Thursday April 17, 2014

Top ten board game picks for 2013

I thought to launch the new year I would start by a look at my current top-10 games.

I say current, because I do find this list evolves and changes on a fairly regular basis. But as of this writing, these are my 10, and all are must haves if you like board games, at least in my mind.

I’ll spot number 10 as Santorini, a 2004 game design by Canadian Gordon Hamilton.

Santorini is an abstract strategy game where you are a god out of Greek mythology. Compete against fellow gods to get a loyal follower on top of a temple on the beautiful island of Santorini. Each turn you move, and then build a part of the temple. Be careful where you build or you might aid your opponent’s strategy.

SAGA, a new game for me hits at number nine.

A miniatures game based on the medieval era of Europe, you get to play Vikings and Scots and Danes and a number of other historic forces.

SAGA is the brainchild of Alex Buchel of Studio Tomahawk offering some unique game play aspects.

The battleboards are easily the most innovative aspect of SAGA, and the one which truly adds a tactical feel to the game. As a player you have different options each turn based on a dice roll and how those dice are assigned to your battleboards. The decision gives you special abilities, but not always the options you would ideally desire.

The game also deals with troop fatigue in a unique way.

A player can remove fatigue from an enemy unit to affect the game, as example to reduce that units movement for a turn, but in so doing, you lessen the impact of fatigue. It is a wonderfully innovative approach to the game mechanic, and one which creates many tough in-game decisions for players.

Number eight goes to Gin Rummy.

A two-player game, but one where you need only a deck of cards, a pad and paper to keep score with, and a pot of flavoured tea to just pass the day away. Always a classic.

MERCs is my number seven game. I love miniature games and MERCs really offers you easy access to the game.

It plays with only five miniatures a side, selected from what is planned to one day be a set of 10, so it has the old Mission Impossible ‘feel’, picking the best five for a particular mission.

The game plays on a small play area, only a couple of feet square, and movement uses a card mechanic which saves fidgeting with a tape measure.

At number six is Arimaa. This is a game which still drives computers nuts in trying to beat the best human players. I like that.

The game will remind of chess, but is less about long term planning based on anticipating what opponent will do six moves out, because on a turn you get four actions. That makes long range planning impossible, giving the game a more thrust, parry, and thrust again feel.

.A relative newcomer to fantasy sport games my number five spot goes to Dreadball from Mantic Games. Dreadball has the flow of basketball, the hitting of football, and is a tonne of fun as a result.

While it has its roots in Bloodball, a game I cut my fantasy football teeth on, Dreadball fixes most of the issues with the earlier game, adds a new ‘free-flowing feel’ and as a result is now a favoured game.

For the fourth spot I have to go with Camelot, a game first released in 1888 as Chivalry, and has also been published as Inside Moves.

In any of its guises, the game, with obvious roots in checkers, is a classic abstract strategy game which remains plain fun more than a century after its release.

Number three is Hive.

In some respects Hive is chess light, and that means it plays quicker, although good strategy is still critical to success.

The game has no board, the pieces creating the play area as played, which is an intriguing aspect of the game.

The ‘bakelite-like’ material the pieces are made off allows play anywhere, and they should last as a family legacy game too.

In at number two has to be cribbage.

This game is overwhelmingly my favourite card game. It has simple rules to learn, facilitates two, three and four-player games, and has huge replay value.

And that brings me to number one, a Canadian classic in the truest sense; crokinole.

Crokinole is a game of pure skill where you flick wooden discs at opponent pieces, and attempt to score the most points possible.

With elements reminiscent of curling and shuffleboard, I can play this one for hours.

And because it is reliant of skill, the more you play, the better you can get. Practice is a good thing.



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