Okay, first off I'd like to apologize to the Meeple Nation hosts for my months long hiatus from blogging. Life and all that stuff. But, I have been really enjoying the top (and bottom) five lists that they have been running on the podcast lately. Even better, they make for easy blog posts as well, so I can get involved (albeit belatedly). So I thought I'd follow their meandering path of lists starting with the top five games. There will be a few lists that I'm going to pass on (I haven't played a lot of earth based sci-fi, for example). Also, these lists are going to be very opinion based. Don't feel like just because your favorite games didn't make my list (or the podcast host lists) that there is something wrong with your games. What brings you enjoyment is the most important. Also, depending on the day/time/alignment of the planets, the ordering and possibly even the contents of my list might change. So, without further ado, let's get into this.
XXX of Catan
Up first is Catan in all (and I do mean all) of its varieties. OK, so I get it, this game has been around for a very long time. It's considered to be a gateway game, with good reason. For a lot of gamers, it has played itself out (pun intended). So why does it make it on my top five? Well, if you've read my previous posts and my bio, you know I've played a lot of Catan. In sheer number of plays it dwarfs any other game I have played, maybe even all other games combined. Probably my favorite variety was Seafarers with the map exploration mode. But I'll take a game of Catan any day of the week, even on Friday. In fact in my lunchtime gaming group, for several years we would reserve Friday for Catan. Even now when we ask what game we want to play you may hear me (or other members of the group) say "Well, it IS Friday..." OK, so what do I like about the game? On the surface, the game should be terrible for me. I mean there are dice involved, and like several other Meeple Nation personalities, dice hate me. On top of that, the area control makes for a lot of head to head confrontation. On the other hand, except in extreme examples, not getting to the spots you want doesn’t signal the end of your game. And, attempting to control desirable territories is mostly so that you can control fate by maximizing probabilities. The nature of those probabilities means it is not guaranteed that grabbing territory will pay off. So, what draws me to the game? It could be all of the juvenile jokes that can be made when asking for trades (like most guys, I'm 13 at heart). Certainly the wealth of experiences that I've had playing the game figures in, and the healing effect playing this game had on a close friend going through a terrible experience is a factor. The head to head, while confrontational, feels more like the natural extension of the game (except when in the revenge business). But the bottom line is, if Catan is at the table, I'm in.
Given my love of all things fantasy, it's hardly surprising that I like this game. I think the first thing that caught my attention was that the spots you cast your spells from are called breaches, which is close to a term used by magic users in a fantasy series (Malazan Book of the Fallen). I enjoy cooperative “players vs the game” style games (Pandemic would be on my top 10 for certain), and while Aeon's End (like so many other cooperative games) suffers from alpha player syndrome, the game itself can be challenging enough that you really need the combined intellect of multiple players to pull off the victory. Multiple times playing this game, the line between victory and failure has come down to a final turn where it could go either way. I had a group play the legacy version of the game, and like so many legacy games, that was an even better experience than the original. I introduced the game to another couple, and I kind of created a monster. They have since purchased pretty much all of the expansions. It also has one of my favorite game experiences with Dave to it's credit. I bought the game based off the art and the game description, and we sat down to play it at a local gaming convention up here in Washington. The game completely destroyed us. It wasn't even close, but our desire to prove ourselves kept us coming back.
Definitely the newest of the games on this list. Also the one with the fewest plays, which may mean that it is most likely to get bumped, simply because I don't really know if it has the staying power to stand the test of time. The other games have gone through the fire, so to speak. When they come to the table, I know I'm going to have a good time. But with the half-dozen or so plays I have had with Planet Unknown, I have yet to have a bad experience. The puzzle aspect of choosing and placing pieces is satisfying (one of the things I loved about Isle of Cats).
The agony of choosing to get a piece that fits perfectly, but gives you a meteor vs choosing a piece that may not be that great of a fit but doesn't.
The competition of the neighboring goals, along with the possibility of getting contradictory goals on either side.
The choice of tracks and the benefits that come along with them.
There are just so many knobs and dials in this game. And of course the lazy susan in the middle of the table is great. I like the aspect of getting to set out what choices are available to your opponents. Most of my plays have been on the symmetric boards, but I have also enjoyed my plays of the corporations and alternate planets. Just an all around great game. My only regret right now is that I don't own a copy, so I can't introduce it to my siblings at my family reunion this summer.
I wanted to go for a little something different, and despite the fact that I didn't actually destroy the Meeple Nation hosts when we played it at BGGCon, this is still one of my favorite games. This love is probably due to the fact that it still has my highest win percentage (loss back in November notwithstanding). I haven't played a lot of card crafting games, which given how much I like this game is surprising. I also haven't played any of the expansions, which according to Dave is the higher form of the game, so I'll have to give those a try. What I like about the game is the rush to make my cards better, minimize the impact of the cursed lands, and the push your luck mechanic that goes so wrong so much of the time, but is epic when it works in your favor. The downside is that I'm a terrible gambler ($3 lost playing penny ante Acey Deucy back in college will attest to that) due to being overly optimistic with my odds evaluation. Fortunately, even with a bust there is a reward in Mystic Vale that can help set you up for a future purchase. I like how the cards slot together, and the challenge of trying to craft out that perfect card is one I relish.
I really can't tell you what it is about this game that so thoroughly captured my interest. I've had some good plays of the game, I've had some bad. But I went out of my way to purchase a second copy of this game because I got tired of dragging it between work and home. And even then considered purchasing it a third time when the Collectors Edition came out. I'd still like to go back in time to stop past me from talking myself out of that purchase. The premium box and components are just that good. The expansions haven't captured me quite as much, though that might be just that I haven't been able to play them as frequently because I'm usually teaching the game, and I like to start people with the base before throwing in some of the crazier interactions that come along with the expansion tiles. I love the tile river and the progressive cost increase for tiles the farther up the river you go. I like the mix of interactions with things in your own tableau and in other cities. I like the hidden aspects of the game and trying to guess what goal the other players chose. The game doesn't have a "take that" component, but there is an aspect of doing things to further your own game while at the same time thwarting an opponent. I like the anticipation of wondering if an opponent is going to do something to enable or block me from my hidden goal, and the pressure of not wanting to make a move because it would give an opponent one of the common goals. For a game played almost completely in the open, there is a lot of mystery, and I'm there for it.
So, that's my top five. I hope at least that you found it entertaining. Please add a comment on some of your top five games. I'm sure some of you chimed in on the Facebook group, so I'll take a look there and see what was said. Also, let me know if you agree/disagree with my games. I'm always interested to hear about other’s experiences.