‘Tis the season for lists. Here are the 10 games I’ve spent the most time playing since I started tracking back in 1999 (just because …):
- Lord of the Rings: The Card Game –mostly 3p, but also the only solo game I’ve felt time-worthy
- Gloomhaven – all 3p or 4p, every fortnight for a couple of years
- Hanabi – regular Sunday night closer for years
- Sentinels of the Multiverse – 3p every fortnight before Gloomhaven came along
- Scrabble – my go-to with Mum
- Pandemic – the legacy seasons kicked this into the frame
- Diplomacy – I really should get back to playing this online again
- Ticket To Ride – my go-to with kids
- Sieben Siegel, Die – regular Thursday night closer for years
- Star Wars: The Card Game – really enjoyed play-testing and helping edit this one
There’s at least one fine game among the following new-to-me games, but it’s a big leap from fine to being top 10 ever!
99 (n/a): Rank 18906, Rating 4.9
The public domain escalation card game – if you play a card (from your hand of 3) to the collective pile such that the total exceeds 99 you lose a life. There are the normal shenanigans of switching direction, re-setting totals and such. This whole niche is pretty much just time filler with not a lot you can do except hope to draw well, but it’s fine if that’s what you’re after.
BEYOND THE SUN (2020): Rank 362, Rating 8.0
Specialised tech trees with actions only you can take (for a while). Each turn is choosing an action that someone else hasn’t taken since your last turn, focusing your strategy on the techs you’ve researched, and eking out advantage accordingly. The points can come from specialisation in research, in production, and building/moving units on a mini-map to claim cards/worlds for points and effects. Being first to achieve end-game milestones is a driver so it’s an efficiency race game in many ways. The question the game mostly asks is what advantage/effects do you want the most, and how quickly. The game asks it a lot, so there’s plenty here to explore for a while.
CONSPIRACY: ABYSS UNIVERSE (2019): Rank 1369, Rating 7.5
Either draw 1-3 cards from the deck and keep 1 (adding the others to their respective discard piles in each of the 5 colours) or pick up all the cards from one of the discard piles. Your first choice then has a steroided up Lost Cities feel. Similarly, you need to build your tableau in order, trying to get cards of the same colour together, and the highest in each colour. You’re also faced with whether to take cards with key symbols (which will eventually provide a location card for effect and points) or pearls (for potential end-game points) – so each take provides a nice tradeoff decision between value, colour, keys and pearls. I quite liked the simplicity as a 2p, and it feels like it’ll provide much the same decently paced game with more players given its proven pedigree.
DINOSAUR TEA PARTY (2018): Rank 3192, Rating 6.6
Reimplementation of Whosit that really you still only want to play with kids to teach them how to do elimination. There are way too many traits to ask about, and it’s hard to see them clearly on the cards amidst the cartoony dinosaur artwork. For gamers who care about the win, the game consists of a long sequence of drawn-out elimination process turns (you go again if you get one right, continuing the elimination process), or it’s a random luck-fest for those who take multiple 1-second moves trying to guess identities just to get the game over and done with.
LEGENDARY INVENTORS (2016): Rank 3214, Rating 6.4
A riff on The Builders: Middle Ages but here you start with 4 workers (rather than drafting them) who each contribute various points in 4 skills. Each turn you assign one of them to one of the works in the common pool (another point of difference), placing a cube on the card for each skill point that the worker contributed. When a card is completed, the players take the card’s rewards in order of who placed the most cubes – be it victory points, improving a worker’s skill level (ie place more cubes for the rest of the game) or a one-off bonus. It’s untaxing and hurries to the end-game quicker than you expect. It’s pleasant enough to play but there’s not too much to explore.
OFF THE RAILS (2018): Rank 6133, Rating 6.4
Spend 4 actions each turn to lay track from the edge of the board into the middle (where the mines are) and to activate mine-carts to speed along them the track and pick up jewels, building the track just in time ahead of your carts. The neat thing is you can increase or decrease a cart’s speed to land on the spaces you want, and all the track is common … you can trigger collisions with opponent carts for gain! That is if you have the time because (quicker than you expect) the chasm cards start coming out and destroy track and you only score the jewels that you get back to your edge of the board so it’s a race to get back off the board. There’s luck in what jewels appear where, on top of the chasm luck, but it’s a kinda fun concept to play and you can tailor the game to the desired length. Just not sure how much replay there is.
PEDRO (n/a): Rank 14013, Rating 6.4
Pedro is a variant of Cinch on BGA that’s pretty freaky in a fun way. With the 9 cards you’re dealt, each player has one shot at bidding how many of the 16 points they’re going to win in whatever suit they want to call trumps. Then each player discards every non-trump card (so you know how many each player starts with) and draws back up to 6, with the dealer receiving every other non-dealt trump (to ensure all trumps are in play) – ie it’s good to win the bid when you or your partner is dealer! 10 of the 16 points are in the 5 of trumps and the 5 of the same colour (also made a trump, like the left bower in 500), so being able to dominate the lead until they’re won is key because, in another quirk, you only have to follow suit if trumps are led. Though rather wild in nature, we’ve quite enjoyed our games; enough to to add it to the play list.
SOLAR STORM (2020): Rank 6419, Rating 7.3
A co-op that mixes the location-with-effect grid of Ghost Stories with the fix-the-location approach of Pandemic. With a space theme. You know what you’re getting. You’re trying to be as efficient as possible with your actions while playing the risk-reward game of what to fix now vs later and maximising the use of the location effects. I’m not sure we needed another game so close in form to its progenitors and it’s not urging me back for that reason. We lost the first game (having a learning curve is good) and won handily in the second but you can increase the difficulty level by reducing the number of wild cards in the deck. It’s obviously well playable given its pedigree if you’re looking for the same-ish game with a different theme.
TRICK OF THE RAILS (2011): Rank 1233, Rating 6.6
The most convoluted scoring system for a trick taking game I’ve seen. And the game goes only one hand. If you get a low hand, you’ve lost. You get a high hand, you may still lose if the lead doesn’t come back to you when needed – which is late in the game when the values of each suit are close to final (based on cards played in the earlier tricks) and you know which suits you want to win. The other way to win is to be lucky enough to have cards in your hand that won’t win a trick but which are in the most valuable suits – you’ll keep these losing cards as shares. Hmm. It’s worth playing a bit just to wrap your head around the weirdness but, well, I’m not sure there’s too much play in a game where most of your plays are forced.
SPOTLIGHT ON MAMMA MIA (1998): Rank 1611, Rating 6.5
50+ plays. This one’s for anyone who’s only started gaming in the last 15 years or so and doesn’t know Rosenberg’s output from back in the day when he was known only for card games. Mamma Mia is an excellent card game with a super matching of mechanic to theme, throwing the ingredient cards into the oven pile, together with the recipes to see if your pizzas get cooked. It’s a memory game, but a good memory often doesn’t help because any surprise non-cook of a pizza means the ingredient pile will be dramatically different from where it would otherwise be. So the game is often played on a wing and a prayer, playing the odds that either the ingredients will be there (from what you’ve seen so far) or that you’ll be able to pick up the missing ingredients that you need into your own hand. This latter drives a lot of decisions through each hand – there’s a need to draw recipes at the start of the hand, and then move towards no recipes / more ingredients by the end of the round. It plays fast, with a theme you can really ham up with Italian accents which brings a lot of fun. The mechanic still stands up after all these years.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: Patrick’s spotlight is spot on – just played Mamma Mia again the other night and the game is still a delight. (Advice: avoid Mamma Mia Plus, which adds the possibility of a sixth player and complicated pizza orders that aren’t easy to remember how they work. Stick with the original. Sole Mio is OK but unnecessary.)
For comparison, my ten games with most playing time since 1998:
- Race for the Galaxy
- Memoir ‘44
- Sentinels of the Multiverse (shared with Patrick)
- Summoner Wars
- DC Comics Deck-Building
- Scrabble (shared with Patrick)
- Fast Food Franchise
- Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2.0