Tuesday, October 15, 2019

My Top 18 Board Games (as of today)

In previous years, I worked really hard to do long multiple blog post lists of my top 100 (or 200) games... but life has conspired to make that less and less likely now. Granted, I'm still getting to play a lot of games... but writing about them has become trickier.

So, in honor of nothing in particular (except a meme-ish thing going around boardgaming Twitter), here are my 18 top games. (Note: the meme is Top Nine - but I couldn't narrow it down that far, so here's my top 18.)

Notes: 
  • I've been tracking plays since 1997. Only Dungeonquest predates that... I'd conservatively estimate another 30+ plays of the game in the late 80s and early 90s.
  • The time estimates are courtesy of the excellent Board Game Stats app.



  • 445 plays
  • approximately 170 hours
  • 114 plays
  • approximately 218 hours
  • I've written a BUNCH about Heroscape over the years... probably the best post to start with is Heroscape for Beginners (and Robo).
  • In 2010, I wrote a goodbye letter to Heroscape when Hasbro ended the line.
  • 14 plays
  • approximately 50 hours
  • 11 plays
  • approximately 32 hours
  • 81 plays
  • approximately 43 hours
  • 10 plays
  • 9 hours
  • 7 plays (in less than 3 weeks)
  • 11 hours
  • 24 plays
  • approximately 58 hours
  • I'm really proud of my review of the Festival Season expansion...


  • 105 plays
  • approximately 110 hours
  • 49 plays
  • approximately 42 hours
  • 86 plays
  • approximately 65 hours
#13 Catan
  • 145 plays
  • approximately 138 hours
  • 62 plays
  • approximately 23 hours
  • Here's what I wrote about Flowerpower for Game Central Station (my old website)
  • 132 plays
  • approximately 103 hours
  • Here's my review of the Alvin & Dexter expansion.
  • 30 plays
  • approximately 21 hours
  • 102 plays
  • approximately 170 hours
  • We tried an interesting experiment in game play - The Bloodsworn Arena - and I wrote about it.
  • 11 plays
  • approximately 15 hours

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Asking for a King

When Samuel got to be an old man, he set his sons up as judges in Israel. His firstborn son was named Joel, the name of his second, Abijah. They were assigned duty in Beersheba. But his sons didn’t take after him; they were out for what they could get for themselves, taking bribes, corrupting justice.

Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah. They presented their case: “Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else.”

When Samuel heard their demand—“Give us a king to rule us!”—he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to God.

God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”

So Samuel told them, delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”

But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel took in what they said and rehearsed it with God. God told Samuel, “Do what they say. Make them a king.”

Then Samuel dismissed the men of Israel: “Go home, each of you to your own city.”

1st Samuel 8:1-22 The Message

To quote Darth Vader, it is “all too easy” for me to read passages like this (where the Israelites demand to “be just like all the other nations”) and let out a rueful chuckle at the thick-headedness of the Israelites. I relax into the comfy Barcalounger of my own self-satisfaction, safe and secure in the knowledge that I – a mature believer on this side of the Cross – would never behave this way.

The painful reality is that I’m an expert at hiding my ravenous desire to be the king of my own life – so I can be like all the other people who have the dubious privilege of running their own lives. Presented with the truth of where choices like this inevitably lead, I stick my metaphorical fingers in my ears and clap my hands over my eyes.

But, just like the Israelites, my choice to ignore truth thankfully doesn’t mean that God ignores me. And just as God used the monarchy to prefigure the coming of the Real King, He uses my twisted desires to lead me into truth, surrender and actual freedom.

Thick-headed. Self-blinded. Usurping a throne that belongs only to the One who died for me… and yet He still loves me and leads me.

Where do you want to be “king” of your own life?  Take a few minutes to talk to God about abdicating the throne to Him.

Note: songs that sprung to mind while I was writing this: The 77s: “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes & The Pride of Life” and Andrew Peterson’s “The Good Confession (I Believe)."

I wrote this devotional for our church's 10th anniversary devotional book - Restoration Church Nashville.


Friday, August 09, 2019

Procrastination Corner: A Plethora of Mini-Reviews from Mark “Fluff Daddy” Jackson

Jefe: We have many beautiful piñatas for your birthday celebration, each one filled with little surprises!
El Guapo: How many piñatas?
Jefe: Many piñatas, many!
El Guapo: Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of piñatas?
Jefe: A what?
El Guapo: A plethora.
Jefe: Oh yes, El Guapo. You have a plethora.
El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo: Well, you just told me that I had a plethora, and I would just like to know if you know what it means to have a plethora. I would not like to think that someone would tell someone else he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe: El Guapo, I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education, but could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?
from ¡Three Amigos!
What follows is a collection of my thoughts about a plethora of games that other Opinionated Gamers have reviewed over the last year (or so). In some cases, I hadn’t played the game when the review was published; in others, I was just too busy/lazy (take your pick) to write up my thoughts at the time.

Hopefully, I have many beautiful reviews for you to enjoy, each one filled with little surprises.

Catan Histories: Rise of the Inkas (3 plays)

I have two complaints:

  1. While the plastic “pathway to Machu Picchu” roads are look very nice, they are a pain to pick up once you have them placed. In a normal game of Catan, this wouldn’t be a big deal. In this particular version, where you lose your road network twice during the game (as your old tribe ages out and a new tribe moves in), it’s a pain.
  2. The misprint on the Longest Road card – though, to their credit, Asmodee is offering to replace the misprinted card via their parts website.

Other than that, this is a really great twist on standard Catan that manages to cure many of the complaints that my eldest son (who is NOT a Catan fan) and ½ of my regular gaming group (also NOT Catan fans) had about Die Siedler von Catan.

  • There are more resources to trade… and more ways to trade them, which makes it more difficult to get resource “stuck”.
  • Until near the end of the game, it’s much more difficult to get hemmed in with no alternatives, thanks to the old tribe/new tribe dynamics.
  • Warfare cards (aka “Knights”) not only help you get rid of the Robber – they also expand your hand limit for taxation.

It runs about 90-120 minutes with 4 players… 75-90 with 3 players. It’s officially a 13 point game, but the points you get at the beginning and at each transition make it a 9 point game. (For comparison, vanilla Catan is an 8 point game once you figure in your first two settlements.)

For a much more extensive review, check out what Dale wrote earlier this year on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Fast Forward: Fortune (4 plays)

I wrote a pretty extensive review of the original three Fast Forward games here… which you should go read at your earliest convenience.

We’ve played all the way through the deck and then started again (with a slightly different group)… and I’m pleased to say it’s my #2 game out of the four Fast Forward entries:

  1. Fear
  2. Fortune
  3. Fortress
  4. Flee

By the way, I don’t count Fine Sand as a Fast Forward game – it’s a Fable game. With that said, it’s my least favorite of Friedemann’s experiments with designing card games that develop as you keep playing them.

Fortune has a bit more math than Fear… but at its heart, it’s a similar “how do maximize my hand?” kind of game. The twists are fun – which is pretty much a requirement for the Fast Forward series – and it plays quickly and cleanly.

Chris Wray’s write-up does a better job than I can of giving you the details.

A review copy provided by Stronghold Games to Mark Jackson.

Gingerbread House (6 plays)

This is one of the more delightfully dark themes I’ve had the privilege to enjoy – where each player is a witch attempting to have various fairy tale creatures over for dinner. Literally.

Gingerbread House is chock full of opportunities for clever tactical play and has well-made/designed components. It’s received a positive reaction with pretty much every one I’ve played it with… because it’s a light Euro in the super-filler category that is family & gamer-friendly.

With non-gamers, the basic goals are just fine – but if the folks you’re playing with have any experience with board games, the “advanced” goals add another layer to the game that is an extra helping of fun.

The big chunky house tiles are a plus as well – not only do they make it easy to figure out whether or not you’ve finished a level, they’re just fun to play with. And don’t discount “fun to play with” as an important part of the gaming experience – that’s one of the things Gamelyn Games has figured out with the creation of Itemeeples. Love or hate the games, it’s just cool to give your ‘dudes’ tiny plastic weapons. (For the record, I like many of the Tiny Epic games… we’re really enjoying Tiny Epic Mechs right now.)

Greg Schloesser wrote the Opinionated Gamers review of Gingerbread House.

Monster Lands (4 plays)

Monster Lands is a sloppy, messy wonderful hulk of a game… and Dale was absolutely correct in assuming in his review that I would be a big fan. There’s dice placement – but less dice-rolling than you’d think – and some tricky decisions to be had on how much you’re willing to risk in your quest for reputation and glory.

My first play was with four new players – subsequent plays have been 2 and 3 player games. The rules are a bit much the first time through… but the clear/colorful iconography works well (and there’s a nice “card catalog” at the back of the rulebook when you’re confused.

Game length directly correlates to the number of players… and this is one of those games you should avoid like the plague if you have AP-prone players in your group. That said, the folks I’ve played with have been quick to play and not obsessed with min-maxing, so we’ve had a wonderful time, even when things go wrong. Our average playing time is about 30 minutes per player so far.

There are rules in the expansion for shortening the game by one round… which I’d recommend, particularly when you have players who don’t enjoy long(er) games.

I think we’ve become a little too cautious… I want to play again (soon!) and see if taking more chances with “cheap” heroes is a viable strategy.

Neom (11 plays)

My initial rules read of Neom (prior to seeing the game) made me think it would be an interesting but difficult to play 7 Wonders knock-off. I’m happy to say that the first day I taught/played (a few weeks after Essen 2018), I was proven wrong… and ended up playing it 3 times in one day. As soon as it became easily available in the U.S., I jumped on a copy… and it’s now in regular rotation here at Chez Jackson.

I’m a huge fan of both 7 Wonders and Suburbia – enough so that I own every expansion for both games and plunked down a C note in order to get the Collector’s Edition of Suburbia this fall. So, when a game can easily be described as combining some of the best bits from both of those games, I’m in.

And that’s the way I introduce Neom to gamers – the drafting is similar to 7 Wonders and the tile-laying feels like Suburbia. But the misses some of the innovations that make Neom more than just another chip off the old blocks:

  • Using a “bomb” draft item (Flood, Fire, Crime Wave) in each era that hurts others but denies you a turn
  • The initial “seeding” draft of cornerstone tiles – they do more to set strategy than the similar Leaders expansion in 7 Wonders
  • The simplified resource system – including the creation of trade routes and the ability to buy resources from someone farther away at a slightly higher cost

Most important is the reality after 11 games that there are multiple ways to win:

  • Focus on your cornerstone tiles
  • Build a suburb (lots of residences)
  • Be the resource king (and the $ that go with it)
  • Build a balanced city

Also nice – it plays well with 2 players (using a similar system to Fields of Green), balances nicely with 3-5 players, and even has a decent solo mode.

Teri Noseworthy’s review is as glowing as mine – and well worth your time.

Scorpius Freighter (3 plays)

Somehow, we (the Opinionated Gamers) managed to publish TWO reviews of Scorpius Freighter


Here’s my two cents: I think the biggest issue with this otherwise really enjoyable Firefly-ish game is the chance that some or all of the purchase/contract areas can stagnate. We haven’t seen an issue with that yet in our games… but the problem is inherent in the design as published.

There’s some online debate about how to fix this… so I’ll take a shot at it as well.

  • Each player may wipe one of the following areas when landing on the appropriate rondel space:
    • Ship upgrades
    • Cargo holds
    • Side jobs
  • The cost to wipe is 1 credit (orange) the first time; 1 hand (action) the second time; and 1 credit/1 hand for each subsequent time.
    • Thematically, the first time you buy the seller/buyer a drink. The second time, he’s not that easily swayed and you have to help out in some way. From then on, he expects you to grease his palm and accomplish a dirty deed done dirt cheap.
  • Contracts cannot be wiped.

I personally love the high-quality production of Scorpius Freighter – and the interesting gameplay. (The great theme is a bonus.) It’s a pick-up-and-deliver game without a map; it’s a rondel game that doesn’t make me want to run screaming from the table. Note: your mileage may vary.

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

It's Still Personal: My Five & Dime Game Lists for 2018

Hey, campers... I may have stopped collecting the Five & Dime stats for everyone else - but I haven't stopped collecting my own!

Here's my own personal Five & Dime list (the games I played 5+ and 10+ times in 2018).

As always, I include only face-to-face games and games played with human opponents over apps/online.

Games with an asterisk [*] were on my Five & Dime list last year, games with two asterisks [**] have been on my list for the past two years, games with three asterisks [***] have been there for three years, games with four asterisks [****] have been there for 4 years, games with a plus [+] have been there 5 years, games with a plus and an asterisk [+*] have been there 6 years, games with a plus and two asterisks [+**] have been there 7 years... and games with a plus and three asterisks [+***] have been there (wait for it) for the past 8 years!

If you're curious, here's the games that have been on my Five & Dime list for 5+ years

  • Race for the Galaxy (8 years)
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse (6 years)

Quarters
  • Star Realms 26 ****


Dimes
  • Clank! In! Space! 21 *
  • Jump Drive 21 *
  • Race for the Galaxy 20 +***
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse 19 +*
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game (includes Multiverse, Teen Titans & Forever Evil): 18 ****
  • Team Play 17
  • Ticket to Ride 16 *
  • Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar 13
  • 7 Wonders Duel 12 **
  • Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure 12 *
  • Powerships 12
  • DC Deck-Building Game: Confrontations 11
  • Memoir '44 11


Nickels
  • Flamme Rouge 9 *
  • Hero Realms 9
  • Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization 9
  • 7 Wonders 8 ***
  • Magic Maze 8
  • Alien Artifacts 7
  • Archaeology: The Card Game 7
  • Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 7 *
  • Rhino Hero: Super Battle 7
  • Space Beans 7
  • The Quest for El Dorado 7
  • Wasteland Express Delivery Service 7
  • Zirkus Flohcati 7 *
  • Betrayal Legacy 6
  • Broom Service: The Card Game 6
  • Catan 6
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition) 6 **
  • Dungeon Alliance 6
  • Favor of the Pharaoh 6
  • Las Vegas 6
  • Nations: The Dice Game 6
  • Novo Dice 6
  • Ticket to Ride: New York 6
  • Downforce 5
  • Eminent Domain 5
  • Escape from 100 Million B.C. 5
  • Fast Food Franchise 5
  • Roll for the Galaxy 5 **
  • Sequence 5
  • StreetSoccer 5
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game 5
  • Tiny Epic Quest 5
  • Trains 5 *
  • Wurfel Bohnanza 5

Just Missed (with 4 plays)

A caret [^] denotes that they were on the Five & Dime list last year... and a pound sign [#] marks games I'm pretty sure will return in 2019.
  • Bohnanza #
  • Bounce-It-In Game
  • Colt Express
  • Fabled Fruit ^
  • Fast Forward: Fortune
  • Gingerbread House #
  • Hit Z Road
  • Hotshots ^
  • Karuba
  • Liar's Dice
  • Mystery Rummy: Al Capone
  • Neuroshima Hex
  • Port Royal ^#
  • The Colonists
  • The Resistance
  • Tiny Epic Defenders (2nd edition) 

After All These Years

These are game that fell off the list... after years of repeated play. I felt compelled to say a few words at their passing.
  • Codenames *
    • We had a couple of years of playing this a lot - but now it only comes out at family gatherings.
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Rivals - Batman vs The Joker *
    • Teen Titan Go! Deckbuilding and Shards of Infinity are the new 2 player flavors of the month... we've probably played out Batman v Joker (though it's still a really good game).
  • Skip-Bo *
    • My oldest has had a number of bad experiences playing this - so, despite the pleading of his mother & girlfriend, I don't think this one will see the light of day any time soon.
  • Summoner Wars +*
    • Probably the saddest loss - this was a staple game for myself and the boys... but our huge collection sits there at 2-3 plays a year now.