; no more worthless knights!
It’s tough to articulate the level of fine-tuning this game feels like its undergone. Everything you do feels like it has a purpose. There’s a real satisfaction to the whole pursuit, and when you win, you actually feel like you’ve earned it.
Hoo-rah! more exciting things to spend your resources on, wonderful variety of strategies to pursue, superb player interaction
Blech… still frustrating when ‘that number’ never comes up or you never get to move the Robber, I miss the 2:1 ports
Check back soon for my Top 5!