10 Great Tile Placement Games (Article by Chris Wray)

Tile placement games are a prominent part of the hobby, even if the mechanic is a bit difficult to define.  Perhaps because of that vaguess, it isn’t really a mechanic that, at least in my experience, inspires a lot of love or collectors.  But nonetheless many incredibly popular games — everything from Alhambra to Zooloretto — have tile placement mechanics.  

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc.  In this case, I picked a mechanic.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists. 

The Methodology

For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that featured tile placement.  That is an intentionally vague description, allowing players to judge for themselves how much of a game had to contain this mechanic.  

Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it.  Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet.  We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

We had 13 OG-ers vote, and 40 different games received votes.  

To get on the list took a minimum of four writers rating the game decently well.  That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.

Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze.  Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.  

Without further ado, here are 10 Great Tile Placement Games

Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List): 

15.  Age of Steam (1 Silver)

14.  Habitats

13.  Ginkgopolis (1 Gold, 1 Bronze)

11 (Tie).  Gunkimono / Heartland (1 Silver)

11 (Tie).  A Feast for Odin (1 Silver)

#10 – Patchwork

39 Points

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg

#9  – Castles of Mad King Ludwig

47 Points

Designed by Ted Alspach

#8  – Heaven & Ale

53 Points, 1 Bronze

Designed by Michael Kiesling & Andreas Schmidt

#7 – Ingenious

62 Points, 1 Silver

Designed by Reiner Knizia

#6 – Tikal

71 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Michael Kiesling & Wolfgang Kramer

#5 – Suburbia

76 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver

Designed by Ted Alspach

#4 – Glen More / Glen More 2

77 Points, 3 Bronze

Designed by Matthias Cramer

#3 – Castles of Burgundy

82 Points, 1 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Stefan Feld

#2 – Princes of Florence

90 Points, 3 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich

#1 – Carcassonne

147 Points, 4 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede


Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  I think our list is pretty good, although I’ll note two surprises.  First, I’m shocked that Alhambra did not make the list: the game won the Spiel des Jahres and and has sold millions of copies.  Second, I think the Princes of Florence is too high on our list, but I always think that game is too high on our lists. 

I voted for four games that did not make the list: Alhambra, Isle of Skye, Chinatown, and Glass Road.

Larry:  The first thing that strikes me when looking at this list is that many of us clearly have a pretty liberal definition of what a  “tile placement game” is.  Princes of Florence is one of my favorite games of all time, but, to me at least, it is in no way, shape, or form a tile laying game.  I mean, the placement of the building tiles is such a tiny part of the design!  And Age of Steam?  Sure, the tracks are on tiles, but it still seems very different from a classic tile-layer, like Carcassonne.  Oh well, I guess it’s just another illustration of how hard it is to pin down gaming categories.  This exercise did make me realize that “tile placement” is broader than I’d first thought.  For example, I hadn’t really considered Castles of Burgundy to be a tile-layer, but in retrospect, it obviously qualifies.

So, bitching about definitions aside, the group matched my tastes reasonably well.  4 of my top 5 games made the top 10 (Tikal, CoB, Heaven & Ale, and Glen More), with only Sun, Sea & Sand missing out.  I also voted for Patchwork and Carc.

Brandon K: Tile Placement, as a mechanism, is one of my favorite things in board gaming. In general I love the act of building something physical on the table, generally starting with nothing and working into this giant, unique idea that yourself and other players have created. I’m not going to argue what is, or what isn’t a tile placement game, I’ll leave that to those who want strict definitions, I just know that in general, if a game has some kind of tile placement in it, I tend to enjoy them a bit more. I do however agree that Princes of Florence is always too damn high on any list here on the OG, although I did go back and re-buy it just to see if I was missing something, haven’t had a chance to try it again though as it just looks dull to everyone in comparison to other games. 

My Top Five in descending order: CoMKL, Isle of Skye, Ginkgopolis, Gunkimono/Heartland & Carcassonne. I don’t think there is any argument against Carc being the tile placement game of choice, either here or anywhere else. It’s just a perfect example of what a tile placement game can be, plus it’s just infinitely expandable. I agree with Chris, Alhambra probably should have made the list as well, but I didn’t even vote for it because at the time of voting, I must have missed it on the list and didn’t think about it. So apologies to Dirk. 


Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:

10 Great Worker Placement Games

10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia

10 Great Roll ‘n Writes

10 Great Ticket to Ride Maps

10 Great Games of the 2010s

10 Great 2-Player Games

10 Great Card Games

10 Great Deduction Games

10 Great Animal Games

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19 Responses to 10 Great Tile Placement Games (Article by Chris Wray)

  1. elad yaakobi says:

    no T&E?
    I really don’t know if it’s because it’s not a tile laying (how so?) or just that you didn’t vote for it.

  2. toucanas says:

    I think for this category to work, tile-laying has to be better defined. For example, many games of aspects of “tile-laying” but isn’t exactly the main feature. PoF kinda doesn’t fit the criteria.
    Alhambra, Carcassonne, Isle of Skye, Cacao, I’d consider closer to the intended genre?

  3. Mer says:

    I call ‘snap’ with Brandon K – a copy of Princes of Florence has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. I want to see why some people regard it so highly, but it’s struggling to make it to the table.

  4. pdfprime says:

    Tigris & Euphrates
    Reef Encounter

    Hmm. I guess I ,like some conflict in my tile layers..

    Although I love Castles of Burgundy, the tile placement in that game is of less of a skill than the tile placement in Terraforming Mars, which I would also never include on such a list. PoF is great, but tile laying is a smaller part of that game.

    I’m not a fan of Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but tile layers there are.

    • I was so outraged at the omission of Tigris (and Samurai, Through the Desert) that I completely forgot Acquire!!! of course that should be on any list about tile laying
      And Reef Encounter is brilliant but the meat of the game is more stocks and shares than the tile laying part so I can sort of understand it

  5. qwertyuiop says:

    No Tigris & Euphrates *or* Samurai?!

  6. huzonfirst says:

    As far as Tigris is concerned, no one even mentioned it in their voting. I assume that’s because the game’s fans (and I’m pretty sure we have a few of them in OG) didn’t think of it as a tile-laying game. I guess “tile-laying” brings to mind lighter stuff, like Carcassonne, and T&E is *anything* but light. That’s the only way I can explain its total omission.

    • qwertyuiop says:

      Not sure it’s much heavier than several others on the list!

    • Larry, I think we both know you need to sit in the naughty corner. Are you trying to train to be a politician now with that answer ;)

    • PS you have Heaven & Ale, Suburbia and Glen More II on this list. These are not “light gateway tile placement games”. None of those games are fit to be mentioned in the same company as Tigris, Samuria, TTD, Acquire etc etc.
      I’m moving you from the naughty corner to the REALLY naughty corner

      On a more serious note, I really don’t get the focus of this site. It seems like you have a lot of inside connections to the gaming royalty, but the choice of stuff you review and some of the lists you make are hard to fathom.

      I don’t know who Chris Wray is but Larry you’re like a gaming icon and hero to us all. You should have been pulling his ear to say “hang on lads, this just isn’t right….”

      • huzonfirst says:

        Well, thanks. I’m not sure I’ve ever been called an icon before! :-)

        As far as my response to the questions about the omission of T&E, I wasn’t blowing smoke. I agree it’s puzzling, so that was me trying to figure out why it was left out. But here’s the thing. Tigris, Acquire, Samurai, TtD (which isn’t a tile-layer, but is often referred to as one)–these all came out 20 or more years ago. That’s well before many of our writers entered the hobby and I’m sure a number of them aren’t that familiar with them. Sure, you could argue that playing these classics should be a part of any serious gamer’s education, but you and I both know that it doesn’t usually work that way. Getting a 10+ year old game to the table can be a real struggle, unless it’s one that the group has a history with. Like it or not, more recent games will have an advantage over older ones in polls like this.

        Of course, *I’ve* been around for all these games (crap, I played Acquire as a child right after it came out!). But I didn’t include any of them on my list, either. I admire T&E a great deal, but I’ve always freely admitted that it’s a bit too much game for me. No one in any of my game groups is a champion for it either, so I probably haven’t played it for at least 10 years. TtD and Samurai are classics and I find them both interesting. But they’re both more or less abstracts and that’s a kind of game that has never been a favorite of mine. It’s been a *long* time since I’ve played either and I don’t really miss them. Finally, it may be heresy, but I’ve never really seen the greatness in Acquire. Incredibly ahead of its time, yes, but the high luck factor and lack of control has always bothered me. At the risk of losing my iconic status, I’ve never been a big fan of any of these games. I would *much* rather play Heaven & Ale than any of these designs!

        There’s a good chance you won’t find that answer satisfactory, but it’s the best that I’ve got. We’re a relatively small group of gamers (as Chris mentioned, only 13 of us voted this time), so a group that size is always going to have some unusual inclusions or omissions in their list. Hopefully, your comments and some of the other ones listed here will help put a spotlight on some of these great older games that so many people have enjoyed for so long.

        • Chris Wray says:

          For what it is worth, I think I’m the youngest gamer on the site, but I’ve still been playing games for a very long time (10+ years for me) and have of course played T&E and Samurai. I’ve tried to like T&E but don’t, because I think it is too clunky and takes too long for what it is. Samurai is smoother, but I stopped loving it the moment I played Samurai: The Card Game. And I liked Acquire when I first played it in 2010, but that game is also a bit of a random mess that can last a bit too long.

          • qwertyuiop says:

            T&E only takes an hour!

          • I’d be interested to hear “what it is” from your perspective. Mostly when I hear those comments it’s from people who get caught up in a misplaced expectation about “what it is” and then get disappointed that it doesn’t fit that (the red tiles complainers fall into this, the lack of themers, and the too chaotic crowd). Obviously their experience is valid from their perspective, but I think it’s a shame. The game is truly one of the very best games ever designed. Princes of Florence has no business being on this list as a tile placement game, that part is incidental, OK, at the highest level there are some decisions about where you can fit a tile in your map but the game is an auction game where one of the things you do in a round is to put a piece on your own board as a points booster for the other stuff you are doing. Acquire can be a bit too long sometimes, but again, I think if you don’t approach it with the right mindset about using the little bit of hidden info YOU know that THEY dont in order to exploit the balance between liquidity and investment in your favour then its not really about any randomness more about being flexible and canny with placing what you have and using the little nuggets of “insider info” that you have.

            I won’t like, I find so many titles in this list frankly bizarre that I’m not sure it’s worth me saying more. It was mostly that the iconic Larry Levy was involved that gave me pause for thought. Still, nobody needs to care about my opinion or thoughts but to me, it would be like reading an article about best rock albums over the years and nobody mentions Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt Pepper or Are You Experienced etc. I just can’t take the list seriously, sorry (its very nicely written though and of course, you’re all entitled to your opinions, that is the name of the site after all)

        • you are most definitely an icon Larry and somewhat of a hobby treasure. I can imagine that might sound weird to you from some random text name on the internet but it is what it is!

          • huzonfirst says:

            Well, that’s very nice of you to say so and I really appreciate it. I’ve been writing about games for a long while and a few kind words makes it all worthwhile.

            It’s nice to see that so many of these classic titles (like Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy) still have passionate support from a sizable segment of the gamer population. And there’s plenty of games from the 90’s (like Stephenson’s Rocket, Lowenherz, Tikal, and others) that I still adore and try to play as much as I can. But I’m also a card-carrying member of the Cult of the New, so I’m aware of the quality of more recent designs as well. I also play with lots of gamers who have either never heard of these older games or only know them by reputation. Time marches on and one of the inevitable consequences of that is that landmark achievements from the past (whether they be from gaming, music, movies, or whatever) aren’t always well known by succeeding generations, who have their own great works that they love. That isn’t to say that those who idolize those older things shouldn’t proclaim their greatness every chance they get–they should. But there also shouldn’t be too much surprise that their appearance on “Best of” lists becomes more and more scarce.

            So, guys, even as these older titles get less notice, keep reminding us that there were some pretty good board games released before 2015! You might wind up with a few young (and not so young) gamers as converts!

            • Well its lovely to exchange a few messages with you Larry, it’s me who should be thanking you not the other way round!
              I’ll try to keep tabs on you lot here and fight for the corner of Cult of the Old as much as I can!

              Having myself come into the hobby in 2010 (I mean “hobby” as a typical BGG member would consider it, I’d played lots of games in the decades before), I realized that I had basically not found anything after that to replace or better the shelf of games I have mostly the classic 90s stuff and some from the decade 2000-2010. It’s probably not weird that a time period of 20-40 years has more great games (to me) than a 10 year period, even if some might think “things always get better”. Maybe there are more games and as a result, more good games than before but I’m not convinced even the best games of today are better than the best games from before.

              Still, I recently undertook a mission to get hold of a dozen or so games from after 2010, and am slowly going through them to see, in hindsight, if I rejected some of the newer games unfairly

              Love Castles of Burgundy but thats a cheat as we loved it when it came out, I dont know why we got rid of it, I think I moved into heavier and wargames for a while maybe.
              Hated. Trajan. I would have enjoyed the different parts of the game without the mancala. I didnt find that interesting, or in any way integrated into anything and it ruined the game for me.

              So 2011 was 1 of 2.

              Now onto 2012 but its only Tzolkin a game I hated at the time, but I LOVE IT now, way way better than I remember, I can only guess that the frustration at failure (which has now become giddy delight) put me off. I think I remember playing a couple of times not being able to do anything and thinking erm ok, ugh. I don’t know if I will get fed up of it once I “master” at least a basic level of competence, but it’s so much cleverer than I remember, and brutally tight.

              So 2012 is already a winner (I mean note that I’m not going for loads of games each year)

              next up in 2013 I have Rococo (adorable theme) and Concordia (another game I was very meh on at the time). Since everyone is nuts for Concordia it’ll be interesting to see if my opinion has changed there too.

              Future years will be
              2014: Arkwright (gulp)
              2015: Kraftwagen, Grand Austria Hotel
              2016: Lorenzo il Magnificao
              2017: Calimala
              2018: Underwater Cities*, Lowlands**, Obsession (to see what the fuss is)
              2019: Artemis Project
              2020: ???? Hallertau? not yet convinced. Might revisit Florenza in the “X” version since I had it in 2010 liked it but obviously not enough to keep

              I tried Coimbra but hated it.

              * I already know I liked this one
              ** this one was excellent, a real surprise.

              A sort of personal gaming “Through the Ages” quest to go back and give the cult of the new another shot (of course now some of these games are a decade old!)

              • huzonfirst says:

                Good for you! Even though you prefer the older games, it’s nice that you’re checking out some newer ones, to see if there might be some gems buried there. I hope you find more hits than misses in your journey through the 2010’s.

  7. The fact that Tigris (and Samurai, Through the Desert etc, more recently Babylonia) weren’t mentioned IMO makes a nonsense of this article. At least I am flabbergasted

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