|Matt Throwers' Top Ten
I’ve already had the pleasure of contributing a list of top 10 wargames to the ‘guru so when Paul asked me to provide a more general top 10 list it seemed sensible to leave out games I’d already put on that other list. For the record I’d normally put Hammer of the Scots,Memoir ‘44 and Twilight Struggle into my top ten, the latter rejoicing in the number one spot. So bear that in mind as you peruse my “other” favourite games.
In terms of sheer entertainment value, Carcassonne probably ought to narrowly miss out on this list, but I revere it for its flexibility. There are few - if any - other games that I can take to a drunken night out, a genteel gathering of Eurogamers, a family get-together or a lunchtime meet with a friend and find a happy reception in all those situations. But Carcassonne does it. I like it. All my friends like it. My family likes it. Hell, even my 4-year old daughter likes it. It’s a game that should be in every collection on the basis of wide appeal alone.
#9 Battle Line
Battle Line is a two-player only card game that eats up an unfathomable amount of table space but an even greater quantity of your free time. The idea is to create “formations” of cards a bit like poker hands and pit them, one at a time, against those created by your opponent but the catch is you can only play one card per turn. Oh, and there are some horrible special ability cards too that you can pick from if you dare take a break from building up your army. The result is a dizzying brew of excruciating timing issues, hand management and bluffing that can be played to completion in 20-30 minutes.
#8 Fury of Dracula
It’s pretty common for games to reference some book or film or TV series for its source material. They manage to capture the essence of that source with a varied rate of success, but I don’t think there’s another game that captures the sheer atmosphere of its inspiration quite as well as this one. Van Helsing and his allies hunt a hidden Dracula across a map of Europe, trying to uncover the clues, rumours and dangerous minions that he’s left behind in an attempt to locate, trap and kill him before he can sow the seeds of vampirism across the continent or turn the tables on them and have the hunters become the hunted. Absolutely captivating from start to finish, the closest thing a game has ever come to being “scary” and an all-time Halloween-night favourite.
#7 Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
When I was a lad, encountering hobby games for the first time, I used to dream about some sort of epic sci-fi civilization game packed to the brim with ugly alien races, a vast universe to explore, terrifying futuristic technologies, intergalactic diplomacy and law-making, titanic clashes between space fleets and deep, demanding strategy. So did all the other gamers I knew, and there was nothing around that really scratched that heartfelt communal itch. Turns out the game we were dreaming about was this one: we might have had to wait about 20 years to get it, but when it finally arrived boy, was it ever worth the wait.
#6 Castle Ravenloft
Adventure board games have a long and sometimes inglorious history of aping the role-playing sessions that they’re so clearly designed to mimic not only in terms of narrative but in terms of play time and complexity too. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But Castle Ravenloft takes the opposite approach of stripping the experience back to its bare essentials, leaving you with and a fast, thrilling play style and simple rules that don’t get in the way of telling an exciting story of adventure and exploration. I don’t generally like co-op games but here it feels completely natural as you fly through the dungeon, collaborating against whatever horrors the gloom spits out at you. Watch also for Wrath of Ashardalon out soon in the same series.
#5 Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization
Through the Ages absolutely should not work. It’s a game of civilization-building, conquest and exploration that doesn’t have a map. It’s full of tiny, irritating components that make it look more like an abacus than a game. And yet it does work, superbly, providing a slowly unfolding narrative of humanity that is at once totally captivating and hugely challenging to master. The nearest thing that anyone has yet come to a civ-game that’s manageable in an evening and the huge inbuilt variability - which, once again, should not work with the analytic game engine, but does - ensures it won’t just be one evening but night, after night, after night.
#4 Battlestar Galactica
There are some places that everyone assumed board games simply could not go, one of them being to mirror the deep psychological interaction you can achieve in a role-playing session with a really good, comitted group. But Corey Konieczka, thankfully, didn’t listen and managed to design a game that really does result in a slice of the genuine paranoia, double-dealing and groupthink that characterised the TV show. The fact that it can be, by turns, thrill-a-minute and tactically demanding is merely a bonus.
When I first heard about German games, I had a picture in my head of what they’d be like. Terribly demanding and deep, non-random, highly interactive and hugely re-playable with relatively simple rules. Sadly I found out that a lot of German games disappoint on most of those counts. But not Imperial. Many games feature an economic engine wedded to conflict but the genius of Imperial is that it makes the economic engine primary. Not only does it make the whole a lot more strategic, but now you don’t just blow your opponents off the map, you can literally buy their armies right out from under them.
Man, but they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Titan is over 30 years old now and there’s still no other game that so perfectly blends the strategic and the tactical into one seamless, mind-bending whole. It does this by literally having two separate sets of boards and pieces can move from the strategic to the tactical, fight it out, and the survivors go back onto the main board and it manages this without excessive rules although it can run long, especially with 4 or more players. It’s unique movement system also neatly sidesteps all the negotiation issues that tend to plague multi-player conflict games and at the same time hands the players a massive headache in trying to navigate the intricate patterns on the board to get where they need to be. The play time might be long but totally, totally worth it.
#1 Arkham Horrror
It’s a testament to the brilliance of this design that it’s a co-operative game, something I usually don’t get on with, and yet it is by far and away my most-played face to face game. It’s an extraordinary achievement to blend enough variability, detail and randomness together in a board game to create a gripping narrative that stays in your head for days afterward, let alone actually still manage to make it strategically interesting and yet that’s exactly what this game does. The vast number of expansions this game has spawned - many of which are also superb - demonstrates I’m not the only one to feel this way.