Rick's Adventures in Board Gaming

Making note of my life in the hobby. Occasional attempts at humor included.
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The Bottom Half of my Top 10 Thematic Games

Rick Baptist
United States
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I thought I'd get the thematic games out of the way first -- not from reader pressure, mind you, but just because these are the ones I'm usually most excited to play. I REALLY enjoy games with theme, and when it's a good game to boot it gets to be on this list. Now, I took a little liberty with the categories, but I'm happy, so that's what counts. So here's the bottom of the 10, starting with number 10 and working down to 6.

#10 - Space Hulk (third edition)

I never did Games Workshop stuff when I was little. I dabbled in some Britannia and LotR stuff when I was older, but I really had little exposure to Warhammer 40k. I was more of a fantasy guy opposed to space. But after the initial hype on BGG (and Robert Florence's incredible video) I was hooked and my wife got the game for me two Christmas' ago. Since then, I've fallen in love with the mechanics and the theme. You can really get sucked into the gameplay, and what a simple hourglass can do to your sanity is beautiful. In fact, the "interrupt" mechanic in this game is also in a wargame -- Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42. I must really like a mechanic to put a wargame on my radar. Anyway, it's one of my six-year-old's favorites, and surely will stay in that camp for a bit.

#9 - Catacombs

Here's another genre of game that I never really got into before this particular title. I remember we had an old Carrom set growing up, but I never viewed it as much more than a toy. I didn't have that cool uncle that came over and played it with me all the time, teaching me moves and what-not. But when I heard the idea of Catacombs, I was instantly hooked. This guy Aron West must be a genius, to meld the dungeon-crawl and flicking into one, because the game is almost flawless in my estimation. This just doesn't get out enough with my game groups, but it certainly gets out plenty at home -- it's my son's favorite game. My heroes usually win about half the time, but it's a true struggle all the way. Wonderful, wonderful game.

#8 - Mall of Horror

Oh man, Mall of Horror. A lot of you haven't played this. You must play. I bought this a VERY long time ago, right when I got back into boardgaming and had purchased Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game (spoiler, you might see that later). I remember watching a Vasel review on it where he recommended it and just went for it. Man, this rulebook is horrible. I printed out several BGG aids and even then was struggling. Quite sure the first few plays were dead wrong. But when we started getting it right, whew, it's one of the best negotiation games out there. The whole premise is quite silly but also deeply thematic -- who in the world wants to get thrown outside by your friends to get eaten by zombies?!? And the game just works -- alliances are formed and overturned easily, and when it happens, it's a riot. I think the single thing I love about it is the security camera -- when you have someone able to see where the zombies can come out, you naturally want to see that as well. Bribing the deputy to look at those dice is very satisfying. I don't know if I could ever tire of this game, and I was happy to hear that it's on the road to being reprinted. I just wish they would have kept the original theme, though I'm sure a mafia theme will be enjoyable as well.

#7 - Ghost Stories

I'm a co-op fan, which means that I usually need to try out every co-op game I can once I know of its existence. I don't remember if I had heard about Ghost Stories before I sat down to a game of it. I just remember seeing the art and looking at the thing set up and getting excited. One of the best things about GS is what this category is all about - theme. There is theme to here and back in Ghost Stories. And once you get past the initial few plays, when you can forget about the mechanic questions and just play the game, it's incredible. I've played it quite a bit solo and it works, but there's nothing quite like playing it with friends and knowing that just one wrong move starts the avalanche of despair. I think there needs to be more games like this. So bravo to you, Mr. Bausa, I think you're terrific. Now I need to find Ghost Stories: White Moon and those bloody expansion cards somewhere.

#6 - Descent: Journeys in the Dark

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall while Kevin Wilson designed this game. Don't you think he was jumping off the walls making this? I know I would be. I'd come up with the different values of monsters depending on the number of players and do a somersault. Combat resolution would put me on the ceiling. And then having Fantasy Flight Games be the one to publish it ... geez. Sometimes I wonder if those dungeon tiles could perhaps be one of the best components in a game of all time. They're amazingly sturdy, beautifully detailed, and always work. The efforts from some lesser games really show how terrific these things are. But it's not about the components for me in Descent, as much as I admire them. It's not even the mechanics. Sometimes, I want to enjoy a "game experience". And I think that's what you're getting into if you play a game of Descent. You're sitting down to an awesome experience with your friends. I never did D&D growing up, so I don't know about roleplaying. But I can't imagine not having the visual elements that Descent provides. For a time, Descent was my favorite game of all time. It's been pushed down a few places, but dang it, this is and always will be the best dungeon-crawler in gaming history. No doubt in my mind. I can't recommend it enough.
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