I’m finishing the annual countdown of my top 50 board games of all time! If you missed the previous post, you can find it here:
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#10 - Troyes (-1)
In a sea of strategic “Eurogames” with dry themes, it can be difficult for games to differentiate themselves enough to earn a spot in my collection. Troyes is one of those games that has managed to make the cut, and not just “make it,” but power all the way into my top 10 for the fourth straight year. There are a lot of things that I enjoy about Troyes, but I think the biggest ones are its clever dice-action system, the ability to chain together near game-breaking combos, and the amazing variability in the “activity cards” used each game, which are what make the strategic combos possible. With these kinds of games, it is often the satisfying mechanisms that hook me, but then the variability in the system that keeps me coming back, and I am excited to play Troyes many more times.
#9 - Lorenzo il Magnifico (-2)
A lot of what I said about Troyes also applies to Lorenzo il Magnifico. Despite feeling quite different to play, they fill a similar niche as dice-driven Eurogames that play in about 90 minutes. Where the focus in Troyes is on big combos and moves that net a lot of points, Lorenzo il Magnifico is much more of an engine-building game as you build rows of cards that can be “executed” via action spaces on the board. This engine-building is facilitated by a really tight worker placement system that has the interesting twist of the value of workers being variable every round. Dice are rolled to determine the values, but all players share the same values ensuring fairness. While the base game is great fun, the Houses of Renaissance expansion is among my favorite expansions to any game ever, and the full experience with the expansion is really what shot Lorenzo into my top 10.
#8 - Gaia Project (+2)
Gaia Project, sadly, is probably the game that has the biggest gap between how much I like it and how much I actually get to play it. While I’ve only managed 7 plays in the 5 years of owning it, my enjoyment actually dates back to 10+ plays of its older brother Terra Mystica. I really enjoy the changes made for Gaia Project and each time I play it I am reminded of how much I enjoy its core resource management and engine-building. My most recent play was actually 2-player, which was a great reminder that Gaia Project actually plays really well at lower player counts; I think I haven’t considered it as much in those situations because Terra Mystica was better with more players. Hard to say if it moving up 2 spots has more to do with my last very positive play or other games dropping a bit, but the fact that Gaia Project has stuck in my top 10 for 5 years despite limited play is evidence of how much fun I have when I do get to play it.
#7 - Twilight Struggle (+1)
Twilight Struggle is one of a handful of games that I have owned for over a decade and have been in my top 10 that entire time. What is interesting about Twilight Struggle is that it is not really the kind of game I would typically gravitate towards. Generally, I enjoy less direct conflict in games with more of a focus on strategically building with minimal negative player interaction. In fact, I only really purchased Twilight Struggle because it was the #1 game overall on BoardGameGeek at the time. But wow, what a brilliant design! It has an epic feeling with the conflict growing to encompass the entire world map as the game progresses, and the card system (which is used by many other card-driven wargames) creates so many interesting situations and ensures the game always plays out differently. My full review really deep-dives into the brilliance of Twilight Struggle, but it remains my favorite in the category of “long, one-versus-one games of conflict.”
Read My Full Review:
Board Game Review: Twilight Struggle
Twilight Struggle is a deep and strategic tabletop simulation of the Cold War released in 2005 from designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews. Two players go head-to-head as they take on the roles of the US and the USSR during the tense historical period from 1945-1989, jockeying for influence across the globe and making tactical decisions to turn the momentum of the war in their favor.
#6 - A Feast for Odin (-3)
In a lot of ways, A Feast for Odin is a very excessive design. It is a “kitchen sink” kind of game with tons of worker placement spots, tons of cards, and more tile-puzzling than any other game I’ve played in terms of tile-count. On top of that, it actually misses the mark for me a bit in its approach to variability, as there isn’t a lot of variable setup that pushes you toward different strategies. And while the expansion’s option to take points instead of a card ability reduces the impact of randomness, it also pushes players towards raw points instead of abilities which is less interesting. That said, it is just so dang satisfying to play this game! Many strategy games have you collecting resources in order to achieve some objective, whether that be fulfilling orders/contracts or paying costs to build, but there is something extra satisfying about the destination for resources being a spatial puzzle on your board. Whereas a game like Twilight Struggle makes my top 10 and I feel like I wouldn’t change anything significant about that game, A Feast for Odin is an example of a game that I feel like could have been improved (for my personal tastes), but it makes my top 10 despite that because it is still so fun.
#5 - Eldritch Horror (+1)
Another long-time staple of my favorite games, Eldritch Horror is probably the biggest group favorite in my collection. It has made it to the table so consistently over the last 8 years, and its older brother Arkham Horror was a consistent group favorite before that. Eldritch combines a lot of my favorite things in cooperative games: extreme variability, unpredictable and surprising opposition, seemingly hopeless situations that can be overcome in exciting ways, and random resolution via dice that keeps the game from being solvable and facilitates memorable moments. It’s definitely not for those who can’t stomach a lot of randomness in their cooperative games, but I have found the ceiling of enjoyment for a session of Eldritch to be so much higher due to the huge possibility space. Many others will prefer a game like Spirit Island where the players are much more in control, but after 15+ plays I finally realized that Spirit Island was “good but not great” for my tastes, and helped me better understand what I really love in cooperative games. And Eldritch Horror is still the cooperative game that satiates my personal tastes the best.
Read My Full Review:
Board Game Review: Eldritch Horror
Eldritch Horror is a cooperative board game of mystery and adventure where players work together in an effort to save the world from impending doom. Set in the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos, created by horror writer H.P.
#4 - Great Western Trail (+0)
Ever since my younger brother and I (who really went down the modern board gaming rabbit hole together over a decade ago) moved out of our parents’ house, there has been an interesting new dynamic of us each having games that they other enjoys, but needing to decide whether we want to buy our own copy. After playing my brother’s copy of Great Western Trail several times, it dawned on me that it would be in my top 10 if I owned it, and resolved to add it to my collection. The core system in Great Western Trail has you dictating your own pace through a path of actions with the goal of grooming a hand of cattle cards to sell at the end, and it is such a rock-solid foundation. Designer Alexander Pfister then surrounds it with an extremely engaging game that, while very big, feels manageable since your options are always limited to just a few options each turn. The Rails to the North expansion gives the game some nice variety and more nuance to the delivery mechanism, and it all comes together into a package that every session, without fail, has me thinking to myself, “this is just such a great game.”
# 3 - Mage Knight (+2)
I play Mage Knight exclusively in the cooperative mode, and it was that switch away from competitive that really powered it up to the top of my list years back. But didn’t I claim that Eldritch Horror was my favorite cooperative game? The difference is that while we play Mage Knight cooperatively, it feels more like a solitary experience where we are pushing towards the same shared objective. The focus is all on the progression of my own character, with various interaction points with other players as we decide how to approach the map. Eldritch Horror, on the other hand, is a game where the team is constantly discussing and collaborating. But that “progression” I mentioned in Mage Knight really gets at the heart of why it is so enjoyable. It is just so fun build up your character over the course of each epic session and get to experience your build through the highly satisfying puzzle that the game’s cardplay provides. The game is not streamlined by any means, and I don’t envy anyone who is trying to learn it fresh from the rulebook, but it gives me a hugely fun experience that I don’t get from any other game, and that has kept it consistently at the top of my rankings.
#2- Terraforming Mars (+0)
Terraforming Mars is only the second game in the last decade that has held my #1 spot at one point in time, and while it only held there for a year, it has been my solid #2 ever since. Engine-building is a very satisfying mechanism, and I love the feeling of progression over the course of the game and how the map mimics that progression as players contribute to the shared terraforming. The research phase of each round always opens new opportunities, and the entire game you feel like you are taking exciting and impactful actions. I have found that my favorite way to play is with card drafting, the Prelude expansion, alternating main boards, and using the Colonies expansion (no Venus). At 25 plays, I still love the game as much as ever.
#1- Agricola (+0)
Agricola is still the king. Some years I feel like it has a chance of being passed (and Terraforming Mars managed to pass it for one year), but this year it remained very clearly ahead. Whenever I start to doubt if it is still my favorite, I manage to get it to the table and I’m reminded of why it delivers my favorite experience of any board game, even 80+ plays later. The Farmers of the Moor expansion has been essential to it holding my top spot as I feel it opens the game up in great ways and balances the strategies (harder to rapidly grow your family when extra rooms require more heating). Deep down I suspect there will eventually be a game that surpasses it, but for a decade now Agricola hasn’t wavered, even as I have played hundreds of newer games.
Read My Full Review:
Board Game Review: Agricola
Note that all the pictures here are from my copy of the game, which is an older edition. Newer editions may have upgraded components (such as thematically shaped resource tokens) and other aesthetic differences, but should functionally remain the same.
And that’s it! It is fun to have 7 years of data at this point and watch which games rise and fall; hopefully it was enjoyable to read about my current favorites!