It’s time once again to update my top 10 best table top games, without question my favorite article to write each year. I’m not entirely sure why I find it so entertaining, but most gamers find themselves saying “oh that’s my favorite game”, on a regular basis, but I think few take the time to actually think about that comment, assess it and put it to paper. Perhaps it’s a bit obsessive of me, but I don’t care.. so here we go.
First just a re-cap of the list from last year (October 2015)
1. Star Wars X-Wing
2. Game of Thrones (The Board Game)
3. Star Wars: Armada
4. War of the Rings
5. Twilight Imperium (3rd edition)
7. Star Trek: Fleet Captains
8. Fury of Dracula (3rd Edition)
10. Shogun (Queen Games Edition)
Now right up front I want to say that all these games as far as I’m concerned are fantastic and while at this point in the article I’m yet to make my list, I can say with certainty at least half of them will probably remain on the list, perhaps more. Those that fall off the list, aren’t getting kicked out of bed for being bad, but rather simply fall out of favor for younger newer models.
Ok here we go!
1. Star Wars: X-Wing
This was actually a tough call for me this year which is not to say that I don’t think X-Wing is not one of the best games ever made (it is) but because my recent review triggered a close up and objective look at the game and as you can see below (3 out of 5 Stars) it did good but not great, at least not as great as a number one spot would suggest. In fact almost every other game on this list would probably score close to or higher using my rating system.
In the end though top 10 lists aren’t about how they review, but about how much I like to play them and despite any flaws I still rather play X-Wing than any other game on this list. It is simply put, my favorite game.There is a lot of stuff on the board, but this game takes place largely in your head.
X-Wing continues to be the dynamic, thematic, chaotic Star Wars infused dog fighting game it has always been. I love it, plain and simple. I will say that at this point my interest in X-Wing is less competitive, outside of the 100 point standard death match and more about creating cool thematic experiences. I favor scenario based games, high point counts, alternative rules and in particular I have fallen head over heels with Epic play. I think it’s a testament to X-Wing’s longevity that not only is it replay-able years after release, but within the scope of the game there are different ways to play it. It’s this refreshing of the game that I think raises X-Wing above the rest.
2. Game of Thrones: The Board Game
Another unyielding game that refuses to drop down on the list is my beloved Game of Thrones. I didn’t get many opportunities to play it this year and I considered dropping it a bit but the truth is that, despite the lack of table top opportunities this year, I rather play it then anything below on the list. It simply deserves to be here. Game of Thrones is like a favorite cousin you don’t see very often but each time you get together you realize how much you have missed him.
There are very few games out there that increase my heart rate and offer up intensity in fat slices like this one. Game of Thrones is a roller coaster of emotion, stress and simplicity in a sea of complexity. It is in my humble opinion one of the most challenging games to win at and it’s because so much of the game play exists in the meta-mental state of the players. How much they trust you, what their gut tells them about your eyes and body language. It’s far less a game about mechanics and strategy and far more a game of social and mind games.
It’s one of FFG’s oldest games and it’s one of its best, this is an experience no gamer should pass up and if you are actually are a fan of the franchise, this is simply mandatory.
3. Game of Thrones: The Card Game 2nd Edition
Ok you might get the sense here that I’m a Game of Thrones fan boy but the truth is that I actually like these games far more than the show and this particular card variation while in the same spirit of psychological mind games like the board game I actually like it more for its amazingly thematic and tactical gameplay. Deck builders are usually not my thing, but Game of Thrones The Card Game has revitalized the genre for me.
I think what really drives this game is the fact that it’s a multiplayer versus card game and the fact that it’s subtle where deck building while important isn’t the driving force but rather the combination of card play and tactical thinking is. This isn’t a game of big explosive plays, but rather one of chipping away at each other through cleverly executed chess move, one piece at a time, grinding away towards the win.
This card game really slapped me across the face and sprung on my list like a cracked out squirrel and while I find this does happens every year for a couple of games on my top 10 list, games that sky rocket to great heights usually deflate and fall off with the same intensity. Still right now this new bundle of joy is occupying a lot of my brain space not to mention rapidly emptying my bank account. Fantastic game that deserves to be played if you love challenging multiplayer versus games, but in particular if you have a group of Game of Thrones fans at home who will appreciate the intricate political scheming replicated in card game form you find in the tv show and books.
4. War of The Rings
Like Game of Thrones the board game this game is a bit of a dust collector of my collection, I rarely get to play it but when I do I’m reminded exactly why this game has a permanent space on my shelf despite having a box so big it could knock you the fuck out. It is the Lord of the Rings story in a game, not part of the story, the whole god damn thing from Frodo to Mount Doom and everything in between.
I suppose I’m being a bit unfair to some of the games below this spot that I play considerably more often, but the truth is that I would with no hesitation drop what I’m doing at any point in my day to play this game. I actually open the box and read the cards and manual a couple of times a year wishing I had the opportunity to bust it out so while the opportunities to play a long 2 player game don’t come up often for me, the desire for them is reason enough to have it on this list. Love it, always have, always will.
5. Through The Ages: A New Story of Civilization
The remake of the classic has not only inspired me to play this game again, but the improvements have legitimately took this game from a good game I like to pull out every long once in a while to a game I will happily play any time. Yes, it’s long and complicated as fuck, it’s a pain in the ass to teach and it can be quite tough to find people willing to blow off 4-5 hours playing a deep euro driven resource management simulator but the truth is that this game is made for guys just like me.
The improvements in this latest version are not only mechanical, solving some of the most disliked, turn off, mechanics, but it joins the 21st century in quality components and visual appeal. The old edition largely got the standard “it looks stupid” response from people and rightfully so, the old version looked like a damn prototype, but this new deluxe, visually enhanced Through The Ages has the sex-appeal that triggers people to try it and the refreshed mechanics that inspire that “aha” moment to keep trying it. If you doubt that, look at Board Game Geek, this game will be number 1 before the year is out, I guarantee it and it’s no surprise to me, it has the chops to be a fantastic, albeit it deep and complex board game. Plus it’s Sid Meier’s civilization in board game form, thematically driven by a universally beloved genre of gaming.
6. Twilight Imperium
My staple standard number one game for years remains on the list for the same reasons it’s always been there. Never has there been a better 4x, Master of Orion inspired, science fiction civilization builder and I doubt there ever will be one this good. TI3 is the definitive science fiction galactic everything game and with the two expansions it has grown to become one of the most complex and dynamic games..period… in existence.. period..
It’s heavy as fuck and that might explain why it’s a rather niche game but I make no apologies for it and neither does FFG. It’s made for the veteran gamer who wants to get in knee deep into some serious gaming and isn’t fazed by a 6 hour endeavor to find that ultimate experience. It’s a blow out hit and at this point a golden classic, the graduation game that takes you from an amateur to a pro.
7. Star Wars: Armada
This one is steadily dropping off my radar but I still have an affinity for it that can’t be denied. It’s a deeply strategic and tactical miniatures game and while I find it rather exhausting by comparison to the simplicity of my beloved X-Wing, every once in a while I want to drag out X-Wings big brother and rock it capital ship style.
FFG has done a fantastic job of supporting this game and it’s largely thanks to the influx of new and interesting ships this games dynamics have already grown beyond the grumblings of competitive meta, something I wish I could say about X-Wing. It’s richness and in your face theme brings it to the point of a story-telling game because the battles are always memorable and epic which really hits that Star Wars G-spot.
It deserves all the praise I can give it and it’s slip from the list probably has to do with the fact that I’m always put to the split test between playing X-Wing and Armada, a contest in which Armada rarely comes out on top. It’s not Armada’s fault that I love X-Wing over everything else, but it does suffer for it. Great game though and it’s in no danger of losing its shelf space on my wall of Star Wars glory.
8. Fury of Dracula (3rd Edition)
I think if it wasn’t for the recent re-print this game would have fallen off my top 10 by now but there is absolutely no denying that the new edition has re-vitalized this game for me. Sticking to the classic formula this mind-fuck simulator has players chasing the elusive Dracula around Europe in an effort to slay him, a simple concept, with a fantastic theme.
I have always loved deduction games but in my humble opinion this is really the only one that never becomes stale nor are there any real tricks or puzzles to solve here. It’s too dynamic for that and I think it’s largely why it stands out so well over a sea of mediocre deduction games.
I will admit that this game has a lot of nostalgic value to me and that probably helps keep it on the list, but I honestly believe if I were to review it today it would out-perform most of the game on this list using my rating system, especially this new edition. Love it, live it!
9. Dead of Winter
Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m putting this game on my list in particular since the first 3 or 4 times I played I thought it was kind of Meh. I actually think the true sign of an amazing game with strong longevity is if it slowly grows on me. Dead of Winter had a big impact on me this summer during one of my gaming groups epic summer weekend board game nights. We ended up playing it back to back twice and it stands out as two of the best gaming experiences I have had in recent memory.
I love that cross-roads system, those story’s really bring the game to life but ultimately it’s that betrayer mechanic that really brings this game home. You have so much psychological fuck you going on in this game that it just pulls you out of your seat and creates atmosphere so thick it almost feels like you’re actually experiencing the bloody zombie apocalypse.
Love it, it deserves this spot, despite my own disbelief, it really just knocked it out of the park for me.
10. Shogun (Queens Games Version)
Holding on for dear life, the number 10 spot was defiantly disputed but in the end all I had to do is reminisce about game nights gone past to choose this one out of the line-up. It’s about feudal Japan, and it’s about that two part mixture, one part thinky-contemplative game and the other part, an explosive shock inducing frenzy.
I just love how this game is constructed, it’s got that wonderful easy to learn hard to master core, it has the euro style strategic (control your fate) puzzle, but dynamically linked to the shocking amount of randomness that will have you throwing your hands up in victory or despair. This might explain why many Euro gamers hate it and many Ameri-trash gamers hate it as it is a true merging of an unholy union, but I love bastard and this wretch owns that badge of honor with pride.
I have always had affection for this game and really these types of games in genera that is hard to explain, but despite not getting much play these days it remains one of my all-time favorites.
Yes every year there is fallout as games drop off the list and I feel compelled to explain why.
Yes there was a time when I favored this over Through The Ages and it was largely because it was a more approachable, easier to teach, more streamlined and above all else a faster civilization building game. In the end though I don’t think there was room in my top 10 for two civilization building games, in particular two games that had so much in common, but more importantly I had to honestly ask myself, which game is better. In light of the re-vitalized Through The Ages, having played them both several times in recent sessions it was clear to me that while more complex and time consuming, Through The Ages is simply a better game. I still love Nations and if this was a top 20 list it would certainly be on their somewhere, so its fallout isn’t a break up, but more like the game just became my chick on the side.
Star Trek: Fleet Captains
This one didn’t fall from grace, it was in stiff competition for the number 10 spot and while ultimately I chose Shogun, it sits firmly as a number 11. This story driven adventure game in the Star Trek universe will never be displaced, but there are only so many games that can be in the top, 10 to be exact, so it had to take a bullet. Still love it and will gladly play it, for a Star Trek fan this is still the best there is and I say this in light of new Star Trek adventure games being released this year. Frontiers has nothing on Fleet Captains.
Another casualty, this one fell a bit further for me then the others but I suppose it’s more because “light warfare” is just not something that competes well in my current game state of heavy gaming. Every game on my list is a beast of one form or another and Kemets light hearted nature while I certainly I have nothing against just doesn’t have the legs to stand with the big boys. I will still happily play it and I actually highly recommended if you are looking for a simple fun wargame, I actually think this is one of the best around, but it’s novelty has worn off on me a bit.