Quinns: Like the M People or a fart, today we’re Moving on Up with our team’s Top 25 games ever.
Have you guys started guessing at the top 10 yet? You must at least have had a guess at number 1. Go on. It’s just a bit of fun. No shame in it.
#15: SPACE ALERT
Review here at 25:01
Brendan: Does anybody else find Space Alert a little bit nerve-racking? I am prone to making very simple mistakes and, although this is a burden in every “programmable” game, it makes Space Alert especially scary. Because a single small slip-up can be disastrous for not just you but your entire team. I love playing it but I am always slightly terrified of screwing things up for everyone. As a rule, I would recommend you never play it with anyone who takes winning too seriously. You can just feel the resentment lingering after you make that fatal error of moving to the left one step too early, the rush of blood to your face as you turn your card to realise what a monumental plop you’ve made. But obviously, I wouldn’t trade that social terror for anything else. The mistakes are what make the game. And the best moments of Space Alert are made when you end up saving the lives of a crew thanks to a tiny mistake that turns out to be more serendipitous than catastrophic.
Paul: What are you talking about, Ensign. Space Alert is fine. It’s relaxing and easy and nothing at all goes wrong during your lovely trip into space to look at the things and fly through the place. Yes, you get points for looking out the window! How could anything be more twee? Don’t you like fun, Brendan? Don’t you like fun?
Brendan: I LOVE fun. And I love running to look out the window, for example, when the ship is falling apart at the hull and exploding from the inside, and I am the only player still conscious, and I look outside, wondering where is the bad guy? Where is the explosion? Where is the — BOOM!
Quinns: I always, always tell the story of how Space Alert gave me a glimpse of the terror of having an actual military command. A giant Nebula Crab had emerged and was soaring towards our ship, we had fighter craft coming in off the starboard bow and some kind of green ooze taking over the engine room.
“WHAT DO WE DO,” asked my friend Jonty. The whole team was looking at me. But I had absolutely no idea, and to admit that was so embarrassing that I started throwing out orders almost at random, because getting us killed seemed more tolerable than giving captaincy to someone else.
#14: LOVE LETTER
Paul: I hate people who manage to make games that are so tiny and neat and efficient and lean. When you’re making a game, you always want to put more stuff in. More rules or components or mechanics and that’s usually because you don’t yet have enough in there that’s interesting or that works. Love Letter is petite and pretty much perfect and I hate it. It’s disgusting. TAKE IT AWAY.
Matt: I’m sorry Paul I didn’t know that you felt like this, I guess I’ll take these flowers and chocolates to another princess in another castle far away. But yeah, it’s an irritatingly perfect little package – so few cards, so few rules, so many little delicious red cubes. My biggest complaint about Love Letter is that the little red bag it comes in feels nasty and cheap. I’m aware that this is clearly because the game itself is extremely inexpensive, but it’s a testament to the quality of the game and the cards that Love Letter feels like something that deserves to be treasured.
Quinns: Yeah. When you’re complaining about the quality of a game’s peripheral velvet bag you know you’re probably onto a winner. Unless the fabric is carrying smallpox or something.
Matt: Yep. It wasn’t surprising to see so many people in the comments for my recent Opener video talking about how they routinely replace the red cubes with little wooden hearts before gifting it to others – it’s a special little game that means an awful lot to a lot of people. I guess maybe that comes down to the miniscule size? It’s small enough to carry around anywhere, which I guess makes it the perfect game for impromptu play at almost any occasion. Not everyone loves it, but those that do seem to develop an unusual fondness for this tidy little game.
Quinns: Castles of Mad King Ludwig arrived too late this year for us to definitively state whether it was better than Suburbia. We’ll have to find that out next year. Tell you what, though- everyone talks about Castles being so appealing because it’s “Like Suburbia, but funny.” What? Suburbia’s one of the funniest games on this list!
Every game of Suburbia sees players accidentally making these J.G. Ballard hellscapes. A beach lined with nothing but business supply stores. Low-cost housing along a canyon edge. A fast food restaurant that makes you millions of dollars because there’s nothing else to do in your town. I love it. And cleverly, it turns one of Suburbia’s weak points – the ugly 3D rendered art on all of the tiles – into one of its strengths. It becomes that much weirder and more grim.
Paul: There’s a strange contradiction between the order of those lovely, hexagonal towns and the disorder that happens within them, how you end up with factories vomiting pollution across an old folks’ home, or highways running off into nowhere. There’s something sort of Dubai-ish about how everything is built for maximum profit and point scoring, but rarely with any long-term, practical consideration.
What’ve you got there? Plunk it down. What’s next? Plunk that down. Onward.
#12: ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE WEREWOLF
Podcast impressions here
Paul: I am increasingly okay with short games. I remember the day I first noticed that a lot of games had strict turn limits, and didn’t rely on total player elimination or complete, overwhelming success on one player’s part. I remember thinking “That’s good. It ensures you make the most of the playing time you have.” I always make the most of a round of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
I’m not saying I’ve wholly fallen out with normal Werewolf, but I much prefer the idea of a tight game of rapid deduction and misdirection. And then you can do it all again immediately after.
Matt: As much as I love traditional Werewolf (i.e. Werewolf in top hats with cigars and brandy while the ladies make small-talk on the plantation’s veranda) I can easily see the appeal of something much tighter. Part of what makes Werewolf magic is the post-game moments where you sit around dissecting the events that just unfolded. The randomised edge of elimination that tends to dominate the start of the game can easily end up making a round boring – wiping out interesting characters before things have even had time to warm up. Duff games once in a while aren’t too much of a problem, but I’ve had Werewolf sessions with new players fall totally flat just because of an unlucky run of less interesting scenarios. Considering everything I’ve heard about One Night Werewolf it seems increasingly awful that I’ve not yet played it.
Quinns: You’ll love it, Matt.
Pip: I have not One Night Ultimate Werewolfed. Wait. Did I? I was down the pub and someone had cards and there was a phone app of some sort which I think was keeping time but also doing the instruction bits and there were sound effects. Is that a thing which exists and is what you are talking about or did I have a fever dream while at The Red Lion?
Maybe I should offer something more to this discussion. Oh! I had a question. How come we went for this instead of the other versions or one of the Resistance flavours? I’d say I really like the longer format. Occasionally you get duff sessions but the most satisfying experiences I’ve had with all of the games in this particular ballpark have all been around the 45 minute or one hour mark because of the stories and rivalries and recriminations. The time I refused to save a boyfriend from a werewolf attack on the first night while playing as the witch and spent the rest of the evening being referred to as The Widow Pip springs to mind.
Quinns: Well, we worked out early on that we only needed one variant of Werewolf or The Resistance on this list, and deciding on One Night was easy. Sure, there’ll still be nights where an epic 60 minute game of Avalon or Werewolf fits the bill. Perhaps you’re in the mood for some drama, or have 40 people to please. Those older games still have their place. But the distillation of laughter and chatter and cunning that One Night offers is just astonishing. It’s literally the best 10 minutes hacked out of a full hour of Werewolf and served up to you in a box. How did they do that?
#11: STAR WARS: X-WING MINIATURES GAME
Written impressions here
Video review here
Paul: Sex wing.
Matt: I’ve never played it, but I’d like to say Sex Wing too. Can I do that?
Matt: SEX WING.
Pip: Two Night Ultimate Sex Wing?
Quinns: When? Today? I’ll check my calendar.
This is the only game on our list that could be called a toy, and what a toy. Receiving my Tantive IV in the post and unpacking the thing made me feel like I was eight years old again.
That the X-Wing Miniatures game is so good, AND looks this good is a crime. A literal crime. Mark my words, X-Wing will be made illegal by the U.N. next year and we’ll all be wearing bandannas, playing it in sewers and picking poop out of our TIE Phantoms.