Top 10 Board Games (#3)

3. Alien Frontiers (w/ expansions)

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Alright, now we are up to the top three, and we are starting with a game that definitely grabbed my interest (and money) and has yet to let it go. Alien Frontiers, now known as the game that “shaped gaming’s use of crowdfunding,” was not produced by a very large publisher nor designed by a very famous designer. None the less, it is now one of the most talked about worker placement games on the internet, and it has really brought a lot of attention to the designer, Tory Niemann.

For a sci-fi fan like myself, this game is certainly a blast to play. You roll dice and use them as workers (representing ships in your fleet) to collect resources, discover alien technology, and form colonies on the planet, Maxwell. In addition to bringing strategy and player interaction to the forefront, this game also provides brilliant artwork. I cannot think of many other games that have such boards and cards that are so fascinating to look.

Nevertheless, after playing this game time and time again, I have noticed some flaws in the replayability. With just the base game, I soon felt like I was using the same strategies again and again. Luckily, the Alien Frontiers: Factions expansion really helped to solve this problem. By giving each player a unique faction, this helped to really personalize the gaming experience for each player and provide some new strategic ideas. Furthermore, the additional agenda goals provides a great option of going somewhat out of your way to gain points through other means.

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Additionally, after getting a chance to play test this game with the Outer Belt expansion (which is expected to officially come out at the end of this year), I was pleased to see how the addition of more options through the expansions truly prevents the game from becoming too dry.

Overall, this is still one of my favorite games, especially among the category of 2-3 hour games. However, I will acknowledge that this is actually a tough recommendation to make in that it is not widely available and truly shines with the expansions (which require a larger investment). Still, I would highly recommend giving Alien Frontiers a play through.

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Top 10 Board Games (#4)

4. Castles of Burgundy

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Interesting enough, this is the one game on my list that I do not personally own. Regardless, I still get to play it enough with others that do have this game.

This game really is a Stefan Feld masterpiece. There are so many options, so many ways to formulate strategies for your turns, and still plenty of player interaction and friendly competition. The mechanic of rolling your two dice on each turn, possibly manipulating the result with additional workers, and then using the results to conduct actions is great at capturing the interesting aspect of randomness while also keeping the game quite balanced and leaving the player with the choice of how much control and security he or she wants to have (at the sacrifice of a few actions).

Additionally, there is the enjoyable aspect of building your own kingdom. Guaranteed, this kind of building is more strategic than thematic (as it typically is with a Euro game), but the general idea still remains.

In short, this is a model Euro game that I would recommend for anyone who wants to explore beyond the gateway board games (i.e. Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.).

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Top 10 Board Games (#5)

5. Dominion (w/ expansions)

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Dominion may be a game that you have heard of. Like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne, this game has continued to get more and more popular, even among an audience of people who may not be very familiar with the strategy board gaming hobby.

In short, the finest aspect about this game is this: it is simple to learn but hard to master. As the game rules say, knowing what to do on your turn is as easy as ABC (Play action cards, buy new cards from the display, and clean up the cards in front of you). This smooth design for the game makes it easy to finish a game within 30-45 minutes, but also requires quite a bit of thinking for how to make an edge over your opponent and optimize card combinations and deck management.

This game was remarkably innovative by introducing a new in-game mechanic: deck building. This takes the concept of creating your own personal deck in a collectible card game and improves upon in by having the same selection of cards available to everyone, therefore better balancing the game and making building your deck part of the focus of the competition.

However, one thing I would like to address is that the full enjoyment of this game comes from the incorporation of different expansions (even if it is just the Dominion Intrigue set). After playing with many different sets of cards, I have determined that the base set does offer very limited player interaction and often creates very straightforward strategies with the cards. Don’t get me wrong, the base set, by itself, is still a great way to start with the game, but in order to list this game as #5 on my list, I have to acknowledge that the large contributing factor for the replayablility of this game is the addition of cards from expansions.

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Now, even with the introduction of other deck-building games lately, I think this game still stands out for its simple elegance. I have to say, I have probably found more people to play this game with than I have with any of the other games in my top ten list.

Top 10 Board Games (#6)

6. Dominant Species

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Now this is probably a game that many people may not have heard about. It certainly does bare the GMT games logo, so it must be a wargame. Yes and no. This is a game of conquest and a little bit of combat, but it is far more unique that GMT’s other war games. Within this game, you take the role of some animal species (whether it be amphibians, mammals, insects, etc.) and attempt to adapt to the environment as the world around you is reaching the ice age, struggling to survive and maintain dominance.

With worker placement mechanics matched with area control mechanics, this game is wonderfully designed. You take turns first placing action pawns on certain action spaces, thus committing to those actions, and then complete those actions on the rest of the board. Then, if you took the appropriate action, you score points depending on who has the most individuals, second most, and so on for a particular tile. But what, that’s not all for the turn! Then, you see who is best adapted to the environment on that tile and give that person the opportunity to play a dominance card, which can significantly alter the game by allowing someone to change adaptations, force all species on a particular tile to move, or even create a catastrophe which wipes out numerous creatures on the map.

One thing to note, however, is that this game can last 3.5 to 4 hours. While that may seem like quite a long time for a board game, this game certainly does not fail to lose your attention. With a constantly changing environment on the board and really powerful cards being played from turn to turn, you are kept on your toes, and there is a great depth to the choices and strategies that you make. Also, with the different special abilities for each species and different starting adaptations, each player’s experience is noticeably unique.

Honestly, I do not get to play this game too often, due to not having too many players and not often having so much time to leave open toward playing a board game, but I highly enjoy the few times I get to bring out this game, especially when I play it within a tournament at the WBC board gaming convention.

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Top 10 Board Games (#7)

7. Agricola

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Ah, the well-honored Eurogame! This is such a masterfully designed game, and it certainly hits all the marks of a solid strategy board game. Unique theme? Check. Tense but enjoyable competition? Check. Encourages in-depth strategies? Check. Lots of interesting pieces to fiddle around with? Check. Has a family-friendly setup for better teaching new players and an advanced setup for experienced players? Check.

While playing a game in which you take the role of a family of farmers at first sounds kind of boring, this game really engages you into an interesting struggle of creating the best farm in town while also managing to feed your growing family. Especially when I play this background music, I really feel immersed into the game.

However, the true heart of this game is the excellent worker placement mechanics, as well as the card management in the advanced game. Knowing when to to take what resources, when and how to build new upgrades, and how to have an advantage over your opponents makes this game so elegant.

For anyone intrigued by relatively-heavy strategy games and is willing to commit a good length of time to the game, I would absolutely recommend trying this out.

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Top 10 Board Games (#8)

8. Carcassone (w/ expansions)

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This game is a classic, and a beautiful one at that! Mechanics are fairly simple: place a tile, place a wooden meeple on that tile, score points; however, the strategy is very strong. Especially when playing a two player game, it is both fun and intense trying to form the map just the way you want, block your opponent, and predict what tiles will probably come up next.

However there is one caveat, make sure that there are a lot of tiles to go though. Not that I am saying that it is necessary to use all of the tile provided in the Carcassone Big Box set, but I think that it is essential to add one or two expansions and make sure that there is enough options for the players. Especially if you are setting up a game for four or five players, using just the tiles from the base set really detracts from the best qualities of the game. I am especially observant of this point because I was reluctant to play in the Carcassone tournament last year at the WBC convention because of the possibility of getting placed into a game of five players with only the base set. 71 tiles to be drawn divided by 5 players results in only about 14 tiles per player over the entire game.

Nevertheless, with the addition of expansions like Inns and Cathedrals and Traders and Builders, this game becomes one of my favorite games to bring out with many different people, friends and family with different backgrounds of board-gaming experience. In short, I think this is certainly the best gateway game, as many board-gamers would call it.

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Top 10 Board Games (#9)

9. Summoner Wars

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To describe this game in short: it is like Chess, but with two different fantasy armies, a deck managing aspect similar to collectible cards games, and a little bit of dice rolling. Basically, you take one deck representing an army (perhaps dark elves, benders, or swamp orcs) and face off against another player, maneuvering your characters throughout the board, summoning new ones, and working toward destroying your opponent’s summoner (similar to the king in Chess). I am not a person who typically likes to play chess, but I nevertheless really enjoy playing this game. It takes the strategic aspects of Chess and brings it to life with an intriguing theme. Plus, there is an added satisfaction from getting good at playing with a particular army deck, comparable to feeling attached to your deck in a collectible card game.

Overall, a fantastic two player tactical card/board game, and for me, a game that essentially replaces Chess.

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by David J. Glowny