This week in my top 100 games series we’ll see plenty of sheep, birds and even a panda. We’ll be at odds with the weather as it controls us in Takenoko, and we’ll try to control the floods in Lowlands. Let’s stop beating around the bush and get to it!
80 – Takenoko
Takenoko is a colourful game about building a garden, growing bamboo, feeding a insatiable panda, and cursing the whims of the weather. Designed by Antoine Bauza, Takenoko has players competing to accomplish 3 different kinds of tasks with the winner being the player the one who accrues the most favour with the emperor.
I absolutely love the “toy-factor” of this game. The bamboo pieces are large, brightly coloured, and stand tall off the table creating an excellent table presence. Stacking bamboo pieces is simply fun! The game behind the bamboo spires is straightforward and easy to play. Takenoko is a great game for families to play, as the decisions you make turn to turn are simple, but there is enough strategic depth to keep older gamers engaged.
79 – Wingspan
Wingspan, designed by Elizabeth Hargave, is a wonderful game that has transcended the board game hobby. So rarely does a board game get the attention of the wider world, but damn, Wingspan has broken the glass ceiling to reach a wide demographic. Every illustrations on the (many) cards of the various birds are wonderful, and the gameplay itself is very smooth. The production of Wingspan is also a work of art. The quality of each component has been lifted to a whole new degree that board games a decade ago could only dream of.
I have heard and had some criticisms of Wingspan (such as players spending the entire last round of the game just pumping the egg engine), but the reality is that any game that can reach such a vast audience and showcase just a glimpse of how good modern board games can be, deserves to have it’s praises sung.
Get it? sung? like, birdsong?
As an added bonus, Wingspan is one of my wife’s favourite games, and it is a nice change of pace when she is the one asking me to play a game.
78 – Forbidden Desert
Forbidden Desert is the 2013 follow up to 2010’s Forbidden Island. Another of designer Matt Leacock’s co-op board game, Forbidden Desert tasks players with searching the desert for lost pieces of an airship they can use to escape the hellish landscape before they’re buried under mountains of sand or die of thirst.
If you’ve played Matt Leacock’s previous co-op games, you’ll feel right at home with the rules. Take 4 actions, the world tries to kill you, the next player takes their turn, the world tries to kill you, and so on. In Forbidden Desert the environment the players are struggling against is a sandstorm represented by a hole in the layout of the tiles. Each turn the storm will move, shifting the location of the tiles relative to each other and dumping sand on top of all your hopes and dreams.
I vastly prefer Forbidden Desert to Forbidden Island, if only because Forbidden Island felt entirely too easy. I know you can increase the difficulty, but the board was too static. Forbidden Desert addresses my complaint by shifting the location tiles all around the board, then dumping a bucket of sand on my head. I suppose I technically asked for that.
77 – Las Vegas
Las Vegas is not going to be the last Rüdiger Dorn game on this list. One of the things I appreciate most is that his designs aren’t iterative; he doesn’t retread places he’s already been. Las Vegas is a push your luck, territory control game where you roll dice, curse, claim a spot on a casino, then curse further as your friends elbow you out of all the good spots.
When approaching Las Vegas (much like a real casino) you have to be ready to lose. Armed with the understanding that your fate is at the whims of the die and your loss is practically already assured, you can cackle with glee as you make ‘sub-optimal’ decisions and spitefully deny other players the things they want.
Ironically enough, when I sit down to play Las Vegas I have a singular goal in mind. I pick a specific person and make sure that person does not win (you know who you are). According to my stats, out of the 8 games we’ve played together, he’s won 0. That’s a win in my books.
76 – Troyes
Troyes is a dice worker placement game designed by Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban that no one can agree on how to pronounce. Perhaps it’s just us ignorant anglophones that won’t agree when we’re told it should be pronounced “twah”.
I don’t have a lot to say about Troyes other than it’s quite the unique game. You’re contesting for spaces that give you more dice that allow you to do more of the things you want on your turn. There’s a semi-cooperative aspect where each player MUST contribute. Players who fail to prepare for this stage can find themselves robbed of all their opportunities. You can also use money to use the other players’ dice, which can really save you from a bind, or screw you when the player to your left takes the last red 6 that was on the table!
I also really love the art direction, if only because it’s so different. Visually, it stands out from the crowd of board game boxes.
75 – Power Grid
Power Grid by Friedemann Friese is another box that stands out on a shelf due it being oversized and garishly green. Hidden inside this long and thin cardboard box is a wonderful economic game about generating power and supplying as many cities as possible. Power Grid allows you to choose to either be an oil burning magnate with cheap power plants but a requirement to continually purchase resources to generate energy, or buy the very expensive renewable powerplants that generate power without any further resources needed. Power Grid is a modern classic that is great if you want to stretch your mental math skills; the board and gameplay is littered with numbers. Players are constantly trying to balance costs and benefits while maximizing the energy they can produce and their expansion into the cities on the board.
One criticism that I would like to see addressed is the ramifications of energy production explored. I’d like to see a mechanic picketing a nuclear plant, or a ‘government’ impose carbon taxes on coal plants while giving benefits or subsidies to the green energy. Then again, not every game needs to imitate life, and Power Grid as it stands now is an excellent economic game. Adding more mechanics might just muddy the nuclear pools.
74 – Tigris & Euphrates
Tigris & Euphrates is designer Reiner Kenizia’s magnum opus. It is a cutthroat area majority and hand management game where you try your very best to manage the expanding web of tiles, deftly positioning your leaders into advantageous positions and ensuring that when the impending conflicts finally come, you’ll be the one left standing after the dust settles.
Your goal in Tigris & Euphrates is to earn the most points of all four different kind of victory points, as your final score is equal to whichever one you have the least of. It doesn’t matter if you have dominated the red military or black government points because if you have failed to get any blue trading points, you won’t be winning this game.
Conflict in Tigris & Euphrates is tense and exciting. The tiles that you and your opponents lay down on the board don’t ‘belong’ to anybody until one player has placed their leader next to those tiles. If ever a group of tiles is joined to another group and two leaders of the same colour meet, war promptly breaks out. The majority of your combat power is determined by what’s already on the board (the number of same colour tiles touching your leader before the combat began), but players can commit tiles from their hand to swing the tide of battle and cause devastating upsets to the political topography of the board.
If you are a fan of area control games (which I usually am not) and have not played Tigris & Euphrates, you owe it to yourself to play it (hopefully multiple times with the same person). Each subsequent play enriches the overall experience.
73 – La Granja
La Granja is a lovely euro game designed by Andreas Odendahl and Michael Keller. In La Granja you’re tasked with expanding your farm, growing and processing goods, and delivering your goods to the market to score victory points.
What sets La Granja apart from the (many) other farming euro games is the multi-use cards. When you play a card you have to decide if you want to use the top, left, right, or bottom edge of the card, slotting it into the appropriate spot on your player board, hiding all the options you chose to forgo. This forces you to to decide what’s most important to you on each particular card. A card in your hand may be the only card that will let you grow olives, but you already have all the products to fulfill the order at the top of the card for victory points! But if you don’t choose the olives, how will you grow the olives you need for next round?
La Granja is a wonderful game with many options for players to explore. It’s also available to play on Board Game Arena and Yucata!
72 – Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Another farming theme board game hits my list at #72, Caverna is the big brother sequel to Uwe Rosenburg’s classic, Agricola. In my experience Caverna offers players more varied paths, allowing each player to do their own thing and avoid stepping on each others toes.
In Caverna, you play as a family of dwarves, carving out a life on the side of a mountain. Each player has their own ‘farm’ board with 2 halves. The left side is dedicated fields and pastures, where you can pen in animals and grow crops. The right side is the cave where you can hew out dwellings and build rooms that will offer your dwarven family special bonuses that assist as you amass a fortune.
Each of your dwarves has a ‘level’. You may chose to forgo the regular actions on the board and instead send that dwarf out on an adventure, with the higher levels allowing them to go on longer and more lucrative quests. This feature of the game can help you get resources that you desperately need if there is somehow a dearth of that resource available.
If Agricola’s cruel and unforgiving mechanics rubbed you the wrong way, I’d suggest giving Caverna a try, as it may have addressed some of your grievances. Personally, I liked how tight and punishing Agricola can be, and found Caverna to deliver a cornucopia of resources that robbed the game of it’s difficultly. I have been informed by trusted friends and advisors that my feelings in the matter are ‘wrong’.
71 – Lowlands
Ahem. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Lowlands is yet another farming themed euro game. Luckily Lowlands by Claudia and Ralf Partenheimer has shifted the focus from growing vegetables, to managing the exponential growth of breeding sheep and stemming the floods that threaten to wash away everything you’ve built.
In Lowlands each player has a farm and can produce sheep. At the end of a round if you have two sheep, you’ll earn a third, because… that’s how sheep grow. As the game goes on and on you may find yourself trying to cram 8 new sheep into your overcrowded paddocks like some kind of crazed sheep horder.
At the same time, a flood is coming. All players may contribute to a shared dyke that will hold back the floods. Should the dyke hold against the tide, and no precious sheepies will perish. If the dyke is poorly built, the waters will rush over your board and many sheep are swept away never to be heard from again. Because this is a cruel village, everyone knows who has and hasn’t maintained the wall. Along with some nasty gossip, you’ll also be faced with harsh penalties being doled out each player who prioritized their own farms’ needs and let the flood cause untold mayhem.
There is a balance to be struck; if you’re the only player who is contributing to the wall, everyone else will be spending their time growing their terrifying sheep engine. At some point it will be beneficial to let that flood come, especially if you have no sheep to care for. At the same time, there are benefits to be earned by contributing to the dyke, but not enough to offset a massive sheep monopoly. Lowlands offers a rare semi-cooperative mechanic that I just can’t get enough of!