Something Different My Top 50 Board Games
One of my favorite pastimes is playing a wide variety of modern board games with various friends and family. So I’m going to review my top 50 board games, just to add something different to this substack.
If you play, hopefully you will enjoy some new ones recommended and if you don’t, you’ll get a taste of the renaissance in the global burgeoning of a host of new kinds of games for every taste.
You can see the full list here, so the following is just a sampling of the list with a a few comments on each to give you a sense of what each game is about and how they differ in the flavor of fun they offer.
What do we mean by a Top 50 list?
It could mean the best-designed games, the ones we admire for their craftsmanship. It could mean the games we have enjoyed the most in our years in the hobby.
But this one is a list of the games I would be most interested in playing right now if in front of me. That gives it a bit of a cult of the new bias, but not overwhelmingly so since many of the games I love the most, I have played for years.
This list of games also reflects that I play them in a number of situations and groups. Quite a few are played in my main boardgame meetup group, but even that has subsets of people - some hardcore eurogamers, others more inclined to Ameritrash, or more casual games. My other most common gaming partner is my 10-year old son and sometimes his friend and his Dad. And occasionally other groups of less hard-core gamers. As well as playing online in venues like Board Game Arena.
So the list has hardcore euros and lighter fillers, but all ones I enjoy tremendously with different groups of players.
The List (selective; again see the whole list here)
#50 Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game - This game drips with theme, its Crossroads story-telling mechanism adding flavor to a semi-cooperative game with solid mechanics. The possibility of a traitor adds tension to the onslaught of zombies and the desperate maneuvering for the resources to hold them back.
#48 Incan Gold - Incan Gold (Diamant) is an extremely light push-your-luck game that has one and only one decision at all times: should I stay in the temple to search for more treasure or run with the accumulated treasure before the fire, zombies, rockfalls, snakes and other hazards finally kill you. Probabilities are always shifting so it's hard to ever judge the "best" decision, which makes it a fun filler for kids and adults, newbies and veteran players alike.
$42 King of Tokyo - Yahtzee with aggressive assaults on other players. The dual options of victory via points versus eliminating other players through combat creates interesting choices: should I aim for point-scoring numerical combos or concentrate on combat attacks or collecting points to let me buy additional special powers that may help be on either strategic route? And the art and idea of playing monsters wrecking havoc create a fun thematic time.
#41 Food Chain Magnate - Cartoonish 50s aesthetic conceals a harsh economic management game that is unforgiving; make a mistake and your opponent will steal all your customers, rob you of income, and force you to fire all your employees. Building a team of employees to cook and market your food to customers, while achieving milestones along the way, which reinforces your advantages, is quite satisfying - and too on the nose of the winner-take-all nature of business strategy. A high learning curve and its flat brutality means it's not for a lot of people so I don't get it to the table enough.
#34 Ticket to Ride - Like Carcassonne, this ranking feels almost arbitrary since this remains a go-to game to introduce new players to the hobby and I still play variations with my family and other groups of gamers. And understanding when to strategically add additional routes to your goals does give the game more strategy than it sometimes appears. So still a shining part of our gaming universe.
#33 Summoner Wars: Master Set - This game feels at times like chess - but with goblins and elves. Your cards are a limited resource so there is a satisfying hard choice on converting some into mana that in turn can summon your best champions. But you still have to maneuver them on the board in a well-designed if simple combat system. The asymmetric powers of various races are eerily balanced, a testament to almost awe-inspiring game testing.
#29 - Spirit Island - A coop so heavy that after multiple games I'm still unclear on some nuances of the rules - but it's such a rich, thematic game that it overcomes my general bias against coops. With more games and a bit more mastery, this is one that could easily move up my rankings. That its politics upends the casual colonialist racism of too many board games is also a huge plus for Spirit Island.
#25 Cosmic Encounter - I owned the original version of this when I was a kid - and it was absolutely my favorite board game then. So it gives me satisfaction in my early tastes that it's one of the only games from the 70s still considered a top game in the modern era. And it deserves it with essentially creating the idea of different powers for each player, its system of combat alliances and negotiations, and its wide range of expansions. It's a game that needs the right group to enjoy its lack of balance and pile-on-the-leader arguments. But it's still an enduring game I love.
#21 Galaxy Trucker - Galaxy Trucker is as much an experience as a game. It starts with a real-time scramble of players to assemble crew, guns, engines, cargo hold, and assorted other tiles into as resilient ships as possible- and then sailing them into space to face mission cards to collect cargo for sale as well as asteroids and raiders who blow the ships to hell. Just hilarious fun with the right group - and if you are on your own, the app implementation is one of the best out there.
#17 Spyfall - My daughter's favorite game, Spyfall is a pure social deduction game where everyone quizzes everyone else about where they are - which everyone knows except one spy who needs to figure it out before everyone figures out who the spy is. It's fast (8 minutes per round), so can play lots of rounds or play it as a quick, satisfying filler between longer games.
#12 Power Grid - This is the crunchiest, mathiest euro in existence. Dry as dust in pure calculations in buying power plants, supplying needed fuel and paying to occupy cities. And a great time racing to expand faster than your opponents to prepare for the final round to power the most cities on the board.
#11 For Sale - This simple game almost never fails with any group: everyone buys properties with innovative bidding rules in the first phase, then sells them in the second to see who gets the most money. As much psychological as probabilistic in skills needed, I bring it to most game events as a potential backup that I know people will enjoy.
#9 The Crew: Mission Deep Sea - Groups I play with just enjoy this cooperative trick-taking with escalating challenges game tremendously. It's thinky just to execute many of the tasks and requires collective brain melds with an actual game (I'm looking at you THE MIND). Linked to the new Mission Deep Sea, which just played for first time, and it has all the same mechanics of the original but even more variety in the escalating tasks, so find for everyone just to jump right to it.
#7 Gloomhaven - I will admit to only having played the partially completed computer app version of this, but the core card mechanics of choosing offense and defense options in paired card deployments as you slowly burn through the deck in a race to finish each mission is a brilliant design. It promises more RPG experience than its mainly-combat mechanics deliver but still earns its acclaim.
#6 Codenames - Took all the standard password-style word clue games and made an actual strategic contest in the genre with the simple twist of letting one clue deliver multiple answers on a board. Creates great dilemmas of whether to issue more straightforward clues that deliver single spaces or subtler clues for more spaces - that may also accidentally deliver points to the opposition team or even kill the team altogether if they reveal the assassin card. Adding in the Duet version even creates a great two-player alternative as well.
#5 The Resistance: Avalon - A go-to for my gaming meetup for years, with multiple rounds often going late into the night, as teams of mostly clueless knights of the round table try to figure out who the minions of Mordred are in their midst. Deduction, accusation, logical analysis of who HAS to be evil based on the results of multiple missions all add up to a good time. New roles and even a new version, QUEST, just add a bit of new life to a long-time favorite.
#4 Five Tribes - A game that never seemed to get the same hype as others but remains well-loved does deliver some of the most satisfying game play in the hobby. It is almost purely tactical since the board state changes massively as players redistribute cubes in the game's mancala-like mechanics where players seek to deny opportunities to opponents even while driving up their own scores. Throw in some set collection, special Genie powers and assassination along the way and you have a masterpiece of fun design.
#3 Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization - Truly the best civilization-building tech tree ever made, admittedly without the area-control of the original civilization type games. But every turn has a puzzle of opportunities presented where you balance tech improvements with an eye on keeping up with the military upgrades of opponents. I tend to play this one almost exclusively asynchronously online since the turns can be frustratingly long if played in real-time - but it's an always satisfying experience in that mode. And the app version adds some very interesting alternative challenges to the core game worth exploring.
#2 Twilight Struggle - Well deserving of its long-time reign at #1 at BGG before being dethroned by upstarts. The core mechanics of card-driven area control in a duel with another player is a master-class of design. This is combined with deep engagement with the historic events of the Cold War that give a real-world weight to decisions that is a nice change from the sometimes generic fantasy elements of so many games.
#1 Agricola - Really has remained my top game since reentering the hobby seriously a decade ago, a game that I always enjoy when we bring out in a group. It has infinite replayability due to the wide variety of improvement and occupation cards, card combos providing unique opportunities to overcome the game's notoriously brutal feeding demands and create a farm with the diversity to get the top final score. Just the game I am always happy to see on the table and enjoy with friends.
So those are a few games from the list (against see here for the full list). If you haven’t dived into modern board games, I hope it gives you a taste of the wide variety now out there.