2. Lords of Waterdeep (w/ expansion)
Now this game was a slight surprise for me. I only got introduced to this game last summer, when I tried it at the WBC convention. I then later got the game along with the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion as a gift. After multiple plays, I can certainly say that this game hits almost all of the right points.
It is a very smooth and elegant worker placement game. Simply take turns having your agents navigate the town, collecting resources and recruiting different people in order to complete unique missions. Complete quests to gain points, and then move on to the next. However there are intriguing strategies at multiple levels. You need to consider when is the best time to claim a spot and lock out your opponents for this turn. You have to consider what order to complete quests in and what set of quests to complete in order to maximize momentum and bonus points. You have to consider when to play your Intrigue cards so as to best help yourself and best hinder your opponents.
Now the theme; that is an issue that has certainly been debated. This is a Euro game at heart, there is no doubt about that. Mechanics do play a much larger role than theme. However, the story-telling text on the cards and the overall atmosphere of the game does provide an interesting overlord view of Dungeons and Dragons. For anyone who has played or appreciates this roleplaying, there will certainly be enjoyment from the modest thematic elements of the game.
However, without the expansion, this game would not be this high of the list. The expansion significantly increases depth to the strategies and increases the choices that a player can make, including more risk and reward choices. After the initial games without the expansion, I soon found that momentum was difficult to find and that many turns were quite straight forward. This expansion does do an excellent job at fixing these issues and making the game a much more engaging experience.
The one reason I think this game is set higher than Alien Frontiers is that it provides a gaming experience that is more engaging and interactive with the players. Since you take turns placing your agents and do not place them all at once, you are often paying attention to what the other players are doing on the board and you can sufficiently plan. In Alien Frontiers, the worker placement mechanism is quite different in that you have to place all your ships (workers) out at once on your turn, and sometimes you feel like you can simply walk away from the table for a few minutes if a player is taking long enough to decide what to do on their turn, because all of your plans could change after that player places his five or six ships on the board.
Overall, I would highly recommend this game. The base game, by itself, is a great start (especially for relatively new board gamers), but the game with the expansion is the “gamer’s” game.