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top ranked games, sorted by weight

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, in retrospect, I’m not sure this was really such a good idea.

But when I got done with my gaming gift guide, and I sorted it by weight and all, I began to wonder.  Sure, these are the games I like, but what are the games other people like at these various weights?  More specifically, what are BGG’s three top-ranked games for every weight, from 1.0 up to 5.0?

Of course any list like this is a bit suspect, since it matters greatly how you break up the weight ranges.  What I did was look at ranges like 0.95 to 1.05 or 2.15 to 2.25, but you’d get very different results if you went from 1.0 to 1.1 or 2.2 to 2.3.  By changing the range, you’re choosing (arbitrarily) which games are competing with one another.

So it’s not a perfect list, and I’m not sure how useful it really is.  But it’s kind of interesting, and so, without further ado, here it is.  Make of it what you will.

Weight of 1.0:  Loopin’ Louie, Eat Poop You Cat, Tumblin’ Dice.

Weight of 1.1:  PitchCar, Telestrations, Gulo Gulo.

Weight of 1.2:  Time’s Up, Wits and Wagers, No Thanks.

Weight of 1.3:  Crokinole, Dixit, For Sale.

Weight of 1.4:  Dixit Odyssey, King of Tokyo, Werewolf.

Weight of 1.5:  Lost Cities, Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition, Hey, That’s My Fish.

Weight of 1.6:  The Resistance, Jaipur, Winner’s Circle.

Weight of 1.7:  Survive: Escape from Atlantis, Bohnanza, Schotten-Totten.

Weight of 1.8:  Blokus, The Downfall of Pompeii, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age.

Weight of 1.9:  Ticket to Ride, Battle Line, Carcassonne.

Weight of 2.0:  Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Ingenious.

Weight of 2.1:  Citadels, Tobago, Dream Factory.

Weight of 2.2:  7 Wonders, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Ticket to Ride: Märklin Edition.

Weight of 2.3:  Pandemic, Memoir ’44, Galaxy Trucker.

Weight of 2.4:  Dominion: Intrigue, Dominion, Tichu.

Weight of 2.5:  Claustrophobia, Samurai, Alien Frontiers.

Weight of 2.6:  Stone Age, Thunderstone: Dragonspire, Warhammer: Invasion.

Weight of 2.7:  Commands & Colors: Ancients, Space HulkDVONN.

Weight of 2.8:  Space Alert, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, YINSH.

Weight of 2.9:  Race for the Galaxy, Endeavor, Glory to Rome.

Weight of 3.0:  Railroad Tycoon, A Few Acres of Snow, Navegador.

Weight of 3.1:  El Grande, Battlestar Galactica, Chaos in the Old World.

Weight of 3.2:  Combat Commander: Europe, 1960: The Making of the President, In the Year of the Dragon.

Weight of 3.3:  Twilight StrugglePuerto RicoPower Grid.

Weight of 3.4:  Hannibal: Rome vs. CarthageGoaShogun.

Weight of 3.5:  SteamTroyesDungeon Lords.

Weight of 3.6:  Agricola, Tigris & Euphrates, Runewars.

Weight of 3.7:  Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board GameEarth RebornCivilization.

Weight of 3.8:  Le HavreBrassCaylus.

Weight of 3.9:  Dominant SpeciesAge of SteamAdvanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #3.

Weight of 4.0:  War of the Ring Collector’s EditionGoIndonesia.

Weight of 4.1:  Through the Ages: A Story of CivilizationTwilight Imperium (third edition)Here I Stand.

Weight of 4.2:  Roads & Boats, The Republic of Rome1870.

Weight of 4.3:  Antiquity1856Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648.

Weight of 4.4:  Die Macher, Magic Realm, DAK2.

Weight of 4.5:  Empires in Arms, Case Blue, Pacific War.

Weight of 4.6:  World in Flames, Advanced Third Reich, Bloody Omaha: D-Day 1944.

Weight of 4.7:  Advanced Squad Leader, A World at War, 18C2C (Coast to Coast).

Weight of 4.8:  Korsun Pocket, Starfire New Empires, Carrier Planes in Flames.

Weight of 4.9:  Europa Universalis, La Grande Guerre 14-18, War in the Pacific (second edition).

Weight of 5.0:  Second Front, Renegade Legion: Prefect, The Campaign for North Africa.

I’m tempted to go back through and put in links to all the various game weights, but I think I’ll just illustrate the concept with one link at the end:  www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=rank&advsearch=1&floatrange[avgweight][min]=3.25&floatrange[avgweight][max]=3.35&B1=Submit will take you to the top-ranked games with a weight of 3.3 (between 3.25 and 3.35).  A little URL hacking will allow you to get to all the others.  :-)

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top games of 2010, 2011

December 14, 2011 3 comments

Okay, so I got curious — what are the most popular games (on BGG, of course) from 2010 and 2011?  Mainly I was interested in seeing if I missed anything that looked promising.  I don’t tend to be an “early adopter,” and I don’t keep track of all the latest games as they come out, so it’s easy for good games to get by me.

Here’s a link to the most popular games on BGG that were published in 2010 and 2011.  For those who keep up better than I do, here’s the most popular games on BGG from 2011 only.

Most popular is fine, but what about highest ranked?  Here are the highest-ranked games published in 2010 and 2011.  And here are the highest-ranked games from 2011 only.

Of course a little URL hacking can get you the highest-ranked (or the most popular) games from 2009, 2008, &c.

Scanning down these lists, I really ought to read more about A Few Acres of SnowLetters from Whitechapel, Airlines Europe, and Strasbourg (all from 2011).  Also, from 2010, I should probably take another look at Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, Troyes, and Merchants & Marauders.  And finally, I really need to get around to trying my friend’s copies of Kingdom Builder and Panic Station.

gaming gift guide 2011

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

So, there’s a gamer or potential gamer you want to buy a gift for, and you have no idea what to get her? This guide will certainly help get you started.

What I’ve done, here, is taken the gift guide I did for 2010 and updated it.  Some of the games are the same, and some are new.  I’m only going to recommend games that I own or have played repeatedly, because I couldn’t in good conscience do anything else.  What that means, though, is that some very good games may not be on the list.  Feel free to suggest them in the comments — I’m always looking for new games to try.  :-)

The games below are sorted by weight.  What’s weight?  Roughly, it’s a measure of how hard the game is, how much mental effort it takes to play.  Tic-tac-toe is light, while Chess is heavy.  Lighter games are at the top of the list; heavier games are at the bottom.

The real classics are listed in bold.  These are the games that belong in every gamer’s collection.  If the person you’re buying for is a serious gamer, though, they likely already have them….

Light games

Zombie Dice: 2-8 players, 10 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2010, weight of 1.1.
A fun push-your-luck filler where you try to eat as many brains as you can before getting hit with three shotgun blasts.  Some kids don’t like the artwork, but others are fine with it.

Incan Gold: 3-8 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2006, weight of 1.1.
A push-your-luck party game with a temple-exploration theme. Players choose each turn whether they want to continue exploring (thus putting their treasures in jeopardy) or cut and run (thus keeping their treasures safe). You can also read my first impressions of the game.

Coloretto: 2-5 players, 30 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.3.
Players have a choice: either add another card to one of the available rows or claim a row and take it for themselves. Players then score points based on how many cards they have of a given color. A simple card game with lots of interesting choices, it gives you plenty to think about without hurting your brain. It’s very colorful, too.

For Sale: 3-6 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 1997, weight of 1.3.
A game of For Sale takes place over two rounds. In the first round, players bid cash for various properties (numbered from 1 to 30); in the second round, players auction their properties for cash (valued from $0 to $15,000). An outhouse you got for free in the first round can earn you lots of money in the second round if you play your cards right. Lots of fun, and just enough to think about to keep it interesting.

Hey, That’s My Fish: 2-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.5.
Move your penguins to try to get as many fish for yourself as you can — move to hex tiles with lots of fish, and try to block other players’ access to parts of the board.  Careful, though, or someone else will sneak into an area you thought you had locked down.  Good fun, and short, too.

Bananagrams: 1-8 players, 15 minutes, ages 7 and up, 2006, weight of 1.5.
Just imagine Scrabble where everyone is playing on their own tableau as fast as they can, and you have a rough idea what this game is all about.  Every player starts with a number of tiles and tries to fit them into a valid crossword pattern — when they succeed, they yell “peel” and everyone, including themselves, has to draw another tile.  A very fast-paced word game that comes in a cute banana-shaped pouch.

Light – Medium games

Lascaux: 3-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 6 and up, 2007, weight of 1.6.
A set-collecting game where players bid for cards with animals on them.  The thing is, you’re never quite sure what cards the other players are going for, so you never quite know how much to bid.  It’s been a big hit with all our gaming groups.  You can also read my review of the game.

Jaipur: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2009, weight of 1.6.
A fun trading game for two. On your turn, you can either take a good from the market, trade some goods and camels with the market, or sell goods for points.  When everything is going well, there’s a definite rhythm to the game — if you control the tempo, you’ll likely win.  You can also read my review of the game.

Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2000, weight of 1.8.
An abstract strategy game with pieces that remind most people of Tetris. It’s a fun, lightweight introduction to abstracts, and it’s very colorful, too. Here’s a strategy tip: forget trying to block people out of your areas, and instead focus on flowing as smoothly as possible through their areas.

Ticket to Ride: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2004 weight of 1.9.
My favorite game to teach to newbies, this one is always a hit. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn, and with a playing time of under an hour, you really can’t go wrong. You can also read my overview of the game.

Carcassonne: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2000, weight of 1.9.
A personal favorite, this game is extremely creative. You build a landscape by placing tiles, then inhabit that landscape by deploying your meeples. You can also read my overview of the game.

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals: 2-6 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2002, weight of 1.9.
One of the best expansions for Carcassonne. It doesn’t change the game much, but it gives you more tiles and allows you to play the game with up to 6 players (the base game only goes to 5). We never play without it.

Blokus Trigon: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2006, weight of 2.0.
Somehow a little less intuitive than the original Blokus (in part, I suspect, because the familiar Tetris-shaped pieces are absent), it’s still a lot of fun.  Start with Blokus, then get this if you really like the original.  One benefit is that this version plays much better with 3 players.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries: 2-3 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2007, weight of 2.0.
A tighter and more cutthroat game than the original Ticket to Ride, TtR: Nordic is the perfect TtR for two players.  It works with three, too, but boy is that board tight.  Don’t get too ambitious when choosing which destination cards to keep, or you might just end up with a negative score!  You can also read a bit about the game and where it fits in the TtR universe.

Medium – Heavy games

Pandemic: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.3.
An excellent game where players play against the game itself to try to eradicate diseases.  It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve introduced it to, and it’s a great couples game, too.  Not an easy game to win, but very satisfying when you can pull it off.

Settlers of Catan: 3-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up, 1995, weight of 2.4.
The importance of Settlers to the modern gaming scene cannot be overstated: it single-handedly reinvented the industry. And with good reason — it’s tense, it’s fun, and it’s paced well, too.

Hive: 2 players, 20 minutes, ages 9 and up, 2001, weight of 2.4.
A very interesting abstract for just two players, themed around bugs.  It wasn’t a big hit with my wife, but I play with a friend of mine regularly.  Each player starts with 11 hexagonal insects (ants, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and a bee), and the goal is to completely surround your opponent’s bee.  The best part?  The tiles are made of a bakelite-like substance and are absolutely clacktastic!

Santiago: 3-5 players, 75 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2003, weight of 2.5.
A fun but fairly cutthroat game where players first bid for plantation tiles and then have to bid for the water to irrigate them.  A game where it’s possible to win every battle and still lose the war, it’s also an excellent example of coopetition.  You can also read my review of the game.

Stone Age: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.6.
While it hasn’t been around as long as some of the classics, it’s the up-and-comer of the family gaming world. Currently ranked #3 on BoardGameGeek’s list of family games, it’s also a great introduction to the whole “worker-placement” genre. What I like about it is how it’s various parts work so well together.

Heavy games

Power Grid: 2-6 players, 120 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2004, weight of 3.3.
Power Grid is a brutal economic game where you buy power plants at auction, buy resources to power your plants, pay to expand your network of cities, and then get paid for supplying power to those cities. It’s the game Monopoly always wanted to be, with a twist: the player with the largest network goes last in most phases of the game, putting them at a distinct disadvantage. You can also read my review of the game.

Steam: 3-5 players, 120 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 3.5.
Players build track, connect resources to cities, and then make deliveries.  A tight and fun game, the logistics involved can be a real challenge to master.  Recommended for more serious and / or experienced gamers.


Conclusion

That’s it. Of course no game is a guaranteed hit, but each of the games above are solid and dependable, appealing to a range of ages and abilities. Most have enough luck so that you can blame your losses on fate, but enough strategy that you can take credit for your victories.

If you want to take a look at some other lists of good games, I’d recommend either BGG’s gift guide or Funagain Games’ shopper’s guide. Wikipedia also has a list of all the Spiel des Jahres winners (a German award given to the best family game of the year).

If you want to know more about these games (and hundreds of others like them), don’t hesitate to delve into the wealth of information available at BoardGameGeek. You don’t have to be a member to search the forums, read game reviews and session reports, or see a listing of the most popular or highest-ranked games. Check it out!

If you’re wondering where to buy all these wonderful games, I’d suggest heading down to your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). There are lots of good online retailers, but I’ve had especially good luck with both Boards and Bits and CoolStuffInc. And finally, of course, there’s Amazon and Barnes and Noble, too. =^..^=

fun with BGG URLs, part III (and an update on El Chupacabra)

June 5, 2011 Leave a comment

First up is a URL that takes you to a bunch of different ways to rank the games on BGG: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/topn.php3. My favorites here are sorting by number owned, by number wanted in trade, by number that users have put on their wishlist, and by the total number of pageviews. I was hoping to find a way to break down the number of views by year, to get an idea of when games were generating a lot of interest, but multiple attempts at URL hacking went exactly nowhere.

What I’d really like to do is come up with a relational analysis of all the games in, say, the top 200. Analyze the “recommends” data on each game, for example, to find links between games based on common ownership. Or find a way to do it based on “people who play / rate highly game x also play / rate highly game y.” In other words, first find out which games are “connected” to one another, then present this data graphically. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions for how to go about this (without losing what sanity I have), I’d love to hear them. I suspect that BGG’s xml api might be the way to go, but after an initial assessment of its features, I don’t quite see how. Again, though, I’d welcome any and all suggestions — enlighten me!

Since this relational analysis appears to be beyond me (for the moment), I’ll have to content myself with sharing something much more mundane: the ability to search BGG’s database for games of a particular weight, sorted in pretty much any way you want.

This, for example, looks at all the games with a weight between 1.8 and 2.0 (fairly light, includes both Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride) and sorts them by the number of people who rated the game: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=numvoters&advsearch=1&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmin%5d=1.8&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmax%5d=2.0&B1=Submit.  And yes, it’s ugly — but the important thing is that it works.

Now for a little URL hacking:  change the 1.8 to 2.0 and the 2.0 to 2.2:  http://www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=numvoters&advsearch=1&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmin%5d=2.0&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmax%5d=2.2&B1=Submit. This does the same search, only it bumps the weight up a little bit — this list includes Citadels, Alhambra, and 7 Wonders.

If you want to look at slightly heavier games again, then change the 2.0 to 2.2 and the 2.2 to 2.4 (this’ll get you games like Dominion, Pandemic, and Settlers of Catan). While you’re at it, change the “numvoters” to “rank” to sort the resulting games by their BGG ranking: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=rank&advsearch=1&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmin%5d=2.2&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmax%5d=2.4&B1=Submit. Or change “rank” to “numowned” to sort by the number of BGG users who own the game: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=numowned&advsearch=1&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmin%5d=2.2&floatrange%5bavgweight%5d%5bmax%5d=2.4&B1=Submit. Easy, huh?

I’ve always thought it should be easier to get at some of this info, but it’s nothing a little URL hacking can’t take care of. :-)

And, as promised, an update on El Chupacabra. Those who have been following my blog know that the game didn’t work as well with 7 as I had hoped, so I went back to the drawing board to come up with something a little different. I decided that the opportunity to “shoot the moon” offered by the role of El Chupacabra just wasn’t interesting enough to justify its overhead in terms of rules complexity, and I also decided that the mechanism just didn’t fit very well with the push-your-luck gameplay. So I took it out.

I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be fun to design a game that encourages people to cheat, or at the very least encourages people to call one another cheaters. The first step, then, was to check to see if that name had been taken, and sadly, it had: Cheater. I always hate it when a poorly-rated game is taking up a perfectly good name, but what do you do? I mean, aside from turning your copy of Cheater into a perfectly serviceable version of The Bottle Imp.

Naming concerns aside (I can’t decide between Russian Rollette and Cheater’s Dice), I decided to gut the original game, take out all the fussy bits having to do with scoring, and make it a betting and bluffing game pure and simple. Think of it as a dice version of Bullshit (a.k.a. I Doubt It / Cheat) with gambling thrown in. It’ll fall most definitely into the Beer & Pretzels category of gaming….

More anon.

Guide to Modern Gaming

January 2, 2011 10 comments

The gaming scene has changed dramatically since the ’80s – modern gamers aren’t playing your granddad’s Monopoly, your dad’s Risk, or even your older brother’s Trivial Pursuit anymore. There are games out there now that are way more fun, that are way more engaging, and that give you way more to think about while you play.

There’s a whole new genre of games called “family strategy games” (also known as “eurogames” or “german-style” games). Some of these eurogames are very complex, but some, the ones known as “gateway games,” can be played and enjoyed by just about everyone. These games are perfect for families wanting to spend a bit more time together, perfect for game nights with friends and neighbors, perfect for family gatherings, and perfect for couples – not surprisingly, they’re revolutionizing the gaming industry.

But where does one start? How does one learn about such games? Which games are the best for people just beginning to explore the modern gaming scene? Funny you should ask…. :-)

Listed below are la crème-de-la-crème, the best of the best, the surefire games that are (almost) guaranteed to be a hit.  They’re relatively easy to learn and to teach, most of them can be played in 90 minutes or less, and, most important of all, they’re fun.

I’ve sorted the games by weight, with lighter games (think tic-tac-toe) at the top of the list and heavier games (think chess) at the bottom.  The real classics are listed in bold.  These are the games that belong in every gamer’s collection….

Light games

Zombie Dice: 2-8 players, 10 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2010, weight of 1.1.
A fun push-your-luck filler where you try to eat as many brains as you can before getting hit with three shotgun blasts.  Some kids don’t like the artwork, but others are fine with it.

Incan Gold: 3-8 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2006, weight of 1.1.
A push-your-luck party game with a temple-exploration theme. Players choose each turn whether they want to continue exploring (thus putting their treasures in jeopardy) or cut and run (thus keeping their treasures safe). You can also read my first impressions of the game.

Coloretto: 2-5 players, 30 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.3.
Players have a choice: either add another card to one of the available rows or claim a row and take it for themselves. Players then score points based on how many cards they have of a given color. A simple card game with lots of interesting choices, it gives you plenty to think about without hurting your brain. It’s very colorful, too.

For Sale: 3-6 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 1997, weight of 1.3.
A game of For Sale takes place over two rounds. In the first round, players bid cash for various properties (numbered from 1 to 30); in the second round, players auction their properties for cash (valued from $0 to $15,000). An outhouse you got for free in the first round can earn you lots of money in the second round if you play your cards right. Lots of fun, and just enough to think about to keep it interesting.

Lost Cities: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, 1999, weight of 1.5.
A card game for two where players are trying to lead the most successful expeditions. Players invest in more expeditions in order to give themselves more options, but if they invest in too many, then they can’t support them all.

Hey, That’s My Fish: 2-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.5.
Move your penguins to try to get as many fish for yourself as you can — move to hex tiles with lots of fish, and try to block other players’ access to parts of the board.  Careful, though, or someone else will sneak into an area you thought you had locked down.  Good fun, and short, too.

Bananagrams: 1-8 players, 15 minutes, ages 7 and up, 2006, weight of 1.5.
Just imagine Scrabble where everyone is playing on their own tableau as fast as they can, and you have a rough idea what this game is all about.  Every player starts with a number of tiles and tries to fit them into a valid crossword pattern — when they succeed, they yell “peel” and everyone, including themselves, has to draw another tile.  A very fast-paced word game that comes in a cute banana-shaped pouch.

Light – Medium games

Lascaux: 3-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 6 and up, 2007, weight of 1.6.
A set-collecting game where players bid for cards with animals on them.  The thing is, you’re never quite sure what cards the other players are going for, so you never quite know how much to bid.  It’s been a big hit with all our gaming groups.  You can also read my review of the game.

Jaipur: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2009, weight of 1.6.
A fun trading game for two. On your turn, you can either take a good from the market, trade some goods and camels with the market, or sell goods for points.  When everything is going well, there’s a definite rhythm to the game — if you control the tempo, you’ll likely win.  You can also read my review of the game.

The Downfall of Pompeii: 2-4 players, 45 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2004, weight of 1.8.
The setup is a little fiddly, and the gameplay is a little predictable, but Pompeii is always a hit when we bring it out at game night. There’s just something fun about throwing your opponents’ meeples into the volcano….

Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2000, weight of 1.8.
An abstract strategy game with pieces that remind most people of Tetris. It’s a fun, lightweight introduction to abstracts, and it’s very colorful, too. Here’s a strategy tip: forget trying to block people out of your areas, and instead focus on flowing as smoothly as possible through their areas.

Ticket to Ride: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2004 weight of 1.9.
My favorite game to teach to newbies, this one is always a hit. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn, and with a playing time of under an hour, you really can’t go wrong. You can also read my overview of the game.

Battle Line: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2000, weight of 1.9.
Another card game for two by Knizia, the designer behind Lost Cities. Players try to win either 5 of the 9 flags or 3 flags in a row. S and I play without the optional Tactics cards, but some people swear by them.

Carcassonne: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2000, weight of 1.9.
A personal favorite, this game is extremely creative. You build a landscape by placing tiles, then inhabit that landscape by deploying your meeples. You can also read my overview of the game.

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals: 2-6 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2002, weight of 1.9.
One of the best expansions for Carcassonne. It doesn’t change the game much, but it gives you more tiles and allows you to play the game with up to 6 players (the base game only goes to 5). We never play without it.

Blokus Trigon: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2006, weight of 2.0.
Somehow a little less intuitive than the original Blokus (in part, I suspect, because the familiar Tetris-shaped pieces are absent), it’s still a lot of fun.  Start with Blokus, then get this if you really like the original.  One benefit is that this version plays much better with 3 players.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries: 2-3 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2007, weight of 2.0.
A tighter and more cutthroat game than the original Ticket to Ride, TtR: Nordic is the perfect TtR for two players.  It works with three, too, but boy is that board tight.  Don’t get too ambitious when choosing which destination cards to keep, or you might just end up with a negative score!  You can also read a bit about the game and where it fits in the TtR universe.

Medium – Heavy games

Aquaretto: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.1.
A tile-laying game with a push-your-luck element where players get to manage their very own aquarium. I like to think of it as a cross between Coloretto and Alhambra, but the three are different enough to justify owning them all.

Alhambra: 2-6 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 2.1.
A fun and interesting game themed around trying to build the most lavish palace. Players collect money of various denominations, buy tiles, and then add them to their palace.

7 Wonders: 2-7 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2010, weight of 2.3.
A fun game that can be played with up to 7 players (always a plus), gives players multiple ways to win, and provides a nice introduction to card drafting.  As a bonus, there’s very little downtime, as all players are taking actions simultaneously.

Thurn & Taxis: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2006, weight of 2.3.
A game about the creation of the postal system in Germany. A little less intuitive than Ticket to Ride for some players, but my wife and I play it regularly. An overlooked classic.

Pandemic: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.3.
An excellent game where players play against the game itself to try to eradicate diseases.  It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve introduced it to, and it’s a great couples game, too.  Not an easy game to win, but very satisfying when you can pull it off.

Settlers of Catan: 3-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up, 1995, weight of 2.4.
The importance of Settlers to the modern gaming scene cannot be overstated: it single-handedly reinvented the industry. And with good reason — it’s tense, it’s fun, and it’s paced well, too.

Hive: 2 players, 20 minutes, ages 9 and up, 2001, weight of 2.4.
A very interesting abstract for just two players, themed around bugs.  It wasn’t a big hit with my wife, but I play with a friend of mine regularly.  Each player starts with 11 hexagonal insects (ants, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and a bee), and the goal is to completely surround your opponent’s bee.  The best part?  The tiles are made of a bakelite-like substance and are absolutely clacktastic!

Santiago: 3-5 players, 75 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2003, weight of 2.5.
A fun but fairly cutthroat game where players first bid for plantation tiles and then have to bid for the water to irrigate them.  A game where it’s possible to win every battle and still lose the war, it’s also an excellent example of coopetition.  You can also read my review of the game.

Stone Age: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.6.
While it hasn’t been around as long as some of the classics, it’s the up-and-comer of the family gaming world. Currently ranked #3 on BoardGameGeek’s list of family games, it’s also a great introduction to the whole “worker-placement” genre. What I like about it is how it’s various parts work so well together.

Fresco: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2010, weight of 2.6.
Players buy paints, paint parts of a mural for points, paint portraits for money, and mix paints together to get new colors, all in an effort to end up with the most points at the end of the game.  The game flows well, everything makes thematic sense, and there are a number of different ways to try to approach the game.  An interesting worker-placement game with nice art and a few unique twists, it’s fairly family-friendly and very color-ful.  The first 3 expansions are included with the base game.  Highly recommended.

Heavy games

Power Grid: 2-6 players, 120 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2004, weight of 3.3.
Power Grid is a brutal economic game where you buy power plants at auction, buy resources to power your plants, pay to expand your network of cities, and then get paid for supplying power to those cities. It’s the game Monopoly always wanted to be, with a twist: the player with the largest network goes last in most phases of the game, putting them at a distinct disadvantage. You can also read my review of the game.

Agricola:  1-5 players, 120 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2007, weight of 3.6.
You’ll never be able to do all that you want to do, but that’s part of the game’s charm.  Players start with a dirt farm and, through hard work and clever worker placement, advance to vegetables, sheep, and cows.  Oddly compelling, the game has a way of getting under your skin.


If you think I’ve left a game out that should be on this list, please post it in the comments. I’m always looking for new games to try. :-)

Of course no game is a guaranteed hit, but each of the games above are solid and dependable, appealing to a range of ages and abilities. Most have enough luck so that you can blame your losses on fate, but enough strategy that you can take credit for your victories.

If you want to take a look at some other lists of good games, I’d recommend either BGG’s gift guide or Funagain Games’ shopper’s guide. Wikipedia also has a list of all the Spiel des Jahres winners (a German award given to the best family game of the year).  For heavier games take a look at the list of Deutscher Spiele Preis winners.

If you want to know more about these games (and hundreds of others like them), don’t hesitate to delve into the wealth of information available at BoardGameGeek. You don’t have to be a member to search the forums, read game reviews and session reports, or see a listing of the most popular or highest-ranked games. Check it out!

If you’re wondering where to buy all these wonderful games, I’d suggest heading down to your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). There are lots of good online retailers, but I’ve personally had good luck with CoolStuffInc. And finally, of course, there’s Amazon and Barnes and Noble, too.

Happy gaming!  =^..^=

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