Elegant simulations
Thi Nguyen
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Salt Lake City
Utah
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A quickie of a geeklist. Just a brief thought I just had, please add more ideas.

The idea of a game being "elegant" is pretty familiar -mostly people talk about abstracts like go, or semi-abstracts like, say, Samurai, Tigris & Euphrates, and Acquire. Most abstracts do, indeed, have a small rule-set and a lot of complex interaction.

However, most of them aren't particularly *like* anything. I mean, chess is mostly a game of competing geometries, and go - well, you can tell somebody it's like a long-term territory dominance game, but it's, in the end, just about the relationship of stones and liberties.

So I'm interested in which games get a hell of a lot of *feel* of a specific situation for a relatively small number of rules.

I'm interested in the relative elegance - the ratio of rule complexity to simulation.

And I'm also sometimes charmed by particular rules - one particularly nice quirk that makes the game much more simulatory.

Games that don't make this list because of relative inelegance: Advanced Squad Leader,
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1. Board Game: StreetSoccer [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:1152]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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StreetSoccer is what started this list. I am astonished by how soccer-like it gets from an extraordinarily small rule set. Basically, the rules are: players move orhogonally, balls move orthogonally or diagonally and are allowed to bend 45% once in a given kick, and you roll the dice and get to split the die roll between one piece's movement and, if he gets to the ball, the ball's movement.

The ball can't move through an opponent's piece.

Only one more rule beyond this: passing is allowed, and every person that receives and kicks the ball pushes the ball one extra free space.

You get out of the ball-passing rule all the need for setting up complicated passes. The fact that the players can move orthogonally only sets up very nice blocking mechanisms - if your piece is right next to an opponent's piece, and you kick the ball to your opposite side, your opponent has to move *three* squares to get to the ball.

Really, that's it. There are a few small rules to prevent abusive play, but it *feels* like soccer. Really. I mean, nobody believes it until they play - but there are dozens of little interactions between these simple rules, and it frickin' feels like soccer. A lot. Really.
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2. Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:69]
Thi Nguyen
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Salt Lake City
Utah
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Hannibal has a pretty large number of rules, relative to the games I play, but, compared to the other rules-heavy games I've played, way wins out on simulatory whatever. It's the political markers. The game board is covered with political markers. Political dominance (measured by majority of markers in a province) is: one of the win conditions; a determinant of allies for nearby battles, etc.

So the game ends up not being one of gathering forces and marching, but one of a small number of generals wheeling around each other, dodging past each other, getting into the interior of each others' areas, stirring up unrest, cutting off political support, using new political support to attack.

It feels extraordinarily specific.

I am hella, hella impressed.
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3. Board Game: Dune [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:132]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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Also on the rules-heavy side of things, but extraordinary in how much of the feel of the Dune world it gets.

In particular: it gets the space-age, economic balance well with all the rules about being able to pay to ship people into any quadrant.

It gets the strange interlocking balance of the factions by how they have to *pay each other* to use each others services. (This bit is perhaps the most brilliantly original part of the game, for me, and I think gets under-noticed in discussion of the game).

The wheeling, circling, semi-predictable storm gets a helluva lot of the thrill and drama of the books.

AND, I think, every faction has a very small number of rules that are genuinely extraordinary in the level to which they capture the Dune world feel.

In particular: the Fremen's ability to know how far the storm is coming, and survive the storm somewhat.

The Bene Gesserit's win condition of prediction (if they predict the winner and turn # of win, THEY win instead) completely captures the odd, paranoid feeling everybody ought to have about those mysterious, wiley, untrustworthy-but-unavoidable Bene Gesserit.

The Guild and Fremen's win condition (nobody else wins by turn 15 - they have kept Dune from getting taken over by a single faction).

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4. Board Game: Daytona 500 [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:840]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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Back to the ultrasimple - for very, very few rules concerning movement, this early Kramer game manages to get much of the feel of blocking, vying for position, and drafting.

It's obviously not the world' most perfect racing simulation, but it gets a hell of a lot out of basically three movement rules.
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5. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:272]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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The thing about Knizia is, I always have no idea how the game even *works* - how the elements manage to make it a *good* game. This really comes out in Taj Mahal, but even more, in LOTR: The confrontation. I have no *freakin* idea how it is that this works, but:

1. The diamond board combined with the rule that you have to move forward does a lot to get the desperation and time-urgency of the books. The pieces have to move forward, and they inexorably move into tighter and tighter spaces.

2. The balance of the pieces is pretty incredible.

3. The Frodo can escape sideways except in the mountains rule manages to capture, in one little rule, so much of the drama of the books...

sorry, I'm totally failing to say anything interesting here...
 
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6. Board Game: Shogi [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:774]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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I am told the paradrop rule was introduced into the chess tradition to make the modern shogi because of the existence of all those ronin. The paradrop rule is: if you capture a piece, it is now yours, and you may, as your move, enter it into any space on the board. This allows giving check or checkmate with a paratrooper.

This rule, I think, really transforms the chess-family. Normal western chess and its variants tends towards movement into more predictability, tighter calculation. It gets less and less like a simulation of anything.

Add the paradrop rule, and, as the game goes on, things get tighter, more paranoid. Those pieces could drop *anywhere*. The calculation space *increases*.

Just like, say, if you were a Japanese warlord and your opponent beat and hired away your ronin and you had no idea where the hell they were out on that foggy battlefield...
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7. Board Game: Netrunner [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:340]
Thi Nguyen
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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I think netrunner's neatest, most simulatory rule, is the bit where *everything* that the corp has is raidable by the netrunner. Your hand, your discard pile, your undrawn deck - you have to defend all of these from hack attacks.

Which, I think, makes playing the corp feel less like a card game (this is my deck, here is my hand, here are the cards I have out) and makes it feel a hell of a lot more like being a corp under attack by a hacker - paranoid, with nothing reliable, everything's gotta be protected....
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8. Board Game: Deadlands: Doomtown [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:1069]
Eric Jome
United States
Franklin
Wisconsin
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I always cringe when adding a collectible card game to a list on a board game website, but...

This game was an absolutely brilliant model of the inspirational material. And I don't mean Deadlands, I mean Westerns.

You begin with a small band of desperados, the tiny town grows rapidly like the boomtowns of the old West, your gang becomes embroiled in an attempt to control the town, and the whole thing often winds up in a decisive shootout at a key location. The mechanic for resolving these gun fights? Poker. Factions covered old West standards like the sheriff and his deputies, the outlaws, and the company that owned the mining town. Cliches from great Western movies and television were everywhere, from Chinese immigrants working at laundries and railroads to the final dialogue between the main characters in The Quick and The Dead.

If you ever have occasion to slap leather in the town square, remember that there is a tick right before the clock strikes noon.
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9. Board Game: HellRail (Second Perdition) [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:6367]
Matthew Nadelhaft
Scotland
Edinburgh
Scotland
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I think this game is about as elegant as they come - one set of cards that are the tracks you lay down, the passengers you ferry, the fuel determining how far you move, and also how many cards you can draw. Whether or not it counts as a simulation.... but hey, maybe ferrying souls in hell really IS like this!
 
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10. Board Game: Quirks [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:3793]
Matthew Nadelhaft
Scotland
Edinburgh
Scotland
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This is one clever little game! The simple mechanism for moving the environment along an evloutionary track, and the little slide-rule-thingy for determining how viable your organism is in any particular environment - not to mention the wrinkle of getting extra points is you can eat another organism in the same environment.
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11. Board Game: En Garde [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:1391]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Surely this game belongs here.
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12. Board Game: Mississippi Queen [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:1209]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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I believe this might qualify as well.
 
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13. Board Game: Um Reifenbreite [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:777]
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I've never cycled competitively, but in my couch-potato days I did watch a few races where teams of cyclists would race (I believe this was the Olympics?). Anyway, when we played Homas Tour, it looked eerily like what I saw on television. The bunching up, the lines of bikers drafting each other, the breakaways... Always a recommendation for someone who likes racing games.
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14. Board Game: Fighting Sail: Sea Combat in the Age of Canvas and Shot 1775-1815 [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:4626] [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Clinton Smith
United States
Port Arthur
Texas
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I own over 300 wargames and I consider Fighting Sail the most elegant of the entire lot. Two other words that aptly describe the game are these: streamlined and focused. I especially like the use of command chits for the ships instead of written orders, and the tableless combat mechanics.
 
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15. Board Game: Yacht Race [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:4271]
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While typing up Homas Tour, this is the other race game which came to mind. Players each pilot a yacht around a course. each player has a hand of "wind change" cards, a set number of spinnakers (the game's "boost" cards). The game's simple rules give a very nice simulation of yacht racing, allowing the players to "steal the wind" from other boats via positioning, and using the spinnaker cards for a jump. Yacht race, like Homas Tour, has a random event deck. You can play without it, but the events do add to the charm of the game.
 
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16. Board Game: G.E.V. [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1252]
Eliot Hemingway
United States
Seattle
Washington
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G.E.V. is the simplest wargame I've ever seen that actually feels like a wargame. The theme is well entrenched in the rules, yet not obtrusive. It feels like a nuclear battlefield (or rather, what I imagine one to be like) because of the tactics required to survive.

While the expansions (especially Shockwave) add more complexity, the basic game of G.E.V. is exeedingly simple. Nearly all the information you need is printed on the counters, and the small amount that isn't (usually how units move over different terrain) can be remembered easily because they are logical. Combat is also simple and the only info not printed on the counters, the CRT, is very easily memorized.

Simply put, one of the best tactical wargames ever designed.
 
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17. Board Game: Triplanetary [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:4117]
Rob Rob
United States
La Mesa
California
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A surprisingly simple vector movement system that simulates Newtonian physics in zero-gee space flight. You don't even need extra rules to orbit a planet. You just approach the gravity well at the right speed and the game's own mechanics take over.
 
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18. Board Game: Classic Warlord [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:2914]
David Hunter
United Kingdom
Bexley
Kent
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This is the one that would get my vote for elegance any day (which when you come to think about it is an odd thing to say about nuclear war...). A few hundred words of rules only and a brilliantly simple combat mechanic that uses a dice but doesn't roll it and is about as far as you can get from "give me a six to kill him".
 
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19. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Series [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:1043]
Andrea Angiolino
Italy
Rome
European Union
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Nice and elegant system to give you the feeling of a WWI air duel. Very effective if just two planes are involved.
 
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20. Board Game: Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:665]
Alan Richbourg
United States
Arlington
Texas
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By far the most elegant wargame I've played, and I've played quite a few. I bought it after learning about it at BGG. The variant I made is even more elegant, imho.
 
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21. Board Game: Mogul [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2139]
Eric Poolman
United States
Portland
Oregon
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I immediately thought of Mogul:

Ridiculously simple ruleset, very few pieces and cards, and yet it feels completely like I'm running a pyramid scheme as long as I can before the market crashes.

The bidding money *just* so that you can take it from other players is a really clever trick -- I've suspected that the designer had the the idea for the mechanic, tried it out, and realized it was perfect for a market game.
 
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22. Board Game: Bonaparte at Marengo [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:686]
Mark Christopher
United States
Salem
Massachusetts
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In the wonderful game, Bonaparte at Marengo, this is how to get nasty Frenchies out of a village.
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With the possible exception of the road movement rules, I find this to be a truly elegant wargame. Indeed, it seems to straddle a unique intersection of war, euro, and abstract games. While I greatly enjoy the other wargames on this list, I find this one the most elegant of them (and of any others I've played). All the parts fit together so well, I sometimes have to wonder how the designer could have *not* thought of all the pieces before starting the design process.
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23. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:498]
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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Zendo as a simulation of the scientific method. See here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1363713#1363713
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24. Board Game: Mayday [Average Rating:5.84 Overall Rank:7065]
William Hostman
United States
Eagle River
Alaska
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Gaming in Greater Anchorage area, Alaska since 1978. Looking for Indy-willing RPG players in Eagle River (or willing to drive to Eagle River). Geekmail me if interested.
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This is the elegant space combat game... not Triplanetary.

Using a future position counter allows realistic vector movement. The simple combat system makes this fast playing. That it captures the same feel as the significantly longer space combat rules in the Traveller RPG is good. That it can be substituted whole cloth for same is even better.

Further, it's expandable. The Classic Traveller ship design system is fully compatible with this ruleset.
 
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25. Board Game: Pit [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:1080]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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It's hard to get a higher "simulation accuracy" to "rule complexity" ratio than here. You get the real feeling of being in the epynomous "pit" with only very few rules.
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