Quinns: Oh my GOODNESS GRAVY, this week we’re giving you something you’ve been asking for for 3 and a half years. A list of Shut Up & Sit Down’s top 25 games of all time, ordered from our least most favourite to most most favourite, and all just time for Christmas.
An awful lot of thought, time and love went into this list, so we very much hope you enjoy it. We’ll be posting one instalment a day, right the way through to the end of the week. A bit like an advent calendar, except too short and every day it’s just us again. You’re probably best off taking it back to the shop.
Without further ado, let’s KICK THIS BABY OFF A NOTCH.
Brendan: Oh no, not this.
Quinns: What?! We can’t start the top 25 like that. We also couldn’t have a top anything without Dixit.
I remember when Dixit first came out Paul and I were waving our arms with the fervour of two ceiling fans, talking about how it was a board game that used the power of imagination! And I guess in reality that’s slightly less entertaining and more of a novelty than we gave it credit for. But Dixit might be the definitive example of board games bucking expectation. There’s not a number or die to be seen. I love it for that. I also love it for the time that I put down a card and said “Game critic”, and the resulting French abstract impressions of a critic’s life made me cry with laughter.
Paul: I think its concept has worn a little thin and we’ve also seen those cards many times over. To stay fresh, you have to think of challenging new ways to push the game forward. Funny new phrases or sounds or concepts. I think, fundamentally, it’s also difficult to get a bunch of people to put down cards that are of the appropriate level of weirdness for each round to work. So it stumbles on its own strangeness and can ask a lot from its players. It’s a game to play when your group can put in the energy, when your brains really are glowing with inspiration or coursing with caffeine. Otherwise, it can just be hard work.
Quinns: It’s funny you say that. While we’ve been whining Asmodee’s been releasing expansions with factory line-like efficiency. There’s Dixit 2, Dixit 3, Dixit Quest and Dixit 4: Back 2 tha Hood, and we’ll be looking at them in January. Excitement!
Pip: Here’s a fun fact – Dixit is the only board game my mum has ever admitted to enjoying. The. Only. One. She and my dad can’t stand board games. But this one was different – she even asked to play it a second time. My siblings and I did a LOT of gasping and raising of eyebrows that Christmas afternoon I can tell you. I think it’s because it’s to do with telling stories as well as feeding on those comfy familiar relationships you have when you play it with friends and family. It’s not rules and arguments and victory points and understanding who has most druids at any given time.
The reason I fell out of love with it, though, is like you say – that it’s so hard to keep things fresh. I’d also add that it can rely too heavily on those social relationships. Remembering my mum’s reaction I was considering taking it away on holiday to break the ice with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well. The reason I didn’t was I suddenly realised it would likely end up with them giggling over shared past experiences and me left hopelessly confused. So I guess I’d say it’s a great game and full of charm but relies incredibly heavily on having exactly the right social setup.
#24: LADIES & GENTLEMEN
Paul: This is one of those games where the fundamental idea is funny anyway, but it can be either just a pretty good game or actually a riot, depending upon who you play it with and how invested they become in their roles. There’s the option here to just play the game as it’s described, with each lady trying to convince their husband to buy particular things so that they’ll ultimately come out on top, or there’s the (far better) option to slip into your role like a hand into a glove. Husbands try to explain how they had a terrible day at work. Wives insist that they need a particular garment because it’s just the only thing that goes properly with everything else.
Regardless of whether you play it casually or comically, it’s a brilliant idea and it’s executed very well indeed. And that’s without the potential courtesan who complicates everything further.
Matt: The more time I spend thinking about Ladies and Gentlemen, the more I end up feeling conflicted. In pure design terms it really isn’t the belle of the ball, but the theme shines through with such undeniable strength that it’s impossible not to fall in love with when you’re playing. The men’s side of the game is uncomplicated and brash while the ladies deal with far more layered and complex systems. It’s funny, but also means that you need to play two games back-to-back to get a real idea of how the game functions. Again though, that actually turns out to be wonderful: berating your wife’s flippant jewelry choices before then finding yourself appearing equally useless when the roles are reversed plays a substantial part in the game’s overall magic.
And yeah, it really is magic. Add a couple of silk scarves and some floral hats and you’ve got yourself an instant evening of laughter. Bickering couples, disappointed glares, and the hubris that comes when the roles are reversed. It’s definitely one of my favourite party games – and certainly the one that most people want to play when they have a poke around in my cupboard of cardboard. It’s a real shame that it’s such a complex game to explain!
Quinns: I reckon this lady will be rudely ejected from the ball of our Top 25 as soon as we get a better board game that pairs everybody up. That’s the real appeal for me. It’s just such a fun dynamic to be assigned a husband or wife that you’re relying on for the entire game. And the fact that the entire table gets to witness your adorable squabbles over money and shoes? That’s priceless.
Paul: Maybe so. I am all for more board games with pairing dynamics.
Brendan: As SUSD’s only Hive Grandmaster, I am obliged to reinforce how excellent it is. This is a game endorsed by Mensa and yet so digestible you could probably eat it. They even made a pocket version for people too busy to own a table. I love that it is essentially a type of manageable chess, it’s hexagonal nature refining the potential moves of each player down and down until only a few viable options remain. Apart from Netrunner, it is the only game in my own collection that I’ve bought an expansion for (I got the Mosquito that mimics adjacent pieces). It is also the only game for which I downloaded the computer version. It’s rubbish. But at least it lets me play practice games against the AI when I feel the itch and nobody is around to endure my insect wrath.
Quinns: I played some chess on holiday last month.
Brendan: Was it good?
Quinns: …yes? I don’t know. I’d forgotten how horribly tense and grandiose it is. Like you’re putting your brain next to the other person’s brain and seeing which brain is best. Except Hive lets you find out in 5 minutes rather than 35 minutes, it comes in a smaller package and you can take it anywhere. Insects are kind of gross though.
Paul: I’m crap at Hive and it’s like chess but with beetles. I get confused by all the pieces and there’s something weirdly trippy about looking at an ever-growing collection of perfectly-arrayed bugs as they scuttle out in front of you. You’re all sick.
Pip: I like neatly organised things and I like bugs. Brendy, can we play this sometime?
Brendan: Yes. But be warned. I have been practicing my Pemberton manoeuvre.
Matt’s Opener here
Quinns’ review here
Matt: The whole world is going to hell and it’s all your fault.
Quinns: Is it my fault? I didn’t know it was my fault.
Matt: Oh no hang on I misread that. The whole world is going to hell and it’s not your fault. But you’ve got to deal with it, because that’s just science. Pandemic is probably the ultimate game in the “ooh what’s this let’s play it together” genre. Played together with a handful of other people who’ve never played it before either, it is PERFECT. The world is falling apart because GERMS and you’ve got to work together to try and fix it. It is unbelievably exciting.
Quinns: For a while, anyway, but it does start to get creaky after you’ve played a few games. The worst thing about Pandemic is that you’ll want to share it, you’ll want to share the excitement you felt in your first game with as many of your friends as possible. But it won’t be the same!
Matt: It can’t be. It just can’t. Half of the fun of Pandemic is working out how the systems work. There’s a pattern to how each game tends to pan out, and solving that as a team is a vital part of the process. If one player already understands how Pandemic works and the other players don’t, backseat driving ineviatably takes over. Go here, do this!
Quinns: Well, it’s either backseat driving or biting your hand while the rest of the team make awful decisions. Neither provide the same fun atmosphere that you’re desperately looking to rekindle.
Matt: But that’s FINE because you just need to buy one of the expansions. Suddenly you’re a secret bio-terrorist adding a human element to Pandemic’s evil systems, letting the people you want to introduce to the experience work things out without you sticking your oar in, while you get to be a SECRET BIO-TERRORIST.
Quinns: I want that on my business card.
Matt: I do too but customs might be tricky.
Quinns: But I agree entirely. Pandemic offers a shiny little diamond of a puzzle, one that’s simpler, harder and more immediately dramatic and beautiful than any other co-op game. Then the instant it loses its luster you’ve got a choice of two (soon to be three!) generous expansions to make the whole thing exciting again. Perfect.
#21: SPACE CADETS
Let’s Play here
Designer interview here
Matt: I liked this game because I got to be in charge while simultaneously blaming everyone else for everything. Also I had no idea what was going on, and that was fine. If at any point you’d asked me to perform any of the roles of the people beneath me, I would have had absolutely no ability to do so.
I increasingly feel like I missed my calling in life, and should have been a corporate middle-manager. IN SPACE.
Paul: Space Cadets is a really good spin on multiplayer, co-operative play, as well as such a fine example of how board games can break out of the conventions that we think they should neatly, quietly, respectfully sit inside and surprise us like a face at the window. At the twentieth floor window.
It feels like half a dozen games in one, a bunch of minigames that together combine to form this brilliantly busy, tense, exciting and also actually very accessible game that’s often as much physical as it is mental. It should be a team-building exercise. It should be a compulsory co-operative experience. It might be my favourite co-operative game.
Quinns: With all the stations it’s MORE than half a dozen games in one. It’s almost too much. I saw someone on BoardGameGeek describe it as “a bear to teach,” and I didn’t understand what that meant until I’d tried teaching it. Running around the table, teaching seven different board games to five different people. It really is a bear. I was properly wrestling with these hairy rules, fur in my mouth, the weight of it all crushing the fun from my lungs.
In the end that ended up not being so much of a downside. That’s the price of entry for what Space Cadets offers. A game that’s almost childishly ambitious. And once you’re past the rules explanation, you’re playing something as funny as it is heroic. You’re flying a space ship! An honest to god space ship! And you’re all so bad at it!
Brendan: The physical stuff makes this what it is. There is nothing tenser than the moment everyone goes quiet and watches as the weapons officer flick his torpedo up the BOOM tracker. And nothing funnier than watching them screw it up, firing the little red disc off the table entirely, into a bowl of old milk on the ground. Shouts burst out. Heckles, insults.
“What the hell!”
“What were you even trying to achieve!”
“Chalice of Christ, you are rubbish.”
“Get that torpedo out of that milk!”
[For other instalments of our 2014 Top 25, here’s #20 to #16, #15 to #11, #10 to #6 and #5 to #1.]