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Peter's Top 50 2017: 30-21

2016 was the first year that I wrote a Top 50 games. Here's the 2017 version and games 30-21. Each game is linked to the relevant Boardgamegeek page. I have adapted/borrowed descriptions of each game to give you some flavour as to what it's about, then follows my thoughts.

  • O = Own
  • DO = Don't own
  • ** = New to my Top 50

30. Automobiles (DO)

Automobiles is a deck‑building game in which the fun is cubed — because instead of using cards to build a deck, you build with your collection of cubes. These cubes not only allow you to race your car around the track, but they also allow you to improve your handling, optimize your pit crew, and boost your speed, all of which are your keys to victory!

The goal of the game is to cross the finish line first! You accomplish this by customizing your race car and surrounding yourself with the best crew. Your race car and crew are represented by a collection of cubes garnered from various options available to you. Starting with the same small set of cubes, each player builds their collection as they play the game. Use these cubes to enhance your performance, train your pit crew, and ensure your race car runs as effectively as possible. Be the first to cross the finish line and watch that checkered flag wave!

Automobiles is one of a rare breed in my Top 50: a deck builder, or pool builder if you prefer seen as you're building a bag of cubes rather than a deck of cards. Deck building is actually one of my least favourite game mechanics because I only really enjoy a game where the building of the deck is the means, not the end. To put it another way, Dominion is the classic deck builder. Everything you do is based around improving your deck; there is absolutely nothing else going on in the game. Some people like that but my preference is for a secondary part of the game that the deck, or pool, influences.

Automobiles is an excellent example of this; it is a game of two parts. You're racing against your friends on a track- what you pull out of your bag on any given turn governs what you can do. And it's brill. I'd happily play this at any count; although there's less interaction with lower numbers the game still holds up well.

29. The Oracle of Delphi (DO)**

The Oracle of Delphi

In Stefan Feld's new game The Oracle of Delphi, the player's ships travel across a large variable game board of hexagonal tiles showing islands and the surrounding waters. Each player aims to reach certain islands to perform the twelve tasks given by Zeus: e.g., to collect offerings of different colors and to deliver them to corresponding temples, or to slay monsters of a specific type (and color), all of which can be discovered on the islands.

In order to execute these color-dependent actions, you are given three colored dice each turn, the so-called "oracle dice". Rolling the dice (at the start of the turn) is equivalent to consulting the oracle, whereas the results represent her answers. The answers determine which actions you will be able to take, but you will always have three actions per turn. However, a slight divergence from your fate is often possible.

In addition to the oracle, you can request support from the gods and you can acquire favor tokens, companions, and other special abilities that will help you win the race against other competitors.

I'm quite a fan of Stefan Feld and his approach to designing Eurogames. He has a particular style, many of his games feature similar mechanics, which tends to mean that if you've played a couple of his games already you'll probably know if you like his designs or not. The Oracle of Delphi is rather different to any of his other games though so it's the exception that tests the rule. It's essentially a flat-out racing game, albeit with rather unusual frills such as the dice rolling and manipulation (classic Feld), pleasing Gods who give you special abilities, and having randomly assigned tasks to complete before heading to the finishing line.

I've found this game particularly difficult to rate. I wasn't even sure if it deserved a place in my Top 50, let alone where to place it. At no.29, I'm recognising what I consider to be very good game design but I have to admit that I find playing it a struggle. It's not that I don't win, but almost every turn challenges my mental abilities to the max. I think this might be due to my lack of visualisation skills; it certainly makes planning out 3 efficient moves tricky. When I reach the end of the game, I've enjoyed it despite being worn out which I think it makes it a unique entry in my Top 50!

28. Liar’s Dice (O)**

Liar's Dice is a dice game where each player is given five dice and cup to roll and hide them with. Players make successively higher declarations regarding the results of all the dice remaining in the game, e.g. "there are ten sixes". However, someone can always contest the bid. When that happens, all the dice are revealed and either the bidder or the caller loses dice, depending on who was correct. The last player with dice is the winner.

As a public domain dice game there are a number of variants or similar games called Liar's Dice. This includes one that is often played with Poker Dice, and differs from the marketed versions in that players only declare on their own hand's value (as opposed to all dice being in play), using poker-hand values.

Liar's Dice is a charmingly simple game that can be played with a few mugs and some dice purloined from other games. The aim is to be the last player in the game with any dice remaining; to succeed you need to be able to read people, calculate probabilities, and occasionally bluff your way out of trouble. I would recommend this for any group of people and it's definitely more enjoyable with lots of players.

27. Glen More (DO)

Each player represents the leadership of a 17th century Scottish clan looking to expand its territory and its wealth. The success of your clan depends on your ability to make the correct decision at the opportune time, be it by establishing a new pasture for your livestock, growing grain for the production of whisky, selling your goods on the various markets, or investing in the cultivation of special places such as lochs and castles.

Glen More offers a unique turn mechanism. Players take territory tiles from a rondel. Picking a tile has not only influence on the actions you get by the surrounding tiles in your territory, it also determines when you'll have your next turn (and how many turns you will have in the game). But having a lot of turns is not always the best strategy for a successful chieftain.

This is another anomaly in my Top 50 as, in the past year, I have bought a copy and then sold it again. The reason for this is the addition of another game to my collection by designer Matthias Cramer that I rate even more highly, and which has certain similarities. However, Glen More still stands up to scrutiny as an excellent game which I will happily play. The relevant simplicity of the rules mask a game with lots of long term strategising and some short term tactical decisions. The original game is out of print though there are rumblings of a sequel in the works. If and when this game comes out, I will definitely take a look because the pedigree of the designer and its predecessor deserve recognition and attention.

26. Mottainai (O)

"Mottainai" (pronounced mot/tai/nai or like the English words mote-tie-nigh) means "Don't waste", or "Every little thing has a soul". In the game Mottainai, a successor in the Glory to Rome line, you use your cards for many purposes. Each player is a monk in a temple who performs tasks, collects materials, and sells or completes works for visitors. Every card can be each of these three things.

You choose tasks to allow you to perform actions, keeping in mind that other players will get to follow up on your task on their next turn. Clever planning and combining of your works' special abilities is key, as is managing which materials you sell.

Mottainai is a quick, but deep, game experience.

Glory to Rome is a popular game that will sadly never get another print run due to complicated reasons I do not understand. Step up Mottainai, the "spiritual" (BOOM BOOM!) successor, by designer Carl Chudyk. It's a game as weird as its name and takes a while to get your head around; indeed I can't recall any other games where I have to dig the rules out just a few months since the last play because there are a couple of silly details I've forgotten. If you can get past this- I highly recommend getting somebody to teach you because it's a heck of a lot easier than trying to learn from the rules- you'll discover a gem of a game. Comprised of just a deck of cards (or two identical decks if playing with 4 or 5 players) and a few flimsy player mats, this is a big game in a small box. With oodles of replayability, different strategies to try, and loopholes to exploit, you cannot get better value for money.

Please note there are two different versions: the 'mini' includes a single deck of cards (suitable for 2-3 players) while the 'deluxe' includes the second deck enabling 4-5 player games.

25. Catch the Moon (O)**

Catch the Moon

All you need in Décrocher la Lune are a few skillfully placed ladders, a good sense of balance, and a touch of imagination. The moon waits impatiently for your arrival, but she's a sensitive lady and the smallest mistake can make her cry. The right mix of skill and luck will help you become the most agile dreamer...

At The Great Indoors 2017, one of my friends, Aaron, came over and told me there was a game I'd like for sale at the Asgard Games stand. I'd never heard of Catch the Moon, but he was dead right. It is the most gorgeous dexterity game I've ever played. It's so simple, but it's not easy. Trying to balance those ladders just so, using only one hand while your opponents chunter away, is fun: there's no other way to describe it.

24. Tzolk’in (O)

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar presents a new game mechanism: dynamic worker placement. Players representing different Mayan tribes place their workers on giant connected gears, and as the gears rotate they take the workers to different action spots.

During a turn, players can either (a) place one or more workers on the lowest visible spot of the gears or (b) pick up one or more workers. When placing workers, they must pay corn, which is used as a currency in the game. When they pick up a worker, they perform certain actions depending on the position of the worker. Actions located "later" on the gears are more valuable, so it's wise to let the time work for you – but players cannot skip their turn; if they have all their workers on the gears, they have to pick some up.

The game ends after one full revolution of the central Tzolkin gear. There are many paths to victory. Pleasing the gods by placing crystal skulls in deep caves or building many temples are just two of those many paths...

While Tzolk'in has dropped from the illustrious heights of no.2 in my 2016 list, this is not due to diminishing enjoyment. Rather, it's become something to savour: a rare delicacy to be sampled in small quantities. I need to be in the right mood for it because it's difficult; at least I find it so. While some medium-heavy Euros in my collection can be played in a spirit of joie de vivre, I need my thinking cap on for this massive brain burner and unfortunately that means it doesn't hit my table all that often any more. I still heartily recommend trying it though because there's nothing else really like it in the worker placement genre and it's great!

23. Wizard

Players compete over multiple rounds based on the number of players, and whoever ends with the highest score wins. In each round, players are dealt a hand of cards — one card in the first round, two cards in the second, three in the third, etc. The playing and winning of the tricks uses mostly standard trick-taking rules. If a player leads a suited card, then all other players must follow suit, if possible. After each player has played a card, determine the winner of the trick. After all tricks have been played, players tally their score for the round. If a player matched their bid, winning exactly as many tricks as stated at the start of the round, they score 20 points, plus 10 points for each trick taken. If a player missed their bid, they lose 10 points for each trick that they were off, whether they took more or fewer than predicted.

I love Wizard because it's incredibly accessible, fun, and most importantly: you can win even with bad hands. It's easier to lose tricks than to win so if you've not been dealt many high cards then you can bid low and be rewarded for reaching your self-imposed target. When you've got a hand chock full of Wizards (that beat anything else) and trumps then bid high and reap the rewards. This is a wonderful game available online for well under a tenner. Get a copy: you won't regret it.

22. Between two Cities (O)**

It is the early 1800s, a time of immense construction and urbanization. You are a world-renowned master city planner who has been asked to redesign two different cities. Projects of such significance require the expertise of more than one person, so for each assignment you are paired with a partner with whom to discuss and execute your grandiose plans. Will your planning and collaborative skills be enough to design the most impressive city in the world?

Between Two Cities is a partnership-driven tile-drafting game in which each tile represents part of a city: factory, shop, park, landmarks, etc. You work with the player on your left to design the heart of one city, and with the player on your right to design the heart of another city. On each turn you select two tiles from hand, reveal them, then work with your partners separately to place one of those tiles into each of your two cities before passing the remaining hand of tiles around the table.

At the end of the game, each city is scored for its livability. Your final score is the lower of the livability scores of the two cities you helped design. To win, you have to share your attention and your devotion between two cities. The player with the highest final score wins the game.

When I'm being introduced to a new game, I try to keep an open mind. Sometimes, however, it's unavoidable to find yourself with expectations, either good or bad. Thus I found myself one day playing Between Two Cities for the first time and honestly, I thought it was going to be naff. This might be due to the fact that fans of 7 Wonders have recommended B2C to me (and I am not a fan of 7W) but I'm not proud of myself. All one can do is eat humble pie when you're proven wrong and that's exactly what happened here. I immediately demanded two further plays because it is BRILLIANT. I've since bought the expansion, Between Two Cities: Capitals although I haven't managed to play with it yet. It's so quick, and so engaging for such a light game, that I will always be happy to sit down and play it. It's also one of those rare games that is brilliant for 4-7 players.

21. Railways of the World (O)

Revisit the early days of the Age of Steam as you begin with a locomotive (the venerable John Bull, the first locomotive to run in North America) and a vision (your Tycoon "mission" card). From there, build your budding railroad network into a vast empire. Connect New York to Chicago, earn the most money, develop bigger and faster locomotives and maybe even span North America and build the Transcontinental Railway!

Designed by the heavyweight duo of Glenn Drover and Martin Wallace, this evergreen train game is a pleasure to play. It has an amazing table presence thanks to the ridiculously huge boards, masses of track hexes, bonds, paper money etc. so you'll need some space. It's also rare to find a game firmly above midweight that will happily support between 2 and 6 players; this is achieved by offering multiple maps in different geographical locations with smaller areas (Mexico) being recommended for 2-4 players and larger offerings, such as Eastern US, for up to 6. There are also several expansion maps that add yet more variety and interest to a genuine classic. This is ideal for gamers interested in dabbling in a bona fide train game but might not wish to try heavier titles such as Steam or Age of Steam.

So there you have items 30-21 of my Top 50 (2017). Keep your eyes open for the next article for items 20-11.