PunchBoard Media: The Big List of Games
7 Wonders designed by Antoine Bauza
Nominated by Chris Wray
Chris Wray (WDYPTW) - 7 Wonders is a card drafting game in which players each become the leader of one of the great cities of the ancient world. Their city gives them different advantages, and during the game, they can complete wonders unique to their city.
7 Wonders is a pure play card drafting game. The game is played over three eras, and at the start of each, players receive a hand of cards and then choose one to play, passing the the rest to the left or right, depending on the era. Cards have different costs and different functions. Some give basic resources or advanced resources (used to build later cards), give military might (used to score points at the end of the round), science (which give victory points for set collection), commercial advantages (such as money or the ability to buy resources cheaply), or even pure victory points. Instead of playing a card, a player can play it under their board to build one of their wonders, or they can discard it for three coins.
7 Wonders has been a commercial and critical success every since its release. It feels like engine building — a favorite mechanic of gamers — and the asymmetric gameplay feels balanced. It plays 3-7 players easy (and 2-players with special rules), and the game lasts only a bit longer at higher player counters, making it perfect for larger-than-average groups. Several games have attempted to replicate the card drafting success of 7 Wonders in the intervening years, but few (if any) have succeeded in building a game as well loved as Antoine Bauza’s classic.
7 Wonders won the International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category) in 2011, as well as the Kennerspiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis that year. It is one of only a handful of games to have received recognition from all three major game award organizations.
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW) - 7 Wonders is one of the first “next step” games that we picked up as a family and regardless of what anyone else says, it is a next step game. You need to understand games a bit before 7 Wonders becomes playable in a fun way. The premise is simple, you are drafting cards to build your city/civilization and at that simple premise 7 Wonders is a gem. Where it gets confusing to newer players is the iconography. If you have played games before, you’ll pick up on it pretty easily, you need to have resources to build with and you’ll need to have money to supplement your lack of resources. You have to watch the other players and make sure they aren’t being all Science-y or they will run away with it. I really enjoy 7 Wonders when we get to play it, which isn’t very often any more. But I often wonder if that is because it’s one of those very rare games that plays up to 7 players, but doesn’t really change the play time. Either way, 7 Wonders is well worth playing any chance you get, just don't think of this as the Gateway Game that some call it.
Links to PBM Reviews of 7 Wonders
Terra Mystica designed by Jens Drögemüller, Helge Ostertag
Nominated by Joe Sallen
Joe Sallen (The Good, The Board, and The Ugly, The Long View) - Terra Mystica is a remarkable city-building game in which players take the roles of specific fantasy races trying to spread out across a world of varied terrains. Each race is adapted to a different terrain and must change the world to be habitable. Additionally, each race has its own unique variable player powers. Dwarves dig, Mermaids swim, Halflings dig, and Engineers build bridges (remember all the Engineers in Tolkien?). These powers fundamentally alter how you will play Terra Mystica.
What keeps gamers coming back to Terra Mystica is the deep and strategic nature of the game. There’s no randomness beyond set-up. It’s a perfect information game which further contributes to its pure battle of wits. The unpredictability in Terra Mystica comes from other players, with whom the game forces to into close proximity. Being around other players also offers opportunities to leech magic in response to their building actions. You have a personal supply of magic that can become a variety of other resources.
I have controversially compared Terra Mystica to Catan in the past. I stand by the comparison. Both games set up in a similar manner; each player will have two structures on the board placed in a snaking draft fashion. New structures can be built and existing structured can be upgraded, all of which provide resources. However, Catan’s randomized resource distribution results in chiefly tactical decisions as a result of the unpredictability of income. Catan’s is a race to win; Terra Mystica is more of a competition to have the best resume. Did you meet the building deadline? Are you at the top of the pecking order when the dust has settled? These last two questions are just embellishments; it’s about earning the most points!
Terra Mystica is a poster child for heavy games: It’s huge. Your decisions determine success or failure. It has a few quirky elements and has been criticized for being dry, disappointing thematic gamers drawn to its fantasy elements. If you are looking for an in depth and strategic experience, you can do no better. The fantasy races and how they interact with each other lends a huge amount of replayabilty. That chrome alone makes it much more appealing to gamers not normally wanting a heavy, strategic experience.
But wait there’s more! Want to play Terra Mystica in space? Try Gaia Project; it improves upon Terra Mystica’s systems, too!
Links to PBM Reviews of Terra Mystica
Tikal designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer
Nominated by Charles Hasegawa
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - This Spiel winner is older, but has aged well and is still an amazing game. In fact, this game has only one problem, which is that there is downtime in the game - there is nothing to do when it is not your turn and there is little point in paying attention to the game’s state, since even rudimentary planning between turns is pointless. However, when it is your turn, there is a wonderful puzzle game here where players are exploring the jungle and trying to find ancient pyramids - all in a race against the other players. It feels a little like the excitement of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (thankfully without the snake, poison darts, and spiders).
Tikal was the first in a series of games by Kiesling and Kramer featuring their “action point” system. Players each get 10 points to spend, with various actions like move, hire workers, build a camp, explore, find treasures, etc all cost a certain number of your actions. Not only do you want to do whatever will score you the most points during the random scoring points in the game, but you want to do your turns in such a way that you limit the opportunities of other less scrupulous players, who are looking to swoop in and claim your finds to their advantage. Literally, you may uncover a bit of a pyramid, but other teams will show up and start really digging until they uncover a huge pyramid and have a army of workers claiming the find. This is 95% pure tactical situations - the other 5% is strategic planning, but mostly you play each turn with only a small thought to whatever is coming down the road.
“Modern Euros” have trended towards a model of constantly involving all the players by making turns/actions short and doing their best to eliminate any kind of player downtime, which is great, but it limits those moments of having a series of really creative plays in a game whereby you are able to completely change the game’s narrative on your turn. And while “not playing” during ¾ of a four player game might not be the modern gamer’s cup of tea, this is a fascinating and wonderful game that should be experienced multiple times. Take the chance to socialize with the people at your table and soak in the game on your turns.
One last thought (which may make this even less appealing to players) - after you have played this once or twice, play the auction variant. The added twist of evaluating how much a specific tile/turn order in a round is worth takes this game up to 11. It adds a little bit of additional length, but makes an outstanding game amazing.
Links to PBM Reviews of Tikal
Kingdomino designed by Bruno Cathala
Nominated by Eric Yurko
Eric Yurko (What’s Eric Playing?) - I nominated Kingdomino because I think it’s one of the better games I’ve played in a while. Is it my favorite? Nah, it’s got a tired theme. But it’s its simplicity that I find really captivating; the game is easy to teach, easy to play, and easy for new players to get into (and they frequently really like it). Last year’s SdJ competition was tough (Magic Maze and The Quest for El Dorado are both very fun, in my opinion), but I think Kingdomino was definitely the right choice. It’s definitely a game with staying power, and I think it’s a game that almost every gamer should check out at least once.
Ryan Gutowski (One Board Family) - Kingdomino has a special place in our home. This little tile laying game was like lightning in a bottle for our family. It was completely normal to play a couple rounds of Kingdomino after dinner during the week. When we found out how good the game was at 2 players on a 7x7 grid, that made it even better!
Bruno Cathala did a fantastic job of creating an inviting game that can get people engaged with hobby gaming. Probably what is most impressive about the game is how multi-generational Kingdomino is. We had plenty of times where one of the kids beat the adults. While the game isn’t very deep, there’s lots of replayability here because of how quickly a game plays.
Over the past 3 or 4 months, we’ve had Kingdomino fatigue around our home. The funny thing is that after playing Queendomino a couple times, we’ve actually brought Kingdomino back to the table! This game feels like “gaming comfort food” and it’s a game that will be on our shelf 10 years from now.
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW) - Let’s start by saying that I recently looked back at 2016 and all of the games I played that were published that year, and this little gem of a game came out as my Top Pick. Why is that? It’s a wonderfully simple premise, a drafting game with tiles where you are trying to build your kingdom in a way that scores the most points. You score points by building like terrain adjacent and managing to draft the crowns that add the points to the area all of that packaged in a lightning quick 15 minute game. The next evolution in the ‘domino line, Queendomino is a bigger box with more options, and honestly, it kind of takes away a bit of that joy you get when playing the original and makes you see the genius in that original, streamlined design. Well deserving of its 2016 Spiel des Jahres award.
Links to PBM Reviews of Kingdomino