GoPlayListen: Top 50 Board Games of All Time, 2019 (Part 1)
I’ve been posting my Top 50 board games since 2014. But rather than writing it as one ridiculously long post this time, I’m breaking it into several. There’s a big mix. The majority are light to medium weight euro games. But you’ll also find a good selection of family/gateway games, abstract games, dice games, filler games. There’s even token word and dexterity games (but no miniatures or party games).
These are the games outside my Top 20, but let’s put that in context. I’ve owned more than 300 titles and played more than 800. If you add those I’ve demoed or played online, it’s well over 1,000. So being in the top 50 – the top 5% – is commendable. I list these in batches of 10, then by alphabetical order. Because while I enjoy making the list, spending time deciding between 46th and 47th feels arbitrary. You could make a strong argument this whole thing is. But hey, I’m enjoying myself! So here we go…
(All linked game titles go to full reviews on the GoPlayListen website. ‘New!’ means new to my list, so can include old games I’ve recently discovered)
Top 50 board games: 41-50
6 Nimmt/X Nimmt
(1994/2016, 4-10/2-4 players, 20-40 mins) These clever yet simple traditional card games share a berth. You could teach them to your gran, they seem crazily luck-based, but better players win most of the time. A small drop this year, as I’ve not managed to play much.
NEW! 1906 San Francisco
(2018, 2-4, 60 mins) A solid family/light euro game in a box the size of a paperback book. It’s clever, replayable and packs way more game into the box than any of that ‘tiny epic’ nonsense. A great gamer option for trips where you’ll have a good table, but have to pack light.
(2003, 2-5, 60 mins) Classic set collection and tile-laying fun, with majority scoring to keep it competitive. A bunch of mini expansions have kept it fresh since its Spiel des Jahres win more than 15 years ago. Good for families who want a next step up in puzzley abstract games.
NEW! Balloon Cup
(2003, 2, 30 mins) An excellent abstract two-player hand management/set collection card game. Simple rules and tactical card play make it accessible, with just enough hidden depth to stay interesting over time. May be easier to find as ugly day-glow reissue, Pinata.
(2012, 2-4, 30 mins) Wickedly mind-bending card game of bluff, deduction and hand management. Pass cards, try and remember what you passed, blindly guess what others may have and end up in a muddle. But somehow it is gloriously good fun. Held its place this year.
(1997, 3-6, 30 mins) The only title in this section I haven’t played in 18 months, but deserves to hold its place. A fun filler card game that works best at five or six players. Bid for properties in the first half of the game, then blind-bid sell them on in the second. Simple but fun.
The Manhattan Project
(2012, 2-5, 120 mins) Another drop for this worker placement euro game. I love the tension, which nicely matches the theme. And it is still original/quirky enough to stand out versus more recent competition. I just need to get it to the table more often.
(2018, 2-4, 60 mins). This city building tile-layer will be a little too dry and abstract for some. Its myriad scoring paths take it beyond simpler games in the genre, while the tile-buying mechanism is tight and competitive.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
(2012, 2-4, 90 mins) This was the game closest to the cut. Without a play since 2017, it’s hard to justify its inclusion – but I put it down to who I play with right now. Note to self: get some new euro gamer friends! A satisfying, puzzley headache of set collection and worker placement.
(2007, 2-4, 60 mins) There’s a lot of luck in this family board game, but it perfectly suits the archaeology theme. There are clever mechanisms at play behind the scenes. But it’s all about shouting “dirt dirt dirt!” as your opponents sift through treasure bags fishing for rewards.
Top 50: 31-40
Basari: The Card Game
(2014, 3-5, 30 mins) Either in board or card game form, this clever, cutthroat little bluffing card game is a real winner with the right crowd. Simultaneous action selection and negotiation-via-bidding sees you vying for the most valuable jewels.
NEW! Crown of Emara
(2018, 1-4, 90 mins) Talk about ticking all my boxes: a double rondel worker placement game powered by action selection via card programming. A mess of mechanisms that somehow works, creating a smart and competitive puzzler.
(2003, 1-4, 45 mins) Reiner Knizia’s take on Yahtzee, influenced by the various events of the Olympic sport. A smart push-your-luck dice game which is not only fun, but free — grab a few basic dice and download the rules for nothing here.
(2011, 2-4, 45 mins) The sign of a great designer: reverse/mess with a traditional concept and make it work. Here, you get one card each round and have to play it – yet it manages to open up a large, fascinating decision space. clever and fun.
(2016, 2-4, 45 mins) A brilliant family game. Around £20, lovely artwork and simple rules. It introduces gamer concepts (drafting, tile placement, pattern building) via a pretty dominoes system – what more do you want in this field?
NEW! Kupferkessel Co
(2001, 2, 30 mins) A now sadly rare two-player set collection game with a light memory element and some minor screwage. It’s the forerunner to Maori, using a similar tile grid, and should appeal to those who enjoy it. Speaking of which…
(2009, 2-5, 30 mins) This family tile-layer has fallen out of favour at home, as Sarah has totally flipped on it in terms of enjoyment (rumours of her win rate plummeting are unconfirmed…). A shame, as I still really enjoy playing.
(2010, 2-5, 90 mins) This is another game that has fallen down the list, largely because it is clearly best at four players – restricting the times it will get played dramatically. But still a brilliant rondel-based economic euro game.
Pizza Box Football
(2005, 2, 90 mins) While this is a throwback to olden day game design, this stupidly random dice-chucker manages to emulate American football in all the right ways. It’s not big or clever, but is tremendously fun to play.
(2012, 1-5, 90 mins) A reminder I need to get this to the table. A tight, competitive worker placement game where even the game is against you. The clever weather system sets a variable timer on proceedings, adding an extra tactical dimension.
Top 50: 21-30
Archaeology: The Card Game
(2007, 2-4, 30 mins) It’s testament to this game’s replayability and longevity that, almost 50 plays in, this small box card game is still a go-to after 10 years in my collection. Set collection, but with a couple of glorious thematic twists.
(2018, 2-4, 60 mins) Sadly overlooked last Essen, this smart little worker placement engine builder owes a lot to games such as Race for the Galaxy and San Juan; but the worker upgrading and housing makes it stand up on its own.
(2009, 2-4, 120 mins) Feld’s Macao needs a little too much luck to be one of his true classics, but I love it despite its flaws. Big risks can lead to big rewards in this dice-driven euro – but surely that’s thematic in the golden age of shipping exports?
Merchant of Venus
(1988, 1-6, 120+ mins) Much as with Pizza Box Football above, MoV scratches a gamer itch from days gone by: spaceships, dice and trading with crazy alien races. But the game is intelligent too, with a clever route-building mechanism.
(2007, 2-5, 60 mins) A classic Feld euro game of its decade: underneath the beige, abstractly historic hood is a tight, fast playing card drafting board game packed with interesting and passively interactive decisions.
(2014, 2, 30 mins) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the spate of polyomino inspired games that have sprung up over the past five years or so, but this one still stands out. It’s pure and simple, gorgeous looking, while having several layers of strategy.
(1992, 2, 30 mins) This is a classic one-versus-one area control abstract, but I like it because it adds just enough random to the mix. You can only move as your cards allow, but they’re all public knowledge; keeping strategic thinking to the fore.
NEW! Tales of Glory
(2018, 2-5, 60 mins) The first game on the list I don’t own — but it’s a matter of time. It has a great mix of drafting and tile-laying, adding puzzle elements to a strong mix of strategy and tactics — all in a cute fantasy theme.
(2004, 2-4, 45 mins) To the second, and last, game on the Top 50 I don’t own. I have a blast every time I play this darts-meets-dice flicking game — but it’s a bugger to find in the UK, and too heavy to import. One day…
(2006, 2-4, 60 mins) Back in classic euro land, this colourful dice-chucking area control game rounds off this week’s list. Simple rules yet deep decisions, with some player interaction and different paths — all in a short playing time.