Cardboard Children – Rab’s Top 50: BREAKDOWN 1

By Robert Florence on April 22nd, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Hello youse.

Never let it be said that I don’t listen to feedback. After the first part of my Top 50 list last week, quite a few people asked that I go into a little bit more detail on the games I selected. So, here’s the plan – the week after each part, I’ll do an analysis piece talking about the games that are in the list. That means that this week I’ll be revisiting last week’s video to look at my choices. Next week – the next part of the list. The week after – analysis of THAT part. The video will be for the reveal and the light description, and the follow-up piece will be for more talk about the games. You dig?

Also, I don’t need to be all PG-friendly in these in-between columns, because my wee lassie ain’t directing them. BOOM!

HEY, IT WAS YOUR IDEA.

50-41: The Breakdown

50: CONQUEST OF PLANET EARTH
Okay, son. Okay, baby. I’ve talked about this fun game twice before. Here’s my first take on Conquest of Planet Earth and here is me using the game as an example of when SUPERCOOL stuff happens in a board game.

Conquest is just such a fun, trashy, laugh-filled game. The art is great, in schlocky B-movie sci-fi style, and the plastic stuff is brilliant – well-sculpted little spaceships and robots and monsters. The rules are simple to get straight in your head, and then it’s all about the experience. It’s all about the stories at the table. And I love that kind of game. Sure, that kind of game can sometimes under-perform. Not every game will be a five star classic. But Conquest regularly spins some wild and wacky stuff at you, and has you hooting and hollering like a real old sumbitch. It’s an old-school, delicious dicefest, and that’s why it made it onto my list. Maybe it should be higher. See? I’m doubting myself now.

49: THE DUKE
Okay, kid. Okay, honey. Here’s my review of The Duke – and let me tell you – this is such a great game. From the wooden pieces to the cloth bag to the simple board, the ol’ Duke is a quality product. Here’s why The Duke is so great – if you were to hand the playing pieces from this game to any gamer, they’d probably be able to work out, more or less, how the game works. The movement pattern of every piece is printed on the piece itself. Each piece is two-sided, with a different movement pattern on each side. That must mean they flip, right? Probably after each move, right? Place those bad boys on a grid, and you can logically work out how the game is supposed to work. Could you do that with chess? Hell naw.

The Duke is a super-accessible abstract strategy game that still manages to stay tough and crunchy and fascinating. The game’s a total keeper. If enough people have a chance to play it, it’s the kind of thing that might stay in print forever. Maybe I should have placed it higher.

48: MISSION: RED PLANET
A reprint is coming down the line for this bad boy. That’s the GOOD news. It was a bit of a holy grail game for me for a while. It was out of print, from a designer I LOVED, and it took me some time to find it. I am so glad that I did. In the game you are firing colonists off to Mars in rockets. You have a hand full of characters with special abilities, and these characters can tinker with the rules of the game. They can fuck up your opponents’ plans, if you use them just right. (The Saboteur, for example, can blow up a rocket, killing all on board.) And using stuff “just right” is the tricky part of the game. It’s a game of risk, timing, reward and punishment. Did you hope to blow up that rocket? Too late, it left. Did the Travel Agent arrange for three of your little dudes to blast off? Bad luck, there’s no room on the spaceship.

The card play/character selection is SO TENSE. The area control element of the Mars landing stuff is SO TENSE. The game is SO TENSE. I love it. Maybe I should have placed it higher.

47: NINJATO
Stop ignoring this game. I mean it. EVERYBODY LISTEN TO ME. Stop ignoring this game. I first mentioned it in this column, where I focused on how effing gorgeous the game effing looks.

See, some people think I don’t like “Eurogames”. Those people are way wrong, as they’ll realise when they see the rest of my Top 50 list. I just tire of Eurogames with boring themes and settings. Trading in the god-damned Renaissance god-damned period. Loading emmereffing boats in the emmereffing Caribbean. Being an amazing ninja invading high security houses during the- WAIT, WHAT? HOLD IT. Yeah, that’s what Ninjato is. A slick, polished, mechanically brilliant action-selection Eurogame with a brilliantly rich setting. You’re not a cube being pushed beside a pile of other cubes. You’re a NINJA, and you’re doing NINJA STUFF. The highlight of the game is the push-your-luck ninja assault stuff, where you tangle with guards as you push further and further into the homes of distinguished Japanese citizens. Get this game. I should have placed it higher, really.

46: KINGSBURG
Let me take you BACK IN TIME. Kingsburg is pretty special to me. It was bought for me by a friend. It was a gift. It was one of the first games on my board game shelves in this SECOND ERA of my obsession with this stuff. It was a real eye-opener of a game for all of us who played it. You roll dice and then you DO stuff with those dice? I can put a 6 and a 5 over here, to use the character in THIS spot, and put the 3 here to use THIS character? Or do I put all three dice on this 14 value character here? DECISIONS. Wow. Cool. That core mechanic is BEAUTIFUL, and all these years later it still stands up. It’s still beautiful. It just works. Collect stuff, build buildings, roll dice, choose actions. Perfect.

And what a lovely game it is too. Colourful and light and airy and breezy and essential. Still essential. What I would call a CLASSIC. Should probably be higher.

45: NEXUS OPS
Sometimes, you just need THAT game. You know, that game where you all want to feel like you’re 14 again, and in control of mutants and monsters and dudes with guns. That game where you chuck dice and KILL and KILL and KILL again. And in and out in an hour, easy.

You have a board made up of hexagonal tiles, arranged differently every time you play. These tiles show different types of terrain – terrain will affect movement, combat, everything. In the middle of the board is the monolith – control that sucker and you are on your way to victory. As your units explore the map, you will find additional units or mines that provide “rubium”, the currency used in the game. Rubium will let you churn out more units, and battles will earn you points. You’ll try to complete secret missions for more points. And that’s the game. You and your opponents scurrying across the map, attacking each other, battling over mines and the monolith, until someone takes the big win.

Nexus Ops is just my kind of game. Great combat, a tight map and easily understood objectives. It’s just fun. F U N. That’s it. It should probably be placed higher, to be honest.

44: TRAINS
I still find it funny that this game is called “TRAINS”. Just TRAINS.

“Hey, what you playin’?”
“Playin’ TRAINS.”
“Okay then.”

But TRAINS is what it is. Here’s my review of the game.

If anything, I like it more NOW than I did THEN. Sure, sure, sure, it’s pretty much Dominion with a board. But hey – DOMINION NEEDED A BOARD. And I think the game looks beautiful. I really do. Sometimes I take the game out just to look at the cards. They have that beautiful Japanese Densha De Go! look to them. It’s a quality product for sure. There’s NO WASTE HERE.*

*A joke for people who already own the game.**

**Which should maybe be higher.

43: DIXIT
By now, everybody knows about Dixit. What more can I say? Let me sling some negatives at you, because all I ever say is positive stuff about this classic.

Real talk – I don’t think Dixit is one of those home-run, slam-dunk, Ric Flair In That Royal Rumble board games. I don’t think it’s a winner every single time. I think, with certain players, Dixit could be a FLOP. If you’re an introvert or not hugely creative (or not comfortable with BEING creative in front of a group) then this game can easily DOIA (Die On Its Arse). And some gamers might find it boring too. “We do what? We look at a fucking picture and do WHAT?” So I’d bear that in mind before you buy this one. There are other games on my list, further up, that are safer bets.

You think you have the right kind of players, though? Prepare for magic.

42: RATTUS
Another Eurogame. Another interesting setting. The Plague, y’all. The Black Death, kid. The big PLAGITO. The Rat Fever. The Deathly Suck. The Grand Kaputo. The Big Deid.

Call it what you like, there’s something fascinating about a plague. For people like us, privileged arseholes like us, there’s something delicious about the notion of a devastating plague. And Rattus is the game that lets you run from it, spread it, and enjoy it. You choose a role card, use that card’s special ability, shift some tiles and cubes around, and watch as the plague spreads. As the game progresses, rats start to spread fucking EVERYWHERE. Rats appear in areas full of your people, and you’re all like “OH SHIT, WE GONNA GET PLAGUED!” And so you plan to choose a role that can save some of your people, or shift some plague action onto an opponent.

When a plague gets triggered – OH BOY. Sometimes a whole area can be completely wiped out. All those cubes just swished off the board. It’s beautiful. Lovely lovely death. It’s a weird game, because you never directly kill your opponents’ people. You just duck and weave the rats, pushing them around. It’s the RATS that kill your opponents. So there’s never a huge amount of animosity. Just a lot of death. A LOT of death.

It’s a great game. Could have been higher.

41: THUNDER ROAD
Oh man. The highest placing on the first part of my list is good old Thunder Road. I covered it a little bit back here.

It has maybe the best board game cover ever. It’s car combat on an endless post-apocalyptic freeway.

It. Maybe. Should. Have. Been. Higher.

NEXT WEEK
THE REVEAL of 40-31.
Stay Dicey!

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25 Comments »

  1. Easy says:

    prems!

    You make me laugh. I so love this column. Don’t go a’changing, Rab.

  2. rexx.sabotage says:

    “The Deathly Suck”

    that killed me

  3. dontnormally says:

    Happy fan of this, yes.

  4. Premium User Badge

    JB says:

    After watching the video the other day, I went into the loft and retrieved my copy of Thunder Road. Some of the pieces need repairs but as soon as I get the board flattened out, I’ll be introducing it at the table.

    Should probably have been higher.

  5. BlankDiploma says:

    This will probably get considered a troll, but I’m genuinely confused: What does this column have to do with PC Games? Why is it on this site?

    I mean, this is a quote from RPS’s “About Us” page:

    “Before you send that press release about your new iPhone game or link to a dog playing the Zelda theme tune on a noseflute, please remember that we are a PC-only site. That’s PC only. P.C. O.N.L.Y. Which format? … That’s right, PC!”

    So… what’s the deal?

    • The Random One says:

      PCs are called desktop computers. These games can be played on a desk. (Although a table is preferred.) Therefore, desks are PCs.

    • Premium User Badge

      Arren says:

      All Good Rules have One Exception.

    • toxic avenger says:

      It’s here to mess with pedants about this kind of thing, you see. Do you have this much consistency in everything you do? Like, have you ever slipped and had breakfast food for dinner?

    • Premium User Badge

      Alabaster Crippens says:

      I think there’s a case to be made for the idea that boardgame design is close enough to PC game design. A lot of the most popular games among the RPS stuff are just intensely complicated board games (Solium Infernum, X-Com, Civ) pushed into a medium able to support the complexity. You get particularly telling stories like Jake Solomon designing the new Xcom’s combat by making a boardgame prototype to play with Sid Meier (at Meier’s request) to make sure they were making it fun.

      A good friend who works in games has made the (slightly too broad) claim that if you can’t make your PC game into a good boardgame, you shouldn’t be making it. I don’t think this is quite true, but I think there is an argument that boardgames are like a concentrated, distilled version of what goes on in computer games, except because you have to process all the underlying instructions and computation, they actually give you a deeper understanding of games in general. I think if you are into PC games and like talking to people, you should be playing boardgames. It makes talking to people easier, and can make understanding PC games easier too.

      Of course. The reason RPS hosts this is because they think Rab is worth listening too, and probably like boardgames. They don’t actually have to justify themselves, or strictly fill out some past statement of intent. They have the editorial control to do what they like. I just also happen to think that they are right to do so, but then, I’m biased. Rab’s column followed by Quinns running off to form his won boardgame site (the excellent Shut Up and Sit Down), basically led me to finally get properly into boardgames, and it’s been brilliant for me. So yeah. You might want a pinch of salt.

      • Dave Tosser says:

        There’s a really good point here about how board games have influenced PC gaming in ways we don’t even realise, and that traditionally “PC” designs and systems probably survive in board games where they don’t in mainstream PC gaming.

        Turn-based tactical combat like that of Eggscom, Jaggy Alliance and Temple of Elemental Save Corruption tends to have your miniature guys on an isometric view taking turns to do things, relying largely on dice rolls and numbers to do anything. You bet they were playing board games when they came up with Rebelstar.

        The popularity of card-based games, from Etherlords to Hearthstone, probably has something rooted there too. Strategy games of all stripes. Permadeath. Randomly generated scenarios. So many of the 80s and 90s strategy games look and feel like straight-up board games- Slay in particular. 4X games! Roguelikes, be they ZAngband or FTL Roguelikelikes.

        Maybe I’m confusing “looks like a board game” with “actually came from board games”, but Uplink and Frozen Synapse could easily be tranferred to a board game format and still work. Maybe work better. And if much of the PC aesthetic feels left over from board games, isn’t that still something? Like PC games and board games are spiritual cousins, and here are pedants whinging about board games being unPC. Board games are more PC than half of what turns up on this site.

        EDIT: 40K! Pen and paper RPGs! These are the very flesh and blood of all things PC. Chris D below is right.

        EDIT#2: I’ve made my point, but OVERWATCH come on guys where did you think that came from did Gollop just pull that out his bum or what

        EDIT#3: Tycoon games. Basically putting down tiles in Carcassone, only not boring.

        • plugmonkey says:

          Basically, if PC games are cinema, then board games are theatre. There is a much stronger relationship between the two than between either and the TV that is console games.

          That’s not to judge between them, BTW, but I think the lineage and inter-relationship is very similar.

          • toxic avenger says:

            That’s an amazing analogy. Board gaming, with the right games, people, setting, and mood, are usually consistent in being GREAT theatre, the same way I would argue the Paradox games are fiction/theatre (the ways in which stories are created through the sandbox). Battlestar Galactica being the greatest example (and coming first to mind). The other examples? Just too many to name!

          • Philotic Symmetrist says:

            I would actually argue that board games have much more in common with console games than PC games, maybe not mechanically but philosophically; board games are a local multiplayer experience and as convenient as online multiplayer is it’s just not the same.

  6. Chris D says:

    (Should be a reply to Blank Diploma)

    This is a question that got asked way back on the very first cardboard children column and the late, great Kieron Gillen summed it up as

    Board games are basically PC games.

    Basically.

    KG”

    This was elaborated upon by another commenter who summed it up better that I could manage at this time of night.

    “Hidden_7 says:

    I always read the RPS “PC-only” mandate as a sort of following the niche stuff. That is, on general game sites that follow all systems, PC games tend to get less and less coverage these days. When they do get coverage, it’s mostly just multiplatform titles. Since it would seem that a lot of interesting PC games weren’t getting covered by multiplatform sites, RPS was created to fill a need that wasn’t being met by the current game-journo marketplace.

    As such, boardgames, being niche themselves, sort of fill the PC spiritual place as an area where interesting things are going on, but that aren’t covered very well. You can’t shake a stick on the gaming internet without running into console coverage.

    That’s my interpretation anyway. Adding console coverage to RPS would dilute its focus, while boardgames are already within its remit (spiritually, at least)

    19/09/2010 at 09:30 Kieron Gillen says:

    Hidden7: Basically, yeah. That Rab wanted to do a column on them is the other part of the equation. Who can say no to Rab?

    KG”
    You can read the whole thread here:

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/18/cardboard-children-dungeonquest/#comment-513342

  7. Saarlaender39 says:

    Ok,…I think I know how this is going to end:

    Next weeks Top 50 Entry will be the same as last weeks, only this time numbered from 40 to 31, and with Dixit replaced by another game.

    And so on, and so forth…

  8. Kevashim says:

    @Saarlaender39. I also see how this is going to end. OVERWATCH BABY, OH YEAAAA.

    Also, damn you Rab, I didn’t need more encouragement to go out and buy Kingsburg before pay day. You’ve also managed to add 8 more games to my “interested and must investigate further” list too. This Top 50 is going to ruin my wallet.

  9. vlonk says:

    The design-space of boardgames is so close to Computer games that Boardgame designers are jumping between both worlds:
    http://us.asmodee.com/ressources/articles/game-designer-interview-touko-tahkokallio.php
    Touko Tahkokallio, designer of the Eclipse board game (love it!)
    “What’s next for you in game design?
    Hmm, hard to say – the future is always difficult to predict!

    Lately I’ve been actually mainly concentrated working with mobile games (iPhone and iPad). My day job is a Game Designer at a super hot Finnish game startup, Supercell. Our two games, Clash of Clans and Hay Day have got pretty amazing response (Clash of Clans is currently #1 and Hay Day #15 in the App store grossing rank!). So, I think in future, lot of my game design energy is geared toward mobile games. But of course, I have few pretty interesting board game projects moving on as well…”

  10. Premium User Badge

    tigerfort says:

    Don’t have a breakdown now, Rab, there’s still another 40 games to go! (Also, thanks – this is a useful easy/quick reference for stuff in the useful and adorable video. :)

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    Xantonze says:

    Thanks for taking up to the comments! It’s way better this way, and looking forward to the next vid!

  12. belgand says:

    I honestly prefer this simply because it isn’t a video. Watching a video takes much longer than reading a list and imparts little additional information or value to me.

  13. North_Wolf says:

    Its nice to see more publicity for CONQUEST OF PLANET EARTH, it was a surprise hit with me (I bought it at a sale). It currently ranks at 664 on board game geek but it deserves more love.

  14. Skabooga says:

    See, some people think I don’t like “Eurogames”. Those people are way wrong, as they’ll realise when they see the rest of my Top 50 list. I just tire of Eurogames with boring themes and settings. Trading in the god-damned Renaissance god-damned period. Loading emmereffing boats in the emmereffing Caribbean.

    I just want to take this quotation and slap it in the face of my friends when they ask why I don’t want to play Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan for the umpteenth time.

  15. Kefren says:

    The Duke is great. Very variable game length though. I’ve had a few games over in 2-3 turns. Barely a minute. And others that went on for hours I think, until EVERY SINGLE PIECE of my opponent’s army had been played then destroyed, and he was down to his Duke running around in its duds, trying to survive the inevitable.

    And there’s humour in it. Duke gets to the opponent’s side of the board. Desperately calls for reinforcements. Draws a pikeman. Oh, how we laughed. (You have to know the game to understand the humour here.)

  16. alecJ says:

    As a long time infrequent reader but fan of RPS, this feature has me checking the website for the next part every day. I love it…..and i dont even really play table top games. Love the host of the videos and his director.