By P. A. Wilson
Since I became a board gamer, I have played dozens of board games with my family and friends. As someone who follows the board gaming community, I noticed the popularity of top ten lists and decided to share my own. Here it is:
Agricola is a worker-placement game where you play a small family of farmers trying to survive and thrive. At the beginning, you have only the farmer and his spouse as workers, but as the game progresses and more rooms are created in your house, the family will grow to include children.
There are a variety of strategies to use in this game and many aspects to focus on. For instance, you can focus on plowing fields, planting, and harvesting crops. Or you can focus on accumulating sheep, boars, and cattle and creating pastures for them to graze. The game rewards generalization, and you lose points if you fail to develop in any area – for example, if you don’t have any cattle.
There are also minor and major improvements such as building a furnace to make cooking more efficient or creating new rooms in your house, or improving existing rooms. There are a limited number of furnaces, so it is best to focus on getting the best one early in the game.
My favorite part of this game is developing each area of a farmer’s life, especially accumulating animals. It’s a fun game to play with family, and it is interesting to see that each of my family members takes on a different strategy.
#9 Castle Panic
Castle Panic is a cooperative board game where players work together to protect their kingdom from monster hordes. Even though players win or lose together, only one player can be the best monster hunter, and that person becomes the overall winner. This creates a friendly spirit of competition in this otherwise cooperative game.
This is one game that is fun even though the players frequently lose. This is either because there is particularly competitive person at the table or because the amount of monsters is just overwhelming. The game presents a real challenge and winning feels like a real victory.
Even though this is one of my favorite games, my family doesn’t play it often because they don’t like it as much as I do.
An honorable mention here would be My First Castle Panic, a simpler version of the game that I play with my 3-year-old sister. It is just challenging enough to be interesting even for older members of the family.
Wingspan is a competitive game where the goal is to collect diverse species of birds on your wildlife reserve. The artwork in this game is stunning to say the least. It a very well-designed game thematically.
This is another game where you can take on a variety of strategies based on your preferences. You can try to broaden the species of birds on your reserve, accumulate eggs on your cards, and try to achieve your secret goals. Of course, it is best to do all of these things, but often one of these becomes the focus of your game. There are also objectives for each round you can complete to gain extra points.
This game is beautiful, enjoyable, and rewarding to play.
Descent is a sprawling, cooperative dungeon-crawling board game that takes 4-6 hours per game. Since when I play it with my family, we usually take breaks, it takes even longer. We have a tradition in my family to play it each year on New Year’s Eve.
In it, you take either on the role of a custom hero with their own story and attributes, or the role of the overlord whose goal is to destroy the heroes. The heroes must reach the goal in each given dungeon, whether it is to win a major boss battle, find a particular item, or something else entirely.
The character I chose for this board game is what I call a Tank character – one with high HP and moderately high melee ability. One of my sisters has a character who specializes in long-range attacks, and my other sister has one that has potent magic spells. My dad always plays the overlord.
I have a lot of fond memories of this game.
Gloomhaven is similar to Descent because it is another cooperative, dungeon-crawling game. However, it is shorter, so my family is able to get it to the table more often. While Descent involves more luck because of its dice-rolling, Gloomhaven relies on cards.
Each turn, you choose two cards from your hand that constitute your actions for that turn. The deck of cards you have to choose from gets smaller over the course of the game, so there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend in the dungeon before running out of actions. This adds to the tension of the game but does not take away from the enjoyment.
In this game, you play through many scenarios and have choices about which missions to undertake. It is like a stream-lined version of Descent with an interesting story line and several gameplay differences, which is why it’s my #6.
#5 Mechs vs. Minions
Mechs vs. Minions is another cooperative game that plays campaign-style. In it, you play one of four possible Yordle characters whose primary objective is to keep minions from overrunning the base and creating an assortment of problems.
One of the most creative aspects of this game is that you pretty much program your movement with cards. Each turn you add a card to your programmed movement. When you get hit by a minion, you have to add a damage card to your programmed cards, which can really mess you up.
When this programmed movement goes right, it can allow you to skewer or trample a lot of nasty minions. When it goes wrong, it’s hilarious.
For example, I once did a 90 degree turn to the left, then turned back 90 degrees to the right. Following that, I shot randomly while striking nothing, spun around, and ran into the side of the board. All while hordes of minions were approaching.This game is enjoyed by me, my sisters, and my dad.
Honestly, the programmed movement is my favorite part of the game and why this game made #5.
#4 Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is a worker-placement game. In this game, you play as one of the Lords of Waterdeep, each of which has a secret objective. No one but you should know who your Lord of Waterdeep is.
You gain points by completing quests, and can sabotage your opponents or get ahead of the game with Intrigue cards. You can also build shops that give you bonuses when other players shop at them.
To complete quests, you must use cubes which represent people and influence. Completing quests usually is the most important way to gain points and win the game.
I like this game best with its expansions, which create an added element by offering a corruption track. You can take profitable actions if you are willing to gain corruption, but it can have disastrous consequences at the end of the game if you don’t find a way to remove the corruption.
#3 The Quacks of Quedlinburg
The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a Push-Your-Luck board game. To be honest, I dislike most games that have luck or risk as a major factor in who is the winner. This one is a definite exception because the game play is so enjoyable.
In Quacks of Quedlinburg, the players act as potion makers, using various ingredients that provide different bonuses. You start out with a bag of chips, and choose randomly from that bag to put ingredients in your pot. Cherrybomb chips have a negative effect when drawn, making your pot more likely to blow up. As the game proceeds, you have the opportunity to buy new chips with more powerful effects.
Winning is a matter of pushing your luck to the limit while blowing up as few times as possible. If your pot blows up, you must choose between earning points or buying chips that round. It’s not the end of the world if it happens, but it’s best to avoid it.
Out of all the times I have played, I have only won once. It’s a testament of how good the game is that I had so much fun playing it even when I frequently got last place. (My luck is terrible).
#2 Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter is a zombie game, and I hate zombies.
Why do I still love the game? Well, it’s a tense cooperative game with an awesome thematic design that even I can appreciate. The scenarios presented by the game pose actual moral dilemmas that make decisions difficult. That is why it is called a Crossroads Game.
Furthermore, like Castle Panic, everyone either survives or dies together, but even if you survive, the real winners are the ones who complete their secret objective. Last of all, there is occasionally a hidden traitor, whose goal includes causing the others to lose the game.
Sometimes, just making it through the round and managing to feed everyone is the best you can do.
Each player controls a faction of survivors that can scavenge, contribute to the stockpile, clean up camp, and complete other actions to progress the game. What actions you can take is based partially on the luck of a dice roll, which makes sense because even survival is based partially on luck.
As you might guess from the title, Dead of Winter is set in the middle of winter. Thus, in addition to infections from zombies, players risk frostbite in they venture from camp.
Overall, this game is well-designed, tense game of survival.
#1 Terraforming Mars
My absolute favorite game ever is Terraforming Mars. Part of that is the theme – it’s such a cool idea. Preparing Mars for settlement by gradually making it possible for life to inhabit the red planet – genius! The board and cards are well-designed, and some of them are even humorous.
You can take actions such as civilizing the board with cities and greeneries and using space event cards, action cards, and general cards. The strategy you take on depends partially on your corporation – for example, you might focus on making investments in titanium or megacredits, the currency of the game.
The reason I love this game so much is that even when I lose, I feel that I have achieved so much that it doesn’t even matter – it’s still a ton of fun.
Out of the expansions, I can only recommend Prelude. I have the other expansions, but I cannot say they improve the game at all. They simply make things more complex.