Cardboard Children – Rab’s Top 50: Breakdown 2

By Robert Florence on May 6th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Hello youse.

I could have predicted this. I could have predicted that by the time I was a couple of videos into my now-legendary Top 50 Board Games of ALL TIME list, I’d be starting to have second thoughts about my chosen games. It doesn’t help that I’m playing games all the time, and good ones, and now I’m constantly beating myself up with – “And THIS isn’t on my list? Idiot!”

Anyway, let’s look at my latest entry, in a little bit more detail. I’ll panic next week.

RAB’S TOP 50 (40-31)

40 – CLAUSTROPHOBIA
Claustrophobia is a weird one. Great theme – check. Demons and demon-hunters clashing in an underground labyrinth. Beautiful art. Great miniatures. Great mechanics – check. Dice are rolled and allocated to different levels of stats on the heroes’ stats cards. As the heroes get injured, they lose slots where those dice can go. It works beautifully, and feels thrillingly innovative. The baddies roll dice too, and can spend them on special abilities. Lots of choices for both sides in this battle. Plenty of scenarios in the base game. I’ve played the first scenario alone many times. A great game, with a lot of staying power. And yet… AND YET.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be a game that many people talk about. I wonder why that is. It’s a 2-player game, so maybe it doesn’t hit many tables. The setting is very dark, so maybe that’s a turn-off. The game suggests a trashy dice-chucker, when there’s actually a fair bit more than that going on. Maybe it’s just passed some people by. It’s at number 40 on my list because I enjoy it every time I play it, and I should probably have placed it higher.

39 – Formula D
Formula D is a very simple, very straight-forward game. It’s a roll-and-move, pretty much. You roll a die and move your racing car that many spaces. The cool thing is that as you shift up and down your gears, that die you’re rolling will change. A small die for the low gear and a big fuck-off boulder of a die for high gear. You’ll be shifting up and down, trying to take the corners properly, trying to pass your opponents. As simple as the game is, it feels like being in a race. You can’t just gun your car around the track, tossing that big boulder at every turn. You need to think – THEN gun it. Inevitably, someone at the table will push a little too far and put themselves out of a race. Inevitably, someone will play safe, time things beautifully, and tear out of the pack at exactly the right moment. It’s a thriller of a game – real blockbuster stuff. It should maybe have been higher on the list.

38 – Coup
I feel like I’m always talking about Coup. Each player has two cards. Each of those cards will show a certain character. All the characters in the game have special powers. You can use a character’s power in your turn – but you don’t have to show your cards. That means you can lie to your friends’ faces. If they challenge your claims, your punishment will be harsh, but so will theirs if their challenge is in error. That makes for a really cagey game of bluff and counter-bluff and bounter-cluff. Coup will have players hooting and hollering at the table. There’s always a surprise or two, an unseen twist, a brilliant bit of under-handedness.

(I should note that I dislike the most recent printing of Coup, with the “The Resistance” theming. Try to get the original printing if you can. It feels more home-made and looks like a beautiful little curiosity.)

37 – Risk Legacy
Few games are as exciting as Risk Legacy. It’s exciting because it doesn’t settle for simply being a game. It tries to do something different. The game evolves and adapts as you play it. The board will be reconfigured, places will be renamed, cards will be torn up and secret boxes full of new game components will be torn open. At the end of a campaign of games, you’ll have a special thing to have and to hold. A game that is unique to your group of players, with memories scrawled across the board.

Why isn’t it higher? It’s still Risk. I know, I know. But it’s still Risk. A great Risk, true. But still Risk. And Risk just always bounces off me a little bit. The combat isn’t hugely satisfying, and that’s a pretty terrible thing to say about a wargame. HOWEVER – if you’re going to play Risk, this is the one to play. A brilliant, fun game that is truly unique.

36 – Shadow Hunters
Hidden roles, man. Everywhere these days, right? These days, it feels weird to sit at a game and not have everyone wondering who you are. Well, hey, Shadow Hunters is YEARS old, so it’s not a bandwagon jumper. It’s one of the early-day originals, and it’s superb. There’s a team of goodies and a team of baddies. The goodies are all vampire-hunter types. The baddies are all vampire and werewolf sorts. You know the deal – even all THAT stuff is played out these days. It has a strong Castlevania feel, a real Japanese video-game vibe that just nails the right tone for the game.

What sets this game apart from most of the other hidden role games is that your characters can all move around, attacking each other. You spend the game feeling each other out, trying to work out all the alliances. Eventually, you’ll all get a loose feel for who the teams are, and slaughter will commence. It’s a great game – plays fast, plays fun and almost always demands another go. Check it out. You’ll love how it looks, that I guarantee. Should be higher, I think.

35 – Colosseum
Oh, this is some game to be one game, so it is. I bought Colosseum back when my collection of games was a very small one, and it’s still hanging in. Still up there on my shelves, hanging proudly with all the new kids. Each player is a Roman impresario, preparing shows to stage inside the Colosseum. What this actually MEANS in the shitty old REAL world is that the players are collecting tiles representing different performers and props that an impresario will need. There are recipes of sorts, for many different shows, with many different victory point values. So you’ll be in the auctions, trying to find those gladiators and lions that you need. And then you’ll stage shows. Small ones at first, always with an eye on a big WRESTLEMANIA-SCALE SUPERSHOW at the end.

I think that’s what I love best about this game. Every player stays in the hunt until the very end. It’s all about that last big event. One last big show in the Colosseum, for victory. Great game. Out of print now, I fear. Find it.

34 – Warhammer Invasion
A card game, now. A card battler. Each turn you generate resources and can spend them to play cards. These cards are placed around your capital city. You can put units on your front line, build developments, shore up your defences. The object of the game is to burn your opponent’s city. You do that by getting past defences and getting hits in on the city itself, choosing which area you strike.

Ah, boy, it’s a fine game. There’s something about the sense of place in this game that I love. It really feels like sending your units scurrying back and forth, defending the east side of the capital, then the west. When you punch a hole in your enemy’s defences it is a genuine thrill. It causes panic.

I like card battle games a lot, but this one is a real favourite. You have all the attacking and blocking stuff, sure. But you also have the pleasure of trying to build a nice little resource engine behind all that stuff. I don’t care about tournament crap and I don’t care about collecting. All I care about is great games, and this is surely one of them.

33 – Pret-a-Porter
Pret-a-Porter is the heaviest game on this part of the list. The deepest game, and the most complex. And yes, it’s also a game about the fashion industry. You’re running a fashion house, with the constant pressure of assembling collections for upcoming shows. You’ll take out loans, acquire new staff, new utilities and create new designs. Money is tight in this game. It will horrify you, how quickly debt gets its claws into you, and how quickly things come crashing down when that happens.

The theming is brilliant – a real masterstroke. You’re in debt. You’re about to lose a great young designer you had on a temporary contract. That Paris show is just around the corner. You’re low on materials, and in danger of taking a load of utter shit to Paris. Believe me, that stuff BITES, and with real clarity too. In terms of theme illustrating your inefficiencies, there’s nothing quite like this game.

This game’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I love fashion, and I get a weird pleasure from these tight economy games that have you weeping when you fuck up and almost bouncing up and down with joy when all that lovely cash is just flowing into your hands like water. I almost certainly should have put this higher on the list.

32 – Fury of Dracula
Dracula, get this, is a rascal. He’s running all over Europe, getting infection all up the walls and everything. He’s creating new vampires in cities and then moving on, and everyone else has no idea where he’s gone to.

“Where’s Dracula?”
“Dunno. Dirty bugger.”

That’s Fury of Dracula. Four vampire hunters, one Dracula. The player who plays Dracula moves around secretly, being naughty and doing bad stuff. The goodie players try to corner him, while cleaning up his mess. They do that using a little bit of deduction, and a measure of fighting vampires. Here’s the BAD NEWS. At night, Dracula is strong, so it sometimes makes sense for him to come out of the shadows and attack the goodies. If you’ve ever played the great family game Scotland Yard, try to picture what it would be like if the baddie could occasionally detonate a bomb under a good guy’s bus. It’d be exciting and a little bit scary is what it would be.

And that’s Fury of Dracula. Yep. My number 32.

31 – Hour of Glory
And here it is. The highest-placed game on this part of my list. And it’s a small-print game. An indie effort. The components? Rough. Flimsy cardboard on the essential “clock”. Big thick floor tiles that look super-bland. Little cardboard standees that fall over constantly. And still…

What a fuckin’ game.

A player defends the base with some guards. Other players invade the base to complete secret objectives. They’re tooled up with weapons and gear and kit. Stealth is essential. Dice will roll. The clock constantly ticks down. Doors need to be breached. Do you take time to do things properly? Do you have enough time? Do you rush it, and risk being found and overwhelmed? Will you get out in time?

One game of Hour of Glory has many spells of excitement. But the ending of each game is fucking incredible, as time just ticks away. 10-8-7-6-

4

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Next week, the reveal of 30-21.

Stay dicey.

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12 Comments »

  1. TheIronSky says:

    I think you guys may have missed a page-break on this one.

  2. Daetnas says:

    I’m interested in a few of these games, but a lot of the guys I’d like to play boardgames with don’t speak english very well. Unfortunately, many of these aren’t localized for hungarian ( there are like 2 e-shops selling the hungarian version of Fury of Dracula for 75$ and that’s about it).

    So that got me thinking which are the games on the list, that have easy to understand rules that could be easily explained to non english speakers.

    • Shadram says:

      Can’t speak for all of the games on the list, but…

      Formula D has no text beyond the rulebook. It’s just numbers on the dice, board and player boards. It’s super easy to teach and play.

      Colosseum has no text on the board or components. There’s some text-heavy player aids that break down the rounds, but it should be possible to find a translation of those somewhere, or translate it yourself, but other than that it’s easy to play and explain.

      Coup has the explanations of the character powers on the cards, but there’s not many of them, and you mostly read them from a player aid anyway (you don’t want to spend too long looking at your cards!). This could be a good choice.

  3. Bull0 says:

    Hour of Glory looks like just the thing. Pay day cometh

  4. dontnormally says:

    Is Spartacus based on Colosseum? I haven’t played either but they sound exactly alike.

    • Shadram says:

      Nope.

      Colosseum is very much a euro game: you auction show elements, trade with other players, and aim to collect sets to get you various points. It’s a great family game, about as heavy as Settlers of Catan.

      Spartacus has an auction for slaves, but it’s a blind auction so feels very different, and then has ‘take that’ card play followed by some arena combat. It’s definitely not family friendly (unless your family is into sex and graphic violence), and can be a long and brutal game.

      So they have a similar setting, but beyond that, the games are totally different. I really like both of them, but for very different reasons.

  5. Randomgit says:

    I love Warhammer because of the rich theme but I’m over card games because they usually aren’t evocative. But Invasion looks like it might actually put you in the Warhammer place and that would be good.

  6. meepmeep says:

    I hugely agree on Coup – I played the first ‘Renaissance City-State’ themed version, and it was a Machiavellian joy. Then when I went to buy it, there was only some cartoony cod-scifi thing that turned me right off.

    Brilliant, brilliant game though.

    • Moose Malloy says:

      I don’t like the Resistance sci-fi re-theming of Coup either, and sadly the lovely original Renaissance woodcut version is no longer available. However, you might like the French version, “Complots”, which has a caricature Court of Versailles / Alice in Wonderland look. The cards only have the character names on (really hard to translate: “Le Capitaine”, “L’Ambassadeur”, “L’Assassin”… ), and there are player aids with the character powers in English that you can download from Board Game Geek. There’s also a nice-looking Brazilian version coming out this year. All nicer than the cod-Dune theme, I think.

  7. Deano2099 says:

    Shadow Hunters is bloody brilliant. It’s odd that when it came out it was pretty much heralded as better than BANG! but then seemed to vanish into obscurity. though I guess that’s the down-side of not doing yearly expansions.

    I’ve often called it “The Resistance but with a game as well” and it’s delightfully quirky (in combat, you roll a d4 and a d6, and your damage is the difference).

  8. Martel says:

    I keep going back and forth on picking up formula d. I might have to buy it just to get it off my wishlist.

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