Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of the almost-holiday celebrated exclusively the night before it actually happens, it’s time to look forward. To that end, I’ve made a resolution that ought to stick for two reasons. First, it involves a hobby I love; and second, I’m going to publicize my success—or failure.
I came across a challenge posed to board game players—to play at least ten games at least ten times each over the course of a year. It sets a goal to enjoy games more thoroughly, rather tan chasing the newest titles only to have them collect dust on the shelf. (A casual look at most any Steam library would show the same issue among many a PC gamer.) There’s nothing wrong with enjoying collecting something, but I don’t want to lost the trees for the forest, so to speak.
To that end, I drafted a list of my own. Updates on my progress will be a new feature on the website, hopefully providing some more in-depth coverage than a review on a new release typically provides.
Here it is, in all its alphabetically-organized glory:
Fun fact: I’m descended from a long line of Polish farmers on both my mother and father’s side of the family. They emigrated from Poland during the Cold War, had a child, and now that child really enjoys playing a board game where you pretend to be a struggling European farmer.
Agricola is widely considered one of the greatest board games of all time, and for a good while held the number one spot on BoardGameGeek’s ranked list of games. It did this despite being absolutely brutal—how many other games feature a mechanism to simulate begging for food? And yet, somehow, it manages to be challenging and charming in equal measure.
It also happens to feature rules for solo play. I can already see myself trying to knock out the last few plays by year’s end, “Country Life” quietly playing in the background.
I’m off to a promising start with this one—it’s the first game I played this year. (It was after midnight, it counts!)
If there’s a game on this list I’m likely to play more than ten times, it’s Netrunner. It only takes a little push to get our love for this game moving again, and it’s going to pick up speed.
I’ve been a fan of cyberpunk ever since I was a kid watching Batman Beyond after school. Despite the noticeable absence of the caped crusader (a phrase I use entirely too often), it mixes what I love about that genre with a card game designed by none other than Richard Garfield, of Magic: the Gathering fame. I’m as excited as an adult as I would have been as a teenager.
Plus, it’s great sitting down with your custom pile of dirty trick across your friend with theirs, seeing which one is better at being an evil mastermind.
Okay, so I have to admit it, this is not a sexy game. Nothing about it looks exciting. It looks messy and boring, like it was designed by a heavily sedated Bob Ross—but it’s actually charming and mysteriously captivating, like the Bob Ross we all know and love.
I’m glad I took a chance on this game, because I was so wrong. Never before in my life have I agonized so much over a single point in a game where scores can easily go past a hundred—and yet, it all comes down to rolling two dice, and picking the best way to use each one. The ways in which you can use those dice get complicated, but its all in an elegant framework, filled out in a way that makes for a satisfying puzzle.
It’s a game that rewards getting to know it. What better reason is there to put a game on this kind of list?
Long story short, this entry is essentially my way of reminding myself “hey, dummy, bring your favorite to game night more often.”
Cosmic Encounter has had a remarkable amount of staying power. BoardGameGeek’s top 100 is almost entirely games from 2000 onward, with a smattering of games from the 90s. Three old games stand out: Cosmic Encounter from 1977 (it says 2008, but that’s just the latest edition); Crokinole, from ca. 1867; and Go, from ca. 2000 BCE.
I’ve never had a bad time playing Cosmic Encounter. It’s over-the-top and downright broken, but it stuck around for decade because it always works, even when it doesn’t. It throws the players into ridiculous and often lopsided situations, and its up to you to scratch and claw your way to the top.
Most of the other games are here because I want to better appreciate them. I already appreciate Cosmic Encounter just fine—what I want to do is remember why on a regular basis.
This is the one item on my list based purely on speculation. I’ve yet to hear a bad thing about it, and it tops a lot of lists for the most exciting game of the last year.
Dead of Winter promises to be everything I wanted from Eldritch Horror, but didn’t get. (I may be in the minority in my disappointment about that game, but that’s for another article.)
It helps that everything about it screams replayability, including the different scenarios, the hidden goals (and possibly hidden traitors), and the Crossroads system so prominently advertised right on the box.
Because I could not possibly expect to succeed with Twilight Imperium on this list.
In all honesty, the games are different, despite their apparent similarities as sprawling space-games full of cardboard hexagons and little plastic ships. It’s less colorful but more mathematical, less about conquest and more about exploring and developing your corner of space (though exterminating your enemies is as rewarding as ever.)
Perhaps most importantly, it plays in an hour or two instead of a day or two. I want that kind of game—and that kind of experience—on standby.
My experience trying Galaxy Trucker for the first time was the opposite of Castles of Burgundy. I was so sure I’d have a great time, but it ended up being a boring slog.
Every game after that was better than the last.
I don’t expect the pattern to continue, leading me to some strange gaming enlightenment where all I do is flip and arrange tiles making a pretend spaceship out of pretend garbage. It will level off before that, and maybe it’s reached its plateau, but I am very okay with that.
It’s a game that needs to click along at a fast pace. If, as in my first game, no one has any experience, then the ship-building lacks tension, and the encounters are feel like pulling teeth. If you can zip through it, then it turns into the zany experience it’s supposed to be.
Comedy is tragedy plus time, as they say—and if I can nail down the time, it’s only going to get funnier.
As the shortest game on this list, it feels almost like cheating. With a bit of determination and some like-minded friends, I could knock this out in a night or two.
Race for the Galaxy still earns a spot on this list precisely because of that. It packs a lot of compelling gameplay and depth into a remarkably tiny package. I would play this game several times in a row, so I’m going to put myself into a position where I might have to do just that.
Like Galaxy Trucker, it’s a game I want to know well enough to be able to play quickly. It’s also another game I want to get good at. Hopefully that won’t make it frustrating to play with newer or slower players, but at least I’ve got the rules explanation down pat. (Race for the Galaxy has an exaggerated if not entirely undeserved reputation for being a beast to teach.)
Coup still holds a spot in my heart for providing the most enjoyment in the smallest package, but this game securely holds the title for the most satisfying strategy game that’s this small and this quick.
I wanted a heavy Euro. I wanted it to have weight, both in terms of gameplay and the sheer amount of physical stuff packed into the box. I wanted it to twist my brain into knots. I wanted it to be so ridiculous it would be impossible for me to teach without sounding like Ben Wyatt describing The Cones of Dunshire in Parks and Recreation.
Terra Mystica, appropriately, delivered all of that in spades.
The way I fell for this game honestly shocked me. Despite being such a big and complicated game, it excelled in not overstaying its welcome. I was still having a blast at the end of it, and even after two hours I just wanted to play it again, right then and there.
Unfortunately, no one else was quite so like minded. They wanted to “go home” and “sleep.” They enjoyed it well enough, but the challenge will be in seeing if I can find enough folks whose excitement outpaces their fatigue. It certainly did with me.
If getting people to play Terra Mystica several time will be a challenge, I shudder to think how many times I’ll be hanging out with just one other person and they happen to be willing to spend three hours on a simulation of the Cold War.
I sincerely hope it happens, though, because Twilight Struggle is almost indisputably a brilliant game, currently sitting at the top of BoardGameGeek’s rankings. That’s a lot of people who think the game is, more or less, amazing.
It is exceptional in the way it evokes a persistent feeling of tension and damage control. You might get a hand full of card for your side of the war, and have to decide the best way to use them, and in which order. You might get a handful of events for your opponent, and sit back with a nervous smile, thinking that, well, at least you can dictate some of the terms.
It puts the players in a strange position—not as individuals within the world of the game, ostensibly as nations, but perhaps more accurately as strange forces of history trying to tip the scales one way or the other. It’s dripping with history, and it rewards knowing it to be better prepared for what comes next. I’m happy to oblige as I navigate my way through the depths of Twilight Struggle.
That’s the plan to play a couple of games a week, as I’ve reassuringly told myself. I’m even ahead of schedule, a day in and a game played. Brief recaps of games will be posted after they happen, with longer pieces reviewing or reflecting on games as I cross games off the list entirely. Whether I succeed or fail, there’ll be a write-up on the whole project by year’s end.
So, once again, happy New Year! Whether or not you’ve been inspired to give this particular challenge a try, I hope you find my efforts entertaining, maybe even useful. Regardless, I hope you make an effort to focus on doing something you enjoy. That’s what this whole thing’s about, after all.