Top 20 Favorite Board Games

aka The Top 20 Greatest Board Games of All Time. It’s not like others aren’t making board game lists with that title while listing games they enjoy based primarily on subjective reasoning.

In typical ball-busting fashion, I’d like to start by stating that 9/10 of those “greatest board games of all time” lists on YouTube absolutely suck. Made by pansy cult-of-the-new corporate cocksucking shills. Never trust a “greatest of all time” list made by anyone for any category, whether its board games, video games, music, movies, tv shows, novels, comics, etc, if they only list products that have come out within the last 10 years (in some cases, you’d be lucky if they’re older than 5 years). If there’s anything I’ve learned from my experiences with board gaming over the years, it’s that some of the old stuff is better than most of the new stuff.

Sure, board games made pre-2005 by-and-large, aside from the typical Parker Bros. and Milton Bradley crap, tend to be rough around the edges and haven’t aged all that well. Sure it wasn’t until 2005-2015 when board games entered a golden age. But that doesn’t mean everything before then is garbage. There’s plenty from the past that can kick the snot out of anything today. Hell, some older editions of games have better gameplay and rule sets than newer editions. For example, compare Space Hulk 1st edition vs. any edition that’s come since; the only thing that’s improved since then is mission variety and component quality, and even then the 1st and 2nd edition miniatures are better for actual play than anything 3rd edition and onwards. There’s also Die Macher, in spite of what the game creators may state.

That all being said, there’s a reason why I consider 2005-2015 to be the golden years of board gaming. Component quality had never been higher. Gone were the days where printing costs and cardboard were so high that you had to be conservative about the number of pages in the rulebook, let alone the size of the box and all the components you could cram into it. Gone are the days of counters/chits having archaic numbers and lines that are difficult to decipher without memorizing the rulebook (though some war games still had that, for those still kicking it old school and ditching their grandkids in order to play some game that takes multiple real-life days to get through). Things were streamlined yet beautifully improved visually. What was once a more niche genre strictly for nerds who had to go out of their way on a journey of discovery to find stuff like this, now became more accessible to the commoners. And for a while, this was great.

But then like all hobbies that become more inclusive to the point of kicking out the niche hardcore gamers to make room for the more numerous commoners, things started to get watered down, sanitized, and monotonous (and too much kickstarter, in spite of what good it has done at times). All good things must come to an end. But that is what makes them so good. That they existed in a point in time where something was at its best, at its most entertaining. A time when it should’ve been most valued and not taken for granted.

And the games I value the most are the strategic ones. And I mean VERY strategic. Thinking-man’s games. Gamer’s games. Games for competitive players who take the gameplay seriously. Though there is the occasional lighter game I enjoy (can’t go heavy for too long… it’s bad for your back).

For me, these are twenty games I have enjoyed greatly, whether during the time period when they were at their peak upon creation/release. Or when they were well past their time, yet managed to stand the test of time. Or perhaps games that just aren’t capable of being appreciated by most because they are destined to only fit in with a niche group due to their inherent design. Either way, these are games I have enjoyed playing, and I believe I will always enjoy playing. Excluding abstract strategy games like Chess and Go, because abstract strategies deserve their own list, as they’re a breed apart from the more thematic games out there (even if the theme is pasted on for 90% of all Eurogames).

Note: take this list with a grain of salt, as I’m not as involved in the hobby as I used to be. I don’t keep up with new releases much. Mostly because they usually don’t interest me anymore (the hobby has become too saturated), but also because my collection is about as big as I want it to get, and I don’t really want to grow it anymore. I’m pretty much content with what I’ve got. Besides, you can only grow a collection so large before you realize you’re not going to be playing everything in it enough times to justify owning it. That’s why people with well over 100 games (excluding expansions) drive me nuts. All that, and I tend to have a preference for thematic games that are heavy on strategy, and are of the sci-fi and fantasy theme. And I’m a picky gamer.

Honorable mentions:

  • Titan (1980)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (2005), Deluxe Edition
  • Race for the Galaxy (2007), with The Gathering Storm expansion.
  • Dominant Species (2010)
  • Yedo (2012)
  • Among the Stars (2012), with the Ambassadors expansion.
  • Tragedy Looper (2014)
  • Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (2015)
  • Millennium Blades (2016), with the Collusion expansion.
  • Rising Sun (2018), with expansions.
  • Endeavor: Age of Sail (2018)

#20 Ad Astra (2009)

Front box cover preview

Optimal player count: 5

Average playing time: 1.5 hours

Probably the most underrated game Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has ever put out. At times proclaimed as “Settlers of Catan in Space,” while ignoring the actual existence of Space Catan. It’s a strange game to start this board game list off on primarily because this game doesn’t have a board. What it has are planet circles that are setup randomly, making up a different galaxy every game. You send a ship to said planet that offers 1 of 6 possible resources (or it’s an Alien planet with Alien tech that gives you an advantage), you gain resources by having the ship on that planet, you gain even more resources by building a pyramid or factory on the planet, etc. Once you’ve built something on the planet, it’s permanently yours. No one else can occupy it or take it away from you. It’s not a game that’s all that confrontational, as there isn’t an aspect of combat in it. It’s a matter of prioritizing where you want to go, hope the random planet(s) there have the resource you want, build and expand. Making an efficient resource-gathering engine.

Heavy Games Brasilia.

There aren’t a set number of rounds in the game per-se. The players have full control over how quickly this game can end. Because the entire thing is card driven. And you strategize by piggy-backing over what resources other players are gathering (though you can take advantage of dual-card actions, as every card you play can do one of two things). Sort of like Catan in that everyone benefits off the resource gained depending on the die roll, except there’s no random roll to determine the resources. It’s all dependent on the cards players play. I enjoy these programmed order systems.

#19 Evolution: Climate (2016)

The final box front for the Evolution: CLIMATE stand-alone game (2-5-2016).

Optimal player count: 4

Average playing time: 1 hour

I have fond memories of this game. Like when me and everyone else at the table got our asses handed to us by this tomboy of a girl who is better at these types of games than I’ll ever be. Wish I asked her to marry me right then and there. Oh well.

Evolution - 5 player game

Anyway, this is sort of an expansion of the regular Evolution game, but it can be purchased as a self-contained full game, so this counts for being its own stand-alone thing. The main improvement this has over the original is the climate system. It adds a secondary layer of decision-making to the game that elevates it from being a light-medium engine-builder to a medium engine-builder. By engine building, I mean building up the number of species you have, and their number of improvements (ie evolutionary traits). Picking and choosing whether you should start a new species, increase their number/size, and whether you should improve it with a trait. This all depends on the cards you have in hand, the potential threat of other players (their carnivorous species can devour yours for food, if they have one), and the risk of what the climate can do to you (some species are better when it’s hot, others when it’s cold, or just plain neutral). The more food your species eat, the more points you get. The more species you have, and the greater the number of each species you have, the more you can eat. Only so long as there is a food source.

Due to the amount of decisions that can be made and the number of species other players have that need to be tracked, I wouldn’t recommend going above a 4 player count, 5 players tops. Only go to 6 if you and everyone else at the table are very good at keeping tabs on each other and are capable of seeing everyone’s cards.

#18 Core Worlds (2011)

Core Worlds Box Cover (compressed image)

Optimal player count: 4-5

Average playing time: 2 hours

This is what I want a deck-builder to be. Not like Dominion where all cards you could possibly purchase are there for the taking if you can afford them. This is a game where the pool of available cards changes each round (or every other round). Where you’re forced to change your strategy on the fly when cards you want get snatched up from you. When a card becomes available that you weren’t expecting which changes your game plan. Where the types of cards that do become available get better over time, as the game has an arc to it. The first 2 round have cheap basic cards, the next 2 rounds have stronger cards, the next 2 after that get even stronger, etc. And it all builds to the last two rounds where the cards with the highest amount of possible VP start to come out. And depending on how well you’ve built your deck, and how much you prepped with putting units on the board ahead of time, you may win or lose depending on what you acquire during the last 2 rounds, and what you deprive your opponent of (thus testing how adaptable he made his deck, or if constructing it for a specific inflexible use will pay off).

Skycam shot of the cards

There are a couple expansions for this game, but I’ve learned that the Galactic Orders expansion kinda breaks the game if you have a player who is very good and utilizing combos, and can thus pull off near-infinite loops. That expansion does have some good card additions, but the whole Galactic Orders system itself is something I play without. The Revolution expansion, however, is great stuff all-around.

Plus I’m a sucker for the sci-fi theme.

#17 Taluva (2006)

Box cover

Optimal player count: 2 for a more serious game, 3-4 for a more chaotic lighthearted affair.

Average playing time: 0.5 hours

Somewhere in the middle of the game.

I consider this a much lighter version of Java. It’s more accessible, plays faster, less rules overhead, and less stressful. A game where you play and stack tiles atop each other to create an ever-expanding island. And it’s a vicious game, where you can brutally kill off other player’s structures by placing a tile atop their villages. It’s a nice filler game, and one of the few I’m willing to play more for enjoyment than for having something to do until other players show up.

#16 Pax Porfiriana (2012)

Box cover, Pax Porfiriana English Collector's Edition, 2015 form Sierra Madre Games, 2015

Optimal player count: 3-6

Average playing time: 1-3 hours

One of the few Sierra Madre Eklund games that has actual gameplay to it. In all seriousness, this isn’t a game you’ll want to play if you want a serious and fair game session. This game is entirely dependent on what cards come out. A lot can change between turns, including someone getting a hold of a card that you just know will completely mess up your plans. But it’s mitigated by what you can do each turn. You can make money off of the card someone takes from the card pool. But you can’t just focus on keeping a heaping wad of cash (or pesos) as there are ways players can steal from you. And there is so much card variety, a way out of a bad situation almost always comes up at some point in the game. The game flow is also greatly dependent on what cards come out.

It’s one of those games where you have to be ok with not being entirely in control, and just be along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong, there’s meaningful decisions to be made, and plenty of strategy and tactics to learn. But just about everything you do, no matter how well thought-out, can fall apart easily. A typical Sierra Madre game theme.

3p Game

And yeah, I’m aware of Pax Renaissance, and how it’s considered a spiritual successor to this game, and a general improvement. Having played it though, I still prefer the more rough around the edges historical Mexican crime syndicate game to the Renaissance era themed game.

Be sure to get the deluxe edition, if you can, as it has general all-around improvements. The cards are the same between editions from what I understand, but the deluxe edition actually comes with a board, and a better rulebook with some needed rules tweaks.

#15 Scythe (2016)

Scythe box

Optimal player count: 4-5

Average playing time: 2-3 hours

Probably the first typical choice on this list. What can I say? There are games that are popular with the mainstream for a reason. While this isn’t a light game by any means, it does have gameplay that’s on the simple side, but plenty of tactical decisions to be made. This is a game where you have to play as efficiently as possible in order to win. Learning what moves and resources you should focus on early on, and build upon what you’ve upgraded in the mid-late game. You need to establish a long-term strategy from the getgo to get good at this. While there is combat, it’s discouraged to go heavy on it, given what it costs and what consequences it entails.

Unintended wheat focus. Polania tunneled in and snatched my oil!

A slow-moving game, but with purpose every turn. And the turns can fly by if players know what they are doing. And depending on whether or not combat happens; which usually won’t be often. Combat is discouraged from happening too often in this game. And I didn’t mind that. It’s primarily about making efficient plays for building up resources to make purchases and upgrades. Combat is intended to disrupt other players who may be doing it better than you. But that can come at a cost that could lose them the game. It’s different in how it both encourages and discourages aggression.

#14 Gaia Project (2017)

Gaia Project, Feuerland Spiele / Capstone Games, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Optimal player count: 4

Average playing time: 2-3 hours

A spiritual successor to Terra Mystica, and in all fairness I never gave Mystica a decent chance. Regardless, there is plenty to love about this game. It’s sort of like Ad Astra in that once you’ve established yourself on a planet, it’s yours forever; and it’s sci-fi themed. But it’s less about acquiring resources (mainly because it’s all about money and energy, and VP of course) and more about building as much as you can as efficiently as possible, timing it right for certain rounds so you can make the most points doing so. And the map, sort of like Ad Astra, is a bit randomized each game, so that you’re theoretically not playing the same game twice (unless you go with a preset map as laid out in the rulebook). Plenty of factions to choose from, each with a unique way to play. Intense replay value just learning how to play each faction well.

Gaia playing 1

Playing it solo is a great way to train up so you’re ready against experienced players.

#13 Runewars (2010)

Runewars, Fantasy Flight Games, 2013 (image provided by the publisher)

Optimal player count: 4

Average playing time: 3 hours

At last. The first Ameritrash-like game on this list. Up until now it’s been primarily Eurogames that have been featured, and for good reason. Eurogames often don’t utilize dice, and I’m not the biggest fan of dice-rolling in games. Runewars is a fantasy game of combat against others that doesn’t utilize dice in order to resolve anything. Just a deck of cards.

All you need is 6 runes

You don’t win by VP or conquering the enemy per-se. Rather, you normally win by acquiring a certain amount of Dragon Runes. Dragon runes and fake runes are set around the map at the game’s start. But not enough to win the game with. More get added later on as the game progresses. Since you can’t tell the difference between a real or fake rune until you move to the space and see it for yourself, it will take a while before you start acquiring them by taking the territory they’re in. But the runes stay on the map. Which means it’s possible for an opponent to come on in, kick you off the region, and take the rune for themselves. You also need to go through neutral monster units along the way, which you can do by killing them, or attempting to convert them to your side (the Elves are better at doing this than anyone else).

This is a game that could’ve benefited from more expansions. Don’t get me wrong, the base game as-is is fine (especially the revised version). The Banners of War expansion adds some good things to it (extra unit types, more quests/heroes), but also a lot of stuff that I didn’t care for (the new events convoluted the event decks to the point where they don’t bring out as many dragon runes as they use to, so I play without them). Unfortunately, that’s all the game got. This is a game that could’ve used a couple more factions besides the 4 that were included. That being said, what is there is perfectly fine, and good enough to make a very solid and highly replayable experience.

#12 Space Hulk (1989)

Box Front hi-res scan

Optimal player count: 2

Average playing time: 0.5-2 hours

Now we have an actual bona-fide Ameritrash game. There is dice-rolling, and plenty of it. In addition, this is the only dungeon-crawler game on this list. I’m usually not of a fan of that genre, but this game is a big exception. It’s basically like the movie Aliens, but with Warhammer 40k space marines fighting, uh, genestealers. But it’s the same type of atmosphere. The marines have guns, the aliens don’t (unless you get this one expansion that gives them guns, which isn’t something I care for). If the aliens manage to get up close enough to attack you, there’s a very good chance you’ll die (there’s no health in this game, you either get hit and die, or they miss you).

I prefer the 1st edition for a number of reasons (only having played 1st and 3rd/4th editions). 3rd edition needlessly adds in guard tokens, which no one ever wants to use when overwatch.

And overwatch is a key feature of the game, where you take a free shot each time an alien moves in front of you (but there’s a chance it could jam on you). In fact, overwatch is different too. 3rd edition, overwatch hits go from 6 to 5+ (you roll 2 D6 for most rolls, and often want the highest die result), improving each time you shoot at the same target. 1st edition, it’s always a 6 result that’s required to hit. This is offset by having improved results with each shot you take as a normal non-overwatch action (the odds improve more in 1st edition with each shot as opposed to 3rd edition, starting with a 6 needed to hit, then 5+, then 4+).

My 15mm Scale mini-Space Hulk set. See the links section for more pics.

But the main thing that makes 1st edition better is that its starts out more simply. There’s only 3 different unit types for the marines: a marine, a flamer, and a sergeant (who is a slightly stronger marine due to him having better odds in melee). 3rd edition you get more unit types than that, which sounds nice, but makes it needlessly complicated from the get-go. Plus you only need those 3 unit types to make the scenarios work. I would only want to add more unit types into the mix once I get more experienced with the game (let alone having an opponent who gets more experienced too). As for the genestealers, they only have 1 unit type, except for this queen unit they throw into the 3rd edition.

This is a game that should be kept simple from the outset. There’s enough gameplay and tension (due to the real-time limit set on the marine player) to make for a solid game. An expansion book for 1st edition lays out a point system that you can utilize for substituting special marine types (Librarians, a guy with a minigun, the guy with the claws, a hammer and shield, etc) in place of regular marines, sergeants, and even flamers. And again, that’s only something you’d want to utilize if you plan on replaying scenarios (this is a scenario-driven game) to add some variety. It also increases (possibly) the number of genestealers that could show up per round if the marines use too many points to add in more to even the odds. Mix-and-matching, plus switching roles from time to time (between being the marines and genestealers).

All of this built upon a very simple solid system of blasting aliens to bits, and hoping they don’t tear you to shreds. And make no mistake, there are definite tactics to use, certain important points to hold, how to conduct the soldiers, where the genestealer player should be focusing, etc.

That all being said though, the blip counters and room/hallway tiles and doors are pretty damn cool in the 3rd/4th edition. Best way to play this is with 1st edition miniatures and 1st edition rules, with everything else 3rd edition.

#11 Battlecon (2010)

The cover for BattleCON: War Remastered Edition, now on Kickstarter

Optimal player count: 2

Average playing time: 0.5 hours

This is a bit complicated to explain. Not that the game itself is complicated, just that this isn’t something so simple as a base game with expansions. This comes in sets, each set containing different fighters, and each set being a solid stand-alone game (that uses the same fighting system). The main two sets that players tend to start with are the War of Indines, and Devastation of Indines sets (either one of them will do). I started off my experience with this system via the Devastation of Indines set, and grew from there. Nowadays, I’d still say Devastation is the best place to start, but only if you’re playing with the more recent 4th edition ruleset and components (the cards tend to get altered with each revision, and the 4th edition seems like the end-all be-all version that won’t get altered any further).

Foundry Brawl Aftermath

Anyway, think of this as Street Fighter, the board game, with entirely card-based combat and no luck. The more sets you get, the more fighters you’ll have. And each fighter is unique, with their own style of fighting. The replay value is good enough with just 2 fighters. It gets exponentially greater with each fighter you add in.

#10 Horus Heresy (2010)

Box front (flat)

Optimal player count: 2

Average playing time: 2-4 hours

Not my first introduction into the Warhammer 40K universe, but it is probably the most underrated game in that setting. And I can see why. This “coffin box” game only plays 2 players (though that doesn’t hinder War of the Ring at all), is quite lengthy at a 3-4 hour playing time even with experienced players (ditto), and is difficult to get into (though I have heard this game can be done in 2 hours). Because this is a slow, methodical game. It’s basically a dudes-on-a-map war game without dice, everything being card-driven, where you try to take and hold territory. One player the defender (the thematic good guys) trying to hold out until time expires, one player the attacker (thematic bad guys) attempting to take the spaceports or kill the emperor before time is up.

As I said, this game is slow. There are many territories, and you’ll often want to keep your troops grouped together and not spread out so much. Because once you execute a card order (of which you’ll have a limited amount, some of it being random draws that determine your options) that causes units to be moved, they become activated. Normally you have to wait several turns before the become refreshed. However, if they become routed from combat (ie they retreated), then you have to wait several rounds for them to go from routed to active, and then from active to refreshed, before they can be used again. Every card action/order you do matters, and the last thing you want to do is take things lightly and consider some as simple as the act of moving trivial.

With the Lions Gate Space Port firmly under control, Fulgrim prepares for the next assault

Some may be put off by the combat system, where you have no combat cards in hand until a battle actually starts, then you draw X number of random cards (depending on the units) and hope for some good ones that work well with the unit types you have in battle (you could always factor in what’s been previously discarded from past battles to determine the odds of getting the cards you want). It takes multiple plays of the game before you get a feel for when you should be battling, and whether you should go on the offensive or be defensive, and what units you should be utilizing if given the choice (normally the “bad guy” Horus faction wants to be the attacker).

Once I had a few games under my belt, it all finally clicked. I began to see the strategies I should be employing, the units I should be utilizing, the hero abilities I should be taking advantage of, the territories I should be taking and expanding from, etc. It’s one of the best deep (and somewhat complex) 2 player thematic board games I’ve ever played. Such a pity it’s generally looked upon unfavorably. Well, more like with disinterest, as there are other 2 player games out there that take less time. Or War of the Ring, or Star Wars: Rebellion, which tend to be the more favored 2-player thematic strategy games out there. For me though, this is my go-to game of that genre.

If there’s any fault to be had with this game, it would be those 3D plastic building structures you stack units on. I mean, they’re cool and all, and give the board more thematic depth, and have a practical purpose. But they’re too goddamn small. I can make them work, but it’s a bit irritating at times when you can’t get your cardboard hero piece to stand up straight on them when stacking alongside the other plastic units. Come to think of it, this is probably the only Games Workshop (GW) game in existence that doesn’t have 3D plastic hero figures, something GW bitched about to Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). Personally, I’m fine with the cardboard heroes. There aren’t enough games with those these days (too many assholes want to use only 3D plastic sculptures, which boosts the cost of the game).

#9 Acquire (1964)

uncaptioned image

Optimal player count: 4-6

Average playing time: 1.5 hours

Be warned, newer editions of the game change the size/shape of the board. A needless dumb change.

That aside, I never thought I’d find a board game about stock investments to be fun. Well, this proved me wrong. After I managed to wrap my head around the strategy of investing in hotel chains and hoping for them to go big and get dissolved so I can cash out on my investment, only to invest in something else that will also grow more valuable over time, this game got addictively fun. It’s also not all that long of a game either, usually going 60-90 minutes, depending on the group. It’s also a prime example in gaming on how the randomness (of drawing chits in a manner similar to Scrabble) makes the game strategic. Not knowing what hotel spots will be taken, thus never knowing for sure which hotels will grow larger (and thus more valuable), while also taking into consideration that players can restrict the growth of certain hotels if they’re holding the right chits. It’s a simple yet brilliant mechanic that this game pulls off perfectly.

Acquire - playing

The flow of the game changes a bit when the number of players exceeds 4. It’s not a bad thing, just that you find out you have less potential control of hotel chain growth the more players there are, thus less opportunities for investments and such (not to mention there’s a limit to investment cards per hotel chain). It makes the game competitive in slightly different ways, but it works well regardless of the number.

Probably the oldest game in existence that isn’t an abstract strategy game that I enjoy playing, let alone have on this list. It’s a classic for a reason, and it’s as good today as it was in the past. Just try to get a version with the 12X9 board.

#8 Dune (1979)

High Quality Scan of Original Box Front

Optimal player count: 6

Average playing time: 2-5 hours

I’m not going to lie, this is a mess of a game. It’s too unbalanced for its own good, primarily when it comes to the Fremen faction (they’re too weak). There’s a lot of rule ambiguity. And to this day it’s debated on which house rules are the best, or if the modern reprint made the game better or worse with its rule changes. That the game is pretty damn great in spite of all that (and the need for house rules) says a lot. The abilities of these asymmetrical factions. How well the game utilizes the theme of the books (this was made before any film adaptation). The push-your-luck factor of how you utilize bidding to win battles (in a sense), a mechanic that this game utilized before Scythe and Rising Sun did. If there’s anything I like about the new edition of the game, it’s the reduced number of max rounds in a game. I actually didn’t mind this, as the game can threaten to get repetitive if people keep attacking each other, drain their resources, and thus wind up in stalemate situations that they have to slowly come back from, only to keep getting knocked back down never reaching the heights they had at the start of the game. Reducing the overall number of rounds mitigates this potential ebb-and-flow of play.

The game must flow (handmade Dune)

Probably a prime example that a game doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced in order to be good. Looking at you Eurogames.

#7 Chaos in the Old World (2009)

HQ box front

Optimal player count: 4-5

Average playing time: 1.5-2 hours

One of the very few games out there with dice that I enjoy. In order to get optimal enjoyment from this, you’ll need the Horned Rat expansion (so begins my mentions of games that require an expansion pack to bring out the best in it). Partly because the expansion adds in a 5th faction, and thus a 5th player that can play. But mostly because it adds in a new set of chaos/upgrade cards that I consider to be an overall improvement of the game.

This is a very tight game, that gets better the more you play it and the more you figure out what the best strategies to utilize are. Never let someone get away with ruining a region and getting points for it without trying to get a piece of that action, because the points gained from something like that cascade faster than you would believe.

Early game, things are still fine...

Combat is dice-based, and it functions well for what it is. But it can get infuriating at times, especially for the Khorne player who relies more on combat than any other faction. He could have a game where he gets little to no hits due to bad rolls, or a lot of great hits most of the time which will just piss everyone else off. If that’s something you can deal with for the occasional unlucky game, the game makes up for it the rest of the time.

What makes the game shine is the asymmetric factions. How they play is unique thanks primarily to the chaos cards they play, and how their units can get upgraded (their unit stats play a part too). And somehow, some way, despite how wild and crazy each faction can get with their abilities, it all somehow manages to even out, with a unique self-balancing act that happens just through the gameplay itself. It’s a lightning in a bottle situation for this strange concoction of asymmetrical factions that manages to work. Plus those dials are awesome.

If there’s a downside to this, lucky dice aside, it’s that there are two regions in the top-right side of the map that needed to be bigger.

#6 Warrior Knights (2006)

The 2006 Version Box Front

Optimal player count: 4-6

Average playing time: 3-5 hours

This is the game I wanted the Game of Thrones board game to be. And yes, you need the Crown and Glory expansion set in order to make this game as great as it should be (without it, it goes from being great to being decent).

Perspective view of battle

You have nobles which build up armies to take over castles and get money from them (as well as VP). What makes this stand out, and I have yet to see this implemented better in any other game, is how rounds unfold. Each player places a total of 6 cards into these 3 card slots (2 per slot). Each slot is shuffled individually with some neutral cards. This randomly determines the order (a card is revealed, the player it belongs to executes the action listed on the card). So you don’t know for certain when your order will be executed. All you know is that the first stack of cards will be done before the 2nd, which will be done before the 3rd.

Throw in this system where laws get created that affect the gameplay, plus roles that you can take (leader of the church who has an influence on events, the scholar who determines the order of voting on laws, etc), and you have a great amount of variety of things that can happen and things to do. There are times when it will come off as its own separate mini-game that they forced into this to make a complete package, but it works for me.

#5 Lords of Hellas (2018)

Box cover

Optimal player count: 4

Average playing time: 2 hours

Pretty much stated why I like this game in my review here. Let’s just say dudes-on-a-map with 4 ways to win combined with a sci-fi ancient greek mythology theme, makes this a winner for me.

#4 Codex: Card Time Strategy (2016)

Codex logo, cover image.

Optimal player count: 2

Average playing time: 0.5-1 hours

The replay value for this game is absolutely insane. It’s a deck builder. But unlike most deck builders, you get to choose which cards get added to your deck each round. There’s no purchasing cards into your deck, you just put them there. You just need to purchase cards that are in your hand in order to put them into play (as opposed to something like Core Worlds where you have to purchase cards to put them into your deck, and pay another cost in order to put them into play from your hand).

There are 6 unique factions (plus 2 neutrals), each of which has cards completely different from the other. There are 2 copies of each card (starting cards excluded). And you have to destroy your opponent’s base (similar to just destroying your opponent in Magic: The Gathering) by dealing 20 damage to it. But like Magic the Gathering, you have to balance between having units in play, upgrades, and spells that can be cast.

Recording matches of Codex to post on YouTube at Game Empire in Pasadena!

Unlike Magic the Gathering, and most deck-builders in existence, there is no expansion for this game. Well, assuming you purchase the Deluxe Edition anyway which comes with all the sets (normally 2 factions per set), and card binders to hold all the cards in (one binder per faction, excluding the neutrals). And that’s all there will ever be. Six factions and two neutrals. And believe me, there’s more than enough replayability with those, especially when you start mix and matching factions. Each faction has 3 subsets of card types, and you mix and match one or more subsets of one faction with another, making up a custom-made faction where the strategy and tactics completely change.

This doesn’t need an expansion. It’s perfect as-is.

#3 The Lord of the Ice Garden (2014)

The Lord of the Ice Garden

Optimal player count: 4

Average playing time: 2-3 hours

I consider this a superior version of Chaos in the Old World primarily because there isn’t any luck in the game, aside from setup conditions. Gone are the frustrations that result from dice rolls.

This is like Dominant Species in that you select the actions you will do ahead of time ala worker placement style (priorities), and then go about doing them in a certain order.

The Polish premiere of "The Lord of the Ice Garden”

It’s like Chaos in the Old World (CitOW) in that there are 4 unique factions that play differently. But the ways to win are more unique compared to CitOW. There are VPs, and VP winning is the most common way to end the game. But the unique win conditions for each faction stand out more. But this requires more patience and brainpower compared to CitOW. Plus there’s Vuko, a hero. He hurts the players a lot more than the heroes in the Old World do.

If you want a more slow-paced, brain-burning, diceless, anti-luck game, I can recommend this over CitOW. Especially if you like games similar to Dominant Species and Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery. Not to say CitOW doesn’t have its place (it’s easier to get into and appeals more to the mainstream). Just that I usually prefer my games with less dice. Despite that…

#2 Magic Realm (1979)

clearer image of the box cover

Optimal player count: 6-8

Average playing time: 1 hour per player

I also made a review of this game here. Probably the best game we’re ever going to get when it comes to a sandbox board game that allows for some of the greatest degree of freedom when it comes to the things players can do in it. Plus I have a personal non-financial investment with this game considering I designed an expansion for it (couldn’t resist the plug).

#1 Starcraft: The Board Game (2007)

Box Front

Optimal player count: 4-6

Average playing time: 3-5 hours

I love that this game exists. Not just because it’s my favorite board game of all time that has some of the best mechanics ever done in a board game. Not just because it’s a damn good adaptation of a damn good classic RTS videogame. But also because it did deckbuilding before that bland dull game Dominion came out and became king of the deckbuilding genre, proclaimed to be the first and arguably best deck-building game. Well, Starcraft says Dominion can suck it. The only dominion that should be going on is the Terran Dominion.

Another playerboard, Terran Ability

And, unfortunately, this does require the Brood War Expansion in order to become the masterpiece that it is. But it’s worth it. It balances out a couple things from the base game, and adds in all the units used in the original Starcraft PC game, and it’s expansion. Plus it adds in the Defend order which is very useful.

Protoss force

There are several things that make this game great. As stated earlier, it has deckbuilding, but you could theoretically play without utilizing it. You have a combat deck (cards that are strong if used for the units depicted on them, weak if used for any other unit), and a technology deck. The technology deck has cards that make units stronger in various ways, depending on the unit. You can utilize the research order in order to purchase a technology that gets shuffled into your combat deck (unless it’s a Play Area card, in which case it just comes into play permanently). But you gotta make sure these are techs you will use, by having a unit on the board that it applies to. Otherwise it dilutes the combat deck.

There’s the order stack. During the Planning Phase of a round, each player alternates placing up to 4 orders (3 different types: Build, Research, Mobilize; 2 of each, plus a gold special order for each; plus the Defend Order). Then the orders are executed one at a time in player order, starting with the top of an order stack on whichever planet. Thus they are executed LIFO style (last in, first out). So you’re forced to think ahead in certain situations when it comes to the order you want to do your orders in. For example, you want to Mobilize troops onto a planet before you try and Build a base there, so you would want your Build order placed first, then the Mobilize. Take into account that opponents can stack their orders on top of yours and potentially mess up the order of your plans that way, and then you realize you may have to take risks during the planning phase.

Overmind Order Tokens, from top to bottum is Build, Mobilize and Research.  Gold ones are Special Orders.  The right column are what the order backs look like.

Combat itself is excellent. Probably my favorite combat system in board gaming. You start with a deck of roughly 20 cards. Each card has 1-3 different units listed on it, along with 2 Health numbers (1 big, 1 small), 2 Attack numbers (1 big, 1 small), and a possible ability listed in the text. If you play a card on the unit listed, he gets the big numbers. If you don’t (ie play a card with different units than the one that card is played on), he gets the smaller values and is generally less effective. So you have to decide which cards you play (you start the game with 6-8 cards, and more often than not enter combat with a hand of cards before drawing more). Sometimes an opponent may expect to lose, and thus play a cruddy card while you play a stronger one (if you have it). Or you may not wind up with the cards you wanted if you hoped to draw them into your hand for combat, so you start playing cards from the top of your deck hoping for the card you want (it’s a crapshoot, and you may just wind up with a cruddy card). Some think combat is too deterministic. The deterministic aspect is what I like about it, but there is an amount of luck that plays into it. But it’s an amount of luck where players can determine if they should push their luck or not with how aggressive they wish to be.

Starcraft the Board Game at Gencon 2007

A solid variety of units, with plenty of tech cards to go with them. You probably won’t be able to research and build everything, but that’s part of the strategy. You have to decide ahead of time which units you really want, and/or which tech to acquire to make you combat deck more effective, and build towards what you want and ignore the rest to optimize your plays. This allows for different paths each game; different ways to approach defeating your opponents.

A fantastic game that is unfortunately out of print (a fate that also befell its spiritual successor Forbidden Stars, a game that I find enjoyable, but not in the same league as this one, in spite of what others say). I haven’t come across a board game I enjoy playing more than this one. It has everything: the theme, the gameplay, and component quality (assuming the flying pieces haven’t broken).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s