Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mark's #14: Ticket to Ride

What a sneaky, beautiful, simple game... Ticket To Ride deserves all of the awards it has received, as it's the perfect blend of smart gaming and social fun. Imagine a rummy-like game that is "scored" by buying up sections of railroad track... and then add destination cards that players must connect.

Once again, Days of Wonder outdid themselves with gorgeous production and incredible web service (including a very good online version of the game). Alan Moon has reason to be proud... this is a keeper.


Mark's #15: Smarty Party

I've already said a great deal about Smarty Party on my personal blog (aka pastor guy)... but I'll just say one more thing to Aaron & Pitt, the designers:

"We need a second expansion box, stat!" (Because, due to a number of folks love of the game, we've played through the original box of cards TWICE and the expansion box once... sheesh.)


Friday, December 23, 2005

Mark's #16: Mystery Rummy - Jack the Ripper

The 1st and (so far) the best of Mike Fitzgerald's Mystery Rummy series of highly thematic card games, Jack the Ripper offers a simple rummy-ish system complicated by an intriguing scoring system and some special action cards.

And that description doesn't do the game justice. It's by turns nail-biting and infuriating, allowing you to make clever plays and press your luck, rummy-style. It's just really very, very, very good.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Mark's #17: Monopoly

It's moments like this when I realize that I'm not in the "mainstream" of Euro gamers. I like Monopoly - and not just because of fond memories from childhood playing with my grandma. It's a game with lots of ups & downs, some very important economic decisions, and WHEN PLAYED BY THE CORRECT RULES lasts about 2-2.5 hours. (If you're wondering what those rules mistakes are, you can check out Game Central Station's Monopoly page.)

Now, I'm guessing that some of you will feel compelled to blast Monopoly in the comments section - go right ahead. But here's a few ground rules:
  1. You can't complain about it being popular. Under that (suspect) criteria, sex would also be a bad idea.
  2. You can't complain about the fact that people play it wrong. That would be like complaining that cars are stupid because some people run red lights.
  3. You can't complain about the multiple versions for sale. Reference Carcassonne, Ticket To Ride, Settlers of Catan, Warhammer 40K, Magic: the Gathering (of lots of $ for Richard Garfield), and so on...


Friday, December 16, 2005

Mark's #18: Bohnanza

Yep, "The Bean Game." When you first start playing Bohnanza, it's easy to assume that the game is all about "the art of the deal." Which is important, but... Bohnanza is all about using the art of the deal to facilitate hand management.

Which, granted, makes this game sound like the most boring thing since watching paint dry. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a brilliant trading game that plays well with 4-7 players and has spawned a number of expansions. (Fans of the game MUST try High Bohn, which adds Cosmic Encounter-like special powers to the game.)


Mark's #19: Return of the Heroes

If I'd made this list 5 years ago, Talisman would have been on it. But Talisman has been eclipsed by the less skull-happy (boy, the artists at Games Workshop need to get out more) and much better designed Return of the Heroes.

It's a classic "character building" game - you wander about the magical lands, gathering experience & special weapons for your shot at The Nameless One. Kill him and you not only free the land from evil, but you also win the game. Of course, you must prove your worth by completing a quest - a mechanism that also acts as a timer to ramp up the nastiness of the bad guys.

What's nice here is that there's a good bit of decision making involved - and a variety of strategies that can be used to win the game. Balancing experience, gold, equipment and tasks are key to doing well. The 16 piece gameboard is nice as well - no game feels exactly like the game before.

Return of the Heroes system also wins the award for Best Expansion... Under the Shadow of the Dragon is not simply more stuff (maps, monsters, etc.) - it's actually a 2 player game that works very well on it's own. When you add the two sets together, you end up with a monster game that's as good a fantasy experience as any game I own.

There's a 2nd expansion just published in Germany... "Heroes in the Underworld." (Cue Mark to laugh giddily like a schoolgirl.)


Mark's #20: Entenrallye

Thanks to Joe Huber, I found an almost perfect game for me - Walter Muller's Entenrallye. (Literally translated, it means "Duck Rally", and refers to having car rallies with Citroens.) The game has LOTS of dice rolling - but it's really not about a race as much as it is about appropriately pushing your luck.

Or, as in the best experience games, having luck push you. That's the price of admission, btw - knowing that the game may hose you royally. I find myself having such a good time racing for checkpoints that I just don't care.


Mark's #21: Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier

Any game named "Battle of the Dinosaurs" has incredible potential for fun - and none more so than this dicefest in an oversized box. Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier contains scads of nifty dino minis that are used in a battle to the death with 2-4 players commanding their forces.

The dice are more random than usual (if I remember right, the sides are 0, 1, 2, 5, 10, 15) and the volcano with the lava balls is a silly way to randomize game length... but the game works. It's simply a joy to set up & play.


Mark's #22: Big City

Another bit-o-licious game that actually has really good game play - albeit only with 2-3 players. (You can play with 4 or 5, but it's an insanely random game with that many people.)

Big City is the closest thing we're going to get to a working & enjoyable SimCity game (please ignore the SimCity CCG, which was an incredibly bad idea)... it's a shame it didn't do well enough to warrant an expansion.


Mark's #23: Heroscape

I figure I have close to $150 invested in Heroscape... and it would be more if someone hadn't been kind enough to give me one of the expansion sets.

What's so cool about Heroscape?
  • the pre-painted minis
  • the interlocking terrain
  • the great line of sight rules
  • the simple but workable combat system
  • the mishmash of sci-fi & fantasy genres
  • the fact that I hoot & holler like an 8 year old while I'm playing it.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mark's #24: Schnappchen Jagd

I can't spell it (without looking it up) and I certainly can't pronounce it, depiste Heli's best efforts to fix my mangled German. But I can play it - and I think it's probably the best 3 handed card game out there.

Of course, Schnappchen Jagd is from the master of oddly used cards, Uwe Rosenberg, so I shouldn't be surprised. Here, he stands trick-taking on it's head by changing the trump suit on every TRICK... and scoring based on a nifty bargain/junk mechanic that makes scoring a strategic decision.


Mark's #25: Time's Up

Peter Sarret took the party game "Celebrities", cleaned up the rules, added a well-thought out deck of famous names, and made one of the best party games on the planet - Time's Up.

Here's the deal:
  • Round One: You're playing Catchphrase with 40 names.
  • Round Two: Same 40 names, except now you can only use one word (plus charades & sound effects).
  • Round Three: Same 40 names one more time, except you can't talk anymore.
Add people with a sense of humor and watch the fireworks go off.

The genius of the packaging is in the way the names are put together (the yellow & blue sides of the cards are NOT random - Peter did a lovely job of setting up potential confusion by the way he grouped the names). My hat is off you to you, dude.

Favorite recent Time's Up story: I ended up starting to strip when our Bible study group was playing in order to get them to "get" Gypsy Rose Lee. I still wonder how some of them can watch me preach each week with that image burned in their brains. :-)


Mark's #26: Stimmt So!

Ever heard of Alhambra? Yeah, yeah... that's the game that won Spiel des Jahres a couple of years ago, right? Right.

Notice it is NOT on this list. That's because Alhambra is a bad re-design of the much better game, Stimmt So! While there are some good additions to the rules about money (both the way you get starting cash & the way you pick up cash in the game make more sense in Alhambra), the two major game systems work against each other in ways that make the game more random & difficult to control, not less.

In Stimmt So!, you're playing Acquire with a different (aka much faster) way to develop stock value. If someone is winning, you can target them by buying the stock they need. In Alhambra, you also have to consider if the "stock" you buy will fit into your city because of the walls. So, if you need to target a player, you may well have to sacrifice WINNING THE GAME in order to do so, because you can't fall too far behind in creating long walls... and you can't waste too many buys with tiles you can't use. Sheesh.

As well, Alhambra is slow & tedious with 5 or 6 players... while Stimmt So! actually shines at this number. It's a fast, furious, dare I say "fluffy" stock market game that hits my sweet spot.

Yes, Alhambra fans, I realize that the expansions may have made the game better... but why did we have to wait for the expansions to fix what was broken by redesigning the game?!


Mark's #27: Arriba

In America, "Land of Litigation", no one in their right mind would make a speed game with a HARD plastic stick that can be batted around the room by over-zealous players. Evidently, Germans aren't nearly as worried about "legal entanglements."

Hence, the Arribabaton... thing of beauty & fear. It's the centerpiece of Arriba, a cross between Set (the pattern recognition game, not the ancient Egyptian game) and Spoons. For a game with 80 cards & a stick, there's certainly a lot of injuries. We've had to "time out" the game more than once to bandage players... and I'm not the only person wearing glasses who has stopped the baton with my face. Still, there's nothing quite like snatching the stick cleanly away... or watching 3 people wrestle for control of it. (When we play on the floor, we play that the stick is "in play" no matter what... even if it leaves the circle. Much fun!)

I'm no longer unbeatable at this (there's a dude in our Bible study group who has cat-like reflexes who gives me a run for my money) but it doesn't change how much I enjoy playing it with 4-8 players. (It will, btw, work with 9 or 10 if you're willing to get REAL close to each other in a circle on the floor.)

Arriba has been republished as Jungle Speed... some American company decided to take the risk! :-)


Mark's #28: Anno 1503

Not everybody has the love for Klaus Teuber: Settlers is dismisssed in some circles (because, of course, it's "cool" to pick on what's popular), Entdecker was "too fluffy" (think that was problem for me?!), and Anno 1503 was "multiplayer solitaire." Sigh.

We'll deal with the other two accusations further down the list, but for right now, let's clear up a major misconception about Anno 1503. It is NOT solitaire... it's a race. Those players who forget that they're in a race to the finish, whether by the obvious exploration method or the less obvious economic method, will lose.

In fact, Anno reminds me of Starship Catan turned into a multi-player game. You have the same cash & commodity manipulations, the same ramping up your individual board to speed up your game, the same nail-biting race to the finish. (Like I said much earlier, Starship Catan didn't make the 100 so there would be room for Settlers Card Game AND Anno 1503.)

Ignore the grousing about this one and give it a try. Once you've got a game under your belt, it's 15 minutes per player for a jam-packed gaming experience.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mark's #29: Land Unter

The first time I tried to play Zum Kukuck (the 1st edition of Land Unter), it was 3 am in the morning during my first Gulf Games. This is, I assure you, NOT the best time to learn a new game.

But enough people said nice things about it (hi, Invisible Craig!) to convince me to try it again while I had some brain cells working - and it's slowly but surely risen up my favorites list. I esp. like the "duplicate" element to the game.

Theme is not really a big deal here - the original edition was about cuckoos stealing eggs. The edition I own (Berliner Spielkarten) has drowning pigs and a maniacal weather frog (armed with some kind of wand). Don't sweat the theme... it's a great game.


Mark's #30: Oodles

A trivia game? In your Top One Hundred? Why, yes... cuz this is not the typical trivia game. It's closer to a rotating game show, rife with puns & semi-cryptic clues. There's no board or dice, so it works great with people sitting around a living room (always a plus with party-type games).

It doesn't hurt that I rock at Oodles. In fact, taking a cue from Frank Branham, I don't play it nearly as much anymore, instead using the equipment to "host" the game for other players.


Mark's #31: Medieval Merchant

Here in the 30's of my personal Top One Hundred, it's "Pick on Jay Tummelson" time. This time, I _love_ the new name (the German one was Pfeffers├Ącke, for crying out loud.) Instead, this time I'll comment on the box cover - it looks like the artist took his inspiration from Jay himself!

Medieval Merchant, btw, is not really a game of medieval economics. It's a train game - in fact, it's a bit like Ticket To Ride with some money involved. (OK, maybe not, but cut me some slack.) It works great with 3-6 players and has little downtime.


Mark's #32: Titan: The Arena

This is the game that launched my website, Game Central Station... I was so cheesed off about the ham-handed rules to such a wonderful little game that I posted my clarifications to the web for posterity.

And make no mistake - this is a very good little game. Titan: the Arena has nothing to do with AH's Titan except the title. Rather than being a monster slugathon, it's a betting game that rewards careful card counting & wise investing. (It also has enough luck of the draw that you should play 2-3 hands in a row and total scores.)

Thankfully, it's just been reprinted with some extra monster suits as Colossal Arena, though I'd continue to play with the original rules (there were some minor changes that I believe make the game less interesting.)


Mark's #33: Lord of the Rings

When you first open the box, it's the John Howe art (he was one of the concept artists for the Peter Jackson films as well as being one of the foremost Tolkien artists around) that blows you away. Soon, though, it just becomes the very convincing backdrop for a spectacularly good cooperative game that manages to evoke the feel of Middle Earth while still being a relatively straightforward game system.

I enjoy Lord of the Rings with or without the two expansions: Friends & Foes makes the game tougher (boy, howdy!) and Sauron offers 3 different ways to alter the game, including a variant in which one player controls the evil forces.


Mark's #34: History of the World.

I hated this game the first time I played it. It was the original Avalon Hill version of the game (the one with the chits). We played with 6 newbies... and it took stinkin' forever. (in fact, we didn't even finish the game.)

Then, Avalon Hill changed hands, discovered the benefits of stuffing their games full of plastic minis, and published the newest edition of History of the World. A copy ended up on the prize table at a Gulf Games and I picked it up, intrigued by the positive buzz.

What was once a long & semi-tedious game with niggly decisions that took time without mattering a great deal (garrisoning, fighting for sea zones) is now a lean, mean empire-building machine. The game has sweep & story in great gobs... and it's just plain fun to play.

It's still long - but I never find myself watching the clock. I need to get a game of it going again real soon.


Mark's #35: Industrial Waste

Another interesting renaming choice by Jay Tummelson... but this time it makes sense, as each player lives and/or dies on how they handle the toxic sludge their widget factory produces.

Industrial Waste has some similarities to the insanely popular Puerto Rico:
  • players have individual boards that track information & resources for them
  • players can do very little to DIRECTLY affect other players
  • players can indirectly affect others by their choices in major ways
  • each player is essentially building a machine to generate profit/points
But Industrial Waste is a bit lighter (less complex) and a bit more random (the industrial accident card can mess over the most carefully planned company development.)

Man, I enjoy this game way out of proportion with the prevailing view of it as "an OK game." Thankfully, my group here in Fresno has a pretty positive reaction to it as well.


Mark's #36: Web of Power

Jay Tummelson, head honcho of Rio Grande Games, has done many things right in his tenure as the "guru of reprinting German games." Renaming Kardinal & Konig (Cardinals & Kings) wasn't one of them. The original name actually reflects the theme (ecclesiastical orders manuevering for political power in medieval Europe) and sounds kinda cool. Web of Power sounds like it's the younger brother of Nik Sewell's Web of Gold.

Now that I've got that rant out of the way, let's actually talk about the game. It's just about perfect: a 45 minute area majority game with enough luck of the draw to keep players from locking down a particular strategy and yet plenty of opportunities for subtle & intelligent play. It's been called El Grande lite - which I kind of understand - but I think K&K (sigh, Web of Power) stands on its own two feet.

There are two simple expansions available: "The Duell" which makes a two-player game not only possible but very workable; and "The Vatican" which offers yet another way to influence scoring. Web is sadly OOP, but China (Web of Power with some changes) was released earlier this year.


Mark's #37: Gnadenlos!

Translated from the German, the title is "Merciless!" - and the game system certainly can be. (They don't include vulture tokens just for the heck of it...)

Gnadenlos is what I like to call a "Frankenstein" game - it's made out of parts of other games that somehow mesh to make a wonderful gaming experience. There's the once-around auction for cowpokes (Ra, Modern Art), the payment in specific cards (High Society), the blind bid for actions (Take 6, Raj, Adel Verpflichtet, etc.)... and then, Klaus Teuber put in the "brain" which isn't quite like anything else I've played. The system for paying off your IOU's is original to the game and can make for some serious nail-biting.

Gnadenlos is a 45 minute game with multiple timers that guarantee a quick play. Over the years, I've introduced this to a number of players with great success. Give it a try!


Friday, December 09, 2005

Mark's #38: Carcassonne

Another "two games in one" entry for my top 100 games:
  • With 2 or 3 players, Carcassonne is primarily an exercise in tactics, pushing your luck & card (well, tile) counting. It's tense & fast-moving & rewards smart defensive play. (This is my favorite way to play, btw.)
  • With 4 to 6 players, Carcassonne becomes more about negotiation & getting your fingers into as many pies as possible. Still a good game, but not as much fun for me.
Either way, you can enjoy this one in 31 different flavors (kind of like Baskin-Robbins) as there are 3 large box expansions, 2 small box expansions, and 4 spin-off games. (I rather like Ark of the Covenant, one of the spin-offs... and not because it's "religious", either. It just works very, very well.)
Given my druthers, though, I prefer playing 2 player with Inns & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders and King & Scout.


Mark's #39: Ausgebremst

Ave Caesar is the more popular version of this game - but it's expensive & difficult to find. (Not that Ausgebremst is easy, but in comparison...?) Anyway, Ausgebremst takes the simple movement system devised for Ave Caesar and adds a schmidge bit more control and multiple race tracks. It's simply my favorite car racing game.

Now, it's not for the faint of heart. "Nasty" and "mean" are two adjectives that describe the tactics you must use to win the race. But you'll laugh (hard!) while doing it. (Because of the hosage factor, it's best to play three races and use the scoring system included.)

Finally, I've replaced the original cardboard pieces with Micro Machines, which makes for a much better looking set of components.


Mark's #40: Battle Cry

One of the saddest things about Battle Cry is that it didn't get the stellar treatment that it's little brother, Memoir '44, did. No expansions, no fancy-schmancy website with steady flow of official scenarios... sigh. This incredibly fun Civil War battle game managed to get command & control issues into the game without resorting to all the usual goofiness of your average "wargame." (And I'm not just whistlin' Dixie here: I am a reformed 'chit-pusher' who cut his teeth on Squad Leader & Third Reich.)

Still, it's a great game, even with it's much better-healed little brother around (and closer on the list to #1), so it's not fair to exclude it. I just wished the game fit into a smaller box so I could cart it with me easier!


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mark's #41: Africa

"Wow, Reiner Knizia has a new big box game coming from Goldsieber... maybe it'll be the next E&T!" And so, with that conversation (or conversations much like it) repeated over & over, you have the origin of the intial poor reaction to Africa. What Dr. K. did instead was create a point optimization game with a push your luck element that plays like a charm.... but isn't the 2nd Coming of Euphrat & Tigris.

Since I'm not a big fan of E&T, that didn't hurt my feelings much. And I've learned (much like Cafe International) that there's a lot more game under the "fluffy" surface of Africa. (Just try playing Joe "Nomad Relocation Program" Huber.) I'm still in shock that it made it onto the "real" One Hundred list.


Mark's #42: Cafe International

Another game that I didn't particularly enjoy the first time I played... it felt like all of my decisions were arbitrary. Subsequent plays revealed a lot more game in Cafe International - and my winning percentage began to climb. The theme is pretty basic (seating international guests) and possibly un-PC (all of the nationalities are caricatures) but still holds the game together.

This Spiel des Jahres winner doesn't get a lot of love - but it's a much better game than people give it credit for. Next time out, try playing it 2 or 3 times in a short period and watch your performance improve!


Mark's #43: Midnight Party

The chant of "Hugo! Hugo!" can be heard on a regular basis at the Jackson home - whether it's playing Midnight Party with my 4 year old son, Braeden, or with a group of gamer guys, or with my college Bible study. Midnight Party is one of those rare birds, an actual "family game" that really is enjoyable for the entire family. This game of hide & seek at a ghost's birthday party is great fun for 2-8 players (in fact, it really shines with 6-8, which makes it a great small party game). Danke, Herr Kramer!


Mark's #44: Mississippi Queen

Steamboat racing at it's best - this is a pretty simple game (once everyone figures out how to tell what order everyone moves) that is fun to play & nice to look at. Mississippi Queen is improved by the use of The Black Rose expansion - esp. if playing with 5-6 players. (Note: not everyone agrees with me, which must mean they're wrong. Right?!)


Mark's #45: Star Wars - The Queen's Gambit

Sometimes, when you buy a big box game, it's full of air... the company just wanted a big hunk of shelf profile and so made the box large enough to offer living space to a gang of Smurfs and their pet ferret. That is definitely NOT true with Avalon Hill's The Queen's Gambit, which also manages to buck another trend, the general suckage of movie tie-in games. The box is filled to the brim with a three-tier "palace" + two other battle boards + a chunk of plastic minis.

In fact, I like the game better than I like Epsiode 1. (Geek note: there are two really great parts to Episdoe 1: [a] the closing 30 minutes of the movie, which is the subject of my #45 game, and [b] the pod race, which really needs to be made into a game. Otherwise, George Lucas, what were you thinking?!)

This is a big, sprawling, table-eating dicefest - and yet you do have some control with your card orders. There's a constant balancing act going on between the various battles, and the game is filled with great "yahoo!" moments, when something good happens for your side.

I call it a "three hour tour", because it takes 30 minutes to set up, two hours to play, and 30 minutes to put back in the box. It's well worth the time.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mark's #46: Sindbad

Sindbad is a multi-layered game, though at first glance it appears to be simply a roll'n'move with some investing strategies. So I'd better define why I think this exploration game from Flying Turtle is multi-layered, right?!
  • It can be played by young children... Braeden is 4 & 1/2 and has a grand time encountering monsters and figuring out what to do next with his diamonds.
  • It can be played by gamers - who can do a lot more strategizing about what & what not to do.
  • The numbered adventure cards add some interesting questions to your standard "roll/move/explore" pattern: is now the time to use a card to move? should I save it for later to attack another player or fight off the pirates? is this card more valuable for the gems it will gather or for the safe move I can make right now?
  • You can play a risky "go for all the marbles" kind of game... or diversify your holdings & build up cash steadily.
However you do it, Sindbad has plenty of evocative art & theme as you journey into the adventure.


Mark's #47: La Citta

It's a sprawling game of city development - compared sometimes to Settlers (though I'm not quite sure why). It's long and mistakes can be costly. Yet it has a wonderful story arc to the game... and it's intense fun to play. Gerd Fenchel, the designer of La Citta, also designed Kraut & Ruben, which I enjoy as well.

The one problem with the game (the card display can clog up in the late game with useless cards) is fixable with a house rule and/or variant - though not everyone agrees about the best way to do that.


Mark's #48: Basari

Yeah, yeah.... I know I'm supposed to say that Edel, Stein & Reich is better, because it doesn't have any dice and can play 5 players.

But I won't - cuz I like the original
Basari better. Yes, it's nearly themeless. Yes, it has a potential kingmaker problem. Yes, it only really works well with 4 players. Still, I enjoy it every time I play. Every time.


Mark's #49: Goldland

I was at the Gathering where the buzz began - it doesn't work, it's too long, yadda yadda yadda. As usual, once the rules issues were hammered out and everyone figured out that the game should really be for 2-4 players, rather than 2-5, suddenly there was this nifty puzzle/exploration game sitting their with gorgeous production and multiple paths to victory.

I've found that
Goldland intrigues a certain type of gamer - in fact, if they like Sid Sackson's Bazaar, the chances are very good that they'll like Goldland. The underlying mechanism (the puzzle of how to best manipulate your resources) is very similar.


Mark's #50: Konig der Maulwurfel

Translated into English, it means "King of the Dice Mouths" - and it's yet another wacky backstory for an even wackier racing game. In Konig der Maulwurfel, players draft their dice-mouths from a set of pieces: ramps, dice, # of special cards, heads (which have a numerical range), etc. On his turn, a player lets the die roll down the ramp onto the table. If he rolls a number inside the range listed on his head, he gets to move his dice-mouth next to where the die landed. The game is boardless - you simply set out gates for the dice-mouths to race through.

And you have fun. We've found that the game works better on a "live" table, where the 4-sided die bounces a bit. As well, you should use the advanced rules immediately, as the basic rules are a crock.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Mark's One Hundred: #60-#51

#60: Victory & Honor
Another partnership card game... this time, I had the privilege of watching this game go through development over 3-4 years. Ty Douds has created a trick-taking card game with enough interesting twists to make it onto my personal Top 100.

#59: Linie 1
Yeah, the ending's a bit random... but I still enjoy the process of building my line while monkeying up other folks' plans. (It doesn't hurt that this is close to being the most expensive game in my collection, due to my buying it pre-Internet.)

#58: Broadway
I bought this originally out of the clearnance bin at a Toys'R'Us - and I've probably squeezed every penny of value out of it in the past 17 years. It's a roll'n'move investment game that uses 10% shares in Broadway shows - investors share in the profits & the losses. The game can be pretty vicious, but my wife & I have had great success introducing it to both gamer & non-gamer friends.

#57: Canasta
My Grandma Jackson is the first person who taught me how to play... but it was my in-law's who took me to school. (And, honestly, keep taking me to school. Shari & I have only beat them once in 15 years.) It's a rummy-like 2 deck game that's actually MUCH easier to learn if you buy Canasta Caliente. (I'm still undecided whether I like the Caliente cards added to the game - but having the point totals & special powers on the cards is wonderful!)

#56: Viva Pamplona
The running of the bulls makes for an enjoyable romp that's in the same gaming family as Viva Topo and Midnight Party. (It's a family I'm fond of... all three appear on this list!) I've often wondered about how you can lose courage points when someone else shoves you (and worse yet, they get them!), but it's still a delightful game.

#55: TransAmerica
I once dissed this game of railroad connections as "cotton candy" - it's fun to eat for a while but then you begin asking yourself what in the world you're doing. Playing a good bit on BSW proved my initial assesment wrong - there are tactics to this game, as evidenced by some players with 75%+ win ratios!

#54: Mystery Rummy 4: Al Capone
A Canasta-based entry to this stellar series of card games was, of course, almost a sure winner with me. (See #57.) Didn't hurt my opinion of the game at all for my first play to be against Mike Fitzgerald. But aside from all that, it's a great game - it's important to collect cards & hide others, but nothing is really safe. (Important safety tip: don't play with 3 players... it works best with 2 players or 4 players playing partnership.)

#53: Lost Cities
I've played this over & over and I'm still intrigued each time. How far can I push my luck? Should I play aggressively or defensively? For such a simple game, it continues to draw me in. (Probably doesn't hurt that the production of the game is gorgeous.) Now, it's not that I win all that much. My wife is a pro.

#52: Drunter & Druber
This is a weird game with a very odd backstory - the key way you can stop other players is by voting to keep an outhouse unmolested. There are elements of bluff & tile-laying... and it won the Spiel des Jahres. Again, I don't get to play this nearly as much as I'd like.

#51: Palermo
A tactical game in two parts, much like Linie 1. During Part One, mobsters claim the various businesses of Palermo for their protection rackets. In Part Two, the mobsters cruise around town, racing to collect their cut. The nice thing: both parts of the game work well - and mesh together nicely.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mark's One Hundred: #70-#61

#70: Elfenland
Alan Moon took his classic gamer game Elfenroads and turned it into a great family game, Elfenland. When it won the Spiel des Jahres, it allowed him to go back and re-gamer it with the Elfengold expansion. I like both games (Elfenland & Elfenland + Elfengold) but don't get to play either of them nearly as much as I'd like.

I'm trying to decide if this is on my list because I really like it (which I do) or because I'm so spectacularly good at it (which I am). Either way, it's got an interesting parentage. Michael Schacht designed Web of Power - and then published a card game using the same kind of area control rules. Richelieu is a redesign for two players of that card game. What I like is that there is a very small random element - the trick is to think 2-4 turns ahead as you develop a plan for claiming provinces.

#68: Daytona 500
This is my personal favorite of the Kramer racing games that began with Tempo. (Tempo, btw, is completely abstract and is actually more of a gambling game. The one familiar element is the cards that move multiple players.) I like Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix, but the payoff chart needs to be fixed. I guess what draws me in most about Daytona is how cleanly the system works while offering interesting choices each turn.

#67: Upwords
It's Scrabble with less board lock (thanks to the ability to build up) and for some reason I can visualize the stacking plays needed to succeed at this game.

#66: Zertz
As I've said in a number of places, I'm not a fan of abstract games, but Zertz sucked me in - what with the pretty bits & the rapidly shrinking playing surface & the wild tactical moves you can make. I'm what you'd call a "2nd level" player - I play intelligently, but I haven't "grokked" the game yet enough to avoid being beaten by those who love abstracts.

#65: Queen's Necklace
While the box says you can play this game of jewelry sales in pre-revolution France with 4 players, you're much better off playing it with 3. The falling values system is unusual and leads to some difficult decisions about what to buy and what to leave behind. There's some chaos, but it's manageable and fun... and that's all I ask from a game.

#64: Rosenkonig
Another very abstract game, this 2 player (or 4 playing partners) game about the War of the Roses not only looks nice, but plays like a charm. Despite the open information, the game doesn't ever seem to bog down in analysis paralysis.

#63: Mystery Rummy 2: Murders in the Rue Morgue
A splendid partnership game that didn't fare so well on the first couple of outings - it took us some time to see how tricky you can be in your card play with this rummy variant. Mike Fitzgerald is a card design genius. (BTW, don't play this unless you're playing partners - it's how the game shines.)

#62: Freight Train
Much like my decision between Starship Catan & Settlers Card Game, here I had to decide between the short & friendly Get the Goods or the long & table-eating Freight Train. Between the two, I find FT occupying more post-game brain space ("what if I'd just...?"), so it gets the nod. But either set-collecting game is a wonderful addition to your game collection!

#61: Affenraffen
It's a floor wax AND a desert topping... as this Michael Schacht game is actually a speed game and a memory game rolled into one. The addition of some action tiles allow for betting & messing with the leader.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mark's One Hundred: #80-#71

#80: Royal Turf
The only time this game has gone "belly up" with a group is when I played it 3 player with two other tired gamers... otherwise, this is darn near "bomb-proof." My favorite horse racing game (though I do like Favoriten as well - just not nearly as much.)

#79: Medici
Like I said in The One Hundred blurb on this game, it stuns me that the graphic issues with the German & English editions of this game haven't dampened Medici's power - it's elegant in it's simplicity. BTW, I prefer to play with 5 players, so someone can't calculate their bids to the penny late in each round.

#78: Flowerpower
For a long time, I was undefeated at this simple tile-laying game - no longer. (Thanks to my wife, my Gulf Games roomie & my niece.) Still, my record is pretty huge (90% win ratio) which says that either (a) most of my competition stinks at this game, or (b) there's more to this than just throwing tiles on the board. Interesting game in that it can be played very friendly or with a bit of venom.

#77: Das Letzes Paradies
Another Knizia auction game - and another one of those "short & mean" auction games. Best with 3 players... there's only 16 auctions in the entire game to develop plots of a tropical island. Granted, the game is massively overproduced, but it's still a great "little" game.

#76: Chinatown
I really enjoy this game - and yet I can see all the criticisms clearly. Due to some of the odd vagaries of the tile mix, I will ONLY play with 4 players - but with the right 4 people, this is 75 minutes of "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours".

#75: Loopin' Louie
My copy cost $1.97 and was only missing stickers on one of the chicken tokens.... keep your eyes peeled when you're in a thrift store, as this mechanical game is ferociously addictive. (I'm still not sure how this one missed appearing on The One Hundred.)

#74: Maskenball der Kafer
The English title is "The Ladybug's Picnic" - all I can tell you is that it's not only the prettiest cooperative game I own, it's also the toughest. (We win less than 40% of the time.) And it's got the got the cool magnetic ladybugs. Awfully expensive for a kids game - but well worth it.

#73: Ra
I hate-hate-hated this auction/gambling game the first time I played it... but then I gave it a second chance and it's now a beloved member of the Jackson gaming family. I like it best with 3, but 4 or 5 is ok, too.

#72: Mamma Mia
I don't get to play Mamma Mia nearly as much as I would like - first, it's about pizza-making, and I love me my pizza pie! Second, the central discard mechanism - what with the card counting & the press-your-luck elements - is a master stroke from Uwe Rosenberg.

#71: Fresh Fish
I've never won this game. Ever. Doesn't stop me from loving to play it, though. (My problem is that I never see the consequences of my "brilliant" play until it's too late.)


Friday, December 02, 2005

Mark's One Hundred: #90-#81

#90: Mole in the Hole
Braeden loves to play with the homeboy mole pieces & the multi-layer board; I like that it's a light game with plenty of tactical play. And the homeboy moles.

Star Wars - Epic Duels
This is really a very good movie tie-in, as well as working quite well as a combat game. Best with 4 players who have a little experience with the game.

#88: High Society
You'll find I like my auction games short & mean, and they don't come much shorter and/or meaner than High Society. Yes, it's got a large random element in the order the items come up for auction, but who cares? (This was one of the few Knizia games that didn't make The One Hundred - sheesh.)

Volle Hutte
The theme of building pubs is a lot of fun, as is the process of moving folks around the table. It's not rocket science, but I've had a warm smile on my lips every time I've played.

Viva Topo
The most kid-friendly "chased by a non-player character" game I own - this cat & mouse game is gorgeously produced and has some interesting push-your-luck decisions.

Cosa Nostra
It's a backgammon variant with spaces that have special powers & a big honkin' "drive-by shooting" spinner in the middle of the board... cuz it's a gangster game, capeesh? I love it, though it doesn't work well unless there's 4 people playing.

Yet another "Oh Hell" spinoff - this time, it's the board play (a canoe race) that gives the game some needed oomph. But what really makes this a great game is the freebie expansion, "
Grand Canyon", which adds Cosmic Encounter-like special powers to each round, allowing players to catch up and/or hose over the other players.

Wolfgang Riedesser is a hero of mine - and this simple roll'n'move is one of the reasons. "Jungle Race" looks like a simple kids game, but the decisions (if the dice are kind) are important.

#82: Liar's Dice/Call My Bluff
I'd probably rank this higher if I hadn't grown a little weary of playing it - it's a brilliant game design.

Settlers Card Game
I debated between this and
Starship Catan - both games I love, but Starship is very similar to Anno 1503 (which you'll see farther down the line), so I went with Settlers Card Game. I like the way the game develops, even if it takes a bit too long.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mark's One Hundred: #100-#91

Doiing all this work inspired me to do a bit of classifying of my own... and what you're reading now is my own personal Top One Hundred.

Those of you who know my tastes will be surprised primarily by the small number of "kid games" on my list - but I chose to focus on games that I personally enjoy, as opposed to games that I enjoy playing with others. (There is a difference.) I also refrained from putting games released after December 2004 on the list, so it would line up with what was available when The One Hundred voting took place. (Thus missing Niagara and Attacktix.)

Finally, games linked by their ranking number appeared in The One Hundred, while games linked by their name did not.

And now, without any further ado...

#100: Mush
It's not the best game Alan Moon has ever made, but this game of dog sled racing is certainly one that I've enjoyed playing over the years. We've done some tweaking to the avalanche rules.

#99: Kapitan Wackelpudding
I like dexterity games. I like games with an odd sense of humor. This is both.

#98: Air Baron
I'll admit that this game as released has some problems - not the least of which is the "Fuel Hike" chit. Still, it's great fun to play this economic wargame (really!) and is probably my candidate for "Game Most Needing High-Quality Development & Re-Release."

#97: Igloo Pop
Igloo Pop is the best example of taking a great game mechanism (the shaking canisters from Zapp Zerapp) and putting it into a much better game. Zapp Zerapp is really only enjoyable with 4 players and is essentially a Parcheesi variant, while Igloo Pop plays at a frenetic pace (30 minutes or less) and works with 3-6 players.

#96: O Zoo Le Mio
It's an auction game crossed with a tile laying game, scored like Acquire... but it's quick (you'll see that word a lot on this list) and great to look at. Yes, there are problems with the income system and the escalating point values in the later rounds - but in such a short game, part of your job is to plan to deal with both of those issues rather than whine about them when the game is over.

#95: Klunker
Uwe Rosenberg is a genius - he takes the whole idea of "card game" and turns it inside out. It's a trading game with some serious hand management issues... and a whole lot of fun in a little box.

#94: For Sale
I used to rate this much higher, but there's been a sameness to the last few games which has been off-putting. Still, it's really a great filler and deserving of a spot on my list. (I haven't played the new version yet - I'm a bit scared of what the rules changes will do to a game I enjoy "as is".)

#93: Can't Stop
IMHO, Sid Sackson's masterpiece. I actually have two boards so we can play 2 games at a time!

#92: Zoff Im Buffalo
Christwart Conrad created this pleasant little bluffing/placement game... then, a few years later, overinflated it into Vino ("the game of the rolling grape pieces" - yep, spherical game bits... ab-so-lutely brilliant...). The original is much better... and I'm very, very good at it. :-)

#91: Too Many Cooks (Knizia)
It's an odd game - not really trick-taking, not really a climbing game... and the five menu cards mean you can get toasted in the last hand by your card draw. Yet the game is addictive to play - and a great gateway game.