Punchboard Media: The Big List of Games
Dominion published in 2008 and designed by Donald X. Vaccarino
Nominated by BJ Rozas
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): The big cat daddy of deck builders still reigns supreme in our group, well, at least for one of our players. Oh, we try and bring out new deck builders all the time: deck builders with unique themes (Zeppelin Attack!, A Few Acres Of Snow); deck builders that combine the mechanic with other mechanics (Clank!, Tyrants of the Underdark); and, even my personal favorite twist, deck builders where you don’t have to shuffle (Concordia, Aeon’s End). But, my friend Alex always shakes his head and says, “Not as good as Dominion.” And he’s probably right. Dominion has almost no theme, but what it does have is sweet, smooth game play that rewards repeated dives into the box (and early art from Ryan Laukat!). Sure, there’s been a dud card or ten, and even a dud expansion set or two, but taken overall, Dominion is one of the most complete card games ever designed. If you were so inclined, you could strand yourself on a desert island just with Dominion and all of its expansions, play everyday until rescued using different combinations, and never play the same exact game. Just remember to invite The Professor to hang with you so you can keep that dang radio going...
Eric Yurko (What’s Eric Playing?): Dominion is, in so many ways, the classic and canonical deckbuilder. Sure, you can get into a dance fight in the streets against the Ascension camp (and honestly, I’d recommend it), but there are very few games that manage to compete in the pure deckbuilding space, with most opting to add their own spin, from word-building (Paperback + Hardback) to combat (The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena) to racing (Dale of Merchants + The Quest for El Dorado). Each of these games is fantastic in their own right, but each also owes some amount of their pedigree to Dominion for starting the genre in the first place, and offering board gamers enough expansions to literally build a small shed out of game boxes. And just when you thought you were done, more Dominion comes along to keep you in. Sure, Prosperity and Seaside are classic Dominion expansions, but ignoring Adventures and Empires is fundamentally ignoring a profound upward movement in Dominion’s understanding of itself. And while there may have been missteps along the way (look, Alchemy adds actions that just make the game take longer and Potions never got used for anything else), there are so many cool things happening in Dominion, especially for such a simple concept. It may not be your favorite deckbuilder, but I think in many ways Dominion shows and understands an evolution of the hobby that I’ve always respected, so it’s definitely worth trying. Also, the art’s gotten a lot more diverse than it was in the first set, so, like, nice job doing due diligence.
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): Dominion is the cornerstone of the deckbuilding genre, period. Sure, the theme is pasted on, but the game is what got the gears turning for designing other deckbuilders in the industry. That being said, there is something about the complexity of Dominion that makes it a shelf staple for us. It's very easy to learn - one action, one buy, and then whatever the cards tell you to do. That's where the game really starts to shine. While some people argue that there's "one way to win," I feel like that takes away from what fun the game has apart from "trying to win." Putting together combos, building an engine and seeing just how many actions you can do in one turn is a ton of fun.
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW): Dominion is THE deck builder. No need to put any other adjectives or superlatives in there, it is just THE deck builder. It came along and changed the gaming space. Not many games do that, you see it once or twice a lifetime. It created its own genre of game and caused everyone behind it to try to follow suit and catch up, and they are still trying to do so. Dominion is dry, it is pure mechanisms with a pasted on theme, but that deck building mechanism and how it makes you truly feel like you are building an engine, like your deck is becoming a well oiled machine, still has not been duplicated. Its simple A/B/C round description make this an easy game for newcomers to pick up, Action/Buy/Cleanup. The base box itself has so much variability in it that it has nearly infinite replayability, but throw in the copious amounts of of expansions, which seem to get better as they go, and you have a game and a system that can last a gamer a lifetime.
Links to PBM reviews of Dominion
What’s Eric Playing (13 Dominion Reviews)
Open Seat Gaming: Classic Callback - Dominion
Codenames published in 2015 and designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Nominated by Ido Efrati
Ido (The Review Board):I’m not always a fan of party games. They’re often a bit repetitive, don’t scale well and usually require a certain type of crowd to make them work. Then I played Codenames. On the surface Codenames seems simple and easy, but it is actually very strategic, just the right amount of competitive and extremely awesome!
Eric Yurko (What’s Eric Playing?): So Battleship: The Word Game isn’t the most thrilling concept to ever have existed in the universe, but boy howdy does it play well. Between the first day I got Codenames and now, I think I’ve played it 73 times? One of the most-played games in my entire collection, weirdly enough. Sure, it’s not flawless (I stand by my belief that > 4 players is non-optimal despite it being a go-to party game), but the sheer amount of variability for such a simple system is excellent and prone to excellent variations (I used to play Pokemon Codenames on and off, and I’ve seen Board Game Box Codenames happen). Sure, there are also variations that come in their own boxes (Duet [the two-player cooperative version] is, in my opinion, the greatest of these, but Disney / Harry Potter are probably going to be highly purchased whereas I’ve heard Marvel is just … difficult), but I like that the system is extensible enough that you can just play it with just about anything. It’s also a solid game to show to people who aren’t that interested in hobby gaming, as it helps think a bit outside the box (pun intended) and is a good demonstration of how far the industry has come in a short time.
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): Codenames is one of the first games I bought at MSRP, and I bought it shortly after it was released in the United States. This game caught my interest from the beginning because of how much I enjoyed watching old episodes of "Password" during college. And it hasn't disappointed us. Trying to think of connections between words and trying to get on the same wavelength with your team is a ton of fun and really makes this game thinky. There'is a Codenames game for everyone, too - whether you prefer guessing with pictures, Mickey Mouse or Captain America, you can find something you enjoy. There is even a co-op version, which has quickly become my favorite. Everyone should have at least one version of Codenames on their shelf, if not several!
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW): Never have I seen a word game, bring out the competitiveness in people quite like Codenames does. Codenames came out and it hit the gaming world by storm, Vlaada had created a game unlike any other using just a simple premise, 2 teams, a board full of words and one spy who can ruin it all, and it seemed so out of left field compared to his other games. Codenames was destined to be a hit and it was, and still is, as evidenced by the numerous variations that have come after, of which, Duets is my absolute favorite.
Oscar Gonzalez (El Doc Logan): There is something in the social aspect of Codenames that baffles me, because I am really interested in the social aspect of games in the workplace or as a construct to building a better team, and the communication involved helps get to know your team and brings a great interaction, learning to put yourself in their sit so you give the proper clue but you cannot close the clue to only one person in your team but be more open.
One of the must bring when getting into a new team so I can start to know everybody a little better, because we all think differently because we are all different, but at the end, in the job as in every part, we all bring something unique to our table.
Links to PBM reviews of Codenames
What’s Eric Playing?: Codenames Review
El Doc Logan: Codenames Review
The Review Board: Codenames
Colt Express published in 2014 and designed by Christophe Raimbault
Nominated by Brian Everett
Brian Everett (Cloak and Meeple): Bandits, trains, and a Delorean oh my! Ok, so I don’t have the expansion that has the Delorean in it, but I want it. Colt Express is such a fun and uniquely presented game. At its core Colt Express is a programing game. You will select all of the actions you want to take in a round. Then each player’s cards will get flipped and those actions will happen. But sometimes things don’t pan out how you expected. Thought you were in a car with some loot but ended up on top? The Sheriff got moved into your car and shot you? That is the fun of the game.
Playing this on a flat board would still be a fun and enjoyable experience... but the games comes with a 3 dimensional train (which actually fits in the box still assembled)! That just makes the game that much more visually appealing. I do wish the cars were a little bigger. Sometimes adult hands and fingers have a little trouble getting ahold of the robber meeples that are inside, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Overall I really enjoy Colt Express. If you are a fan of cowboys, train heists, or programing games, this is one for you.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): My dad used to love taking us Out West on our family camping vacations. He grew up with Fess Parker on the TV, and we watched Gunsmoke and all those other period western dramas. So, every trip included a stop at little western towns and mining towns and cowboy ranches. Playing Colt Express reminds me of those old trips, and even more importantly, is a rip roarin’ programming game that for many plays better and smoother than RoboRally. The art is as gorgeous as the painted desert, it is as easy to teach as it is to slurp down cowboy stew, and that 3D train always makes new gamers’ eyes light up like a sunrise over Cimarron, New Mexico. Add in the horses from the expansion, and you can really rustle up a good time. So get along your little doggies to your favorite game group or FLGS that has a copy and try Colt Express while I research some more western themed expressions.
Links to PBM reviews of Colt Express
Board Game Gumbo: Spice It Up! with Colt Express
Kingdom Builder published in 2011 and designed by Donald X. Vaccarino
Nominated by Brandon Kempf
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW): In an upcoming episode of Capital City Cardboard Critics we discuss the value of games. What we look for and what we perceive as games that give us a high return, value wise. Variability and variation in play are often the cornerstones of value for our games, and without a doubt, Kingdom Builder delivers on both. At its heart, the game is a simple abstract where you are trying to grow your kingdom over a board made up of 4 different platters that represent the land, but each game, the goals change, how you are scoring your points vary from game to game, so you are never playing the same game twice, unless you just absolutely want to. Top off the end game changes, there are specific “powers” that are on each platter that will interact differently, more variation and variability of play. Then the ever expanding way of the game with Donald X. Vaccarino and Queen Games pushing out expansions at a fairly regular pace creating a system that is almost infinitely replayable. Kingdom Builder is absolutely a game that everyone should play, and it’s a wonderful value as well.
Eric Yurko (What’s Eric Playing?): Ah, Kingdom Builder. Just when you thought, “Dominion’s kind of a generic fantasy-kingdom-building game, I guess”, Kingdom Builder smashes through your wall like a malevolent Kool-Aid man to show you just how deep this Generic High Fantasy Rabbit Hole can go. That said, thankfully, the gameplay is fun enough to make up for an otherwise bland theme of you, A King or Queen or Monarch Of Some Kind, … building your kingdom. It’s got an interesting placement mechanic that forces thoughtful gameplay (or, at least, punishes you if you’re not thoughtful) and some randomized scoring that changes the game (somewhat) along with randomized board layouts that also change your incentives. I really enjoy Kingdom Builder (probably a bit more than my lead-in would indicate), but I’m unable to ignore that it does have kind of a big issue -- the nonintuitive strategy of it has, in my experience, significantly tilted games towards the more experienced player each time (though I’d argue Dominion has a similar thing for someone who’s never seen deckbuilding before). I usually recommend interested players to form a First-Time Kingdom Builder Game and then, once they’re familiar with the game, try varying it a bit, but the first half of the game is definitely nonobvious to new players, which is something to watch out for. That said, once you get how the game works, it’s super satisfying and fun to play, and there are plenty of expansions to refresh the game if it ever starts getting stale.
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest): Kingdom Builder might be the best abstract game to be published in the last 15 years. Make no mistake, any theme here is very very loosely attached to this game. That doesn’t matter, because this is not a theme game, this is a wonderful abstract where each game’s setup is varied just enough to keep things interesting, but not so varied that that you feel like you are learning the game over and over. And make no mistake, this is not a long strategic game, it is nice game of tactical choices. The board and your options change between your turns, but turns are short and to the point, which for me makes another game right after the first a no brainer. The expansions don’t overwhelm you with more, they mostly just up the variety, which is great.
Links to PBM reviews of Kingdom Builder
What’s Eric Playing?: (4 Kingdom Builder reviews)