the crab on your chestthe paint on your mouththe noblest of dogs
Quinns: RETRIEVE YOUR OFFICIAL SU&SD-BRANDED MOIST TOWELETTES! It's about to get hot in here.
Last year we presented something never-before-seen in board games. Our Top 25 Board Games, Ever was a list of our most favourite games ordered from least-most favourite to most-most favourite. Ever since then, the SU&SD Supercomputer has been calculating a method by which we could possibly top this. Last week, it provided a schematic for something... incredible.
The science behind the following Top 50 is complicated, but in layman's terms we'll be "publishing" "instalments" every day this week, and beyond(!).
NOTE: A few game descriptions in this list will be unchanged from last year! Writing 10,000 words for 2014's list was a herculean effort, so we decided to see what we could manage in 2015 rather than committing to 20,000 words.
#50: HIVE POCKET
Guide to the Pemberton manoeuvre here
Paul: I still don’t like Hive. Do you remember how, last year, I didn’t like Hive? I still don’t like Hive. Maybe I just don’t like all these logical, sensible games of prediction and foresight. Or maybe it’s not that, as I quite like For the Crown and Duke. So I guess I just don’t like Hive. Er, sorry! That’s not very constructive. But we should definitely yank it out of the top 50. That’s what I say.
Quinns: Listen, you grubby oik, nobody's fumigating the top 50!
Hive Pocket is staying put for as long as it continues to make the noise it does when you set it up in a pub. A tipping of its orange bag... a clatter of impossibly heavy plastic tiles, skidding across the table... as if the portentous WIT and DRAMA of this game was weighing the components down.
A silence fills the room as men and women pause, pints held inches from their lips. They look over at the table. The contest of wits is about to begin.
Paul: You want Hive on this list because of the noise it makes? It still sounds like an illness you might have. “Oh, doctor, help me! I’ve got HIVE POCKET.”
Quinns: Tell you what. If you can beat me at Hive, we’ll take it off this list.
#49: DOGS OF WAR
Quinns: It's the first surprise in our top 50! Our #49 game is this grand ol’ box full of mercenary captains with silly hats, where the game is simply deciding when and where to pledge your soldiers. In other words, it's a game where you are the victory points. Quelle horreur!
Paul: God, I love dogs, all the way from the smallest dogs (“cats”) to the largest (“bears”) and everything in between. That includes this very pretty and very mean game of betting on battles that produces some often ridiculous and even hilarious situations. Have I ever found that I wanted, nay, needed, my own side to lose? Did I ever back the wrong horse (the most noble of the dogs)? Of course I did. Dogs of War is brilliantly canny BUT ALSO it’s a really good-looking game, quite unlike anything else out there. Look at those figures. Look at those cards. Look at all the plush plushness of it.
Quinns: Wait, you’ve played this? When did you play this? I was ready to die alone on this hill, clutching our army’s standard until it was pried out of my hands.
What’s this? Coming out of the blood and smoke of the battle? It’s Paul! My friend... my (cough, sputter) old friend...
This is fitting, of course. Dogs of War is as fun as it is because its central choice (which side of a battle do you join?) means your friends only ever occupy two very emotional, interesting roles. They’re either your noble allies, and you’ll want to kiss them for joining you, or they’ll join the other side of a battle, and you’ll start SCREAMING as they begin pouring cannons and knights onto the other side.
“YOU SAID WE’D WIN,” cries your friend.
“WE WILL WIN,” you say, but they can see your panic. They know you’re already dead.
Ahh, it’s like nothing else! Let me just quote this line from our review:
“It’s exactly the same as Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. You start with a simple, rich game, then remove all of the space on the board until you’re squeezed up to your friends like chicks in a nest. Competitive, ugly and noisy, but ultimately enjoying one another’s warmth.”
I stand by this! But what I’d add is that unlike Settlers or Ticket to Ride, Dogs of War lets you help your friends, too. It’s yin and yang, and all the better for it.
Quinns' thoughts here
Paul: Coup! The best games about lying are games where you can catch people lying or let them sail on past, confident in the knowledge that you can snag them later, whenever you choose, this poor fool who doesn’t even know they’re under your thumb. This is Coup. This is every game of Coup.
I knew you didn’t have a Baron in your hand. How? Cause I’m sitting on two of them and so is Millicent. Instead of calling you out, I’m just going to add to the confusion of this hidden roles game by making the same claim that you just did. And if I’m called out? I was telling the truth all along. If you call me out. Do you have the courage? Do you?
Matt: It’s good! It’s very good! I’ve recently developed a bit of fatigue when it comes to playing hidden traitor games, perhaps simply because the best times I’ve had were had within the first few sessions of playing. With the perfect kind of group those games are incredible, but they can easily devolve into a disappointing shout-off. Coup has really grown on me over the years on the basis of how simple but clever it is, allowing for accusations and poker-faced lies while firmly propped up by solid deduction. Coup raises eyebrows more frequently than voices, making for much more versatile fun. Also the silver chip tokens are amazing - possibly my favourite currency from a game! I want to leap bum-first into a jacuzzi that’s full of them, like a low-rent Scrooge McDuck.
Quinns: I read this and winced. They're hexagonal, Matt! You don't want one of those up your Ambassador.
Quinns: Now we’re expanding our Top 25 to a Top 50, we're learning about ourselves. One discovery we’ve enjoyed is that if a game is different, if nothing else on your shelves can come close to offering the same experience, that’s a golden ticket into this list.
And absolutely nothing in 2015 offers an experience as batshit-crazy as Witness. Four friends sat around a table, whispering fragments of clues to one another, then frantically writing down everything they can remember before each of you answers a series of questions. Witness isn’t just a hilarious, inventive, rewarding game. It’s a great game despite featuring a written exam.
Some games on this list I’ll recommend to a certain kind of person. Other games I’ll recommend to everybody. Witness is a third type of game, one that you should own because nothing like it has come before, and nothing like it will come again. Like Toc Toc Woodman, it’s going to be just as stupid and thrilling as it is now, twenty years from now. Although unlike Toc Toc Woodman it’s not an embarrassing thing to own.
All that said, among this year’s greatest tragedies are that we reviewed Ystari’s Witness before the release of Mad Max: Fury Road. Rest assured that if it had been the other way around you’d have seen me spraying silver paint on my lips, sprinting around the park in a classy trenchcoat.
Paul: I’m sorry, what was that? I didn’t quite hear you.
#46: LADIES & GENTLEMEN
Paul: I increasingly think that Ladies & Gentlemen is actually a dysfunctional relationship simulator. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be something of a satire on a certain sort of pairing but, after playing more and more games (some of them with boisterous Canadians), all of which involve me arguing with my husband or wife about the practicalities of money, I think it might be too close to the bone.
Not that I don’t like that. Ladies & Gentleman has a very rare thing that most co-operative games don’t possess, that being a particular kind of frisson within your team. That anxiety only increases if you play it with an odd number of players, adding in that terribly troublesome courtesan who may embarrass one couple into TOTAL DEFEAT. There’s nothing else out there with a design like this. It’s wonderful.
Quinns: Last year I was saying that this might slip out of our best games list the moment we found another game that had fun with the dynamic of pairing players up. We'll never know until one such a suitor finally arrives. Until then, Ladies & Gentlemen still stands alone as a unique, quaint and very funny game.
#45: SURVIVE: ESCAPE FROM ATLANTIS
SU&SD's Best Games for your Family here
Paul: NOW WE’RE TALKING. Look at this, a classic family game of destruction and disaster, updated for the modern era. What other games let you pull apart an island, piece by piece, plunging your cousin into the sea? And check out those dolphins! You can save a person with a dolphin! It’s just like in real life.
This is also sort of like what I imagine would happen if there was an earthquake in an aquarium. You’d all fall into the water and, depending upon what animal you fell in next to, you’d survive or be in SO MUCH TROUBLE. Or just grossed out. If a crab ever touched me, I’d be so grossed out. Wouldn’t you?
Quinns: No, I really like crabs. They thrill me!
I couldn’t tell you why, either. I love birds, but that's because they're unearthly and elegant. Seeing crabs fill me with just as much joy, but why? I honestly don't know! They’re creepy and hard. Imagine waking up in the morning and seeing a large crab sat on your chest. It would be terrible!
Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to observe them, and their movements are so interesting?
Quinns: Maybe I just like the word crab. Anyway, Survive! should get a crab expansion, that's what I'm saying.
#44: SPACE CADETS
Let's Play here
Designer interview here
Matt: I liked this game because I got to be in charge while simultaneously blaming everyone else for everything. Also I had no idea what was going on, and that was fine. If at any point you'd asked me to perform any of the roles of the people beneath me, I would have had absolutely no ability to do so.
I increasingly feel like I missed my calling in life, and should have been a corporate middle-manager. IN SPACE.
Paul: Space Cadets is a really good spin on multiplayer, co-operative play, as well as such a fine example of how board games can break out of the conventions that we think they should neatly, quietly, respectfully sit inside and surprise us like a face at the window. At the twentieth floor window.
It feels like half a dozen games in one, a bunch of minigames that together combine to form this brilliantly busy, tense, exciting and also actually very accessible game that’s often as much physical as it is mental. It should be a team-building exercise. It should be a compulsory co-operative experience. It might be my favourite co-operative game.
What I also like is, though this is a wonderfully silly team game, there’s still room to impress people with some skillful decisions. You can be good at allocating shields! You can practice torpedo tapping! You can actually talk to your friends like an adult! Maybe. Possibly. I’m all for a group of friends practicing, bonding and gradually forming an elite crew.
Quinns: With all the stations it's MORE than half a dozen games in one. It's almost too much. I saw someone on BoardGameGeek describe it as "a bear to teach," and I didn't understand what that meant until I'd tried teaching it. Running around the table, teaching seven different board games to five different people. It really is a bear. I was properly wrestling with these hairy rules, fur in my mouth, the weight of it all crushing the fun from my lungs.
In the end that ended up not being so much of a downside. That's the price of entry for what Space Cadets offers. A game that's almost childishly ambitious. And once you're past the rules explanation, you're playing something as funny as it is heroic. You're flying a space ship! An honest to god space ship! And you're all so bad at it!
Brendan: The physical stuff makes this what it is. There is nothing tenser than the moment everyone goes quiet and watches as the weapons officer flick his torpedo up the BOOM tracker. And nothing funnier than watching them screw it up, firing the little red disc off the table entirely, into a bowl of old milk on the ground. Shouts burst out. Heckles, insults.
“What the hell!”
“What were you even trying to achieve!”
“Chalice of Christ, you are rubbish.”
“Get that torpedo out of that milk!”
#43: SUBURBIA & CASTLES OF MAD KING LUDWIG
Suburbia review here
King Ludwig impressions here
Quinns: Ooh, it's the first of our doubled-up entries! We decided that Suburbia and quasi-sequel Castles of Mad King Ludwig were too darn similar to merit their own entries, so we're placing both of these tile-placing games in the same... uh, place.
It’s been a bad year for me and Alspach's tile placement games. I didn't get along with Castles of Mad King Ludwig as much as everybody else, and then the Suburbia 5★ expansion came out and arrived in my game of Suburbia like a clown car, partially running over Suburbia's delicate sense of humour. I found Suburbia funny when I was putting a fast-food restaurant next to a stationary shop. I find it less funny when I'm putting an Alien Mountain next to a Colosseum.
As for the actual mechanic it adds, with everybody's town being either exciting or boring? Eh. Let's just say I'm not sure about 5★, or even 3★.
Paul: Clicking together a town is a funny old thing, trying to draw more people in but, at the same time, not devaluing the very pretty cityscape that you’re trying so very hard to shape. Suburbia is one of those games that you might not enjoy because you might want more direct player interaction. That’s fair enough, I guess, but that doesn’t make me like it any less. Assembling the perfect city is both a puzzle and a compromise, a challenge that requires a very particular mix of foresight and adaptability. Oh, and it’s really quite a bit of fun. I should probably add that bit, right?
BUT THEN CASTLES. Okay, sort of castle-bungalows, I guess, as Ludwig can build basements, but never anything actually above or below anything else. What I’d really like, one day, is a three-dimensional version of something like this, but for now I’m more than happy to jigsaw together a bunch of rooms so that I can connect a crypt and a garden and a dining hall. Fundamentally, Castles might be a bit of a silly game, but it also has so much charm and character. It’s won me over and, frankly, everyone else can go to The Pit (it’s just at the end of that corridor I built).
#42: THE RESISTANCE: AVALON
Let's Play here
SU&SD's Tales of Betrayal here
Paul: Wait, wait, wait a second. Quinns, I thought you said we were done with The Resistance? I thought you, in particular, felt it had sort of run its course? Am I misunderstanding something here? How could you bow to the pressure of Matt and me?
Quinns: *turns to face the window*
I am done with The Resistance, Paul. But the world is not. Everywhere we go, it’s the word on everyone’s lips... The Resistance, they say. Won’t you join us?
They don’t understand. I’ve been part of every resistance since the beginning, each and every one promising a change in the status quo. But what’s changed, really? It feels like the only thing these revolutions have altered is me. I’ve become jaded. Less trustworthy.
Yes, this game is in our Top 50, because it shouldn’t be up to me. Let the youth have their resistance. It’s their right. And let me have my bitterness.
Paul: That’s nice. I could play The Resistance: Avalon again, or the base game with the plot thickens cards. I don’t think I would ever return to vanilla Resistance, but I could definitely play any version of the game that has bells on and that, I feel works best with about six or seven players. I think games of any form of The Resistance can tend to follow the same pattern, but the best antidote to this is to make sure you’ve tossed in all those special roles, particularly a clueless Oberon (the bad guy who doesn’t know who is on any team) and to regularly introduce a few new players. I wouldn’t play this with the same group over and over, but I’d really look forward to a game that allows us to introduce some new people to both the group and even to gaming. For me, The Resistance: Avalon remains one of the best ways to get new people into the hobby and immediately doing something exciting, something devious.
Matt: Hello, I’m an evil liar. Also yes - Avalon is amazing. I’ve never actually bothered with Vanilla Resilla after being so taken with Merlin and Morgana, it’s the added element of confusion and treachery that tips into being something quite special. Trying to root out the bad guys based on mistrust alone makes the game either a breeze or impossible depending on the quality of liars at your table, but giving the baddies the opportunity to snatch victory back at the very last minute is always very bloody exciting. It also just adds more questions to the mix, rather than who’s been nice and who’s been naughty. Merlin knows who all the bad guys are, but if he makes that too obvious then the good guys lose. Meanwhile, you’ve got at least two other players doing their best to pretend to be Merlin. I do enjoy the mad variety of other hidden role games, but there’s something wonderfully simple about Avalon’s focus around this single role.
#41: CASTLES OF BURGUNDY
Our Top Games of 2012 here
Paul: I stepped into the Shut Up & Sit Down office this morning (which is aboard the Shut Up & Sit Down yacht, floating in the Shut Up & Sit Down lake) and found that someone had removed Castles of Burgundy from the Top 50. Who was it?
Quinns: It was just resting temporarily outside the list, but--
Paul: IT WAS YOU
Quinns: RESTING, TEMPORARILY
Paul: This may possibly be a game that I like forever. A game I will never tire of. A game I will play until I die. Possibly as I die. Possibly on my deathbed, croaking, my crinkled hand will give a signal which my manservant interprets as one last play. Scuttling over to me, his back hunched in deference, his eyes always avoiding my aged yet evil gaze, he’ll set those boards down. There’ll be a glint in his eye as the many hexagons of pigs and sheep and churches are laid out, a gasp of excitement as he grabs for goods or gets to roll again. Another game will end and each of us will have another gorgeous tableau of a town laid out in front of them, except this time the game ends in silence and my body moves no more.
EXCEPT IT DOES, because Castles of Burgundy has given me new life. My withered, undead corpse rises from the bed and into the air, cackling with joy, as lightning bursts from my fingertips and bats fly from my twisted mouth. The curse is not yet lifted. I will reign again for another century. Thanks, Castles of Burgundy. Thurgundy.
Quinns: Prior to this year I always had a creeping guilt surrounding our recommending Castles of Burgundy, which would be fine if it came from this box having weird necromantic powers. But it was actually because this was the first Stefan Feld game we played. What if there was another one out there that was better? Were we living a lie?!
That’s why I was relieved this year to have reviewed Mr. Feld’s 2nd most highly-rated game, Trajan, with Matt. It was good, but not great. It certainly wouldn’t bring anyone back from the dead. Or if it did, it would be as one of those crap blue zombies from the original Dawn of the Dead.
(Our top 50 continues tomorrow, as we hurtle into the 30's...)