PunchBoard Media: The Big List of Games
Twilight Struggle published in 2016 and designed by Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta
Nominated by Isaac Shalev
Isaac Shalev (Kind Fortress) - Most of what there is to say about Twilight Struggle has already been said. That’s the nature of spending years in the number one spot atop the BoardGameGeek rankings. And what a glorious reign it was. Twilight Struggle, a 2-player-only wargame with a drab color scheme, a pile of cubes and counters, 3+ hours gameplay and a setting - the Cold War - that only a history teacher could love, sat on its perch for years, years, looking down on sweeping 4X games like Eclipse, tight Euros like Agricola, and clever card games like Race for the Galaxy.
What’s the secret to Twilight Struggle? Tension. Stress. Drama. While punishing games have gone out of fashion lately, Twilight Struggle represents the height of the artform. In Twilight Struggle players are routinely presented with what feel like unfair dilemmas. The US player starts the game on the defensive. The USSR is in a stronger board position, and the cards that drive the gameplay favor the USSR. Moreover, both players are faced with hands of cards that feel like lit sticks of dynamite. Card events are tied to one side or the other, and when you play a card with an opponent’s event, the card will go off, potentially causing you a lot of damage. There is no way to avoid this kind of blowback, and it takes many plays to slowly uncover the a great strategic truth about Twilight Struggle: it is better to set off opponent events on your turn, when you can manage them more readily, than to see those events played to their maximum effect by your opponent.
Twilight Struggle is a masterpiece of stress induction that mirrors the daily stress of life, and especially political life, in the Cold War period. With a very faithful app implementation available on every major platform, it is easier to find time and players to play this gem of a game, and with an AI, you can play on your own and quickly learn the deck contents and get up to speed on this deep, stressful, tense masterpiece.
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - TS is one of the most engaging and fascinating games I’ve ever played. As a child of the 80s, everything was influenced in some way by the cold war - our books, movies, TV shows, sports, etc. No other game I can think of so intricately weaves the theme into the gameplay in a way that invokes the same tension of the actual events onto the tabletop as two players strive for a win. Mechanically, the game is one of the best Card Driven systems I’ve ever seen and managing each round’s hand of cards while managing whatever the other player is trying to do to you is what makes this game so special. The thrill of pulling of a magnificent sequence of events is just as soul crushing when they happen to you. And despite the back and forth, things are not symmetrical (nor should they be). The early war is all about the USSR and the US is just trying to hold on. If the US manages to last to the mid and late games, the roles have flipped, but the tension of an instant win at any time (due to a couple of different ways to force the end of the game) is what keeps you playing. When people talk thematic games, games like Arkham Horror, Zombicide, any of a dozen dungeon crawlers are what might come to mind, but this is one game where there is no separation between the theme and the game. Every single bit of the game is built into, around, and through the theme. About the only bad thing I can say about this game is that it is a little long and there is a fair bit of a learning curve, which can make the game pretty unbalanced if you are trying to learn the game against someone that has played it more than a couple of times. There is an outstanding electronic version (on basically every platform made) of the game for those that want to take the time to learn against an AI before diving into a game and for those that know the game but struggle to find a match.
Adrian Richardson (Mile High Game Guys) Ahh, Twilight Struggle, the long time #1 game on BGG that was finally supplanted by Pandemic Legacy. There is so much I could say about this game, one of my all time favorite 2p games. It perfectly captures the push and pull of two super powers vying for control over the world. The way the game forces you to play cards that will definitely help your opponent and trying to balance that with the cards they play that help you is fantastic.
Unfortunately, this is one of those games that takes an initial investment of a game or two to just get a feel for what cards are available each era and how they affect the flow of the game. As such, new players are heavily disadvantaged against someone who has played before. Thankfully, there is a fantastic app implementation that can help you learn the ropes before you go toe to toe with an experienced player.
Links to reviews of Twilight Struggle
Dungeons & Dragons published in 1974 and designed by Gary Gygax
Nominated by Chris Renshaw
Chris Renshaw (The Dirtbags of Holding) - There’s a reason that Wizards of the Coast puts some iteration of “The World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game” on every D&D book they print. D&D and RPGs are so interchangeable for some people that they may not know that other RPGs even exist. D&D has had a crazy history over the past 30 years with various companies, editions, and changes that have not always resonated with a large portion of gamers. However, the latest edition, 5th Edition, is the shot in the arm that the game needed. The 5th Edition D&D Starter Box is one of the easiest ways to get into RPGs. With multiple official campaign books, a huge batch of unofficial content online, and several “actual play” series on Twitch/YouTube, the barrier to entry for this game is almost gone. I would contend that every gamer needs to be exposed to this game at least once in their life.
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - In 1980 or so, a friend of mine got this cool game that came in a red box; the words Dungeons and Dragons across the top. As a young boy, anything with dragons, elves, dwarves, knights, and mages was going to grab our attention - and grab it did. At first we were just playing out adventures that were suspiciously like the adventures in the Hobbit. Then we discovered that there were adventure modules out there and a whole new world opened up to us. What really excited me was the story. We were telling ourselves a story and actively making it up as we went. We got to stop being a grade school or middle school (nerd) kid and got to be the hero (or villain) without limits. It lead me into new fantasy reading material and other games, and while I no longer play D&D, its influence is well felt by me.
This is a game that required little more than some paper, pencils, and some odd dice to go along with your imagination and your narrative. Look at any of the conversations about board games and their themes and you can see the roots that D&D laid in our gamer psyche - there is a part of us that wants to be immersed in something more. And that is why D&D is on this list. It opened us to new worlds and strange creatures and heroic quests. There are probably hundreds of RPG systems out there now, but D&D is the one started it all (ok, it was probably actually Chainmail or something, but D&D was the one that made it to the mainstream and was being played in basements and being looked down on by bible thumpers).
Eric Buscemi (The Cardboard Hoard) - Most games are simply evolutions of the games that came before them, trying to achieve a similar goal, but in a better, or quicker, or flashier way. However, once in a generation we’re lucky enough to see the rare game that breaks from this iterative mold, and instead of following down the well-worn footsteps of its predecessors, trailblazes an exciting and completely new path forward. This is the story of the iconic Dungeons & Dragons, and why it has evolved in our collective consciousness as more than just a game, but a cultural touchstone, creating a new way to play games and interact with one another around a table, simply using some dice and paper. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy other roleplaying games more than D&D, as it can be a bit clunky and rules constrained -- at least back when I played using the 3.5 ruleset. But there can be no denying that without Gary Gygax creating D&D over forty years ago and paving that path forward, none of these contemporary iterations would exist.
Links to reviews of Dungeons & Dragons
Settlers of Catan published in 1995 and designed by Klaus Teubner
Nominated by Patrick Hillier
Patrick Hillier (WDYPTW) On the WDYPTW conversation thing there are two games that most come up when I ask people what got them into ‘modern hobby gaming’. The Settlers of Catan as it was known back then, or Catan now, is probably one of the earliest German imports that people say were revolutionary to the hobby. I’ve heard stories of games sales out of trunks in parking lots to get imported copies of these early games. With less options people playing it hundreds of times. People have issue with the initial placement or trading impacting their play and have moved on. Then again how many games have become quotes outside of the game? Sure, there are expansions and variants that are better but still who doesn't look back at their first kiss or first car as fondly.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo) Around ten years ago, I discovered Catan and immediately bought a copy. It was one of the first three euro games I bought. We played it a bunch, and I really liked the route building, point scoring and player interaction. (I also loved that it didn’t look like the kinds of games we played as a kid!) I still remember opening the box and seeing the components, and reading the rule book for the first time. What was I getting into? There were no dragons or castles or piles of dice! Of course, like most people, those first games hooked me and my friends, and we soon discovered more games from the new Golden Age of Board Gaming. It is themeless? Yes. is it unwieldy with the 5-6 player expansion? Of course. But if you had to choose one game over the last 25 years that has influenced more people to join this hobby, then I venture to say that Catan is a safe bet to be number one.
Adrian Richardson (Mile High Game Guys) Settlers of Catan, quite possibly the most well known hobby boardgame out there, it was my introduction to the world of boardgaming back in 2012. Although it's starting to show its age with unmitigatable dice rolls that can leave you with nothing to show for your turn, it's still a remarkably simple game to teach that has a higher level of strategy than you would expect for a game that relies so heavily on dice tosses. A near endless supply of expansions also work to keep the game from growing too stale and add some much needed balance in some cases. Ultimately there is a reason that this is the first game so many modern boardgames played and it's legacy on the boardgaming world is undisputable.
Links to reviews of Settlers of Catan
El Grande published in 1995 and designed by Wolfgang Kramer & Robert Ulrich
Nominated by Chris Wray
Chris Wray (WDYPTW) El Grande was arguably the first "Heavy" game to win the Spiel des Jahres, and that had an important impact on the games that were made afterwards. It may not have been the first area control game, but since publication it has been held up as one of the finest of the genre. It has always been high on the BGG rankings since inception. I fell in love with El Grande on my first play. I love area control games, and El Grande is the finest area control game I've ever played. I love almost everything about it, and in 50+ plays I've never had a bad experience. To me El Grande is everything a game should be: a streamlined, intuitive, captivating experience with great presentation value and high replayability.
Patrick Hillier (WDYPTW) El Grande in its old world sepia tones to me is a simple, and simply wonderful area control game. I’m happiest with games with a simple rule set where interesting player interaction and clever manipulation of the rules emerges in the table talk or reveal of the castle and second guessing where your opponent is going dump his pile of cableros. Moving of the King before or after your placement can cause your opponents grief. Once per game use of your turn order cards, choosing the right time to play them, again getting into your opponent's’ head. Play a turn card, place some dudes on the map, score every once and a while - it seems so simple. I’m also happy that the game has no tie breaker and you can end the game with a handshake.
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - I’m going to echo a little of what Patrick Hillier said: this is a great game with a fairly simple rule set that is magical because of the player interactions. El Grande is the granddad of area control games but it isn’t just area control, it is a game where you are trying to out guess your opponents and the player interactions are what keep this one amazing. The struggle of going early and exposing your plan, but taking advantage early vs having more ability to take control, but only after things have changed make your choices delicious the whole time.
Links to reviews of El Grande