This will be a short list of ten of my favorite table top games. I would like to note that the order I have these in is probably my preferred as far as any ranking can go, but I took a different approach to my “top ten” list. I made a point to include a greater diversity of games. I did this because, in all honesty, my preferences as a gamer lean towards more deeply complex games. I would like for this list to incorporate games that I find thoroughly enjoyable, regardless of if they are my preferred type of game. I would also like to point out that I enjoy fluid mechanics in the games I play, and thematic consistency is not very important to me. With this is mind I won’t likely touch on the theme aspect of the games in my list very much. Though without further ado, I suppose we should dive right in:
1. Stone Age – This is (for me) the quintessential strategic decision-making game. It is a civilization game in which you acquire and spend resources to expand your little stone age tribe. The game itself is simple enough to pick up. The rules and turn actions are not complex, but requires forethought and planning. Each turn from the very beginning must build upon each previous turn. The way the game plays allows for each player to differentiate their strategy from the other players, while still limiting the field enough to encourage competition for certain resources.
2. Castles of Mad King Ludwig – This game is a meticulous person’s dream (or worst nightmare). Throughout the game you are building a castle by buying and selling various rooms. The game has a reasonable diversified scoring system, with both hidden and public end game objectives. There is a good amount of competition over certain rooms, and the beauty of this game is that every time you play you have a different castle. It is a free-form building that doesn’t necessarily have to make any sort of sense. However, the free-form aspect can drive you insane if your little rooms don’t line up, for those persnickety people out there. I find this game thoroughly enjoyable though from both a creative and a strategic standpoint.
3. Discoveries – This is a take on a style of play common to card games or builder games like Deus or Settlers of Catan, but does it with dice instead. Your dice are your resources. They are rolled and re-rolled throughout the game in order to explore the western wilderness of the United States in the time of Lewis and Clark. The game is fluid with the acquisition and subsequent usage of your dice, and it even allows for opponents to take your dice and use them to their advantage. The risk is that you can take them back from your opponent on any turn. The game allows for only a few different strategic methods, and it is not uncommon for players to compete over the same source of victory points.
4. Fidelitas – With the “Top 3” out of the way (all of which are games with moderate level of depth, and typically can take an hour or more to play) I bring you Fidelitas. This is a simple card game that can be played in teams or alone, and offers a surprising amount of competitive play as you work towards your own hidden agendas. It offers the mischievous satisfaction of making a play that simultaneously benefits you, and ruins all the work of the player next to you. The theme of this game is fun as well. It is an adaptation of the guild structure of medieval life, in which various guilds specialized in their trades move throughout a town according to the decisions each player makes. Fidelitas is a fairly light and quick game with solid depth.
5. Mysterium – This game is not a game that fits into my preferred style of game (as you might be able to tell by now). However, this game offers an immense amount of satisfaction as everyone works together to discover who the killer was. This is accomplished in a very unique, and mentally abstract manner. One player takes on the role of a ghost who was murdered and cannot communicate with the living–except through visions sent to the mediums and psychics controlled by the remaining players. The best part of this is that the ghost player CAN NOT talk to the other players. They can only communicate by passing out picture cards that are, in some way, linked to the potential killer, the location of death, or the weapon used. It can be quite challenging, though mixing in cards from the game Dixit (made by the same designers as Mysterium) can aid in helping the psychics discover “who done it?”.
6. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game – The ultimate cooperative traitor survival game, Dead of Winter can and will kick your ass, even with everyone working together. Throw in a subtle and skillful traitor, and your chances of surviving this zombie hell-hole diminish rapidly. There is nothing quite like murdering zombies to collect samples, raiding gas stations and police stations for weapons and supplies, all while wondering if the drunken Santa next to you might be secretly setting the whole colony up for disaster. This is an outstanding game with good depth and a healthy amount of suspicion and intrigue. The only thing holding the colony together is the collective desire to survive. While co-op games can be fun, I enjoy the subtly of more strategic games, and Dead of Winter perfectly blends the two.
7. Deus – This is a game that has a good amount of strategic diversity in how you can acquire victory points. However, the game is restricted to two endings. The first is the destruction of all of the barbarian camps, which I personally believe occurs too quickly in some games. The second method is the construction of four temples, which I personally believe takes a little too long. This leaves the game with a bit of an annoying gap if you’re looking for something with both moderate length and moderate depth. Regardless, Deus is a solid game, and it can be a lot of fun.
8. Robo Rally – This is probably the ultimate in the “I didn’t mean to…” method of screwing up your opponents. Robo Rally up to 8 players on a variety of boards, all racing to be the first to pass through up to 8 checkpoints. With all of these elements, you’ll find a very chaotic game of robots, conveyors, gears and lasers all smashed together in a way that is sure to having you yelling in frustration. The best part is that you often get in another player’s way without even meaning to. The only downside to Robo Rally is that it can take a while if everyone gets too cutthroat.
9. Love Letter – A very quick and simple game, that can be rather fun as you try to work out which card each other player holds. The game lacks a little in the two player format, but with a full group of four it can be quite a fun game of trying to outwit and outplay the opposing players. The goal is simply to be the last one remaining, or the owner of the highest card when the deck runs out. Love Letter is a great small game.
10. Between Two Cities – This is another city builder, but it adds a layer of strategy that isn’t common in these style of games. It is an individual game, in which you have to cooperate with the players on both sides of you. You stand between two cities, and your goal is to work with the players surrounding you to ensure that your lowest scoring city is higher than the lowest scoring city of any other player. This is very tricky to accomplish, as every other player is doing the same thing. In addition, the way the tiles go together to form a city make a huge difference in how it scores out. Between Two Cities is an outstanding game.
Honorable Mention: Rampage (Terror in Meeple City) – I only include this game because of how unbelievably fun it can be. It is rather ridiculous, and there really isn’t any sort of sound strategy involved, since you can’t predict where the Meeples will go flying off to. In essence, you are a monster rampaging through a city whose goal is to be the one to eat the widest variety of meeples and buildings. You accomplish this by jumping, smashing, throwing buses or other monsters, and even blowing gusts of air at the buildings and meeples.