You can read more of my writing over at the Meeple Like Us blog, or the Textual Intercourse blog over at Epitaph Online. You can some information about my research interests over at my personal homepage, or on my profile at Robert Gordon University.
Welcome to the Meeple Like Us Top Ten Best Board Games 2017 Edition! We are genuinely thrilled to have you with us while Michael and Pauline argue in public in the nerdiest possible ways.
Oh my good golly gosh, 2017 is finally coming to an end. Remember how in 2016 we just wondered what celebrity was going to die next? Now we wonder which one will be outed as a sexual predator sufficiently vile as to taint their entire body of work. What new horrors will 2018 bring? To what fresh new hells will we find ourselves becoming gradually numb as shock turns to acceptance turns to mundanity turns to changing the channel to Celebrity Big Brother? I don’t know, and it’s that uncertainty that makes the coming of a new year so exciting. And horrifying. And exciting.
What a time to be alive!
We’ve been doing Meeple Like Us now for around twenty months, and we’ve formed a number of opinions during that time. You might have noticed! To cap off a year of telling you what we think, we’re going to tell you more about what we think but in a slightly different way. You mostly see my thoughts reflected in the reviews and ratings because I’m the one who writes most of them. Mrs Meeple and I agree on a lot of things, but we thought you might be interested to know where our opinions diverge. For that we’re going to talk about our personal top tens, and present them to you for your consideration!
Note here that we're doing this based on the games, not on their accessibility - we'll provide a link to each accessibility teardown so you can make your own decision as to whether any of these games are likely to be appropriate for your needs.
Make yourself comfortable. Grab a nice cup of hot cocoa. Put your favourite playlist on Spotify. Situate a pettable dog on your lap. If you don't have a pettable dog, go out and get one. This is going to be a long post. That's why it's been broken up into pages - use the links above to explore our various nooks and crannies! If you just want to skip to the end without any of the commentary, and damn your eyes if you do because it took us hours to write this, you can click on the very last link to take you to a full table.
Oooh, this is maybe the hardest entry on any list. Entry ten is such a harsh, unforgiving cut-off point. Games either find a home on the list or they don’t, and this is where the door gets slammed on those that aren't invited inside. It’s Christmas, it feels rough to shut out the fine, marvelous games arrayed outside. Look at them, cardboard noses pressed up against the glass as they look in on the warm firelight of our hearth. They look so cold, so alone, so pathetic against the gently falling snow that is illuminated by the streetlights outside. Hang on, let me open that door once again and yell “GET OUT OF HERE GAMES, OUR FIRE IS FOR CLOSERS”.
My word, this is a game that is a constant joy. Forget Cards Against Humanity – if you want to know the bleak cruelty of the human soul you’ve got few better choices than Once Upon a Time. Fairy tales are horrifying when you really pay attention, and as such they are a natural home for the darkness of the reality in which we exist. Once Upon a Time gives you the perfect setup for exploring the most forbidden contours of your repressed psyche. You’ll find yourself effortlessly telling tales of such grim depravity that all anyone can do is laugh. It’s a game that is so simple that it’s genuinely unfair that it’s this good. And yet, it is. It is SO GOOD.
Pauline: Once upon a time is a great game if you play it with the right kind of people. The problem is that I’ve played it with people who can’t tell a good story. It’s hard to spin a tale under duress, especially if you’re trying to make it entertaining in any way. If you're playing with people that don't have a good sense of humour, you won't find it as funny as Michael suggests in his writeup.
Michael: Have you played it with other people than me then?
Pauline: I can't say that I have, no.
New York Slice was a surprise highlight of our trip to the UK Games Expo in 2017 – a welcome relief from the soul-crushing experience of traipsing around after a grumpy Michael as we tried to find absolutely anything to do with our time. It’s a game you can explain in sixty seconds and that is roughly the same amount of time as it takes to eat an actual pizza. As such it’s great for people that don’t play a lot of games, especially those that don’t do well with complicated rules. Despite this it’s also surprisingly complex and really very elegant. It’s approachable too - who doesn’t like picking up pizza slices? It’s very sociable and in the end when all is said and done nobody even really cares about the scoring. Like ordering takeaway, it’s effort free and well worth the money.
Michael: When was the last time you paid for takeaway?
Pauline: Let’s not get off topic, this article is going to be long enough as it is. What did you pick for number nine, Michael?
Whereas Number Ten is the last helicopter out of Saigon, the occupant of the number nine slot has no need to fear the cold outside. At least, for now – we might throw a similar party next year and who knows who’ll be getting an invite. Don’t get complacent, nine – you’re on thinner ice than you might think. That might be you outside next year, and if you think it’s tough being in the cold now just wait and see what it’s like once you’ve got the memory of warmth to make it worse. Those other games? They don’t know any better. You will. God help you – you will.
Oh, don’t look so glum. Have a bit of cheese on a cocktail stick. This is a party!
Blood Bowl is a ludicrous entry on a list like this. Blood Bowl is a game that I adore but I absolutely couldn’t recommend to anyone. It’s utter nonsense – fantasy gridiron with orcs and goblins and trolls. Its rules are brutally complex. Its expectations are laughably high. Its rules for turnover are almost comically cruel. This is the only game I own where I think rage-quitting is a completely sensible strategy. Still, this is a game that has given me some of my greatest storytelling experiences of all time. This is a game where I have played sessions where I remember every die roll, every missed pass, every scoring triumph. This is a game that I have written poetry about. It couldn’t possibly not end up on this list.
Pauline: I played the computer game of this with you once for about two minutes. That’s all I could stand. I really don’t understand the appeal of this at all. I don’t know why you like this game. I don’t know why people would spend hundreds of pounds to buy miniatures they need to spend hundreds of hours painting. The whole Games Workshop thing seems like a massive waste of time, money and effort. I’d rather watch paint dry. I guess that’s free entertainment you’d get as part of doing all this nonsense. I’m all about sports and fitness but I just don’t understand why you like this game.
Michael: Have you read any of my blood bowl poetry? It rhymes and everything. There once was a Reikland Reaver, who wanted to be a receiver. He would play with his ball, and would give it his all, but…
Pauline: I hate everything about this conversation.
Sheriff of Nottingham is a lot like Once Upon a Time in that the fun it generates depends on the group around you. The barrier to fun is much lower though because of the role-playing that almost everyone naturally falls into. Sheriff of Nottingham reminds me of a game from the eighties that I still have somewhere – that one is called Smuggle, which in turn is a rebranding of an earlier game called Contraband. Sheriff of Nottingham is a much more elegant game though it shares a lot of similarities.
True story, my father once caught me lying in Smuggle and I burst into tears and offered him all my money to make him stop gloating. In Smuggle you all draw from a shared deck and that means there’s a lot of leaked information. Sheriff of Nottingham is a lot more interesting because you all get your own hand to manage, and even picking up and discarding can be part of your elaborate bluff. You don’t need to worry too much about the lies other people have told – it’s all about keeping your own lies straight. I didn’t enjoy Smuggle much thanks to that traumatic experience in my youth but I’ve gotten a lot better at social deduction since I was eight even if I still don’t know what my own tells are. Sheriff of Nottingham is quick to learn and offers a wagonload of good natured fun.
Michael: I also like Sheriff of Nottingham a lot – it almost made the list but in the end it didn’t because I always get caught out lying. Is it always obvious when I’m bluffing?
Pauline: Yes. I can always tell when you are lying.
Pauline: Your lips will be moving.
I hope you’re enjoying that comfy chair, eight. You have to be on your guard though – there are nines and tens trying to take your place. There are sevens and sixes that want to keep you in yours. There’s a lot of pressure being where you are. It’s fitting then that you SHINE LIKE A DIAMOND. Look at you, beset on all sides by those that would prefer to see you fail. They might smile to your face but there isn’t a game here that wouldn’t knife you in a dark alleyway as soon as look at you.
Maybe we should call you a taxi? I’m not sure you’ll make it home alive otherwise now I come to think about it. How’s your will, all up to date? Good, good. Put it out of your mind for now. I’m sure it’s all going to be fine.
I spent so much time convincing myself not to buy Jaipur, and that was a massive mistake. It sounds like it shouldn’t work – a two player game of trading cards and camels. That shouldn’t be fun. How could there be any energy in mercantilism if there are only two people participating? It sounds about as febrile and exciting as a luke-warm bowl of porridge. Jaipur though is as smooth as silk and as tough as leather. That is fitting because those are two of the goods you’ll find yourself fretting over in its turbulent marketplace. No game I have ever purchased has given me quite as much joy for quite so little money.
Pauline: I can’t believe this only made number eight on your list. What’s wrong with you?
Michael: I have Jaipur fatigue. I have a note from a doctor that says I need to play Jaipur less often.
Pauline: You wrote this note.
Michael: I’m a doctor.
Pauline: You misspelled Jaipur.
Michael: It’s a difficult word to get right.
Pauline: And your name.
This is one of the first game we bought and it was my earliest introduction to the worker placement family of games. Playing Waterdeep is a therapeutic experience for me – a chance to simply enjoy the accumulation and spending of coloured cubes. I have to confess that I don’t really like the competitive aspect quite so much though. When we first got the expansion I hated it because of that – there’s so much more intrigue with the two additional boards in place, and so many more reasons for players to stab at each other in the dark. The corruption system too meant I ended up with negative points in the end because I had no idea how to get rid of the moral nightmare I had accumulated during my plotting.
Now that I’ve learned better how it all works I find Lords of Waterdeep with the expansions a real cut above other worker placement games like Fresco. I’m very goal oriented, and Lords of Waterdeep gives me lots of opportunities to enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment. The scream of adventurers as they are carelessly thrown into an open portal to the Underdark is calming. So is the look of angst on Michael’s face when I throw endless handfuls of corruption tokens into the dark interiors of his dubious establishments.
The expansion quests are an awful lot more interesting than the base quests, so there’s a little bit of an issue with balance when you play with the Undermountain module. We usually make sure if we’re playing with the expansion we also get the expansion lords to make it a little fairer. Overall though this is a game that we very much enjoy getting to the table.
Michael: I think the real reason you like this game is because you get to buy up half of the property in Waterdeep and that’s also your hobby in real life.
Pauline: I don’t get as much corruption from doing that in the Central Belt of Scotland though.
Michael: I don’t know, During the last election I saw you eyeing up a ‘vote Conservative’ poster with a speculative look in your eye.
Pauline: I have voted for many different parties, but I have never voted Conservative.
Michael: Don’t worry, the anonymity of the ballot box will protect you from anyone knowing the truth.
Lucky number seven! Come on in – it’s been simply ages since we last saw you. How are the kids? Good, good. And the other half? Hasn’t left you yet, ha ha? Oh, I’m so sorry. I hadn’t heard. Uh. Let me get you a drink. I’m really glad you could make it – we’ve been making do with these inferior hobbledy-hoys so far. We’ve basically just been killing time until you got here.
Blimey, I have never encountered a game before that made such a powerfully positive first impression on me. Innovation gives you a generous deck of cards and bids you to build an empire with them. As it does it whispers gently in your ear that your civilization would be doing so much better if you could just destroy every other sign of progress you could see. ‘Everything the light touches’, it promises in sweet, unguent tones, ‘could be your kingdom’. Its design is so sharp that even the edges of the cards can draw blood. It’s quick paced, incredibly clever, and as pointed as a barbecue fork.
Pauline: Innovation is a fantastic game, and I think the only reason you don’t have it higher is that you always get roundly trounced by me.
Michael: I bear emotional scars that will never fully heal.
Pauline: Have you even won a single game that we’ve played?
Michael: I don’t subscribe to your traditional Eurocentric concepts of ‘winning’, and ‘losing’. Society is complex, and geopolitics even more so. I think we do ourselves an injustice if we think of the mark of progress in strictly binary terms, or evaluate it according to the strict utilitarianism of Darwinian natural selection.
Pauline: So, no then.
This is the only app driven game that has made my list. I know lots of people don’t like digitally enabled boardgames but I think the app is something that makes One Night Ultimate Werewolf genuinely great. It’s like having your own electronic referee. Everyone gets take part whereas in games like Ultimate Werewolf you need a moderator that doesn’t actually get to participate. The app takes away the chore of bookkeeping and instead lets everyone focus on having fun.
You don’t need the app to enjoy ONUW though and there is plenty to like in the box. I love all the different roles you get and how even being a goodie means you have an incentive to lie. The swapping of cards during the night phases means that you can’t even know within a single game if you genuinely are who you say you are. Like in real life, ONUW is all about the public you versus the secret you, and dealing with your own inner conflicts. Like some of the other games we’ve talked about already though it might be just ‘okay’ if you play it with the wrong people. That’s why you should always play it with the right people. That’s my general advice for games – always play them with the right people.
Michael: Am I the right people?
Pauline: You’re hairy enough to be a werewolf in real life anyway. You couldn’t possibly not be the right people.
Ah, poor six – so close to being in the top five. Close isn’t close enough though, and so you have to stand here in the shadow of greatness. To be fair, you just didn’t want it enough – if you did the whole room would be warm with your longing. You can feel the hunger radiating off the games ahead of you like heat from… a radiator. Sorry, that simile got away from me a bit. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here, six – you’ve done well to get this far. A game should judge itself by the quality of its competitors, and you’re in noble company indeed.
There is much in Imperial Settlers that is genuinely marvelous. It blends effortless empire building with a kind of cheery sociopathy that manifests as the occasional good-natured razing of an opponent’s towns and villages. It’s the gaming equivalent of the affable pub psychopath who oozes charm and joie de vivre right up until the moment they shove a sharpened pool cue into your thigh. Imperial Settlers is not a game that tolerates weakness, but keep on its good side and you’ll never need to worry about your back in another barroom brawl in your life. Of course, the counterpoint of that is that you’ll be in the middle of more barroom brawls than you thought was remotely feasible. There’s a price that goes along with befriending Begbie.
Pauline: Oh yeah. I had forgotten this game existed. I vaguely remember it being quite good, but I haven’t thought about it again since we last played it. It was very forgettable, is what I’m saying.
Michael: Don’t say that so loud. You’ll anger it!
Pauline: What do you…
Michael: Oh god, it’s looking at you like you spilled its pint.
Pauline: It’s just a box…
Michael: RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!
I think you get an awful lot of game in a very small box with Innovation. It’s amazing how tightly packed it is, and how many interesting decisions it puts in your way. Unlike Michael, I haven’t played a lot of civilization games but when I did I always went for the most obvious and convenient win. I don’t have the same fixed mindset of ‘science at all costs’. He works away building the intellectual bedrock of a society run by philosopher kings, and that rarely works in his favour. I’m happy to win Innovation in the most thuggish way the game will permit. Michael is the textbook nerd, and I spend my time repeatedly kicking over his sandcastles until he literally goes nuclear.
Michael: I’m reading a book right now that says it can turn me from zero to hero in thirty days. Let’s see how keen you are on my sandcastles after that.
Pauline: With your diet and lifestyle do you really think it’s a good idea to be making a long-term commitment like that?
This is the big leagues, buddy – the top five. I mean, sure – this isn’t a performance that’s going to win you a medal. Not even a bronze one. I’m not even sure you’re allowed to stay in the stadium after the race if you come fifth. Fifth?? Get the hell out of here, you disgust me.
Wait, no – come back. Sorry, just – I’m just a little disappointed. I know you’re capable of so much more. Just… just try a little harder next time. I am so proud of you. But not as proud as I could be. See those games behind you? They missed out on the top prize by too much for it to really sting. This is a list of intensely good games, but those schmucks we’ve just made polite conversation with? They’re below average intensely good games. Arithmetic is cruel like that. Part of the cost of greatness is the weight of expectation. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. Buck up your ideas. I want to see you placing in the top three next year.
Five Tribes is a game I think about a lot. Sometimes I think about it instead of sleeping. All those vibrantly coloured meeples. Those shifting sands. Those ingenious combos. Mancalas interleaved with mancalas. The possibilities. The missed chances. The sub-optimal plays. The decision fatigue. The defeat. The disappointment. The tiredness. So tired. Sleep. Must sleep. Must sleep forever.
Sure, Five Tribes will wear you out. It’s the cardboard equivalent of being twenty years old, in love, and in bed with an enthusiastic and energetic partner. You’ll love every single minute of your well-earned exhaustion even if you’re not entirely sure what it is you should be doing moment to moment.
Pauline: I really like Five Tribes, but I don’t see why you think it’s so much better than Yamatai. I think it just takes a bit too much investment of time and effort before you get good at it. It’s not something you can just whip out at a family gathering.
Michael: There are lots of things that are very good that you wouldn’t whip out at a family gathering. As I implied above I’d much prefer to whip it out with a youthful, enthusiastic and energetic partner.
Pauline: Those days I'm afraid are long behind both of us.
No review yet.
Now that I’ve played Pandemic Legacy I don’t know if I could ever go back to playing regular Pandemic. The legacy idea is just fantastic because you are really invested in your choices. Every action has such lasting consequences that you can’t help but take it all seriously. You become attached to the characters and it makes you worry about putting them in harm’s way. It can be harrowing when you play and games go badly. At this point, we’ve completely destroyed a serious chunk of the map thanks to a number of less than sensible decisions on our part. Sometimes when you have a really bad game it can take weeks before you can even consider facing up to the challenge again. That just shows what a great game Pandemic Legacy is and how much it keeps you engaged in the experience. It’s totally worth the money even though you can only play it a limited number of times. There’s real interactive storytelling in here, and what else would give you so much entertainment for such a low price per hour?
Michael: This one didn't make my list because we're still not finished with it and including it felt a little premature. Plus, I can hear screams coming from the box at night. I’m not sure I want to play past July considering the state in which we left the board.
Pauline: You’re imagining those screams.
Michael: My shelves are absolutely covered in blood! It’s sloshing over the sides of the box. I'm sure I can hear a riot going on in Shanghai.
Pauline: Perhaps the shattered remains of our world would be better off without our 'help', now I think about it.
Oh, this is a tough place to be. So close to the podium that you can reach out your tongue and taste the disappointment. You almost made it, number four. You could have been a contender. There’s no shame in where you ended up, but let’s not dwell on what might have been. I know you’re getting older every year – we all are. I know next year you’ll be up against more youthful games – games that will entice and excite by virtue of their novelty alone. Games with a fresh new look and intoxicating perfumes. I will always love you though, right up until the time I forget you forever.
Suburbia was the earliest thing I reviewed for Meeple Like Us, and for good reason – it’s was the first time I had played a board game where I thought ‘You know, I have to talk about how clever this is’. Suburbia is what got me thinking about board game accessibility, and about how game design, game aesthetics and game complexity intersect in fascinating and important ways. Meeple Like Us in many respects would not have existed without this game. It might look like a kind of pornography designed entirely for a chartered surveyor but this is a tight, funny game of decisions that lead to satisfying triumphs and equally satisfying catastrophes. It gives you highs and lows in equal measure and with all the syncopated creativity of improvised Jazz.
Pauline: I really like Suburbia, and it made the first draft of my top ten. Unfortunately that draft had fourteen games on it.
Michael: A top fourteen doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Pauline: Maybe we could do a top ten of games that didn’t quite make the top ten.
Michael: I don’t want to do that.
Pauline: Top Ten games from the Bottom Half of the Top Twenty? That’ll be our feature for next year.
Concordia is just beautiful. I love how you don’t necessarily know who is in the lead. I love the quality of the components and the different shape for the wheats and the wines and the silks. It’s such an immersive and tactile approach to the physical elements of the game. I really like the way that multiple people at the board benefit when you take your game actions – it’s really collegiate for a game that isn’t a cooperative title. There are lots of different strategies, lots of different ways to win. It’s a Goldilocks game – not too simple, not too complex, not too short, not too long – it’s just right. Practically perfect in every way.
Michael: Concordia is indeed an amazing game and you have done it a gross disservice placing it so low on this list. This is a travesty. There has literally never been a greater miscarriage of justice in human history.
Pauline: It’s only two places lower than…
Michael: No spoilers! Guards, seize her!
Pauline: There’s just you and me here.
Michael: Egads, you’ve done away with my guards! This is a coup!
Pauline: Seven coins for an assassination, wasn’t it? I think I have that in my purse.
And here we have arrived at the medallists! Look at them, so proud to represent their designers. Look at the tears in their eyes. Wait, I don’t want torn boxes so let’s pretend we didn’t see that. You’ve taken home the bronze, number three – it’s a genuine achievement and something you can tell your grandgames about when you get old. I mean, if we’re honest bronze is probably not actually what you wanted. Nobody really works as hard as you did to intentionally come third. Everyone is aiming for the gold. Maybe this is actually a bit of a disappointment, really. Maybe we shouldn’t dwell on it any more in case the bitterness becomes too much for you to bear. You did your best, and bronze is what you managed. Sorry, I feel for you. I really do. Now let’s stand for the real winner’s national anthem.
To be fair, Lords of Waterdeep making it this far on the list should genuinely trigger a doping scandal – it gets here purely on the strength of its expansion. Lords of Waterdeep by itself is a great game, but it takes Scoundrels of Skullport to turn it into something genuinely wonderful. I’m not a great lover of the theme, but that’s for the best – if they reskinned this for Game of Thrones and made it Lords of Kings Landing I’d probably never see the sun ever again. All the intrigue and conspiracy and Machiavellian plotting you could ever want is to be found in this box, and after hundreds of plays (in real life and on the excellent app) I’m still nowhere near tired of it.
Pauline: We both agree it’s a great game. I think you have it higher than me because you’re vindictive and sinister and more likely to win as a result. Probably because you’re like Littlefinger – if you stab someone in the back it’s only because you couldn’t reach them from the front.
Michael: It's true, I do always prefer to reach around.
This was the absolute highlight of UKGE for me – I immediately fell in love with Century: Spice Road. It’s a great engine builder. It’s a bit like Splendor except it gives you a lot more to be thinking about and more parts from which you can put together a machine capable of hoovering up spice like an Arrakian harvester. It has that thing that Lords of Waterdeep and Ticket to Ride have in abundance – there’s a lot of satisfaction in just building up the resources to get a thing and then claiming it. It’s definitely a little bit algorithmic, but as the kid who thought it was a massive treat when we did algebra at school it is a game that may as well have been made directly for me. There’s a small flaw in that the engine you build tends to stutter and splutter as cards are bought. Even that's got an upside - it means you don't get a runaway leader because they can't ever build up a head of speed. A bit like dealing with the roadworks on the A90 really.
Michael: We have played this so much, Pauline. We have played it so much.
Pauline: Do you want to play it right now?
Michael: I have another note from my doctor.
Pauline: This one seems to be a shopping list.
Michael: Oh, give me that you don’t have to read…
Pauline: This shopping list is just ‘Monster Munch’ written thirty times in a row. After that is the word ‘snowballs’ and a picture of a clown with a balloon.
Michael: I’m an adult. I get to decide for myself now what shopping involves.
Well done to you, number two! You know, we started off this list with the framing conceit of a party and somehow managed to end up at the Olympics. Writing is a funny old game. I guess I could go back and edit it all to be consistent but would you have even noticed if I hadn’t brought it up? I guess we’ll never know, but what I do know is that we’ve been talking for a while now and managed to discuss everything except the silver medal you just earned. You did well, Number Two. You’ve got greatness in your bones. Second place in achievement, but a gold medallist in sheer unbridled moxie.
Oh my word, I love Concordia. Every time it gets set up on the table I feel a genuine warm glow suffusing my nerves. There’s an anticipatory fizz to picking up the Concordia box that is borderline erotic in its electricity.
That’s… that’s not actually normal, is it?
Concordia may not have the most exciting theme, and it won’t win any awards for its aesthetics. As a game though it is as frictionless as ice and as luxurious and soothing as a warm caramel enema. Let it fill your nooks and crannies.
Pauline: Concordia really is a fantastic game, and I love it. It’s a little strange it’s so high on your list though when so many of my favourites aren’t on here at all. I don’t know why you don’t love engine builder games the same way I do.
Michael: Because I’m a man. When I build engines they should go into cars. For power and speed. And manliness.
Pauline: What kind of car do you have right now?
Michael: A blue one.
Pauline: What kind of engine does it have?
Michael: A… blue one?
Splendor was one of the first games that we got, and I’m still obsessed with it. I have the app and I still play it on a regular basis. I’ve played the app so many times I worry about what I’ve done to the sectors of my phone’s memory where it’s stored. They must be worn pretty thin by now. I’ve got even my parents playing Splendor, albeit sometimes only at gunpoint.
It’s a very elegant game. It’s a very straightforward game. But most importantly it’s just really, really satisfying to lay down a whole pile of gem mines and start lifting cards for free from all over the marketplace. Splendor appeals to those bits of my brain that make me keen on computer programming because it’s all about plotting the most efficient solution to grab the most lucrative opportunities. It has maybe been getting a little samey of late but now we have the expansion and that mixes everything up again in a very pleasant way. I’ll be doing a review of that at some point. In the meantime, I’m especially keen on the Strongholds and the Orient modules. Both add a nice twist to everything and it ends up being very invigorating. The expansion modules all add a little bit more but none of them take away from the cleverness of the core game dynamics.
I play this with a laser focus – it’s a very zen experience to play Splendor. I play to win though, so I expect anyone sitting down with me to bring their A game, backed up with their B game. It wouldn’t hurt to have your C game in your back pocket too just in case things get a little competitive.
Michael: Splendor is definitely well named – this is another game that we have played a ridiculous number of times but I haven’t yet had to get a note from a doctor. Pauline tends to win most of the games that we play, but her win ratio in Splendor is something genuinely alarming.
Pauline: It’s because I set myself a goal and stick to it.
Michael: It’s also because you get so intense when playing this that I am sometimes afraid to take cards I think you might want.
Pauline: Fear has a powerful property of self-preservation. Go with your instincts.
Is that your national anthem playing? It’s been going on for a while now, hasn’t it? Thirteen minutes you say? Gosh. That’s a long time to be standing to attention with the crowd watching you. Does your bum itch? I bet it itches. Can’t scratch it though, not with all these eyes on you. Getting worse, is it? Starting to burn? Starting to feel the urge to claw at your cheeks like a cat at a bird’s nest? Sorry I mentioned it! Let’s just admire the shimmering shine of that gold medal you … oh wow, you just went for the itch anyway. You’re… you’re really getting stuck in there. Getting right down to the bone as it were. Ahem. I’ll just look away while you sort yourself out. I’m sure this moment won’t end up as a comedy ‘what happened next’? video question on some second-rate television quiz. It’s all going to be just fine. Is that blood? Maybe you should stop now. Stop. Stop now. OH MY GOD STOP SCRATCHING!
No review, but ten out of ten. Seriously.
Oh shut up, stop shouting at me. Yes, Scrabble is still my absolute favourite game. Ahead of all the many excellent games I have played over the course of this project it is still Scrabble that represents, to me, the apotheosis of board game design. It is a terrible word game, don’t get me wrong. That’s because fundamentally it’s not a word game. Scrabble, you see, is a war game. Scrabble is about area control and area denial. Your letters aren’t for words – they’re weapons. They’re the munitions you’ll leverage to stop your opponent from being able to make words of their own. You don’t want to show off your vocabulary here – that’s how you end up getting stomped. You want to play the most miserly words you can so as to keep the good multipliers out of an opponent’s reach. If you can’t take a tile, you need to burn it so nobody else can have it. It’s hard to find people that will play Scrabble with me these days, but make no mistake – this is the closest thing I can think of to a perfect game. Those that would do it down simply aren’t playing it to its full potential. This isn’t a game that shows itself off in its best light with clever wordplay. The only book you need to have read to excel in Scrabble is the Art of War.
Pauline: I don’t like playing Scrabble with you although until I stopped it was certainly something of a masterclass in strategy. I now know how to handle area control stuff and how to play the terrible two letter words to mess up the board. It makes it a much worse game though. It feels like it’s been spoiled – I just like making big words. It just feels wrong. You’re wrong. If you wanted a war game, why didn’t you just pick chess?
Michael: I’m terrible at chess. I play chess like it was a word game.
Pauline: Nothing about you makes any sense.
Michael: I play Poker like it was Dixit.
Pauline: What does that even mean?
Michael: It means I’ve never understood the rules to any of the games we’ve ever played. Do you want a game of Cluedo? It's one of my favourite deck-builders.
Long before Michael got obsessed with boardgames, I tried to get him into card games. If only I’d been able to convey my enthusiasm for those in a way that could set a fire going in his black little heart. If only I’d managed to get him as enthused about hearts and rummy as he gets about Concordia and Lords of Waterdeep. It would have been so much cheaper, and so much more minimalist. Buying a hundred new games would have been as simple as picking up a new pack of cards.
Jaipur reminds me of the best card games I played with my grandparents as a child, but it’s got a whole load of extra sparkle. It’s fast, it’s furious. There’s a little bit of luck, but not too much. Just like Concordia, it’s a Goldilocks game. It’s so quick. It’s so elegant. It’s surprisingly deep for such an easy, breezy game.
I think that it has things in common with the engine builders that I am so keen on because it is basically game of minimax and I am all about optimisation. It’s all about finding the right time to make a trade – where you haven’t left it too long but also haven’t gotten jitters before the big score comes along. I’ve bought Jaipur for my mother. I’ve bought it as a wedding present. I’ve played through the app campaign on both my phone and tablet and we’re pretty far on in the project of wearing out the physical cards. I just never get tired of this game.
Michael: If the card games you tried to get me to play were as good as Jaipur, we’d be a whole lot better off. Board games aren’t cheap, you know.
Pauline: Some of the games I tried to get you to play really were as good. You just didn’t give them a chance.
Michael: A few packs of cards – that would have been a big saving. You don’t get the board game library we have without making a few sacrifices, but it’s all worth it in the end. Sure, we can’t afford the mortgage but at least we have plenty of boxes under which to huddle during the cold Scottish nights.
Pauline: What was that about the mortgage?
Michael: You can have the Gloomhaven box for your blankets. I’ll make do with Mechs versus Minions. This copy of Hanamikoji will make a fine pillow.
Oh my, what a surprising pair of lists! Or maybe not – maybe that’s a pair of obvious lists. I’d hope not although I suspect the list Mrs Meeple put together is the one that’s actually genuinely interesting in the context of our game coverage. What do you think? Where are we mad, impetuous fools? Where are we obvious and derivative fuddy-duddies? What would be on your list that we didn’t include? What did we include that you’d expunge from the record? Let us know – we might repeat this again for 2018 if it seems like anyone is interested in our meandering thoughts.
Thank you for reading this, and for reading the site through a year when it would have made more sense to simply spend your time standing in a corner, shard of glass in one hand, screaming violent warnings at anyone that approached. We made it though – we made it through another year.
Hope you all have a good break, and let’s hope 2018 surprises us by being a year where we don’t end one day dreading the arrival of the next. Maybe good things will happen? I mean – of course they won’t. Why would anything good ever happen? But maybe!
Thanks once again. Merry happy! Merry happy everyone!
Here's the full rundown, with Amazon affiliate links to take you to each game should you be interested in picking it up.
|10||Once Upon a Time (1993)||New York Slice (2017)|
|9||Blood Bowl - 2016 Edition (2016)||Sheriff of Nottingham (2014)|
|8||Japiur (2009)||Lords of Waterdeep (2012) *|
|7||Innovation (2010)||One Night Ultimate Werewolf (2014)|
|6||Imperial Settlers (2014)||Innovation (2010)|
|5||Five Tribes (2014)||Pandemic Legacy (2015)|
|4||Suburbia (2012)||Concordia (2013)|
|3||Lords of Waterdeep (2012) *||Century Spice Road (2017)|
|2||Concordia (2013)||Splendor (2014)|
|1||Scrabble (1948)||Jaipur (2009)|
* But only if you are also using the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion. Otherwise it probably wouldn’t be on here.
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