I feel compelled to complete this series before 2021 ends. I had no idea how much effort it was to write about 100 games when I started this series! Luckily this is the point where I move from games that I list as ‘like’ to games that I ‘like like’. These are the games I would ask on a date to see if they want to go steady with me.
40 – Santorini
Santorini by Gord! (or Gordon Hamilton) is one of the few abstract strategy games that actually tries to have a theme. Players are builders constructing the city of Santorini by taking turns to move one of their workers, then building once. The theme falls apart pretty quickly as the winner is simply the person who gets one of their builders onto the third level of any building. What takes Santorini from a fine game to a great game is the 30+ Greek gods that imbue players with a special ability. I absolutely love the way the gods interact with each other. Giving each player a specific way to wrinkle the strategies delights my brain and leaves me wanting to create a spreadsheet to track the wins and losses of every god matchup. I’m not going to, but I’m tempted.
Santorini‘s production should not be glossed over. Not only does this game contain a delightful strategy game, but the components feel excellent and the table presence is outstanding as the ivory white buildings grow and brilliant blue caps dot the skyline. Santorini has an excellent toy factory that makes people eager to get their hands on it!
If you want to read more about Santorini, it was one of the first reviews I ever posted!
39 – Splendor
Unlike the previous game where it at least attempted to create a coherent theme, Splendor leaves it’s flavour more ambiguous. Thankfully, the game mechanics shine on their own. Splendor, designed by Marc Andre was one of the first engine building I ever played, and it set the bar fairly high. In Splendor players are taking gems or spending gems to buy cards. The cards you obtain also provide a perpetual gem, meaning that as the game goes on fewer of your turns will be spent taking gems from the supply as you’ll have enough perpetual gems to buy whole cards.
Splendor is an engine building race; the first to hit 15 points ends the game. It’s the kind of game that burrows its way into your head, creating a growing urge to play it again and again.
38 – 7 Wonders
7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza is a modern classic at this point. I’ve seen it played in groups large and small, experienced and inexperienced, and by players of all ages. 7 Wonders achieves several feats of game design: Plays well with any number of players between 3 – 7, check. Takes around 30 minutes no matter how many players are at the table, check. Easy enough to play with my mom, but deep enough to make me want to play it? Check!
7 Wonders has become one of the most common games at our family gatherings. The short games lets people drop in and out with ease, the rules are straight forward, the iconography is clear, and it is downright fun! If you have played 7 Wonders and are left wanting more, there are numerous expansions available, but for me and my family, we love the base game as it is, no expansions necessary.
37 – Kingdomino
Dominos was not a popular product where I grew up. I have vague recollections of playing Mexican Train with my grandmother, but my memory says I did not enjoy the core gameplay. Drawing tiles and just hoping that you have a match isn’t something that I found interesting.
Colour me amazed when Bruno Cathala took the core concept of Dominos and made an interesting game out of it. Kingdomino is a bright, colourful, and quick game to play that can be enjoyed by gamers of all proclivities. I reviewed it during the summer when I was visiting my mom’s place and we were playing it almost every night. Kingdomino is so easy to get a game started with nearly no setup needed, a fast play time, and a decent number of interesting decisions compelling you to play several games back to back. For someone like me who rarely plays the same game more than once in a night, that is high praise!
36 – Russian Railroads
Do you like tracks? Do you like engines? Do you like games with exponential growth? Russian Railroads by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler is sure to tickle your fancy. Played over 6 rounds the general rule of thumb is that you need to be earning as many points per round as your total sum of points so far. Round one will close with the top earners accruing anywhere from 5 to 10 points. Round 2 lets players earn 20 more points. In the final round of the game it’s not uncommon for points to vastly exceed 150 points.
It’s rare that a game offers exponential point scoring opportunities, but Russian Railroads manages to pull it off well, which is why it sits at slot 36 of my favourite games. Russian Railroads is available to play online over at Board Game Arena.
35 – Viticulture: Essential Edition (With Tuscany EE)
The original Viticulture by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone is the project that began Stonemaier Games. Viticulture itself has had an expansion (Viticulture Tuscany), then a re-release with some of the expansion content included called Viticulture: Essential Edition, then another expansion called Viticulture: Tuscany Essential Edition, which has become my favourite way to play.
In Viticulture you are tasked with growing your winery by building structures, planting and harvesting grapes, crushing them into wine, and delivering orders all in the effort to earn the most victory points. Originally I thought Viticulture to be an engine building game, but lately I’ve started viewing it as more of a race. I was always so hesitate to use any cards or spaces that took away resources for a measly couple of points. Those are resources I could be using to build a more powerful economy, I need to be working towards the wine delivery cards at all times!
By framing Viticulture as a race (as the first person to hit 25 points triggers the end of the game), I became far more willing to scrape points from all possible locations. Viticulture is an excellent worker placement game, and the Tuscany Essential Edition expansion adds even more things to explore while fragmenting the worker placement spots into 4 seasons, forcing you to bump elbows with the competing winemakers.
34 – Five Tribes
Five Tribes (which only accommodates 4 players, a fact that constantly causes all kinds of cognitive dissonance within me) by Bruno Cathala twists the common worker placement mechanic by inverting the formula. Most worker placement games begin with players having a certain number of workers and a plethora of action spaces available to them. Five Tribes begins with 90 meeples spread over the 30 tiles, and on your turn you take all the meeples from a single tile and place them on adjacent tiles, with colour of the last meeple you place dictating which action you’ll take that turn, and the action being better if there were more meeples of the same colour on that final tile. In addition to your meeple action the final tile may also give you an action, or other benefit.
If you manage to clear a tile, you ‘own’ that tile, placing a camel of your colour on that spot. Come the end of the game a large portion of your points will generated by the tiles that you own. Another key twist is knowing when to bid victory points to go first in a round, and when to save them, letting other spend their money to take the first actions.
One of the largest critisims my friends have levied against Five Tribes is that there is an overwhelming number of decisions available to you on the very first turn, and the gameplay quickly diminishes the decisions available to you. Personally, I don’t find that to be a terrible downside, and the clever puzzle of moving groups of meeples around the board tickles my brain in a delightful way that leaves me wanting more.
33 – Castles of Mad King Ludwig
In Castles of Mad King Ludwig players each begin with a simple foyer. Through a series of rounds you’re tasked with building a sprawling and grand palace for King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Theme aside, designer Ted Alspach has released a wonderful product here. One player each round is designated the master builder, and gets to dictate the price for all the new rooms with the catch being that the master builder will be the last to buy a room. Rooms can be added to any doorway and often give or take away points based on what other rooms are adjacent to them (after all you wouldn’t want a bedroom right next to a bowling alley). If a player ever manages to ‘complete’ a room by having all of the rooms entrances lead to other places, they get a special benefit.
The ‘I split you choose’ mechanism is devious, letting players price certain rooms incredibly highly (if desired by opponents), but making the one who sets the price pick last offers great tension and quality decision making. Castles of Mad King Ludwig had a lavish reprint on Kickstarter recently that had me very tempted to throw the old edition to the curb and buy the all-in edition. Maybe that will be my next purchase after I finally buy myself a castle…
32 – Clans of Caledonia
One of the big contentious points within my game group is that I refuse to play Gaia Project or Terra Mystica (Both by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag). Whenever someone suggested them my veto is swift and decisive. I don’t know what it is about those two games, but I just cannot wrap my mind around creating an efficient economy that allows me to take more than 2 turns per round, while also juggling the mana that cycles through the 3 bowls.
Clans of Caledonia by Juma Al-JouJou is our compromise. I don’t know what it is about Clans of Caledonia that I find more enjoyable than Gaia Project and Terra Mystica (it’s very apparent that Clans of Caledonia draws a lot of inspiration from Gaia Project and Terra Mystica). Perhaps it’s the Scottish theme that makes me feel kinship with the clan power; perhaps its because Juma Al-JouJou has distilled the resources needed to buy things down to just coins; or perhaps it’s the dynamic buy/sell track that was added, allowing players to sell their excess goods to get more of the aforementioned coins that allows them to keep playing the game!
Whatever the reason is, I really enjoy Clans of Caledonia and suggest playing it whenever we’re in the mood for a longer, complicated Euro game.
31 – Navegador
It’s almost fitting that Navegador by Mac Gerdts sits one spot above Clans of Caledonia, as it had to be another major influence for Juma Al-JouJou. Navegador features a dynamic market that has players buying and selling goods to get money. The more goods you buy, the more they sell for, encouraging other players to take advantage of the other side of the market (you can only buy or sell a good per trade action). The symbiosis between players is fascinating. As you sell more and more of goods you directly make it more profitable and better for your opponents to buy that same good. In return, the more goods they buy, the more profitable it is to sell!
Beyond the dynamic market Navegador has players building ships, sailing down and around Africa, claiming colonies (that produce goods), build factories (that sell goods), as well as building churches and shipyards. The action selection is managed via a a rondel, limiting your next action to the next three segments (unless you pay dearly), which makes certain actions more expensive, depending on where you are on that circle. You’ll need to make some agonizing decisions on skipping over actions (as you won’t be able to access that action until you come all the way back around the rondel) while racing your opponents to achieve goals first.
I really adore Navegador. It’s fun, fairly fast and uncomplicated, and has positive player interactions, which I always enjoy. Games like Navegador and Concodia (spoilers: this will be featured on a later list) inspire me to seek out more games from Mac Gerdts.
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