Board game Top 10: Sarah’s favourite games 2022

Welcome to Sarah’s fourth annual best board game Top 10 (does that make her eligible for ‘long suffering’ status yet? I expect so). It feels like we’ve played as many games as usual over the past 12 months. And, luckily for me, her enthusiasm to play hasn’t waned.

She’d like to play less new games (sorry!), but overall I think she’s still having fun. Or, as a mother of two (three including me) and a primary school teacher, she masks it well!

There are a record three new entries on this year’s list, plus one old favourite returns. And, for the first time, there are two games I’d consider euro games on the list. Who knows – this time next year, it could all be four-hour war games… Anyway, in her own words and categories but in no particular order (links go to my reviews):

Building some routes

  • Ticket to Ride (2-5 players, 90 minutes, ages 8+) A longstanding Sunday morning favourite. Love trying to coordinate routes and aim to improve at winning the bonuses.
  • Thurn and Taxis (2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10+) Another longstanding route building favourite. Love looking at maps of Germany showing the towns.
  • NEW! Foothills (2 players, 45 mins, ages 10+) Not sure if it’s really route building, but I love the track and station building and the tricky decisions of which actions to use.

Building an area and nice art work

  • Welcome To (2-4 players, 30 minutes, ages 10+) Fun constructing a little neighbourhood and trying to achieve the targets on the cards. And great to play the proper rules nowadays! (Oops… – Chris)
  • NEW! Remember Our Trip (2-4 players, 45 mins, ages 10+) Again, it’s fun to construct a little area and enjoy the commentary on ‘remembering’ things. You should have placed a bet! (I flagged this on the 2021 list – Chris)
  • Uptown (2-4 players, 45 minutes, ages 8+) Just a beautiful abstract. An ongoing challenge… and the anticipation and hope as you take your next tile…

Randoms

  • NEW! Lost Ruins of Arnak (2-4 players, 60-90 mins, ages 12+) Another new entry that has really grabbed me and I aim to play enough so that I just know it and can avoid listening to rules!
  • Oracle of Delphi (2-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 12+) Still my favourite more challenging (for me) game. I think I have improved at using the gods…
  • Targi (2 players, 45 mins, ages 10+) Another one I just enjoy, and love being able to just get on and play.
  • Codenames Duet (2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12+) Pleased to have it back on the list. If TTR is a Sunday morning favourite, this is a Friday evening favourite.

Some stats (by Chris, you know, just cos…)

Only four games are now ever-presents on Sarah’s list, having appeared all four times: Oracle of Delphi, Ticket to Ride, Thurn & Taxis and Uptown. Codenames Duet is the first game to appear back on the list after dropping off for a year.

There were a strangely low number of abstracts this year – just the ever-present Uptown, really. I have to say I was surprised to see Azul and Adios Calavera drop off the list, along with Kingdomino (abstract? Discuss).

My Top 40 will be along in May. And at a guess, six of these 10 will be on it. But which…

Slump

Trying times.

I was made redundant from my 10+ year job at the end of January. It it was probably best for both parties. But it isn’t a great time to be reunited with the scrap heap. I’m 50+ and don’t want to do what I’ve been doing (managing, editing, coordinating) for the past 20 years. I want to write, or design. Be creative and get paid for it. But with energy and food prices seemingly rising daily, this is hardly the time to be picky.

And where’s my portfolio? You’re looking at it. I’ve been polishing other people’s turds for so long my own writing is largely long gone. And much of it was on paper anyway (remember that?) As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I don’t edit this stuff much. After a day of editing I want to write, not read. Or play games or drink booze or listen to music. Or all three, preferably. Anyway, point being, it’s probably not the best example of what I’m capable of.

Worse still, the stuff I’m into is either niche or hugely popular. Which means there’s more competition for the few jobs that come up. Young people, brimming with enthusiasm rather than anxiety. People willing to work for free, or for the occasional freebie. In the hope of one day being promoted to minimum wage. People willing to move internationally at the drop of a shiny pound coin. How do you compete with that?

I could just go work in a warehouse. I’ve done it before and will probably do it again. I’m not a job snob. But right now, I still feel I’ve got something more to offer. Which is why I’m not applying for jobs writing for fecking bitcoin websites. Especially because it would be completely demoralising not to get those jobs. As so many other solid writers are reduced to having to apply to do that crap too. But will my ‘work coach’ at the Job Centre agree? The one standing between me and my £75 per week? I’ll find out on Wednesday. Can’t wait…

Slumperty slump (board game blog, slight reprise)

Yes, but why does that effect me, the reader, you may well ask? Sure, I still have five games on my ‘to review’ pile. All of which I’m looking forward to. But thanks to life/covid/anxiety I’m finding very few excuses to play them. Last month, I played just 19 games. My lowest tally since November 2019. And this month won’t be much better. It’s hard right now. Which is super weird, as I have more time on my hands than I have in years.

And the numbers here have slumped too. Some days I’m down to 50 or so visits, which is miserable. Each time I see a rise in numbers, for no apparent reason things slip back down again. I’m not expecting the world. I don’t do social media and I’m not a video guy, or a popular game designer. So I’m never going to be ‘big’. But a small, steady increase would be nice. Treading water, or going backwards, is pretty demoralising.

So that’s where I’m at. Slump.

Things will pick up, I expect. And this kind of self indulgence will be a one-off (until next time). So please forgive me. Normal service should be resumed next week. Until then, then.

Demeter board game: A four-sided review

The Demeter board game is a small box flip-and-write that plays in 15-30 minutes. The box says ages 14+, but 10+ is probably closer to the mark for gamer kids.

As with all non-interactive games of this type, there is no real limit to how many people play beyond the number of sheets in the box (100). But realistically, it will handle up to six with no problem. And probably beyond.

The theme has you visiting another planet to catalogue its wildlife – which just happens to be dinosaurs. I’m sure nailing two of the most popular game themes was just coincidence. Especially as the theme is doing very little work here, but kind of works. The art is uninspiring (the dinosaur silhouettes are annoyingly similar) and the sheets are a bit of a graphical mess. But once you get used to them, they’re OK.

In the box you’ll find the pad of 100 sheets, 81 small cards (6 of which are promos for another game, Ganymede) and 13 cardboard tiles. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £20, which feels pretty good value.

Teaching the Demeter board game

Each player takes a sheet, which are all identical. The poor layout is a bit of a hindrance to teaching, but in fairness they’ve had to pack a lot onto the sheets. In the middle of the table you create five piles of 12 cards, according to their coloured backs. there are 15 of each type, giving a bit of variety to each play. But more importantly meaning experienced players can’t guarantee what’s coming in each deck.

One card from each pile is flipped face-up in each of the 12 rounds. Each player chooses one of them and does the action on it. Then gets a bonus, depending on which coloured pile the card came from. These bonus actions get stronger the more times you use cards from the same pile. But you’ll equally get a bonus for taking all five colours. And a card’s main action can be completely different from what you’d expect from its colour. So players soon diverge towards different strategies.

The actions

A good chunk of the cards let you colour in sections of dinosaur (which are in three different colours). Once a dinosaur is completely filled in, another action lets you draw a line from it to a bonus box. Others let you fill in scientists or parts of observation towers, which again give a number of one-time bonuses. While buildings allow you to get a bonus each time you do a particular action. And scientists and buildings can trigger little chains of actions, which made games such as That’s Pretty Clever so satisfying. Finally, you have a science track that – at its ends – allows you to score various end-game bonus points.

At the end of the game, almost everything seems to score you points. But like any good euro-style game, the player who has been most efficient is likely to win it. You can’t score every bonus, so you just have to make sure that you make every card count.

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 rulebook and sheet layout of Demeter immediately had me on the back foot. And I’m still not 100% sure I’m getting all the rules right in terms of how bonuses are triggered. But hey – we’re all playing by the same ones, so who cares? The important thing is the game is fun. And there is genuinely different ways to win. Sure, these are partly dictated by how the cards come out. But you need that puzzley variety to keep coming back.
  • The thinker: When looking for a lighter, fast experience, Demeter is a game I can get behind. Because it packs a genuinely good mix of tactics and strategy into a 15-minute game. Once you start down a path, you’re in the hands of the card flip. You can usually do what you want – but chances are, some rounds you’ll get more value from pivoting for a turn or two. So you tend to have genuine decisions to make every round. You can’t ask for much more from a filler – especially one which can handle such a large range of players.
  • The trasher: There’s absolutely nothing for me here. nothing I can do influences anyone. There’s not even any scoring method that rewards you for doing best at something. It literally doesn’t matter who else is playing, until you compare scores at the end. And If I wanted a solo game, there are plenty more fun than this for me.
  • The dabbler: I found Demeter confusing at first. I didn’t really know what I was doing on my first play. But once I’d seen how the scoring worked at the end, and had tried all the actions – I was hooked! I loved That’s Pretty Clever, but prefer the less abstract nature of Welcome To and now Demeter. And I don’t really miss the interaction.

Key observations

The game sheets of Demeter really don’t help players get into the game. The layout is confusing. And it could have been easily solved by putting a different colour behind each dinosaur type – or by adding more defined markings between sections. The English translation of the rulebook is also quite poor. And feels as if it was squeezed into too few pages. In some cases, examples help explain things, but they’re too few to make up for some serious vagueness. While there’s no excuse for bad English in rulebooks nowadays.

There is a solo version of the game. But unfortunately this was left out of the rulebook – seemingly so a few adverts for their other games could be put in instead. The solo game is really just about getting a high score. But to their credit, they’ve also added a sheet of achievements to aim for which need you to maximise certain aspects of the game. This is well done, and should keep solo players coming back for more. Also, they’ve made two free expansion sheets available online, adding even more variety (same link). A classy move.

As for player complaints, the fact the game is completely solitaire is completely valid. Some also say it has a largely unoriginal euro feel. While I kind of see that, I don’t see it as a negative for players such as me. What Demeter does is make a very quick game, in a small box, that’s available to many players at once. While offering a variable and challenging puzzle each play. That certainly isn’t easy to achieve, or as common as you’d think.

Conclusion: Demeter board game

I had no expectations when playing Demeter – I’d been sent it as a bonus when requesting to review Trek 12. But if anything, despite its visual and rulebook flaws, I think I prefer it. It takes that game’s basic premise (the grid of options, where you can only do each calculation so many times) and makes a euro out of it. And I usually fall on the side of euros! But it isn’t replacing Trek 12 – rather, it’s complimenting it. If you’re looking for a puzzley euro experience in a small box that plays fast, I’d certainly recommend Demeter. My only caveat is that I also have its follow-up, Varuna (Demeter 2), still on the shelf to review. Coming soon! Watch this space…

Best 2000s board games: Which stood the test of time?

I’ve previously done 1980s and 1990s lists, and started my annual top 10s at 2009. So the completionist in me felt I had to do a ‘best 2000s board games’ list. But as you can imagine, there are way more contenders to choose between.

At Board Game Geek, the Top 20 games released between 2000-2009 are all in its top 150 of all time. And the first 100 are in the Top 500. I’d made a list of 15 favourites just from those. And ended up struggling to whittle down a list of 25, all of which get a mention below. Impressive for a set of games many of which are now 20 years old.

I’ll mention a few big-name contenders first (which made my 25, but not the final 10). Power Grid, Agricola and Puerto Rico are all deserved BGG Top 50 euro games I’d play any time. Dominion also deserves a mention, as it sits just outside the BGG Top 100, introduces the excellent deck-builder mechanism, and still sits on my shelves. While Pandemic put co-operative games firmly on the map. So if not them, what did make it?

The best 2000s board games: My top 10

The majority of these games are reviewed elsewhere on the site, so please click the links below for detailed reviews. And when you go pick any of them up, be sure to click through to Board Game Prices to help this site out. In no particular order:

Family games

Ticket to Ride (2-5 players, 60 mins, ages 8+): Still my go-to game for introducing new players to our hobby. A little long with five, especially with new players, but otherwise a flawless mix of set collection and route building with an accessible theme.

Thurn and Taxis (2-4, 60 mins, 10+): More transport-based card play and route building. But there’s a little more going on here and it can be a little more punishing. Some doubt its multi-award-winning credentials. But for me it’s still one of the best family games on the market.

Ingenious (2-4, 45 mins, 8+): My favourite Reina Knizia game. It’s an abstract tile placement/colour matching game that gets the mix of skill and randomness just right. It’s all about spotting the tipping point, where you move from point scoring to sealing the win.

Tumblin’ Dice (2-4, 30 mins, 5+): Darts with dice and added chaos. What’s not to like? Flick dice to land on multiplier spots. But four times one is still only four – so a six in a basic spot is better. But who cares? The fun is in trying to knock other people’s dice off the board

Gateway games

Stone Age (2-4 players, 90 mins, ages 10+): A fantastic introduction to worker placement, one of the main concepts in modern hobby board games. It’s colourful and approachable with relatively simple rules. While a dice-based luck element keeps things spicy if you want to ride the odds.

Maori (2-5,30 mins, 8+): A super elegant tile-laying game, which benefits from three difficulty levels when you want to ramp up the challenge. Simple rules and pretty components help make it approachable. And for me, it has more legs than Carcassonne.

Euro games

Race for the Galaxy (2-4, 30-60 mins, 12+): My number one game. A wonderfully complex engine-building card game that plays fast. So if you don’t get something going, you just play again. A mess of iconography makes it hard to learn, but it is totally worth the effort.

Brass: Lancashire (2-4, 60-120 mins, 14+): The original ‘Brass’, recently repackaged and renamed, is an unforgiving but fantastic strategy game. Plan your transportation routes and ship your goods through the romantic towns of Stockport, Rochdale and Runcorn. But forget the theme – this is passive euro-style interaction at its best.

Twilight Struggle (2 players, 2-3 hours, 14+): Arguably a war game, but the card play makes it feels more like a euro to me. Sure, it has cardboard chits and you play out a global conflict on a world map. But the game is all about clever card play and political influence.

Macao (2-4, 60-90 mins, 12+): Use dice to trigger cards, which you use to make a point and resources engine. There’s lots going on, and big risks can lead to complete disaster. Or glorious victory. Surely the way a game about trading in the 17th Century should be?

The best 2000s board games: Also worth a mention

I could comfortably done a top 10 just of family games, with Alhambra and Downfall of Pompeii only just missing the list. And silly Knizia dice game Pickomino is also a perennial favourite of mine.

It was also a great decade for small box card games. filler games such as Parade and Coloretto should be in every serious gamer’s collection. While set collector Archaeology: The Card Game is another of my favourite lighter offerings.

A few party games also need a mention. Dixit is still brilliant, if you have a group with strong imaginations (more for a dinner party than a raucous one). While Cards Against Humanity lives very much at the other end of the party scale. People are quite snobby about it. And it is crass. But I’ve had a couple of hilarious nights playing it after a few too many adult beverages.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to some lowlier titles in terms of BGG rating. Uptown, at 2,015, is a fantastic abstract tile placement game. Uruk, a long way further down at 3,686, is a clever, puzzley civ game in a single deck of cards. While my favourite sports game – Pizza Box Football – is even lower at 4,123. It’s not big or clever, but is a fun dice-chucker that manages to create surprisingly accurate American football scores. And I feel I need to mention the lowliest game on the list I own. At 8,061 comes set collection card game Im Auftrag des Konigs from the wonderful Adlung Spiele.

Online play?

Want to delve into some of these ‘old’ (eep) titles, without risking your hard-earned? Well, you’re in the luck with the below – try online before you buy at these web sites:

Board Game Arena: Agricola, Alhambra, Coloretto, Pandemic, Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Stone Age, Thurn & Taxis and Uptown.

Yucata: Downfall of Pompeii, Macao, Maori, Stone Age and Thurn & Taxis.

Watch board game: A four-sided review

The Watch board game is a worker placement euro game with a strong emphasis on timing and competition for victory points. It’s for 1-4 players and takes around an hour to play. And while the box says for ages 14+, young gamers of 10 should pick it up just fine.

The theme puts you in a post-WWII Soviet watch factory, where you spy on your competitors while trying to smuggle out old wartime munitions. It’s certainly unique, interesting and works well enough. But this is very much a mechanical euro game. Players take turns to choose an action (usually to gain or upgrade resources), then place one of their player discs on a scoring track – with only some players ultimately scoring on each.

In the box you’ll find a sturdy main board, plus six thick paper boards; 85 wooden tokens, 100+ cardboard chits, 50 metal gears, 54 square cards and a dice. The square cards are ‘Power Grid’ sized and generally the art, iconography and component quality is good/standard. Some have complained about the thin boards, but they’re no worse than those in games such as ‘Castles of Burgundy’. While the trade off – the cool metal cogs – are a nice thematic touch. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £40 delivered – good for what you get.

Teaching the Watch board game

The board has eight worker placement spaces split into four areas, each with a safe and risky space. Once workers are first placed, they never leave the board, so are blocking spaces and limiting options. A ‘start spot’ marker moves a quarter round the circular board each turn, meaning you can consider turn order when choosing your next action. At the start of each turn, all players move to a new space and then the watch cards are revealed and any fines paid (see below). In the new turn order, each player then take their action before assigning a token to the majority tracks.

Six of the action spaces give/let you exchange for one/two of the game’s three currencies – cogs, money and crates. Crates are more work to get, but give you guaranteed end game points. All three currencies can also give end game points on the majority tracks, more on which later. One currency action space also lets you manipulate your position on one of these tracks. Another lets you draw cards, which only come in three types but which are all useful. While the last – the ‘watch’ space – adds the first real spice to the game.

The ‘watch’ action space triggers every round, whether or not someone has placed there. Each of the board quarters has a card associated with it. And 1-3 of these will be chosen each round to be spied on – either randomly, or by the player choosing ‘watch’. If your worker is on the risky space in a quarter, and that one is spied upon, you have to pay a fine. And those fines go to the current (or most recent) player to choose the watch action.

The majority tracks

The majorities board has six rows, two for each of the game’s three currencies. The top line of each is worth more points, but the lower has better bonus spaces (which give currency or crate conversions). Five tracks give end game points for those coming first and second, with the other only rewarding first place. The position of your tokens on the tracks is irrelevant, with ties resolved by evenly sharing the spoils.

Players start with 20 tokens: five for each worker placement area. When you do an action, you take the next token from that section’s row and place it onto any row on the majorities board. Taking the token from your player board has two other effects. It either improves that action the next time you take it, or gives end game victory points. But on the downside, the size of fine you pay if caught by the ‘watch’ action equates to the row you’ve progressed furthest on. Early on, it’s just one coin. But with a completely empty row, it’s seven.

The game ends after 12 rounds. Players score points on crates and revealed player board spaces, plus the majority tracks. The majority tracks, they each score points multiplied by their currency. This can be a big swing. Winning track five gives four points per crate – but second only one point for each. You also score points for cards in set collection style (cards are in four colours), the twist being you also score any cards you’ve played. Finally, you lose points for any unpaid loans you had to take to cover fines you couldn’t pay or actions you needed to fund (usually a minor part of the game).

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 Watch board game is a very interesting, of sometimes unforgiving, design. It is usually possible to pivot quickly by converting currency. So being shut out of a scoring track isn’t game over. The game is light on rules and options, but this is necessary to make competition king. Whether that is enough for your group will vary massively. But those who like this kind of experience are likely to get a kick out if it.
  • The thinker: This is a very rewarding tactical experience, which I think a lot of strategic players will also get a kick out of. It has a classic German euro feel, with a quick play time and light rules plus plenty of ways to mess with each other. However, it’s easy to get repeatedly locked out of spaces you want. And the potential to be blocked from scoring a currency will frustrate some people. I’m not often in the mood for this kind of cutthroat experience. But when I am, this is a game I’d enjoy.
  • The trasher: for me, the Watch board game ticks every possible box for a euro game with no direct interaction. The majority tracks can fill in a hurry, thanks to some actions and cards allowing you to move or place extra tokens. You snooze, you lose! And you can’t afford to let someone sit on the ‘watch’ token collecting the fines. But going to that action space can feel like a wasted turn – and you only get 12! My only real issue is that, while the theme is unique and cool, it has led to a very drab looking beige game. With the exception of the cool cogs. But even they are a bid fiddly for those with bigger hands.
  • The dabbler: Yay, another beige-athon! Cool theme idea, but some of the action names make no sense. I’m ‘watched’ for doing ‘overtime’, but not if I ‘scrounge’? And why does a Soviet theme mean everything has to be shades of brown? As for the actions, they’re just repetitive. What do I do this round? Great, I got some cogs. This round? I got some money. Next round, I changed some cogs for a crate. I. Don’t. Care. Get me out of here.

Key observations

I’d recommend the Watch board game with three or four players. It plays fast and tight and needs the numbers to create that vital and wonderfully tense competition for majorities. But the two-player experience felt completely fudged, with a random dice roll deciding which space it blocks and which majority space it takes each turn. It just cheapens the central element of play. Try as you might, you can’t ‘read’ a random dice roll…

Solo play is even worse. You have less choice, as several action spaces are permanently blocked. While the same dice roll as for two determines another blocked action spot each turn. And the majority board is replaced by a random card (of six) that tells you how each currency will score at the end. It’s boring. This is a 3-4 player game. I know from painful experience that putting ‘3-4 players’ on a box isn’t good for sales. But at least it’s honest.

We also struggled a bit with game flow. Everything works, but it doesn’t feel intuitive. Even after four games I was still glancing at the turn order structure to make sure we weren’t missing anything. And we were often still forgetting to do the ‘watch’ action if someone hadn’t placed on it. Something as simple as a neutral worker going on the space may have fixed that. But it was a genuine niggle that kept breaking the flow of play. May just be us though.

Finally, I don’t know what they were thinking when it came to the score board. I don’t care a jot about the thickness of the cardboard. But a shonky snaking score track that only goes to 50 in a game where 200 points is a distinct possibility? And a single score marker movement can be more than 50? A minor niggle, perhaps. But it’s an absolute dog’s breakfast.

Conclusion: Watch board game

Watch is a well-designed and executed old school one-hour euro game. It plays really well with three or four players and it’s great to see a unique and well implemented theme. But each strong positive comes with a minor negative. It’s not pretty. It had (for me) flow issues. And it’s bad with one or two players. So ultimately it won’t be a keeper for me. Not because I don’t like it. But because there are other games on my shelf it won’t replace (Ra, The Court of Miracles and Manhattan spring to mind). And I don’t play this kind of game that often.