PunchBoard Media: The Big List of Games
World’s Fair 1893 designed by J. Alex Kevern
Nominated by Sarah Mahood
Sarah Mahood (Open Seat Gaming): If you enjoy Euro-style games but still want to be intrigued by the theme, World's Fair 1893 will not disappoint. The Ferris Wheel that debuted during the eponymous event is the center rondel of the game. This game has a wonderful twist on area control/ area influence. Where you place your cubes determines what kind of cards you draft into your tableau, and if you have the majority in a colored area, you get to score that area and collect the tokens for up to a certain number of those exhibits in your tableau (they count for end game points). You want to be sure to collect tickets to advance the the Ferris Wheel rondel, collect exhibits from the five different areas, and collect influential figures who allow you to manipulate where the cubes are placed around the board. The interplay of card drafting, set collection, and area influence makes for a complex balancing act from start to finish.
All the historical touches and careful attention to all the thematic details are excellent and add a rich flavor to this beautiful game. Each of the cards has art and or period photography that greatly illustrates the subject of the card. As someone who loves history, all the flavor text on the cards adds lots of enjoyment to a wonderful game.
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): World’s Fair 1893 takes you back to the first World’s Fair, and it’s quite a fun ride. A great game for 2 to 4 people and it takes area control/area majority and makes it not about war or any of the other common themes that you see in relation to this mechanism. It’s simple to learn, and it’s a great introduction into this sort of game without seeming too threatening at the same time. The mechanisms, while simple to learn, really make you think and consider what there is that you can do and achieve on your turn. It’s a true J. Alex Kevern title, simple to learn, but takes awhile to really master it.
One of the biggest reasons I think that this should be a part of your collection is because of the art. The Ferris Wheel and the surrounding spaces are beautiful, and the game scales excellently because the number of spots on that Ferris Wheel (which is a sort of “timer” that indicates when the round will end) will change based on how many players you have. You mix and match the pieces so it meets your player count! The art is absolutely amazing, the cards are rich with detail, and you can tell that a lot of love and effort was put into this game. It will always be a big part of our collection.
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): When I was eight years old, my grandmother took me on a bus trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, for a week’s visit to the 1982 World’s Fair. From that day on I was a World’s Fair junkie. I have collected memorabilia and stories about the greatest World’s Fairs ever held, like the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and, of course, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. So, when I learned that Foxtrot Games was going to be publishing J. Alex Kevern’s World’s Fair design the only question that came to my mind was “Why aren’t I publishing this??” My jealousy was short-lived as my excitement for its release grew, and when I finally got it to the table I was not disappointed. Like many other of Alex’s great designs like Gold West, Sentient, and Easy Breezy Travel Agency, World’s Fair 1893 is a breeze to teach and play. It falls into that “One-Hour Wonder” category of games that can feel as much or more rewarding in under an hour than some far weightier games can in 2+ hours. The production quality is also fantastic, with great artwork and an encyclopedic array of facts and trivia that delights and informs about this historic event. For me, it’s a perfect product. But even if you’re not an amateur World’s Fair historian you’ll find wonders to behold in World’s Fair 1893 - much like those 27 million that traveled to Chicago for six brief months at the brink of the 20th century seeking industry, invention, and enlightenment.
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW): This game was such a breath of fresh air when it hit Kickstarter and still is. A wonderful area control game with touches of card drafting and set collection, all within an easy to learn rules set. This is the "gateway" area control game I reach for nine times out of ten. Top it all off, it has that theme of the World's Fair of 1893 with no hint of H. H. Holmes. Beautifully designed and illustrated, World's Fair 1893 is really a must have game in most any game collection.
Links to PBM Reviews of World’s Fair 1893
Jaipur designed by Sebastien Pauchon
Nominated by Chris Kirkman
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): Sometimes gamers and media folks alike tend to plug games into neat categories so that we can more easily digest all the greatness in the hobby; “Best War Game”, “Best Family Game”, “Best Two-Player Game”, “Best Game with Camels for Those Who Hate Camels”. First of all, I don’t want to know you if you have an issue with camels. But all that aside, Jaipur is often plugged into that “Best Two-Player Game” cubby so that it’s super easy to pull out and recommend when someone tells you they play a lot of games with two. The thing about Jaipur is that it’s not just one of the best two-player games out there - it’s one of the best card games ever designed, period. For all the reasons mentioned by Eric and Marti later below - the tense press-your-luck set collecting, beautiful artwork, rewarding play, and so much more - Jaipur never wears out its welcome. It’s so easy to play and yet so rewarding with its elegant design that there’s no reason why this game shouldn’t be on everyone’s shelf, whether you play two-player games once a year or once a day. It also happens to have two more great things going for it: 1) It’s designed by Sébastien Pauchon, the designer of the modern classic Yspahan, and 2) it not only has camels, it makes collecting camels totally awesome. And, as any fine gaming connoisseur knows, camels make everything better.
Eric Buscemi (The Cardboard Hoard) - If you are looking for a quick two-player game that does not have direct conflict, Jaipur is one of the best there is. It primarily features two mechanisms -- set collection and hand management -- and blends them together perfectly. While this may not sound exciting in writing, it creates a simple to teach, engaging game with meaningful decisions and, more importantly, tense moments of hoping you understand your opponent’s strategy and that they will not snatch the cards you are after right out from under you. Unlike some similar games that use negative points in their scoring (cough, cough, Lost Cities), which can be trickier to teach, the scoring in Jaipur is intuitive and straightforward. Additionally, the scoring is just obscured enough to be certain exactly who is winning. The fact that a game this good comes in such a small, inexpensive package, and is also available as a digital app and on sites such as Board Game Arena, leaves no excuses for -- at the very least -- trying it out for yourself.
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): We are a two-player gaming household and, because of that, I wasn’t super surprised when Sarah got me Jaipur for a gift. I’d heard lots of good things about it but, at the same time, I wasn’t completely sure we’d be into it. Thankfully - I was wrong. Jaipur is an elegant game that takes set collection (which I enjoy) and hand management (which I really enjoy) and makes them into a beautiful, camel and goods-collecting game that is easy to learn, but hard to master. It’s not an intense game, but rather a game that you can play while watching TV, or having a conversation. I feel like it’s a simple enough game that you can introduce to anyone, even if they aren’t a gamer, but it’s got enough meat that two gamers can really go head to head. It’s relatively inexpensive game as well, so there’s no reason not to have it on your shelf, and the app is a ton of fun to play as well.
Links to PBM Reviews of Jaipur
Viticulture designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
Nominated by El Doc Logan
Oscar Gonzalez (El Doc Logan) - Not much to say after what Charles said, I enjoyed vanilla Viticulture as much as many expansions Viticulture. And that is because whenever the amount of players the game felt right and was always enjoyable, but, when I met the Essentials Edition I saw a new world of options available to me.
And I have played Essentials and Vanilla quite some times, and even in vanilla I was able to win without making wine or making very little.
Even when I have played a lot more games, Viticulture has something beautiful in it and for that reason it is in my top 10 games. It is a nice Euro game where we can design our own path to victory, either making wine or just playing cards some cards and taking people onto some tours.
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - Viticulture is a Top 10 game for me and easily my favorite worker placement game, but - not plain vanilla Viticulture. This is an odd game in the way that it was released and re-released, and re-done with different versions having different expansions etc. When I refer to Viticulture, I do not mean anything less than Viticulture Essential Edition, and in my head, I really mean Viticulture Collector’s Edition (which is Viticulture + 80-billion Tuscany expansions). The reason for all these variations in releases is a long side story about promising kickstarter backers not to re-publish a version of the game, which I don’t think they do anymore.
Anyway, at its core, vanilla Viticulture is an ok worker placement game that is flawed by a couple of problems: everyone starts in the same place and is trying for the same things, which makes luck of the draw heavily influence the game (there are a lot of types of cards and they play a large part of the game, but when there is only one path to playing (at least at the start), it makes early draw luck important). This kind of worker placement game is the main reason I don’t love a lot of WP games - I hate having to play a certain way (ie you have to get that extra worker early on, because an extra action/turn is so important - if I have to do A-B-C to viably compete, just start the game there). I hate when there are only a couple of viable paths to winning or scoring points.
Fortunately, a couple of expansions changed the game (for the better) and were packaged together to create what became the Essentials edition. What the changes did was make the starting state for each player variable, which meant that each player could approach the early game differently. By adding in a number of other expansions, you dramatically increase the ways that players could score points, and thus changed the paths to winning. Now, instead of having to do and acquire the same things (extra workers, money, buildings) at the same time as everyone else, players had options. Now you have a worker placement/engine game that was more tactical and fluid and had the luck of the draw much more evenly spread out. Players can easily see a LOT more cards, which meant a lot less frustration. Even if the plant cards frustrated you, you could trade those for money or points or other cards or grapes, etc. In fact, you can win the game never making wine. And while this is a game about running a wine business, the things you are doing to win are parts of all the other things around the business. It is a well married theme and with the full set of expansions available, you can make the game as complex or different from game to game as you want. Maybe you don’t make the wine, but you just grow grapes and sell them and give tours to tourists (and sell cheese and olives in your tasting room). I also like how well the game plays regardless of player count. I’ve played a fair number of 2-player games of Viticulture and we love it as much at that count as with 4-5 players.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): Have you ever dreamed of owning your own vineyard, and cultivating an award winning grape? Have I got the game for you. Viticulture is currently my number one favorite game. For starters, worker placement is my favorite mechanism, and Viticulture not only sets the standard for combining WP with a killer theme, but it has the Grande workers, which makes it a little more friendlier to new players and adds an extra layer of strategy and depth for experienced gamers. Does it have its detractors? Sure, some complain about the art or the race aspect or the visitor cards. Do not listen to those naysayers. The art perfectly complements the theme, the race to 20 (or 25 if you play Tuscany) gives it tension, and the visitor cards throws monkey wrenches into the well oiled plans of your opponent (or you, if you pull the wrong cards). Inevitably, the best and most efficient gamer still has a leg up in this game, and that’s the way it should be. This should be on everyone’s top five list of worker placement games, and I heartily recommend it.
Sarah Mahood (Open Seat Gaming): Everyone else has had a lot to say about this amazing game, so I just want to share a few of my own thoughts about it. At OSG HQ, we play the Viticulture Essential Edition that incorporates elements from the Tuscany expansion. You are trying to build up your vineyard, and then create and finally sell your wines. On its own, this theme would definitely not appeal to me, but the game makes it interesting. Viticulture is among my favorite worker placement games.
Viticulture is an elegant game. You place your workers to do or obtain a variety of different things for your vineyard. You also pick a time to wake up each round, which determines player order and typically gives you a resource. This mechanism is excellent because it gives players more choices. Another thing I really appreciate about this game is the Grande worker. The Grande worker allows you to use a space that is already occupied, but only once per round. The art in Viticulture is outstanding, as is the thinky gameplay.
Links to PBM Reviews of Viticulture
Lost Cities designed by Reiner Knizia
Nominated by Jake Bock
Jake Bock (Draft Mechanic): There are two kinds of two-player games: the race, and the tug-of-war. Most two-player ‘race’ style games allow you to play in your own sandbox, take advantage of your own opportunities, and frankly, just shoot for a high score that you hope is bigger than the other player’s.
Lost Cities is a shining example of the latter - while both players are technically going for the higher score, every decision in the game directly and dramatically impacts the other player’s game. Each of your five expeditions hinges on how well your opponent can read your mind, your non-verbal cues - and yes, they are waiting for you to discard exactly that card so they can start on a huge-scoring run.
This game produces more direct interaction than almost any ‘dudes on a map’ high-conflict or area control game due to this tug-of-war. It can be mean, it’s full of mind games, and it plays quickly enough that it (almost never) has time to make your blood boil completely. Eh, almost.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): A lot of my non-game night gaming revolves around two player games with my wife. Early on in devouring board game podcasts, I heard numerous fans talk about their love for Lost Cities. My brother and I loved Pecking Order, from Richard Garfield, but my wife was not a fan. I hoped Lost Cities might be that go-to card game that we could play after the kids settled down, but I had my trepidation. And to my surprise, she loved it! We’ve probably played together two dozen or more times, and it has been a while since we pulled it off the shelf. But, for anybody scanning this Big List Of Games looking for a good two player game, especially one that you can play with your significant other over and over trying to uncover the (hidden to me) secret to winning, Lost Cities should be first on the list. The game play is solid, and the game is quick enough that you will probably play two or three times in one night. Highly recommended, with or without the sixth color promo set.
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): Lost Cities will always have a special place in my heart, because it was one of the first modern board games that I played with Sarah shortly after we started dating. But, that isn’t the reason why I feel like it should be in everyone’s collection (it helps, though. Who doesn’t want a game that they can play with their significant other?). Like Jaipur, this is a lovely little small box, 2 player game that is really easy to teach most people. While learning it is easy, the depth associated with playing the game repeatedly with the same person allows for a lot of strategic and tactical depth. If you’re looking for a two player game that you can use to ease someone into the hobby, or to enjoy when you just want to give your brain a break, I definitely recommend that you add Lost Cities to your collection, hands down.
Links to PBM Reviews of Lost Cities