Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Old, Older, Oldest

A couple of weeks ago, the Opinionated Gamers website hosted a series of articles on old(er) games that we still love... and I contributed to that discussion. What follows are my picks for the top three games I still play from the not-so-distant past...

“OLD” (2000 – 2009)

(1) Race for the Galaxy; (2) Memoir ‘44; (3) Puerto Rico

  • I think 2009 is too close… so I’ll make sure that two of my picks are pre-2005 and that all of them are still available for purchase. (Sorry, Heroscape.)
  • So the one from post-2005 is the absolutely addicting Race for the Galaxy. It’s worth the time & effort to get over the “what the heck is going on here?” hump in order to enjoy a game that is decidedly NOT multi-player solitaire – the person who ignores what others are doing almost always loses. I’m willing to play this one pretty much any time someone asks.
  • Memoir ‘44 is my favorite game in the Command & Colors system… shoot, it’s my favorite “war game” of all time. It plays quickly & cleanly, has a huge amount of variety in the scenarios & extra rules, and is a blast to play even when my 6 year old cleans my clock.
  • Finally, there’s a reason that Puerto Rico has just been given a pimped-out 10th anniversary reprint… it’s an amazing game. Avoid playing with those who insist that they’ve “figured out the perfect strategy” and instead begin to explore the intricate series of trade-offs & tension that is one of the best Euro designs in print.

OLDER (1990 – 1999)

(1) The Settlers of Catan; (2) Showmanager; (3) Fast Food Franchise

  • It’s become “cool” in gamer circles to crack on Settlers… and the constant barrage of Settlers product (most recently announced: Star Trek Catan) makes that kind of behavior more likely. But behind all the popularity & product is a really resilient & enjoyable game system – a design that revolutionized board games & is still wonderfully playable today.
  • There aren’t many games in my collection that work well for 6 players… Showmanager is the stellar exception. The game speeds along as players invariably find themselves making difficult choices that impact not only themselves but the other folks who follow them in the turn order. There is much rejoicing & much gnashing of teeth & much, much fun.
  • Fast Food Franchise may look like a Monopoly clone – but there are a lot of wonderful innovations packed into this nearly 20 year old game courtesy of the designer, Tom Lehmann. Yes, it has player elimination & event cards – but dismissing the game because of those things will cause you to miss out on what has turned out over the years to be a consistently great gaming experience every time it hits the table – whether with my 10 year old son, a couple of non-gamer couples, or a group of hard-core gamers.

OLDEST (pre-1990)

1) Dungeonquest; (2) Midnight Party; (3) Um Reifenbreite

  • When I recommend Dungeonquest, I’m not talking about the very pretty but overly complicated Fantasy Flight release – I’m in love with the quirky mongrel that is the Games Workshop edition. Never more than an hour in length, it really is multi-player solitaire (the board game equivalent of “who can hold their breath the longest?”) that still inspires eliminated players to hoot, holler & cheer as you fight against a game system that is (as I’ve said elsewhere) “like playing D&D with a dungeon master who hates your guts.”
  • Midnight Party (also released as Ghost Party) is a simple game of tag (with a benevolent ghost)… and yet has proven over the years to be one of the most-loved games in my collection. It works brilliantly with 2-8 players over an incredibly wide range of ages (kindergarten to one foot in the grave).
  • I struggled for this final spot between two sports games – and in the end chose the bicycle racing genius of Um Reifenbreite over the quick-playing Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball, primarily because of the variability in length of the various races & the ability to chain races together in Um Reifenbreite. This is a one-hit wonder by a designer who’s fallen off the map… and it manages to capture the feel of team bicycle racing without undue complication or reduction of pure grin-inducing fun.

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