Operator: I WANT TO LOOK AWAY
Quinns: DON'T LOOK AWAY
Operator: IT'S... TOO... BEAUUUTIFUUUL
#10: THE X-WING MINIATURES GAME & STAR WARS ARMADA
X-Wing review here
Armada review here
Armada Let's Play here
Paul: We’ve combined these two! Is that a sin? Are we bad? I have to say, I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with us placing these so far up the chart.
Matt: Oh gosh Paul’s right Quinns, we’re going invoke the wrath of the Tiny Plastic God. It’s a shame that Armada look like X-Wing for people with loadsamoney, as it really did come as a surprise to me just how differently the two games play. Both are wonderful little things though, whether it’s the dogfighting formation-fun of X-Wing or the weighty pace of Armada’s naval-style game.
Paul: Fundamentally, both X-Wing and Armada have great mechanics for modelling exciting space combat. They’re simple, but effective, allowing you to pretty quickly learn games that are all about elegance and maneuvering, about trying to outwit and outplot your opponent.
All those bells and whistles, too. So many! Look at how many pilots there are for X-Wing. Look at how many tools and trinkets and special extra things there are for Armada. These are games that are growing and growing. The downside, of course, is the cost of all these things. The counterpoint to that is that you can at least buy what you want and build your game as you prefer. Nobody is asking you to purchase every item and perhaps you’ll never want to. There’s no denying that these are games of glory and excess, but they also do such a great job of capturing the drama and scale of the combats they represent. They feel right. They feel good.
Quinns: So good. I'd never describe myself as a nostalgic person, but the first time I put the Star Wars soundtrack on as an accompaniment to X-Wing my friend and I started giggling uncontrollably. It still has that effect on me. It's absolutely unreal.
#9: TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
Brendan: I recently had a huddle of friends over to play this and, despite half of them being fairly light boardgamers and most of them not knowing one another, it generated more laughter than anything else possibly could, more ‘ooooh’ and more ‘what!’
When my friend Sarah was stopped in the street by a mad sage, she decided to do the only thing her kind nature would allow. She spoke to the man. The sage then told her a story so boring that it drove her mad. A few more mishaps and her character had become a cursed, insane, ape-like beast, whose movements and decisions were made by the rest of us because the game had deemed her too crazy to make her own choices. It didn’t matter to me that the game, reaching the two-hour mark, eventually descended into drink and chatter too disparate and good-natured to discourage. Arabian Nights had done its job.
Pip: It does weigh more than a toddler though.
That might be a lie, I don't have any toddlers to weigh right this moment. BUT it's a heavy game so persuading someone to bring it over is always a bit of a tough sell. I remember playing it with you guys the summer before this one, though. We were sprawled across a living room, playing in pairs.
I remember when I saw the story book and how many pages it had I thought it was just the instructions and nearly left then and there! It turned out to be magnificent though. I adore storytelling games, and with this one you're not forced to rely on the ingenuity or inspiration of the players. It was surprising and genuinely funny. I remember Leigh and Paul having to do a hand jive at one point to escape a perilous situation, and someone lost their mind completely in an elephant graveyard, or possibly somewhere out in the desert. Brendy, was that you? I feel like that was you.
Brendan: No, I was eaten by an ancient, magical fish called a Dendan.
Quinns: Yo yo yo, my name is Brendan / Trapped inside a Dendan, / Furiously spendin’, / All the money that I’m lendin’!
Brendan: Borrowing. When you take money, it’s borrowing.
Quinns: Shut up, I’m the rapper here.
Paul: I’m surprised that nobody else has even come close to trying what Arabian Nights does with its enormous collection of narrative possibilities, its constant and unremitting story diarrhea. Yes, it’s a difficult game to equal, yes, it’s large and deep and thick with mythology, but why hasn’t anyone else tried at least a similar or derivative system paragraphs and choices and stories? Maybe it really is too hard to do something like this as thoroughly and as well? Or maybe it’s the diarrhea bit.
Quinns: Wassup! Diarrhea is-
Quinns: It's Arabian Nights' history that makes it as fabulous and bizarre an object as it is. A game of this size wasn't simply one publisher's undertaking. Rather, Arabia Nights' story book was grown by three different publishers across three editions. There's little wonder nobody else has come close to equalling it in terms of scale.
Matt's Opener here
Quinns' Review here
Matt: Excellent light party games come and go through the floaty curtain of vogue, but Skull remains something that’s just constantly hot-to-drop at almost any moment. As someone who roams around playing games over and over until the fun burns away, Skull remains one of the few games I’m almost always happy to sit down and have a game of. You can play it reckless, or you can play the long game. Watch the table, see who’s worried, see who’s clearly lost their teeth. But whether you’re wild and ambitious or calculated and cool, Skull is always great fun. I’ve never left the table early with anything less than a grin on my face. Sure, I’m out! I’m getting another drink.
This is the only game I'll teach people who are drunk. It's my rule. Too many times I've found wobbly humans clutching Ladies and Gentlemen at past midnight, but realistically speaking that just isn't going to happen. Playing games while inebriated is brilliant fun, but teaching rules to people who are drunk is likely one of things you'll be forced to do in hell. Skull is the perfect solution - a game that takes minutes to teach, is simple enough not to get slowed down by one player thoughtfuly clutching their hand of cards while locked in a seemingly infinite squint, and most importantly it's a game that benefits from the brassiness that usually comes with booze.
It's the perfect way to cap off a night - regardless of whether or not you've been playing games.
Paul: That’s a really good point. It’s got that great thing that bluffing games have, where there's obvious value in lying, deception, double-bluffing and pushing your luck. It’s naturally going to be something that’s easy to teach people who are drunk, drowning, on fire or otherwise compromised. If your friends were lost in the jungle and surrounded by hungry tigers, you’d probably still be able to introduce it and get a quick round in before inevitable, furry death.
Brendan: It is also supremely easy to make a “pirate” copy out of beer mats, using only a pen. So, bonus points for being able to play this in any pub in the world, with just 2 minutes of preparation and minimal effort.
Paul: Hodor. Hodor is what I remember most about Monikers. I love how this game’s rounds get increasingly ridiculous as you first describe a thing, then use just one word to sum up that thing, then must mime an action to portray that thing. You know what? People get it right so much more often than you’d think. People got Hodor because, after describing him, all I had to do in the second phase of the game was say “Carries!” Then, all I had to do in the third round was mime hefting someone.
Quinns: Exactly! I said this in my review, I think. I've always hated charades because it's humiliating, whereas Monikers is closer to a trust exercise. You do something stupid, but it's startling how quickly your friends IMMEDIATELY understand.
Paul: It's not always the case, mind you. With a lot of the other ones. I won’t embarrass us all by saying exactly what things I’m bad at communicating when frantically gesticulating against the clock, but it’s fine. It’s fine, because I got to watch my friends fail to describe things that were so obvious. And that’s what life is really about, isn’t it?
Matt: It’s amazing how little sense Monikers makes when you’re playing through the very first round - everyone looks at you as if you’re a sadist, as if you’ve just knowingly forced them to play Trivial Pursuit. Why are you doing this to us? Why did you tell us this game was amazing? But Monikers isn’t even really a game - it’s an engine designed to create in-jokes. The first round is nothing more than topping up the whole thing with fuel, and after that it’s consistently raucous. Watching the stupid, occasionally awful things that pour out of people’s mouths when they’re scrambling through their thoughts in a panic provides a wonderful reminder of how silly and useless humans are, and how effortlessly we somehow manage to make sense of each other in spite of that.
Quinns: Oh my god, let's not forget the secret rounds! I'm so glad that someone in the comments under my review told me about the final round that's just miming, in silence, under a bedsheet. It's the best thing.
Paul: Monikers is a marvel and I’m so glad it exists. I’m so glad we can play it together, struggle, succeed, fail, flail. It’s part of what makes this hobby so tremendous. I doubt it’s a game any of us is going to tire of any time soon because, really, none of us is going to ever tire of seeing someone we know be really. Really. Really. Silly. Because they only have five seconds left to communicate the essence of a narwhal.
Paul: This might be the new game I’ve played most this year, perhaps the game I’ve played with the most people, too. It’s certainly between this and Spyfall, both of them games that friends have been introducing more friends to, games that have spread like soothing massage oil across everyone I know and, oohhhh, it’s felt good. But, y’know, I think Codenames has had the edge. I think it’s reached that much further. I think it’s caused that much more excitement and head-scratching.
It’s certainly had affection lavished upon it like the sweetest of newborn babies. If there’s one royal-ass game that we can hold up on a promontory, for all the other games to see, as somebody sings about the Circle of Life, this is it. Oh, and if I ever give you the clue “Codenames, four,” then what I want you to pick is “Clever; funny; simple; unpredictable.” Got that? I like describing this game in a short, concise way because its excellence is found in that same brevity. Good job, Czech games. You’ve released something that has made an awful lot of people very happy.
Quinns: Vlaada does it again. He's a beast. He's our one and only.
What slays me about Codenames is how invested people get. The last time I played it it was simply laid out on a table during a house party. With minimal effort I pulled together 8 people for a huge game, leading to 15 minutes solid of panicking and laughing, which became a photo finish with everybody screaming and high-fiving.
People might not "get" Skull, they might be too introverted for Monikers, but Codenames? It's a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
#5: ANDROID: NETRUNNER
Life Hacks: A Netrunner Story here
On Playmats: A Netrunner Story here
Quinns: What can I say that I haven't already said? Netrunner isn't just the best competitive card game you can buy right now, it's THE competitive game in the tabletop scene. Alone, I've played more Netrunner than all of SU&SD has played any other game. The game's asymmetrical hook of one player controlling a corporation and another player hacking into their servers remains fascinating and fresh, and the global metagame of successful decks is healthier and more varied than ever.
Netrunner's slip from third place to fifth place is simply because there are more cards than ever to buy and/or worry about. The good news is that this won't get much worse. "Rotation" for Netrunner begins in Spring 2017, at which point the earliest expansions will be continually phased out of play (and print) as they're replaced by new sets.
Don't be intimidated, though. All sorts of people are still joining the Netrunner scene despite the hurdles. Not only is the community still growing, you'll never find a competitive game with a greater focus on diversity. In fact, in just the last few months we've started seeing the first women's Netrunner nights pop up.
#4: MEMOIR '44
Review here at 15:02
Let’s Play of Operation Overlord here
Quinns: Oh god it’s good. It’s so good. It’s just so good.
Every time we mention Memoir ‘44 we always get emails telling us to look at Commands & Colours: Ancients or Napoleonics. As in, the other games that use Memoir’s same system of command cards. And maybe they’re better games! I can believe that. But for me, it’s still an argument as effective as the Maginot Line.
Paul: Grand, yet ultimately missing the point? Yes. I had fun with BattleLore and I’m sure the Westeros thingy is also fun if you want to put knights on horses and pull your best grumpy Stannis face, but Memoir just feels and looks so right. It’s so well supported, too, with chunky campaign books and extra armies to field.
Quinns: Yes! Does Command & Colours have tiny plastic army men and plastic sandbags? Does it have those lengthy campaign books, or expansions covering every single front of the war, or planes, or snow, that can increase the length or breadth of the game as you please? Do they have motherf***ing OPERATION OVERLORD where a supreme commander sends dispatches to three other generals fighting for them for a whopping 8 player wargame?
Or you can just own the base game and that’s fine too. You can’t play just one game of it. You always decide to have just one more. Then someone opens a bottle of whiskey and it’s the end of game four and oh god what time is it
Pip: Oh God – Operation Overlord was excellent. It's not for just any game I'd get up obscenely early on a weekend, dress up in a friend's fiance's territorial army kit and spend four hours shouting at you lot from chair trenches in Paul's living room.
I do not regret a single part of that Let's Play, by the way. Hang on. No, I regret not having one of those weird wooden rake things for moving troops about on the board. We had to use a spatula instead which felt downright unprofessional.
#3: CONSULTING DETECTIVE
Quinns: It’s rare that a game lives up to our fevered imaginations. That’s no fault of the games. Team SU&SD is just a clutch of giggling, grown up children and if our imaginations were any stronger we could probably float objects around the room like poltergeists.
Consulting Detective is different. You dim the lights, you invite your friends over, you bring your A-game and you get ready to have some fun. Then you start playing and not only does the game give you that crime you were expecting, the reality of solving a crime knocks you for six. The mystery sucks you in like the undertow of a enormous, dark wave.
Suddenly your friends are arguing about motive. You’re gasping as you recognise the name of some bit-player in the newspaper. You’re trying to pick apart everything that doesn’t make sense as if it were a stubborn knot. You’re on to something, you are. The solution always feels nauseatingly close, as if it were sat right there at the table with you, and the rest of the world melts away.
It’s the best game for couples and the best solo game we’ve ever encountered. Simple as that.
Matt: I played this for the first time a few weeks ago, and had a whale of a time arguing with my other half and one of my best friends over what was conspiracy, what was likely, and was purely pointless conjecture. We rolled around London for what must have been hours, following dead leads and routinely collapsing into gaping pits of cheery red herrings. It’s probably the most fun you can have with a notepad.
Quinns: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's true that some of the cases are nowhere near as good as others. But you’d have to be more boring than we are to let that dislodge this classic from your heart. And it is a classic. That’s elementary.
#2: COSMIC ENCOUNTER
Let's Play here
Written review here
Matt: The more new stuff I bring to the table, the more I realise just how amazing Cosmic is as an introduction to the idea that board games aren’t just awful. I can totally see why many despise the randomised elements, the lack of any consistent feel of mechanical balance. But this box of bright colours and seemingly endless unknowns is a wonderful way of really shocking people’s systems. You’ve been trapped in a grey cupboard for a very long time, and today we’re going to play a game that’s different. Welcome to Narnia.
Cosmic Encounter is my favourite game. I can’t recall how many times I’ve played it, but the cards seriously need cleaning at some point soon. There was a period in my old house when friends of friends would come over to visit wholly for the purpose of checking it out - having a go at this legendary box of alien fun.
Quinns: It’s just so fresh every time you open the box. I’ve played a ton of Memoir and Two Rooms and a Boom, so much so that those games are like old friends, and that’s nice. But Cosmic Encounter is something even better, especially so if you have one or two (or three, or four) of the current edition’s excellent expansions. When I set it up it’s like playing a game for the very first time. This crazy box is going to entertain me somehow. I just don’t know how.
Paul: It’s singular. It’s not a new game, since it’s been around for decades and endlessly reprinted, yet it’s still updated and supported. It’s not a particularly complex game, but it offers up all kinds of combinations of races and powers that can be hilarious and confusing and silly and intriguing. It’s not balanced, because it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t even have particularly interesting or unusual mechanics or systems, since its rules are very simple.
Still, it’s a game you can introduce to just about anyone. It’s a game you can immediately play again without any sort of fatigue, because you know the next game has more surprises in store. I don’t know if I can ever fully get behind the idea of naming a number one game or a best game, but Cosmic Encounter is probably board gaming’s best advert. It’s the best thing to get more people into it. It’s the best thing to get people away from the sin and sickness of things like Cluedo and healing themselves with this rehab. It’s very special and it’s brought a lot of happiness and good moments into the world.
#1: PANDEMIC LEGACY
Spoiler-free review here
Quinns: OH MY GOODNESS! Cosmic Encounter has been ousted from the #1 slot! Shut Up & Sit Down's new answer for "What is the best board game ever made?" is now "Pandemic Legacy".
This is the new edition of classic co-operative game Pandemic, enriched with the Legacy format that has players permanently altering their board game as they play through a campaign. I've now completed my copy, and my girlfriend and I are thinking strongly about framing the board with a few choice components.
Some people are going to love this game for the simple delight of prying open all of its serrated windows and boxes, and being surprised over and over again. Some are going to love it for the human element it lends Pandemic, with players fighting to save cities and even one another. Some are going to love it for the extra dimension it gives Pandemic as a puzzle, forcing you to weigh up simply winning the game against permanently scarring your board, characters or future games. Some people are going to love it for the emotive rituals it gives board gaming, as you begin this game, damage it, discover it, and ultimately end it.
On this site we've always said that the value of board games is in offering you precious moments that you can share with people you love, and remember for the rest of your life. In that regard, Pandemic Legacy is the only game on this list that sets out, first and foremost, to be a happy memory, and not just a great game.
I couldn't be happier that this box is simply referred to as "Season 1". Roll on Season 2!
That wraps up the Top 50, ladies and gentlemen!
...Or does it?