When I posted this year’s Top Twelve list to Facebook, a Euro-fan friend of mine noted that our two lists of favorites had now totally diverged. It’s true too. I started out as a fresh-faced fan of Eurogames, and then cynicism and darkness crept into my soul until only the deep embrace of dice could soothe my fevered brow.
But what if my love for the vibrant world of victory points and auctions had never died? What would my Top Twelve games look like then? Maybe a little like the list below, actually. The games on this list are all what I would call “German” or “Eurogames.” It’s kind of an arbitrary distinction, but they are uniformly excellent games and would all receive high recommendations from me.
12. El Grande
This German classic was one of those lightning bolt experiences for me, where I instantly loved it and wanted a copy. It’s been imitated endlessly in games where you try to get the most cubes in a section of the board. But it’s never been quite as cutthroat and direct as it is here. It’s a very dynamic, volatile game that has aged very well. I don’t play it like I used to, but it will always have a place on my shelf.
11. Adel VerpflichtetMost recently known by the unfortunate English title of Hoity Toity, this was one of the first German titles to jump across the Atlantic. Klaus Teuber’s double-guessing game is very simple, perhaps even quaint to snooty modern gamers. But if it’s a one-trick pony, it does that trick very well. I just ended up with a copy in a trade a year or so ago, and it’s been a happy discovery for me. It’s accessible, simple to learn, and filled with those moments where you out-think yourself. It’s out of print now, but if there’s any justice it won’t stay that way.
Speaking of double-guessing and bluffing, this Bruno Faidutti classic remains one of the best values in the hobby, a lean $20-$25 for a terrific bluffing game. The character power selection is a master of game design, eight roles that seem entirely unbalanced by are brought into focus by how they affect each other. It’s Faidutti’s masterpiece, and one that’s a must for big groups.
9. Tigris & Euphrates
The great Reiner Knizia makes his first of two appearances on this list, with one of the most unique German designs, even at fifteen years old. It looks like an abstract mess, but the simple rules and dynamic tactical gameplay actually reveal a creative take on the civilization genre. Empires rise and fall, every turn feels important, and it’s all over in about an hour. Sometimes I think game design is still catching up to it.
8. Power Grid
There was a time when Power Grid contended for the title of favorite game in my collection. Even today, I think I could find opponents easier for this one than any other game I own. It’s still my favorite auction, ruthless and tense. When everyone at the table knows how to play well, it’s one of my favorite economic games. It’s a number-heavy game, which has hurt its stock with me more than anything else. But I still love it, and it’s still one that burns my brain after so many plays.
This is the most recent game on the list, coming out just last year. Imagine a game where you do all the normal Euro stuff, like colonizing, shipping goods, and placing workers. Now imagine that the game was designed to be as thematic as it could be, and you have an idea of what Archipelago accomplishes. It’s made with an eye towards experience, even while it delves into blind bids and worker placement. I’m not sure how well-loved it is, but it’s like nothing I’ve seen before, and I think it’s something really special. There’s a chance it could make an appearance on the proper Top Twelve list someday.
6. RaAuction games are a well-trodden genre for European designers, and Ra is still one of the best. It knows that auctions are about the tense decision and anticipating your opponents, and Herr Knizia distilled it down to it’s barest essence. Not only that, but there’s an outstanding element of push-your-luck. Those moments when one player is pulling tiles hoping they don’t draw that last Ra tile? Who needs a theme with games like that?
5. Lords of Waterdeep
There isn’t a single original idea in Lords of Waterdeep, but it uses that familiarity to its advantage to make a razor-sharp game. It’s no-nonsense approach may not be flashy, but its accessibility and directness has been sorely lacking for Euros for a long time. It’s like hearing a band release an album that sheds tons of flourish and production, and gets back to basics, except it’s cubes instead of guitar riffs. The Scoundrels of Skullport expansion is just about ideal for this kind of game too.
4. The Settlers of Catan
No hipster snobbery here. I still love Catan after all of these years, even if I rarely play it anymore. The basic game is rightfully a board game classic both within the hobby and in the mainstream, but these days I’m most impressed with its first two expansions, which remain a prime display of how good game expansions can be. Often derided as passe, there’s still so much to enjoy on that little island.
Betting on races has been done in a lot of games, but Manila did it better than any of them. Combine it with a ridiculously powerful auction and a sort of primitive worker placement,and you have something that people are only just realizing was pretty special. I’ve had all sorts of games with Manila: intense battles of wits, hilarious dicefests, and of course those ones where everything rides on a single roll. It shares a shelf with Space Hulk and Dune, but I sometimes think that Manila is my ultimate grail game.
2. Galaxy Trucker
What kind of insanity does it take to make a game like Galaxy Trucker? It’s one of the most creative and hilarious games I’ve ever played, and it still allows for intelligent play and tough choices, even if you have to make those choices in a couple of seconds. Many games have strategy and theme, but not many of them have a personality. Galaxy Truckers has loads of it, and enough tough choices to satisfy cerebral gamers. And if I didn’t mention it already, it’s a really funny game.
I am in awe of Imperial’s design. It’s a you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate combination of investment and warfare, and both elements dovetail flawlessly. Neither one overpowers the other, and they allow for all kinds of play styles at the table. Add to that a wicked satirical attitude towards the relationship between money and government, and it’s something to behold. I could play fifty games of Imperial, and there would still be stuff to discover.