Paul: Aha! Did you think we were done? Did you think it was all over? The sad truth is that, in assembling our gigantic Top 50 list, so many games don’t quite make the cut. We shift them up and down. We debate their inclusion. We resign ourselves to seeing favourites fail to break the Top 50 by the tiniest of margins. That’s how it is, though. You stick in a Codenames and the whole list shifts. Someone has to be number 51.
All the games that follow are good games. We don’t want you think we’ve lost our love for them because they weren’t featured last week. These are our Honourable Mentions.
Paul: C’mon. You want this. You want to watch ships, fat with goods, slide their way through the Panama Canal in an almost train-like fashion, shunting each other along while making you terrifically rich. There aren’t a great deal of economic eurogames that I get very excited about these days, but Panamax is something special, something different (and not least because it doesn’t involve hoary old merchants in the Mediterranean).
Who’d have thought that queuing ships up and then pushing them through locks would actually be a tremendously playful mechanic? Who doesn’t want to collect a fleet of little boats and shunt them around? Who doesn’t love a little bit of negotiation, a little bit of “You push my boat, I’ll push yours,” eh?
I never thought this would be the case when I first sat down to play it, but Panamax is actually cute and colourful and far less complicated than its manual makes it seem. If you can, get a friend to teach you, or watch a helpful video online, your first game will be much easier.
TICKET TO RIDE
Perhaps never given the appreciation it truly deserves. Who’s fault is this? It’s Paul’s. It’s always Paul who is holding TTR back.
Quinns: Have you heard? Ticket to Ride’s new position as the fastest-selling “designer” board game in the world is pretty well-deserved! Like Settlers of Catan, this is a simple crowd-pleaser that lets players put three dimensional Things on a Board and enjoy a sense that they’ve achieved something, and stopped their friends achieving the same something, they can never have that something, it’s yours. Except unlike Settlers, the art design is absolutely beautiful. In a perfect world, all board games would be published by Days of Wonder. You can quote me on that.
CITY OF HORROR
Matt: I sometimes feel like this one gets forgotten on the basis that zombies are bloody everywhere, but City of Horror remains quite the little gem. Voting to decide who gets eaten is just horrid, and that nastiness is wonderfully cemented by the limited amount of resources on hand. Of course you can get rid of the zombies – but there’s no way you’ll tell anyone else you’ve got a shotgun until you’re the one about to get fed to the dead. “The greater good” can do one – I’m getting in that helicopter.
Review here at 10:01
Paul: Oh K2, I do miss you. While you might not scale the pinnacles of greatness (if that’s even a phrase that makes sense), you sure climb the mountain of quality. You remain an excellent game of planning, risk-taking and luck-pushing. I’m still not quite sure what the best spot is for a tent. There’s got to be some sort of perfect tent tactic, right?
Quinns: Right. Maybe it’s here…
Oh, no, you were wrong, and now your friends are giggling at your regret. Also, you’ve frozen solid.
Matt: PIRATES. Also, a parrot and I think a monkey. I might have made those things up, though. I’m always inserting animals into places they shouldn’t be.
Paul: I have nothing to follow that with and also don’t want to.
MERCHANTS & MARAUDERS
Paul: PIRATES. Also, bananas and I think cocoa. I might have made those things up, though. I’m always inserting food into places it shouldn’t be.
Quinns: There are lots of bellicose board games that see players locked in a titanic battle, throwing great handfuls of dice at one another. Merchants & Marauders will always hold a place in my heart thanks to its genuinely terrifying combat.
In a game of slow, steady development of your merchant vessel or pirate sloop, combat sees the victor taking the loser’s ship, cargo, crew and gold. It’s a real heart-in-mouth moment. Never mind all the vampire and werewolf-stuff “horror” games that get recommended around Halloween. No game has made me more nervous than this tale of high-seas treachery.
Quinns: Who says you can’t be big AND clever? Shogun flew under SU&SD’s radar for a long time, with its big, boring beige box and fat manual lending on the characteristics of a stealth bomber. At least El Grande is immediately recognisable as an area control game. Shogun offers something that’s part war game, part area control game and part card management, but forgets to make any of its assembled genres look appealing.
But what an experience when you get it to the table! Shogun’s fascinating, intricate, rewarding puzzle is guaranteed to have your friends humming and hahing like the world’s most out of tune barbershop quartet.
Paul: This should be a terrible and boring game, given its rather humdrum theme and slightly drab look, but Trains is actually a smart, engaging and very clever combination of deck-building and map control. Collect trains! Set up routes! Wait, no, come back!
If you leave now, you’ll never know the love that Trains has to give.
God, that’s something a the ten-year-old me never thought he’d grow up to say.
Paul: Village is so good because it takes a tried and rather tired mechanic, that being good old Eurogame worker placement, and puts a serious spin on it. Enough of a spin that it might as well be some sort of funky and famous DJ. One doesn’t simply place their villagers in this game, but instead sends them on journeys or perhaps even gives them careers in the church. The aging Agricola looks staid and stiff in comparison to this much more lively and thematic descendant that, like a cheeky youth of today, flips whatever combination of fingers is now deemed offensive at its forefather and runs off to have fun. More fun.
Paul: And while we’re on the subject of kicking Agricola’s butt, Caverna has delivered a very firm boot to its rear. It’s a bigger game, but also a cuter one and even a slightly kinder one. It has more colour, it has more resources to consider and it just works better.
Quinns: Also, dogs.
Quinns: Some people call Go a perfect game. Those people underestimate the value of using your pieces to summon a gigantic time demon that sucks your opponent’s pieces into a void and gives you an extra turn.
If you’ve not played Tash-Kalar, I implore you to give it a shot. Not only is it shimmeringly clever, there’s an excellent sense of escalation. Players start off making cautious, feinting plays, which gradually transforms into the summoning of bigger and bigger allies, until the game ends with someone producing a skeletal dragon or a tree the size of the Empire State building. It’s absolutely excellent.
Review here at 23:00
Quinns: Imagine chess, but your king is your queen. It’s as simple as that!
Also there are walls you can put down. And lots of dice. And a deck of soldiers to summon. But these cards you draw are also the resource you use to play them. And it’s more fun than chess. And there are lots of different factions that all play in radically different, thematic ways. And there are spells and swamp orcs and yeah probably let’s ditch the chess analogy it’s not helping at all.
Review here at 34:09 OH GOD IT’S A QUICK ONE IT’S SO FAST
Paul: STRESS GAME. ULTIMATE STRESS GAME. You know what? I’M FINE WITH THAT. Slapstick stupidity has a place at the table and Jungle Speed does it at least as well as anyone else can.
Review here at 15:40
Quinns: A lot of people were wondering why Vlaada’s most epic game wasn’t in our Top 50! Certainly it’s clever enough, ambitious enough and features the requisite amount of flying wizards.
The answer is, the top 50 is for games that games that, when we hear their name, we sigh contentedly and a sort of glossy montage sequence begins in our head, reminding us of all the good times we’ve had. Mage Knight’s great, but it seems like it isn’t quite great enough for the amount of rules you have to learn, the setup you have to do, and the systems you have to master. It’s no fun losing at Mage Knight, that’s the rub. But it’s certainly a game that commands respect.
Paul: It’s still good. It’s still really good. But boy, it’s still an effort, even after all these years.
Quinns: It’s an engine for conversations! It’s a party game that can be playedconcurrently with a party! It’s got a game mode which is just Time Stories, so you can buy this instead of Time Stories! The Metagame’s gorgeous, gorgeous box contains all of this and more. Buy it for your most cleverest friend and then invite yourself over to play it.
GAME OF THRONES: THE BOARD GAME
Matt: It’s a solid war game if you don’t know what a Jonsnow is, but for those familiar with the source material Game of Thrones: The Board Game is flipping electric. Fragile alliances! Pesky squids! Borders that constantly look a bit worrying! And some mechanics that fall a bit flat. We’re looking at you, Wildling Phase.
Quinns: It’s very, very good, and a treat for Thrones fans. But I wish you could make substantive gains in the first half of the game. In our review we described its victory condition of holding 7 keeps like “trying to hold 7 basketballs at once”, and I don’t like how success simply means you get pushed back.
Quinns: Take this card! It’s a bat. Seriously, it’s bat. I’m honest. Will you tell him? You’ve seen it. Tell him it’s a bat, which it is. Come on. Would I lie to you?
Cockroach Poker is a stellar game of lying and some stuff that isn’t lying which can be ignored or not, depending on your inclination. But it’s a shade less pacy than Skull, and owning both (or featuring both in a top 50) would simply be decadent, and we like to keep in touch with the common folk here at SU&SD.
Paul: It’s not a bat.
Phew! That makes us feel a little less guilty. Stay tuned for a few more round-ups of 2015. Why not take a seat by the fire and help yourself to some nuts? There, isn’t that nice?