Dale Yu: A Gamer Looks at Forty (Part Two)

As I approach the hump of middle age, I am trying to take a step back and look at what I’ve managed to do (and what I plan to still accomplish).  I’ve been playing games for over half of the days I’ve been around, and I’ve played a lot of games that I’ve enjoyed (and sadly, quite a few that I haven’t).  Thanks to a recent comment on our internal Opinionated Gamers mailing list, I took a look at the games database on BGG to see just how many different games that I have played.  I figured it would be fitting at this time to look at the Top 40 games (as ranked on BGG) to see how they have held up over the years, and what my feelings are about them…

Note on my methodology – almost all of this is being done from memory.  While I used to be fanatical about keeping stats on playing games, I stopped that habit about 8 or 9 years ago when I discovered that I was obsessed with keeping stats about gaming.  It was getting so bad that the stats were becoming more important than the playing of the games themselves!  Thus, I don’t have any record on BGG or elsewhere of most of my data.

Ratings are based on what I feel at this very moment.  I do not have a spreadsheet anywhere where I keep rankings.  I generally can remember how many times I’ve played a game (as long as I use broad enough buckets) – I will estimate with the following scale

  • Once
  • Less than 10
  • 10-100
  • >100
  • >1000

Of the top 40 games, I have played 32 of them, and based on my rankings, I can say that my tastes seem to diverge from the BGG userbase!  In any event, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go through the top 40 games and see what I think of them…

(Ratings based on current BGG Rank as of 3/20/2014)

Yesterday I went through games 1-20, and today I will finish my survey of the Top 40.

#21 Dominant Species

Rating: Not for me.

Times Played: 1

Comments: I have only played this once, and I was not a fan. My only game took almost four hours and the swings in fortune caused by the randomly drawn elements/dominance cards was well above my tolerance for the amount of time invested.  The randomness/variance also causes a heinous amount of AP because you really can’t think about what you want to do until it’s actually your turn.  Moreover, the game is visually jarring (considering how long you have to look at it), and frankly, the rules are a mess.  Not quite Brass bad… but probably the next worst on this Top 40 list.

#22 Race for the Galaxy

Rating: I like it.

Times Played: 10-100

Comments:  I like this game, and I would be willing to play more often… if I could play it with relative newbies (such as myself) all the time.  I will admit that I haven’t played with any of the expansions – I am still learning the cards in the base set!  I like what the game gives you – the action selection mechanic adds tension to each turn, and the interactions between the cards provides plenty of ways to come up with clever plays.  It is this same level of card interaction, though, which keeps me from loving the game.  Even a month or two into the life of the game, I found that I was hopelessly behind in card knowledge from other players – and this effectively eliminated me from games before they started!  (Exhibits A/B: fellow OG’ers Wei-Hwa and Joe Huber)  We actually played this not more than two weeks ago, and we had a blast playing it – but all of us were essentially newbies, and on that equal ground, the game works really well.  Maybe I’ll end up loving it if I learn the cards better, but I don’t see myself devoting that amount of time to this game any more.

#23 El Grande

Rating: I like it.

Times Played: 10-100

Comments: This game was originally in my Top 10 all-time, but as the years have progressed, it has slowly been supplanted by newer games.  That doesn’t detract from the quality of the game, but merely highlights my Cult-of-the-New predilections.  To be frank, I cannot even remember the last time that I played this classic game – and that is another reason why I currently consider this an “I like it” as opposed to an “I love it”.  It has probably been over 6 or 7 years since I’ve played El Grande.  This is one of the first games that I can remember that caused me serious “Gaming Angst” – where I really had to agonize about which power card to play (and when to play it!).  This game was also one of the first games to generate a term that has permanently stayed in my gaming lexicon – I still refer to any sort of active supply/reserve supply as courtyard/provinces.  Other examples would also include “meeple” from Carcassonne, setting up things “Settlers-style”, and the dreaded “Kill Dr. Lucky” mechanic where each player must stop the next player in turn order from winning in order for the game to continue.

#24 Battlestar Galactica

Rating: Not for me.

Times Played: Once.

Comments: Cooperative. Well, actually, even worse. Semi-Cooperative.  I hate co-op games with traitors. I would definitely rather go home early from game night than have to play this.

#25 Mage Wars

Rating: Neutral.

Times Played: Once

Comments: I played the near-final prototype at Origins one year, and it was an interesting enough game.  The idea of the spell decks was a novel idea, but… this is a 2-player only game, and I just don’t have time for 2-player games.  There is also a seriously steep learning curve to the game – learning the interactions with the different spell cards – which I never invested in the game given it’s 2-player only nature.  In my initial game, I played with a pre-built  beginner deck, and it was a pretty good time though the game did drag on for awhile as we had maneuvered ourselves into a fairly stalemate-like situation.  I ended up losing that game on a series of bad die rolls. C’est la vie.

#26 Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Rating: N/A

Times Played: none

Comments: I gave up miniature games in high school. I just haven’t been motivated to even try this.

#27 Lords of Waterdeep

Rating: I like it.

Times Played: 1-10

Comments: I actually just recently sold my copy of this game.  For a few years, it had merited a spot in the game collection as an entry-level worker placement game.  The quests can be a bit random/swingy, but on the whole, it’s a nice starting point – and it worked for my kids to learn the ropes.  However, they can play Caylus now, and frankly, Caylus is better in almost every regard IMHO.  I’ll still play Lords if someone asks, but I would never suggest it over Caylus.  Thus, it was time to move it on.

#28 Tigris & Euphrates

Rating: Neutral.

Times Played: 10-100

Comments: I know that many people will say that I’m a curmudgeon to only be “Neutral” about T&E, but to be honest, this is almost a “Not for Me”. I have honestly never liked this game – and I think this goes back to the fact that when I learned the game, I never really understood the internal/external conflict rules – and not understanding these rules pretty much guarantees that you’ll never do well at this game.  Since then, I have grown older (and possibly smarter), and I’d like to think that I grok the conflicts, but yet, the game still just doesn’t appeal to me.  Maybe it’s too abstract.  Maybe it’s too close to a wargame.  Maybe I don’t like the fact most of the games that I can remember playing of this recently (and by recently, I mean post-2000) have been decided by a newbie leaving plenty of easy points for the next person in turn order.  I dunno.  But, I’m definitely not motivated to play it again.

#29 War of the Ring (First Edition)

Rating: not for me.

Times Played: once

Comments: I played this once at the Gathering of Friends, and as you can likely guess – as a 2p asymmetric game, I wasn’t thrilled by it.  Lots of random dice rolling in 3 hours = me looking for a quick exit from the game so I can head into Canada for some yummy pizza to rectify the day.

#30 A Game of Thrones: TBG (Second Edition)

Rating: N/A

Times Played: None

Comments: I played the original. Egads that was an awful experience.  Bad enough that I pretty much won’t look at the new version: 3 hours? Negotiation? Bluffing? Three strikes in my book.  I know that there are plenty of gamers that love this, and they are likely the sort that also like Diplomacy – which is a great game, as long as I don’t have to play it…

#31 Descent (2nd Edition)

Rating: I like it. (though “I love it” with some house rules)

Times Played: 10-100

Comments: Yeah, I know it’s probably surprising to see that I rate this one so highly, but I’ve had a number of fantastically fun game weekends with this game, so it clearly deserves the “I like it” rating.  I know that I might just be rating the game based on the awesome group that I played the game with, and also partly due to the fact that we had well-versed players serving as Overlord.  I like the fact that this is a competitive game – unlike RPGs, the Overlord is not simply a moderator – he is trying to win.  I also like the fact that most, if not all, of the information is available for the Heroes to see (and argue over).  I have not played enough to have run out of new scenarios to explore, so every game is a new adventure for me, and one that I enjoy.

#32 Twilight Imperium (Third Edition)

Rating: Not for me.

Times Played: Once

Comments: Played it once at a Gulf Games just to see what I was missing.  What I ended up missing was an entire afternoon/evening of my life.  We had agreed at the start to shorten the game somewhat by lowering the VP target.  That being said, it still took 6! Hours to set up, teach, play and clean this one up.  There was a lot of turtling going on and not a lot of attacking. Yawn.  The Imperial Cards seemed to swing the game, and a lot of my one game centered around getting Initiative to get the Imperial card.  Is that too simplistic of a way to look at the game?  Maybe… but I’ll not find out how it plays a second time.

#33 Ora et Labora

Rating: I like it

Times Played: 1-10

Comments: Another Uwe Rosenberg game from Lookout.  This is the one with the nifty resource wheel.  It is a very good resource management game merged with a strong worker placement game.  I have enjoyed my attempts to build the best monastery in both Ireland and France, though I’ll admit that the theme is fairly pasted on.  It is very similar to the other big Rosenberg games (Le Havre and Agricola), yet it still can stand on its own, and there are still times where I’d rather play this than Agricola.

#34 The Resistance: Avalon

Rating: N/A

Times Played: None

Comments: The Resistance (base game) has been re-done in King Arthur’s time.  But it’s still a social deduction game.  I’d rather play Twilight Imperium 3rd ed…

#35 Commands and Colors: Ancients

Rating: Not for me.

Times Played: Once.

Comments: I’m not really a wargamer. I tried this one day at CABS because I am a history buff and it was this or Battle Cry.  We played a short scenario as I was learning the game system and the cards.  Everything worked well, but man, this sort of game just isn’t for me.  I was glad to have tried it, but I’ll likely pass on a second opportunity.

#36 Crokinole

Rating: I love it

Times Played: >100

Comments: My favorite “dexterity” game.  Actually, I’m not sure this is really a dexterity game. It’s more a leisure sport – akin to billiards, darts, etc.  There is definite skill involved in this game, and it is something that takes time to get good at.  For awhile, I was pretty good at the game, winning back-to-back Gathering tournaments with Alan R. Moon as my partner.  I’ll pretty much play this anytime someone suggests it… The only downside of the game is that you must have 4 people to play it, and it really helps to have the right sized table for it.

#37 Paths of Glory

Rating: N/A

Times Played: None

Comments: I have never even been interested in this. Ever. Seriously. Never.

#38 Trajan

Rating: I like it.

Times Played: 10-100

Comments: Another of the Feldian “point salad” games, this one distinguished by the multiple mini-games that players compete at to score victory points.  The mancala mechanic is nice, and novel amongst the Feldians – but I still think that Burgund does the point salad thing best.  Trajan (and Bora Bora) go on a bit longer than I’d like for this sort of game, and as a result, I would always prefer to play Burgundy over the other Felds.

#39 Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Rating: N/A

Times Played: None

Comments: I do want to try this one out… I’ve just never been in a room with it at the same time. I figure that someone will introduce me to this at the upcoming Gathering of Friends.

#40 Steam

Rating: Neutral.

Times Played: 1-10

Comments: I’m an Age of Steam fan. I LOVE the original game – it is amongst my top 5 games of all time.  So why am I so down on this re-implementation?  I don’t want to play a gentler, kinder version of AoS… I miss the auctions for turn order – that was the heart of the original game.  I also don’t want the kinder, gentler economic system in Steam where loans are easier to get.  Having to crunch through the math prior to each turn is what I love about AoS.   That delicious tension of figuring out if I need two OR three shares at the start of a turn is completely missing in Steam.  I’d never choose to play Steam over AoS.  Heck, I almost am tempted to rate this a “Not for me”…  But maybe someday I’ll need Steam to teach someone the system as an introduction to Age of Steam.  I doubt it – it’s probably just easier to set up the Rust Belt board and run through a game and allow takebacks for the newbie….


Well, that’s a look at the top 40 games ranked on BGG as I hit this milestone.  Who knows what it’ll look like in 10 years, but I’m guessing that I’ll look like even more of a curmudgeon then on the Top 50 than I do now!


Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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14 Responses to Dale Yu: A Gamer Looks at Forty (Part Two)

  1. re: Dominant Species:
    > …and frankly, the rules are a mess.
    Excuse me? Opinions on the game notwithstanding, the rules for DS are routinely heralded as a model of excellence. And I agree, they are. The game is explained in a very logical manner, in a way to UNDERSTAND, not simply in chronological order as issues come up when actually playing (quite a poor model that most rule books follow). I have followed the forums and I think literally never seen any questions on the rules not already answered pretty clearly in the rules. I think I saw maybe one or two niggly corner case questions on one or two of the cards, but the common sense interpretations were correct. I just can’t imagine where that comment came from. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your one play. I’ve noticed a striking similarity between our tastes, so I think you could like this with the right group, which, by the way, means EXACTLY four players (and the three cards removed which grant extra AP, and make the game drag more). I suspect you played with 5 or 6 players, which is too slow, and too chaotic.

  2. You should try Steam with advanced rules, it’s much closer to AoS, with loans at the start of each turn, auctions for turn order, etc. The main differences are the split income&point tracks, and the sets of cubes that are used to refill cities and seed new cities, removing the most random element of AoS.

  3. Michael Logan says:

    re: Crokinole,

    Do you only play with 4 players? I find the 2 player game much better.

  4. Dale Yu says:

    1) Curt – I could be mistaken with the rules. I do not own the game, but I remember that we had a heck of a time finding anything in the rules when we had a question. As I played the game at a con, I am fairly certain that it was with max players, and I can definitely see that fewer players might be better. Still wouldn’t change what I perceive to be a huge amount of variance in the cards, but it would certainly reduce the AP

    2) Gerald – Steam with the advanced rules is definitely better. I guess I’m just old fashioned. I cannot say that AoS is truly better than Steam+adv rules, but I definitely still prefer AoS to steam.

    3) Michael – I have played Crokinole with 2. For some reason, it doesn’t have the same tension or variety of shotmaking that you get in the crossfire with 4. I also own a 3-player board from Mr. Crokinole, and that version of the game still is lacking.

    • Michael Logan says:

      Ah, I have found that there is much more skill to the 2 player game as it is much more possible to hide stones which adds to the strategy. In the 4 player game, it is very unlikely that you can place a stone where neither opponent can easily reach it.

    • Ahh, ok. So the conclusion on Dominant Species is, the rules are fairly rich, and someone poor at explaining rules can make a real mess of it when explaining to new players! I can’t argue with that. :-)

      I also made the mistake of inviting someone to play once in a 6p game for their first game, and they had the same reaction. All others, who had previously played 4p, still like the game.

      Variance in cards is a feature, not a bug. All players have the opportunity to see all cards before any are claimed. All players also have the opportunity to prepare for application of cards before any are applied.

      Standard “learning games at a con” caveats apply.

      • Dale Yu says:

        Yes, I agree with you that my learning it at a con probably contributed to negative experience of the game. Cons are a hard place to learn complicated games; it’s loud, I’m often tired, there are way too many interruptions, etc… And, you never know how well the person teaching you knows the game. I’m guessing, but not certain, that Ted Cheatham taught me the game… and if you’ve ever learned a game from Ted… ;)

        I have heard the “feature not a bug” claim of the cards – and I don’t think it’s a failure of the game. It’s just a “feature” that I don’t like in my longer games.

        Given my current bias against longer games, it’s unlikely that I will try this one again. If it were a 30 minute game, I’d me much more likely to willing to play it, even if I didn’t particularly like the style of game… (which explains why I really don’t care for Summoner Wars… yet, I know I’ve played it close to 10 times… I keep coming back hoping that it will be better)

        • > I have heard the “feature not a bug” claim of the cards – and I don’t think it’s a failure of the game. It’s just a “feature” that I don’t like in my longer games.

          I may be beating a dead horse here, but just to reiterate the super critical point I mentioned above, the randomness in DS is well BEFORE it impacts players. I don’t see the problem there, even in long games. Very few long games (that I like) have no randomness. The cards in DS are showy, and draw attention to the randomness, but in fact they’re not even the most impactful random element. The most random elements are actually the elements (pun intended, but still true). It’s all about having a highly adapted animal. There are plenty of ways to mitigate the cards that come out, in all turn order positions, in all rounds.

  5. Michael Logan says:

    Also, perhaps you had said it in another review, what is wrong with hidden deduction games or coops with traitors?

  6. Dale Yu says:

    @Michael: 1) I agree that you can hide more stones in the 2p game, though it can be done in the 4P game – I prefer the strategic nature of 4p as the interplay between the sides seems to be higher.

    2) I simply don’t like social deduction games. I don’t find them interesting, and I definitely do not find them fun. I have never liked coop games, and I really don’t enjoy the games where you’re working together while someone is pretending to play along but is really trying to screw over the group. There’s nothing wrong with games like this, it’s more my issue. But I know that I don’t like that style of game, and I’d really rather not participate than play them. It’s better for my blood pressure and mood.

  7. David Chappelle says:

    I agree with Curt that the rules in Dominant Species are quite good, with an attractive graphic design. The game itself is good, but it is long and random, two things that kill games in my group.

    You say you don’t like 2p games, but enjoy Dominion. So do I, but only as a 2p. 4p Dominion is quite slow unless everyone is very familiar with the cards. I think playing online has spoiled me for slow 4p Dominion

  8. rprasadusa says:

    OK, no need to beat the dead horse again about the Dominant Species rules. But you’re just wrong about so much else that I have to say something!

    Fine, maybe “wrong” is the wrong word. Still …

    Dominant Species: brilliant game! Yes, it takes a while to play, but that just means you get to have fun for a while longer! You probably don’t care much about themes. I, too, don’t necessarily lean in the direction of “thematic games”. However, there are some themes (e.g., civ building, evolution) that I do seem to enjoy and I think this is a great implementation of one of those. Plus, it’s got worker placement/action selection, without being quite as annoying/frustrating as Caylus/Agricola. I have to agree, though, that AP can be a killer — don’t get in on a 6-player game with newbies or AP-prone players! I’ve only played this a few times, one of them a somewhat painful (6-hour?) experience like yours. Even that, though, was otherwise a good game.

    Race for the Galaxy: I think you got this one right. After about 60 games, scattered over a long period of time, I’d still be perfectly happy with the base set. The first expansion did add some interesting stuff, though, like goals and more cards — without becoming too rules heavy. But I still think I’m pretty much a newbie. I love the 2-player game where you can play with 2 actions each turn and where you only need to track one other person’s Display — my kind of filler! Why the heck isn’t there an iOS version yet?

    El Grande: yeah, our copy has sat on the shelf unplayed for years now. Of course, that’s true for many games (especially now that it’s on Yucata). Really should think about selling that one …. Oh, and when you say “Settlers style” I think you mean “switchback style”?

    BSG: Semi-coop — the ONLY way to play a coop game! If there’s no traitor, it’s more a puzzle than a game! But not BSG: my few plays were too long and dull, and I found the yellow numbers or green numbers (or whatever) somewhat dry.

    Mage Wars: cool game system (I also had an Origins demo some time ago, I think when that other company was going to distribute it), but ultimately not something I’d get to the table very often.

    Star Wars: who has room for miniatures? I’ve stayed away from all things mini: don’t want to paint ‘me, don’t want to store ’em, and I certainly don’t want to deal with measuring distances and calculating lines of sight all day!

    Lords of Waterdeep: I’ve played more games on iOS than face to face. Feels like a mindless worker placement game. At least, that’s how I play it online. Yeah, I’d prefer something else in real life.

    T&E: the game is SO thematic! Civilizations (kingdoms) grow and expand, merge, fall apart. You’ve got your secret societies fighting to secretly rule the world (you know, the Aslantians, the Masons — known back then for the quality of their urns — the Society of Skulls and Crossbows, and of course the ancient Capitalists, known for the bulls they sold at market). It’s so cool! But yeah, even after 65 games (mostly play by web) I’ve never really sought out the game in real life.

    War of the Ring: SO GOOD! What a great marriage of theme and mechanics! To me this seems like one of the earliest incarnations of some ideas we’ve seen more of since then: stuff that makes you say “Wow, what a great use of dice!” And the whole card management thing is so reminiscent of card-driven wargames, but in a context even non-wargamers like me can enjoy! I think the game is pretty amazing, even though I’ve hardly played it at all.
    But what’s this yummy Canadian pizza to which you refer?

    Game of Thrones: another one that maybe you’ve gotta enjoy the theme? Diplomacy, from what I gather, is not something I’m ever likely to play. However, I remember absolutely loving the books when I first read them (and now the HBO series is pretty terrific, too). This game seemed to do an amazing job recreating the feel of the story. I wouldn’t want to play it if people were wandering off for 15 minutes to negotiate deals. Maybe I was fortunate in my few plays, where we all sat at the table and just played the game? At that level of Diplomacizing, this worked really well for me. Of course, I’ve not played it in years.

    Descent: I loved the first edition, although I wish people would stop having lengthy planning sessions every turn and just play the game faster. There are MONSTERS attacking, people … you don’t have time to coordinate a 3-pronged approach with your spells timed to millisecond precision! We bought every expansion, but never even made it through the base scenarios!

    TI3: yup

    Ora: fun enough game, although Le Havre works perfectly well for me. Maybe when the iOS version comes out …

    The Resistance: Social deduction games suck!

    C&C Ancients: really cool implementation of the system, although it seems a bit rules heavy for me to want to learn what all the different troop types do. I wish I could, but likely won’t, play this more often.

    Crokinole: great game!

    PoG: scared by the game length (and complexity?). I want to try it ’cause it’s highly rated/ranked, but about 4 hours is probably my limit for most games (and especially for 2-player games; who wants to stare at one person that long?).

    Trajan: cool when it came out, mostly for the novelty of the mancala system. But I’d almost always rather play something else (Bora Bora at the moment, although Burgundy and Macao were also excellent).

    Pathfinder: big box is scary!

    Steam: I also prefer Age of Steam, but Base Steam is just so much easier for online play! It also seems to be a nicer, kinder introduction to the system for new players scared of its big brother.

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