Festive ‘cheers’: Celebrating minor successes in a year to forget

October 2021 is going to mark 10 years since I started GoPlayListen. And, fittingly, I’ll be able to look back at 2020 as the blog’s most successful year to date. And it was a decent rise in visits too, passing my previous best year in mid-November.

I don’t know whether it’s down to Google ratings, COVID, or (most likely) a combination of the two. But it’s nice to have something positive come out of a dreadful year for the planet. Little victories and all that.

While I’m still pretty rubbish at getting involved with social media (your best bet is probably Facebook), I have made more of a SEO effort this year. Which has hopefully made a difference. But I’m sure so many people being stuck at home has also helped. So I expect next year to drop back down – and just hope a few of you stick around! But whatever it may have been, thanks so much for hanging out here with me. Really. It means a lot.

2020’s New Year’s resolutions

I’d made five resolutions for 2020, two of which were blown out of the water by the coronavirus. Visiting two new cons and pitching a new game design at Essen. At least with the latter I (with local friend/designer Federico) do have a game close enough to ready that I’ve mentioned it to a couple of publishers. While I’m confident a second collaboration with another designer should bear fruit early in 2021.

I failed miserably to get together with any other bloggers to work on collaborative posts. Maybe next year, as I still like the idea. I also failed to get all my games played, but did get the unplayed in 2019 list down to just five. And all of those are audience specific and/or need several players. Which has been tough, as it has been very hard for me to get more than two players around a table most of the year.

The only real success was on keeping the game count down. I wanted to keep it at 150 and actually got it closer to 140. Despite having reviewed and added loads of new games to my collection. And it has mostly felt natural, as some games simply lose their lustre over multiple plays. While others need certain audiences which it just isn’t realistic for me to find often. Those I’ll just look to play at conventions.

Looking to 2021

I usually talk here about resolutions for the coming year. But how can I do that when we don’t know what we can/can’t do from one week to the next? I have a hotel booked for Essen and a Eurostar voucher. Plus a hotel for AireCon and my fingers firmly crossed for LobsterCon – both (hopefully) in April. But that’s that.

The 150 games in my collection thing is pretty much a decision I’ve made now, rather than needing to be a resolution. It’s a number I feel comfortable with and works in the space I have. Already being at that limit makes me cut the chaff from my collection too, which I see as healthy. Both my parents are/were hoarders and I don’t want to go down that path. I’m a gamer, but not a collector. And don’t intend to become one by accident!

So I’m having a year off resolutions. But otherwise it’s full steam ahead. Expect loads more game reviews and Top 10s, as well as any other game related nonsense I can think up. Or, of course, that gets suggested. Please do hit me up with any ideas for content you want covered, or board game opinions/news you want discussed.

And finally – I hope y’all have a great end of year, if that’s in any way possible. Finger’s crossed the games you’ve been waiting for will be sitting under the tree. Speaking of new games, I plan to get one more review out next week. Before launching into the new year with some 2020 retrospective posts (as per usual). So until then, once again – cheers!

Bonfire board game: A four-sided review

The Bonfire board game is a complex euro game from popular designer Stefan Feld. It’s playable from 1-4 players, with a solo game coming in at round an hour. But with more players you’re probably looking at two hours plus. And the age range feels right at 12+. for me, this is one if the designer’s more complex titles.

Bonfire falls into the heavy euro game category for me. As with most of his recent games, there are multiple ways to score points. But the way they interact here requires a lot of forward planning. While the actions of others can force you to pivot to new strategies. And in terms of luck, it is lower here than in his lighter titles.

The theme is high school stupid, if anything making it harder to follow. It is unashamedly pasted on. So why pick something as daft as gnomes, guardians and bonfires? It all feels almost wilfully redundant. That said, the art from Dennis Lohausen is up to his usual high standards and the graphic design is OK. The components are standard for a German euro and the game looks good on the table, if you enjoy your fantasy nonsense. In the box you’ll find the main board, two boards per player, 300+ (yup) cardboard chits, 100+ wooden pieces and about 50 small-sized cards.

Teaching the Bonfire board game

As mentioned, Bonfire is a complex euro game with a lot of overlapping parts. For me, the theme gets in the way rather than helping explain things. Never have I resorted to ‘the green action’ and ‘the round thing’ so quickly. Which is a shame, as a coherent theme would help the teach. However, even with it, it’s the kind of game you need to finish once to really get. And one that’s hard to summarise – but here goes.

Let’s start at the end. You’re going to score end game points for bonfires (personal tasks you can fulfil); guardians and portals if matched with bonfires (which can be claimed with actions) and common tasks. You’ll also get points for any leftover action, resource and fate tiles, essentially rewarding you for efficiency.

Half the main board is made up of islands, where you’ll sail your ship to then pick up guardians and tasks (which, when fulfilled, become bonfires). The other half is where you can pick up portals, as well as gnomes. These little critters come in two flavours: in-game bonuses or straight points. You can have up to six gnomes, so you can get a nice little bonuses engine going if you plan it well/get lucky.

Bonfire board game player board, half way through a game

The player board

Your player board is in the shape of a half circle. Guardians arrive on the left side and can move across it. While portals have to be filled in right to left. But you can choose where to place your bonfires. Those placed in the middle may get both a guardian and a portal, as you work your way across from both sides. Or you may choose to largely ignore one or other and stack bonfires more to one side or other. As with many Feld games, it’s here where the game is won or lost. You simply can’t do everything, so need to maximise what you can.

But how do you do all this? That’s where the fate tokens come in. Each has three of six action symbols on it, and will give you matching action tokens when placed on your player board. You’ll also get bonus actions for clever placement of these fate tokens, so that’s something else to think about. While you’ll have limited choice in which fate token to take each time – meaning even more things to think about.

The six actions allow you to move your ship, collect tasks, collect guardians, add path tiles (which let your guardians move across your player board), take portals and get gnomes. But to do these actions well, you’ll often need multiple action tokens. And resources. Oh yeah, resources. You mostly get them from the great bonfire. Eh? What do you mean I haven’t mentioned the great bonfire. No, it’s not the same as the other bonfires…

Playing Bonfire solo

The solo variant acts (and sets up) as a two-player game, with you versus a very basic AI. The AI has a set of eight cards, which are shuffled and flipped one at a time (on their turn). These largely have two purposes: to clear out cards and items (so you don’t get complacent, while rubbish is hopefully cycled out) and to move the game towards a natural conclusion.

This works nicely. After one play the cards become clear (so the rulebook dives become minimal). And you start to plan a little around what you know may be coming up, which makes it feel like an opponent. There are very few choices to be made by you in terms of the AI, though. In one way this is good, as it’s smooth and fast. But on the other it doesn’t feel as if adds as much strategy as it perhaps could have.

I found I thrashed the base level AI on my second solo play. But when I went to see how to upgrade it, there’s simply a few lines explaining how you can handicap yourself by pretending you got less points. This feels like a pretty big cop out. However, it does ramp up the challenge of winning and playing against the AI is an enjoyable experience. So overall I’d give the solo mode of Bonfire a thumbs up, just.

Bonfire board game gnome cards

The four sides

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

  • The writer: As I think I’ve aptly proven, the Bonfire board game is a hard one to summarise. And the first play can be an absolute bear. But once it started to click and I could see the possibilities, my negative thoughts mostly flipped to positives. Things snap together in a satisfying way and you can play differently from game to game. After four or five games, I’ll have to reserve judgement on the balance of the bonfire task tiles. But overall, if it were my choice, it’s a game I’d enjoy exploring more.
  • The thinker: I very much enjoyed this one. Much like his other heavier games (Bora Bora, Aquasphere, Trajan), what to ignore is left to the player. You choose/plan which combination of actions to go for; then have to use them to score the best combination of points. Yes, there’s a little luck here and there. And other players can scupper you a little – often by accident. But a player flying on the seat of their pants is not going to overhaul a carefully planned and executed long-term strategy. This could become my favourite Feld.
  • The trasher: There’s very little in Bonfire for me. There can be some competition to grab tasks that gel well together, but you wouldn’t take one just to scupper an opponent. You’d potentially spoil their game, without really benefitting yourself. Finishing a public task first gives a great bonus. But you really have to work to get them, so it rarely feels competitive in a real sense. And you can still score them – you just miss a bonus. So no, I didn’t get much from the game at all.
  • The dabbler: It’s pretty! And by the end of my first play I knew what I probably should’ve done. Maybe? I just can’t see myself playing it often enough to get any good at it (like Tzolk’in and the like) – so why bother? I prefer a game with more immediacy and less brain burn. I’d rather play something lighter, or at least more thematic.

Key observations

The theme. The theme the theme the theme the theme. It’s nonsense. And worse, it gets in the way of the game. Is there a theme that would’ve worked beautifully? I have no idea. It would certainly be a job to try and match all these intricacies into a cohesive one. But gnomes and guardians and bonfires? I’m at a total loss.

This is not going to convert a single Feld hater. In fact, it will probably make them madder. No theme (did I mention that?), point salad, multiplayer solitaire, loads of interlocking mechanisms all giving points willy-nilly. But hey, haters gonna hate. And who cares about those guys. Let them stick to their D20s and their random ‘thematic’ text paragraphs. Sadly, another Feld trait continues though – the luck factor. Getting this right seems to his design Achilles heel. If two players go for the same kind of task combo, they can really mess each other up. You can pivot, but it’s going to be hard. That’s going to piss some people off.

I can see Bonfire having a real ‘one-and-done’ issue, especially for those not used to this style of game. It has a learning cliff that’s hard to see the summit of. While you need to know all the rules at the start – so it can have a big old teach time. Especially as the theme doesn’t help you grasp at anything. If you score low on game one, as you struggle to see how everything connects, what’s going to draw you back? Especially if you get that ‘I did a tiny thing on my go while you did 10 massive things on yours’ feeling, which nobody likes.

Some say it feels like work, while lacking tension. I guess these are hard to argue with – but I also don’t think every game needs tension. And if work means setting yourself to a really tricky puzzle, then for me that’s enjoyable work. But the game will overwhelm some. I don’t think that is a criticism of the game: you just need the right game for the right group. But when a game is going to struggle to find an audience anyway, it needs something to give it a helping hand. And I don’t see anything in the box that’s doing that.

Bonfire board game main board

Conclusion: Bonfire board game

Bonfire is a good heavy Stefan Feld euro game. Experienced players will know if that is what they want and should act accordingly. Others should fend it off with a 10-foot pole. I’ve very much enjoyed my plays, apart from the painful first one. But I don’t think it will stay in my collection. I already have, and love, Bora Bora. That game feels more thematically and mechanically cohesive. What I need to find out is, does the more freeform jazz style of Bonfire give more in terms of interesting/varied routes to victory?

A few more plays should tell me. But I don’t know where I’m going to get those from. To date, no one I’ve played with has finished and really wanted to play again. And that’s having played with several Feld fans. Let’s face it – the guy has made a lot of games. And while I’ve found this one interesting, it lacks an X factor. Whether it stays or goes, it is certainly another solid euro in the Feld cannon. But I’m just not sure how many shelves need that right now.

  • I would like to thank Pegasus for providing a copy of the game for review.
  • Follow this link for 150+ more of my board game reviews.

Board game Top 10: Christmas card games

Every couple of years I like to do a Christmas list of some sort. This time it’s my Top 10 Christmas card games. They’re all small box, so perfect for stocking fillers or secret santa gifts.

All 10 games have had editions released over the last five years, so shouldn’t be hard to find. And these little card games should all cost less than £20. If they say ‘+’ after the minutes, it means you can keep playing indefinitely. Many modern games have an optional campaign mode, so you can start next time where you left off last.

My last few Christmas lists are still relevant too. If you need further gift inspiration, check out my Top 10 stocking fillers. While there’s also my Top 10 family games you can teach anyone at Christmas. It’s going to be a weird year for everyone, so there’s never been a better year to bring some fresh games to the table. They’re not in any particular order, but hopefully there’s something here to suit any play style.

I’ll also give an unsolicited Christmas shopping shout-out to the Board Game Prices website. It’s unusual for a hobby this size to get a price comparison site this good. And if it keeps some of you on indie websites rather than the big boys, then more’s the better. Let’s show those independent retailers some love.

Top 10: Christmas card games

The Crew
(2-5 players, 20+ mins, ages 10+)
Rather than fighting this Christmas, why not work together on a card-driven space adventure? It’s wholly abstract, but this award-winning trick-taker sees you co-operating to make sure the right players win the right tricks. Unique, simple rules and very well executed.

Point Salad
(2-6 players, 15-30 mins, ages 8+)
This is a simple set collection game with a clever twist. Each card has a veggie on one side and a way to score on the other. Choose wisely which way up to keep each card, to maximise your points. And be careful, as some cards score negatives for certain types.

Fabled Fruit
(2-5 players, 20+ mins, ages 8+)
This clever little set collection card game slowly introduces new cards with different powers each time you play. So while the rules are always simple, these added little twists keep the game fresh long after a game this simple’s sell-by date.

Honshu
(2-5 players, 30 mins, ages 8+)
In this pattern matching game, each card is split into six sections. These represent towns, woods, lakes etc. But they’re also numbered, so you play tricks to claim them. Land types score differently, so you try to make the best personal map by overlaying the cards.

Oriflamme
(3-5 players, 30 mins, ages 10+)
This is at the opposite end of the scale from The Crew. Oriflamme sees you betting and bluffing your way to victory at the expense of your opponents. Character cards are played to a central row and affect each other in a variety of devious ways.

Narabi
(3-5 players, 15 mins, ages 10+)
This is a clever co-operative puzzler. One set of cards has numbers, another rules showing how a card can be swapped. One of each type is put into a card sleeve. But only the holder of each card knows its rules. Swap cards until they’re all in order. So simple – but so tricky!

Fox in the Forest
(2, 30 mins, ages 10+)
The only game on the list I haven’t played. It’s here because it’s in the BGG Top 500/family games Top 100. And because friends whose opinions I respect enjoy the hell out of it. All I can say is, it’s a trick-taking game designed specifically for two players.

Games I’ve previously reviewed

Short notes here, but click through for full reviews. These are all games I’ve given massively favourable reviews in the past few years.

X Nimmt
(2-4 players, 30 mins, 8+)
Play cards in sequence to rows – but don’t play the sixth card in a row, as you’ll have to pick them all up. A clever version of 6 Nimmt allowing lower player counts than the original.

Anansi
(3-5 players, 30 mins, 10+)
The recent reprint of clever trick-taker Eternity. As well as evolving trump suits, you can discard rather than following tricks. Discarding as many as you win tricks to score bonuses.

5 Colors
(2-5 players, 30 mins, 8+)
Re-released more recently under the much worse title 5211 – but with much prettier cards. Players slowly reveal cards, with colour majorities scoring (or not) if they bust or tie.

Anansi card game: A four-sided review

Anansi is a trick-taking card game for three to five players (for solo and two-player variants, see below). The colourful artwork comes from Nigeria (Dayo Baiyegunhi) and South Africa (Emmanuel Mdlalose) and has enough originality to stand out from the crowd.

The box lists the game as being suitable for ages 10+ and as lasting around 30 minutes. The time is pretty accurate, (20-40 depending on player count). And the age is about right. As while it’s light on rules the subtlety in scoring could be lost on younger players.

The game is a reprint of 2016 release Eternity. For a simple comparison between the two, scroll down to the relevant section below. This twin-pack sized card box contains 96 cards and should set you back a little over £10. This is about standard for a game of this size. And the card stock is of good quality, so I’d say OK in terms of value.

Teaching the Anansi card game

As with all the best trick-takers, Anansi takes the basic concept and makes a couple of subtle twists. The key to success here is to ‘inspire’ your followers. This means matching the number of tricks you win with the amount of followers you collect each round. Followers (0-2) are printed on the cards, with higher value cards having more followers.

A game last three rounds. In each you’ll be dealt 8 or 10 cards (depending on player count) and play that many tricks. The 42 game cards are numbered 1-14 in three suits. After dealing there will be two left over. These indicate the starting trump suit – which is where things get interesting. Before play the three separate cards (each showing a suit) are placed in a row, randomly. From left (strongest) to right, this indicates the trump strength of each suit. The two spare cards are placed in this area. If they’re the same colour, that suit is trump (as it has two cards). If different, the stronger suit becomes trump (as they have one card each). The value printed on the card is ignored, as only the suit is important.

The clever bit

The start player in a trick must lay a card, but the next player has a choice: lay to the trick, or gain followers (see below). Laying a card follows typical trick-taking rules: follow suit if you can, or trump/ditch a card of another suit. Best card wins the trick. To gain followers, put the card to one side until the end of the trick. Then look at the number of followers on the discarded card (either 0, 1 or 2). Take that many follower cards. Then add the card to the trumps area, potentially changing the trump suit for the next trick.

Once all tricks in a round are completed, players score. It’s vital not to have more followers than tricks won, as that scores 0 for the round. Otherwise, score one point per follower/trick-won pair. Plus, if you have exactly the same number of followers and tricks, you get bonus points. The bonus increases each round, giving those falling behind ample chance to fight back. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: It’s hard to make trick-taking games stand out in a crowded market, but Anansi’s art does the job well. And once you start playing, the subtle twists draw you in. Its clever that the high numbered cards (likely to win tricks) are the ones you need to get the most followers. Simply counting your high numbers doesn’t equate to roughly how many tricks you’re likely to win. Because you’ll equally want to discard some for their followers.
  • The thinker: Many trick-taking games have you predicting how many tricks you think you’ll win. But here it’s often a moving target – an interesting strategic and tactical conundrum. The way trumps work really mixes things up. Some rounds it won’t change at all, where in others it’s in almost constant flux. Better still for the strategic thinker, all cards are in play at all times. Even in a three-player game, where some are left out, the unused cards are on display. A very interesting and fun game.
  • The trasher: I like the constantly shifting goalposts in Anansi. They keep everyone on their toes throughout each round. The first few games are tricky as you get your head around the subtleties. But once you start thinking about everyone’s hands, rather than just your own, things really get interesting. Having just three suits gives less opportunities to ditch cards rather than follow suit. Which means on unlucky rounds things can be a little on rails. But for the interesting elements it adds to deciding trumps I think it’s worth it.
  • The dabbler: While the game is pretty, and clever, you need a group of trick-taking fans to make it sing. There’s not much here to hold the interest of those who don’t dig traditional card games. It can also become frustrating if you don’t get the hang of it quickly. And it can be quite a heads-down affair, as there’s loads to think about to manage to get the all-important balance. That said, I really liked it! You just need to pick the right crowd.

Key observations

Not everyone is going to like the changing trump mechanism. If you like the Wizard-style planning, this may not be for you. This is very much a game with a changing landscape hand to hand – as tactical as it is strategic. If you don’t want a bit of chaos in your trick-taking, the Anansi card game probably isn’t for you.

Only having three suits can create some bum hands. It’s more likely you’ll be able to follow suit, so sometimes you’re lefty unable to affect proceedings much. Which can be frustrating. Also ,the way the scoring ramps up works in terms of keeping players in the game. But it’s also frustrating if you do well in round one but less well later. Why are you getting less points, just because you got your good hands early? I can see this being house-ruled out of the game by more serious players.

Anansi is a trick-taker with a few clever bells and whistles. But it is very much just that. So if you don’t like trick-taking games, this is unlikely to convert you. However, it could certainly turn the heads of ‘traditional’ card game players. But the balancing of tricks to followers will also put some off. As while I find it a fascinating puzzle, others may see it as a chore getting in the way of ‘proper’ trick-taking play.

Comparisons to Eternity & the two-player/solo rules

I preferred the presentation of Eternity. The whole package, from the tree tokens to the scorepad and pencil, oozed class. But I applaud HeidelBAR’s use of African folk lore and artists. They’ve created a unique looking product celebrating a culture under-represented in the industry. Fitting at this time, when the Black Lives Matter movement is rightly on our minds.

The two-player rules have been directly ported from the original game. Players play two cards each per hand, while a dummy hand slowly reveals the cards not in-game each turn, keeping a bit of extra tension going in terms of learning which cards are in play. It’s fast and quick, but works very well.

They’ve also added both a solo version and an extended variant for the 3-5 player game. As all these rules take up just a single sheet, I can’t fathom why they didn’t just include them in the box. But in these days of almost constant connectivity, I guess it isn’t really a problem. The extended version seems a bit pointless to me – why not just play again? But it’s always nice to have more options available, so why not? I’m sure some people will like it.

The solo rules are a riff on the two-player version. It’s incredibly simple. Your imaginary opponent has a face-down deck of cards. Each round they play (randomly) first and last, starting and finishing each hand with you playing two cards in the middle. It works fine, but is hardly inspiring. It will pass time in a push. But trick-taking games are surely about reading your opponents? I guess nowadays everyone feels as if their game ‘needs’ rules for as many different player counts as possible.

Conclusion: The Anansi card game

I love a good trick-taking game – and Anansi is one of the better ones I’ve played. While simple to teach, it has that extra level of complexity to stand above some of its competitors. But it doesn’t overdo it in terms of extra rules, meaning you’ve got a better chance of selling it to new and traditional card players. Plus the artwork is bright and colourful. A bit gaudy and shiny for my tastes, but I doubt it will put anyone off playing. It’s just great to see a fantastic game back in print.

For me Anansi is more enjoyable and original than popular trick-takers Diamonds or Skull King. I’d list it as a must-have for genre fans and a should-try for anyone who is a vague fan of trick-taking games. It will be staying in my collection. But if you already have Eternity, there’s no need to pick this up unless you love the artwork. You can simply download the solo/long game rules sheet (linked above) if you want to try those variants.

Board game Top 10: 1980s games that stand the test of time

Welcome to my board game Top 10 1980s games: the decade that saw me struggle through high school, enjoy college, then get my first proper job.

I played some card games, plus some Scrabble and Chess, with my mum. Then some D&D and Games Workshop stuff at high school. And then moved on. But unbeknownst to me there were actually some pretty good board games out there.

So while ‘the cult of the new’ gets all the headlines, I thought it time to give some love to some in-print gems that deserve a place on your shelves. Many of these gems have been borrowed from repeatedly since. And I’d argue some are yet to be bettered in their genre: with many holding strong in the BGG Top 1000. So as these games reach middle age, maybe skip that overblown Kickstarter you’ve been eyeing and give a classic a chance.

I used a BGG search to get the list, so some may have slipped through the cracks. And deliberately left out war games, Games Workshop and Steve Jackson Games as they have very specific audiences. I also left out both Merchant of Venus and HeroQuest for similar reasons. While I left out the original Arkham Horror because it was unrecognisable from recent versions. The games on this list are varied, but have a good chance of appealing to various types of modern gamer.

Board game Top 10: 1980s games

10. Werewolf
(1986, 3+ players, 60 mins)

More an activity than a game? Well, I’m including it here. I’m not a fan, but it is very clever. This is a group participation game, involving outing players as potential werewolves (via often heated group discussion) and killing them off. There’s acting, lying, and manipulation. Great for parties in the right groups. And now in about a thousand flavours to suit all tastes.

9. Wizard
(1984, 3-6 players, 45 mins)

I’ve never quite understood the point of Wizard – but I love it. For me, this is contract whist with a very small twist on the rules. And the versions I’ve seen don’t have particularly nice cards (one has some of the worst fantasy art you’ll see). I’d rather just play contract whist with a normal deck of cards. But if this will draw players in, go for it! A great game.

8. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
(1986, 2-7 players, 3-6 hours)

The popularity of the Ticket to Ride series has ensured train games are a key part of the board game landscape. And the 18xx series has done the same thing for more serious gamers. With 1830 the highest rated on BGG. It’s a deep, long route building and economic game devoid of luck. Build your network, invest in shares and make the most profit.

7. Die Macher
(1986, 3-5 players, 4+ hours)

If you’d told Die Macher’s designers their four-hour German election sim would become a 30+ year sleeper hit, I doubt they’d have believed you. But it is an utterly compelling political game. The hours fly by as alliances rise and fall, and you can see far enough forward to plan for game-changing policy and media changes. It really is quite special.

6. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
(1982, 1-4 players, 1-3 hours)

This is a co-operative narrative game, where together you attempt to solve a mystery. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game on steroids, with a large mapping showing numbered locations. Piece together the clues, leading to new locations, and solve the crime. Early versions were a little wonky, but it is still being supported with new scenarios today.

The Top 5: Eighties games for all the family

5. Scotland Yard
(1983, 2-6 players, 45 mins)

Once again you’re trying to catch a murderer on the streets of London. But this time, one of you is the villain. One player moves secretly (writing down their moves) around the map, while the rest work together to corner and capture them. It’s a common find in UK charity shops and well worth a look – especially if it includes the ‘Mr X’ baseball cap!

4. Labyrinth
(1986, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is another mass market release with solid gamer credentials. Yes, it’s a family game and there’s a fairly large luck element involved. But planning your routes around the ever-changing maze in this spatial puzzle can be genuinely tricky. Don’t let the cartoony visuals fool you – this can be a thinky and frustrating experience for even hardened gamers.

3. Survive: Escape from Atlantis
(1982, 2-4 players, 60 mins)

Another with strong charity shop potential, Survive was a Parker/Waddingtons staple for years. It has enjoyed a recent reprint, but I don’t think the game has ever been perfected. Despite that, it is fun enough to carry it off. Desperately try to get your Atlanteans to the edge of the board. Before your opponents feed them to sharks. Wholesome family fun…

2. Take it Easy
(1983, 1-8 players, 30 mins)

This clever little abstract game sees players trying to connect pipelines to score points. The trick is that all players are using exactly the same pieces, in the same order – but arranging them how they like. Players pretty much immediately diverge and it ends up as a fascinating puzzle of a game.

1. Can’t Stop
(1980, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is one of my few all-time Top 20 regulars. Mechanically, it is an incredibly simple abstract dice game. But in practice it is a brilliant filler game and great for all ages – it’s even educational. Can’t Stop is all about probabilities. How long will you keep pushing your luck, while risking losing all your progress? It simply creates a great atmosphere.


I’ll come back with a 1990s list, where the competition for places will be a lot stronger! But with the exception of Werewolf (not my kind of game), there’s nothing on this list I wouldn’t happily sit down and play today.

* Like this board game Top 10 1980s list? Check out all my other Board Game Top 10s.