Hey there loyal readers!
Once again, I find myself writing about the top ten games of some description (I did so thoroughly enjoy myself last time!). However, rather than looking forward to games I haven’t yet played, I’ll be diving into the past to tell you about the ten games that blew my mind when I played them. Some of these may not be surprising, sure, but that doesn’t make the impact they had on me any smaller. If you’re just starting your foray into the hobby, or are just looking for high quality games, then this is the list for you! Let’s get straight into it.
Way back when I was a wee lad, I used to accompany my mum to her boyfriend’s house. One night he pulled out Illuminati, touting it as “the game that got him into gaming”. Taking control of a secret organisation vying for world domination, Illuminati is a wild, mathy ride of alliances, betrayal, blowouts and secrecy that kept me entertained for hours on end; the game manages downtime exceptionally well by keeping everyone involved in the action pretty much all the time. It also did hidden identities and variable player exceptionally well, and is a game that, in my opinion, was well beyond its time.
It’s definitely an involved game. It requires a lot of calculating and some probability knowledge certainly won’t go astray. It lends itself to kingmaker scenarios especially as if the leader snowballs out of control. Surprisingly, some cheeky humour combined with a gaming experience I haven’t found elsewhere make Illuminati an easy include. It That being said, dedicated hobby gamers whose feelings are not hurt by vicious, potentially backstabbing friends will love what is offered in this game of conspiracy.
At CanCon many years back, someone brought Revolution back to our cabin to give it a go. Many hours later, we finished our session of several games of this cutthroat, strategic bidding/area control game. Each turn, you spend all of your resources in order to influence various members of the city and gain a mix of resources, points and influence in the city. Rinse and repeat until the city is filled with influence, then the person with the most points is the winner, with the different areas of the city awarding points for the majority influence holder in them.
Bidding games are sometimes a bit tedious but Revolution’s revolutionary (I love my puns) bidding mechanic drew me in quickly. Resources are great, but temporary; Influence is awesome, but it can be removed. Points are great, but they make it harder to gain support on the following turn. What do you go for and when? Do you focus on controlling a few, powerful members of the city or do you try and influence as many as possible, risking getting outbid? A quick forty or fifty minutes per game, Revolution has been a hit every time, and I still happily play this one to this very day.
When 7 Wonders came out, it was a roaring success among many board gamers, myself included. However, as time went on, I grew tired of it; sometimes the player on the other end of the table would win and it wouldn’t mean anything to me. It was bland at times, and sometimes the game left it completely out of my control. It became a little too chaotic at higher players counts, where it becomes a popular choice due to how “well” it plays so many. I’m not saying 7 Wonders is a bad game; on the contrary, it’s quite wonderful. But something was missing…
And it feels like 7 Wonders: Duel has taken everything I loved in the original and added so much more. Easily a stronger game than its bigger brother, this little two player head-to-head card drafting game is now my go-to two player game for anyone looking for a great two-player game. Accessible but strategically very deep, Duel is an exciting journey through the ages in around thirty minutes, with a constant back and forth feeling in the game, as well as different avenues to victory that are all viable. What’s not to like about all that? If you loved 7 Wonders, you’ll likely adore this smaller yet strategically richer entry in the line.
I debated putting this one higher on my list, but here at number seven we find the game that introduced worker placement to me. Agricola is a controversial game that divides many gamers. Some abhor having to feed their people and the constant pressure they feel because of it. Others, myself included, love this stress and almost problem solving gameplay, layered with so many different card combinations that no two games will be the same. The first few times we played, we simply dealt out the cards randomly, which resulted in some very powerful combinations. Since then, we’ve implemented the drafting variant, and man oh man does the game really shine then.
There are many valid criticisms of Agricola, and it certainly takes a lot of getting used to. All that being said, I often think of Agricola as a very important steeping stone in my own gamer journey, and there was a time when we played it weekend after weekend without tiring of it. I have yet to play Caverna, which supposedly addresses some of Agricola’s shortcomings. Even so, I doubt it would supplant this wonderful, whimsical farming game from this list.
Really, this could stand in for any of the BattleCON games, but this was the big one which really secured my love for it. After playing the game on iPad, this was the first game I really went out of my way to get because I loved it so much. Whereas Yomi was an absolute dud for me, BattleCON captured my love of arcade fighting games and tactical card games.
The result is one of the most innovative games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. What’s more, there is enough replayability in the box that you’ll never run out of content. Wildly different characters, simple yet deep mechanics, and an amazing double-think style of play mean this is likely to never leave my shelf.
The most recent in mind blowing games, Apotheca is the game that came out of nowhere. I’ve not heard of the companies that made it nor the designer, nor did I hear anything of the game on Kickstarter. But one gaming night, when I was preparing to play Archipelago, I saw the fanciful potions and the grid-like board of a puzzle game, and kept a constant eye on it as I played my own game of colonisation. The more I watched, the more I wished I was playing this wonderfully unique abstract game.
Something of a very advanced Connect Four, Apotheca asks players to find clever ways to get three potions of the same colour in a row. With many unique player powers, a solid catch-up mechanic, simple set up and great player scaling, I’d go so far as to say that Apotheca is the best relatively unknown game I’ve played ever. This is a criminally underrated and unknown game; if you can, track down a copy and you won’t regret it. This has been a success with gamers and non-gamers alike, and at some point I’ll get around to getting a copy for myself too!
Few games have racked up nearly as many plays as Power Grid for me. I can distinctly remember playing five or six games of it in a row late on a weekend night in Canberra, sleeping only as the sun was just about to come up again and my brain was out of energy. Incredibly mathy and punishing, Power Grid is one of those games that really rewards precision. Make one wrong calculation, one wrong purchase, one misstep, and you’ll be crushed underfoot.
That is what blew me away about it, though. Everything you do, the bidding on power plants, the purchasing of resources, where you expand to, what you use to power your cities, literally everything matters so much. You have to be paying attention to everything in the game, every slight change in what people are doing, lest you fall behind in the money race. It’s been years since I’ve tabled this, but if someone were to ask me for a game, I’d happily jump in and be a power company CEO again.
At the end of last year, I began hearing about a party game all about words. A game where players would try and link as many words together with a single clue. The premise sounded interesting, and when I managed to snag a copy of Codenames at CanCon, it was an instant crowdpleaser. We played so many games that night at varying player counts, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing a party game. Dixit amazes me too, but there’s something so satisfying about giving a good clue in Codenames, or even just being on the same wavelength as the spymaster. And, of course, it’s an absolute riot when you’re not. As the rules booklet says, win or lose, it’s fun to solve the clues.
Codenames is one of the only games that I consider to be “perfect”, winning the Spiel des Jahres. In fact, it’s the only game on this list of games that blew my mind that I consider so. That’s quite a testament to this game’s magnificence, especially given that it has to compete with my favourite game of all time:
It’s no secret I’m a huge Star Wars fanboy. When I finally got the chance to play Rebellion, I tried to keep my expectations in check. I’d heard wonderful things, and I was worried about being disappointed. The giant board was set up, I’d read the rules the night before in anticipation, and took Imperial Command. And so began the greatest Star Wars experience any game has ever offered me. Having played two games since then every single one has had me hooked for every second, from the setup ’till the destruction of the Death Star or the Rebel Base.
With the exception of extended combats, which tend to be a bit of a drag, Rebellion blew me away not only thematically, but also mechanically. Never had an asymmetrical experience felt both so unfair yet fair at the same tim. It encapsulates the struggle of the rag-tag Rebels and the might of the Empire so well, you constantly feel hounded and sneaky as the Rebels, whilst feeling almighty and unstoppable as the evil Empire. The mission mechanic is also something I want to see in more and more games going forward; the assigning of all your favourite characters to missions truly evokes an emerging narrative as you play, and even though it does take quite a while, I’ve always come away wanting more.
Number one on boardgamegeek for a reason. Pandemic: Legacy is one of the most revolutionary game in board gaming history. This is not the best game by no means. Sometimes we were eliminated by pure chance, or a series of fortunate draws or events meant we breezed through. There were lulls or gameplay that seemed a bit tedious. Yet here it is, at number one, and here’s why.
There is no game like it on the market at the moment. No game can come close to delivering the ongoing and mostly engaging story that it can. No game makes your triumphs feel better or your failures feel as bad as this one. No game has made me this attached to a character, or had me as surprised at the twists it offered. Playing through those twenty games it took us to emerge victorious was an incredible journey; far and away the most novel and unique gaming experience I’ve ever had. Simple enough to get into, and if you have four willing to play, Pandemic: Legacy is hours of fun. Forget the naysayers talking about the finite experience. if I had three people eager, I’d go through it all again even though I completed the story.
Yeah, it was that good.