The Players' Aid

Board Game Reviews, Reports, and Reflections.

Alexander’s Top 10 Games

2016 Edition

I’ve been procrastinating doing this because just thinking about putting this list together made my head hurt. I’ve been gaming seriously for about four years now, and whilst I haven’t played an exhaustive amount of games, I do feel like I’ve played at least a good number. Having said that, there’s just so many good games out there, and so many games that I personally adore that ranking these 10 games was a real pain. I’m still not sure if I’m happy with the ranks, but here they are. For anyone who is all over the cult-of-the-new line of thinking; these are my favourite games to play, and more often than not newer iterations of games improve upon older classics.

10. Labyrinth: The War on Terror 2001-?

GMT Games (2010), Designed by Volko Ruhnke

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I’ve heard people complain about the politics of this game, but I couldn’t care less one way or the other, because this game is extremely tense. At times the asymmetry can seem punishingly cruel, but victory tastes that much sweeter when you’ve had to claw tooth and nail for every inch of territory. The Jihadists play the mouse, and the USA the cat. The cat is extremely powerful, but the mouse needs to be quick, agile and all over the board. The first time I played this I played as the Jihadists and I was utterly lost, because the Jihadist player creates the game scenario basically. The US plays a reactionary and pro-actively defensive force, trying to curry favour with key strategic oil resources, to keep them out of the opponents hands. So it was on me to try and start running around, laying plots and wreaking havoc on the board in order to get the US forces stretched out and bogged down into regime changes that they didn’t want to be in. It’s an excellent game, with an intriguing theme [that I understand isn’t for everyone] but this one is just so back and forth that the tension is palpable.

9. Roll/Race for the Galaxy

Rio Grande Games (2014), Designed by Wei-Hwa Huang and Thomas Lehmann

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Love this game. I love Race for the Galaxy, which Grant has, so when this came out I just had to get it. As a mulligan I’m including Race in here as well, because it’s the same game, just with no dice. Race I will always prefer when there’s just two of us. It’s a great dueling game. But with any more than 2 players, which happens to us more often than not, then I’ll prefer Roll for the Galaxy, because the extra bling with the dice and cups and tiles, etc. liven up the game with more players. It took a while to get used to Race for all the iconography, and I think that Roll does that better with much more text explanation and less dense amounts of icons, whigh makes it more accessible which tips it toward being my favourite. If you don’t have the Ambition expansion; get it!

8. Battlestar Galactica

Fantasy Flight Games (2008), Designed by Corey Konieczka

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As a fan of the TV show I am all over this game like a rash. This was my first big hidden identity game, and it quickly became one of my favourite genres. There’s nothing like accusing people of being cylons and trying to convince other people to put someone in the brig! On top of all that the co-op aspect is hard. I’ve said over and over, that co-ops and solitaires should be hard, because if there’s no challenge then they feel flat and I don’t tend to replay them. This game is not that. For people who aren’t a fan of the show, I can see how the IP might be a turn off, and this game definitely shines the more you get into it [which is facilitated by a good knowledge of the show]. But give it a go anyways, because the pay off for this one is great. Here’s a game where I also have to begrudgingly admit that Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games is objectively better, it’s shorter but packs the same punch with some added extras, but BSG is still my favourite because of the IP. The game length for me is a detraction in the sense it’s hard to get it to the table, but also a pro, because I know in my heart of hearts that I’ll be enjoying this for the next five hours!

7. Five Tribes

Days of Wonder (2014), Designed by Bruno Cathala

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This is hands down my favourite euro game (spoiler alert). Components are off the chart, and the artwork as well as the theme were just really great. Normally I don’t like euro-style point salad games because there’s just too much going on that doesn’t seem cohesive, and somehow it all ties together. But the scoring mechanisms in the game work so well, and they’re divided between themed tribes, so everything settles well together. I can’t get enough of the mancala-like movement in the game, and it’s what really brings the game to the next level. It’s both a great puzzle, and great way to inadvertently mess other players over. Mixed with a bidding mechanic for turn order, this game literally has everything. And it WORKS. So many games fall flat with a mish mash of mechanics, but Five Tribes soars.

6. Blood Rage

Cool Mini or Not (2015), Designed by Eric Lang

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Make no mistake about Blood Rage, it is a card drafting game. It can seem at first a big mix of mechanics that have been thrown together, but it doesn’t feel thrown together. You draft cards that will form your strategy, you place pieces and upgrade your clan in order to control areas of the board, then you fight in simple rounds of bluffing combat. If you win, you live. If you lose, you die gloriously in battle and go to Valhalla. After the actions phase you check to see if quests have been achieved and score more points that way, then you do it all again with much, much better cards from the next age. BR isn’t the most thinky, deep and strategic game, although there’s enough to think about that kind of thing. But what I love about this game is that it’s quite trashy and sometimes you just do things because why not! It being from CMoN the pieces are off the chart and the game just looks so awesome on the table. Thankfully the game play also delivers, and this is one where I’ve never not had fun playing.

5. Cyclades

Matagot (2009), Designed by Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc

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If it’s not readily apparent, let me jut get this out there: I love games with heavy player interaction. I don’t mind what form that necessarily comes in, but I want it to be there. For me board games are a social thing, and I want to interact with my friends and fellow players as much as possible. Cyclades offers that to the max. Our favourite part of this game is the bidding phase, where you try to bluff and deceive other players as to your actual intent, and gamble on how little money you can put whilst trying to win the gods’ favour. I utside of that, the art work, even on the back of the playing board which you will basically never see, is amazing. This game has real curb appeal. But the combat, and victory conditions are so tight that this game very quickly becomes tense, and extremely deadly. The best part about this game is that it doesn’t drag on. This isn’t some dumbed down war game that over stays it’s welcome, its tight area control and resource management that is gripping the whole way through.

4. Fire in the Lake

GMT Games (2014), Designed by Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke

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This is my favourite war game. Which we can argue about later on [spoiler alert] but this to me is the last real war game, in terms of military pieces and combat values and direct conflict. I’m in love with the theme, because I used to watch all of the old Vietnam films with my brothers late at night when the parents had gone to bed. And let me tell you, this game evokes the theme like few other war games I’ve played. GMT’s COIN [Counter Insurgency] series have made some of my favourite mid-weight war games. The pieces and boards are accessible to euro gamers, but the rules and options and strategic depth give you a lot of meat to chew on. We whack on a playlist of songs from the 60s and play for hours on end.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

Fantasy Flight Games (2011), Designed by Nate French

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As soon as this bad boy was announced I was all over it. I’d never played any of Fantasy Flight’s other LCG’s (Living Card Games) but the theme and the cooperative nature of the game, as well as the story aspect is something that appealed to me immediately. After playing through the scenarios in the starter set with my siblings I was hooked. This game is just so good. It’s challenging, beautiful, and the stories that each scenario tell, as well as the rich flavour text on each card, really make this game come to life. So many co-ops are procedural and routine, and this one to me doesn’t feel like that. Having been out now for five years there’s a lot of this game out there, which can seem daunting for entry level players, but you honestly don’t need everything. [who has thousands of dollars to drop on this much stuff, right?] But you can rest assured that after you do play, you will want to buy even some of the small adventure decks to get more! Also, check out the Gencon events for this game; $4 and you get an exclusive adventure pack to play in the event and take home! If you do play this game, read all of the flavour text and try to immerse yourself in the story of the mission, it can really change the mood of the table and makes the tension more palpable.

2. Twilight Struggle

GMT Games (2005), Designed by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews

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The reason that this game is the undisputed king of board games, is that it scores well in every category. The board is huge, and very clear and functionally excellent. The chits are uncluttered and bold and readable. The cards are extremely well made, and the historical artwork is something that I appreciate and helps to visualize some of the lesser known events of the cold war. The mechanics of the game force so much tension into the game that you really feel every aspect of the cold war struggle, from entrenched dug in stale mates in Europe, to wild firefights and coups all over the southern hemisphere. This is a game that I label as a board game, rather than a war game, because whilst it’s about the cold war, and can feel as heavy as a war game to euro-style players, it doesn’t have hexes, military units, and combat results charts and tables. This is an area influence game, that is driven by cunning card play, and when viewed as such becomes much less intimidating. The ‘combats’, as such they are, are abstracted with a dice roll and some modifiers, all neatly listed on the players’ aids. It can seem long, coming in at 3 hours, for a full game, but the pay off is so worth it. I’ve never played this game and wished for those 3 hours back, because I enjoyed them immensely.

1. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Fantasy Flight Games (2012), Designed by Steven Kimball, James Kniffen, Corey Konieczka,   Jason Little, Brady Sadler and Adam Sadler

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So, my favourite game of all time has my favourite theme of all time, and one of my favourite styles of all time – miniatures games. A lot of miniatures games can feel too tactical and bogged down in the minutia, but this one doesn’t suffer from that. The game is clean with little chrome, and the games are engaging, fast paced, and the combat is at times brutal. Much of the appeal of this game comes from two aspects: the unbelievable miniatures [pre-painted no less!] and the squad building. Games like Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer 40,000 have so much staying power because building decks and armies are half the fun. Players love to experiment and tinker with set ups to try and outwit opponents in the field, and X-Wing does that but on a small scale, so it’s much more accessible. 100 point games consist of anywhere from 2-7 ships, and very rarely more than that, and a few upgrade cards. Boom. Done. You can do this quickly as a casual player, or meticulously as a competitive player, it’s all up to you! But there’s nothing that brings back the nostalgia more than flying these miniatures around the board and shooting each other down, with the obligatory ‘pew pew’ noises of course, than X-Wing. There’s so much depth to strategy and tactics for a player to go as deep into this game as they so desire, but you don’t have to in order to have fun. And that’s something that really enamors me to this game. Players of any level can play and enjoy it to it’s fullest.

So there you have it! My Top 10 favourite games of all time. Some honorable mentions, in no paticular order, that were painful to leave off were : Mage Knight, Biblios, Quantum, Cosmic Encounter, Hanabi, and Dominant Species.

Leave a comment with your favourite games, and make the case for the ones you love the most!

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