Okay, let’s break down numbers 20-11 on my Top 50 Board Games list. We’re close to the Top 10 now. The list is almost complete. Can you believe that I’ve realised that there are things missing from the list? Of course you can. I’m a dolt, after all. But we’ll deal with that little problem some other time. Right now – let’s BREAK IT DOWN.
20 – MAGIC THE GATHERING
Son. Baby, what. This game is the straight shit. When I say “the straight shit” I don’t mean “straight shit” as in “shit”. I mean “the straight shit” as in “Hoowee, this is the straight-ass shit.” One of the most brilliant game designs ever. Some Best of The Century shit. Chess, Go, Poker, Magic: The Gathering. Definitive shit. Game-changing shit. Heavily imitated shit. Marketing behemoth shit. Major playa shit. No this without Magic. No that without Magic. Richard Garfield riding on a unicorn made out of money, summoning greatness from the land itself. There was nothing and then there was Magic: The Gathering.
Teach it so someone. Watch their heads detach, explode and re-assemble with a new notion of what games can be. Tap, tap, tap summon creature, attack. The straight shit. The real deal. Essential.
19 – GHOST STORIES
I’m not going to explain how Ghost Stories plays. You kidding me, kid? This is some serious process right here. This comes out, this gets placed here, that activates this. It’ll take you a little bit of time to get used to. But this game, about martial artists protecting a village from an invasion of phantoms, is about as good as co-op games get. In fact, it’s the highest placed co-op game on my list. Why? Well – to have even the slightest hope of winning at this game, you and your people will have to play like a team. There’s no easy route to victory. The game changes from moment to moment, swinging hugely in one direction then another. The variables are hard to handle. You will all be riding on your wits and your gut. Choose which ghosts to kill, which to let fly, who to visit for assistance. One mistake can send the game spiralling into a nightmare that you and your friends will struggle to wake up from.
It is utterly brilliant. And it looks beautiful too. Try it.
18 – WARHAMMER QUEST
There’s something hugely romantic about Warhammer Quest. You know how everyone gets a little bit misty-eyed about Heroquest, right? Well, Warhammer Quest is the big budget, epic version of Heroquest. It is, in theory, endlessly customisable and expandable. The entire range of Games Workshop miniatures can be pulled into the game – there are stats in the book for a myriad of monsters and villains. The game is also wonderfully eccentric in the way all the best Games Workshop games are. Between dungeon crawls, your characters can go back to a town to tool up. Weird things can happen back in town. The game turns almost RPG-lite as you make choices, go shopping, roll on tables and get into scrapes. Your characters can even die between sessions of the game. It’s crazy and brilliant.
Look, the actual dungeon crawl aspect of the game is brilliantly solid. Cards drive all the enemies (no need for a GM) and the game is a SLAUGHTERFEST. It’s brilliant fun. If you decide to run the game WITH a GM, though, the game becomes something magical.
Warhammer Quest can even be used as an introduction to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. A transition from WQ the board game to WHFRP the RPG is a simple one, with a good GM in control of things. Don’t think of Warhammer Quest as just a board game. It’s a sandbox for Warhammer adventures. A total delight. Should probably have been higher on my list.
17 – STARCRAFT – THE BOARD GAME
Out of print, and never to come back into print (Fantasy Flight don’t have the Starcraft license any more.). A tragedy, because this monster of a board game is something really special. All the Starcraft races are in here, with all the units, and all in beautiful plastic – 180 figures in total. The game takes up one giant table or two normal human-sized tables. It involves you spreading your race all over the galaxy, and then getting into skirmishes with your enemies. There is SO MUCH going on. It will strike you as frightening and really cool that the Zerg Rush works even in this board game. There’s an incredibly clever ordering system that keeps your rivals’ choices difficult to predict. The card combat system is ahead of its time, and even a dice-maniac like me thinks it’s a brilliant system.
I dunno. Can you find it these days? Probably. And you really should before it’s too late.
16 – WARRIOR KNIGHTS
You have a hand of cards with possible actions. You choose six. You split these into three sets of two. These cards are collected from all players and shuffled into three separate decks, with some neutral cards slipped in there too. Then, the cards are flipped off the top of deck 1. After that, deck 2. After that, deck 3. You don’t have EXACT control over when your turn will come up, but you have control over the general timing of your actions. There is a Fog of War element to all your choices, and this is only part of what makes this a very special game. You’ll be marching armies towards your opponents, sure. And you’ll be assaulting their castles, sure. But politics and religion will also play a role, and control of the Assembly or a stranglehold on the Church will be key to coming out on top. When certain laws go to a vote, you will be on the edge of your seat – ready to flip into full WAR MODE if things don’t go your way.
Warrior Knights is my medieval military/diplomacy board game of choice. It’s full of drama – and any board game that provides a lot of drama is going to be a winner for me. It’s a cut-throat game too, and I’ve never played it without someone shouting swear words across the table. It goes long – maybe 5 hours or so – but you’ll be talking about a session of this game for years. Guaranteed.
15 – DESCENT: JOURNEYS IN THE DARK 1st/2nd Edition
Yep, the whole Descent experience is in here. Despite the two games being quite different, I find that they both scratch much the same itch. Second edition is much cleaner and easier to play. It’s very much a modern game design, with all the fussiness removed and everything polished to a fine shine. It’s a scenario-based dungeon crawl game, with one player playing as an evil Overlord. One versus Many games are difficult to get right, but Descent smashes it out of the park. Combat is fun for both sides. The good guys get to go deep with their chosen character while the Overlord gets to play with a variety of monsters, and it’s possible to get these monsters working as a strong unit if the Overlord can quickly grasp the nature of their play.
First edition was a different kettle of fish, but I think it was probably my favourite kettle. The rules were a sprawling mess, that’s for sure. The FAQ document just got bigger and bigger and bigger as questions would pop up with every play. Everything needed clarified. Nobody knew what the fuck was going on. Arguments would take place at the table – “YOU CAN’T SPAWN THAT THERE!” “YOU CAN’T TELEPORT THERE WITH THAT!”
But, man. What a game. A tense and sweaty tactical miniatures game, with heroes moving around a dungeon like a SWAT team while monsters attacked from every side and the evil Overlord dropped traps everywhere.
I have EVERYTHING from the Descent line, and I can’t get enough. All the monsters and heroes from 1st Edition are compatible with 2nd Edition through a nice little Conversion Pack thing. It places higher than Warhammer Quest only because Descent really pulled me back into the board gaming hobby in a big way.
14 – DUNGEONQUEST
Dungeonquest was my very first review here on Rock Paper Shotgun. Can you believe that was ALMOST FOUR YEARS AGO?!
Go and read that. The only thing that has changed is that I now play Dungeonquest with my daughter and she can’t believe how brutal and horrible it is. Terrible things happen in that dungeon. People get chopped in half without any warning. You can be trapped inside forever. It is totally unfair. It makes her cry.
She loves it as much as I do.
13 – LORDS OF WATERDEEP
I’m a big fan of worker placement games. I love putting wee men down in wee things and seeing wee things happen because I did it. Place a wee man in a field, out pops a cabbage. That always feels nice, right? But Lords of Waterdeep has a D&D theme, so you’re putting wee men into taverns and guilds and so on, and out pop little wizards and warriors. And then you spend those little wizards and warriors to complete quests.
And that’s it.
See, this is about as stripped back as a worker placement game gets. You have a secret Lord who gives you a special bonus at the end of the game and you have some Intrigue cards you can play to manipulate a few things, but in truth it’s all about placing some wee men so you can take some wee men and finish some wee quests. It’s a board game you can teach in five minutes and almost everybody will enjoy it, unless they are horrible human beings.
Oh, and the expansion makes it even better.
12 – LIBERTALIA
I wrote a big one about this back inside this link right here.
For those of you wondering, by the way, James Purefoy will be back on these pages soon. He was very busy with his work on the major TV series The Following.
Do I have any new thoughts on Libertalia? Only that it remains a wonderful game that feels totally unique. There’s something about bashing all those characters together that just excites me. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I just love games where the players can make some decisions and then watch it all unfold in front of them. “Oh. I fucked up.” Always funny.
The game’s easily available. GET IT.
11 – KING OF TOKYO
We started this part of the list with a Richard Garfield game, and we end this part of the list with a Richard Garfield game. That dude can design a game, that’s for sure.
King of Tokyo, reviewed back here, is the perfect game when you have some friend round. Easy to explain, with big chunky dice, and plenty of luck so that even bad players can get some big hits in. You play it like Yahtzee. Roll, re-roll, try to get the dice to show exactly what you’re after. Do you want to attack your opponents? Do you want to collect points? Do you want to store energy so that you can buy those shiny and powerful cards that sit in the middle of the table, tempting you with their shiny powerfulness?
It’s a colourful, fun game that has real staying power. The type of game you will buy and keep forever. You’ll have your favourite character and you’ll take great pleasure in making that monster of your choice the King of Tokyo.
It should be on YOUR list too. Get it got.
Before we hit the Top Ten, there will be a SPECIAL VIDEO next week all about the games I forgot to add to the list, and the ones that might push their way onto the list very soon.