It’s been a while since I posted a set of my favourite games. At the speed I’m going it’ll be 2023 by the time this list is finished!
60 – Millennium Blades
Millennium Blades designed by Brad Talton is almost a fever dream of a game. Millennium Blades is a game about collecting cards and competing in tournaments of a fictional CCG called Millennium Blades. Each round of the game has two parts; a real-time deck building phase, and a tournament phase. In the deck building phase you have three 7 minute rounds where you’ll drop literal stacks of cash to buy new ‘packs’ from the store and buy and sell singles in the aftermarket. As cards and cash flow in and out of your player area, you’re trying to achieve two things: create a competitive deck and build a collection (a set of cards that share an attribute with increasing rarity). Cards in your collection cannot be used in the tournament
Once the real time phase is over, you flip over your playerboard and play a fairly simple game with your competitive decks. Each player takes a turn playing a card to the table in front of them, resolving the effects, and earning points, cards, and money for how well your deck performed.
Millennium Blades is a special game for a certain niche of people. The art by Fabio Fontes has a strong 90’s anime aesthetic, and makes dozens of references to the video games and anime from my childhood. Millennium Blades also comes with dozens of sets of cards that you can mix and match to create a unique store deck every time you play.
Because Millennium Blades is a throwback to competitive CCGs and 90’s era anime and video games, it feels like it was MADE for me. My gaming group however has never dabbled in these specific quagmires so all of the theming is lost on them. I’m sure Millennium Blades could be so much higher on this list if I had equally enthusiastic players to join me at my table. For now, it will languish at #60.
59 – Alhambra
Alhambra by Dirk Henn is a classic. In Alhambra you take turns taking money cards from the offer row and using that cash to buy tiles to place into your personal Alhambra. At two points during play a ‘scoring’ card will be drawn, instantly triggering a scoring phase. The player who has the majority for each of the colours earns the points, splitting the points if tied. The first scoring round only offers a prize to the person who has the most, but the next two scoring rounds have points for the person who has the most and for the person who has the second most tiles in each of the colours. In addition to earning points via the majorities in the tiles, you also get points for the wall going around the Alhambra. Most tiles will have a number of black boarders, representing a wall. Walls prevent you from building further in that direction from that tile. Often you will find yourself at odds with buying a tile from the shop because you just need one more green tile, but struggling to place the tile in your tableau in a way that doesn’t completely prevent you from building out even more.
Alhambra is a great game to begin or end a night. It’s fairly quick to play, not terribly complex, and offers a satisfying puzzle for you to solve.
58 – Targi
Targi by Andreas Steiger is a two player only game about placing workers on action spaces in such a way so that you get exactly what you want, while your opponent curses your name under their breath. Targi‘s theme is that you’re the leader of a Tuareg tribe trading goods and trying to expand your wealth, but the theme is pretty paper thin. Where Targi fails in theme it makes up for in gameplay. Targi has a 5 x 5 grid of cards. Along the outside edges are the action spaces, while the centre 9 cards are either resource cards, or a tribe card. During a round you and your opponent take turns placing your workers on available action spaces. You may not occupy an action spot that your opponent occupies, or a spot directly across the board from an opponents worker. Once all six workers have been placed, you place two more tokens on the centre cards that are in same row and columns as your workers. Then you perform all the actions available to you; getting various resources and spending them to gain tribe cards that give you various benefits when placed in your tableau.
Targi is a delightful game to play with a rival. Every action you take denies your opponent opportunities, but spend too much time trying to thwart their plans and you’ll find yourself falling far behind. Targi puts players in a dangerous dance as they try to achieve their objectives while getting in each other’s way. I’ve played Targi only a handful of times in person (every time I do a slew of profanities slowly slip from my mouth as the turns go on), but I’ve played dozens of games on Board Game Arena. I find that because there is very little hidden information, Targi played very well asynchronously. I highly recommend Targi if you and your gaming partner delight in stepping on each others toes.
57 – Azul
Azul by Michael Kiesling is one of the best games of 2017. It’s simple to play, difficult to master, and the Bakelite tiles are satisfying to play with. In Azul you and your friends are working to embellish the mosaic walls of a Portuguese palace. Each player has their own board, and there are a number of factory spaces in the middle. On your turn you take all matching tiles from any of the factory spaces. Once you take tiles from a factory, the left over tiles from that factory are deposited into the centre of the table. On and on the game goes, with people taking tiles from the factory or the centre of the table and queueing them up on their player board in hopes of filling a row. At the end of the round when all the tiles have been claimed, any full rows will move one of the pieces over to the scoring area, and the rest will be returned to the box.
Azul is a very abstract game and you will quickly lose the idea of creating a beautiful mosaic as you fall into the rhythm of the game. Azul is a great game to play with anyone, whether they have a deep and abiding love of games or show only a cursory interest. The game of Azul is satisfying and is one that often gets requested, even if that request is “can we play that game with the Starburst pieces again?”
56 – Tak
Tak has an intresting genesis. It began in a book, The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. The main character Kvothe described it as “The best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy.” Never did Patrick Rothfuss try to describe how the game was played, as he envisioned Tak to be like the Chess of his world; classic, perfect, and timeless. And how could anyone invent chess today?
I saw an interview with Patrick Rothfuss where he said he was flabbergasted when James Earnest approached him and said:
“I want to make Tak.”
“You can’t just make Tak any more than you can invent the next chess!”
James Earnest said he’d come up with something and if Patrick Rothfuss veto’d it, that would be the end of it. The fact that this game is sitting on my favourite games list may spoil the ending of this story. James Earnest pitched a version of Tak to Patrick Rothfuss and won him over, successfully creating a game that was simple to play, but had deep complex strategies.
I’ll admit my bias; I’ve loved Rothfuss’ books long before I got into board games. But when I saw that Rothfuss had endorsed this version of Tak, I knew I had to get my hands on it. An abstract strategy game that’s elegant and fun to play, and no luck with the potential for misdirection and big moves, I was an instant fan.
55 – Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is the second meanest game about trees that I’ve played, but I’m ready to argue that this game by Hjalmar Hach has a much more impressive table presence. In Photosynthesis you struggle against the other players to grow your trees from little seedlings. Each round you’ll spend your energy growing trees taller so they catch the sun while simultaneously casting a shadow upon the trees behind them, denying those players valuable sunlight tokens. As your trees get taller you earn more points and the player with the most points win.
Each player has three different sizes of trees to place on the board, and after just a few turns this board game has a wonderful 3D effect. Trees are standing tall amongst smaller saplings and the sun is rotating around the table, changing who is receiving the benefit of the sunlight and the punishment of being in the shade.
Photosynthesis is a game I’ve only played a handful of times but it’s one that I remember fondly. I aspire to play it again soon!
54 – Le Havre
Le Havre is a huge game by Uwe Rosenburg. In Le Havre you need to manage 16 different resources to build the best buildings and ships to earn the most points to win the day. Each round has a total of 7 actions, meaning some rounds players will get more or less actions than the other players. This is particularly difficult in the 4 player game where you’ll get 2 actions at most every round and in some rounds get a single action. Coupled with trying to amass enough food to feed your workers and earn enough goods to build ships and buildings, it can feel like Le Havre is asking a lot of you.
I really enjoy the resource management, and the mechanism for using other players’ buildings. By the time you get to the end of the game you feel successful and powerful, as if you just overcame a large foe. Le Havre is one of Uwe Rosenburg’s best games, which is high praise considering just how many excellent games he has designed.
53 – Inis
Inis by Christian Martinez is a area majority game in which players are tasked with deciding who they’re going to crown as their king. Inis is probably one of the most satisfying area majority, troops-on-a-map games I’ve ever played. The artistic direction is unique and eye catching and I love the mechanic where players need to declare that they can satisfy one of the three victory conditions at the start of the round and hold onto it until the end of the round.
Inis can leave a sour taste in your mouth when two of your opponents can win and you only have the ability to stop one of them. Each round begins with a card draft in which you more or less have to decide what actions will be available to you this round. As you play more games of Inis you’ll learn what cards are available and how to utilize them properly. Eventually you’ll figure out how to predict what someone is going to do based on the cards that you didn’t see, giving you the important information needed to counter their moves.
I found in my plays of Inis that someone ended up being a ‘kingmaker’. By choosing to attack player A instead of Player B, Player B was able to amass their armies and lead their clan to victory. Personally I don’t like being in the situation where my one choice to stop someone from willing will directly hand the victory to another player, but if that feature doesn’t bother you I highly recommend giving Inis a try!
52 – Karuba
Karuba is not the first Rudiger Dorn design on my list and it certainly isn’t the last. Karuba gives all players the exact same challenge, with the winner being the player who completes the challenge in the most efficient way possible. All the adventurers and temples start on the same space for each player. Every turn all players get the same road piece and have to place it somewhere on their board, or discard it to move their adventurers across the jungle, stopping to pick up gems across the way.
Karuba ends once one player has managed to get all four of their adventurers to all four temples, or when the deck of road tiles runs out. Karuba has a particularly excellent Tabletop Simulator mod available that allows it to be played start to finish in under 10 minutes. During the COVID season where my group was playing games exclusively online, Karuba was a standout hit. Unlike a lot of other games, Karuba is easier to play online than it is in person. Because it was so easy for us to play and played so quickly, it ended up being the game of choice to end the evening or for a quick game while waiting for the rest of the group to show up.
51 – The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth
The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth by Nathan Hajek and Grace Holdinghaus is almost the opposite of Karuba. It is a large sprawling adventure across Middle Earth managed via an app. I have small qualms with The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth due to the character choices and their accuracy in reference to the Lord of the Rings novels (Aragorn and Bilbo do not adventure together!), but overall I really enjoyed the game system. All of the equipment, combat, skills, and damage are managed by cards, and the enemies are plastic miniatures that are entirely controlled by the app. I enjoyed the app integration for The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth as it removed most of the tedium of managing the opponents and the environment, and got us back to playing our turns quickly.
The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is on of the few campaign games that I’ve played all the way through to the end. I’m incredibly tempted to play through the main campaign again just to see where the story branches. I also really want to play the DLC stories, and get the Shadowed Paths expansion that adds in 6 more heroes (Gandalf and Balin) and a ton of new monsters and minis and another scenario to play. I saw recently that ANOTHER expansion was announced Spreading War that adds even more map tiles, roles, terrain types, heroes, and a 15 scenario story. If you have a proclivity to play the same game over and over, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth has a ton of content to explore and more keeps coming out every year! Long may it continue!!