[Ed Note – this was supposed to go out two weeks ago, but got lost in Draft-limbo somewhere along the way. So, now you get to read Part 10 after Part 11]
One of the reasons I starting keeping stats was that I was curious about whether the games I thought would stand the test of time (after a few plays) objectively did or did not. It turns out that the games you play the most are the games that your family and gaming buddies like the most. Either that or you keep searching for gaming buddies who love the same stuff you do (which we all do to some degree as well). Anyway, the games I’ve played 100+ times over the last 20 years:
Co-op: Hanabi (2010), Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (2011), Sentinels of the Multiverse (2011)
I wasn’t sure Hanabi would, but it grew on us once we started down the path of protocol development. LotR was also a slow starter, only becoming likely once the scenarios and cards started flowing and fleshed it out. Sentinels provided so much variety from the start that it was always an option.
Light: Bluff (1993), Zirkus Flohcati (1998), Klunker (1999), Crokinole, Schnappchenjagd (1998)
The only surprise here was Klunker which I hated on first play, but others liked it and it kind of snowballed into a regular Thursday night closer and its flaws grew on me.
2-player: Backgammon, Lost Cities (1999), Kupferkessel Co. (2001), Memoir ’44 (2004), Scrabble (1948), Star Wars: The Card Game (2012), Warhammer 40,000: Conquest (2013)
No surprises on any of these really, nor the following.
Euro: Ticket To Ride (2004), Pandemic (2008)
And there you go, fwiw. I highly doubt any of the following new games will hit 100, not many do after all, but let’s take a peek anyway.
GLOOM OF KILFORTH (2017): Rank 1646
I helped out on the rules for this many many moons ago and was wondering during the process how it would play out. So much of the game is in the cards after all. Anyway, I’ve recently had the chance to get it to the table and it slots right into the niche it’s shooting for … a random-fest of slugging through encounter cards for a few hours until you’ve found and defeated the right cards (with the right traits) to get through all your levels, with enough allies, items, skills and spells in play to defeat your big boss monster. If you take the time, you can enjoy the beautiful cards and the flavour text to build a narrative, but after an hour or two, we started simply churning through the cards to get what we needed, playing simultaneously where possible to speed it up, losing the other players’ narratives. Defeating encounter cards is a dice-fest (the ol’ “roll 5’s and 6’s to get hits” approach), and that’s a lot of dice, every turn. This ain’t no Euro-zone. It’s more in the Talisman/Runebound ilk with each hero having their own specific goals to meet to get to the end. It’s actually pretty good as a solo affair (if dice rolling to defeat cards is your thing). But it probably drops a rating point with each player you add, as it adds an hour or more for each without much value-add other than the increased social, putting it in the same ratings ballpark as most of its brethren. In the end, it’s probably too repetitive and doesn’t feel epic enough to sustain that timeframe, but there’s lots of nicely thematic stuff to enjoy if you’re in it for the ride because the cards are nicely evocative.
Rating: 7 (with a low player count)
GREAT CITY OF ROME (2018): Rank 5587
More of an OK City Of Rome. Each turn you pick a turn order spot – the earlier you go the better your choice of tiles but the less building power you have, so you’ll only be able to build the really good tiles if you then fork out VPs. That turn order decision each turn is the crux. After 14 rounds you’ll have completed your 4×4 grid of tiles and then they score in the usual smorgasbord of ways – this next to that, bonus pts for this, extra for that. As usual with drafting games you’re dependent on what tiles are on offer each round and what others seek/take (you’re looking to diverge on scoring strategies) but it’s still a game of making the most of what comes when and hoping it all falls into place by the end, with big point swings if it does/doesn’t. There’s some replay in trying different scoring strategies, but it’s essentially a game of drawing 14 tiles and placing them. It’s not the world’s most exciting mechanic, but pleasant enough. Playing on Yucata where the tile handling and the scoring’s all done for you is definitely more enjoyable and turns it into more of a 7.
GREAT DINOSAUR RUSH (2016): Rank 2205
Move of an Average Dinosaur Rush, riddled by baffling design decisions. Play 3 rounds. Each round, use the “Hey, That’s My Fish” mechanic to move around the board collecting coloured sticks (aka dinosaur bones). These will be used to build a dinosaur – red sticks are limbs, yellow sticks are tail or neck, etc – for points, trying to match your secret dinosaur colour objective (theming?) and also get points for most of this or that. But then, each round has fewer sticks placed on the board, making it extremely unlikely for anyone to make a comeback if they’ve had an unfortunate first round. I disliked the imbalanced starting powers – one earnt a player 20+ points, another a measly 3 points, another was useless. Additionally, each turn you manipulate a “share price” up or down – various combinations of colours earn you more or less points depending on its share value. My natural dislike of share price manipulation games found no reason for reassessment here. Each round, the rich got richer, the poor got the picture.
IMHOTEP: THE DUEL (2018): Rank 5565
This is a decent re-versioning of the original for 2 players. There’s a 3×3 grid, and each row and column has a ship with three tiles on it, being the usual scoring tiles (most in this gets a bonus, most in that gets a bonus). On a turn you either place a meeple onto an empty grid space, or you trigger the taking of tiles for a row/column – the meeples in that row/column get the tiles on its ship, which is then refilled. Each meeple is in position to take a tile for either its row or its column, but not both, and the order in which ships are taken matter. There’s little point taking a ship though just to make an opponent’s meeple take its row’s tile instead of the column tile it wants – firstly they get a free tile and next turn they simply place a meeple back in the same space, reserving it again. This makes taking action tiles pretty key, which allow you to place multiple meeples on a turn, switch tiles around, place a meeple and take tiles all in one turn, etc. Two player competitions for “most ofs” often come down to a lottery of what tiles come out when, and this is no different. There’s nothing exciting about the game play – place a meeple or take tiles – and it becomes rather repetitive after a while. It’s simple and easy enough and works fine. The decisions on when to take action tiles and when to play them are interesting enough, but after a play it felt like there was little left to explore – choose what you’re going to specialise in, get some action tiles to ensure you can reserve tiles in that specialisation if they come out at bad times, and make it difficult if you can for your opponent to get what they’re specialising in.
MOMBASA (2015): Rank 64
I just don’t like share games. I don’t like them particularly when final turn shenanigans sends one stock plummeting in value and another rising. “Well, plan for and partake in the shenanigans”. “But then it’s just a function of turn order!” It’s non-interesting, and swingy kingmaking. There are non-share strategies available in the game (which is why it gets a 7 at least), but the game’s engine is built around building companies and owning shares and the side-rewards you get for doing both. In one of those strategies, the small unreadable icons on the book tiles meant I just couldn’t go there. It’s a clever card action and recovery system though which gives you a lot to think about and plan for strategically. I liked that a lot. It’s a good game that doesn’t take stock (ahem) with the traditional convert resources into VPs trope. Actions were about accumulating shares, action cards, diamonds / books (the non-share strategies), or expanding companies on the map. But back to the main issue – it took everyone so long to plan and play! Two and half hours for 7 rounds of 4-ish actions each. Too long. There’s a few different things in the game to explore which I’d come back for, including trying different card planning approaches … but preferably at a player count lower than 4.
SMUGGLERS OF THE GALAXY (2004): Rank 14667
Some games deserve their rankings. This is a pick-up and delivery game between planets with randomness up the wahooza. For each pickup, the amount of cargo and its price is randomly determined by dice. Same with delivery. That’s a lots of dice slowing down the game. Also, let’s have an event before every turn with lots of text to further slow the game. Have planets disappear when cargo is sold there, making every trade route one-use-only, slowing the game down to find the next lucrative route you can get before the other players. To win the game you need mega-bucks to buy big-weapons and deliver them in two turns across the board, so make the profits from deliveries small enough to make the game go on for hours before a player has enough, but force them to spend that cash upgrading their ship beforehand so they require even more cash. But, let’s make it more random by having the occasional card that doles out effectively half the cash you need all game in one fell swoop. Add in combat options to knock players backwards and make the game go even longer. Unfair, random, long, repetitive, with downtime. A nice thematic premise let down by old-school design and poor components.
TRAMWAYS (2016): Rank 1088
It’s Age of Steam overlaid with complications. Instead of there being simple actions to build links and move passengers for points, you can only do these actions if you have the right cards with the right action symbols on them. Complicating it further is that the cards have multiple symbols each, so much of a round is mixing and matching cards to get the best combination of point-worthy actions that round. Which makes for an interesting solo challenge I’ll grant. For multi-player you’ll need to toss in the extra challenge of working out what to do when another player messes up your planned routes/passengers on the map, with the consequent downtime of re-casting your turn. With only 6 rounds in the game, if there’s collateral damage it feels as if there may not be enough time to recover. The auction mechanism has an interesting advantage for those who were last in turn order, but is perhaps a bit too brutal given the importance of the cards and such a high spread between useful and painful. I still enjoyed it, but the luck of the cards you draw for action-use in the later rounds (with so few rounds) seem a major factor in whether your plans bear expected fruit or not, and I’ve marked it a bit down for that.
VILLAGES OF VALERIA (2017): Rank 940
This follows the well-trodden path of Glory To Rome et al using the lead-and-follow paradigm to collect resources and build buildings asap using a deck of dual-use cards. It starts off nicely, assessing which cards you want to burn off as resource producers to get the right mix to allow you to build the buildings you want for their one-off and ongoing benefits, as well as acquiring the right building types to be able to collect adventurer cards (which also provide benefits + VPs). It bogs down a bit towards the end though when everyone’s got resources and powers to burn and the synergies are humming, and where assessing and conducting all in a timely fashion becomes an issue. There can also be too much to assess re what cards to discard and pickup for those who care more than others, generating more downtime and it might drop rating points with more players. I liked it at a 2-3p count, where the game’s simplicity and familiarity provides an enjoyable enough challenge and experience for its 30-45 min timeframe.
WITNESS (2014): Rank 731
This feels more of an activity than a game, plus it’s a memory game, but somehow it’s fun, probably to do with the setting and the art. There are 57 cases to work through which (and I’ve only played a couple) have you in the role of detectives where each person is given a clue/clues they need to pass on to the other detectives over a series of defined rounds. Each round dictates who gets to speak to whom, and it’s designed so that all information can get to all the other players but only if the information is passed on perfectly. We tossed the whisper-to-each-other bit and moved into separate rooms Diplomacy-style for discussion which makes the game more active and alive. The team does best if everyone passes information on perfectly – you’re only collectively as good as your weakest member and being in the hands of another is usually anathema to your regular gamer. So … co-op, memory, 4 players-only. This game is the nichest of niches. And yet, if you can get it the table with open-minded players, it’ll likely surprise you on the upside.
SPOTLIGHT ON: INNOVATION (2010): Rank 304
I’ve been getting back to this recently with a gaming buddy who loves it. It’s an interesting game of collecting and placing cards to your tableau, looking for powers that complement each other and striving to gain majorities in the various symbols that drive the powers so as to allow you to execute them without people riding on your coat-tails Puerto Rico style. Your normal actions are to draw a card, play a card or execute a power, and you get two actions. The card powers in the lower decks are weak (you collectively start with deck 1 and work up to deck 10) but each higher deck has more and more powerful powers, becoming quite dramatic in the top decks. Powers range from better card drawing, being able to spread cards so symbols underneath count towards your majorities, to stealing cards from other players and, of course, scoring. You can only have 1 active power in each colour, so there are continual decisions on foregoing a useful power to get a different one. Another is on whether to just concentrate on building symbol majorities now and worry about scoring later, or go for the quick scoring grabs now to minimise the required effort later. If you want to do one of your powers when you don’t have the majority in the particular symbol it requires, you can still do it, but everyone with equal or more in that symbol can also do it, so that can be an interesting decision at times. Lots of cards and powers disappear through the game, so games range from highly interactive with lots of pussage to quiet scoring engine type games, and anywhere in between. And potentially all in one game. There’s potential for rich-get-richer and player carnage, but I don’t mind that in a card-power game that’s over in an appropriate timeframe. One of the other attractions (which could be considered a turnoff to others) is the ebb and flow in scoring power throughout the game and the possibility of huge come-from-behind wins – there’s always hope (an expectation even) that once you move into the final decks the game will get wild!
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Joe Huber: First, as to games with 100+ plays – I have only one overlap with Patrick, Schnäppchen Jagd. The other games to hit 100+ plays for me: Bridge, Race for the Galaxy, Mü, 1846, For Sale, Hearts, Jambo, 500, Geschenkt, Saint Petersburg, Fast Food Franchise, Die Siedler von Catan, Bohnanza, and Jump Drive. All of them save for 500 (which I haven’t played in some time) and Hearts (which comes out on rare occasion) are still being played regularly.
While I enjoy cooperative games well enough, they don’t tend to stick for me – I only recently (and unintentionally) have added a fourth cooperative game to my collection. But it’s not hard to pick out my favorite of the lot – Witness is simply a wonderful game. I keep hoping that another set of cases will be released – I’m running out of cases in the original. And, since as Patrick notes memory is a key element to the game – those most likely to enjoy it are also those least likely to be able to enjoy the same cases multiple times…
Tery: I don’t love the stock-market volatility in Mombasa, but the other mechanisms mostly make up for it for me. It doesn’t get played much because I feel like it is pretty long for what it gives you, and if I am going to devote 3 hours to a game there are many others I would choose before this one.
I love Innovation and for some reason I haven’t played it in more than a year. I really need to get it back to the table soon. Patrick’s reports are always a good reminder to me of games I need to get back into the rotation.
Mark Jackson: We should have played Innovation at Gulf Games. Love the game and agree with Patrick’s assessment about “appropriate timeframe” and wild variability.
My games with 100+ plays (with overlaps with Patrick in italics): Race for the Galaxy, Summoner Wars, Memoir ‘44, StreetSoccer, Catan, Can’t Stop, Star Realms, Lost Cities, Ticket to Ride, DC Comics Deckbuilding, Heroscape, Fast Food Franchise, and Carcassonne. (Sentinels of the Multiverse is one play away from making this list – my son & I have plans to play a massive OblivAeon game to break 100.)
Fraser: Reg, as Mombasa is known in our house, is well loved. This is partially due to a long story about how we got it and rumours about how good, or not, it was before we got it thanks to Daughter the Elder and our spare Daughter. Anyway, Melissa and I both like it a lot. She favours books and I tend to ignore them, which can be a bit of an issue if we are playing two player, but is relatively safe with a higher player count.