The Group of Ten, 2015-2016 Edition

You may recall that last year I wrote a piece about what games I would keep in my collection if forced to winnow it down to just ten titles. At the time it was just an interesting thought experiment, but it ended up gaining a little traction. My friends at DFW Nerd Nighters ended up doing a whole episode about it, their longest one I believe. This year, Nerd Nighter JR Honeycutt has released an updated version of his list from last year.

Now studious readers will know that I have in years past published a list of my top twelve games. I didn’t do that this year, partially because I don’t have a weekly column anymore, but also because there just isn’t that much movement. (Spoiler alert, Cosmic Encounter still wins.) But since JR made his new list, I thought it’d be a good time for me to revisit it and see what’s changed.

Please note, we’re talking about games that get their entire product line included. That means that I get every expansion, promo, etc. It also assumes I will always have the proper group to play every one of these games. That’s especially important for a couple of them.

What’s gone…

For one reason or another, these games which all appeared on my list last year have been bounced. Let’s find out why!

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island – This version of the list contains no true co-op games. I really like Robinson Crusoe, one of my favorite games. But I included some different thematic experiences this time around that I feel are more where I am these days.

Ra – Last year I agonized over whether to include this one or not over my OTHER favorite Reiner Knizia game. I’m calling game-writer’s remorse and switching back.

King of Tokyo  – I maintain that King of Tokyo is one of the best introductory games in the whole hobby. But truthfully I just don’t play it that much anymore. I have three other games on the list that are easy plays for non-gamers, and that’s plenty for me.

Dune – Dune was kind of on the bubble last year, as the reigning champ of multi-player conflict. I love it so much, but I went with a game that I feel is a little more different from another game on the list (Dune shares a lot of DNA with Cosmic Encounter), as well as one that isn’t burdened by such a hard sell of a license. I mean, people just aren’t into Dune anymore as a franchise. Maybe if a movie ever gets off the ground we’ll see.

Agricola – This one hurts, but when it came right down to it I already have a moderately complex resource management game (Catan with expansions) and another more complex Euro that I’d rather spend the rest of my life with. It’s a brutal choice, but that’s how it goes.

The Group of Ten

Cosmic Encounter – I mean, this is the least surprising choice ever, right? I could play it all day and never run out of new things to see. I can play it really laid-back and breezy, or cutthroat and metagamey, and it’s always terrific. With five expansions, this is THE game for me. The past year has shown me that this doesn’t have to be a conflict game. In practice it usually is, but it’s really about deciding what kind of encounter the two sides are going to have. There’s mistrust, collusion, dirty tricks, and dramatic saves. It’s the perfect board game, and that’s just that.

Catan – The old girl gets a bad rap these days, but there still isn’t anything better in terms of interaction, variety, and intuitive gameplay. Throw in the Seafarers and Cities & Knights expansion, and you have the best of all possible Catans. And there’s really no end to the variety you could instill in this one. In fact, I think if any game was a good candidate to get a build-your-own-expansion expansion (think Super MArio MAker for a board game), I think Catan would be ideal.

Acquire – Full disclosure: I don’t play Acquire all that much. It’s the sort of game that groups trot out every year or so just to remind us all of where we came from. Fortunately it’s still aged really well, and it’s one of the classic designs of the hobby. Besides that, it’s actually really easy to teach, even while it is loaded with tough decisions that can torpedo the game for you. Still one of the finest economic games ever designed, and still good enough for me.

Talisman – So this year on F:AT’s Secret Satan gift exchange, I received all of the Talisman expansions I didn’t already own. To be clear, I already own six of them. That puts me at thirteen expansions for a game I don’t play all that often. But maybe if it was one of only ten games I’d have time to explore them all, hm? Besides, you can teach Talisman to anyone. It’s sort of the whole genre of adventure games in its most obvious form. What’s that? You don’t like Talisman? What, you think you’re better than me?

Dixit – The last repeat from last year surprises me still. It’s a mark of how I’ve grown as a gamer that I don’t need some big extensive ruleset to create compelling games, or even something with lots of nuance or wild swings. It’s just you and your ideas, and trying to communicate them to the other players in a way that is just ambiguous enough. This has proven to be one of the most durable games we own, and it’s also one of my wife’s favorites.

Twilight Struggle – Last year’s list was missing a good two-player offering, and this is the best one there is, full stop. Every game is better than the one before, and there are so many facets to dig into that I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning how to play well. It’s a heck of an experience as well, and an outstanding piece of thematic design.

Clash of Cultures – I haven’t played this one in well over a year. That should probably disqualify it from my list, but then it’s my list. What, you think you’re better than me? Anyway, it’s lack of playtime is mostly due to it’s scope, which is considerable even within its doable playtime. It hits all of the epic stuff I want. Tech? Dice-based combat? Huge swings in fortune? It’s unmatched. This is going to be my epic conflict game of choice, especially with the gone-too-soon Civilizations expansion there to add some factional uniqueness and extra units. It’s conflict game design at its best.

Merchants & Marauders – Let it be known, Christian Marcussen is the only designer to score two games on this list. They are both among my favorite games ever, and are totally different. This is the thematic experience that booted Robinson Crusoe. It helps that it got an expansion this year, though I haven’t played it yet. But even in its most basic form, Merchants & Marauders does pirates right. You might not succeed, but you will fail doing exactly what you wanted to do.

Tigris & Euphrates – Look, it’s one of the best games ever. It belongs here. Last time I bumped Ra, which is a masterpiece of its own. But I’ve had an enthusiastic group for this one in Texas, and I’ve also enjoyed the well-done app on Android. It’s the sweep of Mesopotamian kingdoms in a tidy 45 minutes, and it has some of the best-executed abstaction I’ve ever seen. It’s so good, people still claim it’s dry and soulless. But don’t let them fool you. This is a savage game that takes a great zoomed-out view of its setting.

Duel of Ages II – I had the opportunity to play this at BGG.Con this year with a group that already knew how to play, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was so detailed, funny, and rich that we were exchanging stories of it on BGG after the fact. Duel of Ages II is the thing that should not be, a hulking behemoth of a game that ought to be awful but is instead wonderful. It’s so insane, and commits so thoroughly to its insanity, that it’s impossible for me to not love it. And it’s the sort of thing that, if I don’t own it, not many other people will.

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2 thoughts on “The Group of Ten, 2015-2016 Edition

  1. I have a few changes, too, compared with my response to your post from last year.

    Gone for no other reason really than to make room for other games:
    Carson City, The Duke, 2 de Mayo (still all very good games)

    Remaining on the list from last year (see notes along with that post):
    Polis, Carcassonne, Neue Heimat, Keyflower, Dixit, Catchphrase, VivaJava

    Added this year:
    Mage Knight – this one scratches that exploration/dungeon crawl itch plus I decided I ought to include a game I could play solo on my list
    Boggle – this is an old favorite of mine my kids enjoy playing now, too, which has rekindled my admiration for the game, also my list was missing a good word game
    Melee – you get a lot of game in a little package with this one and I love the interactions that revolve around the guesswork battle mechanic

  2. Pretty good choice there Nate, we have some common ground, but I think my ten would go something like this not in any particular order

    Acquire
    Heroscape
    Troyes
    Twilight Struggle
    Race for the Galaxy
    Innovation
    Brass
    Tigris
    Carrom (El Grande if I cheat and not count dexterity games)
    Agricola

    note I also left off poker which is the only game I play with a table full of people.

    Its funny because my access to Brassm Tigris (3 competent opponents required) and Twilight Struggle (time) is not what it used to be or should but Troyes has totally taken over as the game of the house. It took me a while to realise this is the best modern (post classic/Knizias/90s) euro there is.

    Agricola is on my bubble too, I’ve just played it so much and almost entirely 2P, I’m hoping that more multiplayer games will revive my interest. I think also I got fed up with the bloat from all the extra decks so have cut back to just the basic decks that came with the original game. But both Carson City and Manhattan Project get more requested now in the workery placementy euroy category and both are growing on me, even though I thought TMP was pretty rubbish at first.

    Acquire is classic, but it has to be said that Lords of Vegas gets more table time, and you can see the roots it has in Acquire in some ways its a lighter, more modern, trashy, random take on an Acquire like idea.

    Tammany Hall is also seeing a bit of traction against El Grande, just a bit more thematic and more banter inducing, goes down a lot better with “non gamers” even if the more direct metagame that results affects the outcome a lot more than in El Grande (its just more obvious how everyone can be dicks to other people)

    Pax Porfiriana might start edging out the two quick card games, I used to prefer Innovation but dont play it enough so now it feels a bit slow and rusty (our fault, not the game), whereas Race is a lot easier to get back into the flow even after not playing for a while.

    And then Conflict of Heroes / Combat Commander, in early stages but feel like these will take a lot of interest and perhaps bump off stuff like Agricola and Innovation?

    In short, greater interaction is becoming more important and interesting to me, and just “fun” in the purest “know it when I see it” sense (yes, Heroscape, a game I will never describe in terms of meaningful decisions whether or not there ever are any. Who cares. Its just wonderful)

    I have never played Cosmic Encounter.

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