Tuesday, April 30, 2024

#41: Midnight Party (Mark's Top 100 2024)

Midnight Party
    • rank: 3,897
    • rating: 6.2
    • published: 1989
    • designer: Wolfgang Kramer
    Print Status
    • while it's not currently in print, you can find some of the versions in the secondary market pretty easily
    Why It's On The List
    • The ultimate "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you" game... which plays up to 8 players and always provides a splendid time for all involved - even if Hugo the Ghost tags your players.
    Tips & Tricks:
    • Don't put your folks close to each other - you need to spread them out a bit.
    • Starting next to an open door is always a good idea.
    • The game works well at all player counts... but is best with 5+ players.
    • I think the older versions of the game are better - while the newer versions feature some twists, the original Ravensburger game is hard to beat.
    • Here's what I wrote about it for my Kid Games 100 list back in the day.
    • This is the fifth of five (5!) Kramer designs on my list.

    Monday, April 29, 2024

    #42: Favor of the Pharaoh (Mark's Top 100 2024)

    Favor of the Pharaoh
      • rank: 1,832
      • rating: 6.8
      • published: 2015
      • designer: Tom Lehmann
      Print Status
      • available?
      Why It's On The List
      • A re-imagined version of the classic dice game To Court the King - imagine Yahtzee crossed with Magic: The Gathering. You use dice to obtain card powers in order to manipulate dice to obtain more power (and dice) to finally win the favor of the Pharaoh.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • You need dice - and a few manipulation powers. Going the other way (dice manipulation powers and a few extra dice) will lose you the game.
      • The game works well with 2-4 players.
      • The variability introduced in this version is excellent - each game has its own feel.
      • I do wish I'd sprung for a second set of dice... with 4 players, you have to do a lot of trading around of base dice.
      • I had the privilege of Tom Lehmann (the designer) showing me the unpublished expansion for To Court the King some years back... many of those great ideas ended up in Favor of the Pharaoh.
      • This is the fourth of seven (7!) Lehmann designs on my list.

      Sunday, April 28, 2024

      #43: Era: Medieval Age (Mark's Top 100 2024)

      Era: Medieval Age
        • rank: 1,048
        • rating: 7.2
        • published: 2019
        • designer: Matt Leacock
        Print Status
        • out of print?
        Why It's On The List
        • This 3D re-implementation of Matt Leacock's classic Roll Through The Ages did not impress me on my first play... but subsequent plays changed my mind. It's not the same game with cuter bits - it is a different (and more confrontational) game with limited amounts of certain buildings and the ability to bleed your opponents if you choose to pursue that route.
        Tips &Tricks:
        • Important safety tip: don't forget the final phase of each turn, which is Extort. Simply using all your resources won't prevent pain (you gain disaster points instead). 
        • Corollary to the safety tip: in a 3 or 4 player game, you could potentially get hit multiple times in the Extort phase. Plan accordingly.
        • You can't do everything - but you should at least build a walled area and put some valuable buildings in it (since they are doubled in a completed walled area).
        • I consider the Rivers & Roads expansion essential - not only does it add some very interesting new buildings and the titular rivers & roads, it also adds cards for the middle of the table that are much easier to see and understand about the cost & power of each building.
        • I also own all of the Collector Set expansions... which add a variety of tricky twists to the system. They're not cheap (I used leftover Christmas money to buy them) but if you're enjoying the game system, they're pretty nifty.
        • The solo mode works well... and building a little working medieval city is very satisfying. 

        Saturday, April 27, 2024

        #44: The Princes of Florence (Mark's Top 100 2024)

        The Princes of Florence 
        • rank: 259
        • rating: 7.5
        • published: 2000
        • designers: Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich,  and Jens Christopher Ulrich
        Print Status
        • back in print
        Why It's On The List
        • You have 21 moves - 7 auctions & 14 actions - in order to turn your estate into the perfect place for great artists & scientists to create their masterworks and bring prestige to your name... each action, each bit of coinage, each building, each recruitment is vital. What a perfectly formed & thematically rich (yes, I think it is!) Euro game...
        • ...it's the perfect balance between game length (70 minutes) and an unforgiving system. Any longer, and it would be soul-deadening to play out the final rounds when you know you've lost all hope of winning. Any shorter, and there wouldn't be enough time to make meaningful decisions in this game's Spartan structure.
        Tips & Tricks:
        • I first started playing The Princes of Florence with a German version and cheat sheets to translate the cards. The game was/is good enough that people were willing to get over themselves & learn to play this way. (I have since replaced all of the components in my set with English language equivalents except for the player boards... which is what you see in the picture above.)
        • This game is subject to groupthink - despite much debate online, jesters & recruitment cards (both of which are valuable) are worth what the market will bear, not some arbitrary number established by a bunch of game nerds (he sez with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek).
        • There are two expansions available with newer versions of the game that are nice but not necessary. (For those of us who've played it a lot, they offer some variety - but the original game is so good that even I, the Man Addicted to Expansions, don't feel like they are important.)
        • The building strategy (building LOTS of buildings) can work - but only if you commit to it and only if you're the lone person attempting it.
        • Here's what I wrote about The Princes of Florence for The One Hundred: both the list entry & my personal entry.
        • This is the fourth of five games designed by Wolfgang Kramer on my top 100 list.

        Thursday, April 25, 2024

        #45: The Dragon & Flagon (Mark's Top 100 2024)

        The Dragon & Flagon

        • rank: 3,901
        • rating: 6.4
        • published: 2016
        • designers: Geoff, Bryan, & Sydney Englestein
        Print Status
        • out of print... but not difficult to find a copy
        Why It's On The List
        • The Family Englestein strikes again with a 3D homage to the classic fighting game Swashbuckler... and turns it into a free-for-all romp with modern game mechanics. Tip tables, swing on chandeliers, cast spells, pull rugs, and even "Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust! Sproing!" with you and up to 7 other of your friends!
        Tips & Tricks:
          • Obviously, you can play a smarter game if you know your deck well (and the decks of those you are fighting)... but over-obsessing about the details will suck all the life out of this experience game.
          • The middle of the tavern is a dangerous place to be.
          • Sometimes just causing a bit of mayhem (pushing a table, tipping a bookcase, etc.) in a crowded area is extremely helpful as it frustrates the plans of your opponents.
          • The game works just as well with 2, 3, or 4 players playing 2 fighters each as it does with 5-8 players.
          • I'm extraordinarily proud of the very long review I wrote of The Dragon & Flagon for the Opinionated Gamers website.
          • There's an expansion for the game as well - The Brew That Is True - that adds more characters, bookcases, and even reprints the hard-to-find promotional coaster for the game.
          • Note: I'll say it once again - this is an EXPERIENCE game. Some games will just not go your way... and that's OK.

          Wednesday, April 24, 2024

          #46: Entenrallye (Mark's Top 100 2024)



          • rank: 17,465
          • rating: 6.0
          • published: 1988
          • designer: Walter Müller

          Print Status

          • incredibly OOP

          Why It's On The List

          • A splendid road rally race that's fraught with luck... and some actual decision-making.

          Tips & Tricks:

            • You can't make it to every prize ceremony - so don't even try.
            • Deciding when to cut & run - or at least leaving yourself that option - is one of the keys to winning the game.


            • This is probably the lowest ranked game (BGG-wise) on my Top 100 - and frankly, I think that simply indicates that my list is superior to the opinions of a whole lot of other people.
            • Here's what I wrote about Entenrallye for The One Hundred.

            Tuesday, April 23, 2024

            #47: It's A Wonderful World (Mark's Top 100 2024)

            It's A Wonderful World
              • rank: 154
              • rating: 7.7
              • published: 2019
              • designer: Frédéric Guérard
              Print Status
              • in print
              Why It's On The List
              • A slightly more gamer-y 7 Wonders-ish card drafting game of civilization building... but that description sounds like damning with faint praise. The major difference is that you’re drafting a set of cards that you then use as resources (discarding them) or construction (building them) - the interplay can be fascinating and fast-moving... with the right players.
              Tips &Tricks:
              • Creating production is key to winning... but you can make a huge production engine that doesn't generate a lot of points if you're not careful.
              • Learn when to give up on a card - preferably before you've invested too much in it.
              • Easy to forget rule: when you discard a card in your construction area, the resource pictured on the card goes to your civilization card - it's not used on another card in the construction area.
              • The main expansion offers some really interesting cards to mess with producing and scoring... and does so without doing any damage to the base game system.
              • Warning: a single AP player can slow this game to a crawl.

              Monday, April 22, 2024

              #48: Tanz der Hornochsen (Mark's Top 100 2024)

              Tanz der Hornochsen


              • rank: 4,821
              • rating: 6.5
              • published: 2004
              • designer: Wolfgang Kramer

              Print Status

              • out of print (but new version is sort of available)

              Why It's On The List

              • Designer Wolfgang Kramer took his classic 6 Nimmt game & converted it into a delightful hoot of a board game - and one I'd rather play than the original card game.

              Tips & Tricks:

                • One of the key decisions in the game is "when do I buy more tiles"? Making that decision correctly gives you a better chance at victory.
                • There is actually more visible information in Tanz than in a standard game of 6 Nimmt... and the ability to pull back tiles when you step in the poop can really mess with what happens next.


                • You do not need to have played 6 Nimmt/Take 6 in order to understand "The Dance of the Bulls". Everyone is pretty clear that you don't want to step in the poop.
                • A new 6 Nimmt board game was released in Germany back in 2019... while I enjoyed it, I like this one better.
                • There is a new English/Korean version named Dance of Ibexes... but I haven't seen a copy yet.
                • This is the third of five Wolfgang Kramer games on this countdown.

                Sunday, April 21, 2024

                #49: Core Worlds (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                Core Worlds
                  • rank: 1,018
                  • rating: 7.2
                  • published: 2011
                  • designer: Andrew Parks
                  Print Status
                  • in print?
                  Why It's On The List
                  • Andrew Parks created a space empire-building deck-builder - and combined it with a tableau system for deploying units that makes this game both deeply strategic and a challenging puzzle. And then he created three(!) incredible expansions that make the game even better!
                  Tips &Tricks:
                  • I think the original Core Worlds game is a solid 7 - but when you add the first expansion (Galactic Orders), it's jumps to an 8 (or maybe even a 9). And the second expansion (Revolution) just locks that high rating into place!
                  • The game has enough components for 5 players... but I prefer it with 2-3, as the pace of the game is quicker.
                  • Building combos is important - as is managing expectations. You will not be able to do everything you want, so you will need to prioritize your energy and actions near the end of the game to bring in victory points.
                  • The VERY recently released Nemesis expansion is an excellent solo mode for the game.
                  • I wrote a big review of the two expansions for the Opinionated Gamers website.
                  • I'd also be remiss if I didn't recommend the newest game in the Core Worlds family, Core Worlds: Empires... thematically set in the same universe - but using a worker placement mechanic as the victors work to solidify their holdings. (Note: I was a playtester for both Empires and the Nemesis expansion.) There is actually rules to play a campaign consisting of a game of Core Worlds which affects your starting position in Core Worlds: Empires!
                  • This is the first of two games designed by Andrew Parks on my top 100 countdown.

                  Saturday, April 20, 2024

                  #50: Ascending Empires (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                  Ascending Empires

                  • rank: 1,591
                  • rating: 7.2
                  • published: 2011
                  • designer: Ian Cooper
                  Print Status
                  • way out of print... but wait, there's good news!
                  Why It's On The List
                  • For a game of space conquest (complete with a tech tree), it zips along at a blistering pace. Turns are short, decisions are tricky, scores are close, and there are multiple ways to victory. Plus, you get to flick stuff!
                  Tips & Tricks:
                  • As much as I love flicking games (CatacombsCarabande, etc.), the flicking here is not the whole game - it's just a part of a much larger space-empire building game.
                  • The game scales really well from 2-4 players - which is odd, considering it has a four-quadrant map.
                  • There are even some official variants for the game posted on the Geek... both of which are quite good.
                  • Combat is NOT the most important thing in the game. While you can't ignore it, it won't win you the game by itself.

                  Friday, April 19, 2024

                  #51: Clash of the Gladiators (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                  Clash of the Gladiators

                  • rank: 7,491
                  • rating: 5.9
                  • published: 2002
                  • designer: Reiner Knizia
                  Print Status
                  • out of print
                  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.
                    • This is the fourth of seven (7!) games designed by Dr. Knizia on my top 100 list for 2024.

                    Thursday, April 18, 2024

                    #52: Monopoly: Tropical Tycoon DVD Game (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                    Monopoly: Tropical Tycoon DVD Game

                    • rank: 17,281
                    • rating: 5.8
                    • published: 2007
                    • designer: Rob Daviau
                    Print Status
                    • out of print (but pretty easy to find on Ebay)
                    Why It's On The List
                    • It takes the classic game (Monopoly) and makes it extremely gamer-friendly by adding Cosmic Encounter-ish roles, a variety of choices for building, and a great victory point system that lets you stop the game at any point and declare a legitimate winner.
                    Tips & Tricks:
                    • Basic Monopoly strategy still works with Tropical Tycoon... but there are major new considerations when you are building on monopolies. You can build for cash or for points... or for some balance point in between.
                    • The more people playing, the more careful you have to be about how you make trades. Some of the cheaper properties can be converted into pretty powerful income streams if you plan correctly.
                    • The only problem I can see with the game is the need for a DVD player - all of the card draws/random events are keyed off of the DVD.  That said, it works really well without being overly intrusive. (Yes, the "funny" stuff gets old the 2nd or 3rd time you hear it - but it still works.)
                    • Here's two things I wrote about Monopoly on my blog aka pastor guy: Giving Away Your Own (Monopoly) Money and The World's Most Famous Game And How It Got That Way. In short: "most of you play Monopoly wrong... and that somewhat explains why so many gamers hate the game."
                    • Here's what I wrote about Monopoly for The One Hundred
                    • This is the first of six (6!) game designs from Rob Daviau on the countdown.

                    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

                    #53: Streetsoccer (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                    • rank: 2,681
                    • rating: 6.5
                    • published: 2002
                    • designer: Corné van Moorsel
                    Print Status
                    • out of print
                    Why It's On The List
                    • It doesn't so much simulate soccer (like Pursue the Pennant attempts to simulate baseball)... instead, it uses a backgammon-ish mechanic to simulate the feel of a soccer game - and does so brilliantly.
                    Tips & Tricks:
                      • Like playing backgammon, winning at StreetSoccer is as much about the position you leave yourself in as well as pushing hard to score...
                      • And like backgammon, what appears initially to be a random dice game actually reveals itself to be a very tactical game of risk & probability.
                      • There are three different online PBEM versions of StreetSoccer... the one I used to play on (a lot!) was Little Golem.

                      Tuesday, April 16, 2024

                      #54: The Guild of Merchant Explorers (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                      The Guild of Merchant Explorers

                      • rank: 466
                      • rating: 7.7
                      • published: 2022
                      • designers: Matthew Dunstan & Brett J. Gilbert
                      Print Status
                      • in print
                      Why It's On The List
                      • This extremely clever flip’n’write game doesn’t actually contain any writing – but it does have enough look-ahead to make wise decisions and enough luck of the draw to force you to hedge your bets.
                      Tips & Tricks:
                        • Creating villages gives you jumping-off points for later rounds... which is essential to scoring well.
                        • Keep track of which cards have been flipped - so that you don't base your plays on something that can't happen this round.
                        • It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve taught it to… and I find it relaxing and enjoyable to play as a solo game.
                        • There are four different maps in the original box, with 2 more maps available as an expansion from AEG. 

                        Monday, April 15, 2024

                        #55: The Magic Labyrinth (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                        The Magic Labyrinth

                        • rank: 1,344
                        • rating: 6.8
                        • published: 2009
                        • designer: Dirk Baumann
                        Print Status
                        • in print... I think
                        Why It's On The List
                        • Second. Best. Memory. Game. Ever... but the over-the-top production means it gets requested more often - and therefore ended slightly higher on the list than Hallo Dachs!
                        Tips & Tricks:
                          • Do not mistake this for the unexplicably popular A-Mazing Labyrinth (or the spin-off games in that series). This is closer to an old favorite that it "fires" - Magical Maze.
                          • While the game works great with 2, 3 or 4 players, it is probably best with four players. By watching more players explore the (hidden) maze, it's easier to figure out a safe route to your destination.
                          • The expansion - only published in Germany as far as I know - is very, very good. It adds one-way walls as well as three special one-time abilities: a felt wizard's hat (cause another player to miss a turn), a wooden vial of potion (move until you reach your destination or hit a wall), and a wooden magic wand (get rid of your destination chit & draw a new one). The picture of the game on this post is using the expansion.

                          Sunday, April 14, 2024

                          #56: Royal Turf (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                          Royal Turf

                          • rank: 408
                          • rating: 6.9
                          • published: 2001
                          • designer: Reiner Knizia
                          Print Status
                          • very out of print
                          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, April 13, 2024

                          #57: Bärenpark (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                          • rank: 369
                          • rating: 7.3
                          • published: 2017
                          • designer: Phil Walker-Harding
                          Print Status
                          • in print
                          Why It's On The List
                          • It's a very-straightforward tile-laying game that can be give a lot of layers (esp. by using the expansion) or kept simple, straightforward, and very family-friendly with the base game.
                          Tips & Tricks:
                          • Like many game where players draft from a common pool, timing is extremely important.
                          • As well, this is a game that rewards the Tetris-y spatial skills of looking at a piece and being able to mentally flip it about to find the optimal placement.
                          • The addition of the goals (both from the base game and the expansion) vary up the mental puzzle really well.
                          • The storage solution in the base game is, well... not very good. I love the Folded Space insert I bought that fits both the base game and The Bad News Bears expansion into the box.
                          • The expansion adds extra goals, an additional piece of land per player for building, grizzly bear enclosures, and tramways. I think the tramways here are much better implemented than in the designer's Cloud City game.

                          Friday, April 12, 2024

                          #58: 7 Wonders Duel (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                          7 Wonders Duel

                          • rank: 19
                          • rating: 8.1
                          • published: 2015
                          • designer: Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala
                          Print Status
                          • in print
                          Why It's On The List
                          • There was a 2 player variant in the original 7 Wonders box... but it wasn't particularly interesting. Enter 7 Wonders Duel, which managed to capture the drafting "feel" of the original game but work perfectly for 2 players.
                          Tips & Tricks:
                          • There are three ways to win: military, science, and points... focusing on military or science can force your opponent to fight to stop you - and short circuit their plans.
                          • Wise use of money is key to winning - being cash poor gives your opponent freedom to leave cards out that you can't use.
                          • The combination of yellow (commercial) cards and burning cards for cash (increased by each yellow card you have) can be an effective strategy to deny players important cards while increasing your coffers.
                          • The picture above includes the excellent Pantheon expansion... and there is second (also excellent) Agora expansion. I've never played them at the same time, as one son like Pantheon and the other likes Agora.
                          • There's a print'n'play solo mode that works - but there are better solo games out there (and on this list).
                          • The app actually has a very good AI.
                          • This is the first of two games on my top 50 list designed by Antoine Bauza - and I'm willing to bet you can guess what the second one is.

                          Thursday, April 11, 2024

                          #59: Harry's Grand Slam Baseball (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                          Harry's Grand Slam Baseball

                          • rank: 7,028
                          • rating: 6.3
                          • published: 1962
                          • designer: Harry Obst
                          Print Status
                          • sadly OOP
                          Why It's On The List
                          • It captures the feel of a baseball game - and does so in 15 minutes (or less). The Out of the Box production is very nice as well.
                          Tips & Tricks:
                            • Use Fly Out cards when there aren't any runners on base.
                            • There's luck of the draw - of course - but proper card management and taking the right risks also helps. And... it's only 15 minutes long.
                            • This is a tremendous filler game.
                            • This game lends itself to playoffs/tournaments at gaming weekends - games are short enough to be held between "real" games.
                            • The story behind Harry's Grand Slam Baseball is fascinating... listen to Mark Johnson's "Boardgames To Go" podcast on it for more information.

                            Wednesday, April 10, 2024

                            #60: Catan: Starfarers (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                            Catan: Starfarers
                              • rank: 1,706
                              • rating: 7.6
                              • published: 2019
                              • designer: Klaus Teuber
                              Print Status
                              • in print
                              Why It's On The List
                              • As a long-time fan of the original Starfarers of Catan, I was nervous about the redevelopment of the game. I shouldn't have worried - it left everything I liked about the game while streamlining play and shortening playing time. 
                              Tips & Tricks:
                                • Pushing to be far ahead on any spaceship piece (guns, engines, cargo pods) not only helps you to accomplish certain goals, it also can hinder the success of other players when they have to face an event card.
                                • Building a spaceport mid-board can drastically speed up your progress (and the game!).
                                • Like all Catan games, initial placement is key. 
                                • So, what changed to make me add this to my top 100 list?
                                  • The map - using six puzzle cut boards with gaps for planet clusters and trading posts gives the game a LOT more variation than the original design - maps can be laid out specifically or randomly. And while the map is the same size (15 hexes long by 9 hexes wide), moving the trading posts into the map and rearranging the other openings makes the game develop faster.
                                  • The components - gone are the rickety/fragile starships from the original game (that were so breakable that they required a retrofit from the company)... in their place are smaller but sturdier ships. In addition, the nice Catan folks provided extra plastic "marbles" for the shaker portion of the ships, so you can change the mix in each one for a faster or slower game.
                                    • It's important to note that the suggested mix makes encounters slightly less likely.
                                  • The starting planets - it doesn't sound like much, but there are no pure 2 or 12 planets in the starting mix. Instead, there is a 3/12 chip and a 2/11 chip.
                                  • The rules - a number of rules tweaks were added that make the gamer run faster:
                                    • after a roll of 7 (and the subsequent stealing), each player besides the thief draws a card from the reserve pile
                                    • the first contact with any planet cluster flips over all of the number chips
                                    • the resolution of trade post is now simply "longest road" style
                                    • the largest pirate lair is slightly easier to defeat
                                • All of the noted changes make for a much faster game - we are knocking out three player games in approximately 75-80 minutes.
                                • My sons gave me the New Encounters expansion for Christmas - so far, we've only played the Amoeba scenario... but it's a nice twist and only added about 10 minutes to the playing time.
                                • I still have my resin alien figures from the original edition... love those little guys!
                                • This is Klaus Teuber's third of five game designs on my top 100 for 2024.

                                Tuesday, April 09, 2024

                                #61: Fresco (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                                  • rank: 286
                                  • rating: 7.30
                                  • published: 2010
                                  • designers: Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, and Marcel Süßelbeck
                                  Print Status
                                  • out of print?
                                  Why It's On The List
                                  • Fresco is a lovely worker-placement game that has three endearing qualities: first, it has an interesting theme; second, pretty much every mechanic in the game can be explained in terms of that theme... and finally, it does not seem to ever bog down with AP (analysis paralysis) like some other worker-placement games.
                                  Tips & Tricks:
                                    • You can play Fresco as a "sandbox" game (where you don't pay much attention to what other players are doing), but to really excel at the game, you must watch carefully to see what paints are highly desired and whether or not you'll have multiple options if you go later in the turn order.
                                    • One of the trickiest decisions in the game is manipulating the turn order by taking less points.
                                    • This will happen again with more games at the top of this list... I like the multiple expansion modules which let you customize the length and complexity of the game.
                                    • The picture with this post is Fresco set up with most of the published expansions.
                                    • Here's my take on the plethora of expansions:
                                      • In the original box (1-3):
                                        • The portrait cards & paint mixing tiles are great ideas & should be used from the start with gamers
                                        • The extra paint colors add some interesting tactical decisions but add to the length of the game.
                                      • First large expansion box (4-6)
                                        • The gold leaf a nice touch that increases the score, but I think it works best when coupled with the glaziers to offer different scoring pathways to pursue.
                                        • The wishing well is pretty random & non-essential.
                                      • Second large expansion box (8-10)
                                        • The second set of expansions (the bell, the "plague", etc.) are not necessary - but do give the game some variety if you're playing it a lot... which, sadly, I am not.
                                      • Stand-alone expansions (7 & Queenie 1)
                                        • There are two other small expansions published - a small giveaway called The Bishop's Favor (which I like) and an incredibly over-priced set of "secret" bonuses called The Scrolls (which would like better if it wasn't so expensive).
                                      • Fresco Mega Box expansions
                                        • I don't think I've played any of these yet (but I've slept a couple of times since my last game of Fresco with a completionist). The only one that sounds like something I really want is The Dome… but the cost of the expansion pack was too high even with my deep love for this game. Of course, I wouldn't say "no" if someone gave it to me. :-)

                                    Monday, April 08, 2024

                                    #62: Showmanager (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                                    • rank: 2,057
                                    • rating: 7.0
                                    • published: 1996
                                    • designer: Dirk Henn
                                    Print Status
                                    • out of print
                                    Why It's On The List
                                    • A wonderful card-drafting game that whips along at a breakneck pace and offers a consistently enjoyable gaming experience as the players cast (and miscast) theater productions.
                                    Tips & Tricks:
                                    • You don't have to be a card counter to do well - but it is good to know what "9" cards are remaining in each show.
                                    • You do not have enough money - so you're going to have to accept that one of your four shows is going to be, well, a flop.
                                    • Use your flop show to borrow money - a common tactic is put on a flop, put it in the lowest point value city & then take the maximum amount of money out of the show.
                                    • While I'm very glad there is a reprint available (though it's OOP as well), I do want to note that the two included variants are not necessary to enjoy the game.
                                    • Thankfully, the truly inferior version of the game (Atlantic Star) is out of print. 
                                    • And, no, I haven't ever played the original version, Premiere.
                                    • Showmanager scales really well for 3-6 players... I'm least fond of 4 but it still works well.
                                    • Here's what I wrote about Showmanager for The One Hundred.

                                    Sunday, April 07, 2024

                                    #63: Vegas Showdown (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                                    Vegas Showdown

                                    • rank: 796
                                    • rating: 7.2
                                    • published: 2005
                                    • designer: Henry Stern
                                    Print Status
                                    • in print
                                    Why It's On The List
                                    • This is the best implementation of the climbing auction mechanic first seen in Evo, then in the (excruciating, IMHO) Amun-Re, and more recently in 20th Century. I also like the need to plan what rooms you'll add to your Vegas resort... and in what order to build them.
                                    Tips & Tricks:
                                      • There are a variety of winning building configurations/mixes - your mission is to choose the one that best dodges what other players are doing... .
                                      • ...and then make it expensive for other players to get their "key" rooms.
                                      • While the graphics for this one are generally good, I do wish the player boards in the original edition had been mounted. If someone reprints this (hint, hint, Renegade Game Studio friends - who is doing that sometime soon), they should take care of that AND of adding some tokens in to track "extra" victory points. (We use glass beads to track points that are not found on the player boards - that way, you can check & make sure you haven't missed any points during the game.).

                                      Saturday, April 06, 2024

                                      #64: Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel (Mark's Top 100 2024)

                                      Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel

                                      • rank: 3,711
                                      • rating: 6.4
                                      • published: 2009
                                      • designer: Reiner Knizia
                                      Print Status
                                      • out of print
                                      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 Lost Cities or Keltis or Lost Cities: The Board Game... it's just that I like this one so much better.
                                        • This was republished as Lost Cities To Go in 2018... but I've never actually seen a physical copy of it.
                                        • Since the publication of Der Weg der Steine, there have been other very good Lost Cities family games... my favorite of the newer bunch is the Lost Cities Roll'n'Write.
                                        • This is the fourth of seven (7!) games designed by Reiner Knizia on this countdown.

                                        Friday, April 05, 2024

                                        Reconstructing My Faith: A Question, The Rapture, And Dreaming of Escape

                                        A Question

                                        Back in 2006, I had a very strange pastoral day - which, if you'll ask any pastor, is kind of a regular feature of the job.

                                        A lady who attended another church in town stopped by my office & asked me for help. She apologized for bothering me when I was busy... but wanted to know if I could give her a "real short explanation of the book of Revelation." Hmmm....
                                        I managed to keep the answer down to 5 minutes, which definitely isn't time for much in the way of detail:
                                        • letters to churches (chapters 1-3)
                                        • things are gonna get worse before they better... and everybody & his brother has an opinion on how that's going to work - some are more detailed (read: specific charts, timelines & battle plans) than others... and I'm one of those "less details, more big picture" kind of guys when it comes to this subject (chapters 4-19)
                                        • things will get better (chapters 20-22)
                                        For those wondering - yes, I'm still unclear why she came to me rather than her own pastor (who was/is a great guy.)

                                        Then Shari came home and said she had been hearing ads on one of our local Christian radio stations for a service that will e-mail your pagan friends who are not raptured when the rapture comes. I googled and found www.youvebeenleftbehind.com (the site is thankfully dead now). Seriously, that was the name of it. (I figure Larry Norman was spinning in his grave at someone profiting off his song in such a cheeseball way.)  
                                        My reaction: "If we love people who don't follow Jesus so darn much, why not do something about it now rather than spamming them from heaven?"

                                        The Rapture

                                        A few years later, as the Harold Camping end of the world nonsense metastasized, I found myself looking more carefully at my own history and the theological assumptions I'd grown up with. (Note: I don't want to get into the details of Camping's prediction - they're the usual mess of numerology, Scripture-twisting & outright nonsense... which, when they failed, caused him to talk about the "spiritual" end of the world... and then finally to admit that he was flat out wrong.)

                                        As I've noted before, I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s, back when it was one of the great gathering places for Jesus Movement folks - Calvary Chapel was king & Chuck Smith (their pastor) was a gifted speaker who spent a lot of time on the sure return of Jesus Christ. One of the guys who led my youth group Bible study was an ex-hippie who came to Jesus & was a big part of a "Jesus Music" band - and he was also very into teaching & talking about the End Times.

                                        You see, evangelical culture was flooded with books (The Late Great Planet Earth was the most notable), films (I still run into people who were profoundly influenced and/or scared by "Thief in the Night"), and music (Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" was popular - long before DC Talk covered the tune or LaHaye & Jenkins ripped off a line to title their fiction series) about the Rapture.

                                        Remember, it was the 1970s: Watergate, the fallout from the Sexual Revolution, the loss of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis - complete with gas rationing, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, etc. It was pretty easy to convince folks that life was getting worse & a one-way ticket out of here was an incredibly desirable thing - esp. if the destination was eternity with God.

                                        Notice that the fervor for this kind of thing began to ebb as circumstances got better - reaching a real low point for the End Times business when the perennial favorite for the "Who is Gog & Magog?" contest (see Revelation 20) - the Soviet Union - went belly up in 1989.

                                        But the flames were fanned again with the release of the "Left Behind" book series... and movies... and young adult book series... and one begins to wonder whether the primary motivation is theological or financial. (My personal critique of the Left Behind series? In short: "badly written dialogue, cardboard cut-out characters in an interesting plot... but undercut by the need to shoehorn in the author's very detailed premillenial dispensationalist view of Bible prophecy.")

                                        Of course, there's been a long history of prophecies (check out the website A Brief History of the Apocalypse for that long, sad lineage) about the end of the world, both inside & outside Christianity... 

                                        OK, enough history. With that particular theological context growing up, I'd always just assumed that the Chick Tract/Left Behind/Thief in the Night storyline was the only or best way to interpret the Scriptures.

                                        But with some research, I kept running into the inescapable fact that the "doctrine" of the Rapture (as we know it) pretty much started in the 19th century with the teachings of John Darby (pretty much the father of dispensational theology) & C.I. Scofield (who published the Scofield Chain Reference Bible, which put Darby's theology on the same page as the Scriptures in the form of footnotes). So, the Rapture is a theological belief that's a little more than 150 years old.

                                        New isn't necessarily bad... but when it comes to theology, it's always possible that something "new" simply means folks pulled stuff out of context to come up with their belief system... so I found myself struggling with what I believe about the Rapture - but, then again, I've always struggled with what I believe about the End Times. Not about the sure return of Christ or that God will reign... but with the nitty-gritty details of what will happen when and the tendency of some believers to want a "map" of how it's all gonna go down.

                                        Am I saying there won't be a Rapture? No. Is it possible that the return of Christ (the Second Coming) and the Rapture will occur at the same time? Yes. Do I know this for sure? Absolutely not.

                                        Here's my two cents - this particular issue (the Rapture) can NOT be one of those theological hills that we chose to fight to the death for... the divinity of Christ, the truth of the Resurrection, the inspired nature of Scripture - yes, these fundamental beliefs are worth everything we have.

                                        But a particular brand of End Times theology is not worth our time & energy. Since we acknowledge that "no man knows the day or the hour" (Matthew 24:36) and that appearance of the Lord will be "like a thief in the night" (1st Thessalonians 5:2), we do a horrendous disservice to those in need of Jesus' saving grace by focusing inordinate amounts of attention & emotion on fighting with each other over signs & interpretations.

                                        You & I may not agree completely on what will happen at the end of time - but I once again would suggest that our call to evangelize & disciple, to serve & minister in the name of Christ is substantially more important than convincing someone of our particular eschatology.

                                        The Escape Hatch

                                        Let me be clear - all of the "reconstructing" I wrote about concerning the Rapture & the End Times occurred 12+ years ago. So what does that have to do with my faith right now?

                                        Well, I've come to the realization that I am always looking for ways to cope with the struggles of life... and the current chaos of our political and cultural climate makes an escape hatch particularly tempting. Like I wrote back in the day, the Rapture looks like a pretty good theological idea when you think the world is in free fall.
                                        Douglas Rushkoff wrote (in his book, Get Back in the Box) that:
                                        In extreme cases, like fundamentalist religious or political stories, the chaos of any given moment becomes an indication of some great impending apocalypse when justice will be done. I've seen cheeky bumper stickers that read: "In case of rapture, this car will be empty." The passengers are literally looking forward to that scenario. When we are addicted to stories with endings, we'd prefer Armageddon to no ending at all.
                                        I think, at some level, that's what is happening to many evangelical followers of Christ right now - seduced by fear-mongering news sources and fueled by those claiming to speak for God, they are tempted to buy into a persecution narrative that leads inexorably to excusing, minimizing, and/or even participating in things like this...

                                        ...or pictures like this (life-sized sticker of the current president hogtied in the back of a pickup truck) being posted by a presidential candidate:

                                        Political fervor and tribalism has become an escape hatch... a way to run away from the difficulties of a multicultural society full of people who desperately need the love of Christ. Rather than obeying the Biblical commands to "conduct yourself with wisdom in your interactions with outsiders (non-believers), make the most of each opportunity [treating it as something precious]" (Colossians 4:5 AMP) and to "always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope" (1 Peter 3:15 VOICE), the tendency is to lean into sloganeering, idolatry, and raw abuse of power.

                                        There's a temptation - documented by Russell Moore in conversations with pastors - to give up on the words & example of Jesus and instead invest your time, talents, and treasure in uplifting a strong man to fight for you and/or choose to focus on fighting yourself.

                                        It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — "turn the other cheek" — [and] to have someone come up after to say, "Where did you get those liberal talking points?" And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, "I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ," the response would not be, "I apologize." The response would be, "Yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak." And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis.

                                         I'll note that (as David French so aptly put it) "one doesn’t comply with the command to “love your enemies” by hiring someone to hate them for you."


                                        Relentless cynicism and disengagement can be an escape hatch as well - especially for those of us tempted to disassociate ourselves from theological and political viewpoints we find repugnant. It's all too easy to bury our heads in the sand, to stay silent in the face of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure to hunker down and "stop rockin' the boat." This could be about politics, theology, ethics, or simply evidencing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 AMP):
                                        But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
                                        Thinking about the gnawing desire to disengage from the world around me, I was reminded of the lyrics of Steve Taylor's "Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel A Lot Better":

                                        Life unwinds like a cheap sweater
                                        But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                                        And the truth gets blurred like a wet letter
                                        But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                                        While the world winds down to a final prayer
                                        Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
                                        I predict by dinner I won't even care
                                        Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                                        And this cartoon by Dan Pegoda:

                                        I feel this temptation in my bones - and I'm thankful for the examples of folks like David French & Russell Moore who haven't given up and/or given in to bitterness. 

                                        Moreover, I find myself clinging to the words of  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
                                        Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.


                                        Our desire for escape from the stresses and fears of this world - whether into tribal politics, cynical detachment, accumulation of possessions and power, or hedonistic indulgence - is so much less than what God intends for us. Erwin McManus (in his book, Chasing Daylight) says it well:

                                        Our pop theology has eliminated the place for risk and insulated us with a comfort-and-security theology. This view runs counter to what is found in the Scriptures. I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will is not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.

                                        Mike Yaconelli wrote something similar in his book, Dangerous Wonder:
                                        I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

                                        Those both sound a lot better than longing for an escape hatch - even couched in spiritual language and Biblical imagery.