Top 10 euro games free online

Terra Mystica at Yucata - one of Chris Marling's top 10 euro games free online.

So here it is – my top 10 euro games you can play for free online. Covid 19 and the associated lock down mean many of us are largely housebound. And the possible ‘second wave’, as winter nights start to draw in, means ‘staying home’ is only going to become more common.

So, what better way to while away the hours than in the company of friends online – plus some brilliant board games?

All the games below are free on the site listed: ‘BGA’ = Board Game Arena, ‘BaJ’ = Boit a Jeux or ‘Y’ = Yucata. Games that have a * next to either BaJ or Y are also available at BGA, but are listed as premium (which means a paying member of the site needs to start the game). I did not include Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator because those websites need a much greater understanding of the games to play there; so, in my opinion, aren’t as good or accessible for learning new games.

Criteria: What is a euro game?

The term, ‘euro’ games stemmed from Germany in the late 90s and early 2000s. They tend to be light on direct player interaction and are usually quite abstract (although they all have ‘pasted on’ themes). They also shy away from ‘output randomness’ (such as roll-and-move). Instead, they thrive on input randomness – for example, where a number of random cards or dice are revealed before players choose which to take, or what to use them for. Strategy tends to be as important, if not more so, than tactics.

I had to draw a line somewhere in terms of complexity, so used the Board Game Geek complexity ratings. Any game averaging a rating below 3.00 was left out. Which ruled out titles I’d largely describe as gateway euros: Stone Age (Y*), Vikings (Y), Firenze (Y), Egizia (Y) and Deus (BaJ). All brilliant games and highly recommended, but not quite complex enough to make a euros list. (All game name links go to my full-length reviews.)

That left me with a solid list of 14 games that was very hard to break down to 10. The four honourable mentions that just missed out were Agricola (BaJ), Navegador (Y), Tzolk’in (BaJ*) and Vanuatu (BaJ). I’ve listed them in BGG complexity order, from the lightest to the heaviest. The first five games have less than a 3.5 rating, while the rest range up to 4.4 (out of 5). But nothing here is what I’d really describe as a properly heavy euro.

Top 10 euro games free online

Snowdonia (Y – 1-5 players, 1-2 hours)

A brilliant worker placement game with two original, stand-out mechanisms. Weather drives what actions are available each turn, and how effective they will be. While a clever AI system can move the game along around you. Both these elements make every game feel very different, ensuring no single strategy will work in every play.

Oracle of Delphi (Y – 2-4 players, 1-2 hours)

In many ways a typical Stefan Feld design, with dice controlling actions and a plethora of choices each turn. Plus the potential for some bad luck to spoil your plans. But unlike his common ‘point salad’ scoring mechanisms, this is a flat-out race to complete 12 quests. And this great online implementation really helps narrow down your options and find locations.

Concordia (BaJ – 2-5 players, 2 hours)

This action selection game (pictured above) works via a clever card play/light deck building mechanic. Collect resources to help expand your empire, drafting cards that double up as extra actions but also end game victory point multipliers. While there’s no direct conflict, few euro games keep your eyes fixed on your opponent’s moves as much as this one.

Macao (Y – 2-4 players, 1-2 hours)

Another Feld euro, with similar levels of dice, choices and the fear of rotten luck. I love the push-your-luck element here. You choose cards, then plan to get the right colours together in the same turn to activate them. Do you go for simple cards, that you’ll definitely be able to complete? Or the risky ones which give so much more if you manage to pull it off?

Yokohama (BGA – 2-4 players, 1-2 hours)

This worker placement game builds on the route-style mechanism of games such as Istanbul and Five Tribes. But it is far more satisfying here, adding contract fulfilment and end-game bonuses that encourage long term planning. The variable board adds lots of replayability, while the chance for limited blocking adds a bit of spice to proceedings.

Bruxelles 1893 on Boite a Jeux - one of my top 10 euro games you can play for free online

The heavier games

Bruxelles 1893 (BaJ – 2-5 players, 2 hours)

I learnt this online (pictured above), having missed it on release – and now need to pick up a copy. It has the usual euro game tropes: worker placement, action selection, resource manipulation, victory point multipliers. But everything seems to knock on to everything else. While the indirect conflict is some of the most significant I’ve come across in a euro game.

Trajan (BaJ – 2-4 players, 1-2 hours)

If anyone was going to make the mancala mechanism in a euro game, it was going to be Stefan Feld. Here it works much like a rondel, as you manipulate the pieces to both take actions and trigger bonuses. Despite the roman theme this is a heads-down puzzle of a game, with many point-salady routes to victory for the player who is most efficient.

Nippon (BGA – 2-4 players, 1-2 hours)

Disclaimer: I’ve only played once so far, but loved it. The game has cutthroat area majority elements that reward perfect timing. But alongside that is a clever heads-down euro puzzle steeped in tough, interesting decisions. Action selection here is refreshingly original and tough too, often forcing you to choose between financial penalties or juicy bonuses.

Terra Mystica (Y* – 2-5 players, 2+ hours)

One of the true euro greats (pictured top of page), it is a territory building game without direct conflict. Each player controls a different fantasy race which has unique powers it can unlock, leading to different strategies. There’s a tight action selection economy, with tricky decisions at every turn. Plan for the long game, but be prepared to shift tack at any moment.

Kanban (BaJ – 2-4 players, 2hours)

Euro gamers shouldn’t be put off by the undeserved 4+ complexity rating. Sure, this car factory line production game has a lot of moving parts (ho ho). But thematically they all slot together to make sense. A single worker per player opens up a set of actions for you each round. While a clever, competitive scoring system drives most of your decisions.

* Enjoyed my top 10 euro games you can play for free online? Check out my other Top 10 gaming lists.

The Pillars of the Earth board game: A four-sided review

The Pillars of the Earth board game is a mid-weight 1-2-hour euro game set in Ken Follett’s fictional Kingsbridge universe. It is for 2-4 players (being better with more) and the suggested age range of 12+ feels about right.

While playing lip service to the setting in terms of locations and action cards, this is much more a resource conversion game than it is a thematic one. Yes, by the end of the game you’ll have built a cathedral. But the competition comes in the building, not the political power plays of the novel.

The artwork is gorgeous and component quality varies from standard to excellent. In the box you’ll find around 140 wooden pieces, a cloth bag, 80-ish small-sized cards, the main game board and one dice. The highlight is a chunky wooden cathedral (made from six parts) which acts as nothing more than a visual turn counter. For about £30, by today’s standards this is fantastic value for a big box board game.

This may look like ‘just another worker placement game’ today. But on its 2006 release Pillars of the Earth was a SdJ Recommended title, winning at least five other international gaming awards. It feels familiar because many of the ideas it championed are standards in game design today. And its continued presence just outside the Top 200 games of all time on Board Game Geek is no fluke.

Teaching The Pillars of the Earth board game

The game is played over six rounds, each split into three distinct phases. No hidden info makes it an easy teach. Especially as you can pretty much explain the basic overview at the start, and then each phase as it happens. After one full round, players should be generally up and running.

In phase one, players choose resource and craftsmen cards in turn order. Each player starts with three craftsmen, who basically turn three of the game’s four resources into victory points. Each round, increasingly powerful and diverse craftsmen become available to employ. This gives plenty of opportunity to diversify, but there are strict limits on the number of craftsmen you can keep – and on actions you can do if you stop employing workers with certain skills.

Phase two is in random order. Three wooden ‘master builders’ per player are drawn from a bag, one at a time. The first drawn can be placed for seven gold (7g). You can never have more than 30g, so this is a significant amount. The next builder drawn will cost that player 6g, then 5g etc. If a player pays the cost, they place the builder on any of the board’s 11 worker spaces. The good ones disappear rapidly, as nine only have space for one worker. If you don’t (or can’t) pay, the worker sits and waits. After the seventh worker drawn costs 1g, the remaining ones drawn are free. Once these are placed, any earlier draws not paid for are now also placed for free.

craftsmen cards in the pillars of the earth board game

Taking your actions

Phase three sees players carrying out their chosen actions, this time in game board order. Each action space has a number printed on the board, so this order plays out in the same way each round. But many of the action spaces are associated with cards and events drawn randomly each round, which adds plenty or variation. Space one, for example, is an event that can be good or bad for all players. But if you’ve placed a master builder on space two, you can choose to ignore this event (or gain a resource).

Most spaces either give/exchange resources or cards (craftsmen, special actions, points etc), or dish out penalties. There are a couple of ‘push your luck’ elements. The event described above, plus a 2-5g tax you can place a builder to ignore (before knowing the cost). But generally you’ll know what you’re going to get when placing builders. Finally, players get to trade their resources for points and gold via their craftsmen.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The Pillars of the Earth board game gets so much right. You’re constantly thinking about what other players want to do, which makes you weigh the odds often. Should I overspend now, or potentially miss out? This push-your-luck element, built into each phase of the game, really makes it sing. But also means that, with just two players, it can be a little disappointing. Take away that jeopardy and the game loses a bit of spark. Leaving me to think they could’ve put a little more thought into introducing two-player restrictions (as many other games do).
  • The thinker: There’s not a lot of strategic thought here. The game is very tactical, with limited real choice throughout. But in a game of such tight margins those choice can have real impact. However, play to play, these choices are very similar – limiting replayability for those of us who want more depth. And for me, as a tactical game, it plays a little long. So on balance it’s not for me – but it is a strong design and one I’m happy to play occasionally.
  • The trasher: The more players you have, the nastier Pillars of the Earth can get – but it’s very much passive aggressive. For example, there may be just one of a resource card available that turn. Even if it’s not much use to you, why not take it? You’ll guarantee to spoil someone else’s plans. And you can still sell the resources for money! That said, the market is always available to all players. So underneath all those tough decisions it really boils down to an efficiency engine. Will I play it? Sure – it’s better than all those heads-down euros. But will I pick it? Probably not, no.
  • The dabbler: Really nice artwork does a pretty good job of making up for a dull theme. But to be honest, there’s no theme here to speak of. You certainly don’t feel as if you’re building a cathedral, no matter how nice and chunky the wooden blocks are! But despite that, I really enjoy the game. It’s fun and tricky deciding if to place your master builders for money, or to wait. And yes, it has that typical euro game ‘turn this into this to get points’ element. But it’s a simple progression, with more of the emphasis on competition and timing. I like it a lot.
Character cards from the pillars of the earth board game

Key observations

It’s amusing to read recent criticisms of The Pillars of the Earth board game saying it has “nothing new”. Maybe these same people would criticise a ZX81 for not having HD quality graphics. That said, for a purchaser, the game does need to be judged on whether it stands up against modern alternatives. For me, with 3-4 players, it does. Which brings me on to the fact its not at it’s best with two. I still find it enjoyable, but it definitely loses some of its mojo. But, if you want less random, perhaps you’ll enjoy it more that way.

While I feel the randomness is required to make the push your luck elements sing, the level of luck is going to bother dedicated engine builders. And as it very much feels like a tactical game, I don’t think it’s a problem – especially as there are strong ways to mitigate situations. But if you want a game where you can plan your route to victor meticulously, this is not the game for you. That said, I disagree there is a lack of tension – the game has it in spades. Although it’s definitely of the randomness/push your luck kind.

Replayability

One criticism I do sympathise with is replayability. Many of the ‘random’ card draw elements have strict rounds they come out in. While with others you see most of the cards each game. Gamers playing regularly will soon grok where and when certain cards will appear. While other draws will be useless late in the game, meaning fewer interesting choices. An expansion was released in 2007. But Kosmos (who recently re-released the game) has not put it back out. It adds space for two more players, plus many more board and card options. But right now it’s very hard to get hold of.

Finally it’s fair to say that, for the amount of strategy (not much), the game does play a little long. Because the fact it’s almost totally tactical means you’re constantly needing to re-evaluate your position. Do I mind this? Personally, no. But it can make for a long game – especially with players who suffer from analysis paralysis.

Conclusion: The Pillars of the Earth board game

Despite some pretty legitimate criticisms, this game has stood the test of time. Why? Because it’s a fantastic gateway to the euro game genre. Personally, I find it way more enjoyable than Lords of Waterdeep. And different enough from Stone Age to stand alongside it. The fantastic board art and accessible theme give it extra new gamer points. While the ease of teaching also works in its favour. But unless you can find the expansion, I can’t really recommend it for more experienced gamers. As for me, it’s a keeper. I love a euro game that makes me think about pushing my luck. And as my games don’t get too many plays, I’m sure my groups will be untroubled by any replayability problems!

  • I would like to thank Kosmos UK for providing a copy of the game for review.
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Spiel.digital 2020 – I got those ol’ Essen Spiel blues

So today, my thoughts turned to Spiel.digital 2020. I’ve just been away for a long weekend in the country. It was totally lovely. Loads of walking out into areas where we diddn’t see another person for hours. Deer, wild horses and donkeys, all kinds of wildlife. Blissful. The walks were spectacularly peaceful, which I love.

But I also love the opposite – the smell of nerd in the morning. That fever-pitch level of excitement as the masses pour into the Essen halls. I find the sprawling sea of humanity almost as anonymous.

We stayed in two lovely pub/B&Bs. As it’s the New Forest, nothing is cheap. But even by those standards, the first place we stayed was at pricey. Our thought was, sod it, thanks to Covid we’ve been spending practically nothing. Let’s treat ourselves. But there was another longing in the back of my mind. Because it was bought with cancelled Essen hotel money.

We played a few games in the evenings the last couple of nights. It was a nice big room with a little table and a sofa – perfect. We’d only packed small stuff, enjoying plays of Archaeology: The Card Game, Kahuna, Adios Calavera and That’s Pretty Clever. But of course, again, thoughts turned to that suitcase full of brand new games I wouldn’t be dragging into the Eurostar terminal in a few months time.

Spiel.digital 2020

The logo for spiel.digital 2020

I’ve tried logging into a few virtual con ‘experiences’. I always seem to log into a live feed when Gil Hova is on (why me?). But even if it was someone great, I don’t think it would matter. Watching a game designer talk to a grinning amateur youtuber about their latest release is research, not a con. There’s nothing convention-y about it at all. No feeling of crowds, buzz, anything. It’s just videos.

Spiel.digital is promising something different; something better. Try new board games, interactive live events, and local stores and cafes being able to have a ‘free presence’ at the con. They can hold small events of their own and stream them, highlighting new releases etc. This does sound like it could be interesting. And for the many who can’t go to Spiel usually anyway it sounds like a big improvement on the normal. So while I feel confident it will be the best virtual con yet, I remain sceptical that I’ll get much out of it (here’s hoping).

And I’m not comfortable going indoors to public spaces right now due to Covid19, so the idea of going to a local event isn’t appealing. I overheat in about three minutes in a mask, so am avoiding going into stores etc wherever possible. I haven’t even been to my local pub since it reopened, as it doesn’t have outside space to speak of. So you’re not going to catch me going into a room of random gamers to touch cardboard with them (as it were). I simply don’t feel safe enough to make unnecessary risks.

New game release schedules

The Dead Eye, from Pleasant Company Games, releasing around Spiel.digital 2020

It looks as though most publishers are still having Autumn releases, timing them for Spiel.digital 2020. This makes sense, as the lack of Essen Spiel is hoped to be a blip rather than the dreaded ‘new norm’. But by now I’m usually starting to get excited about the Spiel release list. And I’m just not. Without the actual event to go to, I’m really lacking motivation in terms of checking out new board game releases.

This may also be fuelled by the fact we’ve had (in my opinion) two pretty poor years in a row in terms of new games. Very few have stood out. And in the areas I like most, even less games have stayed on my shelves to replace older ones. There have been far too many publishers dressing old ideas in new themes, or using component quality to hide an embarrassing lack of originality and design imagination.

I also fear exposure issues may get even worse for the smallest publishers. Who, ironically, often still make the most interesting (if not the most polished) games. Essen is such a great opportunity for the likes of Pleasant Company Games (see The Dead Eye, above), Mucke Spiele and Looping Games to meet the whole of the industry in one place. How will they cope with having to deal with sending out review copies worldwide? Both in cost and logistics. Many can barely be trusted to open their emails or update their websites.

Keep gaming and carry on

The list of things I’ll miss goes on. The evenings in the hotels and bars. Catching up with old friends – gamers, publishers, designers and journalists alike. That buzz of getting recommendations of things you hadn’t even heard of. The mad rush for those low print run games. And those lovely little gaming trinkets and T-shirts you’ll be hard pushed to find elsewhere. Then there are the cheesy pretzels, the potato swirls, and the cheeky little outside bar between the halls. It’s my favourite week of the year and it’s NOT FAIR.

But that’s Covid. Moaning about missing out on a holiday seems churlish when so many people (over 800k deaths at the time of writing) have lost loved ones. And alongside the loss of life have come redundancies, homelessness and bankruptcy. I have my health, I have my job, and no one close to me has yet died from the virus. So yes, I should count myself lucky. But but but… it’s Essen! OK. I’ll shut up now.

I expect I’ll still go through the game release list. I expect I’ll still email publishers. And I expect I’ll still be sent some games to review. And I expect I’ll do my best to log into Spiel.digital 2020 and find some cool content to engage with. But more than anything I’ll be hoping a vaccine comes along in time to save Spiel 2021 from the same virtual fate.

Star Wars Outer Rim board game: A four-sided review

The Star Wars Outer Rim board game is a thematic pick-up-and-deliver experience set in the universe of the original movie trilogy. It’s for 1-4 players, with games taking around 2-3 hours. The box says 14+, but gamers as young as 10 or so will probably be fine with it. But there is a lot going on, so it’s not for non-gamers.

The game centres around the shadier ‘scum and villainy’ side of the Star Wars universe. Players play characters such as Han Solo and Boba Fett, flying to different planets to complete jobs, serve bounties and deliver cargo. Anyone who has played a Fantasy Flight (FFG) game before will be on common ground. Expect plenty of dice rolling and card reading, with luck and skill playing even parts in your successes and failures.

The component quality is something of a mixed bag. In the box you’ll find 215 full-sized cards, an eight-piece map, 170-ish cardboard tokens, four player boards, six dice and 12 ship sheets. It’s nice to have full-size cards in a FFG release – but someone should’ve told the font-size guy about it. They’re still very hard to read. The game board and tokens are nice quality. But six dice is a bit tight – while the player boards are poorly realised and bow in an annoying way. Finally, the ship sheets are very flimsy, which is a shame as both the art and graphic design quality is great throughout. Worth £50? On balance, I think yes.

Teaching the Star Wars Outer Rim board game

To begin, each player picks one of eight characters, including Boba Fett, Lando, Han and Jyn Erso. Plus a few credits, a starter ship (two options) and a starting job dependent on your character’s style. This is done via a fixed deck of ‘databank’ cards: one of the few good ideas found in FFG’s 2007 release Fallout. These add theme to skill checks and character meetings in the same way an encounter book (or choose your own adventure) works. Some numbers have multiple cards, so more common encounters do keep an edge of uncertainty.

Players take it in turns until someone reaches 8-12 Fame points and wins the game. Fame is largely attained by working – doing ‘jobs’, delivering cargo or collecting bounties. Jobs are the most story-driven part of the game. They can involve a number of skill checks, but can give very good rewards. Bounties need you to find your mark and out gun them, which can be a pain; but again gives good rewards. While cargo delivery is (in theory) both the easiest, most repetitive and least profitable line of work.

Each character has a skill that slightly sets them apart. These largely push you towards their line of work: Han flies faster, so is good for cargo; while Boba Fett can find contacts easier, making him a better bounty hunter. Each also has a thematic target on their player card that gives an easy fame point. And upgraded ships have the same thing. So you may buy a modified light freighter or a Firespray patrol craft. But it will only become the Millennium Falcon or Slave I if you complete the ship’s goal (flipping its sheet over).

Han Solo set up as player in Star Wars Outer Rim, with Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon.

Playing the game

A player’s turn is split into three parts. First you either move, heal, or take a few credits. As luck can really screw you (in a fight, for example), it’s nice that recovery is so easy – you just clear all your wounds and ship damage for free. Moving is also kept simple and you can get right across the board in four or five turns. The left-to-right linear map is a little odd, to say the least. But in terms of game play it works fine. Taking credits is also a nice idea. If you’ve just had to hang around because you failed a skill check, you get a little compensation.

Next comes actions: trading with others, buying a card from the market and delivering cargo. You can do all these each turn, but are limited to one ‘buy’. You can only buy the single visible card from one of six market decks (gear, ships, cargo, bounties, jobs, or luxury) – but can discard/flip a new card for one of those each turn. This is a nice restriction, making for a few tough choices. And discarding can be done to scupper opponents.

Finally, you’ll have an encounter. This could be with a patrol ship. Each player has a fluctuating reputation level with four factions, which can lead to enforced battles. Otherwise, you can choose to have a job, planet/ship, or contact encounter. Many of these involve skill checks. Each character/crew member has 1-3 skills (piloting, strength etc), which can make these rolls easier. These encounters are typical FFG (think Arkham, Eldritch etc). Combat is stripped down to a single round, using X-Wing dice. While contacts are tokens next to each planet which – once revealed – can often become crew members or bounties.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’ve never found an FFG game fully satisfying. It feels as if they have a small or samey test team, getting the same things wrong time and again. But for me, this is above the average. Everything works and fits together. Routes to victory feel a little different. It only plays long until you learn to play ‘properly’ – ie, sticking to what your character’s good at. And it offers a satisfyingly Star Wars-y experience. So by comparison, it is a good FFG story game. But is it a technically a good game? No, I don’t think so. It falls strongly on the side of too much luck deciding the winner, spoiling it as a proper competitive experience.
  • The thinker: There really isn’t much to think about in the Star Wars Outer Rim board game. Pick a character who does the part of the game you want to do; then hope you draw the right cards/roll the right dice results. Really, really not for me. But it has a lot less faff than many games from the same publisher, which is a definite plus. Oddly for a game with so many components, it does feel nicely streamlined.
  • The trasher: Interaction levels can vary wildly. Not great if players have different feelings on the topic. For example, if a care-bear player builds a crew they love, they won’t like it when I come along and serve bounties on them. But a big plus is, even if you’re shot to pieces, you immediately recover next turn with little lasting damage. This helps it feel as if you’re a bunch of epic heroes. Rather than other games (hello, Firefly) where bad luck can basically rule you out of contention in single shot. Combat is pleasantly simple, while some of the cards (such as the often take-that ‘secrets’) throw up some fun situations. Love it.
  • The dabbler: This isn’t really my kind of game, but it looks pretty good on the table and is quite easy to pick up. And it does feel like Star Wars, with characters thematically doing what they do in the films. It’s fun when you’re playing Han and get Chewie as a crew member – or buy the Falcon and do the Kessel Run! But those moments only last so long, and there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the box. So if it was someone else’s choice, I wouldn’t veto it. But overall I found it a little long and samey.
An image of all eight playable characters in the Star Wars Outer Rim board game.

Solo (hoho) play in Star Wars Outer Rim

I don’t endorse the Star Wars Outer Rim board game as a single player experience. On the plus side, setup and a character’s turn are identical to normal. So it’s easy to use it as a learning experience. And, I suppose, if you only play solo games and love Star Wars it ticks the boxes mentioned throughout the review. But unfortunately, that’s where the (very minor) good news ends.

To make it competitive, the designers have added a dummy player you have to control. This means setting up and largely playing a second character. Flip a card, do all the things it says, then it’s back to your go. The first problem is, this takes almost as long as your own turn while being way less fun. It’s fiddly, samey and pointless. But worse, you’re not making decisions. Good solo modes add some challenge for the solo player, giving you decisions that may make your own life easier. There’s nothing like that here. Really, really awful.

Key observations

The harshest critics of Star Wars Outer Rim describe it as ‘move and roll’, rather than ‘roll and move’. And if you don’t like this kind of storytelling skill-check game, it’s a pretty valid criticism. But, as I say about calling euros dry and theme-less (so it’s only fair to do the reverse here), this is what you expect from an FFG game. But no, I don’t think this is going to convert players who don’t like the genre. I’d suggest luck plays 50+% in terms of who will win the game. You either need to get on board with that, or walk away.

I wouldn’t agree there are no meaningful decisions though. Sure, it’s not a thinky euro. But judicious deck discards and pickups will certainly push the odds of success in your favour. And the choices aren’t always necessarily obvious.

On the flip side, I worry greatly about replayability. After four or five games I already feel an expansion is needed to keep things fresh. Certain items are no-brainers to pick up, certain cargo always skipped, while flipping over contacts already lacks surprises. Worse, it already feels the game is on-rails for us. At first, it was simply fun to read the cards and see what happens. Now, with that experience already faded, it feels as if it’s about winning. Which is about being efficient. Which isn’t really what a storytelling experience is all about.

Let me try that again (and again…)

But if you do think, ‘let’s just get on the rails and see who wins’, you hit the next problem: stalling due to randomness. No matter what path you choose, you’re going to have to roll some dice to win the game. A failed roll is rarely a big deal – except for the fact you’ll normally need to try again next turn. Fail once, annoying. Fail twice, you’re annoyed. Three times and you’re giving up, you’re bored, and (if things were in your favour except the luck gods) wah! It’s not fair!

Really, this can be happen in your first game. I think we gave it a pass early on as we enjoyed the thematic experience. Everyone was reading out new cards and doing things no one else had done. If my turn stank, at least someone would do something cool. But no more. Once the thrill of the new is gone, failed skill checks and combats feel painfully dull. Some cards handle this well. You may succeed but lose credits or reputation; or completely fail the job (acceptable, if you took a big risk for a big score). But this just highlights the many other situations where this isn’t the case.

Conclusion: Star Wars Outer Rim board game

I like a bit of Star Wars. And Outer Rim does a good job of injecting theme through the ships, characters and situations. It takes a popular part of the universe and lets the players immerse themselves into it, the FFG way. It’s hokey but fun, swingy and long. But an invested table of fans are going to get a lot of fun out of this for a good few games.

But for me, the shine came off faster than expected. The little cracks I’d initially overlooked come into sharp relief, showing up a game design that felt rushed, flawed and unbalanced. The good ideas showed the half-arsed bits up for what they were. And thematic fun turned into a plodding few hours of skill roles as we prayed for the right cards to come up. Mileage will of course vary. And a great expansion could really take it up a notch. But right now, for me this is another near miss in a long line of the same from Fantasy Flight. But it’s probably still a keeper, to have for the occasional day when you just need to shoot Greedo.

Top 10 best card games

Classic painting of dogs playing cards

Writing a Top 10 best card games is a pretty daunting prospect. First, there are literally thousands of them. And second, what really constitutes a card game?

For the sake of this Top 10, I’m defining a card game as an affordable small box game where cards are overwhelmingly the main component. I’m keeping it family and non-gamer friendly, so everything here is accessible to all. And I’ve tried to make sure most of these games are very easy to get hold of. While avoiding common games most people will already know from the high street.

As I’ve made the list with families etc in mind, I’ve got some honourable mentions. I didn’t think one-player games were appropriate for this list, but both Onirim and Friday are fantastic, simple games if you’re looking for a solo experience. Onirim has a slightly simpler rules set, while Friday does a good job of injecting a bit of light (Robinson Crusoe) theme.

I’ve also left out the brilliant Schotten Totten and Lost Cities; two competitive thinky card games that offer a great two-player experience. As well as ‘party’ style games such as word games (Codenames, Just One etc) and social games such as Coup.

Top 10 best card games – the list

Game name links will take you to longer reviews of these games, where I’ve written them. The games are in no particular order:

  • For Sale (3-6 players, 30 mins, 1997)
    A classic auction game of two halves, where you bid for property cards in the first half, then blind bid for scoring cards with those properties in the second. Simple to learn, with nice push-your-luck and player reading elements. See also No Thanks, an equally popular push-your-luck card game where you place tokens ‘not’ to take cards – with the lowest score winning. Both are excellent fun.
  • 6 Nimmt (2-10 players, 45 mins, 1994)
    Players choose cards simultaneously, then lay them in number order, hoping not to place the sixth card in a row. When you do, you have to pick up the row – and the lowest score wins. Many say its too luck-based, but good players win more often than not. See also 3 Sind Eine zu Viel, which has similar game play but adds set collection and hand management elements for a slightly more strategic experience.
  • Archaeology: The Card Game (2-4 players, 30 mins, 2007)
    A fabulous thematic push-your-luck set collection game. Try to get the most points by collecting sets, which increase in value the more of a type you have. There’s no hand limit, but certain cards will force all players to discard half their hand immediately. While special cards encourage interaction. For a push-your-luck set collection game with lighter rules and theme, check out the equally fantastic Coloretto.
  • Parade (2-6 players, 45 mins, 2007)
    This is probably the most traditional style card game on the list. Players take it in turns to lay a card from their hand, with number and colour affecting what they’ll need to pick up from the central card row. Cards collected give negative points, but some clever scoring rules mean a good player can manipulate this. It’s tense, tactical and a lot of fun. And if you can find the version with the wonderful Alice in Wonderland artwork, more’s the better.
  • Red7 (2-4 players, 30 mins, 2014)
    Another clever, traditional style card game where it’s all simply about numbers and colours. The twist here is that each colour also represents a win condition (highest card, most even cards etc). So you either play a card to your tableau to be winning; and/or to the middle of the table to change the win condition. Thing is, you have to be winning at the end of your turn or you’re eliminated from the round.
  • Love Letter (2-4 players, 20 mins, 2012)
    Famous for starting the short-lived ‘micro game’ trend (of which my Empire Engine was a small part). The game has just 18 cards, which are reshuffled and used each round. There are just 8 different cards, each of which has an effect on others. Each player has one card in hand. On your turn you draw one and play one, trying to eliminate the other players. With the last player standing earning a point.
  • Port Royal (2-5 players, 45 mins, 2014)
    A great little push-your-luck game with a bit more to it than others on the list. On a turn, you flip cards one at a time to make a row. Different coloured ships earn you money, while people cards can be bought to give you points and abilities. But if you flip a ship of a colour already in the row, you turn ends and you get nothing. It’s actually still very simple to pick up and deserves ins continued popularity.
  • Basari: The Card Game (3-5 players, 45 mins, 2014)
    My favourite negotiation game. Players have a hand of 3-4 action cards, picking one simultaneously each round. If you alone pick the action, great – you get to do it. If two pick, the players bid versus each other to do it. So one does the action, the other gets the gems bid. But if three or more choose the same action, no one gets to do it.
  • Eternity (3-5 players, 30 mins, 2016)
    There are so many great small box trick-taking games out there, they’re worthy of their own list. And for the sake of list variety, I’m only going to include one here. Eternity is my personal favourite trick-taker. The artwork is beautiful and it has a few clever, yet subtle twists on the tradition. It is possible to manipulate the trump suit. While cards have two purposes, with both needing to be employed to score maximum points.
  • Point Salad (2-6 players, 30 mins, 2019)
    The most recent release in my top 10 best card. And proof there are plenty of clever and original ideas still to be unearthed. This deck has double-sided cards, with a veggie on one side and a scoring condition on the other. As you take cards you also have the ability to flip them, as you try and maximise your scoring cards by picking up the right veg. But to spice things up, the better scoring cards will score minus points for one of the veg types too.

Lock down gaming: Play these games online

Many of my top 10 best card games are available to play digitally, either on websites or through apps, including:

Looking for advice on what to buy in other board game genres? Check out my extensive collection of board game Top 10 lists.