Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The List: Favourite Board Games

I was inspired recently by a blog post by one of the gamers on I Slay the Dragon in which he reflected both qualitatively and quantitatively on his experience in four years of gaming - a period that matches up very closely with my own. It turns out he has a lot of the same favourite games as I do - though he has played far more frequently than I have - and so it has made me reflect on what my top games actually are. I am often asked about my favourite board games, and it is admittedly a challenging question to answer, though it might not seem to be so at first glance. I find myself qualifying my answer by saying something like, "I have been playing a lot of _________________ lately" without actually qualifying what my favourite games are.

I think it's due in part to somewhat of a dissonance between the gamer I am/have been and the gamer I would like to be (in theory), and even though I'm probably one of the few who notices this juxtaposition, I still feel it every time someone asks me about my favourite games. There are the games that I would like to be my favourites, and then there are the games that statistically are my favourites as determined by number of plays. I recently updated my plays on BoardGameGeek so that all plays of expansions are now included with the base game entry, so I have a refreshed list of the games I have played the most all-time (which, to be fair, only covers the past four+ years that I have recorded my plays). Here are all of the games that I have played at least 5 times since December 2010 in order from most to least.

7 Wonders48
Race for the Galaxy26
King of Tokyo24
Glory to Rome14
At the Gates of Loyang13
The Resistance13
Lords of Waterdeep12
Saint Petersburg12
Ticket to Ride: Europe12
Battle Line11
Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition9
Le Havre9
Pot O' Gold9
San Juan9
Flash Point: Fire Rescue8
Forbidden Island8
Alhambra: Big Box7
Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game7
Eminent Domain7
Star Realms7
Among the Stars6
The Castles of Burgundy6
Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot6
Camel Up5
Cosmic Encounter5
Glass Road5
Kingdom Builder: Big Box5

Observations from my Most Played list

  • There are 17 games I have played at least 10 times, another 10 games I have played 8-9 times, and another 19 I have played 5-7 times for a total of 46 games with at least 5 plays. (By the way, I have another 116 games with between 1 and 4 plays: 20 games 3-4 times, 27 games twice, and 69 games once.)
  • I own all but three games of the 46 on the list: Dominion (which I recently gave away); Blood Bowl: Team Manager - The Card Game (played repeatedly for a beta test for an expansion); and Camel Up (recently purchased by a friend).
  • Most of the games I have played most often are shorter games (45 minutes or less), which is partially likely to playing games in succession (like 7 Wonders).
  • Most of my list skews toward more family-oriented games, likely because I'm often teaching games to others. A fairly high percentage of my most played games are lower in weight (complexity) and would be considered "gateway" games. Even Agricola, which is weighted as a "3.6" on BoardGameGeek, is considered by many to be a simpler "complex game".
  • There were some surprising omissions from the list: Apples to Apples (2); Pit (3); Rook (3); Dutch Blitz (3); and The Settlers of Catan (4). I suppose that this list skews more toward more strategy-style games over the past few years, and of those five, only Settlers qualifies. But they have all been part of my repertoire for many years, and most would likely rank in my top 10 all-time if I had counted plays all along.
  • My "H-number" is 12. An H-number describes the number of games that someone has played that number of times; in this case, there are 12 different games that I have played at least 12 times. In my case, it would not be difficult to raise my H-number to 13 or 14, since I have a lot of games clustered at the 11-13 play mark.
  • I tend to play a lot of different games, which reduces the number of times each game is played. Of my 693 recorded plays, just under 10% were one-time plays, and my top 5 games only account for 21.5% of my total plays (149/691). The game I have played the most - 7 Wonders - is still at fewer than 50 plays, which shows that I often choose a broad variety of games rather than a few that I play repeatedly.
  • This list does not include electronic versions of games. If it did, Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, and Star Realms would easily be past 100 plays each - if not many more for Race and Realms.
  • I have a breadth of mechanics and styles of games represented on my list, and I do not have many examples of each genre or mechanic. For example, I have only four co-operative games on my list (Pandemic, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Forbidden Island, and Hanabi) and only a couple of worker placement games. I tend to play a variety of styles of games, but only a few within each genre.
  • On a side note, here are some notable games that were not on that list because of a lack of plays: Puerto Rico - 4 plays; Spyrium - 3 plays; El Grande, Takenoko, Notre Dame and In the Year of the Dragon - 2 plays; Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Fresco, Gravwell, Impulse, Istanbul, Macao, Ora et Labora, Scoville, Stone Age, Tokaido, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - only 1 play, but I could see them making their way onto that list eventually.

Determining Favourites

Of course, stating my favourite games is still not quite as simple as just taking the top 10 games in order of number of times played. I have realized that my games played list is highly contextual, as the games I play are highly affected by the tastes of the people with whom I play them primarily my wife). To determine my favourite games is both a qualitative and quantitative process, and both actual plays as well as desire to play are factored in to the list. Eventually, my hope is that the two lists would line up - that my most played games are in fact my personal Top 10 - but for now, I'm going to adhere to the following criteria in determining my favourite games:

1. I have to have played it more than a few times, so it has to have at least five plays (ie. it must appear on the list above).
2. I also have to want to play it - so even though Dominion ranks highly in my games played, it won't end up on my list because I don't really want to play it much (hence why I gave it away).
3. It should be a game that I would always choose to play; I'm always in the mood to play it.
4. I would choose to play this game over all other games not in the Top 10 (given the time to do so).
5. Favourite games should be my "go-to" games for a mechanic (ie. card drafting, deck building, worker placement, etc.; it is possible that a mechanic may be represented more than once on the list, but it has to be different enough to justify its spot.

Favourite games by category

Before I get to my top 10, I thought that I would start by narrowing the list down from the 46 on the list to 28 - my favourites in each category. I have divided my favourites into five general categories: party/light games that are primarily social in nature; family/gateway games that are simple enough to teach and learn to anyone but that still have at least an element of strategy; light strategy games (mostly card games) that have some strategy but are distinctively lighter in time and gameplay; medium strategy games that benefit from experience as a board gamer; and complex games that have a fairly steep learning curve. These, then, are essentially the nominees for my favourite games.

Favourite party/light games: Anomia, Dixit, Dutch Blitz, King of Tokyo, The Resistance

Favourite family/gateway games: Alhambra, Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder, Hanabi, Pandemic, Splendor

Favourite light strategy (card) games: Battle Line, Fleet, Jaipur, San Juan, Star Realms

Favourite medium strategy games: 7 Wonders, Cosmic Encounter, Glory to Rome, Innovation, Lords of Waterdeep, Race for the Galaxy, Saint Petersburg

Favourite complex games: Agricola, The Castles of Burgundy, Galaxy Trucker, Le Havre, Village

Top 10 favourite games

After all of this build-up, I'm finally getting to the core of this post: my Top 10 all-time favourite games. These are the ten games I would choose to play over any others. Six of the ten appear in my top 10 all-time played list, with at least one more certain to join that list soon. As you can see, they represent a variety of styles and levels of complexity along with a variety of themes and mechanics. Here is my Top 10, with a little bit of description as to why it has earned its spot (and the current BGG rank in parentheses).

Close to the Top 10: Battle Line (123); Lords of Waterdeep (28); Splendor (76); Star Realms (63); Village (73)

7 Wonders (17) - This card drafting civ-building game is my most played for a reason. I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface of this game even at almost 50 plays, and it is one of my most adaptable games for larger groups.
Agricola (4) - The highest ranked game on my list on BGG is my most-played complex game, and it's my go-to complex worker game. I have not tried the Intermediate or Complex decks, so I have a lot of play left in this game.
The Castles of Burgundy (11) - It's really hard to explain this game, other than to say that it combines a number of great mechanics - dice, area control, variable player powers, strategic player distribution, and more - into a package that is much more than its composite parts.
Cosmic Encounter (74) - One of my favourites with fewer plays, this is a highly social argumentative negotiation game with constant direct conflict and lots of cool aliens. I don't get to play it nearly enough.
Galaxy Trucker (79) - The frantic scramble to build your spaceship from a common tile pool, followed by the inevitably disastrous encounters with meteors, pirates, slavers, and space stations make for one of my favourite gaming experiences. I have only 9 plays, but I can remember almost every one clearly as a memory of its own.
Hanabi (127) - The concept is simple, but unique: everyone knows what cards you have except you, and you have to give clues as to which cards to play. I've played a dozen games and I have still never cracked 20 points (of 25 maximum), so there's a lot of play left in this fireworks card game.
Innovation (195) - A card-based civilization game that is known for being text-heavy, swingy, and a lot of fun. It's similar to Glory to Rome - the designer's earlier game - but I like this one just a bit better.
King of Tokyo (97) - I thought about not including this game, but it's just so much fun as a light Yahtzee-style filler game. I have played the thematic sequel, King of New York, but I just love the simplicity of Tokyo and its iconic kaiju.
Pandemic (43) - Everyone wins or loses: work together to save the world, or watch it collapse into a diseased corpse of a planet. I just love the theme, and it's made much better with the On the Brink expansion.
Race for the Galaxy (21) - The iconography of this essential role-following tableau-building game is intimidating at first, but it becomes very intuitive with only a few plays. The game is made better by the first expansion, The Gathering Storm, and there's almost always a tense finish to this galactically epic story.

There you have it - my Top 10 current board games. I'll check back in a year or so and see if anything changes, but until then, I'll see you at the table.

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