HistoriKC Fest is happy to announce that we will be returning to the Holiday Inn & Suites Overland Park-West for our 2023 event. The game room will open on Thursday evening, August 17th, and the convention will run through Sunday, August 20th. Featured designer and event announcements, together with registration information, will be announced in the coming months.
When: August 17-20, 2023 Where: Holiday Inn & Suites Overland Park-West, Overland Park, Kansas Details and Website: HistoriKC Fest Website
In the past year I’ve been exposed to a range of games that I had previously disregarded. 18xx and the occasional lighter, train-themed game seemed more than adequate in the past. But this year I dove into the world of cube rails and now I’ve been playing train simulators and have a pair of striped overalls on the way to the house.
Welcome back to another round of guest Top 5. This time we are joined by Rex Stites, a local wargamer but more relevant an all around train game guru. Whether an 18xx or cube rail game, it seems to me that Rex will almost always have had some experience with the game. And although Rex might root for the Jayhawks, I do listen closely when he shares his opinions on train games.
This go around we are sharing out Top 5 ‘Train’ Games. It appears that, as with war games, it’s necessary to define, or intentionally fail to define what a train game is. Accordingly, we are interpreting ‘train’ game in the broadest sense of the term. If a train is involved, and it’s not an 18xx title, it qualified for the list. That being said, I think there should still be plenty of good picks for all levels of train interests
Rex was also great about providing a run down for each game, so listen up!
Rex:Dutch Intercity – What would this list be without DIC? Dutch InterCity is a train game that makes you forget it has trains. There’s a map. You build rail links. Route length determines dividends. Simple. But where’s the game?
The game is in the auctions. Well, kind of. What sets DIC auctions apart actually has nothing to do with the auctions themselves. Like many games, stock rounds, operating rounds, and dividend rounds make up the general cycle of the game. Dutch InterCity‘s conceit is that the stock round does not end until one player has $0 of personal cash left. This creates a brittle situation in early SRs, as players jockey to prevent [or obtain] an early share edge. As the game progresses, and the various companies differentiate themselves, players must carefully balance the intrinsic value of the share, their own personal cash, and the personal cash of others in deciding which shares to auction and how much to bid.
There’s not much of an operational aspect, but the game doesn’t need it. Dutch InterCity forces players to think about share auctions in a unique way, and the player interplay is more than enough to ensure DIC doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Matt: First Class is a household favorite and is only qualifying for this list based off theme alone. First Class is a drafting game where each player drafts cards into their tableau. Cards are largely single purpose but there are a few multi-use cards that can be selected depending on the modules used for play. For the most part First Class is multi-player solitaire but the multiple tracks (heh) to victory make for a fun puzzle each play as you focus on different aspects of your train tableau to develop. Probably not for the train-iest of train gamers but one of our most played games.
Rex:Age of Steam – Some say it’s Martin Wallace’s best game. Others say it’s not even a Martin Wallace game. Still others say it’s not a train game. Whatever it is or isn’t, it’s a damn good game. The key to AoS is that the game hates you. And that’s not just hyperbole, it really does. Unsure how to interpret a rule? It’s safe to say, that whichever interpretation puts you in a worse position is the right one. And that’s not a bad thing. There are two levels of AoS play: learning to survive and learning to compete. Surviving is harder than it sounds. While AoS‘s pick-up-and-deliver core (you deliver cubes to increase your income) is simple and unintimidating—once you dig into your first game, you might quickly begin to wonder if you can survive turn 2 or 3. Since each delivery permanently increases your income, how hard can it be? Did I mention that you don’t start with any money? That’s right $0. You have to take loans. Loans that can’t be repaid. Loans that cost interest each turn. Loans that count against your VPs. If that weren’t enough, at then end of a turn your income will $1 for every $10 of income. Not enough cash to pay your expenses after taking income for the turn? You reduce your income dollar for dollar—which can quickly lead to a spiral toward bankruptcy. Put it all together and AoS can become an economic trap that would make Malthus blush. But with a game or two under your belt, the game becomes a less daunting enemy, allowing you to focus on the other players and actually winning. It’s at this point that AoS moves from a solid but forgettable game to something special. Auctions become the critical, if not sole, consideration. The auctions are ostensibly just for turn order. “Just.” Ha. In reality, players are competing for everything from the right to deliver that one purple cube left to who will get to build that critical link. But turn order is not absolute. Immediately after the auction, players choose a single special action. Standard actions available include “First Build” and “First Delivery” that changes turn order for each of those phases. It’s not unheard of for having first choice to deliver a cube that round is so critical to a player’s game that the player will win first player and then take “First Delivery” as well to ensure, with absolute certainty, that the critical delivery is made. What makes the AoS auctions so great is that players have various competing interests throughout the sequence of play and they’re effectively all up for auction at the same time. Because of the uncertainty about what everyone else is doing, the auctions are always lively and, more often than not, decisive in determining the winner. By itself, base AoS—The Rustbelt—probably wouldn’t be strong enough to include on this list. But there are myriad maps available, and they can change AoS into something new and fresh, but without disturbing the game’s core concerns. Rule changes are often as simple as replacing or modifying one of the core specific actions. With minimal AoS experience, the way such a change will reverberate throughout the game is fairly obvious, which means the same basic tricks players have already learned will continue to work. At the same time, the change(s) will often make you rethink a previously core aspect of the game.
Matt: Trains are a theme that seem to register well with members of our family who don’t play a lot of board games. For a long time, Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania was our go to when playing games with our family when wanted to play a train game but wanted more than Ticket to Ride. Although I still enjoy TTR:P, Ride the Rails has become our new go to lighter train game. Players are still building routes and taking limited actions each round but Ride the Rails introduces passenger delivery, company ownership, shared incentives and basic economic decision making, all without ramping the difficulty up much past a game of TTR.
Rex:Union v. Central—UvC is somewhat of a white whale for many who’ve dipped their toe into this little niche of the boardgaming hobby. I’m here to say that you probably won’t like it, and I don’t say that to be snobbish or elitest or exclusionary. I’m convinced that most people want it simply because they can’t find it and they’ve heard people talk about it.
Conceptually, there’s a lot that many people would like about UvC. It’s a 2P tableau building, resource conversion, pick-up-and-deliver card game. Kind of. It’s all those things and yet none of them. In a word, it’s unique. At it’s core, it offers something to gamers with a wide range of preferences. What sets it apart is that the “short” game is probably 6+ hours, and god knows how long the campaign game would take—12? 16? In some ways, it’s similar to AoS in that you’re building an economic engine of sorts. Like AoS—and unlike so many Euros, though—the engine is much more likely to stall than it is to snowball and become a trivial optimization exercise. A lot of people would be fine playing UvC for an hour, maybe two. But I doubt many would willingly suffer it for 6+ hours.
The game’s conceit is that each player represents either the Union Pacific or the Central Pacific, the two railroads trying to complete transcontinental railway. The winner is the first player to build a set number of rails—8 in the “short” game and 16 in the campaign game.
It sounds so simple. How could it take 6+ hours to build 8 rails??? Well, you’re not just building rail. You’re collecting and converting raw materials. You’re building towns and depots and buying the trains you need to transport your goods. What makes the going tough is a basic truism of logistics that is often neglected in boardgame design: as your supply lines become longer, the percentage of your transport capacity that is filled with the supplies necessary to move the goods increases. The trains you build in the game consume raw materials in order to operate for a turn. Each turn, they can move 5 rails—maybe less in bad terrain. It can be relatively easy to build those first few rail sections, but eventually you’re going to have to stop building rail and start building other infrastructure—depots, towns, etc.—along the way to facilitate shuffling goods to their ultimate destination.
In many ways you’re playing the game more than your opponent. But there’s just enough interaction that you don’t feel like you’re playing a solitaire game. It’s a game unlike any other and despite the length, at the end of a game, I’m always ready to play again as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get to the table. If I have a buddy and 8 hours, I’m probably playing a wargame. And that’s too bad, because if you can get past the length and the effort needed to accomplish seemingly simple objectives, it’s a great game and a unique experience.
Matt: Iberian Railways is another game I would consider to be a great next step or introductory cube rail game but also one that I find to be tons of fun and a game that appears to have a few different viable strategies. The game is limited to four basic actions and you can’t repeat an action two turns in a row. No shared incentives or investment between players in Iberian Railways but players still develop routes, start new railways and must manage their finances and loans. The end game trigger is also interesting. Once a player has placed their final cube anywhere on the board (cubes are not only used in to represent routes) the game ends. Not everyone’s favorite but one I enjoy.
Rex: Lokomotive Werks— Who knew rolling 20d6 could be this much fun? The teaching pitch to the game is: 18XX train rush without stocks or operating rounds. The grumbling you hear from new players is, how could a game with that much dice rolling be decided by anything but luck? The fact is, games need uncertainty—whether from other players or randomness—otherwise they are simply a puzzle.
LW is incredibly simple at its core. So simple, new players may come away with the impression that it’s a trivial exercise in optimization combined with a lot of luck. But underneath its simple, trivial, and random venire, there’s a lot of game. The real decisions aren’t how much new production to buy or old production to upgrade each turn so that you optimize your return for that specific turn. The key decisions are which locomotives to develop and when and how to manipulate your production suboptimally in the short-term.
I should probably explain a bit more about the game. Players develop 4 different locomotive technology types. Each different loco type has a different number of technology levels. The highest level is “permanent.” The blue locos only have two technology levels, whereas the green locos have five. The techs come out in a fixed order, but the only requirement to start a new tech is that someone has started the one before. In other words, you don’t have to buy all the “2Ts” to get to the “3Ts.” The techs generally cycle through each color—green, red, yellow, blue—before moving to the next “level.” This isn’t always true, though. The level two blue tech becomes available after the level three green tech. New techs “rust” the earlier tech(s) of that color. There’s a linear progression of the technologies in terms of costs and income. Tech design cost (initial capital investment), additional production cost, and income per unit sold are always a ratio of $4 : $2 : $1. Thus tech is conceptually just as profitable as every other tech.
I mentioned production before. Production is abstract and semi-fungible. When you “design” a new tech, it comes with 1 production on it. You can buy additional production for 1/2 the design cost. Because each tech is 4:2:1, you can “upgrade” a production from one tech to another by simply paying the cost difference. But you can never move production back down the chain.
The flip side of production is consumer demand. This is where the dice come in. Each technology will have a certain number of dice representing consumer demand for that locomotive type. After someone develops a new technology, a single die is rolled for the next technology to determine the initial number of orders for that technology. After the first turn a technology is activated, another die is rolled and added until the tech is “full.” The maximum number dice each can hold varies from tech to tech, with green techs holding the most and blue the least. A player can only satisfy demand for one die before another player is given an opportunity. Dice that are completely depleted are rerolled. Dice that are not remain—so if you leave 1 production on a die, it may seriously limit demand the next turn.
Much of the game boils down to manipulating turn order to your advantage. At the end of the turn, the person with the least amount of cash will become first player—and thus first to satisfy demand—the next turn. That can be a huge deal if, for example, three players have a tech type and the demand dice for the next turn are 6, 1, 1. The first player will be able to sell 6 of that locomotive while the other two only one each. Playing the game well requires understanding the interplay of turn order and how demand is generated and satisfied. Sometimes that means buying new production you can’t use to spend your cash down or moving production away from a technology to leave some demand for the next turn. The big decisive points of the game are typically decisions on which new technology to develop. If you’re behind, it’s often a good idea to enter a market that someone else opened in an earlier turn so that you are competing and depriving them of sales.
The end result is that LW gives players fewer decisions but the decisions it gives have a big impact on the outcome. It also forces players to be cognizant of what other players are doing and to react to it.
Matt: It was back in February of this year that a group of us started playing Chicago Express asynchronously over and over again. Thus began my 2022 love affair with cube rails. Since then, we’ve had a continuous series of Chicago Express plays going non-stop. Those plays have been a highlight of the 2022 gaming year. Even after over thirty-five plays, Chicago Express is still revealing new layers and strategies to me. At first, the three actions all seemed so simple, but the timing and decision to execute (or intentionally not) are what make Chicago Express so brilliant. Those three simple actions and the time of execution are more important than you think when you first start playing the game and are as large of part of the game as auctioning and valuing shares.
Rex:Wabash Cannonball—The King of Cube Rails. The quintessential shared-incentives game. As with all Winsome games, it has a very simple set of rules. That simplicity belies the depth of the game, though. Two things set WC apart. First, it is often in a player’s best interest to select an action type, typically an auction, and then not actually take the action. Second, a player can act on behalf of a company merely by owning a share in it. More on both of those things later.
The game starts with an auction of one share in each of the four companies initially available. After that, players will choose from one of three actions on their turns: Auction, Expand, and Develop. There are a fixed number of each action type available. Once two of the three actions have been maxed out, dividends are paid and the action counters are reset. Auctions and expansions are self-explanatory. Development is placing a token on a hex to increase the revenue it produces. A companies revenue is determined by the cities and mountain hexes it visit. That income is paid out on a per-share sold basis. In other words, when another share of a company is put up for auction, the existing shareholders’ dividends are diluted.
These basic rules create an ever-changing set of incentive structures that force players to “negotiate” short-term alliances always with a chance of defection. I say “negotiate” because no table talk or explicit deal making is necessary. In fact, quite the opposite. The game really shines when such negotiations are limited to the implicit communication of various actions. If I put up a share of the B&O, which I own the only other share in, and I don’t have enough money to actually win it, that action should be seen as a request and offer to cooperate with someone through advancement of the B&O. But for each action—cooperation—there is an equal reaction—destruction. A 1-1 share split makes for great cooperation. If I’m outside of that [temporary] alliance, I may very well put a third share of that company up for auction. A 2-1 split for the PRR (which only has 3 shares) can quickly shatter that previous alliance and cause force the minority shareholder to divert the company to the middle of nowhere so that it never gets to Chicago (which triggers a special dividend payment for that company).
At the end of the day, your incentives are going to be inextricably intertwined with each of the other players in a way that doesn’t match anyone else (if that makes sense). Each action you take may improve your position relative to some players while hurting relative to others. The web of incentive structures isn’t unique to WC, but I’m not sure any other game gives you the same tools to manipulate and alter those structures.
Matt: Not a meme pick just to talk about the good, good Dutch InterCity. No, Dutch Intercity is a quick-playing, rules simple, minimalist design that is way more nuanced in execution than looks would have you believe. There is so much power in trying to time your actions to control auction rounds ending, turn order and to a slightly lesser extent game end (harder to trigger game end than triggering an auction close). Dutch Intercity is brain burn-y cube rail game with heavy emphasis on timing and auctions and, for the time being, is one of my favorite games going forward.
We asked members of the History on the Table Discord Server what their favorite train games were. The clear frontrunner for HotT members was Chicago Express with South African Railroads and Age of Steam both coming in second place.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 Train games below. Thanks to Rex for stopping by to share his favorite train games. We hope to have him back some day to share his top 18xx games as well. If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Judd for dropping by.
Welcome back to another round of guest Top 5. We’re back with Judd Vance who’s video and BoardGameGeek submissions served as my wargaming Sherpa when I was getting into the hobby.
Today we are sharing our Top 5 filler or quick playing wargames. As always, we are using ‘wargame’ in the broadest since of the word. Perhaps Top 5 quick historical board games for our pedantic gamers out there.
We defined filler/quick as 60 minute games or games that we could probably play in that time period.
Judd:Given Up for Dead. It’s a beer-and-pretzels/dice chucker solitaire game in Against the Odds issue #43. You play the part of the U.S. Marines defending Wake Island in 1941 against the Japanese invasion. It captures the battle in broad strokes, but you will destroy a lot more invaders (before you lose) than historically occurred, but it’s quick and it’s fun and as an added bonus, the solitaire Peleliu game that also comes in the magazine is even better, but falls outside of range of “filler.”
Matt: Attack Sub. Quintessential filler wargame historical filler. It’s usually found cheap, you can adjust the number of subs and ships to play super short scenarios or you can scale things up for a big ol’ Cold War show down. I also think you can come up with some house rules to make this play multiple players with partially shared hands but we won’t get lost in those weeds. Judd and others describe this as Up Front but for submarines, so lots of randomness. However, it’s fast enough to not be bothered by the outcomes, long enough to practice your best Captain Ramius impersonation, and fun enough to tuck a copy in your bag when you need a quick filler between games.
Judd:Jena 20. I played all 3 editions (two by Victory Point Games and one by C3i) and all were good. This is part of the Napoleonic 20 series: 20 counters, short rules, and a clever system where you spend morale for combat and movement bonuses and lose morale for routing. If your morale goes to zero, you lose. Event cards provide variability. It is a great gateway into the Napoleonic Wars.
Matt: 300: Earth & Water. I’ll copy Judd’s number 5 here and also go with a beer-and-pretzels game that came recommended to me by Frédéric Serval. Combat is Risk-like in nature and mechanically simple but manages to do a nice job of capturing a numerically superior Persian force and the tactically superior Greeks. Where I find the game excels is through the management of resources each turn as players are weighing building up their forces, land or sea, against cards that drive their strategy. Tiny footprint, very light, lots of fun.
Judd:We Must Tell the Emperor. One of my three favorite State of Siege games. Unfortunately, it will cost you at least one appendage to acquire (and another appendage to acquire the expansion), but maybe it will get reprinted. This solitaire game has you playing the role of Japan in WWII. You have great success in the first third and then it all comes crumbling down after that and you try to get through the event deck before the allies force surrender. You have to push the multiple forces back while keeping a sufficient supply of morale and oil while the army and navy bicker with each other.
Matt: Watergate. Not many battles being fought here but remember this is Top 5 historical games. We do have the Washington Post duking it out against Tricky Dicky though! Looking around the list, I guess I have a thing for quick playing CDGs? In Watergate game you play cards to influence different tracks or, you guessed it, to activate events. The game has great back and forth tension with the Washington Post drawing evidence connections to Nixon, and Nixon trying to place pieces to block those links as he attempts to gain momentum. Straight forward, quick to play and one that’s easy to go “Another round?”.
Judd:A Few Acres of Snow. I know, I know… “Halifax Hammer.” I still enjoy the game a lot. It was refreshing when it came out and it still feels good to pull it out and play it. This game on the French & Indian War still does the best job I have seen on this topic at modeling the long supply line to home and the uncertain arrival of supplies and reinforcements and it does it all in a very simple mechanic (deck building). That is the mark of a smart design.
Matt: Julius Caesar: Caesar, Pompey, and the Roman Civil War.Can this game be played in an hour? I think so! Am I already cheating? Maybe, but the excellent Rally the Troop implementations of the Columbia block wargames might be skewing my opinion on how long these games take in person. I think with enough practice you could certainly knock out any of the shorter scenarios found in the Columbia games in an hour so, deal with it! Julius Caesar is my chosen representative for any of these games with it being my favorite (so far). They all basically play the same with each having their own rules with varying levels of chrome. Play cards, move a group of blocks, and chuck dice until you roll equal or below a certain number as indicated on the blocks. Great fun.
Judd:Hold the Line: Frederick’s War. This entry also captures Hold the Line (American Revolution), but I prefer this one, because it offered some improvements, such as devastating heavy cavalry charges, counter-charges, force marches, banking action points, and gaining a bonus action point if the army commander did not act the previous turn. The scenarios are tightly balanced and fan-created scenarios open up the entire Seven Years War. It is out of print, but the designer took the premise to Hollandspiele and re-worked it in the Horse & Musket series.
Matt: Red Flag Over Paris. Part of GMT Games’ Lunchtime Games family and is a direct follow up to Fort Sumter. For me, it’s the perfect fit of fast playing and crunchy and, more importantly, interesting decisions. You will vie for control of over Paris both in the military and political spheres while managing limited resources. A basic card driven game with flavorful events and a small menu of basic actions you can carry out instead. Great art and presentation, tough decisions, and a perfect filler game for historical gamers. In my opinion, far superior to Fort Sumter.
Several months ago when this list was first announced on the History on the Table Discord server we polled the members to see what their favorite short/filler wargame was. W1815 received the most votes with Red Flag Over Paris, Watergate, Table Battles and Undaunted all also receiving some love.
User freddyknuckles stumped for Tank Duel, “We had such a great time with [Tank Duel]. Think it would fall in that filler/party/getting warmed up or cooling off space but it takes up a lot of room. Don’t think it’s as easy to bring out as Blitzkrieg or Watergate… when your head is overloaded with hex and counters or moving cubes, it’s nice to shoot tanks at your friends”.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 quick/filler historical games below. If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Judd for dropping by.
For the past six months members of the History on the Table Discord server have been ranking every wargame on the every wargame ever list (as the list stood at the end of 2021). Using a forced ranking tool from PubMeeple members of the Discord ranked the entire list by considering 2 games at a time. After 6 months of voting, here are the final results:
We discussed my top 10 games of all time after counting down for several weeks back in February of 2022. At some point, posting the text list of my top games completely slipped my mind. So nearly 4 months later, here is the final list! I kept my comments short since we did a full episode going over the game. For detailed discussion on my final 10 picks, check out Episode 35 of History on the Table.
10. Next War Series
A very rewarding level of complexity with great gameplay and interesting conflict hypotheticals.
9. Advanced Squad Leader
As it will probably continue to stand, my favorite WW2 tactical game.
We are nearly there! Later this week Rich and I will record this month’s episode and go through my top 10. This is the first place in the list where will we see a group of games ranked so seems like a good time to remind you that I combined GCACW, OCS, Line of Battle and Next War into one entry each and considered my top game in each series for ranking purposes. Keep an eye out for our next episode that will drop sometime over the weekend.
20. Holland `44
Mark Simonitch has created an excellent series of games using his ZOC-Bond system. The games are pretty welcoming to newcomers and have a nice amount of chrome. Holland `44 doesn’t have the attack limit from Normandy `44 and both sides have a tough puzzle to crack. The German player is on their heels the entire game but still has interesting decisions to make. Great looking game and one of the best in the series, but not the best.
19. Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision 1240-1242
Nevsky is a masterclass in designing operational games. In our most recent episode, we discussed how there was this weird barrier of entry into finally playing Nevsky. If you are like Rich and I, do yourself a favor and download the quick-start scenarios and just start pushing pieces around, you won’t be disappointed. Can’t recommend this game enough and I’m very excited to see where the Levy & Campaign series goes in the future.
18. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965
Silver Bayonet is surprisingly easy to learn and dive into and is one hundred percent worth it. The game is a blast to play with each side’s tactics feeling different from the other, especially in the campaign game. The individual scenario cards are perfect for setting you up for the full campaign as well and play great solo. The map is gorgeous, the components are top notch and Silver Bayonet is one of the best Vietnam games I’ve played.
17. 7th Fleet: Modern Naval Combat in the Far East
7th Fleet is a huge game covering the Pacific that I’ve unfortunately only played once. That one game experience left a lasting impression on me and still ranks as one of my favorite wargame memories. Once things clicked, I knew that the Fleet Series of games could go down as some of my favorite wargames ever made. Tons of different units with lots of levers to pull. I really hope any revamp of this classic series doesn’t change too many things just for the sake of changing things.
I’ll be the first to admit that the theme of Concordia is pretty soulless but the gameplay isn’t. Concordia is an action-card drafting, hand management game where you expand throughout the Mediterranean region to produce goods Your action cards start out pretty basic but as you acquire new cards you unlock unique actions for future turns. The brilliant aspect of this game is action cards double as victory point cards at the end of the game and can really jell nicely with your overall strategy.
15. Viticulture: Essential Edition
With a great theme and amazing components, Viticulture was one of my first board game loves and still ranks among my and my wife’s favorites. Viticulture is a worker placement game about producing wine, building up a winery and attracting visitors. Efficiency is key and I still can get surprised by a game ending faster than expected.
14. Operational Combat Series
If you are unfamiliar with MMP’s Operational Combat Series (“OCS), OCS is a campaign-level series of wargames where supply management is an integral part of gameplay. Simply put, OCS is one of my favorite wargame series out there. When I first read through the rules, I thought what the hell am I getting into. But once I started to push counters and supply around the maps (all of which are great in this series) the game clicks. The rules surprisingly digestible, probably benefiting from being on version 4.x. OCS can serve as week, month, year long monster game covering a huge campaign or can be play over a few hours on the weekend depending on the scenario. My only knock against the series is the large campaign turns can take a very, very long time to complete and often times the other side is just waiting to do anything. Personal favorites in the series so far are Beyond the Rhine and Korea.
13. Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble
First off, whatever say about this game could never really compare to Bruce Geryk’s fantastic video series that concluded with his video titles Dien Bien Phu – The Final Gamble (Legion Wargames) 2014. If you haven’t watched it, check it out. Kim Kanger has truly designed something very unique and innovative with Dien Bien Phu. Supply, combat, encroaching trench lines, even topic are all super interesting and introduce some innovative game designs.
12. Here I Stand
Here I Stand unfortunately has two big hurdles to overcome: 1) you need six players; and 2) you need a full day to play. If you can overcome those two barriers, you are in for one hell of an experience. Here I Stand is a card-driven game with six different factions, most of which feel very unique from each other. It can certainly be a pile on the leader game but that just means you need to politic and choose when to take your shot. I’ve been lucky enough to play a handful of times live over the past couple of years and Here I Stand just gets better and better each time.
11. Le Havre
I absolutely love the tough the decisions in Le Havre. Your actions are actually limited in execution, you either take goods or use a building, that’s it. You do that seven times over a round and then you have to feed workers. But the decisions offered by the piles of goods and available buildings make for extremely tight, difficult and just all around awesome game play. One of the best Uwe Rosenburg games for my money, but not the best…
Clans of Caledonia has a lot in common with Terra Mystica and Gaia Project but introduces manufacturing goods and a marketplace with fluctuating prices. The theme is fun one and the variable player factions serve as nice signposts for the direction you may want to develop your clan. Lots of different ways to build out and overall just a fun game to explore.
29. Atlantic Chase
Atlantic Chase is the rare exception where I think learning to play a game through a play-to-learn booklet actually works. The game is innovative, unique and is snappy to play. All of my plays have been solo so far which means that Atlantic Chase may be in a position to climb up this list.
28. Sword of Rome
Well balanced and not overly complicated, Sword of Rome is very tight card driven game where each faction races to conquer early Rome. Where Genesis has very limited negotiating mechanics, Sword of Rome is chock full of negotiations and deal making. Unique faction decks (as opposed to a shared draw pile) make for excellent card play and strong faction identity. Desperate Time cards add a fun wrinkle as well, serving as cards that disrupt play so you can become the active player. Once played, they’re gone. Tons of fun, the game itself may take a while to play but turns don’t feel drawn out and the game will circle back around to you soon enough. Not a game to be taken personally either.
27. The Civil War 1861-1865
There’ve been several times when talking about The U.S. Civil War (TUSCW) I have been asked if I’ve played Victory Game’s The Civil War 1861-1865 (TCW). Clearly, I finally have or rather, I finally am. I am still actively playing my first game of The Civil War but boy the similarities between TCW and TUSCW are abundantly clear right away. I’ll go on record now and predict that TCW will never eclipse TUSCW in my eyes but I will say that TCW is an all-around fantastic strategic Civil War game. Looking forward to seeing where TCW shakes out on the list in the years to come.
26. Thunder in the Ozarks: Battle for Pea Ridge, March 1862
The Blinds Sword System is just a great chit-pull based rules set with great combat resolution and added uncertainty with the command roll. Not only are you unsure what chit will be pulled from the cup, but the effectiveness of the command is also left to the fate of the die roll. Thunder in the Ozarks covers Pea Ridge which is just a fun battle to play out (see Battle Hymn Vol. 1 as well) and features fantastic and very unique art by Rick Barber. There are now 9 published Blind Swords System games. If you have yet to experience this system, I highly recommend you find one on a topic that interests you and give it a try.
25. 1846: The Race for the Midwest
18xx enthusiasts may roll their eyes as this one but the more I play 1846 the more I come to appreciate it. To be clear, there aren’t many stock shenanigans or clever levers to pull in 1846. `46 is very much an operational game where you run good companies. I don’t want that with every 18xx play. Yes, sometimes. most times even, I do want shenanigans, but sometimes I just want to sit down run great routes and focus on route development.
24. Pax Pamir
Tough picking a game you’ve only played once to crack your top 25 games of all time but here we are. My first play was full of threats, backstabbing and politicking and all of that paired with a very fun tableau builder. The mechanics are actually quite simple, you buy cards and place and manipulate those cards in your tableau. But, In addition to all the deal making, where Pax Pamir really shines is the interactions between coalitions, the board state and card play. Fantastic game that left a last impression after just one play.
23. Grand Austria Hotel
I love the aesthetic of Grand Austria Hotel and fortunately the gameplay quality matched. Grand Austria Hotel is an action drafting game where the actions and quality of the action is determined by a pool of dice rolled each round. You fill different café orders and place guests throughout your hotel. It’s really fun and really charming. You may have heard that this game can drag with 3 or 4 players, which is true if everyone is new to the game. Although we primarily play with 2, I’d happily play with 3 or 4 if everyone was familiar with the game.
22. High Frontier 4 All
Every play of High Frontier has left an impression on me. This game is capable of telling the most amazing space exploration stories, some failures, some glorious disasters. Sure, High Frontier is a lot to process but once you sit down to play, you’ll find the rules are in fact decipherable and this game can be played. Actually, the complexity here is not the rules or icons splattered across the stars. The complexity is maximizing efficiency and trying to identify what you should be doing for the best overall outcome.
21. 1849: The Game of Sicilian Railways
Finally, my highest ranked 18xx game. 1849 features brutal terrain and track development that crawls along like a rusting 2 train. Money is tight and you certainly don’t want to be left holding the bag on a dead company. Timing is crucial in 1849, especially for timing stocks. The final 2 shares of each company are these double certificates that I find to be a highlight of the game. Often times there is incentive to hold that double share and positioning yourself to be the lucky buyer can be important. The privates are interesting, the map is brutal (and even features an erupting volcano) and the gameplay is a blast (heh).
Caesar is an innovative card driven wargame that builds upon many of the foundations of Mark Simonitch’s earlier design, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. It’s fast playing, elegant and features a game state that seems to require constant reassessment as threats pop up and change very rapidly. A much more interesting dice-based combat resolution replaces the, for my taste, less interesting battle cards found in Hannibal. Hannibal and Caesar are both great games but Caesar is a refinement of its predecessor resulting and one of my favorite card driven games.
39. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
I initially bounced off of Sekigahara pretty hard. At first, I found no satisfaction in the combat resolution cards, much like Hannibal. After deciding to revisit the game, I discovered that the card play of Sekigahara is far deeper and much more rewarding than I initially thought. Mechanically simple but extremely clever in design, Sekigahara is an amazing game that has revealed its true potential over the course of continued play.
38. Bayonets& Tomahawks
I guess this is the part of my list where I’m dumping all my card driven games. That wasn’t by design but as I process these past few picks, I realize that they all share the common trait of being elegant, fast-play card driven games. None of games 40 through 38 are overly complex or monster wargames. They each build upon and offer new and interesting takes to the CDG genre and don’t overstay their welcome on the table. Bayonets & Tomahawks contributes its fair share of innovation and development to the genre with my favorite being how the differently shaped combat units interact with each other and lead to interesting combat outcomes. I’ll a admit that Bayonets & Tomahawks is a bit of a surprise hit for me. It snuck in a play in 2021, delivered a fantastic experience and has been occupying brain space ever sense.
37. Advanced Tobruk System
I earlier applauded Last Hundred Yards for standing on its own legs and being its own type of tactical WWII game. ATS on the other hand offers a very similar experience to Advanced Squad Leader. I don’t love everything about ATS but there are some very specific mechanic and rule choices that I do generally prefer to ASL. Most importantly, the rulebook is much more condensed and can almost be read much like you were preparing for any other wargame, almost. ATS also features alternating activations as opposed to entire I-go, you-respond phases in ASL. I could make a list of differences and things I prefer for each game but, in short, for me, ATS is a nice change of pace from ASL but does not dethrone it.
I alluded to Arboretum way back with game #79, Red Rising. Arboretum is this surprisingly tense little card game about planting different trees in increasing numerical order to try and score the most points. Scoring isn’t a guarantee though because you have to hold back enough trees in your hand to be eligible to score that type of tree. It’s simple but fascinating and sometimes excruciating trying to determine which cards to play, discard or keep. A brain-burner that I absolutely love.
35. Buffalo Wings
I am not good at playing Buffalo Wings. In my first face to face game my opponent, Mitchell Land, pointed out that after probably 5-7 turns of zooming and whirling around the map, my plane was effectively back to where I started, facing the same direction just at a much lower altitude. The Fighting Wings and Air Powers series covering tactical air combat from J.D. Webster fascinate me. As I dive deeper into these games, which I admit is a process, my fasciation grows. What I really like and appreciate is how the spreadsheet flight logs (tracking expenditures of movement, power, altitude, change in market value, etc.) reinforce the rules you’ve read and are trying to grock. I joke that it’s ‘Spreadsheets the Wargame’ but I’ve found I rather like working through that step-by-step process each turn to better understand these very meaty games.
34. Arkham Horror: The Card Game
I recently discussed Arkham Horror: The Card Gameas my top solo game. Whether solo, or multi-player, Arkham checks a lot of different boxes for me. First, I love a good Cthulhu based game. I know a lot of board gamers feel an oversaturation of Cthulhu as a theme but so long as the game play is fresh, keep `em coming. For Arkham,everything about this game captures or leans into the Cthulhu vibes I’m looking for. The scenarios, the settings, the art, and even the mechanics all lend themselves to the Lovecraft aesthetic and make for an outstanding scenario based living card game.
33. The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
Worker placement, engine building, tableau building, again we’re talking about a game that checks a lot of boxes. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire is an example of using the right mechanics and using them well and in new ways. Worker locations are never completely locked down because you can commit more energy to visit a spot that’s already been claimed. You can manipulate and use different buildings and energy types that align with your particular approach for that game. A great take on the worker placement genre.
32. Terra Mystica
I owned Terra Mystica for years before I finally played it and I only started playing because I played Gaia Project and couldn’t find a copy of it at the time. Terra Mystica is very much a resource management game. As long as you have the resources, you can take which ever action you want. There isn’t always an obvious or clear action to take when you first get started but once you start to build momentum and become more and more efficient the game’s depth begins to reveal itself. Factions are unique and offer different game play experiences. Games themselves can play out very differently based off those factions and different bonus and scoring tiles revealed. I don’t always go for euro games that require a ton of future planning but there is something about sitting down in front of Terra Mystica and realizing that if I do A, then B, that sets up C which will mean I can finally accomplish D.
31. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
You always remember your first and 1830 was my first 18xx game. It closed in a glorious blaze with someone else dumping an empty shell corporation on an unexpecting new player leading to their bankruptcy. For so long I had placed 18xx games on this hard to reach pedestal but 1830 opened my eyes to the fact that 18xx games are not rules complicated, they are practice and execution complicated. With that first hurdle cleared, subsequent 1830 games then revealed how deep 18xx games, including and especially 1830, can be. The best part about 1830 is it accomplishes that depth of play without flashy gimmicks or tricks. Not saying those are bad things, they can make for very fun 18xx games. A fantastic, truly classic game design.
Moving on to the top 50! The difference between games is shrinking as we draw nearer tot he top. Is 49 better than 50, or 38 over 44? Sometimes it depends on the day you ask me. Enjoy!
I arrived late to the Dominion party but glad I finally made it. The combos you can develop and strategies you can implement in this classic deck-builder are fantastic. The game play is quick and refined and totally outclasses the theme. It’s one of those games where I asked myself why it took so long for me to play. Nearly 14 years old at the time of making this list and is still one of the best pure deck builders out there. Also the last to crack the best of list.
The open gameplay of Mombasa often leaves me wanting about twice as many actions as I took by the time the game winds down. Mombasa is a gorgeous blend of several different mechanics including card drafting, pool/deck building, and area control with lots of different paths to venture down. The hand/deck management is a highlight here. As you play cards, they are moved to certain discard piles of which you may only pick up one per turn. This means that where you play your cards will determine which cards are available to you for future turns. It’s a great mechanic and just adds to the thoughtfulness of the game.
48. First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express!
First Class is a top 5 game for my wife and certainly a favorite of mine to play with her. It is a card drafting game with each card having different abilities or actions, which may even vary depending on where you place the card. There are several different strategies to draft into, and although some certainly feel stronger than others, exploring all the different paths to victory is a blast.
There was a point in time where our family was playing Spades on just about a weekly basis for a couple years. It’s a trick-taking game without any catchy gimmicks using a standard deck of cards. Players make bids for the number of tricks they will take and you work with your partner to make sure you don’t go under your total team bid. Not a flashy pick but I love a good game of Spades.
46. La Granja
La Granja is a game about playing multi-use cards to your farm and drafting dice to perform various actions, ideally in a manner taking advantage of your played cards. In addition to managing goods, cards and available actions you must manage and keep track of available deliveries (donkeys) and turn order (through taking siestas). A very tight game that can really shine through careful planning and engine development.
Yokohma is another game with great table presence where play matches the shine on the table. Yokohama is a worker placement game of sorts but you may only move your worker (your ‘President’ in the game) to areas on the modular board where you already have Assistants. The amount of Assistants (cubes), along with other items, at the location determine the power level of the action you just moved to. I’m probably not doing the gameplay justice but I find it fascinating and requiring of careful planning to make sure you are maximizing actions.
44. Imperial Struggle
When I first tried to sit down to play Imperial Struggle, I did a quick skim of the rules and figured I’d pick it up as we went. One look at the map (also gorgeous) and I closed the Vassal module and fired up Twilight Struggle. Eventually I circled back and was rewarded with an absolute banger. The rules of Imperial Struggle are straight forward but the game is very deep and an absolute thrill to play. Each aspect and region of the game demands your constant attention. You can’t devote all your attention to one area and you certainly can’t afford to completely ignore any areas your opponent is building their presence.
43. Washington’s Crossing
The activation system of Washington’s Crossing can be a bit unintuitive as you daisy chain through leaders to get your forces in motion. But once I had the basic process down, I found Washington’s Crossing to be my favorite game covering the American Revolution. Once Trenton falls (bound to happy early), strategizing and planning really open up. I love the fatigue system (sharing some similarities to Great Campaigns of the American Civil War) and combat resolution is a fun exercise, which I always appreciate in a game.
42. Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
Ticket to Ride is one of my first modern board game experiences and is still a game I’ll happily play to this day. For my tastes, Pennsylvania is the best game version. In TtR: Pennsylvania players will select a stock share from different companies as they lay routes across the state. At the end of the game, points are awarded to majority shareholders for each company. This provides a straightforward mechanic that doesn’t add a ton of weight to TtR but adds just enough meat to set it apart from other maps.
41. The Last Hundred Yards
The Last Hundred Yards isn’t trying to be ASL light and we’ve applauded it for that on the show. Instead, Mike Denson has developed a game series that stands on its own and offers a different experience to Advanced Squad Leader and similar tactical WWII games. Combat resolution, unit activation and even unit eligibility all take on a different form in Last Hundred Yards. The game plays quickly, differently and still tells the same great stories we love to see in tactical games. Don’t write off The Last Hundred Yards as an ASL clone because you will be missing out on a fantastic tactical game.