SU&SD Take on The Board Game Geek Top 100: 10-1
Quinns: It’s an astonishingly rigorous database. As if IMDB was combined with a… an educated mosh pit, but with a set of scales in the corner that told you how much every actor weighed.
As we close out this feature, I’m simply left wanting to play more board games. Which is surely the best possible result.
Paul: Yaaaasss. Justice. This is how it should be. Agricola should be outranked by Caverna, even if none of its other Rosenpals have managed that feat. For me, this is so much better in every way: It has more depth, it has more choices, it even has more humour. It’s more forgiving, it’s more inventive with its systems and it’s even a little easier to get going with. Well, that’s as long as you have strong arms and a bloated wallet. There’s no denying that Caverna is expensive and one big, big wooden monster. Some might say… too big?
Quinns: Years on and I’m still reeling from the fact that this mostly-solitary game includes components for seven players, making it more expensive and even heavier (3.6kg in total), only for Board Game Geek’s users to collectively agree that you should never play with more than 5 because that renders it too slow and tedious. It’s such an insane decision from the publisher, especially when Caverna’s price is my main stumbling point in recommending it. Although I’ve just checked and these days it’s available for a much more reasonable £57… !
Recommendations aside, I’d love to just play this again, and I want to try A Feast for Odin, too. Maybe I’ll make a day of it and we can call it Ewe-2 and I could make rose(nberg)-flavoured snacks.
Paul: Do you need a lie down?
Quinns: Only if it’s in a lie down in the giant Caverna box, nestled among the wooden pumpkins.
What we said:
Quinns: There’s so much room to be an individual in Caverna. Look how different Paul and my boards were the first time we played. It’s like Suburbia, a game we fell for. I buried my offspring among ruby mines, building a clan of crazy survivalists with weapons and food storage. Whereas Paul had sheep. Because sheep are important.
Paul: I’m really, really excited to tell you that Caverna is a great game, a big, bold, woody, tactile game that teases you with possibilities. That’s not to say that it’s perfect, though. It isn’t the fastest game ever and if you really do fancy playing with seven people you can expect much of an afternoon, even a day to roll by, especially if any of those players are either new or hesitant people.
Also, learning all the rooms is going to take you a while. You’ll stare at the selection, trying to figure out what does what and when and how to combine them, because it can make a big difference to your final score if you can use some rooms to make other rooms cheaper to stock more rooms with rubies that are going to give you lots of points. For example. But I suppose all gaming familiarity comes with time, right?
Quinns: That said, for the cost of Caverna you could easily buy two other games.
Paul: But those games aren’t Caverna! And Caverna is quite distinctly a game about putting some dwarves in caves with animals to cook things while outside you clear trees and grab boars and put them in pens and then they breed and you have more boars and it pretty much is Agricola 2.0 BY THE WAY and you can bounce it lightly on your knee and show it to them and say “There’s a smashin’ thing.”
#9: 7 WONDERS: DUEL
Paul: WHAT IS HAPPENING? As we climb up these numbers it’s like reality is warping occasionally, like the world temporarily falls out of sync with itself, like solid matter becomes ethereal, like stone becomes transparent, like sugar isn’t sweet, like 7 Wonders: Duel finds itself ranked amongst the ten best board games that have ever existed in the entire history of Planet Earth. Next you’re going to tell me that a pigeon has been elected Prime Minister of Canada.
Quinns: I want to be as clear as the cool waters of the Mediterranean when I say that it’s not that Paul and I don’t like this game, we just don’t like it in the context of all the other board games you can also buy. If you want an empire-building card game that plays great with 2 people in under an hour, I’d point people towards Race for the Galaxy. But maybe that’s just because I loathe 7 Wonders: Duel’s tiny cards the way other people hate paper money.
Pip: Have I played any of 7 Wonders? I feel like I might have but only in that strange way where I am also pretty sure I’ve met Wolf from Gladiators but I have no evidence to back that statement up. Did any of us play 7 Wonders together? Did you put me in a 7 Wonders box? Did we use the pieces from a 7 Wonders expansion to play something ELSE? Am I the Colossus of Rhodes? I feel like I might be. Especially if I am holding tiny cards because then I feel like a GIANT.
Quinns: I can’t remember the answer to any of those questions. Is there some kind of forgettable aura around 7 Wonders, I wonder?
What we said:
Quinns: It’s fine. The game is fine. Heck, it’s probably better than 7 Wonders? But also it loses 7 Wonders’ biggest strength, which was that 7 people could play it with almost no downtime.
Yet it has the same problem, which is a first age that’s so very exciting, a second age where everything doubles in power so that’s exciting, and a third age where you end up not making hugely tricky decisions because what you’ve built guides your decision making, followed by maths.
Paul: It’s fine! So here’s the thing. I had a fine time playing Duel and I really like how pretty a game it is, these pools of cards gradually dwindling, your own civilisation growing into a thing with its courthouses and temples and pharmacies and whatever. That’s cute. But I wasn’t gripped by very many exciting decisions, I didn’t make many amazing plays, I didn’t consider the many and varied possibilities of a particular tactic.
Because Duel is fine. It’s fine. But it doesn’t have that sort of depth or variety to it. And that’s something that doesn’t make me feel particularly inclined to play it a lot, since I don’t imagine my games of it being particularly different next time around.
Quinns: And I also don’t know quite who it’s for. Because here’s the nuts thing. The original game of 7 Wonders already has an advanced 2 player game right out of the box, and has loads of expansions that do add that depth and variety. So why not just buy that?
Paul: Yes. Duel isn’t browsing some great museum, being awed at the artifacts, it’s like passing Stonehenge in a car. You go “Oh, that’s nice” and then listen to something on Radio 2.
#8: TERRAFORMING MARS
Paul: Terraforming player interaction, more like. Or the lack of. This is a game absolutely packed with cute little systems, clever mechanical interactions and so many cubes and cards. But it also didn’t have nearly enough going on that had me actively engaging with other players, its lack of any tension failed to whet my appetite and some of the presentation was wildly variable. I enjoyed watching Mars develop, but came away feeling lukewarm rather than hankering for more. And when we’re climbing into this top ten, I demand some serious hankering.
Quinns: I really wish Istanbul hadn’t come between us, Paul. Once upon a time you could tell me that you didn’t like a Eurogame and I’d assume that it wasn’t so hot. But then you went and said Istanbul was Istanbad, and it turns out that was OBJECTIVELY UNTRUE. I think the UK office will have to give this one a try.
Cynthia: Hi, sorry, I’m way late to this shindig, I know. I have 150 seventh grade math students right now who devour my time, as well as a bunch of RPGs to play and run. And yes, kids, you will definitely use algebra in real life.
Anyway, I terraformed Mars with Paul at BGG.CON and came away with very different, very contented feels. On my birthday I got a second chance at it and, lo and behold, the warm gaming fuzzies returned. There were good opportunities to sabotage or enable other players, and unlike in 7 Wonders, I was actually invested in what others were doing because it often changed the landscape as a whole. It’s not viciously competitive, but that’s okay. Instead, it offers you this odd feeling of collaborative accomplishment. You’ve helped bring humanity and hundreds of other invasive species to a once-pristine planet! What could be better? And, Paul, there are bears. I won because, well, partially because I built dust seals, but also because I had bears.
Matt: Any trains in Terraforming Mars?
Pip: No. BUT while we’re on the subject of things that this game isn’t I want to mention bees. We’ve been through approx. a bazillion games so far in this list and there has been not one single mention of bee kerplunk, a.k.a. the best game of all time. I’ve been assuming that this is because it will be found in its rightful spot at number one which is VERY SOON but… what if it isn’t? What would Christmas be without the traditional patting down of your little sister to check her for hidden bees because she ALWAYS cheats? Not any kind of Christmas I’d recognise, that’s for sure. God, I love bee kerplunk so much.
Paul: Oh for Pete’s sake. Look, while there were a lot of things I liked about Scythe, there were a few decisions I couldn’t quite understand, plus the potential for things to get fairly imbalanced. Scythe has a lot of good design decisions, an awful lot of very high quality components for a remarkably reasonable price AND a lot of replayability, but it’s not a true and legendary marvel of modern board gaming and I have a feeling its hold on this lofty spot will be tenuous. I can certainly see much in it to enjoy, but for me Inis was by far the 2016 stand-out.
Could Scythe’s position so high in the charts be related to it being a Kickstarter game? We’re posting something very relevant to some of those ratings dynamics in the news next week.
Well, at least there can’t possibly be any Kickstarter games left in the charts…
What we said:
Paul: I’m glad that Scythe exists. I think it’s a good ambassador for the hobby. It is interesting, it is different, it is very well presented and, for the amount of stuff that’s going on in the game, it’s surprisingly accessible… But I can’t quite recommend it as being good enough.
Matt: There’s a part of me that really lusts after Gloomhaven – I think it’s the logo for the game? There’s something deeply VIDEOGAMES about these extensive, expensive, often almost endless boxes of bits and delights – it’s a sherbet-fizzle that hits my brain hard, 12 flares sparking up in unison to illuminate a big sign in my brain that simply reads WANT. I had – and have – the exact same thing with Kingdom Death.
It’s an irrational response that I’m more than familiar with: the exact same brainbuzz uniformly occurs just before I impulsively buy a new, full-price videogame. It’s an enthusiasm I don’t entirely trust, and – after 10 years of professional work in the videogame industry – I find it a bit disconcerting that these feelings are starting to appear in the world of board games. Perhaps though I am an old and cynical dog, and should be retired in a bath with a bucket of dry biscuits.
Either way, I’d really like to play Gloomhaven, and it looks like I’m going to get that chance. The SU&SD donors have spoken, and the next time this game appears on Kickstarter or is available to buy we’ll be quickly assembling a review to steer your wallet towards (or away from) certain Gloom.
Pip: You know how some people assume you won’t blow up a planet or three using a death star just to prove a point? When they play with me, they don’t think that anymore.
Matt: Oh my word this one’s high on the list. Number five. Number FIVE. I can appreciate now why putting things into lists gets people so angry – this entire process is awful! None of it matters! It’s just a subjective mash of number-crunch nonsense: play what you love, love what you love! At the same time though, NUMBER FIVE? I do like Rebellion, it’s a fun little game – but it’s a huge box that loses its appeal after two, maybe three games at best? As mentioned with other games in this list – this may be a Brand Thing – but even Imperial Assault doesn’t soar this high. Does it mainly come down to tiny plastic Death Stars? Is that how it works?
Paul: YOU’RE ALL CLEAR, KID. NOW LET’S BLOW THIS THING AND GO HOME!
Quinns: Oh god. Doing this final installment of the series is like being at a wedding where half the guests are angry ex-partners.
A year on from doing the official SU&SD review, what do I think of Star Wars: Rebellion? Well, in no particular order… I still think the “hidden Rebel base” mechanic is phenomenal. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see the Rogue One expansion coming. I agree with Matt that its position as the 5th best board game ever is absolutely crackers. But I’ll tell you what, the idea for this board game might be the 5th best idea for a board game ever. I could definitely stretch to that.
But within Rebellion’s sprawling galaxy there are as many dingy backwaters as there are glittering stars. The combat stands out as really pretty poor, and the storytelling lacks structure and humanity. Like Eldritch Horror, Rebellion feels like a basket of plot points being tipped down a staircase. Although at least Eldritch Horror offers players some really weird surprises, and offers even more surprises with each expansion. Rebellion’s restricted reshuffling of scenes from the films just left me a little bored.
What we said:
Quinns: If you’re salivating over how this game looks, you won’t be disappointed. Playing as the rebels makes you want to try playing as the empire, then you want to try the rebels again, and then the empire again… But if you’re one of the many people who tweeted at me saying “Oh god, am I gonna have to buy this?” when I demurely revealed we’d received our review copy… Don’t buy it. Better games will be released this year, and you could get two of them for the price of Star Wars Rebellion. They just won’t have this (holding up super star destroyer), and you won’t be able to slide it satisfyingly across the map to deploy two AT-ATs on what you think is the rebel base… and look your friend in the eye, and find out if you’re right or wrong.
#4: TERRA MYSTICA
Matt: Are there any trains in this one? I know I joked about it at the start of the feature, but honestly I was expecting more games about trains. I miss them. I’ve ordered a copy of Railways of the World. Let me know if you see any more trains, won’t you?
Paul: I last played Terra Mystica a couple of months ago now and, four years on, it’s still such a strong, stalwart and superb example of its type. A big, intelligent, woody and engrossing eurogame, it stands shoulder to shoulder with any of its rivals. Of course, everything’s about personal preference and in the end we’ll all have our particular favourites for, I’m sure, extremely sensible reasons, but can we not agree that Terra Mystica is absolutely one of the best of its kind?
Quinns: Haha. And what kind would that be? It’s certainly the best game of “Mermaids racing devils to terraform the surface of a fantasy world.” It’s also the best game of “Managing three separate magic bowls,” or “Building a bridge and a village and then another bridge so you can be closer to where the halflings live.”
But whatever Terra Mystica is, I’m happy it exists. This box is big, weird, wooden and scandalously strange, but it’s a truly magnificent strategy game. God, I want to play it again. I need to play it again. We’ll have the perfect excuse to replay it when the sci-fi sequel titled The Gaia Project comes out, but the theming of that game leaves me as cold as a corpse in the vacuum of deep space. Just look at it! We’re abandoning little wooden houses and bridges and giants and rivers for THIS?! Urgh.
What we said:
Paul: The thing I would say about Terra Mystica is that it’s a bit pricier than other board games. There’s a tree’s worth of wood in there, and that’s what you’re paying for. But! There’s a lot of replayability too.
Quinns: There is! There are 14 different races, one for each terrain type and then a reverse side of the board, every one of them unique, and you’re going to want to play with all of them. More than that though, Terra Mystica offers something I’ve never seen in a board game before. When we finished one game, the players couldn’t bring themselves to leave the table or pack up the game. They kept rethinking and discussing their last few turns, wondering what they could have done better. That’s how fascinating the puzzle here is. So yes, it’s pricey, but if you think you’re going to enjoy Terra Mystica? You definitely will.
Paul: This is a giant amongst giants, but it’s also been played so much, by so many people, that the once regal has become a little more routine. Twilight Struggle has been analysed so exhaustively now that there are dedicated strategies dug into how you’re supposed to approach it, dug like ruts into a path, and I came to this game with players explaining optimal approaches for the setups you take and for the responses you try, all of which soured me just a little. I was so full of hope and excitement, delighted by its premise and its articulation but, while it looked full of possibilities, I was also playing something where thousands of people before me had pathed out so much that they now knew particular choices were just A Better Approach or A Worse Approach.
Nevertheless, It’s an extremely well-designed, cleverly balanced, unique and fascinating experience, for sure. While it’s worn down a little by all that intense love, it’s still very much worth playing. Just bear in mind that, if you’re coming to this for the first time, EVERYONE’S MEMORIZED ALL THE DAMN CARDS ALREADY.
Quinns: I haven’t played it yet, and what holds me back despite Twilight Struggle’s reputation is the breadth of GMT Games’ catalogue. I’m less interested in the Cold War’s geopolitics than I am in the more zoomed-in humanity of the Vietnam war, which means I’d rather play Fire in the Lake. And I’m less interested in Twilight Struggle’s head-to-head game than I am in some wildly asymmetrical 6 player struggle, as we see offered in Virgin Queen.
The problem is that those games requires so many players with an interest in history that I never get them to the table, when I probably could have got Twilight Struggle to my table if I’d tried. If this feature proves anything it’s that there are too many games and too little time.
What we said:
Thrower: Twilight Struggle is the ultimate embodiment [of strategic war games], a game spanning decades and many different leaders. It demonstrates that card-driven games work best at a level so zoomed out from the action that the whole of the Vietnam War is represented by a single card, allowing epic detail to be crammed into a three hour game.
Paul: Oh my God. Can we just. Can I just. I can’t even. What is. Why. Twice. And here. Especially HERE. NUMBER TWO. This is like a bad dream, but also like waking up out of the bad dream to find your cat has crapped on your bedsheets, right under your nose.
Quinns: It’s okay, it’s going to be fine, it’s just because BGG happens to have different entries for different editions of some games.
Paul: But WHY THIS ONE.
Cynthia: Hey, we’re almost done here. Then we can go get ice cream and play games made by Vlaada Chvatil and Uwe Rosenberg and watch The X-Files.
Matt: My favourite thing about civilisation has got to be trains. They’re like big long cars trapped on tiny metal roads. Nothing else like it. The original and best. Trains.
Pip: This is either a very good thing or a very bad thing for all the fellow bee kerplunk fans out there.
What we said:
Paul: It’s interesting. It has a lot of cool stuff in it. After the end of your first game, you’ll have seen pretty much everything it has to offer. It will be different the next time that you play, but there won’t really be any surprises… It’s an acquired taste.
Paul: I am pleased.
Quinns: I am well pleased. After tumbling down through this list all week, constantly thinking “This game’s too high!” or “This one’s too low!”, it’s lovely to be able to end in agreement with Board Game Geek’s users. I really do think this is the best board game ever made. Though I’ve just now realised that Risk Legacy didn’t even make the top 100, which seems cruel.
Paul: It’s great to see this here. There’s still some extraordinary resistance from some tiny corners of the hobby, from people who think it’s ridiculous that a game should change, evolve or be something you play for a fixed and limited amount of time. Never mind that such characteristics have been found in various guises for years amongst RPGs, game books and Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep (with its edible pieces).
Matt: Pandemic Legacy remains one of my favourite gaming experiences, even though – in retrospect – I now find it hard to forgive the designers for their absolute failure to include any trains. I apologise in advance for spoiling the game for those who’ve yet to play it, but none of the boxes of components you open have anything to do with locomotion or trains. I would have expected at least one of the unlockable characters to be a train. One of the cards has a helicopter on it, which I frankly think is anti-train propaganda.
Cynthia: Halfway through playing this my gaming group collapsed (figuratively, that is, important distinction) and now the game sits atop a bookcase glaring at me like a disapproving, neglected cat. I’m sorry, Pandemic Legacy, I’m sorry, it wasn’t because I don’t love you. You know that I do.
Pip: I am late to the legacy series and thus everyone in the known world has grouped up to play Pandemic Legacy without me. If I have to sit through one more regretful “we’re part-way through but we have a really solid group and we just need to fix a time for our next play session” I’m going to scream. I GET IT. YOU HAVE FRIENDS. AND A PANDEMIC. AND MAYBE A LEGACY. I’m going to start my own pandemic and then you’ll all be sorry.
What we said:
Quinns: Here’s one story I’ll tell you about Pandemic that isn’t made up. Some details have been changed to prevent spoiler contamination. My Medic went into a city that was on the brink of an astonishing outbreak, just drove a jeep into the town and was ready to start curing people. The very next turn, the table decided that they couldn’t give him the support he needed. They focused elsewhere. And that turn there wasn’t one, but two devastating outbreaks, giving the Medic two scars, putting him on the brink of death, sending the city into a riot, tearing apart a CDC looking for a cure. We had to decide on two scars to give him. I gave him paranoid and regretful, meaning he would no longer share information unless he had a relationship with your character, and would never leave cities with three disease cubes. Because he didn’t trust the CDC anymore.
And the next game, we had to have a discussion of whether we could even use him. Because he was a liability. Because he’d followed their orders, and they’d betrayed him.
Game of the year. And I got through it all without mentioning cool stuff like (picks up a quarantine token) oh no. You’ve seen this now. You’re contaminated. Do not leave your home, authorities are on their way now. Do not leave your home, your internet connection’s going to be cut for your own safety, do NOT communicate with anyone –
Quinns: That’s it, everybody! Thanks for tuning in.
Paul: Though we actually have one last surprise..
Quinns: We DO! The next installment of the Shut Up & Sit Down podcast (episode 59) is actually going to be an accompaniment to this feature. We’re going to list some of the greatest games ever made that unquestionably need to be in the BGG Top 50… but aren’t even in the top 100.
Have a great weekend, everybody!
SU&SD Takes on the BGG Top 100