Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Top 25 Card Games (that didn't make the Top 100)

Here are the my top 25 card games that didn't make my top 100... this time around. They are all great games, worthy of your attention, table time & purchase. 

If I've written about them here on the blog, I've included the link in the list.

25. Smash Up
24. Star Realms
23. Duck Duck Bruce
22. Famiglia
21. For Sale
20. Brawl
19. Family Business
18. Olympia 2000
17. Mamma Mia
16. Jungle Speed
15. Balloon Cup
14. Mow
13. Trendy
12. Light Speed
11. Odin's Ravens
10. Friday
9. The Bucket King
8. Sushi Go!
7. Glory to Rome
6. DC Deckbuilding
5. Klunker
4. Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
3. Innovation
2. Vom Kap bis Kairo
1. Bargain Hunter

Monday, November 24, 2014

#64: Mystery Rummy: Al Capone & the Chicago Underworld

Mystery Rummy: Al Capone & the Chicago Underworld

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 64th
  • 2012: 39th
  • 2010: 55th
  • 2005: 54th
  • appeared on all four lists
  • rank: 1226
  • rating: 6.88
Print Status
Why It's On The List
  • This is my favorite of the Mystery Rummy series... mostly because it feels a bit like Canasta (possibly my favorite standard deck card game) in how difficult it is to hide key cards from your opponent(s).
Tips & Tricks:
    • In my opinion, this is the easiest of the Mystery Rummy games to teach to non-gamers.
    • While MR: Al Capone is a great 2-handed game and a wonderful partnership game, it drags on way too long with three players.
    • Wyatt Earp is a cousin to this series of games & is very enjoyable as well.
    • Thanks to the Kickstarter for Escape from Alcatraz (the newest Mystery Rummy), the original four games are being reprinted!
    • Here's what I wrote about the Mystery Rummy series for The One Hundred.

    #65: O Zoo le Mio (Mark's 100 - 2014)

    O Zoo le Mio

    Mark's Ranking
    • 2014: 65th
    • 2012: 95th
    • 2010: did not appear
    • 2005: 96th
    • rank: 867
    • rating: 6.65
    Print Status
    • I don't think it's still officially "in print" - but you can get a copy from
    Why It's On The List
    • lovely graphics & components combine with "in the fist" auctions & tile-laying to make a zoo-building game that's relatively quick (45 minutes) and always interesting to play...
    Tips & Tricks:
    • Yes, there are problems with the income system (you get $ based on the number of tiles in your zoo) and the escalating point values (scoring is similar to Acquire) in the later rounds - but in such a short game, part of your job is to plan to deal with both of those issues rather than whine about them when the game is over.
    • Circular pathways are an important scoring opportunity - and they can't be taken away once they're built.
    • The box says ages 9+... but my six-year-old enjoyed this game (when I helped him with tile placement).

    #66: Clash of the Gladiators (Mark's 100 - 2014)

    Clash of the Gladiators

    Mark's Ranking
    • 2014: 66th
    • 2012: 81st
    • 2010: 82nd
    • 2005: did not appear
    • rank: 3316
    • rating: 5.87
    Print Status
    • OOP but it's not real tough to find a copy
    Why It's On The List
    • Knizia at his dice-y best... it's an excuse to make gladiator movie jokes & beat on your friends for fun & profit.
    Tips & Tricks:
      • It's OK to make a crazed run at a dangerous animal on your turn - esp. if you're down to your last 1-2 gladiators in a group. If you win, you get the big "kill". If you lose, the points don't go to another player.
      • You don't need to have a bunch of spears or tridents, just more than the other player. Don't get obsessed with them.
      • Shields are good... there are only 8 in the game. You should draft shield-bearers first.
      • There are people who've run computer simulations to figure out the best possible teams for the game - ignore those people. They suck the fun out of everything.
      • Here's what I wrote about CotG for my 2010 Top 100 list.

      Friday, November 21, 2014

      #67: Battle Beyond Space (Mark's 100 - 2014)

      Battle Beyond Space

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 67th
      • 2012: did not appear
      • 2010: prior to publication (but I had the prototype at 28th place)
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 2626
      • rating: 6.58
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • Have a massive multiple armada space battle... in 60 minutes. With almost no luck.
      Tips & Tricks:
        • Important safety tip: I was a long-time playtester on this game... it's not my baby but it certainly feels like it.
        • I do wish the colors of two of squadrons in the blue fleet weren't so dang close. I need to use a Sharpie to mark one of them.
        • Like Catan, initial placement is important. You have to make wise choices based on your special power and your judgement about the relative aggressiveness of your closest foes.
        • I wrote an ode to joy about the publication of Battle Beyond Space on my blog back in 2009.

        #68: Nexus Ops (Mark's 100 - 2014)

        Nexus Ops

        Mark's Ranking
        • 2014: 68th
        • 2012: 71st
        • 2010: did not appear
        • 2005: prior to publication (barely)
        • rank: 170
        • rating: 7.27
        Print Status
        • in print (reprinted)
        Why It's On The List
        • A really nice "dudes on a map" game that.subverts the ever-present turtling problem with a varied set of rewards for attacking other players.
        Tips & Tricks:
          • Hordes of cheaper figures can work just as well as a few big figures - and sometimes even better.
          • As well, this is the rare combat game that works well with 2, 3 or 4 players.
          • I have not played the new edition - but I'm glad it's in print for a new generation of players.

          Thursday, November 20, 2014

          #69: The City (Mark's 100 - 2014)

          The City

          Mark's Ranking
          • 2014: 69th
          • 2012: 67th
          • 2010: prior to publication
          • 2005: prior to publication
          • rank: 1193
          • rating: 6.61
          Print Status
          • OOP, I think
          Why It's On The List
          • A stripped-down & family-friendly use of the Race for the Galaxy mechanic - this time for city-building. It's fast (15 minutes or so) and has that potato-chip ("can't play just one time") quality.
          Tips & Tricks:
            • Tom Lehman (the designer) suggests that The City is "a 5 minute bit of strategy planning followed by a horse race to the end of the game."
            • It's a lot easier to play if you use poker chips to track points.
            • Tom also suggests that are at least 5 (maybe more) paths to victory built into the system.
            • Be warned - there is not (yet) an English version of this game... and if German text frightens your fellow gamers, this will not be a comfortable fit for you.
            • There are some rumblings about a new edition of this game (with a new theme) in English... but nothing solid.

            Game Central Station: Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix

            Here's another piece of Game Central Station history - for those not in the know, GCS was my long-time pre-blog gaming website. Since Daytona 500 is about to show up in my top 100 (spoiler alert!), I decided to put this up on the blog.

            Starting with Niki Lauda's Formel 1, continuing with Top Race, and preceded here in America by Daytona 500, Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is simply the latest in a series of card-based race games. D/C Grand Prix is that rarest of gems, an excellent 3 player game, and a lot of fun as well. The tips offered here help 'goose' the game a bit.

            The Auction Problem

            Using Daytona 500 to fix it!

            One of the difficulties of Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is that the smallest bill available in the game is also the smallest payoff. So, if you buy the last car for $10,000, the worst you can do is break even.

            My thought? Use the payoff chart from Daytona 500 make the auction more interesting... higher bids make more sense and you have a much bigger stake in working the auctions (rather than just taking the cheapest cars that match your cards.)
            • 1st place - $300,000
            • 2nd place - $200,000
            • 3rd place - $150,000
            • 4th place - $100,000
            • 5th place - $80,000
            • 6th place - $50,000
            Viva Las Vegas

            Betting (a la Top Race)

            One way to spice up Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is by borrowing the gambling mechanic from Top Race.

            Three points are marked on the racetrack. When the first car crosses each of these marks, players may "bet" by secretly choosing a car. Players don't have to bet every time, and may bet on the same car more than once or choose different cars. You do not have to bet on a car you own. Bets are kept secret until the end of the race.

            At the end of the race, bonuses and penalties are assessed based on the time of the bet and the order of the finish, using the following chart.

            Location of Betting "Points"

            On the Top Race board, the points come after the 12th, 23rd and 35th spaces, with 20 spaces between the 3rd betting point and the finish. Some proportional assignment of betting points on the D/C Grand Prix board would probably also work. I notice the Top Race betting points are before, and definitely not inside, narrowed sections of track.

            End of the Race

            When a player has got all of the cars they own past the finish line they still continue to play cards - after all they may well still have bets outstanding on other cars. Play continues until either all cars are past the finish line or all cards have been played.

            What to Do With the Switch Cards

            Probably the least loved part of the game design are the switch cards...

            Variant Ideas

            Here are some other options (besides using them as written in the Mayfair rules)...

            • reversal of fortune - physically switch the two cars on the board (seems a little over the top, if you ask me)
            • catching up - move the following car (on the card) even with or behind the lead car (on the card)... if there is a blockage, the car doing the catching up will halt behind the blockage.
            • breakdown - The foremost of the two cars is moved to the side of the track (off the track), it can no longer move (points on cards for this car are now wasted when played) until the other car on the card has reached or passed the broken down car's position. It then returns to the track where it came off, or to the side if that space is taken or behind if this is not possible.
            • power switch - color switch as written in the rules... but you are immediately allowed to play another card

            The next set of suggestions - Spin Out, Mechanical Failure, Burst of Speed, Careful Passing, & Defensive Driving - are from ever-creative mind of Steffan O'Sullivan.

            • spin out - A switch card represents a spin out. In this case, one of the two cars is chosen to spin out - turn its counter backwards, off the track, adjacent to the space it was on when it spun out. Other cars may move through the space it was on when it spun out. When five points worth of movement have been burned off, turn the car around again and place it on the track, on the space it occupied before spinning out. (Keep track of how many spaces have been burned off by stacking cards with its numbers next to the car.) If the original space is occupied when the car is to return to movement, place it in the nearest open space behind that space. On its next card, it moves normally. If a card is played which brings it to more than five spaces worth of movement while it is spun out, it moves the difference immediately.
            • mechanical failure - A switch card represents a minor mechanical failure, which can cancel up to five points worth of movement of one of the cars whose color is pictured on the switch card. This is played out of turn, when another player plays a card. So if another player plays a Move 6 card, playing the appropriate switch card will cause that car to move only 1 space, though it is still the first car moved on the movement card. It may be used to cancel a move of less than 5, but the excess is lost. That is, if a switch card is used to cancel a Move 3, for example, there is no of two spaces to a future turn.
            • burst of speed - A switch card may be used to move both cars pictured on the switch card two spaces forward. The car in the lead moves first, then the other car. Both cars must be able to move two spaces or the card cannot be played for this purpose.
            • careful passing - A switch card may be played *with* a movement card. In this case, the two cars' turn orders are swapped, but not the movement values. It must be played with a card with both colors on it. Thus if you play the Red-Green switch card with a movement card which has Red moving 4 spaces and, later, Green moving 2 spaces, the Green car will move its 2 spaces at the time the Red car was supposed to move, and the Red car won't move until the Green car was due to move, but will attempt to move its full 4 spaces when it does move.
            • defensive driving - A switch card may be played as a defensive driving maneuver to prevent passing. It may only be played just after a car has passed one of the cars pictured on the card and finished its move one space ahead of the pictured car. Note that this may be played out of turn. It cannot be played this way if a car ends up two or more spaces ahead of the car in question. In this use of a switch card, the car which just passed the pictured car is moved back one space, to be as close to even with the pictured car as possible.

            Switch Card Clarifications (for the rules as written)

            The switch lasts until the person who played the switch plays his next card. A switch card can still be played when one of the cars has finished, but it does nothing at all.

            Switch Misdeal

            Anyone who gets dealt two or all three switch cards may declare a misdeal if desired. All cards are then thrown in, reshuffled, and redealt. Even though all players continue playing cards after their cars cross the finish line, it is too much of a disadvantage to have two, possibly three of cards with no movement on them. (This house rule is written for the original rules... not the variant uses of the switch cards mentioned above.)

            Other Stuff

            Tighter Movement Deck

            Remove the three 5 movement white cards and the switch cards from the deck. This drastically reduces the effect that can happen in a game with a large number of players if one player gets dealt all three 5 movement white cards. (It often doesn't matter so much which car they take so they just get the one which is the cheapest.) It also has the advantage of making it just a bit tougher to get across the line.

            Down with the King(maker)

            When playing the original rules, players who have already finished have an inordinate amount of influence on the finish of the race. In order to combat this "kingmaking" tendency, players whose last car has crossed the finish line must turn the remainder of their cards face and shuffle them. When it is their turn, they draw randomly from the pile in front of them to "blow" other players' cars across the line. If there is a white number with multiple valid choices, the car that is farther behind gets to use the white number. (Again, this variant is useful only with the original rules. With the betting rules, players should be able to play cards down to the end of the game.)


            Whenever a car moves and a second car is directly behind it, move the second car forward one space. If there is a whole row of cars and the front one moves forward then all those directly behind it will move forward one space. This rule is borrowed from Daytona 500.

            This helps make it less of an advantage to get ahead of the pack, and adds some interesting twists to the game play.

            Open Auction

            In order to keep players from sitting on their cash & waiting for a cheap car, eliminate car ownership limits. (This variant is for 2 & 3 player games.)

            Thinking Seriously about the System

            A Great Conversation

            What follows is a not-quite-verbatim conversation from, which gives you some very good information about the Formel Eins series of games, including the "grandfather", an abstract game called Tempo.

            Tim Shippert:

            The Daytona 500 box and rules say that the game is only for 2-4 players. How does it work for 5 or 6, like Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix claims to handle? I think the suggested number of players is odd for both games, because D500 should work with more players fairly easily, while DCGP becomes very unwieldy with more than four. Three is probably the best number for DCGP, because the chicanes become a lot easier to manage, and even if you do get jammed up you'll have another turn to try and right things pretty soon.

            Steven Pedlow:

            Any difference in number of players among Niki Lauda, Daytona 500, Top Race, Detroit/Cleveland is mostly due to how much the game company wants to get away with. They can all have six cars, and can therefore handle 2-6 players, but my experience shows that they work best with 3-4. If you play with 5 or 6, you seem to lack control of how well your cars do.. you are completely dependent on other players moving your car. 2 player games work fine, but it does seem to lack the multiplayer aspect. So it sounds like Daytona 500 agrees that it isn't as good with 5 or 6, and reports 2-4 as the "best" number of players, while Detroit/Cleveland reports only that it can be played by 2-6 players.

            My experience with Top Race is limited, so it might be true that the betting element better allows 5 or 6 players to enjoy this version rather than the others. Anyone have any comment on this?

            Bob Scherer-Hoock:

            I've never tried any of them with fewer than 4 players. I still find the games enjoyable with up to 6, but you're right about the control. I think the key there is to save what you can control for the finish, or also in the case of the road course for the chicanes, but indeed you are limited by lack of cards. I don't think the betting in Top Race addresses any of the control issues at all. In fact, more than 4 players and the resulting fewer cards in hand makes the betting more of a wild guess.

            By the way, I finally got around to translating the Tempo rules (the forerunner of all these games) this past weekend. I think I played the game once years ago with someone describing their understanding of the rules, but I'd long since forgotten them. Turns out a betting component was key to the original game system, so much so that the blurb on the box describes it as a betting game rather than a racing game. In this version the track is merely a large "U" and the pawns (no car theme) have their own identical (save for the color) tracks. The pawns never switch lanes, so there is no blocking in the game. The betting is in the form of six cards, one for each color pawn, that are given to each player. Each player looks at their race cards (which are quite a different mix than the race car versions) and decides which of the six pawn cards to select as their bets for first, second, and third place. The cards are placed face down as secret bets. Then the players get points at the end of the race for all three colors they've selected depending on their finish, plus bonus points for finishing any of them in the correct order in which they were bet. In a sense then, each player owns three "cars" in each race (without bidding for them) and several players can end up owning the same car. (And in the unlikely event that two players happen to put out three cards in the same order at the outset, then they can't do anything but tie at the end.) There's a variant suggested in which all the bet cards are turned face up at the start of the race.

            Mark Jackson (the Conductor):

            In my ever-so-humble opinion, D/C Grand Prix works best with 3 players (if playing "strategically") and 6 players (if playing "with chaos")... while Daytona 500 works well with 3 or 4 players.

            Your "mileage" may vary. :-)

            #70: Daytona 500 (Mark's 100 - 2014)

            Daytona 500

            Mark's Ranking
            • 2014: 70th
            • 2012: 52nd
            • 2010: 52nd
            • 2005: 68th
            • appeared on all four lists
            • rank: 702
            • rating: 7.21
            Print Status
            • OOP
            Why It's On The List
            • Wolfgang Kramer came up with an inventive racing game mechanic - using cards that moved multiple cars - and this version (weirdly published by Milton Bradley) is the best of the illustrious bunch.
            Tips & Tricks:
              • The auctions are almost as important as the actual races to winning the game - spend wisely.
              • Drafting off other cars is important as well... esp. on the corners.
              • The other games in the series are Formel EinsTop Race, & Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix.
              • The original game with this mechanic is Tempo - which is NOT a car racing game.
              • Here's some information on Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix from my old website, Game Central Station.
              • Here's what I wrote about Daytona 500 for The One Hundred.

              Wednesday, November 19, 2014

              #71: Gnadenlos! (Mark's 100 - 2014)


              Mark's Ranking
              • 2014: 71st
              • 2012: 35th
              • 2010: 63rd
              • 2005: 37th
              • appeared on all four lists
              • rank: 4085
              • rating: 5.97
              Print Status
              • OOP
              Why It's On The List
              • Klaus "I'm makin' a mint off the isle of Catan" Teuber managed to make a Wild West themed Euro game that uses a press your luck element to create some really great suspense.
              Tips & Tricks:
                • Poker is where you can lose the most ground if you're pushing to the front - make sure you've got a poker player in your hand.
                • The game is shorter than you first anticipate... be ready for it end slightly quicker than you'd imagine the first time you play
                • Just because everyone else is spending big money does NOT mean you need to spend big money - payday is rough if you've got a lot of notes out there.
                • Another game that was never published in English - but the components are language neutral.
                • One nice thing - it will NEVER go longer than 45 minutes (there are three different game "timers" - and at least one of them is guaranteed to go off by that time).
                • Here's what I wrote about Gnadenlos! for The One Hundred.

                #72: Space Cadets: Dice Duel (Mark's 100 - 2014)

                Space Cadets: Dice Duel

                Mark's Ranking
                • 2014: 72nd
                • 2012: prior to publication
                • 2010: prior to publication
                • 2005: prior to publication
                • rank: 548
                • rating: 7.14
                Print Status
                • in print
                Why It's On The List
                • A real-time dice-rolling game of space combat for teams of players set in the Space Cadets universe... 30 minutes of absolute sweat-inducing frenzy that almost always comes down to the wire.
                Tips & Tricks:
                • While my eldest son & I managed to play this two-player (one-on-one), even the designer (the always thoughtful Geoff Englestein) thinks that's crazy pants behavior. If you really want a 2-player Dice Duel, make sure you pick up the Die Fighter expansion (which includes a really nice fighter vs. fighter mode). Note: I helped (in a VERY minor way) playtest the expansion - it's worth your hard-earned gaming dollars.
                • This really is a TEAM game - working together makes all the difference.
                • As always, you don't want to play a game like this (real-time dice-rolling) with people who cheat. Actually, I don't like to play ANY game with people who cheat, so that pretty much covers it for me.

                  Two Spikes

                  Spike #1:

                  My pastor, Ed Stetzer, (who also happens to be the head of Lifeway Research and a guy with a large social media footprint) was kind enough to feature one of my classic blog posts in his daily "Morning Roundup" post on The Exchange blog. Readership of aka pastor guy shot up - which is both weird & cool.

                  The post he referenced - Marryin' & Buryin': How Much Should I Pay the Pastor? - was already the most popular post in the 9+ year history of this blog. Now, it's even more popular, like the good-looking kid whose parents bought him a convertible for his 16th birthday. I expect the post to go tooling around the neighborhood with the top down, blaring 38 Special & Triumph to the neighbors. (Well, that's what I would have done if my parents had bought me a car for my 16th birthday.)

                  Spike #2:

                  My good friend & Top 100 Games compadre, Stephen Glenn, is a game designer of some note... and I want to play his newest publication as soon as possible.

                  It's named Spike, thus giving it a place in this blog post.

                  Stephen has done some great games:
                  You should try them all. :-)

                  Tuesday, November 18, 2014

                  The State of Theology

                  Yes, I realize that lots of my gamer readers don't care about this. "Where's the next game in your top 100 countdown?" they wonder.

                  The top 100 games will return soon - I promise. (My secret plan is to finish with #1 on Christmas Day, which is going to require a bit of work to pull off. Oh well.)

                  In the meantime, this is worth thinking about, especially if you're a follower of Christ and/or a pastor/teacher. You can click on the picture to find more information about the survey & the results.
                  No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones. (R.C. Sproul, Knowing God)

                  Sunday, November 02, 2014

                  #73: Royal Turf (Mark's 100 - 2014)

                  Royal Turf

                  Mark's Ranking
                  • 2014: 73rd
                  • 2012: 20th
                  • 2010: 50th
                  • 2005: 80th
                  • appeared on all four lists
                  • rank: 455
                  • rating: 6.93
                  Print Status
                  • OOP in both editions
                  Why It's On The List
                  • Another great example of Knizia using math to make fun instead of dry as dust slogs (I'm looking at you, Auf Heller und Pfennig/Kingdoms.) It's horse racing with actual gambling & great levels of player involvement. It plays well with 4-6 players and I've never had a dull game of Royal Turf.
                  Tips & Tricks:
                  • Play with the "zero"/bluff bet variant & face-down bets. Trust me on this one.
                  • If you're in the lead, make sure your bets are on the better odds horses... and with the players who are closest to you in score.
                  • If you're behind, leave the leader on his own on a couple of horses. (This takes working together... which doesn't always happen.)
                  • There have been three versions of the game - my favorite is Royal Turf, but Winner's Circle may be easier to find.
                  • Here's what I wrote about Royal Turf for The One Hundred.

                    Saturday, November 01, 2014

                    #74: Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel (Mark's 100 - 2014)

                    Keltis: Der Weg der Steine

                    Mark's Ranking
                    • 2014: 74th
                    • 2012: 56th
                    • 2010: 60th
                    • 2005: prior to publication
                    • rank: 1620
                    • rating: 6.47
                    Print Status
                    • in print - easiest to get through (6 Euros!)
                    Why It's On The List
                    • The most straightforward of the Lost Cities/Keltis family - and incredibly portable.
                    Tips & Tricks:
                      • When playing with 3 or 4 players, don't start lines in all five colors.
                      • It's easy to forget about blarney stones in your first game - don't. The penalty for going short on them is steep.
                      • In German, the name means "the way of the stones." The "Mitbringspiel" is a rough equivalent of our "travel games" - it literally means "bring with game".
                      • It's not that I dislike Keltis or Lost Cities: The Board Game... it's just that I like this one so much better.

                      #75: Stimmt So! (Mark's 100 - 2014)

                      Stimmt So!

                      Mark's Ranking
                      • 2014: 75th
                      • 2012: 38th
                      • 2010: 53rd
                      • 2005: 26th
                      • appeared on all four lists
                      • rank: 2104
                      • rating: 6.45
                      Print Status
                      • reprinted as Alhambra: The Card Game
                      Why It's On The List
                      • A nifty stock market game (shades of Acquire) with four kinds of currency used to buy the various stocks. Due to the very straightforward decisions (do I buy stock or take cash?), it moves along at a brisk pace even with a full table of six players.
                      Tips & Tricks:
                        • You can't collect every type of stock & win - you must specialize.
                        • Forcing ties cuts the value of the stock to the tied players - sometimes, you can buy up a single stock to keep your opponent in check..
                        • I'm on the record in multiple places how much I dislike the re-imagining of this game as the Spiel des Jahres-winning Alhambra. The addition of the walls both slow the game down and make it more difficult to fight for particular types of stock (as you must factor in the configuration of the wall).
                        • I have not played the newest version of this game, Alhambra: The Card Game. Evidently, the changes are ones we'd already made to Stimmt So! as variants from Alhambra..
                        • Here's what I wrote about Stimmt So! for The One Hundred.