So here they are – my current Top 10 board games. After my 50-21 list, and the follow up 20-11, we’ve arrived at the big guns: Three Spiel des Jahres winners, 12 different designers, spanning four decades, with games lasting from 30 minutes to three hours. And for everyone from families to the dedicated hardcore gamers.
Links from the titles go direct to a full-length review elsewhere on my blog, if you want more details. And they should all be available from your local (or online) game store (such as Meeples’ Corner). I’ll follow up in the next couple of weeks with a geeky stats post, but for now here’s the Top 10. And no, I didn’t ‘forget’ your favourite game…
My Top 10 board games
(2-4 players, 90 minutes, Sebastien Dujardin, 2014)
Deus hits all the right euro buttons for me. It plays in 90 minutes You must pay close attention to your opponents, but without too much direct conflict. It’s a card game where hand management is key, but with luck cleverly mitigated. And it has card combos coming out the wazoo in a unique way (recently less cleverly, but more commercially viably, borrowed by Wingspan). There are multiple paths to victory, while the game can end in several different ways. While it can also end much quicker than you anticipate if you’re not paying attention. An expansion also gave it a new lease of life, making it a strong Top 10 contender.
9. Can’t Stop
(2-4 players, 30 minutes, Sid Sackson, 1980)
Can’t Stop is comfortably the oldest game on my list and from one of the hobby’s most revered designers (may he rest in peace). At heart it’s a simple probability-based push-your-luck dice exercise. But in practice it is so much more. It’s a game you can use to teach your children about maths – but equally you can play as a filler with any group of gamers. A new player can work out the rules by the time it is there turn, while it creates genuine stand-up moments of ‘ooohing’ and laughter. Will you risk rolling for the win and losing all your progress – or play it safe, knowing someone else may storm past to victory? Aah, the simple pleasures of games.
8. Terra Mystica
(2-5 players, 120-180 minutes, Drogemuller & Ostertag, 2012)
I’ve been told I’m going to love newer version Gaia Project. But for now, Terra Mystica is still a solid Top 10 game for me. My favourite heavier euro, the raft of asymmetric player races give it huge replayability. The action selection and board placement elements are standard but offer just enough interaction. While the upgrading of buildings and manipulation of magic for extra actions are a constantly enjoyable puzzle. While there’s a lot going on, the decision space doesn’t expand beyond what I can cope with. So pasted on fantasy theme aside, it’s one of the most satisfying kingdom building engine games out there.
(2-5 players, 60 minutes, Reiner Knizia, 1999)
For me, Ra is the king of auction games. The rules are extremely simple, as is the bidding: once around, bidding with a single bidding chip (each has a different value, so there an no draws). You can make small, safe gains or go for a bigger jackpot – game show style – where you risk getting nothing. And it is all bound up with a simple, elegant but brilliant scoring system. Which you’d expect from the master of such things, Reiner Knizia. The theme is meaningless but gives the components a nice style. It’s simple enough anyone can play, but it’s not about mastering it – it’s about working out what your friends are going to do. And how far you can push them, and your luck.
(2-4 players, 45 minutes, Michael Kiesling, 2017)
The newest game here, Azul already has a list of awards so long it’s embarrassing. And it thoroughly deserves them too. This beautifully produced abstract family game doesn’t really do anything new. But somehow, it’s so satisfying that it doesn’t need to. Would it have been such a hit if it hadn’t been so tactile and gorgeous? Who knows? But the game play sings too: choose tiles to create sets and score points – but just as importantly, be sure not to be left sets you can’t use. Like all great family games, the rules get out the way fast – but after a few plays, a second level of strategy and tactics begins to reveal itself. Recommended for all.
5. Ticket to Ride
(2-6 players, 60 minutes, Alan Moon, 2004)
This has fallen out of favour with many ‘gamers’, who often flick their nose at it. But for me, pound for pound, it is the best gateway game on the market. And it’s still my go-to game to introduce new people to the hobby. Simple card set collection is bolted onto a beautifully drawn route building train map. The theme is thin, but it works. And while the original map is probably the worst, the mass of expansions keeps the game fresh by taking it in lots of directions. Interaction comes via blocking, which is often accidental; which means even the best player can come unstuck against a rookie with some bad luck. And at around an hour, it’s just the right length for the family market.
4. Terraforming Mars
(1-5 players, 120-180 minutes, Jacob Fryxelius, 2016)
It’s hard to fathom how Terraforming Mars works at all. Its ridiculous stack of cards gives an infeasible number of combos, while the layers of competing engine currencies surely can’t be properly balanced. Can they? But somehow it all hangs together. The theme works too, as you compete to raise the red planet’s temperature while creating water and atmosphere. Needing to do all three to end the game gives a lovely ebb and flow, and you must keep eyes on your opponents (in an otherwise largely multiplayer solitaire game). Essentially it’s a longer version of a game higher on the list, but different enough to warrant being this high up on its own merits.
3. Thurn and Taxis
(2-4 players, 60 minutes, Karen & Andreas Seyfarth, 2006)
While Ticket to Ride holds my gateway game crown, Thurn and Taxis has risen to become my favourite family game. It’s a little beige and dry to win new fans to the genre. But has just enough extra depth in decisions to keep gamers on side; while having simple enough rules to teach newcomers. As with TtR you’re building routes (this time postal ones in renaissance Germany. Fun…). And there’s still a healthy slice of luck, which is fine in a one-hour game. Plus you have that mix of trying for a quick victory, versus going for big, but riskily slower points. And the twist? Trying to continue building a long route when you know you’ll lose the whole thing if the right cards don’t turn up. In a game with tight scoring, those extra few points for building a longer route can make all the difference.
2. Oracle of Delphi
(2-4 players, 90 minutes, Stefan Feld, 2016)
I surprised myself putting this so high on the list, but I love it. I’ve been a fan of Stefan Feld’s designs for many years, but for me they tend to stall on interaction: some go too far (Bruges), some not far enough (most of them lol). Delphi takes his usual euro efficiency tropes and puts them into a race format, which has a subtle yet brilliant effect on interaction. You all have to do the same things – but with the same, dwindling supply of resources. While the Greek god theme is pretty much pasted on it gives the game vibrancy and colour, as you race around the board trying to complete your tasks. And again, while you can be screwed by luck its short enough not to worry about it (especially the eight-task short version).
1. Race for the Galaxy
(2-4 players, 30-60 minutes, Tom Lehmann, 2007)
In a decision that will shock no one, Race for the Galaxy is still top of the pile. It has been since I started this in 2014 and, nearing 300 plays, has almost twice the table time of anything else. Race is a fast-playing space-themed card game where you build an engine/tableau of planets and technology in a race to score points. You’re at the mercy of random card draws and have to pay for most cards you want to add with others from your hand – creating deliciously tough choices. There are multiple routes to victory and several ways for the game to end, but it lacks a little in interaction. And its myriad card symbols make for a tough initial learning curve. But more than any other game, the time spent learning it is totally worth the effort. While I don’t play as much as I used to, I always enjoy my plays. And despite loving all the games in my Top 50, putting this at number one was the easiest choice of them all when putting everything in order.