Earlier in the week I posted my 8th annual ‘Best board games of all time‘ list. It includes board and card games, short and long, going all the way back to the 80s. Please check that list for links to full reviews of all games listed below (plus links for online play).
This is an accompanying post looking at some of the stats around that post. Things such as number of new entries, times played, fallers and climbers etc. It won’t be for everyone! But it’s only once a year, so please forgive me. Normal service will be resumed next week.
If you like what I do here, please bookmark this link to Board Game Prices if you’re looking to purchase new games. Anything you buy will give me a small kickback, which will hopefully help pay for my annual hosting charges. You won’t pay anything extra though, so don’t worry. And it’s a genuinely useful site for comparing board game prices.
Hanging around, or not…
Just 11 games have been in my Top 40 since the beginning (eight years). Three (Race for the Galaxy, Terra Mystica and Ticked to Ride) have been ever-present in the Top 10. While four more (Concordia, Can’t Stop, Downfall of Pompeii and Ra) are Top 20 stalwarts. At the other end, Archaeology: The Card Game has been on all eight lists but never in the Top 20. Showing a filler game can hang around near the top too.
Three previous ever-presents dropping out of the Top 40 completely this year. Pizza Box Football, Thebes and Twilight Struggle. I still love all three and I can’t see them leaving my collection. They just don’t get played as much as they used to, so made way for current favourites. Twilight Struggle in particular may be back, if I get into playing it more regularly. It’s just quite an investment and needs a certain type of gamer.
The biggest drop off the list came from Codenames Duet. Which dropped right out of the 40 after five straight years in the Top 20. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a brilliant game. But it fell off a cliff for Sarah and me after we got stuck on a tough setting. You’d think we could just go back to a simpler version, but somehow we can’t seem to right now. I expect it’ll be back. And we’ve played it nearly 40 times, so I’d still highly recommend it.
Designers and publishers
With four games on my Top 40 list, Stefan Feld is clearly my favourite designer. But it has been a while since one of his games blew me away. Reina Knizia, Dirk Henn and Mac Gerdts all have two on the list. So those four guys have a quarter of my favourites between them. Thank you chaps!
The rest of the list is a who’s who of great designers, alongside a good bunch of lesser-known talent. Similarly there is a huge array of game publishers, from right across Europe and further afield. It’s a truly global hobby and it’s always exciting to get cool little games from Japan, South America and elsewhere.
That said, my list is certainly ‘white male’ biased. But I promise you, this is in no way deliberate. When I research games, I look at the rulebook – not really the publisher, designer etc. Hence why no 2020 Feld games arrived at mine this year. They just didn’t look that interesting. But an Elizabeth Hargrave design will be one of the next (spoiler alert – positively) reviewed games on the blog, despite me not liking her previous game (Wingspan) at all. So if you’re a designer of colour, for example, and think I’d like your game – please get in contact. There are so many games, I simply can’t research everything.
The Covid effect: online gaming
An impressive 23 of my Top 40 board games are now available online. Either via their own apps/Steam or on board game websites Board Game Arena, Yucata or Boite a Jeux. It has been a real lifesaver to be able to keep playing with people outside my bubble, all around the world, during the pandemic. And even as things start to open up again, I hope to continue to do so. It has been a real reminder that some of my favourite people are purely separated from me by distance. Why not spend more time with them, even if it’s ‘virtual’?
In terms of recording online plays (which I do at Board Game Geek), I only include games I play ‘live’. So that’s in real time, while chatting over Messenger, WhatsApp etc. So if I talk about having ‘more plays online’ those are turn-based games that may take weeks to play, often just checking my email and taking a turn per day. I really enjoy playing this way. It’s nice to start the day taking a few board game turns with a good cup of coffee!
Climbers, fallers and new entries
Online play certainly affected the new entries for the year. Both Bruxelles 1893 and Lift Off were games I fell in love with online this year having missed their ‘real life’ releases. While Lost Ruins of Arnak was first introduced to me via publisher CGE’s online board game event. The last new entry for 2021, Remember Our Trip, came the old-fashioned way (via review). While Orbital re-entered the list after a few great plays with Sarah.
Of these, only Arnak troubled the Top 20 (at number 17). Every game above it had been in the Top 20 the year before. While only Targi (from 40+) and Fertility (from 30+) broke into the 20 from below that level in 2020. I find it interesting that, other than these, Azul is the only game holding its own that has been on the list less than five years. It supports the notion that, with so many games to choose from, recent games are struggling for a foothold in collections. While the designs themselves may also reflect an expectation of limited plays, making their games have less longevity.
The biggest fallers were The Rose King and Gnomopolis. Both of which fell from the top 20 to just above the drop line. I think this is more of a natural position for The Rose King, which is an abstract I love to play and is another that will always be in the collection. But without an expansion, I’m not sure Gnomopolis will make it into next year’s list. It’s cute and fun. But doesn’t have quite enough variety to sustain a Top 40 spot without some help.
Getting these games to the table
The games I’ve played most (plays since January 2020) are Ticked to Ride (25 plays) and Can’t Stop (20), with Race for the Galaxy, Oracle of Delphi and Thurn & Taxis also getting 10 plays or more. So that’s four of my top seven in double figures – pretty good.
Every game in my Top 40 got at least one play in that time, with most of those with the lowest plays not having a digital implementation. Some, such as Basari and Ra, really need to be face-to-face to get the atmosphere going. But I’m baffled the likes of Caverna, Bora Bora and Notre Dame aren’t on any of the digital platforms.
Outside the list, my most played games were Welcome To (nine plays since Jan 2020), Coloretto (7), Yspahan (7) and Stone Age (6). While I don’t own Coloretto and Stone Age (all those plays were online), all four games would definitely be in my top 100. I expect I’ll pick Coloretto up next time I’m in Germany. While I’ve been pondering rebuying Stone Age for a long time now. Especially as the Winter Edition adds a little bit more variety.
Most – and least – played (of all time)
As this is an ‘all time’ list, the proof in the pudding is total games played for each game. Five of the 40 I’ve played (at the table) more than 50 times – two (Ticket to Ride and Race for the Galaxy) more than 100. I’ve played half the games (21) 20 times or more, and three quarters (29) at least 10 times.
Terra Mystica is the least played in my Top five with 19 plays, with Oracle of Delphi on 24. But I’ve played both multiple times online too. Trust me, they get a good work out here!
Caverna is the only ‘old’ game in my Top 20 with less than 10 plays (8). I love it, but it’s a real investment it time to set up, play and teach. The only other two with less are Fertility (8) and Arnak (6), which have only been around for a year or so. Lower down the list, both Bruxelles and Lift Off are new to my collection (less than five plays each) but I’ve played them a lot online too. Every other game has a minimum of five ‘real life’ plays.
Game style breakdown
About half of the 40 are what I would call ‘euro games’. with the rest consisting of family and abstract games, including a few roll-and-writes. Of the euros, the mechanisms that show up time and again are worker placement, tile-laying and set collection/order fulfilment.
I was actually surprised just how many had tile placement as a key component – both euro and family games. While only a couple had a race element, despite that being something I love in a game. I think it is just hard to do well in a complex game. Maybe that needs to be my next design challenge.
Tumblin’ Dice is the only dexterity game on the list (the excellent Junk Art fell off the list, largely thanks to Covid). While there are no party games or word games, now that Codenames has also gone. Does that make me a miserable git? Very probably. But I do enjoy quite a lot of daft games. I just don’t feel the need to own them. Also, since Merchant of Venus dropped off the list, there are no ‘ameritrash’ games either. Again, I do like some of them. But they’re so expensive now for what you actually get in terms of a game. I’ll leave those purchases to others. They seem to do OK without me!