As we creep closer to the halfway point of my top 100 games, the variety of games begins increase, and dexterity games start to appear! Spoiler alert, I love dexterity games. Look forward to seeing more and more as the list counts down! In a wild departure from last time, this section of the list has no economic farming games!
70 – Pandemic: Fall of Rome
Pandemic: Fall of Rome Is a cooperative game designed by Matt Leacock and Paolo Mori that takes the main gameplay concepts from Pandemic and twists it into a struggle to survive against invading tribes. The biggest change in this version of Pandemic is that instead of having threats popping up all over the map and the need to cover a large area in a short amount of time, the threat cards push different tribes closer and closer to Rome in a (almost) straight line. It’s up to you and your Romans to set up defenses, push back the invading horde, and make the necessary treaties before Rome falls to the barbarian tribes!
I really loved this take on Pandemic. The mechanics felt vaguely familiar, but the challenge was wholly different. The change of having the barbarians marching toward Rome on a predetermined route added more predictability and allowed us to see our impending doom from further away. It also gave me the feeling that if we were better at the game, we’d be able to change our fate.
This is the version of Pandemic that I am eager to explore further. While I wouldn’t recommend this as a introduction to the Pandemic system, if someone told me that they couldn’t take the whole virus theme now that we’ve all collectively lived through a pandemic, I’d wholeheartedly recommend buying Fall of Rome over base Pandemic. Heck, these two games feel quite different, and I have no issues recommending having both in collection.
69 – Crokinole
Something that I’m discovering about myself more every day is that I have a deep affinity for dexterity games. Perhaps it’s the analog to sports, where you only have one chance to make that perfect shot, and although the tension mounts as the odds are stacked up against you, you get into the flow and manage to hit that triple ricochet to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It is something that most board games can’t compare to.
On the flipside, unlike most board games, if you make a bad shot you can’t just say “oh, I’m just going to undo and take my turn again”, like some people do. Instead you have to live with your mistakes and try to turn the situation around. At risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I firmly believe that when you take a turn, then pass play to another player, but then notice you made a mistake, taking your mistake back is poor form. Of course, I play games for fun so I’m not forcing my friends to adhere to my own moral standards, but the inability to undo a bad shot is a feature inherently baked into dexterity games, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Crokinole is the classic family dexterity game. Each player takes turns flicking discs into the centre. If your opponent has discs on the board, you must first hit one of their discs for your disc to count. At the end of the round, you count up your scores and the first player to 100 wins. There’s also a rule about keeping your buttocks on the chair, and I’m just so happy that someone actually wrote “buttocks” in a rulebook.
68 – Hansa Teutonica
Hansa Teutonica has one of those “no, it’s good I swear” board games. It has terribly boring cover art, and an extremely boring beige board. However, Hansa Teutonica is an absolutely amazing and fun territory control euro game. My first experience playing Hansa Teutonica was at a friend’s house, where he pulled it off the shelf and said “I have this game up for sale online, but I kind of want to play it once before I sell it.”.
As the game teacher of the group I was handed the rule book and spent the next 20 minutes profusely swearing under my breath. Hansa Teutonica isn’t hard to play, but the rulebook has some peculiarities, such as having a “thematic” German name for every aspect. Also, certain concepts that are key to the game are quite difficult to conceptualize. For instance, having tokens that could either be in the general supply, your personal supply, or the board, and they move between those three places frequently.
Luckily the rulebook as been re-written for the big box edition of the game, and it makes learning the game so much easier. Hansa Teutonica is an excellent game about josteling your opponents out of your way while maneuvering yourself into advantageous positions. I get a kick out of placing my tokens in exactly the right spot then immediately trying to convince my opponents that it’s in their best interest to bump me (despite the fact that doing so would give me more power on the board). It’s just so enjoyable.
For the record, after our first play my friend immediately removed Hansa Teutonica from his ‘for sale’ list and still owns it to this day. If that’s not a recommendation, I’m not sure what is.
67 – Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Vast: The Crystal Caverns is similar to Hansa Teutonica in that it’s super hard to teach. Players who are tenacious enough to get past the barrier of a rulebook are rewarded with a great gaming experience. Vast is a heavily asymmetric game where every player is almost playing an entirely different game. Each characters goal lies directly in the way of another character’s goal; the Goblin wants to slay the knight, the knight wants to slay the dragon, the dragon wants to escape the cave, the cave wants to collapse in on everyone, and the thief wants to steal everything and get as much treasure out as possible. I, for one, am stoked to see that “the cave” is a character unto itself.
Because each character is so different, the game requires multiple plays in quick succession with the same group of players. As players become more familiar with the nuances of their own character, they start to realize how best to throttle each individual character to slow them down enough so they don’t run away with the win. The Dragon is great at slowing down the thief, but does poorly against the Goblins, for example.
I am always searching for the opportunity to play Vast more. This is a great game that’s waiting for me to delve deeper and uncover the gems that lay inside. The real unfortunate part for me is that as a gamer, I greatly value discovery, so I am constantly looking to discover new games. This game is fantastic for replayability, but my heart longs to discover new games. The list of new games I want to play and explore grows so rapidly I find myself leaving gems like Vast on the shelf for far too long.
66 – Just One
Just One is a party game by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter that has been a consistent hit whenever I introduce it to people. In Just One, one player is the guesser while the rest offer clues. The guesser does not get to see the hidden word, and the clue givers are tasked with writing one-word clues to lead the guesser to the goal. However, if two people write the same clue, then that clue is removed from the game, giving the guesser even less information to use to form their guess.
My favourite way to teach this game is to just tell people to repeat the name of the game whenever they have a rules question. “How many words can we use in the clue?” “How many guesses does the guesser get?” “How many pieces of pie do I get?” The answer is always “Just one”.
65 – Mr. Jack
Mr. Jack is a clever 2-player hidden movement game from Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc. In Mr. Jack, one player has the role of the investigator, while the other plays Jack the Ripper. Jack’s goal is to sow confusion and escape the map, while the investigator’s sole goal is to capture Mr. Jack and hold him accountable for his actions.
The game begins with 8 characters on the board, a deck of 8 character cards which show each character’s ability, and a deck of 8 alibi cards, one of which is given to Jack to tell them which character they have to get off the board. Each turn 4 of the 8 character cards are revealed. The players take turns activating those four characters, moving them around the board and using their special abilities. Once all four are used, Jack must declare if he is visible or not (visible meaning next to another character, or in in the light of the gas lamps). After that declaration, any characters who can be ruled out as “not Jack” are flipped over to mark them as innocent.
Jack wins the game if his character escapes the map or hasn’t been caught at the end of the 8th round, or if the detective captures the wrong character. The detective can only win if they move any character on top of Mr. Jack’s character, capturing them.
Mr. Jack is an excellent and quick 2 player game. While the odds of winning do feel slanted towards the player who is playing Jack, it’s fast enough that once one game ends, it’s easy to just switch roles and start a whole new game, again and again.
64 – For Sale
For Sale by Stefan Dorra is a small auction game about buying and selling homes. A game of For Sale begins by auctioning off houses. Each round, a number of houses equal to the number of players is placed in the centre of the table. Players take turns bidding their limited funds to acquire one of the houses. If a player chooses to pass instead of increasing the bid, they take back half of the money they have bid up to this point and take the lowest value house. This continues until the all players but one are out of the auction. That player pays all of their money into the bank and takes the last remaining value card.
Once all the houses have been bought, it’s time to sell. Much like the first round, a row of value cards are laid out. Each player chooses one of their houses and simultaneously reveal their choices. The home with the highest number gets the most value, and so on. Once all the houses have been sold, the player who amassed the most money wins.
For Sale is the perfect game to begin and end a game night with. It plays quickly, and every turn has players wrestling with tough decisions. Your opponent bid 6 for that house, do you dare bid 7? Or, do you bow out to take the lowest house, but pay 2 for it? Is it worth paying 2 for a low house, or 7 for a high house? The amount of cost/benefit analysis going on in your head in a short period of time is just incredible.
63 – Star Realms
Star Realms is a quintessential deck building game. It has no extra boards or side mechanics to distract you from the goal of crafting the best desk possible and using it to crush your opponent. In Star Realms each player starts with the same weak deck. Turn by turn you earn currency by playing cards and buying new cards from a common store to add to your discard pile, which will be cycled into your deck eventually. Cards in Star Realms come in one of four suits, with many cards offering much stronger abilities if they’re played at the same time as other cards of the matching suit.
Star Realms has distilled the deck building experience down to an engaging and deep game that fits in your pocket. The entirety of the core game is comprised of 128 cards. Dozens of expansions exist if you happen to be one of those people who play the base game over a hundred times and really want to shake up the gameplay. Star Realms is a direct conflict 2 player game, so this isn’t the game to play if your partner doesn’t enjoy attacking or being attacked directly. With that caveat, if you and a friend or partner can enjoy a direct conflict game, and are looking for a fast playing 2 player duel that is eminently replayable, I suggest picking up the base deck of Star Realms and really getting lost in the game!
62 – Shogun
Shogun by Dirk Henn appeared on my table with a sticker from the local Salvation Army Thrift Store advertising that this game was purchased for the hefty sum of $4.00. Opening the massive box of bits, I was sure we’d find something terrible, like the box was just being used to contain grandma’s knitting needles. Fortunately, upon opening the box and performing a full inventory we were delighted to find that there wasn’t a single piece missing. I have often wondered if there’s a board gamer somewhere who returned home from a college semester only to find that their parent ‘cleaned’ up and donated Shogun amongst other valuables to charity.
The game of Shogun is encased in a large box that contains a lot of small pieces. The centrepiece of the game is the fascinating combat resolution mechanism. In Shogun each player is a Daimyo trying to take control of feudal Japan during the Sengoku period. If two players find themselves embroiled in conflict, they each drop cubes representing their troops into a cube tower, and whichever player happens to have more troops fall out the bottom decides the winner. There are situations later in the game where a player is attacked and only gets to drop a single cube of their colour into the tower, but several cubes that had been stuck in the tower in the previous battles suddenly come to their aid to create a unexpected victory. It’s a different kind of randomness from other combat resolution mechanics (such as dice), but I really enjoyed the mechanism.
61 – Keyflower
Keyflower by Sebastian Bleasdale & Richard Breese is an auction game where players are bidding their workers to get tiles into their village. These tiles assist in procuring resources, which you can then use to upgrade the tiles to earn more points. Honestly, the theme of building a village abstracts away very quickly, leaving only the excellent auction and worker placement mechanics behind.
A game of Keyflower takes place over 4 seasons. In each season tiles will be placed in the centre of the table for all players to use and bid on. Each player will have a mix of red, yellow, and blue meeples. You can either place these meeples on a tile to take the action, or place them along the outside of the tile to bid for ownership of the tile. The round ends when all players pass in succession. At the end of the round, tiles are distributed to the players that won them, and any meeples on the tiles become the property of the winners. Each player also gets to claim a boat with more meeples and play continues. After 4 seasons, the player with the most points is the winner.
Keyflower is a perfect hybrid of worker placement and auction mechanics. Tied into those mechanics is some resource generation and management that you’ll need to master to win the game. Keyflower has a fairly random setup making every game feel different. The art on the tiles is simple and perfect, and the auction injects a wonderful amount on tension. Keyflower is a unique game, and an excellent design that I feel everyone should experience at least once in their gaming career.