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.
Dice based combat resolution and worker placement may not seem like a nice pairing but that’s what you get here and it is tons of fun. Champions of Midgard is like many worker placement games where you collect various goods to build neat things and feed people. Here the people are Viking warriors and the cool things are warships and supplies to protect the village from monsters. Glory (victory points) are earned by venturing out and killing monsters. Still ranks as one of my wife’s favorite games.
69. Food Chain Magnate
My first and only Splotter Spellen game (to date). Food Chain Magnate is a very smart and ruthless design where you can easily get left behind. It’s a great balance of developing your own board state while needing to keep an eye on what your opponents are up to. Unique theme and a great look. A recent play reminded me how strong of strategy game this even though I was playing terribly.
68. 18MS: The Railroads Come to Mississippi
18MS is my change of pace 18xx title. It won’t be my only 18xx entry either. It’s very straight forward and doesn’t have the same depth of play as other, more robust 18xx games but it’s still very fun to play. A fixed number of rounds makes for fast playing games and the privates offer fun one-time abilities.
67. The Castles of Burgundy
Mechanically straight forward but deep enough for continued rewarding and strategic play. The Castles of Burgundy is a great dice/action selection game and a go to couples’ game for my wife and me. Like Kingsburg, I prefer to play with the variable player boards to add some spice to each play.
66. Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles
If you want to read more, check out this Top 5 list with Judd Vance. In short Samurai Battles has some very fun power cards and a very interesting meta currency that sets it a few notches above other Commands & Colors titles.
I didn’t play Innovation until 2021 but once the pop was topped there was no going back. Innovation is sometimes chaotic but always fun race to the end. Multi-use cards, take that capabilities and limited actions come together in great way here. The group I play this most with has developed a great meta that only adds to my appreciation of the game. Oars!
64. Operation Pegasus
Judd is getting named dropped twice in the same chunk of my top 100 games. Here it is for spreading the good word about Operation Pegasus. This a 42 year old war game covering the Siege of Khe Sanh that holds up surprisingly well (unless you can only play your wargames solo). Hidden counters, helicopter management and logistics and very fun gameplay. Combat is a little murky but certainly worth working through.
63. Axis Empires
Axis Empires: Totaler Krieg! & Axis Empires: Dai Senso!, either separate or as a combined game, are great WWII sandbox games that really give a lot of agency to each faction. The political tables and the outcomes from various political event rolls are the highlight of these games and can make for some very interesting and unexpected game states. Combat is fun but pretty shallow but at the army scale it works. Definitely worth looking into if you want WWII: What If in a box.
62. 1832: The South
Until I get a chance to play 1817 in person (spoiler, 1817 doesn’t crack this list, yet), I think 1832 is around the top of my 18xx complexity interest. There are plenty of levers to pull in 1832 for my taste. It was my first experience with price protection and the creation of Systems and the clever game play that develops from their use. Doesn’t have the harshness of 1817 but certainly a robust 18xx design.
61. Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Crusades
Game play experiences and the memories we develop while playing play a huge role in shaping our perception of games. My first play of Onward, Christian Soldiers was enlightening and incredibly memorable, in the best of ways, and now O,CS lives rent free in my head. The game certainly has its flaws and could use some additional development that will probably never happen but I am convinced that the workings of a wargame masterpiece are here. If you could assemble a group of 7 experienced players and hash out a couple, but not many, rule ambiguities you could have an unforgettable wargaming experience. Factions have to act out of their own interests but also must work together towards their side’s common goal. Brutal attrition, deadly combat and no reinforcements for the Crusaders really make for a tough nut to crack.
The following is a list of the selections from History on the Table’s ‘Best of 2021’ episode. If you don’t want to be spoiled, check out Episode 33 of the Podcast first. Games that were published in 2021 or played new to us in 2021 were eligible for ‘Best of’ consideration.
Wargames: Ancients Era to Pre-American Revolution
Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision 1240-1242
Bayonets & Tomahawks
Sword of Rome
Prague: The Empty Triumph
Empire in Arms
Sword of Rome
Wargames: American Revolution to Pre-WWII
The Civil War 1861-1865
Hood Strikes North: The Tennessee Campaign, Fall 1864
Panzers Last Stand: Battles for Budapest, 1945
Wargames: Post WW2
Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?
Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble
Korea: The Forgotten War
Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?
Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble
High Frontier 4 All
Wargames:Magazine and Small
Battle for Galicia, 1914
Wargames Best Game of 2021
Panzers Last Stand: Battles for Budapest, 1945
Wargames: Expansions/ Modules
Last Hundred Yards Volume 2: Airborne Over Europe
Forgotten War: Korea 1950-1953
Board and Card Games
Magic the Gathering – Commander/EDH Play
Pandemic: Fall of Rome
18xx and Train games
Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944 by Antony Beevor
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Valley of the Shadow: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu by Kevin Boylan
Normandy ‘44 by James Holland
Washington’s Immortals by Patrick O’Donnell
Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides
Strugatsky Brothers Science Fiction: Roadside Picnic, The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, Definitely Maybe
The Ocean at the End of the lane by Neil Gaiman
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
The Elementals by Michael McDowell
Call of Cthulhu
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Fear Street Parts 1 and 2
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
The Haunting of Hill House
Old Gods of Appalachia
Old Gods of Appalachia
The Lowest Plan – The Perfect Pair
Fleet Street – Dressed in Red
Let us know your best of 2021 in the comments below!