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Peter's Top 50 (2017): 40-31

2016 was the first year that I wrote a Top 50 games. Here's the 2017 version and games 40-31. 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

40. Century: Spice Road (DO)**

Century: Spice Road

Century: Spice Road is the first in a series of games that explores the history of each century with spice-trading as the theme for the first installment. In Century: Spice Road, players are caravan leaders who travel the famed silk road to deliver spices to the far reaches of the continent for fame and glory. Each turn, players perform one of four actions:

  1. Establish a trade route (by taking a market card)_
  2. Make a trade or harvest spices (by playing a card from hand)_
  3. Fulfill a demand (by meeting a victory point card's requirements and claiming it)
  4. Rest (by taking back into your hand all of the cards you've played)

The last round is triggered once a player has claimed their fifth victory point card, then whoever has the most victory points wins.

This is, in essence, a trading game that combines a really interesting deck building element (which determines what actions you are able to take) with set collection. Players draft the cards they want (and can afford) from the available pool; they have powers such as taking specific spices, upgrading and converting them. At the right moment, these are then traded in to complete a contract thereby earning the player Victory Points. Again, there is a race element present in the design, completing the contract you want before somebody else does and reaps the rewards. The overall experience is incredibly smooth and it flows beautifully. Down time is exceptionally small and games don't outstay their welcome. I look forward to seeing what Emerson has in store for us in the as yet unreleased Century: Eastern Wonders and the as yet unannounced(!) third installment in the series.

39. Celestia (O)**

At the beginning of a journey, all players place their pawns within the aircraft; the players start the game with six cards in hand (or eight depending on the number of players). At the beginning of each round, one player is chosen to be the captain of the trip and he rolls 2-4 dice to discover the challenges that they will face: fog, lightning bolts, killer birds, or pirates. He must then play the appropriate cards — a compass, a lightning arrester, a foghorn, or even cannons — to continue on the journey and reach the next city. But before the captain plays the appropriate cards, each player must decide whether to stay within the aircraft:

If you exit, you're guaranteed the victory points that come from exploring the current city. If you stay on board, you hope to make it to the next city in order to catch more precious treasures. If the captain can't overcome the challenge, though, everyone comes crashing down empty-handed and you'll need to begin a new trip with all passengers on board.

During the journey, each adventurer can try to pull out of the game with fabulous objects (a jetpack, astronomy glasses, etc.) or by changing the trip (modifying the travel or abandoning an explorer in the city). As soon as a player earns treasure worth at least fifty points, the game ends and this player wins.

Celestia has displaced Port Royal as my favourite push-your-luck based game. The gorgeous artwork and components- check out the amazing 3D airship that your pawns travel in- add to a very pleasing experience throughout. I would recommend adding in the Celestia: A Little Help expansion, unless playing with very young audiences, as this gives you more scope for strategy.

38. Biblios (O)

The object of the game is to score the most Victory Points. You win Victory Points by winning any of the 5 categories: Illuminators, Scribes, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies. You win a category by having the highest total number of workers (Scribes, Illuminators) or resources (Manuscripts, Scrolls, Supplies) in that category. This is determined by the numbers in the upper left corner on the cards. At the start of the game, each category is worth 3 Victory Points. As the game progresses, the values on the Value Board will change and some categories will become worth more or less Victory Points than others. The game is divided into 2 stages: a Donation stage and an Auction stage. During the Donation stage, players acquire free cards according to an established plan. In the Auction stage, players purchase cards in auction rounds. After the two stages, winners of each category are determined and Victory Points awarded. The player with the most Victory Points wins.

When I wrote my 2016 Top 50, Biblios was present at exactly the same position. The only difference now is that I own it! My feelings towards it have not changed; it's an incredibly solid auction game that just gets better with more plays. The bluffing and set collection make every play so satisfying. There aren't many better ways to spend a half hour in my opinion.

37. Battle Line (O)**

Two opponents face off across a 'battle line' and attempt to win the battle by taking 5 of 9 flags or 3 adjacent flags. Flags are decided by placing cards into 3 card poker-type hands on either side of the flag (similar to straight flush, 3 of a kind, straight, flush, etc). The side with the highest 'formation' of cards wins the flag.

This is a rethemed version of Schotten Totten with different graphics and wooden flag bits in place of the boundary stone cards. Game play is identical, except the cards run from 1 to 10 (not 9), you hold seven cards in your hand (not 6), and the rule that stones may only be claimed at the start of your turn is presented as an "advanced variant". Also the tactics cards were introduced by Battle Line; these cards were only added to later editions of Schotten-Totten.

I ran across Roland MacDonald at Essen 2016 when he was presenting a prototype of his own game Ruthless. I still await a copy of that but in the meantime I heard about a limited edition reprint of Reiner Knizia's Battle Line with new art, by Roland. I'd played the original GMT version and enjoyed it very much but by today's standards, the artwork is a bit of an eyesore. Now, I own a great game with the art it truly deserves. I guess my advice is slightly hypocritical, therefore, when I say you should consider getting hold of a copy even if it's not the attractive new version. The gameplay is top notch.

36. Musee (O)**

Musée is a 30-minute card-laying game for 2-4 players. Collect and curate! Score by filling up and carefully theming your art museum!

In this fast-paced card game, you collect impossibly valuable works of art and put them on display in your own personal art museum, the Musée. The only problem is that your opponents are doing the very same thing! Each gallery must be organized properly by exhibit number, but to succeed you must balance your passion for order with the need for public acclaim. Impress visitors by tastefully positioning works of art side-by-side showing similar themes. Make sure you don't get too greedy for applause, though — doing so might disorganize your collection and keep you from displaying any more paintings. The first player to complete each separate gallery will open the exhibition early and receive extra recognition. The player who displays the most compelling combination of artworks in the most artistic manner wins.

Musée includes sixty unique fine art images from artists ranging from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries, all licensed through Bridgeman Art Library.

This is a game that is really designed for two, although it can accommodate 3 and 4. I don't keep many 2p only games in my collection; even though I do regularly play with just 2, I find plenty of games advertised at player counts 2-4 work very well with two. Musee is an absolute delight. It's so quick that you inevitably find yourself playing at least 3 rounds consecutively but it offers a beautiful challenge. It's a game of near perfect information and the players try to score the most points they can whilst keeping an eye on their opponent's moves. Indeed, I think the word that best describes this game is elegance. I cannot recommend it highly enough and there's only one caveat: it's out of print and hard to find, unfortunately.

35. Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (O)

In Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension, players command spaceships that have been pulled through a black hole, transporting them into a different dimension. With each ship lacking fuel to get home, each player must collect basic elements from surrounding asteroids, using the gravity of the dimension and what little resources they have in order to reach the warp gate that will take them home. But in this dimension, moving ships will travel towards the nearest object, which is usually another ship, and when those objects are moving either forward or backward, reaching the warp gate isn't always easy. Time is running out to save your crew and your ship! As a grim reminder of the cost of failing to escape, the frozen hulks of dead spacecraft litter the escape route – but with careful cardplay, you can slingshot past these derelict craft and be the first to escape from the Gravwell!

This easy-to-learn game uses 26 alphabetized cards to determine movement order and thrust; most cards move your ship towards the nearest object, but a few move you away from it. Players will draft fuel cards in each round – picking up three pairs of two cards, with only the top card of each pile being visible – giving you some information as to which moves you can expect from the other spaceships. During a round, each player will play all of his fuel cards in the order of his choosing. During each phase of a round, each player will choose one card, then all cards are revealed and resolved in alphabetical order. When your opponents move in ways you didn't expect, you won't always be heading in the direction you thought you would! Each player holds an "Emergency Stop" card that he may tactically play only once per round to avoid such a situation.

Whoever first reaches the warp gate wins, but if no one has escaped after six rounds, then the player who is closest to the gate wins.

I'll keep this brief. Gravwell is the most hilarious game I've ever played. It's chaotic, unpredictable and absolutely magnificent fun. I'm still waiting on the expansion that seems to have gone to ground, fingers crossed it will get published soon as it sounds incredible. Highly recommended.

34. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong (O)

In the game, players take on the roles of investigators attempting to solve a murder case – but there's a twist. The killer is one of the investigators! Each player's role and team are randomly assigned at the start of play and include the unique roles of Forensic Scientist, Witness, Investigator, Murderer, and Accomplice. While the Investigators attempt to deduce the truth, the murderer's team must deceive and mislead. This is a battle of wits!

The Forensic Scientist has the solution but can express the clues only using special scene tiles while the investigators (and the murderer) attempt to interpret the evidence. In order to succeed, the investigators must not only deduce the truth from the clues of the Forensic Scientist, they must also see through the misdirection being injected into the equation by the Murderer and Accomplice!

Find out who among you can cut through deception to find the truth and who is capable of getting away with murder!

Deception is a tremendous social deduction game that ranks up there with the very best. There are an awful lot of games in this genre that feel very samey, basically variations of something that's already been designed, maybe with a new theme or slightly different angle. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is a breath of fresh air and feels quite unique. It does still need a large number of players to be at its best, probably 7-8, but does work with fewer. The variety of different roles and number of 'Key evidence' and 'Means of murder' cards mean that games feel quite different while the structure stays the same. This means few rules to learn but new situations every time you play. It is beaten to the title of my favourite social deduction game by another that reaches even greater heights but Deception provides the more consistently excellent experience.

33. Waggle Dance (O)

In Waggle Dance, a Euro-style worker-placement dice game for 2-4, players control worker bees to build their hive, produce more bees, collect nectar, return it to the hive and make honey! (What is a "waggle dance" you ask? It's a series of patterned movements performed by a scouting bee to tell other bees in the colony the direction and distance of a food source or hive site.)

Players need to organize their bees to make as much honey as possible to see the hive through the coming winter. The winner is the first player to successfully create 7 or more honey tokens in their hive. It's up to you how to achieve this: Do you focus on nectar collection, increasing your bee population, expanding your hive, seeking favor with the queen, or splitting your resources to accomplish all of these? Whatever you choose, the natural world is a competitive environment and you can be sure the other players will be looking to maximize their advantage.

Waggle Dance is a tremendous dice placement game that offers a real challenge for such a simple ruleset. I really like the mechanism where everyone rolls their 'workers' (dice) at the start of each round in full view of everyone else. It provides tension right from the very start as you work out which spots you're going to face tough competition for and therefore what order you need to place your workers out. Once all workers are assigned you then resolve the actions in a set order which again emphasises the importance of timing in this game. The Queen cards offer single use abilities that can be game changing when used at the right moment; I sound like a broken record but timing is again of huge import.

All in all, this is a Mike Nudd masterpiece in my mind. I can't really point out anything revolutionary in the design but it's incredibly well put together. Your choice of strategy will have to take into account what your opponents are doing e.g. keep a watch out for early bloomers or long-term planners and counter attack! Fantastic fun.

32. Codenames (O)

Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES. In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin. Codenames: Win or lose, it's fun to figure out the clues.

While we're not churning out the plays like we used to, it's still my no.1 choice of fun for any audience: gamers or non-gamers. It's incredibly interactive, often tense and I love the banter that we engage in throughout. Because of the number of words included in the game it's basically infinitely variable and I don't see this leaving my collection in the next decade. I have no interest in the rash of other versions. Play the original first before you try the cash cows.

31. Stone Age (DO)

Stone Age

The "Stone Age" times were hard indeed. In their roles as hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers, our ancestors worked with their legs and backs straining against wooden plows in the stony earth. Of course, progress did not stop with the wooden plow. People always searched for better tools and more productive plants to make their work more effective.

In Stone Age, the players live in this time, just as our ancestors did. They collect wood, break stone and wash their gold from the river. They trade freely, expand their village and so achieve new levels of civilization. With a balance of luck and planning, the players compete for food in this pre-historic time.

Players use up to ten tribe members each in three phases. In the first phase, players place their men in regions of the board that they think will benefit them, including the hunt, the trading center, or the quarry. In the second phase, the starting player activates each of his staffed areas in whatever sequence he chooses, followed in turn by the other players. In the third phase, players must have enough food available to feed their populations, or they face losing resources or points.

Stone Age is a fairly unusual selection compared to most games in my Top 50 in that it is most definitely a 1-2 hour 'gateway' game i.e. fairly easy to learn and simple enough strategies which make it suitable for teaching to non-gamers or playing with younger families. I admit to having limited patience with some lighter titles like Ticket to Ride or Smash Up; the gameplay doesn't seem that interesting or offer enough variety of strategy to keep me engaged. I've racked up 8 plays of Stone Age, on the other hand, and still find it very enjoyable. The constant balancing act between playing too conservatively/taking too much risk, coupled with intense competition for places to send your workers, results in players having lots of meaningful decisions to make every round.

So there you have items 40-31 of my Top 50 (2017). Keep your eyes open for the next article for items 30-21.