Anglo-Zanzibar Award: The Anglo-Zanzibar war lasted between 38-45 minutes and is considered the shortest recorded war in history. The ‘Anglo-Zanzibar Award’ recognizes the best ‘small’ historical board game, including the following: magazine games, ‘lunchtime’ games, quick playing games, folio games, post card games, and other small format games. – 1815: Scum of the Earth – Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes! – Flashpoint: South China Sea – Resist! – Saladin – Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa
Most Innovative Game Design: The ‘Most Innovative Game Design’ is awarded to a game and design team to recognize excellence in creative and innovative game design. – Flashpoint: South China Sea – John Company: Second Edition – Lanzerath Ridge – Resist! – The Chase of the Bismarck: Operation Rheinübung 1941 – Undaunted: Stalingrad – Zurmat: Small Scale Counterinsurgency
Game of the Year: The ‘Game of the Year’ awards outstanding performance in all board game fields and recognizes the game that delivers the best historical, war, or conflict board game experience. – A Most Fearful Sacrifice: The Three Days of Gettysburg – Almoravid: Reconquista and Riposte in Spain 1085-1086 – Arracourt – John Company: Second Edition – Lanzerath Ridge – Point Blank: V is for Victory – Salerno ’43
Judd Vance is a master of GeekLists on BoardGameGeek and his lists have inspired many game purchases over the years. His analysis of games is always insightful and I am anxiously awaiting Judd’s 2022 Top 100 games. He’s been making lists for years and if you’re interested you can check out his past lists, including Judd’s 2021’s Top 100 Games, here. Although there isn’t as much crossover as I thought there might be, we thought we would still pit Judd, master of lists, up against the list. Here are Judd’s thoughts on and how he ranks the EWE entries that he has played:
1. Empire of the Sun (Our rank at time of posting: 10) – 3rd best game in my collection. Washington’s War is my favorite Mark Herman game, but I think this is his greatest design.
2.Men of Iron Tri-Pack(30)– I love Richard Berg’s tactical system. He used it, or variants of it, in a lot of games, and I enjoy them all, but this is my favorite. The tri-pack is an exceptional value. You get a LOT of game for your money, and it has one of the finest rulebooks ever.
3. A Few Acres of Snow(50) – I am sick about the talk of the Hammer. I never tried it. Nobody ever tried it on me. I don’t play tournament level players, so in my groups, it is a whole lot of fun when you have 60 minutes to play a game. Plus, without this, we don’t have Hands in the Sea (my personal #2 ever).
4. SPQR Deluxe(31) – Like Men of Iron Tri-Pack, you get a lot of game for your money. So far, I have only played with the Simple Great Battles of History rules. If I jump into the full rules, this may be even higher.
5. Memoir ’44(48) – Because some days, I want to push around my plastic soldiers and be awesome. My ranking here incorporates the base game and the major expansions (Eastern Front, Pacific & Mediterranean Theaters, New Flight Plan, Overlord, Breakthrough, Campaign books).
6. Sword of Rome(25)– I don’t really play games that require 3+ players because it is too hard to get that going, but on the rare occasions that I have, this game stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I love the asymmetry of the game, the custom decks, the alliances, the non-player forces you can activate, variable victory conditions. Just a whole lot of chaos and fun.
7. Labyrinth the War on Terror(40): I have only played the base game and that is enough for me. The two card mechanic is a breath of fresh air to the genre. I consider Volko Ruhnke the king of rule books and this is a fine example. Also, one of the best player aids ever.
8. Washington’s Crossing(35) – I personally geek out to this topic (read Fischer’s book of the same name!). The game has a lot of detail and chrome — maybe too much for the player who has not heavily into the topic, but I love every touch. Borrowing the idea of expending less movement points before attacking results in a stronger attack is beautiful. The one thing this game desperately needs is a phone app for tracking troop levels and calculating battle odds. If it had that, this game would probably be #2.
9. Ottoman Sunset(52)– This is a good, solid States of Siege game. It is not nearly as good as Dawn of the Zeds, Malta Besieged, or We Must Tell the Emperor, but I think this is the best representation of the series: it captures all of the main ideas while staying somewhere in the middle of detail/complexity (Israeli Independence and The First Jihad are the games at the ends of this complexity spectrum).
10. Operation Pegasus (32) – Next to Star Fleet Battles and Federation & Empire, this is the best game Task Force Games ever turned out. It sounds weird, but the helicopter logistics is probably the most fun part of the game. It has a decent amount of paper/pencil book keeping that takes off a little luster. This could be fixed if it were a block game or if you use my Vassal Module, that puts the troop level number directly on the counter.
11. The U.S. Civil War(1)– I dabbled with it early on with a short scenario and then planned on playing the whole war. I put it away when I learned the naval rules were a mess. I put in on the backburner and bought the 2nd and 3rd edition updates. I have heard it fixed the numerous questions on the message boards, but have not heard if it is an acceptable fix for game balance. Once I get some confirmation, I’ll get it back in the queue. From that one short game, I was very impressed and the map is one of the best I have seen.
12. Holdfast Korea(47) – The game is a real blast the first few times you play it. They pack a lot of game into a rulebook that takes 10 minutes to teach. As the North, I came a single die roll away from scoring the auto victory. As the U.N., I came within 2 hexes and a failed Chinese Intervention die roll away from scoring the auto victory. After that and in every other game, it becomes a slow game of attrition near the 38th parallel, which is what happened in reality, so no fault of the game. After about 10 plays, I got what I wanted out of the game. I got my money’s worth, but don’t have any desire to play an 11th time. I made the Vassal module for this one, also.
By the way, if you missed it, HAMTAG recently held a reunion live stream.
Judd’s ranking was based on the Every Wargame Ever list as it stood on October 20, 2022. If you are a war game designer and want to submit your own take on the Every Wargame Ever list, please get in touch.
When it comes to playing wargames, I’m a big proponent of writing your own script, blazing your own trail and doing your own thing. There is no one size fits all approach to enjoying this hobby but I thought I would share a few tips to (hopefully) allow you to get the most out of this hobby.
Don’t Sweat Minor Details
Is it a wargame? Who cares. It is probably true of many hobbies but wargamers sure love to bicker amongst themselves over arbitrary details like, “what is and what isn’t a wargame” or “should we even call historical games wargames”. Sure, there may be some value to be gained by debating simulation vs. game under the right circumstance but I assure you that debate will have no impact on your play of Blitzkrieg.
So, someone online just lambasted your new acquisition as not a ‘war game’. Guess what? The game still works. Your enjoyment is unimpaired. You have lost no credibility and your copy of Imperial Struggle will not magically transform into a copy of Castles of Burgundy.
Don’t get bogged down quibbling over semantics. Don’t sweat the small, irrelevant stuff. Just sit back, clip a few counters, or not, and enjoy your games.
Do Follow the Sequence of Play
The sequence of play should never be ignored. At the very least, a good sequence of play will serve as checklist of the various game phases to make sure you don’t miss anything. A great sequence of play will be a step-by-step guide that allows players to work through the game in a very procedural manner. A shining example of this is the Next War series. There is no overt complexity to the advanced rules of Next War. If you stick to the sequence of play and become an expert at following every step, you will not feel lost in the sea of Next War rules crashing down on you.
Apply this approach to every war game that provides a sequence of play. Treat a good sequence of play as your guide and lifeline to tackling heavy wargames. It should become second nature to carry out actions and bounce right back to the sequence of play before moving on to the next part of the game.
Don’t Feel Like You Have to Follow a Script
There is no set path to finding enjoyment in wargaming. You do not have to cross games A and B off your play list before you dive into games O, C, and S. I am guilty of, from time to time, labeling games we discuss as great intro games or beginner games. While valid statements on those games, I think that unintentionally creates an implication that other wargames can’t be your introduction into the hobby. I just don’t think that’s true. Any game can serve as an introduction to the hobby.
Yes, I think it’ll be much easier for someone new to the hobby to learn to play a game from the Standard Combat Series than the Operational Combat Series. Flashpoint: South China Sea is a very basic game that can serve as a great introduction to the Card Driven mechanic. But they are not prerequisites to finding joy in this hobby. Don’t feel like you must be shoehorned into playing a bunch of games that don’t interest before you tackle the game that really catches your eye. Just know that some games require more work and more preparation than others. Speaking of…
Do Read Rules Before Hand
There seems to be an unwritten expectation in wargaming that both opponents approach the table with an understanding of the game, unless explicitly stated. So here I am, writing it down.
As someone who came to the wargame world from the Ameritrash/Euro/card game side of the hobby it was commonplace to just show up to game night with no rules preparation and a good chance that someone was going to do a full rules teach. For many historical board games, this just doesn’t fly.
When I first started playing wargames, we tried the one person read the rules and teach the other approach. Sure, that may work for wargames with smaller rule sets, but it stopped working when one player was bashing their head against The U.S. Civil War or Fast Action Battle rulebook. As I played more wargames and met new opponents, I found that a lot of wargamers will show up prepared and ready to play with some kind of rules preparation under their belts. Sure, everyone’s circumstances, free time and availability are different but the burden of heavy wargame rules should not rest on one player. You will find your games more enjoyable, more approachable and maybe even find your play more strategic if you don’t show up to a new game completely cold on the rules. In the year 2022 there is a wealth of resources out there ranging from custom player-aids, rules summaries, to full video teaches. If you can, come prepared.
Don’t Get Bogged Down
Obviously playing a game correctly and executing rules properly, is all very important. But sometimes you don’t have to spend 15 minutes diving into a rule book to find an obscure die modifier. Let’s say you’re playing Advanced Squad Leader, and you’re progressing through a juicy ‘to-hit’ calculation and a question comes up. Sometimes, you may want to consider chucking the dice first instead of immediately turning to the rule book to find the exact ruling on some obscure circumstance. Roll ‘em up. If you roll boxcars, does it even matter if you have +2 or a +3 modifier? No.
Don’t let this be a forever excuse for not understanding rules. It is however an effective approach to not getting buried in the rulebook all game day. Technically speaking, you should also pass your bog checks in ASL.
Do Enjoy What You Enjoy
This pains me but The U.S. Civil War does not have to be your favorite game of all time. You don’t even have to like the game. And whatever your tastes are, you don’t have to defend your interests at all. There are wargamers that will never play anything other than a Commands & Colors title and they will be perfectly content. There are plenty of Advanced Squad Leader players, and far fewer Advance Tobruk System players, who will never touch another wargame. More power to them.
Play what you want to play. Enjoy what you enjoy. Our hobby time is limited and should be spent doing what we like. So, you do you. There is no application checklist to being a war gamer, there are no pre-requisite courses, and, despite this list, the best way to play wargames is how you like to play wargames.
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.