Games of the Years
T. Rosen
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Spiel des Tom? Deutscher Spiele Tom? The best I could come up with was "Games of the Years" but I suppose it's the most descriptive and clear of the bunch. With the relatively recent announcement of the International Gamers Award (Through the Ages and Mr. Jack), Deutscher Spiele Preis (Pillars of the Earth), and Games Magazine Game of the Year (Pillars of the Earth), I decided it was high time for me to go through the arduous task of picking my favorite game from every year... stretching all the way back 131 years to good ol' 1876. You'll be surprised to know that somehow I wasn't able to come up with a Best in Show for every year, so I ended skipping a couple years. Thus, I present you with 18 Games of the Years. Please note that the the years are based on the years in BGG database, so for example, El Grande and Settlers both fall under 1995, despite the former winning the SDJ in 1996, and Age of Steam falls under 2002 despite winning the 2003 IGA.

You'll notice that these 18 games differ a fair bit from my Top 20. In fact, 8 of the Top 20 games were bumped because they were released in competitive years. The Top 20 games that failed to make the cut by a quirk of fate due to their release date include: Goa, Caylus, Carcassonne, Louis XIV, Reef Encounter, Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, and Wallenstein.

Unsurprisingly, the winning designer is Reiner Knizia with 3 Games of the Years (in contrast to his zero SDJ's of course), and Wolfgang Kramer comes in second place netting himself 2 Games of the Years (with my two favorite games - El Grande and Java). Interestingly, Rudiger Dorn failed to capture a single Game of the Year, but nonetheless had an impressive showing with 4 second-place finishes with Arkadia, Louis XIV, Goa, and Traders of Genoa. An impressive crop of games that got barely edged out in 4 different years.

The rest of the designers all show up once (in alphabetical order): Ralf Burkert, Allan Calhamer, Stefan Dorra, Bill Eberle, Stefan Feld, Richard Garfield, Mac Gerdts, Claudia Hely, Michael Kiesling, Jack Kittredge, Alan Moon, Peter Olotka, Roman Pelek, Sid Sackson, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, Richard Ulrich, and Martin Wallace.

To see how my picks compare to the SDJ, DSP, IGA, Mensa, and Games Magazine award-winners check out this chart:
http://www.columbia.edu/~tir2101/nycgamer-article-Links.html...

So what do you think? Where did I go right? Where did I go wrong? What are you surprised to see? What did I overlook?
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1. Board Game: Notre Dame [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:204]
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2007

1) Notre Dame
2) 1960: The Making of the President
3) Before the Wind


Other Awards: SDJ (Zooloretto), DSP (Pillars of the Earth), IGA (Through the Ages), Mensa (Gheos, Qwirkle), Games Magazine (Vegas Showdown).

This award should be marked with a big, fat asterisk since I'm still waiting to try many 2007 games, so I may very well revise this pick later. Then again some of the later picks were very close calls (especially 2004 and 2005), so 2007 isn't unique in not being set in stone.

Nonetheless, 18 plays of Notre Dame have convinced me that it solidly deserves its 9 rating and many more future plays. Alea's return to glory? You bet! I really do think there are many viable strategies in this game, and despite almost always losing badly, I thoroughly enjoy this one every time. I'm also extremely impressed with how well it scales. Given the fact that I'm generally very picky about the number of players I'll play most games with, I'm happy that this one reasonably accommodates a broader player range than most games.

1960 and Before the Wind are not close contenders for the award (unlike some other second and third place finishers later in the list), but both deserve an honorable mention. While I enjoy 1960, I definitely prefer Twilight Struggle (after 5 plays of the former and 6 plays of the latter) because of the latter's tension due to in-game scoring. I really like the innovations in 1960 of the political capital bag (reminiscent of the Wallenstein cube tower in its use of the Law of Averages) and the momentum markers for preempting and triggering events. I'd really like a game that combines these two innovations with the tension and excitement inherent in Twilight Struggle. Perhaps the third game in the trilogy will manage that impressive feat, I'll have to wait and see.

Before the Wind flew completely under my radar until I had a chance to try it out at a game night and was thoroughly impressed by its extortion mechanic. Trying to pick a price that you're comfortable both paying your opponent for an action and also receiving from that opponent to let them do the action is a wonderfully difficult decision, and one you have the pleasure of making over and over again in this game. I'm not sure about the end-game condition and think a set number of rounds might be better than a set number of victory points, but other than that, this one was a very pleasant surprise.
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2. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:135]
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2006

1) Imperial
2) Arkadia


Other Awards: SDJ (Thurn and Taxis), DSP (Caylus), IGA (Caylus), Mensa (Deflexion, Hive, Wits & Wagers), Games Magazine (Australia).

Imperial is the clearcut winner for 2006. After being disappointed with Antike, I was very skeptical of Imperial, and hesitant to give it a chance. After countless people told me that it played almost nothing like Antike, I broke down and gave Imperial a chance. I'm so glad I did! It's a definite 9 in my book and has a good chance of breaking into my Top 20 at some point. I really enjoy the unique mechanic of shifting control of countries. Imperial is another winner that scales reasonably well from 3 to 5 players, although 4 seems to be the sweet spot (just don't play it with 6, bad Eggert-Spiele for trying to trick people into not enjoying the game, bad Eggert-Spiele). Anyway, Imperial is the sole reason that Hamburgum tops my Essen 2007 wishlist because now I'm willing to give anything that Mac Gerdts does a try! This game made me realize that games with the "rondel" mechanic definitely aren't all alike, so I'm eager to see whether building churches and selling beer is as much fun as investing in France and blowing up factories.

Arkadia is Dorn's first (of many) second-place finishes (or fourth I suppose if you count forward in time, from the bottom of the list up). What's most amazing about Dorn's four second-place finishes on this list is how extremely different the four games are. Arkadia, Louis XIV, Goa, and Traders of Genoa... four top-notch games, four completely different games. Arkadia is a wonderful two-player stock market game where you invest in four different color chits that change in value from zero to around five. The beauty of Arkadia is that it incorporates the choose-when-you-want-to-score mechanic from Gheos that significantly ups the difficult decision-making of the game. It incorporates a push-your-luck feeling as you're forced to decide whether to score now because you'll get a decent amount of points, or whether to push-your-luck and wait to see if you can drive up the value of your color chits.

7 plays of Arkadia and 6 plays of Imperial have convinced me that these two are head and shoulders above the competition for 2006.

As for the games that are worth checking out from 2006 that didn't quite make the cut, I'll mention Mr. Jack and Canal Mania. I've had the pleasure of 14 plays of the former and 2 plays of the latter, and they're certainly both worth playing.
 
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3. Board Game: Kreta [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1302]
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2005

1) Kreta
2) Louis XIV
3) Caylus
4) Twilight Struggle
5) Bonaparte at Marengo


Other Awards: SDJ (Niagara), DSP (Louis XIV), IGA (Ticket to Ride: Europe), Mensa (Ingenious, Niagara, Zendo), Games Magazine (Buy Word).

This was an absolutely amazing year for games! I could've even included China has a sixth game but five seemed like too many already, so I'll just append China as an honorable mention (even if I never find a good place to use my fortification tile).

Kreta is definitely best game excluded from the BGG Top 200 in my book, ranking at 268, in part because it only has 515 ratings due its lack of a U.S. release. After having found El Grande for my five-player area control needs, San Marco for my three-player area control needs, and Louis XIV for my two-player area control needs, I was very happy to find Kreta to fill the much-needed niche of a fabulous four-player area control game. It's not a complex game, but it's a gorgeous game loaded with tons of interesting, meaningful, and difficult decisions. I've played it 11 times now and always eager for more. I've recently begun experimenting with some interesting Castellan variants (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/89270 and http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/97675). I highly recommend this Goldsieber game by Stefan Dorra as a worthy addition to anyone's collection, especially fans of the area control genre.

However, 2005 was a very difficult year to pick a favorite. Kreta may have benefited slightly from the fact that it deserves a lot more attention than it gets, not to say that it's not a worthy winner by any means, but rather to say that all of the other four honorable mentions are incredible games! Louis XIV is my area-control game of choice for two-players, and incidentally is Rudiger Dorn's second second-place finish. I like playing with a slight variant for the coats of arms where you either select them Princes-of-Florence-style (drawing a few and picking one) or Ticket-to-Ride-style (picking from a few face-up chits). I really like the three different victory conditions and the way the tiles flip, I just wish I was good at wood-working so I could make a board like this one: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/108690. After 13 unlucky plays of this one it isn't quite a Top 10 game in my opinion any more, and recently dropped from a 10 rating to a 9 rating, but is still yet another top-notch Alea game in my book.

Caylus is another game that recently got bumped from my Top 10 down to #12 on my list, but 41 plays of Caylus has made it one of my favorite long two-player games. Along others such as Goa, Java, and Tigris & Euphrates, Caylus is one of my go-to two-player games when I have 90-120 minutes. I can actually play Caylus is just over an hour sometimes as a two-player game with an opponent who knows how to play. I'm certainly no good at Caylus as I almost always want to build the 25-point building, and consequently almost never win, but I always enjoy the ride. I don't like how long Caylus can take with more players or how chaotic it becomes with more players, but as a two-player duel I'm always up for a game of it, and always eager to try out new strategies, even 41 plays later.

Twilight Struggle and Bonaparte at Marengo also both deserve mention as rounding out the amazing year that was 2005. I've played the former 6 times and the latter 4 times, and am eager to play both again and again. I have to say that I did not enjoy Twilight Struggle the first time I played it. The components certainly played a large role in this, but I was also frustrated by the amount of dice-rolling and luck, as well as the time it took each turn to read your hand of cards. However, despite planning not to play again, it kept rising in the BGG rankings and people kept recommending it, so I gave it a second shot and am very glad I did. I've been eager to play it over and over since that second play not long ago. It really is just another two-player area control game in disguise (a la El Grande really) and I've learned to look past the components and dice. Bonaparte at Marengo contrasts with Twilight Struggle due to its stellar components and lack of luck, and was a game that intrigued me for a long time. I finally decided to give it (or another wargame a try) and started a thread to ask for wargame recommendations (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/178658). That thread confirmed my suspicion that Bonaparte at Marengo was probably the right choice for me, given my goals of a game without much luck and with nice components. Having played Bonaparte 4 times now has further confirmed that suspicion as I've really fallen for the game. I love the idea of asymmetrical games that are nonetheless balanced, like Lord of the Rings: Confrontation, and this game implements that concept beautifully. The French and Austrians play completely differently in this game and it's a joy to both try playing the side same again to try it differently and to try playing the other side for an entirely different game experience.
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4. Board Game: In the Shadow of the Emperor [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:807]
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2004

1) In the Shadow of the Emperor
2) Goa
3) Reef Encounter


Other Awards: SDJ (Ticket to Ride), DSP (Saint Petersburg), IGA (Saint Petersburg), Mensa (Rumis, YINSH, 10 Days in the USA), Games Magazine (New England).

Another supremely overlooked game is Ralf Burkert's In the Shadow of the Emperor. Maybe because he only designed a few games, maybe because the box looks a bit plain, I don't know why, but I do know it's a shame. It is ranked 166 so it's not exactly completely forgotten, it's just that it's definitely a Top 10 game in my opinion, so being nowhere near the BGG Top 100 seems a bit crazy to me. In the Shadow of the Emperor complements Kreta perfectly as the other outstanding four-player area control game, but the four-player area control game for when you have 120 minutes, rather than 60 minutes which is when you play Kreta instead. In the Shadow of the Emperor innovates wonderfully on the genre in two ways that make the board much less static and more dynamic than most area control games. First, the game "ages" your pieces by having your units age from 15 to 25 to 35 to 45 to dead and removed from the board. Second, the game creates an incentive to take control of new regions and not just sit on regions that you already control by only giving out points for capturing a new region, not for maintaining control of a region. These two innovations make this one of the top tier of area control games and top tier of all games in my mind. Combine these mechanics with gameplay that involves countless difficult and meaningful decisions where you constantly want to do three times as many things as you have time and money to do, and you've got an incredible game that runs away with Game of the Year in a very competitive year.

2004 also marks Rudiger Dorn's third second-place finish in a row with Goa. I have thoroughly enjoyed my 11 plays of Goa, and should note that it is one of the best games at scaling from 2 to 4 players available. Most games are either better with 2 or with 4 players, but Goa is just different with 2 players and with 4 players, and outstanding across the spectrum. Just like Knizia's Ra, the auctions in Goa are still surprisingly interesting and engaging even with only two-players. I know that some think the Nutmeg Exploration Card track is overpowered in this game, but it's an auction game, so just bid up the Nutmeg and it's all balanced. I've won and seen opponents win with many different strategies in this game. The other noteworthy thing about Goa is that it is one of those rare eurogames that involve not only short-term tactics but also long-term strategy, and this is one thing I always appreciate in games that manage to capture it (like the favor track in Caylus or long-term route planning in Age of Steam).

Richard Breese's Reef Encounter most definitely deserves an honorable mention for 2004, rounding out the Top 3 for the year, even if I'm still waiting for Z-Man to release the Reef Encounters of the Second Kind expansion, long after it's original release. I've played the expansion twice, and the base game 42 times, and really enjoy it either way actually. This cross between a stock market game and a tile-laying wargame is a definite winner in my book, and excels with three-players in my experience.

Finally, Hansa just misses the cut as a superb two-player tactical puzzle-esque game, just don't play it with four people where it becomes far too chaotic and loses the beautiful zero-sum feeling that is ever-present in the two-player version.

 
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5. Board Game: Santiago [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:506]
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2003

1) Santiago
2) Pingvinas


Other Awards: SDJ (Alhambra), DSP (Amun-Re), IGA (Age of Steam), Mensa (Blokus, TransAmerica), Games Magazine (DVONN).

I'm afraid that Spiel By Web has ruined this game for many people who have never tried it in person! While I think that Spiel By Web, MaBiWeb, and BrettspielWelt provide a fantastic service to gamers around the world, there are a few games that suffer an inordinate amount from being played online with a computer. This leads the pack among those games alongside Settlers of Catan and Can't Stop, with Ra not far behind. These are games where the social interaction greatly contributes to my enjoyment of the game, and I think others enjoying the game as well. I've known many people to criticize Santiago after having only played it on the computer, and have a strong feeling that some of those people who really enjoy playing it in person. I enjoy playing Santiago in person so much that it easily wins my 2003 Game of the Year. I just love the phase where four players try to bribe the fifth player who is the canal overseer to place the canal where it waters their crops. I enjoy the negotiating and persuading that goes on during this phase as players combine offers to make their canal more tempting or offer 1 Escudo for a canal that doesn't even help them to persuade the overseer to build somewhere that doesn't benefit their opponents (and allowing the overseer not to have to pay one more than the highest bid to build elsewhere). This and Reef Encounter are some of my favorite Z-Man games, along with the newer Gheos and 1960, and I'm looking forward to what else Z-Man can come up with.

Pingvinas or Packeis am Pol (or alright Hey! That's My Fish!) is another fantastic game from 2003. While I prefer Santiago with 5 players, I strongly prefer Pingvinas with 2 players (not 3 or 4 players), and while I think Santiago suffers from being played online, I don't mind playing Pingvinas on BrettspielWelt at all (although of course it's still slightly better in person, as are all board games). I really think Pingvinas is a must-own quick two-player game that packs a lot of fun and depth into a small and inexpensive package. While I've only had the chance to play Santiago 9 times so far, I've enjoyed 51 plays of Pingvinas, making it my fifth most played game since I started tracking games played a few years ago (just behind Crokinole, Carcassonne, Tigris & Euphrates, and Ingenious).

Two other games from 2003 deserve honorable mentions, which are Amun-Re and YINSH. Here's another great 5-player game and another great 2-player game, so you'll have to look to another year for some 3-player and 4-player recommendations. While I don't enjoy Amun-Re as a few other Knizia gems (see below), it's certainly one of his many masterpieces, and YINSH is probably my favorite abstract game, and a purchase that I owe to BrettspielWelt getting me hooked on the game, and it's even better in person of course with the beautiful components that Project GIPF is known for.
 
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6. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:105]
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2002

1) Age of Steam
2) Wallenstein
3) Puerto Rico
4) StreetSoccer


Other Awards: SDJ (Villa Paletti), DSP (Puerto Rico), IGA (San Marco), Mensa (DVONN), Games Magazine (Evo).

While 2002 rivals 2005 as one of the best years, it ends up being a much easier choice for Game of the Year with Age of Steam being head and shoulders above the competition. While the race between Kreta, Louis XIV, and Caylus was a very tight one, and even though Wallenstein and Puerto Rico are both very good games, Age of Steam is the clear winner for 2002 in my eyes. 27 plays of Age of Steam on the 16 different maps I own have put it solidly in my Top 5 games of all time. I love the ability to sit down to a game of Age of Steam on a new map where everyone playing doesn't have to spend the time learning the rules to a brand new game, but can simply learn the slight changes of that map, and nonetheless enjoy a whole different gaming experience. I can see myself enjoying this game for years to come, and despite being overwhelmed by the constant flood of new maps being released, am always eager to play this one. The numerous maps also have the advantage of making this game scale beautiful, from 2-players on Scotland or Alpha Centauri, to 3-players on Scandanavia or Japan or Ireland, to 4-players on the Rust Belt or Soul Train or the Sun, to 5-players on Germany or Western US, to 6-players on France or Italy or England. The feeling that you get when you finally get out of the red and into the black is unrivaled by any game! It can be such a challenge to actually go from being in debt to making money that the sense of accomplishment makes this game a joy to play.

Wallenstein deserves the first honorable mention for this top-notch year. I've enjoyed 10 games of Dirk Henn's masterpiece. It's cliche by now, but the cube tower is genius. I love the way it balances out the luck so that if you get unlucky in one battle, you're bound to get lucky in a later battle. I love the simultaneous action selection of Wallenstein as well, and the tense feeling of wanting to do 3 actions in one province, but having to pick just one. If only I could get grain, add reinforcements, and attack with that province on this turn, but having to choose makes this game constantly interesting and engaging. While I understand the complaints that the board is a bit too static with only 6 seasons to move 2 armies each season, you just have to be in the right mindset and have the right expectations to make sure you really enjoy this one.

I'll be the first to admit that my meager 10 plays of Puerto Rico are not nearly enough to really understand this game, but they are enough to tell me that this game deserves its 9 rating from me. While I certainly don't enjoy playing this game with people who tell me that there's a right and a wrong move, I do enjoy playing it unpredictably and exploring new strategies. I've never read anything about how to play this game (except for the rules of course), so I'm still discovering it each time I play. It's not quite a Top 20 game in my opinion, but I can understand why it's ranked #1 as it's just such a clever and novel game that everyone should certainly try at least once to see if its for them.

Finally, my 48 plays of StreetSoccer tell me that it just has to be mentioned here. Corné van Moorsel's gem is another game (just like Pingvinas) that should be in everyone's collection. While it's obviously a lot more random than Pingvinas, it's another quick 2-player game that is incredibly fun and replayable. It's not bad on BrettspielWelt, but certainly much more fun in person to cheer on your time and groan over your bad dice rolls and your opponent's unbelievably good dice rolls. I'm so happy I purchased this game a while back, and while my bias for heavier games prevents me from giving this one the 2002 Game of the Year, it won't prevent me from encouraging you all the buy it. At least I can realize that Age of Steam isn't for everyone (even though it's certainly for me), but StreetSoccer is such fun that I can't imagine others not enjoying it. If you've played it once and thought it was nothing but luck, then I encourage you to play it a few more times and you'll begin to realize that there's a lot more strategy in this game than you thought.

I'll end by mentioning that Trias and Keythedral just miss the cut, as both are fabulous games that simply were published in an extremely competitive year.
 
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7. Board Game: San Marco [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:499]
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2001

1) San Marco
2) Traders of Genoa
3) eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game


Other Awards: SDJ (Carcassonne), DSP (Carcassonne), IGA (Princes of Florence), Mensa (Metro), Games Magazine (Aladdin's Dragons).

Alan Moon's best game by far and Rudiger Dorn's fourth second-place finish! I'll begin by highlighting San Marco, one of the very best games ever designed in my opinion. I simply love playing San Marco. The board is one of the most gorgeous boards I've ever seen in my opinion, and thankfully it is complement by excellent gameplay. The mechanic of one person splitting a group of cards and another person choosing which group of cards to take, with the splitter being stuck with the remaining group of cards is obviously familiar to anyone who has ever shared a cookie or piece of cake, but surprisingly unique in the board game world (although I'm sure someone out there can point out other games that share this wonderful mechanic, not including Canal Grande of course). Just like Santiago above, what I love about San Marco is the discussion that ensues as the person splitting the cards decides how to split them. It's integral to the game that the other players try to convince the splitter to do it a certain way or not to do it a way that might help their opponent. I also love the freedom and flexibility that comes with splitting the cards. You can get really creative with how you split them up, whether you try to do it as evenly as possible, or split them extremely asymmetrically, or anywhere in between along the spectrum. San Marco is simply an absolute joy to look at and to play! It's certainly the best 3-player game I've ever played.

Traders of Genoa is Rudiger Dorn's fourth second-place finish and yet another fabulous game by Mr. Dorn that is completely different from his three other second-place finishes (i.e., Arkadia, Goa, and Louis XIV). While Bohnanza is the light negotiation game, and Settlers is the medium negotiation game, Traders of Genoa is the heavy negotiation game to break out when you have 5-players with a few hours to spare. I love that just about everything is open to be traded in this game from the resource cubes to the action tiles to the numerous cards. I also love how free form the negotiating is and all of the different playing styles that various opponents bring to the table, making it interesting to see everyone's radically different approach to the game. Traders of Genoa is definitely one the games that helped solidify Alea's reputation in my opinion.

And now for something completely different! The third best game from 2001 in my opinion is the eBay Electronic Talking Auction Game. I know what you're thinking because it's the same thing I was thinking when someone tried to make us play this at a game night a while back. I was supremely skeptical and tried to suggest alternatives. Just like with video games, I didn't think that any licensed game could possibly be good because there's very little incentive to back up the license with a good product since the license itself will sell the produce. However, I'm happy to say that I was completely wrong when it came to the eBay game, which I immediately went home and purchase on eBay for a mere $4 after having played it. This is actually a wonderful 3-player auction game, just don't play it with 4-players because it really doesn't work well with 4-players at all. It's a wonderfully fun and fast-paced auction game incorporating a solid set collection mechanic. I strongly urge anyone who enjoys games like Ra and Medici to go out on a limb and buy a copy of this to break out when you're in the mood for a fast and fun 3-player auction game. You may have to do some convincing when it comes to getting your friends to agree to play, but it will definitely be worth it. Everyone I've introduced this to has loved it and always asked to play again!
 
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8. Board Game: Java [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:694]
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2000

1) Java
2) Carcassonne
3) La Citta
4) Princes of Florence


Other Awards: SDJ (Torres), DSP (Taj Mahal), IGA (Tikal), Mensa (Time's Up, ZERTZ), Games Magazine (Torres).

2000 rounds out the Top 3 years in my opinion, which are 2005, 2002, and 2000. These four games listed above are some of the very best, with three of them being in my personal Top 20 and the other one having a definite shot at breaking into that list after I have a chance to play it a few more times.

Java is my second-favorite game of all-time. I enjoyed Tikal when I tried it, and thought Torres was pretty good, but was completely blown away by Java, and continue to be every time I have a chance to play it. Tikal, Mexica, and Torres are good, but Java is amazing. This is the action-point game that puts all other action-point games to shame, and is the second Wolfgang Kramer game that puts him in contention for my favorite designer of all time. First I'll mention that I haven't yet determined an optimal player count for Java, and have actually enjoyed playing it with 2, 3, and 4 players. Part of what I love about Java is what was responsible for putting it on my "Patience isn't Always a Virtue" GeekList (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/20370), which is the fact that I can never decide when to use my special tiles and extra action-point chits. Everyone gets 5 special two-piece tiles, 3 special one-piece rice field tiles, 2 special one-piece city tiles, and 3 extra action-point chits, and determining which turns to use those few special resources is crucial to doing well in this game, but is also one of the most difficult things possible. I also love the look and feel of this game. The board is beautiful as the landscape grows and the terracing takes place, and the feel of the extraordinarily thick tiles is fabulous. Finally, what I love most about the action-point games is the freedom and flexibility on your turn. While most eurogames are great because it's enjoyable to try to decide which of two or three options to choose on any one turn, the action-point games are incredible because it's enjoyably difficult to try to decide which of about a million different options to choose on your turn. There always seem to be an infinite number of ways you can spend your action points, and I love that sense of freedom and flexibility. It seems to make all of the action-point games, and especially Java, have a sense of immense replayability as you can always try out new strategies and approaches to the game. Plus it has the advantage of allowing you to think back on the game for hours after it finishes about all of the things you could have done differently and how those alternative choices might have panned out.

There's simply too much to say about Carcassonne to do it justice here. I'll say that my 65 plays of it are certainly not enough to explore it fully, that's for sure. I'll also say that you should see my review of the game for more of my thoughts on it (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/133252). I love playing Carcassonne both in person and on Brettspiel Welt. I love using both the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions together, and only play it with 2-players, not any more people. I love how cutthroat this game can be with an experienced opponent. I really enjoy trying out other expansions from time to time, like King & Scout or The Count or River and River 2 together, but always end up coming back to the base game with the I&C and T&B expansions. I've also tried the other standalone games, such as Hunters & Gatherers, The City, and The Castle, but always end up coming back to the original with expansions because it's what I know and what I love. I honestly don't think that the luck of the tile-draw dominates this game because I've certainly beaten worse players on BSW badly and been beaten badly by better players on BSW as well. There is an incredible amount of strategy, tactical decision-making, and depth to this game that is not appreciated by most people.

La Citta and Princes of Florence round out the cream of the crop from 2000. I've only had the pleasure of playing La Citta 3 times and Princes of Florence 6 times, and both games deserve many more plays. The reprint of La Citta is actually in the mail right now and I'm very eager for its arrival so that I can play it more. My three games of La Citta so far have really wowed me. I immediately gave it a 9, and think that it has the definite possibility of rising to a 10 with future plays and also a definite chance of entering my Top 20 with more plays. The tension and difficult decision-making in La Citta made it supremely enjoyable, and it had the beauty of El Grande in that it had simple and straightforward rules, yet incredibly numerous, difficult, and meaningful decisions. I also look forward to exploring La Citta with different numbers of players to see where it shines. Princes of Florence is another game that I haven't played nearly enough times, but which I admire and thoroughly enjoy. One of the things that strikes me most about Princes of Florence is how it is rare among eurogames in its emphasis on long-term strategy over short-term tactical decisions. You have the ability in Kramer and Ulrich's masterpiece to formulate a long-term plan and attempt to execute it to the best of your ability, while adapting your plan to obstacles in your path, such as unexpected bidding in the auction by your opponents, or the cards that you draw. I also enjoy all the different pieces of this game that fit together, from the auction portion, to the action portion of trying to choose which actions to do, to the puzzle aspect of arranging the building and landscape tiles on your board. The designers manage to pack an incredible amount of variety into this game, and yet it all fits together seamlessly.
 
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9. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:133]
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1999

1) Ra
2) Torres


Other Awards: SDJ (Tikal), DSP (Tikal), Mensa (Apples to Apples, Fluxx), Games Magazine (Fossil).

Knizia makes his first appearance on the list, but certainly not his last! Ra is my sixth most played game since I started tracking my games played with an even 50 plays. What's incredible about Ra is how different each game is, making it extremely replayable. This may be evidenced most by the fact that the guest on the Metagamers podcast episode about Ra had played the game almost 700 times and was still very enthusiastic about the game. I certainly see no signs of tiring of the game after my 50 plays. It's definitely the best of the Knizia auction trilogy in my mind and also the best game from 1999. I enjoy playing Ra most with 3-players, although it's not bad with 4-players, and is also surprisingly good with the 2-player variant. Just like Goa, the auctions in Ra are actually still interesting with just 2 players. However, with 3-players this game truly shines, and actually rivals San Marco as one of the best 3-player games ever. Just like StreetSoccer, I think that the detractors of Ra haven't played it enough to see past the luck involved and begin to appreciate the strategy and depth of the game. I think the decision-making in Ra of when to bid, what to bid, and when to invoke Ra is very difficult, interesting, and engaging. It's also one of those games where the rules are very easy to teach, but the strategy of how much to value each lot up for auction is impossible to teach, and simply has to be learned by repeated plays. While Ra is not bad online at BrettspielWelt, and doesn't lose quite as much as Santiago online, it loses a lot more than Carcassonne and Pingvinas, because Ra benefits a good deal from egging your opponents on to push their luck and trying to read your opponents when deciding whether to invoke Ra.

Torres deserves an honorable mention for all the reasons mentioned above about why action-point games are enjoyable. While it pales in comparison to Java, it's a very good game compared to most other games, and benefits from the same sense of freedom and flexibility on your turn when deciding how to allocate your action-points.
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10. Board Game: Through the Desert [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:438]
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1998

1) Through the Desert


Other Awards: SDJ (Elfenland), DSP (Tigris & Euphrates), Mensa (Cube Checkers, Spy Alley).

Knizia makes it two in a row! Through the Desert is one the best two-player games on this list. While I don't enjoy it with any more than two-players, it shines enough at that player count to allow it to easily snag the 1998 Game of the Year. While I'm still reading Kaoru Iwamoto's "Go for Beginners," I don't yet understand Go well enough to really appreciate it. However, I do think that my 21 plays of Through the Desert have allowed me to have a decent understanding and appreciation of the game. I love the fact that there is no luck or randomness during the game, just the randomness of the initial setup. I also love the fact that there are four different ways to score points, from the oasis points to the watering holes to the enclosures to the color majorities. While I still definitely undervalue enclosures and often lose on that ground, I do think from my experience that people tend to undervalue color majorities and don't think about that element of the game enough while playing. I know that I overvalue oasis points and am trying to work on that, both in person and online at Ludagora. While the pastel camels are an interesting touch, this is actually the one game that I'd most like to see Mike Doyle redesign the artwork for, as I discussed in another thread (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/155272). I'd be more willing to introduce this game to people who I think might like an interesting, luckless two-player strategy game if it looked a bit more like a Project GIPF game than like Candyland.
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11. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:65]
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1997

1) Tigris & Euphrates


Other Awards: SDJ (Mississippi Queen), DSP (Lowenherz), Mensa (Quoridor), Games Magazine (Quoridor).

Knizia completes the hat trick! Tigris & Euphrates (or Euphrat & Tigris as it was once known around these parts) is the clear choice for Game of the Year from 1997. My 64 plays of this masterpiece have not been nearly enough to unlock its mysteries and secrets. I think a lot of the appeal of this game for me personally derives from the fact that I believe Dr. Knizia when he declared on GeekSpeak so long ago that the theme for this game is not merely "pasted on" but rather is integral to the gameplay. I don't know if it's just me being naive, but I really believe that and am sure it contributes to my enjoyment of the game. I love simply watching the development of the board in Tigris & Euphrates, as the civilizations rise and fall and merge. The board is so dynamic and constantly shifting and morphing over the course of the game. I've played this as a 2-player game more often than not, and think it is best as a 2-player game, but am pleased to say that it nonetheless does scale reasonably well to accommodate 3 or 4 players. Part of the beauty of this game is what landed near the top of my "Patience isn't Always a Virtue" GeekList (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/20370), which is the amazingly difficult decision of when and where to use your precious catastrophe tiles. These two tiles, just like the 13 sun in Ra or the fortification tile in China, are incredibly powerful, making the decision of when and where to use them correspondingly difficult and tense. The only thing lacking from this game is that I haven't yet purchased a copy of the Hans im Gluck version with the cleaner graphics, or alternatively that no one has published Mike Doyle's gorgeous redesign of the graphics (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/134412).
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12. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:49]
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1995

1) El Grande
2) Settlers of Catan


Other Awards: SDJ (Settlers of Catan), DSP (Settlers of Catan), Mensa (Great Dalmuti, Quixo), Games Magazine (Quixo).

I hesitated for a long time in making El Grande my #1 game of all-time because of the fact that you need 5 players, whereas you only needed 2 players for my former #1 game, that being Tigris & Euphrates. I figured that the ease with which I could find an opportunity for playing the game should figure into the calculation, but have changed my mind on that relatively recently, bumping El Grande into the top slot. This was after playing it again not too long ago and enjoying it thoroughly once again. I have enjoyed this game immensely every single time I've played it and see no sign of that ever stopping. While it may be harder to get 5 people together for a game of El Grande, it's worth all the trouble when you do pull it off.

El Grande has the perfect combination of straightforward rules that can be taught and learned in a matter of minutes, but a large number of difficult, interesting, and meaningful decisions. The rules involving playing a power card from 1 to 13 are obviously very simple, but the decision of which power card to play when is anything but simple. The rules involving the execution of the 5 different action cards available each turn are incredibly simple, but the decision of which action card to select and how to use its ability is incredibly complex. I love how everyone starts off with the same resources, yet the game generally ends up with a nice range of scores in the end. Unlike some games that seem contrived in forcing all the scores at the end of the game to be extremely close, El Grande seems to inevitably lead to a nice 20 point range from first to last, which is something I appreciate, even if I find myself on the losing end of that spread more often than not. Despite this nice spread of scores that I keep seeing, the leader never seems to run away with it completely, but rather just manages to edge out the second-place player by a few points.

I can understand that some people criticize El Grande because it necessitates that players try to convince their opponents not to target them and that they're not the real threat to win, but rather someone else is. All this finger-pointing and trying to avoid appearing like the leader obviously bothers some people, but not me. I enjoy trying to convince people that I'm not a threat, and the table talk that ensues during this game is an absolute joy, especially with the right group.

I haven't even tried any of the expansions that came in the box yet, and this game still seems to offer an incredibly diverse experience. I am definitely looking forward to trying out the expansions, but I keep saying to myself that I'll wait until I feel like the game needs to be spiced up. I fear now that that may not happen anytime soon, so I may need to make a conscious effort to try out an expansion before I even feel the need to do so, if I actually want to get them played this century.

The #2 game for 1995 is no slouch either of course. Settlers of Catan was my introduction to eurogames over 10 years ago, and I will be forever thankful to Settlers for introducing me to the genre. Settlers will also be one of the my most played games for a long time to come despite not having played it much recently because I played Settlers and Settlers alone for many years before realizing that there were other eurogames out there. I've only played Settlers 14 times since I started logging my games played a couple years ago, but would estimate that I've definitely played it closer to 150 times in total, if not more. I will say that I'm in the camp of people that prefer vanilla Settlers. I've tried Seafarers, Cities & Knights, Fishermen, and the 5-6 Player Expansions, but keep coming back to vanilla Settlers (in contrast to my love of Carcassonne expansions). I've also tried playing the Teuber Trilogy in a row (i.e., Entdecker, Settlers, Lowenherz), and while it was a fun experience, I've never been much of a fan of either Entdecker or Lowenherz for some reason. I've never tried any of the standalone versions of Settlers (e.g., Stone Age, Struggle for Rome) although I wouldn't mind doing so, but don't feel any strong compulsion to seek them out, perhaps because the expansions for Settlers have taught me that I've grown so use to the vanilla original that I may not ever get used to the idea of altering the tried and true.
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13. Board Game: RoboRally [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:327]
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1994

1) RoboRally
2) Manhattan


Other Awards: SDJ (Manhattan), DSP (6 nimmt!), Mensa (Magic: The Gathering), Games Magazine (Pyraos, Peg Poker).

RoboRally is an extremely fun game with the right crowd of people, and yet feels like a game that could've been so much better, although I'm not quite sure how. It seems like a wonderful idea that never quite works out in practice. The concept of the game is very interesting, but the execution seems to always get a little too bogged down in the turn to turn upkeep. Moreover, sometimes the game can fall flat because people just don't run into each other enough and their robots end up not interacting very much. Then again, when it works, it works very well, and some games of RoboRally have been an absolute blast and very memorable. The joy of this game comes from reveling in the chaos of the wackier maps, and sitting back to enjoy watching the robots careen into each other, laughing at the misfortune of others and even enjoying your own misfortune a bit as long as it doesn't happen to often. As you can tell, I'm somewhat conflict about this game, and have had mixed experiences with it, but it's novel and interesting enough to capture the 1994 Game of the Year award, and I certainly look forward to many future plays of it, especially given it's immense replayability with the many different maps and setups you can use.

1994 is apparently the year of being conflict, as Manhattan is another game that I'm conflicted about. I think I really enjoy Manhattan because it's one of those games with simple rules yet difficult, interesting, and meaningful decisions, but I'm not quite sure whether Manhattan is a bit too simple for its own good. I'm also not quite sure how meaningful the decisions really are, or whether they'll continue to be difficult and interesting after many plays. I've only played 6 games of Manhattan so far, and can't say for sure, but have enjoyed it enough to pick up a copy recently, and hope to play it more now that I've added it to my collection. I also look forward to experimenting with the Godzilla variant, which may add what I'm looking for to the game. This Seyfarth creation is obviously not one I'm completely sure about, but it's impressed me enough to garner an honorable mention for 1994 and a high spot on my roster of games to get to the table again soon.
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14. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:168]
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1986

1) Die Macher


Other Awards: SDJ (Heimlich & Co).

This is the beginning of the five games from 1986, 1980, 1979, 1959, and 1876 that won Game of the Year despite the lack of competition (not necessarily due to the lack of great games from those years, but rather due to the fact that I hadn't played any other games from those years). Despite the fact that these 5 games won uncontested Games of the Years, I felt that they still deserved a mention here because of how good they all are.

Starting off with the best of the 5 uncontested Games of the Years, Die Macher is currently my #6 game of all time, and my go-to game if I have five people and four hours. My 7 games of Die Macher have probably been 7 of my 10 best gaming experiences ever. I literally love every minute of this game. At the end of a marathon Die Macher game, I'm always surprised at how fast the time flew by. I also always think about how much happier I am to play a game of Die Macher than I am to play three shorter games in the same amount of time. The sad thing about Die Macher is that when I finally do arrange a game of it with enough players and enough time, it never quenches my desire to play the game, but rather always adds fuel to my desire to play. Unlike some games where playing it satisfies me for a while, playing Die Macher just makes me want to play again and again.

I love how I think back on a game of Die Macher for hours, if not days, after it has ended. There are few games that merit this kind of post-game thought, but it's always a sign of a great game when you find yourself pondering what you might have done differently or why things played out the way they did the next day. If only I'd switched my position on genetic engineering rather than taxes, or if only I'd bid a little more on that public opinion poll, or if only I'd played that shadow cabinet card so I could join a coalition, and on and on. Just like El Grande, I love how simple the rules to this game are, yet how wonderfully agonizing the decisions are. I know I'll get some funny looks for saying that the rules are simple, but they really are. Each phase in a turn of Die Macher is incredibly simple and straightforward, people just get scared when they see that there are something like 20 phases in a turn. The quantity of rules scares people, but it's honestly one of the simplest games when you break it down. I consider myself forever indebted to Valley Games for reprinting this classic so I could get my hands on it (despite their highly questionable use of a crane on both the economic development and nuclear power cards), and look forward to their upcoming reprints of Liberte and Extrablatt, among others. Die Macher is definitely one of those games that every gamer should play at least once, and in my case I just can't get enough of this game and keep coming back for more.
 
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15. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:610]
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1980

1) Can't Stop


Other Awards: SDJ (Rummikub).

This "classic Sid Sackson game" is not one that I expected to like given my general aversion to dice and the disappointment of trying it out on BrettspielWelt. However, when I finally did play Can't Stop in person I was more than pleasantly surprised. In fact, I can't stop playing it, and have racked up 35 plays in a relatively short amount of time, making the stop sign version I purchased on eBay a little while back one of the best values I've gotten out of a game.

What tells me more than anything that there actually isn't that much luck in this game is the fact that I lose very consistently. I am overwhelmingly risk averse, saving my progress very frequently in this game, and thus doing very poorly. I also get very tempted by the uncommon numbers, especially 2 and 12, which don't usually pan out for me, with my opponents winning with 6, 7, and 8 all the time. Somehow I never learn, yet I keep enjoying this game.

It's quick and there are a surprising number of decisions to make, and obviously there's so much dice rolling that it goes beyond the luck of the dice to simply risk management and playing the probabilities. What a clever game!
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16. Board Game: Dune [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:202]
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1979

1) Dune


Other Awards: SDJ (Hare & Tortoise).

Being a big fan of both the Dune universe and the game Diplomacy going in to trying this one out made me pretty confident that I would enjoy it greatly, and I was not disappointed. For anyone who enjoys games of negotiation and making alliances this is sure to please. For anyone who has read and enjoyed Frank Herbert's Dune novels, this is very likely to please. Put those together and you've got a sure fire winner. I'm very thankful to the fellow BGGer who traded this to me.

What I love most about Dune are the variable player powers. The basic rules themselves are incredibly simple, but the powers for the 6 different factions are really what make the game interesting. The different powers are far more diverse than most games with variable player powers. For example, Twilight Imperium pales in comparison because the variable player powers in that game are simply minor adjustments compared to Dune, where the different powers make each faction play completely differently.

The only downside to this is that, just like with Die Macher, once you finally arrange 6 players with enough time for a game of Dune, and you get through an entire game, it doesn't even come close to quenching your desire to play because you simply want to play again right away so you can try out another faction and see how that faction plays. My 4 plays of Dune have not been nearly enough to explore its depths, as the interactions between the factions are very complex and intricate, and seeing how they work together is extremely interesting. Most of these plays are described in this session report in case you are curious: http://www.columbia.edu/~tir2101/nycgamer-article-DuneSessio...

The biggest problem with Dune is the unpredictable length of the game. Just like with Twilight Struggle, a game must end by the end of a set number of turns, which is 15 in Dune, but can end much earlier under certain circumstances. This means that a game can range from just a couple hours to many, many hours, which makes setting up a game difficult since you need to allot for enough time for a full game, but also makes it frustrating if it ends after only a couple turns, which I've seen happen (although such a quick ending would probably be less likely with more experienced players). I suppose I should also complain about the components here, which are pretty terrible, but I'm just happy to have a copy of the game, so I shouldn't complain too much. I guess I could also mention the problematic rules, given the 19 rules questions I posted here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/148676

But despite all those problems, I still love the game, which says something about how much fun it is. I love how the negotiations are very freeform, but the opportunity to make and break alliances is limited by when a Shai-Hulud card appears. I love the secret traitor leaders, which add a lot of tension to the game as you always have to worry about one of your leaders being a traitor. And of course I absolutely love the variable player powers and how they interact.
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17. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:494]
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1959

1) Diplomacy


Diplomacy seems to be one of those games that everyone either loves or hates, and I definitely put myself squarely in the camp of people that love it. Obviously many people think of Diplomacy as the game that ruins friendships, but I have honestly never understood that sentiment. The game is about making and breaking alliances, so why should anyone be upset when their opponents/friends make and break alliances during the game, that doesn't make any sense. I suppose people are bothered by the necessity of lying during a game of Diplomacy, which I can understand bothering some people, but they should understand that most people lie far too much in Diplomacy. As I recall reading in a great article about the game a while back, if you find yourself lying most turns then you're doing it wrong. You should rather be building up to the "One Big Lie." This is what makes the game exciting and tense, just like in Dune where you don't know when your leaders are going to be traitors, in Diplomacy you don't know if your allies are going to betray your first or not. This doesn't mean that you should betray them on the second turn just so you beat them to the punch because that just means you'll both probably lose. The beauty of this game is that you absolutely have to be good at working with people to do well, it's just that you can't get too attached to working with people to do really well.

The simplicity of this game is what makes it so great. Each country can only have one unit, each unit can only move, support, hold, or convoy. You can teach this game in a matter of minutes. Yet there have been countless strategy articles written about opening moves, mid-game strategies, and late-game stalemate lines. While there aren't variable player powers per se as with Dune, there are effectively variable powers as the starting position of each country makes each country play completely differently. Just like with Dune, this means that after you finally find the time for 7 people to play a game of Diplomacy it surely won't satisfy your desire to play, as you'll just want to play again so you can try out another country.

Another advantage of Diplomacy is that it plays very well both in person and online, and is almost a completely different game depending on the medium used to play it. In the case of Diplomacy, the medium really is the message. Face-to-face Diplomacy can be a joy to play if you have 6 opponents and enough time for relatively leisurely yet intense negotiations. Online Diplomacy is a whole different beast, but an intriguing and enjoyable one, especially because of all the variants. I love trying variants like 1898, Crowded, Modern, Hundred, Ancient, etc. It helps that the interface at Bounced (http://www.dipbounced.com/) is so well done. I've played and GM'ed countless games on that site, and had the pleasure of a decent number of games in person as well over the years. I can say for sure that there is no better feeling gaming than a solo victory in Diplomacy because you know you've truly earned it.
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18. Board Game: Crokinole [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:70]
T. Rosen
United States
Arlington
Virginia
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1) Crokinole


I have BGG to thank for my love of Crokinole. I can't imagine risking $160 on a game that I'd never seen or played before if it weren't for the countless Geeks who came back from BGG.CON 2006 raving about Crokinole in their GeekLists. Now I can say for sure that despite Crokinole being the most expensive game in my collection, it is probably the best value as well. I received a Crokinole board made by the Hilinski brothers (http://www.crokinoleworld.com/) on December 25, 2006, and by the end of 2006 it had become my second-most played game of the year with 35 plays in 6 days, just behind my 41 plays of Pingvinas. Crokinole now stands proudly on top of my games played list with 115 plays in the 11 months that I have owned my board.

I have the Cimarron board pictured to the left, which I absolutely love. It's American cherry stain on birch, with a black cherry stained ditch, and a chrome center. I'm actually a fan of all the Hilinski boards, as you can see from this tribute (http://www.columbia.edu/~tir2101/nycgamer-article-Hilinski.h...), and encourage you to go their website to look through their slideshow of the boards they've made (http://www.crokinoleworld.com/), which really are works of art and double nicely hanging on the wall as not only a game but also a great decoration.

It's very hard to explain how great Crokinole is to someone who hasn't played before, which is probably why I was so hesitant to get the game based solely on people's accounts of it on this website. I'm so glad I took the plunge though and encourage anyone else who is still on the fence to dive right in. I have introduced Crokinole to countless people and they have all loved it, with many of them immediately inquiring about where to get a board for themselves. The real beauty of Crokinole is that it doubles as a game that anyone can pick up and play quickly and without investing much in the game, but also as a game that two people can play repeatedly and competitively, honing their skills and practicing and improving over time. I am literally so happy I got a Crokinole board and don't know what I'd do without it. If I could only have 10 games, there is absolutely no question that Crokinole would be one of them.
 
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