SU&SD’s Top 25 Games Ever! #10 to #6

Quinns' rap, Paul's madness, Matt's pah, Brendan's dendan, Pip's toddler
Quinns: I CAN’T… LOOK AT IT…

IT’S SO BEAAAUUUTIFUUUL

RACE FOR THE GALAXY

#10: RACE FOR THE GALAXY

Review here at 14:30

Paul: What a brilliantly simple idea for how your game plays: your cards have a cost and that cost is how many cards you must spend to play them. That’s it. More expensive cards require more sacrifices to be made. Too expensive cards require clever trading or manipulation of the system.

And I think that’s what Race for the Galaxy has become for me. It’s a game about systems. It’s about building a system, a little space economy where some planets trade with others, or where military might wins you ever growing piles of points. Now that I’m a more experienced player, I can better look for the card combinations and synergies that promote these sorts of systems, but still find it incredibly hard. Sometimes it’s all too easy to never get your feet off the ground, to never launch off that pad.

But oh my goodness. So many cards. So many expansions. So many combinations. Alien Artefacts recently reset everything, which was probably pretty necessary as the game was getting out of control, but I kind of liked it a little bit, with all those extra things bolted onto it. I hope it grows again. I hope.

Quinns: Sometimes things get out of hand.

Paul: Sometimes games get out of hand.

Quinns: Sometimes you have to rein them in.

Paul: You’ve got to put an APB out on those games. Make that call. All cars, we have a game gone rogue.

Quinns: Shoot to kill.

Paul: Chase Race for the Galaxy down.

Quinns: Do not approach the suspect.

Paul: Wait… Brendan?! You were Race for the Galaxy all along?

Brendan: I DIDN’T KILL MY WIFE.

Everyone: I DON’T CARE.

TWILIGHT IMPERIUM

#9: TWILIGHT IMPERIUM

Review here at 03:32

Let’s Play here

Paul: Terrific. Madness. Too big. Yet somehow not too complicated. Too long, yet not really too long because it keeps you invested the entire time. If it’s somehow still not big or long enough for you, you can biggen and lengthen it by adding in whatever expansion stuff you want, some of which adds brilliant politics and gives you even more reason to hate your friends. It should be stodgy and turgid, but somehow it isn’t. It’s surely (still) one of the best games out there and definitely a contender for the best game outright.

Quinns: No, it’s not #1 on our list, but in every other way Twilight Imperium remains board gaming’s grand momma. Its fat potato. Its hot, uh, chiquita.

When we first reviewed it we stated that it brought a warring galaxy to life on your dinner table. When we did our Let’s Play a year later, we proved it. And you know what? The years have been kind of this game. It’s still the definitive smorgasboard of politics, economy, war, roleplaying and surprise. No other publisher has been mad enough to take a shot at the crown. 2011’s Eclipse took a pop at Twilight Imperium by offering the same thing, but quicker and more sleek. Which was fun, but ultimately less memorable. Eclipse offers a wargame. Twilight Imperium offers something that could have been plucked out of a history book. A tale of warring cultures, bruised egos, devastating surprises and mistakes that kill millions.

God, I love it. It breaks my heart that we haven’t been able to play it more. Let’s do that second Let’s Play soon, eh?

Pip: I would be totally down for that. I really loved the Let’s Play we did, although I felt like I only started to understand what the hell was going on towards the end. It was so hard to get an idea for the wider implications of what I was doing. It’s the sort of game where you need to play a heap before you get that nailed down, except the games take all day so finding the time to practice or get those few starter games in while balancing a full time job… not so easy.

Or maybe that’s just me. Rob seemed to get Twilight Imperium straight away, but then that’s Rob for you. Taking over galaxies and menacing everyone in a very polite and nice and EFFICIENT way so you don’t notice you’re getting screwed over. Especially when Tom and Brendan are squabbling on your left side, Quinns is being a sex mermaid to the right, and just over the table you’re keeping an eye on Paul trying to work out if he’s carrying out a masterful bluff or whether he literally has nothing for you to be scared of.

Paul: What is a sex merm-

Brendan: Squabbling is definitely the description of what I do in Twimp. I love the pseudo-diplomatic reasoning you have to concoct for why you are expanding to a certain place on the board, why you want a certain planet, or why you need to build a dozen dreadnaughts. In the end, nobody trusts anyone else. But when you say “I’m not going to attack” to the person on your right and then “I’m not going to attack you either” to the person on your left within the same sixty seconds, that mistrust reaches Cold War levels of paranoia. Ultimately, someone has got to blink first.

Pip: Tom didn’t blink that entire game. Although that might have been the painkillers he was on at the time.

GALAXY TRUCKER

#8: GALAXY TRUCKER

Review here at 22:05

Let’s Play here

Matt: I can entirely appreciate why a lot of people really wouldn’t like this game. It’s all very well to try and explain that half of the fun is watching your creations getting torn apart by asteroids, but when your mother’s third spaceship falls apart within minutes and her cargo floats off into the vast void of space, there’s only so many times you can tell her that this is definitely fun.

Thankfully, no-one’s run of good fortune lasts forever, and eventually you’ll find your unbelievably wonky space-creation sailing through the cosmos without a care in the world while the impeccably-crafted ships around you fall apart like wet paper bags. Galaxy Trucker isn’t fair, but that doesn’t stop it being tons of fun.

Quinns: It’s totally unfair! Which is also what makes it work. Your friend’s cargo pouring out into the vacuum of space, never to be seen again, isn’t intrinsically funny. It’s that it could have happened to you, but didn’t. You’re laughing with relief.

But you’re also laughing because every disaster feels unique, which I think is Galaxy Trucker’s magic trick. Whether it was ironic or inevitable, whether it was because of hungry aliens or explosive batteries, whether something like this happened not 5 minutes ago or was totally unexpected, it’s always a joke you haven’t heard before.

Tell you what, though. It sure is hard work selling a game with that logo.

Paul: No go logo. I shouldn’t like Galaxy Trucker as much as I should, as it’s a game with a lot of very random nonsense, but I think it still manages to reward good ship-building, it surprises you at least once every round and, by being very obviously a hard game, it doesn’t make you feel so bad if you’re not very successful. You’re supposed to struggle in space. It’s fine. Actually, it’s terrific. It’s still terrific, years on. Czech Games are one of the best makers of board games out there and it’s stuff like Galaxy Trucker that makes me so damn impressed.

Matt: My only serious complaint is that the events that occur in the vanilla game tend to be a little bit boring – the expansion is a serious improvement I think, if only for the boarding parties that attack your little men. Boarding parties! Little men! Now we’re talking space-talk.

TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

#7: TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

Review here

Brendan: Oh my God, how expensive is this game!? It was £50 when I bought it, easily making it the most costly choose-your-own-adventure tale I have ever embarked upon. Luckily, it is also the best. I recently had a huddle of friends over to play this and, despite half of them being fairly light boardgamers and most of them not knowing one another, it generated more laughter than anything else possibly could, more ‘ooooh’ and more ‘what!’ When my friend Sarah was stopped in the street by a mad sage, she decided to do the only thing her kind nature would allow. She spoke to the man. The sage then told her a story so boring that it drove her mad. A few more mishaps and her character had become a cursed, insane, ape-like beast, whose movements and decisions were made by the rest of us because the game had deemed her too crazy to make her own choices. It didn’t matter to me that the game, reaching the two-hour mark, eventually descended into drink and chatter too disparate and good-natured to discourage. Arabian Nights had done its job.

Pip: It does weigh more than a toddler though.

That might be a lie, I don’t have any toddlers to weigh right this moment. BUT it’s a heavy game so persuading someone to bring it over is always a bit of a tough sell. I remember playing it with you guys the summer before this one, though. We were sprawled across a living room, playing in pairs.

I remember when I saw the story book and how many pages it had I thought it was just the instructions and nearly left then and there! It turned out to be magnificent though. I adore storytelling games, and with this one you’re not forced to rely on the ingenuity or inspiration of the players. It was surprising and genuinely funny. I remember Leigh and Paul having to do a hand jive at one point to escape a perilous situation, and someone lost their mind completely in an elephant graveyard, or possibly somewhere out in the desert. Brendy, was that you? I feel like that was you.

Brendan: No, I was eaten by an ancient, magical fish called a Dendan.

Quinns: Yo yo yo, my name is Brendan /
Trapped inside a Dendan, /
Furiously spendin’, /
All the money that I’m lendin’!

Brendan: Borrowing. When you take money, it’s borrowing.

Quinns: Shut up, I’m the rapper here.

Paul: I’m surprised that nobody else has even come close to trying what Arabian Nights does with its enormous collection of narrative possibilities, its constant and unremitting story diarrhea. Yes, it’s a difficult game to equal, yes, it’s large and deep and thick with mythology, but why hasn’t anyone else tried at least a similar or derivative system paragraphs and choices and stories? Maybe it really is too hard to do something like this as thoroughly and as well? Or maybe it’s the diarrhea bit.

Quinns: Wassup! Diarrhea is-

Everyone: NO.

SKULL

#6: SKULL

Matt’s Opener here

Quinns’ Review here

Matt: This is the only game I’ll teach people who are drunk. It’s my rule. Too many times I’ve found wobbly humans clutching Ladies and Gentlemen at past midnight, but realistically speaking that just isn’t going to happen. Playing games while inebriated is brilliant fun, but teaching rules to people who are drunk is likely one of things you’ll be forced to do in hell. Skull and Roses (now re-branded as SKULL) is the perfect solution – a game that takes minutes to teach, is simple enough not to get slowed down by one player thoughfuly clutching their hand of cards while locked in a seemingly infinite squint, and most importantly it’s a game that benefits from the brassiness that usually comes with booze. It’s the perfect way to cap off a night – regardless of whether or not you’ve been playing games.

Paul: That’s a really good point. It’s got that great thing that bluffing games have, whereby just about everyone understands the value in lying, deception, double-bluffing and pushing their luck. It’s naturally going to be something that’s easy to teach people who are drunk, drowning, on fire or otherwise compromised. If your friends were lost in the jungle and surrounded by hungry tigers, you’d probably still be able to introduce it and get a quick round in before inevitable, furry death.

Matt: One thing I would note is that the rules I use are a bit controversial – others have insisted that the process of claiming you can flip a higher number of cards should go around the table in a neat clockwise manner. To that I say one thing: PAH! For the ultimate experience, I feel that after the initially called number, bidding should be a free-for-all affair. The advantages of this are two-fold: you get a faster-paced game where you don’t have to nudge players to make their decision, and you get a game where everyone involved needs to be constantly engaged. If you want to make a bid of four, you’ll have to be quick. This leads to snap-decisions, which leads to regret, which leads to amusement. Forget about traditional clockwork bidding and adapt the rules to first-come first-served, it’s a dramatic change and you won’t regret it.

Brendan: It is also supremely easy to make a “pirate” copy out of beer mats, using only a pen. So, bonus points for being able to play this in any pub in the world, with just 2 minutes of preparation and minimal effort.

[For other instalments of our 2014 Top 25, here’s #25 to #21, #20 to #16, #15 to #11 and #5 to #1.]