Lady Bird.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, has been in the news this week as it set a record on Rotten Tomatoes for the most positive (“fresh”) reviews received without a single negative (“rotten”) one, 184 such reviews and counting. It’s a coming-of-age story, incredibly well-acted throughout, with a number of truly hilarious moments in it, enough that I’d join the chorus (if my review counted) of positive reviews … but the movie has its flaws too, particularly in the way the adult characters are written, as if Gerwig, who also wrote the script, put her primary efforts in the teenagers at the heart of the film.

Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is Christine McPherson, who has chosen “Lady Bird” as her nickname and repeatedly crosses out or corrects Christine whenever it’s used to refer to her, a high school senior in Sacramento who comes from “the wrong side of the tracks,” a family of four living in a somewhat run-down house and dealing with the economic insecurity of many Americans in the lower and lower middle classes. Her father’s company keeps laying people off; her mother is working double shifts as a psychiatric nurse; her brother and his wife live in the house as well, both working grocery store jobs despite their college degrees. Lady Bird yearns to break free of the social and financial constraints of her life, to go to college in the Northeast, to experience more than her small* town can give her, so she embarks on a number of small misadventures while also secretly applying to prestigious east coast schools. (*Small is her perception; the Sacramento MSA has 2.5 million people, and the scene near the end where a college student from the east coast has never heard of it is rather ridiculous.)

Ronan is marvelous in the title role, and I would be shocked if she weren’t nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars and just about every other awards ceremony for this year. The script gives her the best material by a wide margin, including the quick emotional shifts of adolescence, and Ronan manages to inhabit this volatile world completely. Lady Bird chafes under any restraints, whether it’s her Catholic high school, the social boundaries of teenaged life, or her domineering mother. Ronan manages to inform her character with the optimism that is part of Lady Bird’s nature and allows her to succeed in spite of all of these obstacles without turning the part into a saccharine caricature.

Her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, is really problematic – and not because the character isn’t realistic. She’s controlling, narcissistic, overly critical, manipulative, even vindictive. She also reveals in a line that appears to be a throwaway that her own mother was “an abusive alcoholic.” She herself is clearly a victim of trauma, and tries to control her environment – including her daughter – as an ineffective coping mechanism. She obsesses over clothes being put away, over Lady Bird using a second towel after her shower, over her grammar or spelling in a handwritten note, over anything that threatens the precise calibration of her life. The writing and the performance are strong and consistent enough that it’s then hard to accept moments near the very end of the film where she tries to show her love for her daughter; they seem to come from a totally different character. Metcalf delivers the best performance of all of the actors playing adults in the film, but I found Tracy Letts, playing Lady Bird’s father, more compelling because his character doesn’t have the improbable personality split of the mother.

The adults, though, are the film’s biggest problem. Lady Bird has the Dawson’s Creek habit of reversing the kids and the grown-ups: The teenagers are the ones who have it all figured out and the adults are the ones still screwing things up or just generally not understanding. It’s truer of the side characters, but it doesn’t do the central character any favors to have her appear more insightful than every adult she encounters. The kids receive the best dialogue and the more accurate worldview – other than Kyle, one of the boys Lady Bird dates, who is busy fighting the battle of who could care less – and in many cases, like Lady Bird, her best friend Juliet, or Danny, another boy she dates, they’re truly three-dimensional and believable, to the point where you could build new stories around any of them (although Juliet does fall into the Fat Best Friend cliché).

The movie soars on the performance and writing of its lead, enough to overcome some of the more hackneyed elements of her environment, and I think that’s why it managed to set that Rotten Tomatoes record – even if you identify the flaws in the script, the core of the movie is so good that it more than mitigates the negatives. Watching this precocious but naïve character navigate her last year of high school and deal with an emotionally abusive mother while stretching for an unlikely escape across the country is more than enough to make Lady Bird worth recommending. I may just be outside the consensus that this is among the year’s very best films.

Klawchat 11/30/17.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the mid-weight train game Whistle Stop, which is one of my favorite new games of 2017.

Keith Law: A loaf of bread, a quart of milk, a stick of butter, and Klawchat.

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: Can you do something to at least warm up this Ice Cold Stove season?
Keith Law: One agent speculated to me that teams were waiting till December 1st to try to cool off prices for early signings. I have no idea if that’s true, but I’m at least hoping that tomorrow we’ll see something.

Drew: What would you rather, vote for Curt Schilling into the HOF or eat an entire Fruit Cake
Keith Law: I’d vote for Schilling, although I think at the moment he might not make my top 10 (it’s at least debatable). There are maybe 15 guys on the ballot I’d put in, so I’ve had to leave candidates toward the bottom of the list off – I’ve said, for example, that because Manny Ramirez failed two PED tests, I wouldn’t put him in my top 10 right now. If the logjam is ever cleared, he’d eventually get on the ballot.

Lilith: Taylor Trammell or Jesus Sanchez? Who do you prefer and why?
Keith Law: Trammell’s the better all-around player. Sanchez has more hit tool, which of course is the one that trumps them all, but I think I’d rather gamble on Trammell’s total upside.

Kevin: Learn anything new from your Thanksgiving cooking this year? Loved the periscope chat btw, first time I’ve logged on for that.
Keith Law: I went mostly with dishes I’d made before. Smaller gathering this year, and I just wasn’t up for my usual extravaganza.

Jim: Hi Keith, I’ve seen you talk in the past about Ohtani not being a major league regular level hitter, but I’m wondering what specifically is the issue. Is it the hit tool? Or is the power not what it appears to be?
Keith Law: It’s the very long swing and poor contact rates. Then he’s going to come here and play 40% of the time, or less. People who think he’s going to be a legit two-way player are wishcasting, or just pushing clickbait.

Jerome: What do you think of the Dbacks trade for Boxberger?
Keith Law: Fine reliever. Taylor’s a prospect, though, no-brainer for the Rays for two years of control.

Kevin: Do you expect Michael Baez to appear in your Top 100 next year?
Keith Law: I haven’t done any sort of preliminary rankings yet.

Paul: Does Baez have more upside than Gore at this point?
Keith Law: I don’t think so.

leisurefriar: Where is Ohtani going to end up?
Keith Law: I have no idea. Really, no idea at all. When it happens, we’ll discuss it, but I have only asked people what they think of him as a player, not where they think he’ll land.

Daniel: Do you see Chance Adams or Justus Sheffield making the majors in 2018? Could you provide some detail if yes.
Keith Law: Adams finished in AAA; there is no doubt he’ll see the majors this year if he’s healthy at all. Sheffield is the better prospect by quite a bit, though, and if they need a real starter, he’s the one to recall.

Chris: Your thoughts on collecting baseball cards and other baseball memorabilia? Also, do you have any special pieces of memorabilia from your career working in baseball?
Keith Law: Haven’t collected cards when I was a kid. Not a memorabilia guy at all.

derek: If the Giants trade for Stanton, what’s a realistic return for the Marlins? And as a Giants fan, should I be terrified?
Keith Law: One rumor had the Giants taking the entire contract. That should terrify you. It could hamstring their team for a decade.

CJ: Is there any reason a team shouldn’t do it’s due diligence on Ohtani, filling out the questionnaire, etc.?
Keith Law: No reason, but I know several teams have chosen not to participate.

Alex P: Hey Keith, thanks for the chat. How far do you see the Phillies form being a playoff team? And how would you balance their spending on FA’s vs allowing for development?
Keith Law: Two to three years. They should definitely be targeting FA this winter – and Ohtani, while a longshot since they’re NL, would be a perfect fit. They have nothing like him (as a pitcher) in the system, and he’s the same age as much of their roster anyway.

Dutch: Ketel Marte’s mini-breakout last year legitimate? Had great ABs in the playoffs. Kinda backed up his strong walk and K rates.
Keith Law: I’m in.

Mike Fichera: Is Dom Smith better on defense and with the bat than he’s shown? weight concerns aside.
Keith Law: Yes. Tiny sample. Obviously needs to maintain conditioning.

Sam: Some of the stove being so cold has to be because teams are waiting to see on Otani, right?
Keith Law: MLB sources indicated to me that they don’t believe that is true.

Josh in DC: I read something about Matt Lauer’s last contract renewal — that he cashed in on the fact that viewers of morning shows don’t like change. Is there any reason to believe that *sports* fans are more interested in watching the same guys year after year, that (separate from winning and losing) attendance and TV ratings might be correlated with roster continuity?
Keith Law: It’s been a while since I saw fresh research on this, but my understanding is that attendance, ratings, and revenues correlate with winning, often with a one-year lag, and nothing else.

Mike: Seeing a lot of talk on twitter about Ohtani’s speed. Some people are saying it’s somewhere between 70-80. How insane would that be for a pitcher or even a DH?
Keith Law: I had some idiots – and I mean that in the not-nicest possible way – saying it was wrong, or impossible, on Twitter last night. Multiple scouts have told me they personally clocked him under 4 seconds, one under 3.9 and the rest just above that, and that includes a time in August when he was, in theory, hobbled by the ankle/quad and still got down the line in under 4. He’s an 80 runner. Anyone who tells you otherwise should be dismissed.

Tyler: If you’re Alex Anthopoulos, do you make a splashy trade or signing this offseason to get the focus back on the team instead of the cheating scandal?
Keith Law: That’s a really terrible way to run a team.

Fred: What advice would you give to a mid 30s person looking into changing professions and starting from scratch?
Keith Law: Acquire a critical skill that should directly lead to employment.

Ricky H. : Ronnie Dawson had a big 2nd half in the Astros system. Back on track as a future regular?
Keith Law: Was he ever on track to be a regular? He was too old for low-A and spent the whole year there save 13 games.

Andy: Do you see the White Sox ultimately trading Jose Abreu this offseason? Your opinion on what teams are the best fit/have the pieces to make sense for the White Sox?
Keith Law: They should but the market might be thin, given all the 1b/dh types in free agency & also in the trade market.

Chuck: Would you vote for Edgar if you had a ballot?
Keith Law: I tweeted this on November 20th: “I don’t get one till next winter, but if I had a vote: Mussina, Bonds, Clemens, Vlad, Edgar, Chipper, Thome, Rolen, Schilling, Walker.”

Anthony: I recall you saying you had family (parents perhaps?) that lived in the ashburn va area…having just moved to ashburn, do you know of any good restaurants or food spots in the area? it doesnt seem like a big foodie town.
Keith Law: Voltaggio’s new place at One Loudoun is supposed to be pretty good – i went when it was Family Meal, but he’s since switched the concept. Also some good spots in Leesburg, including King Street Coffee & Doner Bistro.

Dutch: I can’t figure out for the life of me why Daniels would rather let Profar rot on the bench or in the minors than cash him in. They have to trade him right?
Keith Law: They might not be getting reasonable offers.

Jock: As a long time A’s fan, I remain somewhat puzzled by their selection of Austin Beck in that he seems the opposite of the kind of player that they usually target in the 1st round. What do you think of him as a player and do you see his selection as a sign that the A’s are shifting to an emphasis on more athletic/higher upside players. Thanks!
Keith Law: They are never getting a player like Beck – huge tools, athleticism, raw but with star upside – in free agency, and even in trade that’s hard to get. You have to have something huge to deal, and right now I don’t think they have anyone who’d get a return like him, or like a Gleyber or an Eloy or a Sheffield/Frazier package. So shooting for the moon made sense, even with the huge risk; I might not have done it because Beck’s hit tool really concerned me, but that’s strictly a subjective matter.

Zo: How important is having managerial experience. Do you think Boone or Beltran would hurt the yankees in the short run?
Keith Law: MLB managers without any managerial experience at any level have fared very poorly as a group. It’s a bad strategy, and we all know it, and teams keep doing it anyway.

Willie G: Rangers fans are growing impatient with Nomar Mazara, who has been below average the past two years and has seemed to have stagnated. Is he someone you think can be a core piece for a team going forward, or is his long-term role as a platoon or role player?
Keith Law: This is truly an ex post criticism, but I wonder now if promoting him so quickly in 2016 has hurt his development at the plate. Now the situation reminds me of Jose Guillen, who went pretty much from A-ball to the majors, and ended up a fine player, but never developed his approach at all and didn’t reach his ceiling. Again, I didn’t say so at the time, so this is strictly hindsight.

Josh in DC: I’m sure you’ve answered this before, but what you would do with Ohtani (if he actually can hit and pitch at a very level, that is)? How much would you worry about the injury risks from various baseball activities?
Keith Law: I have a long column on him running on Saturday. He’s a starting pitcher who can swing it a little. He is not going to be a starting pitcher and a regular position player on his days “off.”

Patty O’Furniture: Would a Matt Adams for Mike Fiers deal make sense?
Keith Law: I think Atlanta has plenty of guys who can deliver what Fiers would deliver but for the minimum salary.

Dutch: Fair to say Snell has #2 upside? FB and CB look sick. Even saw him get some whiffs on his changeup.
Keith Law: Yes, that’s fair.

Matt: Now that Tillerson and his surprising competence looks to be on the way out, are we in for a very long 11 months until change can actually be voted in?
Keith Law: It’s kind of appalling how mercurial these cabinet decisions have been. Pruitt’s reign of error might be the worst of all, with many Republicans weighing in on how disastrous his decisions have been, but if they won’t vote Democrat or just stay home, it’s not going to change until 2018 or more likely 2020.

Daniel: Will Mike Mussina make the Hall of Fame?
Keith Law: Eventually yes. Not this year.

Stan: Albertos or De la Cruz? (Or neither…)
Keith Law: Albertos. Alzolay is their best pitching prospect. De la Cruz has no track record of health.

Henry: Is this the year Xander Bogaerts hits 30 homers?
Keith Law: Let’s get his hands healthy again and say 20 homers.

Sam: One of the interesting points from Rany Jazayerli’s piece on the Bill James/WAR debacle was about how FIP fails to capture that some pitchers are worse out of the stretch, making hit clustering more a function of skill rather than luck. Is there any truth to that?
Keith Law: Most pitchers are slightly worse out of the stretch. Pitchers who are drastically worse out of the stretch tend to be either relievers or 4A guys. If you can’t pitch with men on base, it’s a tough road. So while FIP-based WAR does have issues, that’s not a significant one.

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: Jim Bowden said Ohtani is going to hit .300 with 30 HRs and win 15 games…
Keith Law: Yeah.

Jim: Kind of amazing that the Braves made out with AA here. What do you think he’ll do as first order of business there? He keeps saying the defense is his biggest concern and that seems to me that Kemp AND Markakis are goners.
Keith Law: I think he’ll focus on using the prospect inventory – still good, just not what it was, not #1 overall any more – to upgrade the major league roster. He’s of the mindset that you keep the absolute best prospects and trade the rest. That’s what they need now anyway. That could mean a top-line starter, a good corner outfielder (or two), or a real third baseman.

Ukulele Sue: Elvis Andrus is due $58M over four years after 2018. Yes, he’s had two good years in a row, but wouldn’t it be a mistake for him to opt out after 2018 and try to get more money, given how loaded the free agent class will be?
Keith Law: FA class will be loaded, but not loaded with shortstops. I think he’d be smart to opt out.

James: How close are Santana and A. Jones to getting your vote? Do you think they’ll at least hang around for a couple of years?
Keith Law: No on Johan. Andruw is probably a no, but near the border for me. Guy was basically finished at 30, and if you consider character at all, he loses a lot of points there too.

Bob: Matt Carpenter is a way better hitter than Eric Hosmer, right?
Keith Law: Yes.

Ben: I sous vide a brisket for Thanksgiving using Kenji Lopez’s recipe. Wow, was it good.
Keith Law: Sous vide is a game-changer. I didn’t use it this holiday, but that was mostly because I didn’t cook meat besides the turkey itself, which I spatchcocked and roasted.

Jim Nantz: Quick thoughts on the Doug Fister signing?
Keith Law: Yawn.

Arnold: Juiced baseballs aside, is MLB concerned about hgh? Versions now get out of your system in 72 hours. Take it after a Thursday night, clean by Monday…
Keith Law: Available research found no benefit to using HGH in men under age 50. It’s not magic.

RSO: Manny Machado for Gleyber Torres who says no?
Keith Law: I’m assuming the Orioles would, but that’s actually not a bad deal for them. Six years of a plus regular at short for one year of Machado? You ask for more, but it’s not a crazy deal.
Keith Law: Assuming Gleyber’s elbow is fine, and it should be.

Chris J: Any new (to you) boardgames you discovered and enjoyed at PAX Unplugged?
Keith Law: Majesty, Istanbul dice game, Ticket to Ride France, Ex Libris (review coming), Evolution app/video game, Seikatsu.

Jshep12: Is it Ohtani or Otani or O’tani?
Keith Law: Ohtani.

Jeff: Do you see the things Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose were accused of happening at ESPN?
Keith Law: We are prohibited from discussing internal company matters. I say this all the time, and people still ask.

Birddog: Highest probability of success: Chance Sisco, Austin Hays or Anthony Satander?
Keith Law: Sisco. Big positional advantage.

PHM: Better bat: Bregman or Devers? Thanks!
Keith Law: Hit only? Bregman.

Rahn: Presented for your comment: Huntington said last night the Pirates are hoping to show Otani that the team is a great option for him.
Keith Law: Good for them. Won’t happen, but still, good for them.

Raphael: Legitimate question: is it really so wrong to disqualify known PED users from the HOF (either by positive tests or other evidence like the Biogenesis case)? The media and generic public may exaggerate the effects of them, but they’re strictly against the rules and have a known profound effect on being able to recover from injuries and work outs quicker. (Though I’m definitely not advocating the amphetamines users be treated any differently, just that I don’t get the outrage over disqualifying known rule breakers)
Keith Law: So take Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Babe Ruth out. Also, amphetamines are PEDs. Saying otherwise is a false dichotomy.

Jackie: What went wrong with Mark Appel? Is he still salvageable?
Keith Law: Finished the year hurt. Hasn’t been the same since the half-year in Lancaster and changes Houston made to speed him up to the plate. There’s a causation question – did delivery changes wreck his command? lead to injury? or all separate? – but those are factors.

Brian: Trade: Padres trade Hand, Quantrill, Arias, De Los Santos To NYY for Gleybar. Who says no?
Keith Law: Yankee fan, eh?

Joe: Made no sense to protect Loaisiga, right? Only chance he has to make the majors is as a reliever now since he will run out of options if he continues to develop as a starter.
Keith Law: He would have been taken.

Chris: Am I insane to argue that categorizing pitchers as “closers” is ridiculous? People treat a pitcher that “closes” a game almost as a separate position, and teams not only sign players accordingly, but play them as such. If you’re the best pitcher coming out of the bullpen, you should be pitching in the highest-leveraged situations regardless of inning. It’s what a little-league coach does, so why should MLB be any different? I hear this non-stop in Chicago about replacing Wade Davis as a “closer” and it drives me crazy. [end of rant]
Keith Law: Relievers are just failed starters. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true: If you can throw even 150 major-league average innings, you’re going to start. You can have a hierarchy in your bullpen, but this elevation of the Proven Closer is how we end up with stupidity like Trevor Hoffman’s 28 WAR likely entering the Hall of Fame.

JPro06: When is/are you doing your top prospect lists next? End of the year or just before the season next year?
Keith Law: Late January. Same every year.

Rob: Do you think Robert Stephenson could stick in the Reds rotation this year and be successful? You were one of the first writers to say that he was a bullpen guy.
Keith Law: Don’t think I said that. Has three pitches to start, longtime trouble with command/control.

Giants Fan: How much credence do you give to the theory that stitching on the balls made WS pitching so ineffective?
Keith Law: Don’t believe it. The balls were not manufactured separately for the World Series (or the playoffs).

John: Why are voters and fans so eager to get behind closers for the HOF, but are so reluctant to get behind DHs? Someone like Edgar provides almost 100% of the value of a HOF position player, but Hoffman provides 50% of the value of a fringe HOF starting pitcher.
Keith Law: Because SAVEZ.

Chris: grimes vs. chvrches? who do you draft first?
Keith Law: Grimes has more upside. CHVRCHES higher floor. I’ll take Grimes.

Wally: It feels to me that the players, while paid well on a societal scale, don’t get enough of the total revenue pie in MLB. Do you think that’s right, and if yes and you had the ability to run the MLBPA, what would you do to address it?
Keith Law: Push for higher minimum salary, fight for protections for players from service-time manipulation to delay free agency or arbitration.

Andy: Where do you stand on the Bill James WAR argument about taking actual wins into account? I’m worried that it goes down a GWRBI rabbit hole pretty quickly.
Keith Law: That’s a hard no for me. Win Shares are dead. Leave them in the ground.

EL: Can Jose Miguel Fernandez help a team? I was surprised the Dodgers released him.
Keith Law: It was put him on the 40-man or release him. He should get a solid deal somewhere, probably a major league contract from somebody. Just no room on LAD’s roster, I guess.

Josh L: How hard will it be for the Braves to move Matt Kemp? Similar to the Upton/Kimbrel move a few years back? Does he have any value in the NL any longer?
Keith Law: Kemp has no value, period. I would release him.

Rob: Would you trade Raisel Iglesias if you were running the Reds at this stage of the rebuild? He should be able to net a nice return but they do not have many good bullpen options.
Keith Law: Yes. Unnecessary for rebuilding team to have a good ‘closer.’

Chris: Do I need to spend $1000 on a new, super-automatic espresso machine? i’m ok at the $500 mark, but I don’t want to sacrifice too much in taste or other things (ease of use, cleaning, etc.). It’s just for 2 people too.
Keith Law: I would not, and I love espresso and the machine I own.

Scott: What do you suggest to get away from the depressing crush of the news cycle? I enjoy using Twitter, but it also gives a lot of anxiety.
Keith Law: Get out of the house. Seriously – it’s easier to ignore the world, especially the online world, if you’re out doing stuff.

Drew: As the son of a lifelong foreign service officer, I can tell you that Tillerson has been far from competent. The State Department is in the worst shape I’ve seen it in 35 years, and officers current and retired are despondent with what Tillerson and Trump have done.
Keith Law: Thanks. So State is just like every other department, then. Yay us. Oh, and we’ve alienated most of our strongest allies, including the UK just this week over some retweets of fake news.

Marc: Will Xander’s lack of exit velocity mean he won’t get to 20 HRs?
Keith Law: This is exit velocity obsession. If your hands are injured, your exit velocity will be down.

Eric: Mussina not in the hall is my go to complaint about hall voters? is there another player that deserves or deserved enshrinement that voters didn’t get behind?
Keith Law: He is the best non-Bonds/Clemens player on the ballot. And those two guys have their baggage; he doesn’t.

Jason: Re: Ohteni, what if he insisted on being given 300 PA as a DH or position player? Even though you might not want to use him as a two-way player, he may still choose his team based on that criteria.
Keith Law: Are you willing to lie? Tell him he’ll get 500 AB, then change your mind in March? Such agreements are unenforceable.

Rahn: GM hat time: Should the Pirates deal Cole and/or McCutchen before the season begins to maximize value and recognize they’re in a phase of rebuild?
Keith Law: I would, and included both in my ‘trade market overview’ piece last month.

Andrew: Any thoughts on PAX Unplugged? How was the experience?
Keith Law: Had a blast. Brought my daughter to Kids’ Day on Sunday, and she didn’t want to leave (the show was closing, so we had no choice). Absolutely planning to attend again next year.

Matt: So what are the Yankees doing? It seems like they canned Girardi for the sake of canning him w/o giving nary a thought to whom the new manager will be.
Keith Law: I would agree with that outside assessment.

Mike (Toronto): Were/are you a fan of R.E.M.? With Automatic for the People’s 25th anniversary this month, I just wondered. I think they’re among the most important American bands ever (not that I’m trying to sway you).
Keith Law: Peak REM, yes, up to and including that album. Falloff from there was quick. Their 1980s output, which didn’t sell quite as well, was tremendous and I think remains influential today.

Brett: Are you of the opinion that sports gambling should be legal in all 50 states?
Keith Law: I don’t have a yes/no answer to that. I think such activities should generally be legal – gambling, prostitution, marijuana – but that they create externalities that require regulation. Gambling, especially casinos, leads to rises in bankruptcies, domestic violence, and other crimes. Who pays those costs?

Joe : Can the royals contend next year?
Keith Law: I can’t see how.

Ed: Love all of your work Keith. Is Hudson Potts being overlooked as a prospect ? At 18 he had the best fielding % in the MWL and clearly was able to make adjustments at the plate in the second half. What should we look for in High A this year as the numbers will be inflated in the Cal league? Increased patience at the plate?
Keith Law: Solid prospect but fielding percentage is beyond worthless for minor leaguers.

Todd: Was at the Braves season ticket deal today where McGuirk talked about a “Rogue Employee in the Dominican” today. I asked to be sure I heard it right but that’s what I heard. Thoughts ?
Keith Law: Someone needs to ask McGuirk what he knew and when he knew it.

Ryan: Would you recommend Ex Libris for fans of heavier games?
Keith Law: It’s medium-weight. I like it quite a bit.

Justin R: Wouldn’t the best Red Sox move be to find a low-cost 1B with some power and assume Benitendi/Betts/Boegaarts hit for more power in 2018?
Keith Law: Hosmer is a terrible fit for Boston; they need power and he has never slugged .500.

JR: I know there’s still a month left (which means 20 more books for you to read), but what were the 3-5 most enjoyable books you read this year?
Keith Law: I Contain Multitudes. Evicted. Betaball. The Erstwhile (part 2 of The Vorrh trilogy). The Fifth Season. Mister Monkey. The Underground Railroad. Not a Scientist. The Last Days of Night. The Cooperstown Casebook.

Justin R: What would be your ideal tax plan for the US?
Keith Law: I would prefer to see tax reform that simplifies the tax code, reducing the government’s cost to collect it and society’s cost to calculate and file it, rather than this current bill that is a giant sop to corporate and wealthy donors and that ignores the recent history of such tax cuts. (The GOP is tweeting how the JFK tax cut boosted the economy. They’re full of shit: The top marginal rate was 91% before that tax cut. It’s 39.6% today. That makes all the difference.)

Matt: What about cortisone shots? Players take them all the time yet no one says anything. It’s a steroid.
Keith Law: Of course. It’s a legal steroid. Is LASIK a PED? (PEP?) We draw arbitrary lines to suit our purposes.

Jshep12: Adderall is the most often prescribed amphetamine. 10% of MLB players are using it because it is prescribed for their ADHD. Only 4-6% of the population is prescribed this drug. Is this a problem? Is this a problem MLB can do anything about?
Keith Law: If you can go to Dr. Nick Riviera and get a diagnosis, and MLB grants you a therapeutic use exemption, you’re clear. They could crack down on TUEs, but I doubt they’d do so, or that the union would stand idly by.

Craig: Does Nate Pearson have a chance to make your next top 100 prospects?
Keith Law: No.

Jshep12: So, based on what you said about Hoffman, does Rivera deserve to be in the HOF?
Keith Law: These two are not comparable, and people who ask me this sort of question are guilty of not doing even the most basic homework. Rivera threw 194 more innings and gave up 32 fewer ER, despite pitching in the AL East. Hoffman spent his entire Padres’ career in pitchers’ parks, often with park factors at -10%. They’re not the same. If you think they’re the same or even close, then wake up – the saves fairy is just something your parents made up so you’d feel better about the 9th inning.

Rahn: Do you see the Pirates’ prospect pool thinning? And can you give me someone to keep my eye on this year that you will be monitoring as well?
Keith Law: The system as a whole had a down year; other than Keller, all their major guys stagnated or took steps backward. Still a lot of ability in the system, but they have numerous guys who’ll need a strong 2018 to maintain prospect value or stay on track for the majors.

Gorman: Why do you need three pitches to start, but only 2 to relieve?
Keith Law: Oversimplifying a little, but relievers don’t face batters twice in a game, and can generally survive with platoon splits where starters can’t. If you’re a starter and can’t get opposite-side hitters out consistently, well, you’re not a starter.

Phil: What is Gohara’s ultimate upside? He’s the best Braves pitching prospect I’ve seen during rebuild to-date IMO and by fairly large margin
Keith Law: #2 starter upside. And 350 pound upside too. Gotta worry about the long-term health there.
Keith Law: I love Gohara as a prospect though. That’s just pointing out the obvious downside.

Heather: Cardinals are planning on going with at least two rookies in their rotation (choose from among Flaherty, Reyes, and Weaver). Can you have two rookies pitching that much, and still consider yourself a true playoff contender?
Keith Law: Sure. Why not? Better question might be if those rookies are good enough, but I don’t see rookies as automatically worse than veterans.

Gorman: Not trying to be flippant on Kemp, but doesn’t he at least profile as a slightly above average player on offense?
Keith Law: I have his Fangraphs page open now. 0.0 Batting Runs, which is league average, but doesn’t account for position. For a corner outfielder, that’s below average. It’s below average for a DH too.

Adam Trask: Speaking of pitchers and running, I heard that Aroldis Chapman used to beat Billy Hamilton in spring training sprints. Could that be true?
Keith Law: I’ve heard that too. Also was told way back when that Clay Buchholz beat Jacoby Ellsbury in sprints in instructs.

Chris: Can we expect a year-end list for music this year? I miss your album reviews.
Keith Law: I do them every December after the winter meetings, because there’s still new music coming every Friday.

KEvin Bo: Hey Keith, how in the world does it make sense for the supposed cash strapped Mets to be thinking about allocating their “minimal” resources to a 1B. Why not let Smith play it out as a cheap homegrown option.
Keith Law: I wonder if that was meant to motivate Smith to work on conditioning, or if someone took a quote out of context. You’re right that it’s foolish, and also, the best thing they could do for all their young players is already done: They fired the manager.

Brett: Keith, I’ve always admired your intelligence, but your above comment to Drew has me shaking my head. Some person named “Drew” says the State Department is the worst it has been in 35 years, without citing any evidence to prove this claim, and you buy into it? Dangerous.
Keith Law: I ‘buy into it?’ Overreact much? This is a chat, not a fucking grand jury hearing.

Steve: Should Franken step down?
Keith Law: Yes. Conyers too. I don’t care how you’ll vote; if you assault, harass, or abuse women, you’re out.
Keith Law: And it’s never just one victim. We see this again and again – after the first Franken story, after the first Moore story – oh, it’s just one woman, she’s lying, it happened the one time so many years ago, but then other women feel empowered enough to come forward with their own stories of assaults.

Adam Trask: Do you have your best San Diego restaurant recommendations in one place?
Keith Law: I do indeed: http://klaw.me/29EChkJ I haven’t gotten to Herb & Wood yet but hear it’s wonderful. I’d also put a hard ‘no’ on Marea coffee.

Dallas: Yovani Gallardo threw a very good curveball when he was the Brewers best starter. He got cutter happy in Texas and went away from the curve. In 2017, he brought the curve back a little bit and it rated fairly well via FG pitch values (3.3). His fastball ticked up 1 MPH this year. If he went Rich Hill, curveball/fastball do you think this would work for him?
Keith Law: Maybe if he also moved to the extreme end of the rubber like Hill did? But for Hill it made him deadly vs LHB, who tend to have bigger platoon splits. Not sure it’d have the same benefit for a RHP.

AJ: Just wondering if you read baseball novels and if so, which ones do you recommend. I am a great fan of Roth’s “Great American Novel” (if you can get past the misogyny). Have heard very good things about “The Celebrant.”
Keith Law: Don’t care for baseball in fiction. I read very little sports content for leisure; that is work, and I don’t like work to come into my hobbies.

Justin R: Have you seen “A Handmaid’s Tale”? Any interest?
Keith Law: Loved the book (and cringed through it). Not sure I would enjoy a long series of that.

Rahn: Top Chef is coming up. Still excited, even though recent seasons have played up the cheftestants squabbles and irritating behavior more than the food? And I saw that John Besh is still on the season description. I guess you can’t drop him from an episode of reality contest TV after it’s been shot. Will be interesting to see how they handle that gross guy’s presence.
Keith Law: I didn’t love the last season, and I’m just not going to watch a Besh episode at all.

Chris: HOW IN THE WORLD IS IT LEGAL TO USE TAXPAYER TO SETTLE A HARASSMENT CLAIM AND KEEP THE AGREEMENT CONFIDENTIAL?!?!
Keith Law: If only there were some way to change that …

Drew: As a response to Brett: I speak from anecdotal evidence, and know a large number of Foreign Service Officers who have worked under various administrations, serving their country regardless of which party was in office. They are feeling incredibly downtrodden right now, in large part because the President has no understanding of, or interest in learning about global affairs. Add to that the number of positions open and career public servants being pushed out of their positions, and it’s bleak.
Kim Last: My dad works for the State Dept and he said morale is much better than the last 8 years and things are going great.
Keith Law: So, I’m not vetting comments for authenticity. Do with these what you will.

Chris: What’s one band/singer that is no longer together/alive that you never saw live that you wish you could have?
Keith Law: Soul Coughing.

Jerome: No one actually paid a 91% tax rate in the 50s, so well done with the red herring
Keith Law: Politifact disagrees with you: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/nov/15/bernie-… Also, the point is not the specific 91%, but that the benefit of cutting the top marginal rate is intrinsically connected to the actual top marginal rate before the cut.

Andre: What’s your take on the criticism of those who are saying women have taken too long to come out with accusations of sexual assault? I held my tongue at some Thanksgiving gatherings–and got upset at others–but I find it abhorrent that anyone would suggest that any amount of time is too long to be credible.
Keith Law: A woman I went to HS with was defending Matt Lauer (after the first accusation … see above for how that works) by saying she had it in for him by coming forward now. I might have lost my shit. Victims are traumatized. They may fear retaliation. They may feel shame or blame themselves. They may wish to just move on with their lives. IT IS NOT UP TO US TO SAY WHEN A VIC TIM IS ALLOWED TO COME FORWARD. Praise the women who do, but support the ones who don’t.

Ethan: I opened Matt Kemp’s same FanGraphs page because I love actual examples to try and understand these advanced ideas, so can you help explain this–why does Kemp have such large negative values across the line (Batting, Fielding, Base Running, etc.), but “only” a -.5 WAR. It doesn’t add up to me.
Keith Law: I believe those double-count the positional adjustment.
Keith Law: Also, those Runs figures are averages, WAR is vs replacement level.

Chris: So you’re a grad assistant receiving a stipend for tuition, and under the new tax bill the amount of tuition (which can hit $80,000/yr) will now be taxed. Just lovely.
Keith Law: Yep. Because the last thing we would want as a country is a more educated populace.
Keith Law: That seems like the right way to end this chat. Look for the Ohtani column on Saturday and a Lady Bird review here later today. I should be back to chat next week before the winter meetings, likely on Thursday.
Keith Law: Thanks as always for reading and for all of your questions. Have a safe weekend!

Icarus.

Icarus, a documentary now available on Netflix, covers the Russian state-sponsored doping program for Olympic athletes from the most direct, personal angle possible: The director was working with the architect of the program on a completely different project when the story broke in a German documentary, The Doping Secret: How Russia Makes its Winners. So instead of merely following the chronology of the program’s execution, the leak to the press, and the subsequent drama around the WADA recommendations to ban all Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympics and the IOC’s decision to give WADA the finger, Icarus gives it to viewers in real time from the perspective of one of the whistleblowers who ends up fearing for his life.

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel decided, on what appears to be a whim, to race in a Haute Route cycling event, a seven-day endurance test across difficult terrain, this time in the Alps of southeastern France. (They also hold similar events in the Pyrénées and in the Rockies.) He finishes in the top 20, but his body just gives out near the end, so he does what any normal person would do in response – he decides to start doping to see how much a little artificial help will improve his performance. (He notes that the event bans performance-enhancing drugs but doesn’t bother testing for them.) He contacts the former head of the main U.S. testing lab, who agrees to help but eventually reneges and refers Fogel to Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the Russian Anti-Doping Centre, a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory that would test athletes for PED usage. Rodchenkov also knew quite a bit about the benefits of the various PEDs available to Fogel and helped him design a protocol, with the help of an “anti-aging” doctor here in the U.S., to improve his performance in a second shot at the Haute Route.

That second race doesn’t go as well as planned, but it becomes thoroughly secondary to the film’s real story: The German documentary exposes the Russians’ state-run doping program, claiming many of the country’s medals in recent Olympics, including Sochi, were achieved by athletes who should have failed PED tests but didn’t. Rodchenkov was actually running the doping program on the side, even while he was running the anti-doping facility, and during the filming of Icarus, he begins to fear that the government is watching him and possibly preparing to arrest him, so he flees to the U.S. and tells his everything to the New York Times for a piece that ran on May 12, 2016. That article blew the doors off the scandal and led to a longer WADA investigation, which the IOC chose to ignore because of reasons we can only imagine – as Rodchenko makes it clear that he believes Vladimir Putin, who approved the doping program, will stop at nothing to silence his enemies. We learn that one of Rodchenkov’s associates died, allegedly of a heart attack, in February 2016, shortly after the German film aired; another died the same month, with both men former directors of Russia’s anti-doping agency.

There is so much to unpack in Icarus, which is thoroughly gripping even though you invest the first 40 minutes or so in a story that doesn’t matter. (It’s never really clear why Fogel is willing to subject his body to the doping regimen, whether it’s a desire to win, a desire to show what doping can do, a Morgan Spurlock-style attitude to filmmaking, or something else). What was a weird but intriguing documentary that looked at the history of doping and the cat-and-mouse game between the athletes who use such drugs and the labs that try to catch them turns into a darker, real-life spy thriller. The film doesn’t bother with bothsidesism; Rodchenkov’s credibility isn’t questioned, nor are we given any reason to question it, and he provides Fogel with detailed notes on specific athletes’ regimens that seem to immediately convince a group of appalled members of WADA who walked into a conference room believing that this kind of program was physically impossible. (The KGB manages to tamper with WADA’s tamper-proof caps, among other tricks.) And a subsequent special investigation, led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, found that over 1000 Russian athletes had doped in events over the time period covered.

Two angles in particular stand out from this. One, relevant to those of us here with an interest in baseball, is that a sufficiently determined and organized group can defeat even a sophisticated testing program. This isn’t about masking agents, or super-secret new drugs that haven’t hit testing protocols yet, but about physical exchange of dirty samples for clean ones that won’t test positive. It shows how difficult such a scheme would be to pull off … but also that it was pulled off, successfully, for years, and therefore is at least feasible.

But I don’t know how you can watch Icarus now without drawing the obvious parallel: Vladimir Putin approved a program to interfere with a competition that went beyond his own borders to try to engineer the results he desired – and even when given irrefutable proof of what he did, he just dismisses it as, in essense, fake news. He even gets away with it, despite those meddling kids, because I’ve seen jellyfish with stronger spines than the IOC, which just gave carte blanche to any major power to dope the hell out of its athletes. There’s even a scene where we see a Russian TV show airing emails between Fogel and Rodchenkov – emails obtained via hacking. We’re fighting someone who appears willing to do anything, perhaps even kill, to achieve his goals, and who thus far has proved immune to any penalty or retribution. It’s a grim projection for the future of international sport … and our elections, too.

Last Men in Aleppo.

The Syrian Civil Defense, better known now as the White Helmets after a documentary short by that name won the Oscar in that category this past February, is a volunteer organization that has operated in Syria since 2014, providing rescue and medical services in the wake of airstrikes in the failed state, including in the major city of Aleppo before and during the siege of the town in 2016. Last Men in Aleppo follows the group, focusing on two of the volunteers, Khaled and Mahmoud, as they race around the city, trying to rescue victims buried under rubble, while also trying to live their lives, like Khaled worrying about medicine for his daughter, or Mahmoud trying to coax his brother to flee. The film is available via iTunes or to rent/buy directly from the distributor.

Filmed in cinéma vérité style, Last Men in Aleppo has no narration or overarching structure, and simply follows the two men and some of their colleagues from airstrike to airstrike, mixing in scenes of almost mundane daily life, including an outing with their families to a playground – which, of course, is cut short by the sighting of government warplanes. (All of the airstrikes shown or discussed in the film are either from Syrian government jets or Russian jets.) The rescue scenes are gripping and horrifying, since they find more dead bodies than survivors, and are often pulling children from the wrecks. The survivors are often shown wracked by grief as they realize most of their family members are dead – and there’s no editing here to soften the impact on the viewer. The camera observes, nothing more.

That editorial decision makes the movie somewhat hard to follow, as there’s no story to track, and the pacing is as uneven as the pacing of real life. We see the men in their regular lives, or the facsimile thereof in a city under siege, interrupted by a bombing and a phone call, and they race to the scene with their comrades and the construction equipment they use to excavate the wreckage of bombed-out buildings. There’s a ton of disturbing footage in here, including corpses of babies, body parts, head injuries, and even a badly wounded cat. It is utterly draining, and simultaneously honors the bravery and altruism of these men while reminding the viewer of the enormous suffering of the people of Aleppo and Syria in general, suffering that the United States has done very little to stop.

That last bit was the biggest takeaway from Last Men in Aleppo for me – the lives of ordinary people have been discarded by a dictator’s brutal efforts to retain power over his country, even if there are very few people left in it, supported by another dictator whose warplanes are helping bomb innocent civilians, sometimes appearing to even target the White Helmets while they work. The west at least intervened to stop a government-led massacre in Libya during that country’s version of the Arab Spring, although the end result has been a failed state there as well. In fact, it’s unclear that western intervention can do much of anything except to avoid the direct killings of airstrikes and ground invasions, as the one true success story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia, succeeded without any involvement from the west. Libya is close to a failed state, as is Syria. Yemen is suffering from famine and a cholera outbreak with nearly a million victims. Egypt overthrew its dictator only to end up with a military autocracy. So maybe we couldn’t have done anything to help any of these countries transition to democracy or peace. It’s just hard to watch Last Men in Aleppo without thinking that anything we do would have been better than the nothing we’ve done.

The Square.

I imagine Sweden’s national tourism board is rather unhappy with the country’s portrayal in The Square, as writer-director Ruben Östlund has crafted a dense, multilayered, nonlinear, unfocused narrative that depicts Stockholm’s art community as a bunch of loonies. It’s fascinating, even gripping, frequently cringeworthy, twice offensive, too long by about ten minutes, and incisively satirical. Östlund doesn’t land all his punches, but the ones he lands hit hard. The film is mostly in Swedish, with subtitles; it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and is Sweden’s submission for the 90th Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film honor.

Claes Bang plays Christian, the director of a modern art museum in Stockholm that tries to present edgy, post-modern installations, but often falls short of its own pretensions, a fact established and skewered in an early scene where American journalist Anne (Elizabeth Moss) asks him to explain a description from the museum’s official site. Christian is also dealing with an outside marketing agency to develop advertising for an upcoming installation, called The Square, that is just a lit square on the ground and a plaque explaining what the square is in vague philosophical terms – not exactly the most media-friendly piece of art. Christian is also robbed of his wallet and phone in an early scene, leading to a comically disastrous plan to recover the goods when his tech guy, Michael (Christopher Læssø), helps him locate the phone via GPS tracking.

Other plot threads and details appear late in the film, enough that mentioning them would spoil the effect even though they’re not plot twists – they’re just stuff the script forgot to mention earlier on in the proceedings. That gives the entire film a sense of unreality, which I’d compare favorably to the hysterical realism of Zadie Smith or Paul Beatty, and unfavorably to the failed experimental novel The Unconsoled, which also concerned an artist, by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro’s narrative makes sharp, jarring turns that lack narrative or thematic connections, and subplots are dropped without resolution, never to return. It’s unclear if the main character is even awake for some scenes, or dreaming, or hallucinating. The Square walks a similarly tortuous path, with more clarity that it’s all (probably) real, instead simply bouncing Christian from bad decision to bad decision, and introducing details – like the end of the performance art piece at the banquet, or the whole thing with Anne’s roommate – that are just never explained. This is hysterical realism bordering on the transgressive, with mixed results, but still earning high points for ambition.

Christian himself is part narcissist – to the extent that someone can be only partly narcissistic – and part idiot, calling to mind Sherman McCoy of The Bonfire of the Vanities, another antihero who does something incredibly stupid, only to have it come back around and ruin his life. McCoy had it coming, while Christian isn’t quite so loathsome, just governed too much by his instinct for self-preservation and a little too in love with the power of his position. He gets small chances for redemption near the end of the film, and largely takes them, although it can’t thoroughly rehabilitate his character or atone for the wrongs he’s done some other people (a la Ian McEwan’s Atonement).

The targets of this film’s satirical side are numerous, from the art world, especially modern art, to consumer culture to our willful ignorance of others’ suffering to the anachronisms of the upper class to sex, the last rather thoroughly demonstrated by one of the most joyless sex scenes I can remember seeing. The movie’s pièce de résistance, the aforementioned performance art scene at a banquet for the museum’s chief benefactors, manages to tear down multiple targets, including the fatuous nature of such self-congratulatory dinners, the idea of the artist being ‘totally’ committed to his work to the point of madness, the animal nature of man, and the bystander effect, the last two coming in the scene’s culmination of a physical and attempted sexual assault. Again, after the scene ends, there isn’t so much as another reference to any of it – it’s yet another disaster for the museum, but everyone proceeds the next day as if it never happened.

The Square is bursting with ideas, and many of them fail to hit their marks or are pushed via metaphors that are just too strong or on the nose. The modern art mockery is fish in a barrel stuff – really, that could have been one of the museum’s installations. The simian allusions are similarly too easy. But then there are scenes like the overhead shot of Christian rifling through garbage where the camera is high enough that his white shirt and brown hair just look like two more bags in the sea of trash, or the spiraling shot of a staircase (also top-down) as Christian climbs multiple floors but appears to make no progress.

No idea comes across more consistently in the film, however, than our numbness to the suffering of strangers, even when it’s right in front of us. Banquet goers put their heads down even as there’s a physical attack happening in front of them. Commuters ignore beggars in the street, the mall, the train station, and ignore the charity worker asking people if they’d stop for a minute “to save a life.” The video produced by the marketing agency, which is an obvious disaster along the lines of the SB Nation puff piece on rapist Daniel Holtzclaw, turns the idea inside out by preying on people’s sympathy for a fictional character crafted to maximize the viewers’ emotional reactions. It’s the one truly pervasive theme in the movie, and the closest thing the script has to a unifying element.

For all of that weightiness, The Square is also very funny, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes more “I can’t believe this is happening” funny, but even with its bleak view of humanity, the movie does go for some big laughs. There’s a fight over a condom, an argument interrupted by an art installation that keeps making noise at inopportune moments, another installation damaged in comical fashion by a night cleaner, and the sheer idiocy of the marketing agency bros. At nearly two and a half hours, it needs some levity to keep it moving – and many scenes in the first half go on a few beats too long – but the film will likely keep everyone who sees it thinking about all of its ideas for days.

But seriously, what is the deal with Anne’s roommate?

Stick to baseball, 11/25/17.

The biggest piece I wrote this week was actually right here, the tenth annual ranking of my top 100 boardgames, including a list (at the bottom) of my favorite titles for two players. And you’ll see in the comments there are still plenty of good games out there I haven’t played.

For Insiders, I broke down MLB’s penalties for Atlanta, looking at the players set free and the impact of the league’s actions for the long term, and also looked at how the top few free agents might end up overpaid this offseason. My next scheduled piece will cover Shohei Otani and will run December 2nd, the day he hits the market for real, assuming there isn’t another roadblock between now and then.

No Klawchat this week on account of the holiday.

Buy Smart Baseball for all your loved ones this holiday season! It makes a great gift. By which I mean it’s great for me when you give it as a gift.

And now, the links…

Top 100 boardgames, 2017 edition.

I first posted a list of favorite boardgames in November of 2008, just ten titles, only a couple of which were Eurogames, because I’d really barely started on the hobby at that point. I had seen a list somewhere else that I thought was bad, so I made my own list, which in hindsight wasn’t very good either, but it turned out to be an inflection point for me because so many of you responded with suggestions. I started to play some of those, and got a few as gifts, and the more I played, the more I realized how much I enjoyed the games themselves and just the hobby as a whole. I’d liked games as a kid, but games back then were mostly terrible, and the ones on the shelf in the coat closet – Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry! – were all kind of terrible. (Don’t get me started on Scrabble; any game that requires preparation, such as memorizing word lists, is no longer a game. It is work. I have enough work in my life, thanks.)

The best boardgames combine some kind of puzzle that gets me thinking (or scheming), some social interaction, and that hard-to-define element of fun. I like learning, I like math, I like coming up with ideas and seeing how they work out – especially in the no-consequences world of boardgames. And while I enjoy playing games on mobile devices against AI players, just for the mental workout, I’d much rather play games live, which puts more emphasis on the last two criteria. Now that my daughter is eleven, and old enough to play any game I might bring home, it’s become an even more central part of my life. She even came with me to day three of PAX Unplugged this weekend, and told me as we walked out near closing time that she wished we had a few more hours to keep playing.

This year’s list is my tenth one, the second year I’ve ranked 100 games, which is probably fewer than half of the games I’ve ever tried if we count demos, apps, and online play. The definition of a boardgame is nebulous, but I define it for this list by exclusions: no RPGs, no miniatures, no party games, no word games, no four-hour games, nothing that requires advance prep to play well. Board games don’t need boards – Dominion is all cards, played on a tabletop, so it qualifies – but they do need some skill element to hit my table.

I’ve put a complexity grade to the end of each review, low/medium/high, to make it easier for you to jump around and see what games might appeal to you. I don’t think there’s better or worse complexity, just different levels for different kinds of players. I’m somewhere between medium and high complexity; super “crunchy” games, as other gamers will say, don’t appeal to me as much as they might to the Boardgamegeek crowd. I have omitted some titles I’ve tried that are not available at all in the U.S. yet, and have several games here to review or test that I haven’t played at all or enough to rank, including Raiders of the North Sea, Photosynthesis, London, Wasteland Delivery Express, Clank!, and more.

100. Seikatsu. A new abstract game with gorgeous, well-made components, where two or three players compete to fill out a board with tiles that score once when they’re placed but score a different way at game-end – and where each player’s perspective on the board changes the scoring. My only complaint here is that it’s a bit pricey at $40 for this kind of game; you’re paying for components, but not for the gaming experience. Complexity: Low.

99. Hey That’s My Fish. The rare kids’ boardgame that is still a fun play for adults, where players compete to score points by placing and moving their penguins across a board of hexagonal ice tiles … but the hitch is that the tile you leave then drops into the ocean, so the board changes as you go and you can even trap an opponent’s penguin if you plan it right. The app version, the only way I’ve played this game, includes some great animations, and you can unlock a number of alternate boards via achievements, most of which are low-hanging fruit. This and Blokus are the two best games specifically aimed at younger players that we’ve tried. Complexity: Low.

98. Russian Railroads. Heavy, no-luck strategy game that combines some engine-building with an extremely well-balanced scoring system that allows multiple paths to the 300-point range where you’ll typically finish. Your board has three tracks that you will try to build with multiple train colors, each worth more points than the previous one, while you can also hit various bonuses on those tracks or on the separate factory track, and you can hire engineers that give you additional action types that tend to be even more beneficial. And then there are locomotives, which you need to get to earn any points for your track advancement, but which are scarce (in fact, my one complaint is that they’re too scarce) and become hotly contested. If you like luck-free, complex strategy games, this is up your alley. Complexity: High.

97. Maori: A light two- to four-player game, relatively high in the luck department for this list, with more opportunities to screw your opponent in a two player game, whereas with four players you’re focusing more on your own strategy and less on others’. In the game, players compete to fill out their own boards of 16 spaces by drawing island tiles from a central 4×4 grid, where the available selections depend on the movement of a boat token that travels around that grid’s perimeter. Players must form completed islands to receive points, and lose points for open spaces. Currently out of print, but amazon frequently has copies through marketplace sellers as does boardgamegeek. Complexity: Low.

96. Spyrium. Full review. The steampunk theme didn’t do much for me, but there’s a decent game underneath it of very long-term planning – what you build in phase one really determines how much you’ll be able to accomplish in phase three. From the designer of Caylus, Spyrium requires players to collect the fictional energy-dense crystal of that name (dilithium much?) to build factories that produce more of it or convert it into cash. The real key to the game are the technologies available early in the game that can lead to lower costs later on; skip those, or buy the wrong ones, and you’re sunk. Complexity: Medium-high.

95. Port Royal. I believe this was just released in the U.S. for the first time this year, and it’s great value at about $14. Port Royal is a push-your-luck card game where you’re trying to collect points by buying point cards and completing expedition cards, gaining money by drawing ship cards with gold on them … but if you keep drawing and two ships of the same color appear, you bust. There’s also an engine-building element here that does give it a strategic element beyond shouting “No whammy!” Complexity: Medium-low.

94. Santorini. Full review. Abstract two-player game invented by a math professor, with a pasted-on Greek mythology theme that opens up a number of variants that tweak the base game’s rules. Very chess-lite, which I mean as a compliment. Complexity: Medium.

93. One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Needs at least five people to play well, but otherwise it’s a great social deduction game that can really play in under ten minutes, especially with the companion app to help you along. Each player gets a role, and then everyone closes their eyes; one role is called at a time, and those players “wake up” and do some action. At the end, everyone opens their eyes and tries to guess which players are werewolves – while the werewolves try to deke everyone else out. Complexity: Low.

92. Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Full review. A new cooperative boardgame that borrows very heavily from Pandemic but shifts to a new setting – a burning building with victims to be rescued – and includes different constraints and tools for fighting the common foe. I think Pandemic does this better, not just because Matt Leacock invented this subgenre but because the play itself, especially the way the foe (viruses) spreads across the board, so Flash Point is better if you love Pandemic and want more of the same but on a different board. A good deal right now at $24. Complexity: Medium.

91. Tak. Full review. Not yet in print, although it’s supposed to be delivered to Kickstarter backers this month. This very simple, chess-like (or chess-lite) two-player game is based on a description in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles novels, but unlike those massive tomes, this game is quick to get into and to play. There’s some strategic density here below the surface despite the limited number of pieces. Each player tries to be the first to construct a path across the board (usually 5×5), but players can stack certain tiles and knock some over, and you quickly end up in a back-and-forth pattern that forms the meat of the game. Complexity: Medium-low.

90. Bottom of the 9th. Yep, it’s a baseball game, but a very simple, streamlined one that just focuses on one half-inning of “play” and works primarily as a game-theory, deduction exercise – one player is the team at bat, the other in the field, and each is really trying to guess what the other player will choose to do. Each player has cards representing the ballplayers, with certain abilities and bonuses depending on the outcome of the two players’ choices – a pitch low or high, inside or away. Very quick to play, with many expansions that add some quirks to the action. Complexity: Low.

89. The Battle for Hill 218. A simple-not-that-simple two-player card game with a high degree of blowing-stuff-up-ness. Two players compete to take control of the hill of the game’s title by placing cards representing different military units that have specific attack and defense skills – some merely attacking an adjacent card, some able to attack deep behind enemy lines. The Kickstarter was a success, and they reprinted this game and the rethemed Battle for Sector 219, but it appears that copies aren’t easy to find. I’ve played and liked the iOS app version. Complexity: Medium-low.

88. Bora Bora. Bora Bora is one of the best-looking games we own and plays like a more complex version of the Castles of Burgundy. Two to four players compete to occupy territories on a central board of five islands, then using resources they acquire there to build on their individual player cards … but that’s just one of many ways to gain points in this game, where you can also hire natives to perform tasks or earn shells or status points, and you can trade in shells for jewelry worth points at game-end, and you can get bonuses for collecting certain combinations of cards, natives, or resources. It’s almost too much – you have so many options the game can slow down if players start overthinking it – but if you like Castles of Burgundy this is a good follow-up purchase. Complexity: Medium.

87. Saloon Tycoon. Full review. A great-looking game that plays well too. Players are indeed saloon owners and must build their taverns across and up – buying cubes that allow them to add second and third floors to their establishments, adding rooms that confer different values and often work in concert with other rooms or certain cards to rack up more points. It’s fun, it’s just lightly competitive – most of what you’re doing is building your own site, but there are a couple of small chances to steal something from an opponent or hand him/her a damaging card. And if you’re comfortable with the presence of a Brothel card (it’s not explained), it’s fine for kids too. Complexity: Medium-low.

86. Mole Rats in Space. Full review. A cooperative game from the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert, this title is specifically aimed at kids, stripping out most of the complexity of those games and reducing the cooperative mechanism to its most basic parts, with players representing astronaut mole-rats on a ship that has been invaded by snakes. The snakes keep coming while the players must try to bring four objects to the center of the board so they can escape.

85. Eight Minute Empire. App review. Haven’t played the physical game yet, but the app is great. I love the idea of a quick game that can satisfy the 4X itch – that’s eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate – in a few minutes with just a handful of rules. Players move out on the map from a central starting region, adding units, collecting goods for points, and trying to control regions or continents before the game ends. The money you start with is all you get, so managing that is a huge part of the game. Complexity: Medium.

84. Valeria: Card Kingdoms. Full review. This game knocked Machi Koro off my list completely, because it fixes that game’s major flaw – players can get totally left behind by a few bad dice rolls. In Valeria, you acquire cards that pay out on certain rolls, with each individual die counting as well as the sum of the two. You gain strength and magic tokens, and then use them to defeat monsters or capture domains for victory points and new benefits. It also has a bit of the Dominion feel in its expansions and ability to mix and match the available cards for enough combinations to last several lifetimes. Complexity: Medium-low.

83. Forbidden Desert. Full review. A medium-weight cooperative game from the designer of Pandemic (a top ten game for me, and the best coop game I’ve played), Forbidden Desert has players trying to escape a sandstorm on a board that changes every game, on which a sandstorm threatens to kill them all if dehydration doesn’t get them first. It’s more luck-driven than Pandemic, which doesn’t suit my particular tastes, but overall is a little quicker to learn. The iOS app is great, but it’s a bastard. Complexity: Medium.

82. Bruges. Full review. An indirect descendant of Agricola, Bruges also has players adding abilities from a giant deck, encouraging long-range planning that racks up points if you get the right cards played in the right combinations. You don’t have to feed your family here; instead you’re a noble in the beautiful Belgian town of (fookin’) Bruges, building stuff for points, because that’s how these games all work. It’s a pretty game as well, although I take a few points off for the disjointed scoring mechanisms. Possibly out of print. Complexity: Medium to medium-high.

81. La Flamme Rouge. Full review. A bike-racing game for two to four players, where each player runs a team of two racers on the board, and must move both of them each turn by working through a small deck of movement cards that, over the course of the game, becomes bogged down with Exhaustion cards. You can also ride in another player’s wake and gain free movement points each turn if you play it correctly, so making a big move for an early lead may not be such a hot idea. The game comes with several alternate board configurations, which gives it more replayability. Complexity: Medium-low.

80. Asara. Full review. Light strategy game that feels to us like a simpler, cleaner implementation of Alhambra’s theme and even some of its mechanics, without the elegance of the best family-strategy games like Stone Age or Small World. Players compete to build towers in five different colors, earning points for building the tallest ones or building the most, while dealing with a moderate element of randomness in acquiring tower parts. It’s also among the best-looking games we own, if that’s your thing. Just $25 as of this writing. Complexity: Low.

79. The Blood of an Englishman. Full review. An asymmetrical two-player game where one player is Jack and the other the Giant, playing on a tableau of five columns of cards. Each player has specific goals to win and distinct actions to take by moving or removing cards that either complete his/her own sets or make the opponent’s task more difficult. Tremendous artwork too. It’s $9 right now. Complexity: Low.

78. Alhambra: Full review. One of my least favorite Spiel winners, with a good tile-placement and scoring system, but the method used to acquire money is an awful mechanic that really screws the game up (for me) with more than two players. One of the cooler-looking games in our collection. There are many, many expansions, but I haven’t tried any. Complexity: Medium.

77. A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Full review. A very rich deckbuilder and “Living Card Game” (meaning there will be frequent expansion packs) that is extremely true to its theme, with fairly simple mechanics that lead to very intricate gameplay and maneuvering … kind of like the source material. I hated the book, but love this game. The only negative is time, as it takes well over an hour to play a full game, as much as two hours with four players if no one gets an early lead. Complexity: Medium.

76. Scotland Yard: App review. One of the few old-school games on the board, and one I’ve only played in app form. One player plays the criminal mastermind (I don’t know if he’s really a mastermind, but doesn’t he have to be for the narrative to work?) trying to escape the other players, playing detectives, by using London’s transportation network of cabs, buses, the Tube, and occasionally a boat along the Thames. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up but there’s nothing on here a clever six- or seven-year-old couldn’t handle if playing alongside an adult, and like Tobago has a strong deductive-reasoning component that makes it a little bit educational as well as fun. Complexity: Low.

75. Baseball Highlights: 2045: Full review. I was floored at how much I enjoyed this game; it is baseball-themed, but it’s really a fast-moving deckbuilder where your deck only has 15 cards in it and you get to upgrade it constantly between “games.” The names on the player cards are all combinations of names of famous players from history – the first name from one, the last from another, like “Cy Clemens” – except for the robots. It’s not a baseball simulation game, but that might be why I liked it, because it was easier to just let the theme go and play the game for what it is. It’s down this year as we’ve found the replay value is limited, even with the expansions. Complexity: Medium-low.

74. Bärenpark. Full review. A bit of Patchwork or Tetris but for more than two players. Each player tries to build out his/her zoo – for bears, of course – by placing tiles of various shapes and dimensions. Most tiles earn points, and there are bonuses for filling in entire boards. Covering certain squares allows a player to take better tiles from the central supply. End game is a little wonky, as it’s too easy for players to end up without a legal move in the last turn or two. Currently out of stock everywhere. Complexity: Medium-low.

73. Camel Up: Full review. Winner of the Spiel des Jahres award in 2014, Camel Up revolves around the “Camel Cup,” a race around the board involving … well, camels, yes, but camel meeples that stack, so when one lands on a space occupied by one or more camels already, they form a pile that moves as one. Players get to place little bets on each round of the race and on the ultimate winner and loser. Strategy is light, and it works for up to 8 players – the more the merrier in our experience, because it just gets sillier (in a good way). My daughter loves this; I would say I just like it, but I ranked it here because any game that she asks to play is a good one in my book. Complexity: Low.

72. Lords of Waterdeep. I have only reviewed the app version of this game, and it apparently hews very closely to the physical version. Despite the grafted-on Dungeons and Dragons theme, it’s just a worker-placement game where players compete across eight rounds to acquire scarce resources, build buildings worth victory points, and occasionally sabotage other players. Agricola has similar mechanics and constraints, but its greater complexity makes for a more interesting game; Lords is better if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half playing one session. Complexity: Medium.

71. Ra. Full review. One of Reiner Knizia’s classics and one of the great auction games in the genre, Ra got a well-deserved reissue earlier this year from Asmodee. Players collect Egyptian artifacts in groups of tiles. On a turn, a player may bid on the group on display or choose to add another tile; most tiles are worth acquiring but the bag has a few ‘disaster’ tiles that force you to discard something of value. It’s a little long, but it’s a deep economic game with many paths to victory. Complexity: Medium-high.

70. Five Tribes. Full review. A very strong medium-strategy game from Days of Wonder, but one that hit some early backlash because of the heavy use of slaves within the game’s theme – as currency, no less. That’s been fixed in subsequent printings. The game uses an unusual mechanic where all of the meeples start the game on the board and players have to use a funky kind of move to remove as many as they can to gain additional points, goods, or powers. There’s a lot going on, but once you’ve learned everything you can do it’s not that difficult to play. Complexity: Medium.

69. Galaxy Trucker. Full app review. I have only played the iOS app version of the game, which is just amazing, and reviews of the physical game are all pretty strong. Players compete to build starships to handle voyages between stations, and there’s an actual race to grab components during the building phase, after which you have to face various external threats and try to grab treasures while completing missions. It’s a boardgame that has a hint of RPG territory; the app has a long narrative-centric campaign that is best of breed. Complexity: Medium-low.

68. Mysterium. Full review. A truly unique co-op game where one player plays the ghost of a murder victim and must communicate clues to the other players, who play mediums, using vision cards which are, by design, ambiguous. It’s a game that tests your creativity and rewards imagination, rather than piling on complexity to increase its difficulty. It’s already been expanded as well with more cards, some of which are just more suspects or weapons but most of which are new vision cards which make for an even more oneiromantic evening. Complexity: Low.

67. Morels. Full review for Paste. A 2012 release, Morels is an easy-to-learn two-player card game with plenty of decision-making and a small amount of interaction with your opponent as you try to complete and “cook” sets of various mushroom types to earn points. The artwork is impressive and the game is very balanced, reminiscent of Lost Cities but with an extra tick of difficulty because of the use of an open, rolling display of cards from which players can choose. Complexity: Low.

66. Forged in Steel. Full review. A late 2016 release that has been consistently hard to find – it’s out of stock everywhere right now, without so much as a listing on amazon – Forged in Steel is a very complex economic and engine-building game that works because it’s so imaginative and integrates its citybuilding theme so well into game play. Players are building out a Colorado mining town, putting up different building types, controlling mines, and competing for votes to be the town’s Mayor. There’s also a newspaper stand on the board, with three headlines visible at a time, most of which alter game play in significant ways for that round. Complexity: High.

65. Yamatai. Full review. One of the most maligned releases of the year because … reasons? A Days of Wonder release from a well-regarded designer, Yamatai is a stunning game to look at, and manages to make some quirky mechanics work well over a game of manageable length, which I’d consider a big achievement considering how many games fail to do all that in a game under 90 minutes. Players place boats along tracks among the archipelago of islands on the board, but they can build on any island, even if they didn’t place those boats there – it’s the colors of the boats that matters, not who set them afloat. The ninja cards players can acquire are the real key, as many offer players greater benefits for certain core actions that can reap huge rewards if bought early in the game. Complexity: Medium.

64. Discoveries. A nice little gem recommended to me by someone on a boardgame forum I no longer frequent – how’s that for an explanation – with a Lewis & Clark theme of exploration where the players build up skills that allow them to undertake longer or more complicated exploration routes. I will say that I liked this game a lot more than my daughter did, even though I thought up front this would be a fast favorite for her; I think the theme didn’t grab her enough at first sight. Complexity: Medium.

63. Saint Petersburg. A classic Eurogame, recently reissued in German with better artwork, at which I am particularly bad for some reason. It’s all money and cards – you buy cards from the central supply, and each round has three separate scoring events, some of which provide money and some of which provide points. The unique aspect to Saint Petersburg is that you can gain discounts on future purchases by virtue of what you buy now: further copies of the same card cost one coin less for each copy you have, and some cards can be upgraded to more valuable versions, saving you the cost you paid for the card in the first place. I’ve played online a few times, and I found it becoming a bit repetitive over regular plays. Out of print in English, unfortunately. Complexity: Medium-low.

62. Lost Cities: Full review. This was once our favorite two-person game, a simple title from the prolific designer Reiner Knizia, and it’s quite portable since it can be played with nothing but the game cards. We’ve since moved on to some more complex two-player games, but for simplicity (without becoming dumb) this one is still an easy recommendation for me to give folks new to the genre. The deck comprises 12 cards in each of five colors, including cards numbered 2 through 10 and three “investment” cards to double, triple, or quadruple the profit or loss the player earns in that color. Players take turns drawing from the deck but may only place cards in increasing order, so if you draw a green 5 after you played the 6, tough luck. You can knock out a game in 15 minutes or less, so it’s one to play multiple times in a sitting. The iOS app is very slick and plays really quickly – a great one for killing a minute while you’re waiting in line. There is a Lost Cities board game, but I have never played it. Complexity: Low.

61. Jambo. Full review. A two-player card game where the deck is virtually everything, meaning that there’s a high element of chance based on what cards you draw; if you don’t draw enough of the cards that allow you to sell and purchase wares, it’ll be hard for you to win. Each player is an African merchant dealing in six goods and must try to buy and sell them enough times to go from 20 gold at the game’s start to 60 or more at the end. We played this wrong a few times, then played it the right way and found it a little slow, as the deck includes a lot of cards of dubious value. I’ve moved this up a few spots this year after some replays, as it’s one of the best pure two-player games out there. It’s also among my favorite themes, maybe because it makes me think of the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disneyworld. Out of print for over two years now. Complexity: Low.

60. Xenon Profiteer. Full review. Okay, perhaps not the best name, but it’s a really good game even if you weren’t obsessed with the periodic table like I was as a kid. Players are indeed profiting off xenon – the point is that you’re “refining” your hand of cards each turn to get rid of other gases and isolate the valuable xenon, then building up your tableau of cards to let you rack up more points from it. It’s a smarter deckbuilder with room for expansions, with at least one currently available. Out of print at the moment. Complexity: Medium.

59. Tobago. Full review. Solid family-strategy game with a kid-friendly theme of island exploration, hidden treasures, and puzzle-solving, without a lot of depth but high replay value through a variable board. Players place clue cards in columns that seek to narrow the possible locations of four treasures on the island, with each player placing a card earning a shot at the coins in that treasure – but a small chance the treasure, like the frogurt, will be cursed. The deductive element might be the game’s best attribute. The theme is similar to that of Relic Runners (a Days of Wonder game from 2014 that I didn’t like) but the game plays more smoothly. A bit overpriced right now at $50, though. Complexity: Low.

58. San Juan: Full review. The card game version of Puerto Rico, but simpler, and very portable. I like this as a light game that lets you play a half-dozen times in an evening, but all it really shares with Puerto Rico is a theme and the concept of players taking different roles in each turn. It plays well with two players but also works with three or four. I get that saying this is a better game than Race for the Galaxy (they were developed in tandem before RftG split off) is anathema to most serious boardgamers, but the fact that you can pick this game up so much more easily is a major advantage in my mind, more than enough to balance out the significant loss of complexity; after two or three plays, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to at least compete. The app version is very strong, with competent AI players and superb graphics. Complexity: Low.

57. Agamemnon: (Link is not to amazon.) Full review. An absolute gem of an abstract two-player game, with very little luck and a lot of balancing between the good move now and holding a tile for a great move later. Players compete to control “threads of fate” – connected lines on a small hub-and-spoke board – by placing their tokens at the hubs, but there are three different types of lines and control of each is determined in its own way. The board has alternate layouts on the other side for infinite replayability, but the main board is elegant enough for many replays, because so much of the game involves outthinking your opponent. Complexity: Low.

56. Acquire. Monopoly for grown-ups, and one of the oldest games on the list. Build hotel chains up from scratch, gain a majority of the shares, merge them, and try to outearn all your opponents. The game hinges heavily on its one random element – the draw of tiles from the pool each turn – but the decisions on buying stock in existing chains and how to sell them after a merger give the player far more control over his fate than he’d have in Monopoly. There’s a two-player variant that works OK, but it’s best with at least three people. The game looks a lot nicer now; I have a copy from the mid-1980s that still has the 1960s artwork and color scheme. Complexity: Low.

55. Quadropolis. Full review. The latest title from Days of Wonder has the company’s usual set of outstanding graphics and well-written rules, but as their games go this is on the more complex end of the spectrum. You’re trying to fill out your city board with tiles representing six or seven different building types; you’ll never be able to do or get everything you want, so the game requires some early decisions and some compromises. It’s a well-designed, well-balanced game, but I have it ranked here because it’s a little workish. Building a city is supposed to be fun, isn’t it, Mr. Sim? Complexity: Medum.

54. Diplomacy. Risk for grown-ups, with absolutely zero random chance – it’s all about negotiating. I wrote about the history of Diplomacy (and seven other games) for mental_floss in 2010, concluding with: “One of a handful of games (with Risk) in both the GAMES Magazine and Origin Awards Halls of Fame, Diplomacy is an excellent choice if you enjoy knife fights with your friends and holding grudges that last well beyond the final move.” I think that sums it up perfectly. I haven’t played this in a few years, unfortunately, although that’s no one’s fault but my own. Complexity: Medium.

53. Seasons: Full review. A hybrid game of deckbuilding and point accumulation, where the decks are very small, so understanding the available cards and the interactions between them (some of which create exponentially better effects) is key to playing the game well. Players play wizards who start the game with nine spell cards to play, divided into three groups of three, and use them to gain energy tokens and crystals that can eventually be converted into points. The seasons change according to a time wheel on the board, and each of the four energy types has a season in which it’s scarce and two in which it’s plentiful. Seasons has a very dedicated fan base and two popular expansions, and I agree with that in that once you get up the steep learning curve it’s a great game due to the number of possibilities for each move and differences from game to game. Complexity: Medium-high.

52. Elder Sign: Full review. Another cooperative game, this one set in the Cthulhu realm of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, Elder Sign takes a different tack on teamwork by emphasizing individual actions within the larger rubric of coordinating actions to reach a common goal. Players represent detectives seeking to rid a haunted mansion of its evil spirits, room by room, earning certain rewards while incurring risks to their health and sanity, all to take out the big foozle before he returns to life and threatens to devour them all. Player actions take place via dice rolls, but players can use their unique skills as well as various cards to alter rolled dice or reroll them entirely to try to achieve the results necessary to clear a room. There’s still a heavy luck component and you’ll probably swear at some point that Cthulhu himself has possessed the dice, but that just makes killing your supernatural enemy all the more satisfying. Complexity: Medium-low.

51. Concordia: Full review . It’s a map game, set in Ancient Rome, built around trade and economics rather than conflict or claiming territories. Much better with four players than with two, where there isn’t enough interaction on the map to force players to make harder decisions. Runner-up for the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur’s game of the year) in 2015 to Istanbul. Complexity: Medium.

50. Ex Libris. I used spot #50 as a placeholder last year for a game I loved on first play; I’m doing that again with Ex Libris, of which I saw a demo at GenCon, then played in full (and won!) in the new games section at PAX Unplugged. I have a review copy and have it in my queue for a full review soon. Players collect cards showing (fake) books to go into that player’s library, which must be organized in alphabetical order to score at game-end. There are six categories of books, and in any game, one will be “banned” and cost you a point per book, while another will be a priority category that scores extra points for everyone. Each player will have his/her own special category to also collect for bonus points. There’s also a stability bonus for arranging your bookshelves well. You use action tiles to do everything in the game, sometimes just drawing and shelving cards, but often doing things like swapping cards, stealing them, sifting through the discards, or moving a shelf left or right. Just make sure you know your ABCs. Complexity: Medium.

49. Citadels. Full review. First recommended to me by a reader back in that 2008 post, Citadels didn’t hit my shelves until last winter, when Asmodee reissued the game in one box with all of the existing expansions. It’s a fantastic game for five or more players, still workable at four, not so great below that. It’s a role selection game where players pick a role and then work through those actions by the role’s number, with some roles, of course, that do damage to specific roles that might come later in the turn. It’s the best mix of a party game and a traditional boardgame I’ve seen. Complexity: Medium-low.

48. Coup. Full review. A great, great bluffing game if you have at least four people in your gaming group. Each player gets two cards and can use various techniques to try to take out other players. Last (wo)man standing is the winner. Guaranteed to get the f-bombs flowing. Only about $8 for the whole kit and caboodle. Complexity: Low.

47. Power Grid: Full review. This might be the Acquire for the German-style set, as the best business- or economics-oriented game I’ve found. Each player tries to build a power grid on the board, bidding on plants at auction, placing stations in cities, and buying resources to fire them. Those resources become scarce and the game’s structure puts limits on expansion in the first two “phases.” It’s not a simple game to learn and a few rules are less than intuitive, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a game that does a better job of turning resource constraints into something fun. I’d love to see this turned into an app, although the real-time auction process would make async multi-player a tough sell. Complexity: High (or medium-high).

46. Kingdomino. Full review. This year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Kingdomino is a great family-strategy game, perfect for playing with a mix of adults and kids, perhaps a little light for the adult gamer crowd, which I think the publishers are hoping to target with the standalone sequel game Queendomino. Players take turns selecting two-square tiles from the display of four, and then place them next to the tiles they’ve already played, trying to fill out a 5×5 grid without going over any boundaries. You score points for creating contiguous areas of the five terrain types in the game, scoring multiples if you have more than one crown in an area. It’s under $20 on amazon now, which is a bargain. Complexity: Medium-low.

45. Glen More: Full review. Build your Scottish settlement, grow wheat, make whiskey. Sure, you can do other stuff, like acquire special tiles (including Loch Ness!) or acquire the most chieftains or earn victory points by trading other resources, but really, whiskey, people. The tile selection mechanic is the biggest selling point, as players move on a track around the edge of the central board and may choose to skip one or more future turns by jumping further back to acquire a better tile. Out of print again. I’ve never played the designer’s next game, Lancaster, even though I have a used copy, but I just noticed it’s $13 on amazon. Complexity: Medium.

44. Lanterns. Full game and app review. A tile-placement and matching game where players are also racing to collect tokens to trade in for bonuses that decline in value as the game goes on. Each tile has lanterns in any of seven colors along the four edges; placing a tile gives you one token of the color facing you … and each opponent one token of the color facing him/her. If you match a tile side to the side it’s touching, you get a token of that color too. There are also bonus tokens from some tiles, allowing you to trade tokens of one color for another. Bonuses come from trading in one token of each color; three pairs; or four of a kind. The art is great and the app adds some wonderful animations. Complexity: Medium-low.

43. Skyward. Full review. One of the most visually striking new games of the year, Skyward also has a novel card-drafting mechanic where one player, the Warden, draws a fixed number of cards and then separates them into piles, one per player, in any way s/he wishes – so if the Warden wants to try to get a certain card, s/he would try to put it in a pile with less attractive cards. Players then take a pile apiece and can discard cards and/or point tokens to build, trying to maximize their points by playing cards that share colors or bonuses. It plays very quickly and the artwork is stellar. Complexity: Medium-low.

42. Tokaido. Full review. Another winner from the designer of 7 Wonders, Takenoko, and one of my least favorite Spiel des Jahres winners, Hanabi, Tokaido has players walking along a linear board, stopping where they choose on any unoccupied space, collecting something at each stop, with a half-dozen different ways to score – collecting all cards of a panorama, finishing sets of trinkets, meeting strangers for points or coins, or donating to the temple to try to get the game-end bonus for the most generous traveler. It’s a great family-level game that requires more thought and more mental math than most games of its ilk. The app is excellent as well. Complexity: Medium.

41. Targi. Full review. Moderately complex two-player game with a clever mechanic for placing meeples on a grid – you don’t place meeples on the grid itself, but on the row/column headers, so you end up blocking out a whole row or column for your opponent. Players gather salt, pepper, dates, and the relatively scarce gold to enable them to buy “tribe cards” that are worth points by themselves and in combinations with other cards. Some tribe cards also confer benefits later in the game. Two-player games often tend to be too simple, or feel like weak variants of games designed for more players. Targi isn’t either of those things – it’s a smart game that feels like it was built for exactly two people. Back in print for 2017. Complexity: Medium.

40. T’zolkin. T’zolkin is a fairly complex worker-placement game where the board itself has six interlocked gears that move with the days of the Mayan calendar; you place a worker on one gear and he cycles through various options for moves until you choose to recall him. As with most worker-placement games, you’re collecting food, gold, wood, and stone; building stuff; and moving up some scoring tracks. The gears, though, are kind of badass. Complexity: High.

39. Love Letter: Full review. The entire game is just sixteen cards and a few heart tokens. Each player has one card and has to play it; the last player still alive wins the round. It requires at least three players to be any good and was much better with four, with lots of laughing and silly stare-downs. It’s the less serious version of Coup, and it’s only $9. Complexity: Low.

38. Cacao. Full review. A simpler Carcassonne? I guess every tile-laying game gets compared to the granddaddy of them all, but Cacao certainly looks similar, and you don’t get to see very far ahead in the tile supply in Cacao, although at least here you get a hand of three tiles from which to choose. But the Cacao board ends up very different, a checkerboard pattern of alternating tiles between players’ worker tiles and the game’s neutral tiles, which can give you cacao beans, let you sell beans for 2-4 gold pieces, give you access to water, give you partial control of a temple, or just hand you points. One key mechanic: if you collect any sun tiles, you can play a new tile on top of a tile you played earlier in the game, which is a great way to make a big ten-point play to steal the win. Complexity: Low.

37. Thebes: Full review. A fun family-oriented game with an archaelogy theme and what I think of as the right amount of luck: it gives the game some balance and makes replays more interesting, but doesn’t determine the whole game. Players collect cards to run expeditions to five dig sites, then root around in the site’s bag of tokens to try to extract treasure. Back in print at the moment. Complexity: Medium-low.

36. Patchwork: Full review. A really sharp two-player game that has an element of Tetris – players try to place oddly shaped bits of fabric on his/her main board, minimizing unused space and earning some small bonuses along the way. It’s from Uwe Rosenberg, better known for designing the ultra-complex games Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna. Go figure. And go get it. Complexity: Low.

35. Through the Desert: Full app review. Another Knizia game, this one on a large board of hexes where players place camels in chains, attempting to cordon off entire areas they can claim or to connect to specific hexes worth extra points, all while potentially blocking their opponents from building longer or more valuable chains in the same colors. Very simple to learn and to set up, and like most Knizia games, it’s balanced and the mechanics work beautifully. Out of print at the moment, but I heard at GenCon this year that it’s getting a reissue in 2018. Horse with no name sold separately. Complexity: Low.

34. Puerto Rico: Full review. One of the highest-rated and most-acclaimed Eurogames of all time, although I think its combination of worker-placement and building has been done better by later designers. You’re attempting to populate and build your own island, bringing in colonists, raising plantations, developing your town, and shipping goods back to the mother country. Very low luck factor, and just the right amount of screw-your-neighbor (while helping yourself, the ultimate defense). Unfortunately, the corn-and-ship strategy is really tough to beat, reducing the game’s replay value for me. There’s a solid iOS app as well, improved after some major upgrades. Complexity: High.

33. Vikings: Full review. A very clever tile placement game in which players place island and ship tiles in their areas and then place vikings of six different colors on those tiles to maximize their points. Some vikings score points directly, but can’t score unless a black “warrior” viking is placed above them. Grey “boatsman” vikings are necessary to move vikings you’ve stored on to unused tiles. And if you don’t have enough blue “fisherman” vikings, you lose points at the end of the game for failing to feed everyone. Tile selection comes from a rondel that moves as tiles come off the board, with each space on the rondel assigning a monetary value to the tiles; tiles become cheaper as the number remaining decreases. You’re going to end up short somewhere, so deciding early where you’ll punt is key. Great game that still gets too little attention. Complexity: Medium.

32. Thurn und Taxis: Full review. I admit to a particularly soft spot for this game, as I love games with very simple rules that require quick thinking with a moderate amount of foresight. (I don’t care for chess, which I know is considered the intellectual’s game, because I look three or four moves ahead and see nothing but chaos.) Thurn und Taxis players try to construct routes across a map of Germany, using them to place mail stations and to try to occupy entire regions, earning points for doing so, and for constructing longer and longer routes. I’ve played this a ton online, and there’s a clear optimal strategy, but to pull it off you do need a little help from the card draws. Complexity: Low.

31½. Terraforming Mars. Full review. The best complex strategy game of 2016, Terraforming Mars is big and long but so imaginative that it provides an engrossing enough experience to last the two hours or so it takes to play. The theme is just what the title says, based on the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (which I loathed), as the players compete to rack up points while jointly transforming the planet’s surface. The environment is tracked with three main variables – oxygen levels, surface temperature, and water supply – that alter the effects of various moves and buildings as the game progresses. The cards are the heart of the play itself, as they can provide powerful points bonuses and/or game benefits. It’s already been expanded at least twice, with Hellas & Elysium last year and Venus Next appearing at PAX Unplugged. Complexity: High.

31. Whistle Stop. Full review coming soon. One of the best new games of 2017, Whistle Stop is a train game that takes a little bit from lots of other train games, including Ticket to Ride, Steam, and Russian Railroads, without becoming bogged down by too many rules or scoring mechanisms. It also has gloriously fun, pastel-colored pieces and artwork, and the variable board gives it a ton of replay value. It was an immediate hit in my house. Complexity: Medium.

30. Istanbul. Full review. Not Constantinople. Istanbul won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres, but it’s not that complex a game overall; my then eight-year-old daughter figured out a basic strategy right away (I call it the “big money” strategy) that was surprisingly robust, and the rules are not that involved or difficult. Players are merchants in a Turkish marketplace, trying to acquire the rubies needed to win the game through various independent channels. There’s a competitive element in that you don’t want to pursue the same methods everyone else is, because that just raises the costs. It’s also a very visually appealing game. There’s a new dice game coming at the end of December, with a similar theme but with new mechanics, ditching the pathfinding/backtracing element of the original game and concentrating on goods trading and dice manipulation. Complexity: Medium.

29. Broom Service. Full review. The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2015, Broom Service is lighter than most games in that category, but still complex enough to be more than just a family-strategy game, although the theme appealed to my daughter and she didn’t have any trouble understanding the base game’s rules. Players take on various roles to move their witch tokens around the board, gathering potions or delivering them to various towers for points, or collecting wands and clouds to gain other bonuses. There are multiple paths to win, but they’re all fairly straightforward; the role selection process is unique and takes some getting used to for younger players. It was a well-deserving winner. More than half off today at amazon at $19.59. Complexity: Medium.

28. 7 Ronin: Full review. An asymmetrical two-player game with a Seven Samurai theme – and when I say “theme,” I mean that’s the whole story of the game. One player is the seven ronin of the title, hired to defend a village against the invading ninjas, controlled by the other player. If the ninjas don’t take the village or wipe out the ronin before eight rounds are up, the ronin player wins. But the ninja can gain a decisive advantage in the first four rounds with the right moves. It’s very clever, the art is fantastic, and the theme is completely integrated into the game itself. It also plays in about 30 minutes. Complexity: Medium-low.

27. Ingenious. Full app review. Ingenious another Reiner Knizia title, a two-person abstract strategy game that involves tile placement but where the final scoring compares each player’s lowest score across the six tile colors, rather than his/her highest. That alters gameplay substantially, often making the ideal play seem counterintuitive, and also requires each player to keep a more careful eye on what the other guy is doing. The catch: The app, which I owned and reviewed, is now gone from all app stores, because of a trademark dispute (and maybe more). It may return under a new name, Axio Hexagonal, but it’s not anywhere yet. Boo. Complexity: Low.

26. Orient Express: An outstanding game that’s long out of print; I’m lucky enough to still have the copy my father bought for me in the 1980s, but fans have crafted their own remakes, like this one from a Boardgamegeek user. It takes those logic puzzles where you try to figure out which of five people held which job and lived on which street and had what for breakfast and turns them into a murder mystery board game with a fixed time limit. When the Orient Express reaches its destination, the game ends, so you need to move fast and follow the clues. The publishers still sell the expansions, adding up to 30 more cases for you to solve, through this site, but when I asked them about plans for a reprint they gave me the sense it’s not likely. There’s a 2017 game of the same name, but it’s unrelated. Complexity: Low.

25. Kodama: The Tree Spirits. Full review. Definitely among the cutest games we’ve played, with artwork that looks like it came from the pen of Hayao Miyazaki, but also a quick-playing game that has something I hadn’t seen before in how you place your cards. Players start with a tree trunk card with one ‘feature’ on it, and must add branch cards to the trunk and beyond, scoring whenever a feature appears on the card just placed and the card (or trunk) to which it connects. You can score up to 10 points on a turn, and will add 12 cards to your tree. You get four secret bonus cards at the start of the game and play one at the end of each season (4 turns), and each season itself has a special rule that varies each game. It’s light, portable, and replays extremely well. The base game also includes Sprout cards for simpler play with younger children. Complexity: Low.

24. Battle Line: Full review. Reissued this year as Schotten Totten – same game, different theme, better art, $5 cheaper. Among the best two-player games we’ve found, designed by Reiner Knizia, who is also behind half the other games on this list. Each player tries to build formations on his/her side of the nine flags that stand in a line between him and his opponent; formations include three cards, and the various formation types resemble poker hands, with a straight flush of 10-9-8 in one color as the best formation available. Control three adjacent flags, or any five of the nine, and you win. But ten tactics cards allow you to bend the rules, by stealing a card your opponent has played, raising the bar for a specific flag from three cards to four, or playing one of two wild cards that can stand in for any card you can’t draw. There’s a fair amount of randomness involved, but playing nine formations at once with a seven-card hand allows you to diversify your risk. The iOS app is among the best as well. Complexity: Low.

23. King of Tokyo. Full review. From the guy who created Magic: the Gathering comes a game that has no elfs or halflings or deckbuilding whatsoever. Players are monsters attempting to take control of Tokyo, attacking each other along the way while trying to rack up victory points and maintain control of the city space on the board. Very kid-friendly between the theme and major use of the dice (with up to two rerolls per turn), but good for the adults too; it plays two to six but I think it needs at least three to be any good. Complexity: Medium-low.

22. Imhotep. Full review. Nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2016, Imhotep lost out to Codenames – a solid party game, not quite good enough for this top 100 between the language dependence and the lack of a strategic element – but in my opinion should have won. Imhotep is a quick-playing game with lots of depth as players gather stones, place them on ships, and sail ships to any of five possible destinations, each with a different benefit or point value. You can place a stone on any ship, and you can use your turn to sail a ship without any of your stones on it – say, to keep someone else from blocking your path or from scoring a big bonus. Each destination tile has two sides so you can vary the game, mixing and matching for up to 32 different configurations. Complexity: Medium-low.

21. Caylus: Full app review. Another game I’ve only played in its app version, Caylus is among the best of the breed of highly-complex games that also includes Agricola and Le Havre, with slightly simpler rules and fewer pieces, yet the same lack of randomness and relatively deep strategy. I’ve also found the game is more resilient to early miscues than other complex strategy games, as long as you don’t screw up too badly. In Caylus, players compete for resources used to construct new buildings along one public road and used to construct parts of the main castle where players can earn points and special privileges like extra points or resources. If another player uses a building you constructed, you get a point or a resource, and in most cases only one player can build a specific building type, while each castle level has a finite number of blocks to be built. There are also high point value statues and monuments that I think are essential to winning the game, but you have to balance the need to build those against adding to the castle and earning valuable privileges. Even playing the app a dozen or more times I’ve never felt it becoming monotonous, and the app’s graphics are probably the best I’ve seen alongside those of Agricola’s. Complexity: High.

20. Egizia: I’m not even sure how I first heard about Egizia, a complex worker-placement game that has a great theme (ancient Egypt) and, despite some complexity in the number of options, hums along better than most games of this style. In each round, players place meeples on various spots on and along the Nile river on the board. Some give cards with resources, some give cards with bonuses, some allow you to boost the power of your construction crews, and some tracks allow you to build in the big points areas, the monuments found in one corner of the board. You also can gain a few bonus cards, specific to you and hidden from others, that give you more points for certain game-end conditions, like having the most tiles in any single row of the pyramid. Best with four players, but workable with three; with two you’re playing a fun game of solitaire. Currently out of print; I was lucky to score a copy in trade. Complexity: High.

19. New Bedford. Full review. I adore this game, which is about whaling, but somehow manages to sneak worker-placement and town-building into the game too, and figures out how to reward people who do certain things early without making the game a rout. Each player gets to add buildings to the central town of New Bedford (much nicer than the actual town is today), or can use one of the central buildings; you pay to use someone else’s building, and they can be worth victory points to their owners at game-end. The real meat of the game is the whaling though – you get two ships, and the more food you stock them with, the more turns they spend out at sea, which means more turns where you might grab the mighty sperm whale token from the bag. But you have to pay the dockworkers to keep each whale and score points for it. For a game that has this much depth, it plays remarkably fast – never more than 40 minutes for us with three players. Complexity: Medium.

18. (The Settlers of) Catan: It’s now just called Catan, although I use the old title because I think more people know it by that name. We don’t pull this game out as much as we did a few years ago, and I’ve still got it ranked this high largely because of its value as an introduction to Eurogames, one of the best “gateway games” on the market. Without this game, we don’t have the explosion in boardgames we’ve had in the last fifteen years. We don’t have Ticket to Ride and 7 Wonders showing up in Target (where you can also buy Catan), a whole wall of German-style games in Barnes & Noble, or the Cones of Dunshire on network television. Only four games on this list predate Settlers, from an era where Monopoly was considered the ne plus ultra of boardgames and you couldn’t complain about how long and awful it was because you had no basis for comparison. The history of boardgames comprises two eras: Before Catan, and After Catan. We are fortunate to be in 22 A.C. Complexity: Medium-low.

17. Azul. Full review. The best new family-strategy game of 2017 (so far, I guess), Azul comes from the designer of Vikings and Asara, and folds some press-your-luck mechanics into a pattern-matching game where you collect mosaic tiles and try to transfer them from a storage area to your main 5×5 board. You can only put each tile type in each row once, and in each column once, and you lose points for tiles you can’t place at the end of each round. It’s quite addictive and moves fairly quickly, even when everyone starts playing chicken with the pile left in the middle of the table for whoever chooses last in the round. The game is out in Europe is in stock on Plan B’s site, but I believe it’ll be available through U.S. retail this week. Complexity: Medium.

16. Tigris & Euphrates: Full review. The magnum opus from Herr Knizia, a two- to four-player board game where players fight for territory on a grid that includes the two rivers of the game’s title, but where the winning player is the one whose worst score (of four) is the best. Players gain points for placing tiles in each of four colors, for having their “leaders” adjacent to monuments in those colors, and for winning conflicts with other players. Each player gets points in those four colors, but the idea is to play a balanced strategy because of that highest low score rule. The rules are a little long, but the game play is very straightforward, and the number of decisions is large but manageable. Fantasy Flight also reissued this title in 2015, with a much-needed graphics update and smaller box. Complexity: Medium.

15. Small World: Full review. I think the D&D-style theme does this game a disservice – that’s all just artwork and titles, but the game itself requires some tough real-time decisions. Each player uses his chosen race to take over as many game spaces as possible, but the board is small and your supply of units runs short quickly, forcing you to consider putting your race into “decline” and choosing a new one. But when you choose a new one is affected by what you stand to lose by doing so, how well-defended your current civilization’s position is, and when your opponents are likely to go into decline. The iPad app is outstanding too. Complexity: Medium.

14. Agricola: I gained a new appreciation for this game thanks to the incredible iOS app version developed by Playdek, which made the game’s complexity less daunting and its internal sophistication more evident. You’re a farmer trying to raise enough food to feed your family, but also trying to grow your family so you have more help on the farm. The core game play isn’t that complex, but huge decks of cards offering bonuses, shortcuts, or special skills make the game much more involved, and require some knowledge of the game to play it effectively. My wife felt this game felt way too much like work; I enjoyed it more than that, but it is undeniably complex and you can easily spend the whole game freaking out about finding enough food, which about a billion or so people on the planet refer to as “life.” Mayfair reissued the game in 2016 with some improved graphics and a lower price point, although the base game now only plays 1-4. Complexity: High.

13. Takenoko.Full review. If I tell you this is the cutest game we own, would you consider that a negative? The theme and components are fantastic – there’s a panda and a gardener and these little bamboo pieces, and the panda eats the bamboo and you have to lay new tiles and make sure they have irrigation and try not to go “squeeeeee!” at how adorable it all is. There’s a very good game here too: Players draw and score “objective” cards from collecting certain combinations of bamboo, laying specific patterns of hex tiles, or building stacks of bamboo on adjacent tiles. The rules are easy enough for my daughter to learn, but gameplay is more intricate because you’re planning a few moves out and have to deal with your opponents’ moves – although there’s no incentive to screw your opponents. Just be careful – that panda is hungry. Complexity: Medium-low.

12. Great Western Trail. Full review. It’s a monster, but it’s an immaculately constructed game, especially for its length and complexity. It’s a real gamer’s game, but I found an extra level of satisfaction from admiring how balanced and meticulous the design is; if there’s a flaw in it, beyond its weight (which is more than many people would like in a game), I didn’t find it. You’re rasslin’ cows, collecting cow cards and delivering them along the board’s map to Kansas City, but you’re doing so much more than that as you go, hiring workers, building your own buildings, and moving your train along the outer track so that you can gain more from those deliveries. The real genius of the design is that you only have a few options on each turn even though the game itself has a massive scope. That prevents it from becoming overwhelming or bogging down in analysis paralysis on each player’s turn. It’s the best new game I’ve seen this year. Complexity: High.

11. Stone Age: Full review. Really a tremendous game, with lots of real-time decision-making but simple mechanics and goals that first-time players always seem to pick up quickly. It’s also very hard to hide your strategy, so newbies can learn through mimicry – thus forcing veteran players to change it up on the fly. Each player is trying to build a small stone-age civilization by expanding his population and gathering resources to construct buildings worth varying amounts of points, but must always ensure that he feeds all his people on each turn. We introduced my daughter to the game this year and she took to it right away, beating us on her second play. The base game has been out of print for over a year now, and a reader tells me the iOS app died with the 64-bit app-ocalypse. Complexity: Medium.

10. Samurai: Full review. I bought the physical game after a few months of playing the app, and it’s a great game – simple to learn, complex to play, works very well with two players, plays very differently with three or four as the board expands. Players compete to place their tiles on a map of Japan, divided into hexes, with the goal of controlling the hexes that contain buddha, farmer, or soldier tokens. Each player has hex tiles in his color, in various strengths, that exert control over the tokens they show; samurai tokens that affect all three token types; boats that sit off the shore and affect all token types; and special tokens that allow the reuse of an already-placed tile or allow the player to switch two tokens on the board. Trying to figure out where your opponent might screw you depending on what move you make is half the fun. Very high replayability too. Fantasy Flight updated the graphics, shrank the box, and reissued it in 2015. Complexity: Medium/low.

9. 7 Wonders Duel. Full review. Borrowing its theme from one of the greatest boardgames of all time, 7W Duel strips the rules down so that each player is presented with fewer options. Hand cards become cards on the table, revealed a few at a time in a set pattern that limits player choices to one to four cards (roughly) per turn. Familiarity with the original game is helpful but by no means required. Complexity: Medium-low.

8. Jaipur: Full review. Jaipur is now our go-to two-player game, just as easy to learn but with two shades of additional complexity and a bit less randomness. In Jaipur, the two players compete to acquire collections of goods by building sets of matching cards in their hands, balancing the greater point bonuses from acquiring three to five goods at once against the benefit of taking one or two tokens to prevent the other player from getting the big bonuses. The game moves quickly due to a small number of decisions, like Lost Cities, so you can play two or three full games in an hour. It’s also incredibly portable. The new app is also fantastic, with a campaign mode full of variants. Complexity: Low.

7. Ticket To Ride: Full review. Actually a series of games, all working on the same theme: You receive certain routes across the map on the game board – U.S. or Europe, mostly – and have to collect enough train cards in the correct colors to complete those routes. But other players may have overlapping routes and the tracks can only accommodate so many trains. Like Dominion, it’s very simple to pick up, so while it’s not my favorite game to play, it’s my favorite game to bring or bring out when we’re with people who want to try a new game but either haven’t tried anything in the genre or aren’t up for a late night. I do recommend the 1910 Expansion< to anyone who gets the base Ticket to Ride game, as it has larger, easier-to-shuffle cards and offers more routes for greater replayability. We also own the Swiss and Nordic boards, which only play two to three players and involve more blocking than the U.S. and Europe games do, so I don't recommend them. The iPad app, developed in-house, is among the best available. The newest expansion, France/The Old West, comes out in February.

There’s also a kids’ version, available exclusively at Target, with a separate app for that as well. Complexity: Low.

6. Splendor: Full review. A Spiel des Jahres nominee in 2014, Splendor has fast become a favorite in our house for its simple rules and balanced gameplay. My daughter, now eight, loves the game and is able to play at a level pretty close to the adults. It’s a simple game where players collect tokens to purchase cards from a 4×3 grid, and where purchased cards decrease the price of other cards. Players have to think long-term without ignoring short-term opportunities, and must compare the value of going for certain in-game bonuses against just plowing ahead with purchases to get the most valuable cards. The Splendor app, made by the team at Days of Wonder, is amazing, and is available for iOS, Android, and Steam. I also like the four-in-one expansion for the base game, Cities of Splendor. Complexity: Low.

5. Pandemic: Full review. The king of cooperative games. Two to four players work together to stop global outbreaks of four diseases that spread in ways that are only partly predictable, and the balance between searching for the cures to those diseases and the need to stop individual outbreaks before they spill over and end the game creates tremendous tension that usually lasts until the very end of the event deck at the heart of the game. The On The Brink expansion adds new roles and cards while upping the complexity further. The Pandemic iOS app is among the best out there and includes the expansion as an in-app purchase.

I’m bundling Pandemic Legacy, one of the most critically acclaimed boardgames of all time, into this entry as well, as the Legacy game carries the same mechanics but with a single, narrative storyline that alters the game, including the board itself, as you play. My daughter and I are in April of season one, but season two is out already, so we are slackers. Complexity: Medium for the base game, medium-high for the Legacy game.

4. Dominion: Full review. I’ve condensed two Dominion entries into one this year, since they all have the same basic mechanics, just new cards. The definitive deck-building game, with no actual board. Dominion’s base set – there are ten expansions now available, so you could spend a few hundred dollars on this – includes money cards, action cards, and victory points cards. Each player begins with seven money cards and three victory cards and, shuffling and drawing five cards from his own deck each turn, must add cards to his deck to allow him to have the most victory points when the last six-point victory card is purchased. I don’t think we have a multi-player game with a smaller learning curve, and the fact that the original set alone comes with 25 action cards but each game you play only includes 10 means it offers unparalleled replayability even before you add an expansion set. I’ll vouch for the Dominion: Intrigue expansion, which includes the base cards so it’s a standalone product, and the Seaside expansion, which is excellent and really changes the way the game plays, plus a standalone expansion further up this list. The base game is appropriate for players as young as six. Complexity: Low.

3. The Castles Of Burgundy: Full review. Castles of Burgundy is the rare game that works well across its range of player numbers, as it scales well from two to four players by altering the resources available on the board to suit the number of people pursuing them. Players compete to fill out their own boards of hexes with different terrain/building types (it’s like zoning) by competiting for tiles on a central board, some of which are hexes while others are goods to be stored and later shipped for bonuses. Dice determine which resources you can acquire, but you can also alter dice rolls by paying coins or using special buildings to change or ignore them. Setup is a little long, mostly because sorting cardboard tiles is annoying, but gameplay is only moderately complex – a little more than Stone Age, not close to Caylus or Agricola – and players get so many turns that it stays loose even though there’s a lot to do over the course of one game. I’ve played this online about 50 times, using all the different boards, even random setups that dramatically increase the challenge, and I’m not tired of it yet. Complexity: Medium.

2. 7 Wonders: Full review. 7 Wonders swept the major boardgame awards (yes, there are such things) in 2011 for good reason – it’s the best new game to come on the scene in a few years, combining complex decisions, fast gameplay, and an unusual mechanic around card selections where each player chooses a card from his hand and then passes the remainder to the next player. Players compete to build out their cities, each of which houses a unique wonder of the ancient world, and must balance their moves among resource production, buildings that add points, military forces, and trading. We saw no dominant strategy, several that worked well, and nothing that was so complex that we couldn’t quickly pick it up after screwing up our first game. The only negative here is the poorly written rules, but after one play it becomes far more intuitive. Plays best with three or more players, but the two-player variant works well. The brand-new iPad app version is amazing too, with an Android port coming soon. Complexity: Medium.

1. Carcassonne: Full review. The best-of-breed iOS app has only increased my appreciation for Carcassonne, a game I still play regularly by myself, with my wife and daughter, and with friends here or online. It brings ease of learning, tremendous replayability (I know I use that word a lot here, but it does matter), portability (you can put all the tiles and meeples in a small bag and stuff it in a suitcase), and plenty of different strategies and room for differing styles of play. You build the board as you go: Each player draws a tile at random and must place it adjacent to at least one tile already laid in a way that lines up any roads or cities on the new tile with the edges of the existing ones. You get points for starting cities, completing cities, extending roads, or by claiming farmlands adjacent to completing cities. It’s great with two players, and it’s great with four players. You can play independently, or you can play a little offense and try to stymie an opponent. The theme makes sense. The tiles are well-done in a vaguely amateurish way – appealing for their lack of polish. And there’s a host of expansions if you want to add a twist or two. We own the Traders and Builders expansion, which I like mostly for the Builder, an extra token that allows you to take an extra turn when you add on to whatever the Builder is working on, meaning you never have to waste a turn when you draw a plain road tile if you sit your Builder on a road. We also have Inns and Cathedrals, which we’ve only used a few times; it adds some double-or-nothing tiles to roads and cities, a giant meeple that counts as two when fighting for control of a city/road/farm, as well as the added meeples needed to play with a sixth opponent. Complexity: Low/medium-low for the base game, medium with expansions.

And, as with last year, my rankings of these games by how they play with just two players:

1. Jaipur
2. 7 Wonders Duel
3. Carcassonne
4. 7 Ronin
5. Baseball Highlights: 2045
5. Stone Age
6. Ticket to Ride
7. Splendor
8. Patchwork
9. Agamemnon
10. Dominion/Intrigue
11. Small World
12. Battle Line/Schotten Totten
13. Samurai
15. Castles of Burgundy
16. Morels
17. Ingenious
18. Azul
19. New Bedford
20. Cacao
21. Targi
22. Lost Cities
23. Pandemic
24. Blood of an Englishman
25. Jambo
26. Through the Desert
27. San Juan
28. Tak: A Beautiful Game
29. Santorini
30. The Fox in the Forest

Also, I get frequent requests for games that play well with five or more; I can confidently recommend 7 Wonders and Citadels, both of which handle 5+ right out of the box. Ticket to Ride is tight with five players, but that’s its maximum. Catan can handle 5 or 6 with an expansion, although it can result in a lengthy playing time. For more social games, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is best with five or more also, and I believe Crossfire, which I have yet to play but am planning to review, requires five players.

Stick to baseball, 11/17/17.

I had one Insider column this week, on Friday, looking at a few free agents who might sort of possibly perhaps be bargains this offseason. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday; that will be the last chat until after Thanksgiving.

If you’re at PAX Unplugged in Philly this weekend and have a copy of Smart Baseball, I’ll be signing on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 pm.

Feel free to sign up for my free email newsletter, which I send out … I guess whenever I feel like it. I aim for once a week, although I’ve gone as long as two weeks between issues when I haven’t had much to say. You can see past issues at that link.

And now, the links…

Klawchat 11/16/17.

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Keith Law: Take one for the team; you’re a cog in the machine. It’s Klawchat.

Dr. Bob: Hey there, Keith. The NL ROY was obvious. I was curious about your second and third place votes since they went against the grain of other voters. Not a complaint. Can you educate us as to your reasons?
Keith Law: I was floored to see all the votes for Josh Bell – a fine player, but worth under a win because 1) he’s a first baseman and 2) he’s a *terrible* first baseman. It’s 2017; we know position matters and we know defense matters. I’m not saying my ballot was ‘right,’ but Margot was clearly worth more than Bell, thanks to defense/position, and he’s over a year younger to boot. Hoskins was worth more than Bell too, and there you’ve got the direct positional comparison. There was a clear #1, and there wasn’t really anyone in the NL who was a clear #2, or someone you’d say “well, if Bellinger hadn’t won, this guy would have probably won it.” But the downballot totals didn’t make much sense to me.

Nick: Turkey question: How would you approach seasoning a turkey that’s been dry brined and spatchcocked? I’m thinking unsalted herb butter during the cooking process?
Keith Law: I cook it at high temp with nothing else on it (just put water in the roasting pan so it doesn’t smoke), then leave seasoning to the gravy. At 425-450 I’d be concerned about burning any butter on or in the bird.

Casey: Do the Cardinals go with Paul DeJong as their opening day starter at SS? If so what are the chances he’s an average regular there?
Keith Law: I’m fairly sure they will; I’d probably say 33% chance.

Nick: Do you podcast often? If so, what are you’re favorites (I’m big on Radiolab)?
Keith Law: Grierson & Leitch’s movie podcast; The Hidden Brain; Joe Sheehan’s podcast. That’s it right now. I always listen while doing something else – driving, mowing, cooking/cleaning.

Casey: Which Cardinals SP prospect has the highest ceiling…Hicks or Alcantara?
Keith Law: Hicks.

Adam: Thoughts on the Anthoupolos hire in ATL? Did you work with him in Toronto?
Keith Law: I did, for 2+ years, and remain a huge fan. I think it was a perfect hire, someone with a great track record, lots of respect around the industry, and a philosophy that should dovetail well with their existing amateur scouting practices. They made the best of a terrible situation.

Eric: By Monday, we’ll find out if Tony Clark wants to toss a monkeywrench into Ohtani’s plans or not. Predict for us – will a posting agreement be reached?
Keith Law: I’ll predict yes, but if this deal doesn’t pay Ohtani fairly, I’d rather the answer be no. Why let the Yankees (for example) pay $5 million for a player worth $25 million-plus a year when they can clearly afford it.

Ben: Thoughts on Vieira going to the Sox?
Keith Law: Seen him 3x. 98-102 with well below average command and no average second pitch. Have seen a CB (awful) and slider (below average). Big arm strength guy. Fine pickup for international money, but high chance he never produces any value in the majors given the command issues.

Adam: So what’s the story on Andres Munoz? Are we looking at a guy with potential to be a high-leverage reliever/ future “closer?”
Keith Law: The Padres’ teenager? Yes, that’s the most likely outcome. Very hard to see him ever becoming a starter.

Dan: Will it be Stanton/Altuve tonight?
Keith Law: That’s my expectation.

Dana: Looks like Gleyber will compete for 3B and Didi won’t be traded. Time for the Yanks to extend Didi?
Keith Law: I’ve said before I think this wastes Gleyber’s defensive value.

Adam: How many picks have to work out for a draft class to be a success? Or is it more about nailing 1 superstar than a handful of role players?
Keith Law: If you get a superstar, it’s hard for anyone to argue it was a bad class … but I think any class should be judged in the context of both the picks a team had and the caliber of the class overall. So the Rays’ 2011 class, with 7 picks in the first ~80 or so, would be judged against a higher standard than a draft where a team didn’t pick until round 2 or 3.

Adam: If you ever get a Manager of the Year vote, what basis would you use to decide who you’ll vote for?
Keith Law: I had one once. I called a bunch of GMs and other front office folks in the league and asked what they thought. I don’t think there are valid, objective criteria for that award. “They won more games than we thought they would” is a terrible proxy.

Jim: Which of the Cardinals 7 or so outfielders do you see most likely to get dealt?
Keith Law: Feels like Grichuk, Mercado, O’Neill could all be available. Wonder if they’d sell low on Piscotty; I wouldn’t. I’ve always believed he could hit.

Alex: Do you believe Stanton will actually get traded? If so, who would you guess it would be to?
Keith Law: I have said for months I think it’s unlikely – that is an enormous contract with huge risk given his injury history.

Jack: Ohtani have ace potential? 3-4 plus pitches?
Keith Law: He’s a #1 starter here.

Perry: If you’re not doing a write-up, can you give us your thoughts on the Ryon Healy trade?
Keith Law: (yawn)

Juwan: How do you view the Robles v Acuna debate (and by debate I mean petty squabbling between their respective fan bases)? They both look like future stars, do you view one more highly than the other?
Keith Law: I’ll have to put one over the other when I rank prospects in January. There are no ties.

Carlo: What role do you think Luiz Gohara ultimately fills? Thanks!
Keith Law: Starter.

Nelson: What do you hope to acheive by responding to tweets like Aubrey Huff’s? You know that theres no chance youll make any impression on him, right?
Keith Law: I had no intention or expectation of changing his mind. I want to provide a factual rejoinder for any other readers who might see his tweets. If you don’t fight ignorance or falsehoods, they spread.

Alex A: So there are rumors that the Braves are going to lose prospects. I personally don’t believe Maitan will be one of them but what do you think? If you had to put a percentage chance on it, what would it be?
Keith Law: From what I heard this summer, losing Maitan wouldn’t be the devastating blow it might have seemed a year ago. As for what will happen, it really depends on what the infractions were, and I really have no idea what gossip to believe any more. Earlier this week, I had one source tell me he heard the infractions were deep on the draft side as well as amateur … and an hour later, someone else called and said he heard the amateur side wasn’t involved at all.

John: When a high level exec is hired out of a big time analytics operation like LA, how much of the organizational “secret sauce” can they feasibly or legally bring with them? I’d imagine any actual models are proprietary, but it’s not like he can just forget player valuations or concepts, right?
Keith Law: I believe that’s part of what gets people hired from other orgs – you’re brought on because of who you are and because of what you know.

Mike: Do you think there is any chance the Rockies turn first base over to McMahon next year? Bonus question: odds Helton is one-and-done in hall of fame balloting on a crowded ballot?
Keith Law: They should, and I don’t think he’ll be one and done but I don’t think he’ll get in either.

Jake: What would the Padres signing Hosmer accomplish? They already have Myers (you can debate who’s better but I’d argue that the difference isn’t worth what Hosmer would cost) and I feel like they would be smarter to go after positions of need (SP, SS). Besides, if you’re willing to spend that much, just go for Ohtani IMO. Thanks.
Keith Law: Makes zero sense. Terrible use of limited funds for them.

Meadow Party: Thoughts on Austin Meadows? I think he can rebound from injuries. Would an offensive profile similar to prime Hunter Pence be realistic? More/less?
Keith Law: Can’t project him to Pence’s power until he starts driving the ball more consistently.

Jon: Sandy Alderson on Dom Smith: “He didn’t win it [Starting 1B job] in September, let’s put it that way.” Will go into ST competing for the gig….what to even make of this?
Keith Law: My hope is that this is a motivational tactic; I know there were questions about his work ethic in the big leagues, and of course he has to keep an eye on the scale as well. My fear is that they’re overreacting to two mediocre months and ignoring the previous body of work (and his age).

Steve: Does one WS title validate trading of Torres, Jimenez, Candelario?
Keith Law: Yes. Is this even a question?

Nils: Hi Keith, loved your book. It got me thinking about prospect evaluation. We always hear about a “5 tool prospect”, where hitting is always one of the important tools. But if a .230 hitter (with poor hit tool) can get on base at a .330 clip, and a .300 hitter (with a great hit tool) also gets on base at .330, then shouldn’t plate discipline be a 6th tool? Or is it viewed less important with a prospect with the idea it can be learned?
Keith Law: Plate discipline is seen as a skill rather than a physical tool, but at this point, it’s on many scouting report forms anyway and the five-tool rubric is a bit of an anachronism.

Justin: Did the A’s get enough for Healy? I know he is a liability in the field, but a relief pitcher doesn’t seem like a great return for a competent bat under team control
Keith Law: Liability in the field and poor OBP skills.

Joseph P: Are there any prospects from the 2017 Draft that have surprised you or is the sample size too small to mean anything?
Keith Law: Too small for most guys. I will say I was pleased to see the Twins push Brent Rooker, who turned 23 two weeks ago, to high-A out of the draft, and to see Rooker respond with very strong results in 160 or so AB there.

Jeff: Brandon Woodruff a solid mid-rotation guy? Chance to be more?
Keith Law: That’s about right.

Jibraun: Every team seemingly now has a “Quality Control Coach,” but none of them can seem to give a clear delineation of the job duties. Can you clear it up?
Keith Law: I don’t know of any standardized description of that role.

Nate: Do you have (or know people in the industry that have) any concerns about Michael Fulmer for next season? Looked to be pitching hurt his final handful of starts. Rest all that is/was needed?
Keith Law: He was hurt. Elbow injury. Supposed to be fine for spring training.

KLawGod: I’ve heard a lot of people blaming the MLBPA during this whole Otani situation. As someone who is not familiar with their role, why are they at fault here in the situation? I thought the MLBPA is advocating for Otani so why are they catching flack?
Keith Law: The MLBPA was involved in the CBA negotiations, and didn’t fight to carve out any sort of protection for Ohtani or players like him, probably because he’s not a union member and any money spent on him would, in theory, not be spent on union members. However, the clearest beneficiary of the cap is the team that signs him, and you would like to think the union would recognize that even if Ohtani isn’t currently a member, the moment he signs a contract here he will be one, and the more he’s paid the more it bumps up the top end of the starting pitcher salary scale.

Eric: Griffin Conine or Seth Beer?
Keith Law: Leaning Conine, but that’s based more on secondhand reports.

Xavier: When you were in college, what did you envision yourself doing for the rest of your life?Did you ever consider becoming an investment banker or entering the finance industry in any way?
Keith Law: I did not. Many classmates did. I heard the hours those people were working and I was very not interested.

Greg: True or False: The Red Sox Opening Day 1B will be Sam Travis
Keith Law: False.

Aaron Boone: Do you have any particular opinion on Aaron Boone’s potential as a manager?
Keith Law: He’s never managed, right? So we just don’t know.

Gene Mullett: Kershaw, Kluber, Scherzer, & Sale really seem to be the elite of MLB arms & have been for a while now. With the exception of Strasburg’s health & Verlander’s hit-or-miss seasons, which SP do you think is most capable of joining them?
Keith Law: Archer has the potential – the stuff, the athleticism, the intelligence – to join them, but has never had the consistent command for it. Carlos Carrasco might be the next tier, but he’s quietly been excellent for a few years now.

Seath: ok last question. If Maitan is one of the prospects that is forfeited by the Braves how would his FA work (or any lost prospect for that matter)? Would teams need to use their International pool money or is it a free for all?
Keith Law: Precedent says it’ll be IFA money, under the cap. But he’d keep his previous bonus, so he’s protected.

Stanton: Given that Stanton was a 7.5 win player last year and is essentially payed at or under market value aren’t the Marlins right to ask for the moon in return?
Keith Law: They can ask for whatever they want, but he was a 2-win player in 2016, and I don’t believe he’d get 10 years and $290 million in free agency this winter. Not a chance.

Gene Mullett: What album(s) is/are on your household heavy rotation lately?
Keith Law: Beck, INHEAVEN, Hundred Waters, Portugal. The Man, Death from Above.

Mike Mott: I’m cooking turkey for the first time for my Friendsgiving. Any advice? I’ve been told brining is a must.
Keith Law: I’ve brined with success, but the last three years I’ve spatchcocked the bird and “dry brined” (really, salted) instead.

Jeremy: I think it is safe to say there are waaaaaay more powerful people, particularly in politics, who are serial abusers, than we can even imagine. What ticks me off the most, is that Congress has a special fund, made up entirely of taxpayer dollars, that is specifically to take care of settlements in legal complaints against our representatives. Aren’t these guys all rich enough to take care of their own business?
Keith Law: Yes, and they’re powerful enough to make us take care of their business. I agree, there are WAY more of these cases coming, in politics (both parties, so please, stop the partisan whining), entertainment, business, and sports.

Ryan: Thoughts on Urias? There seems to be a wide spectrum. With his bat I can see the ceiling as an above average 2B competing for batting titles year in and year out.
Keith Law: I’m a fan. I don’t really care about batting average titles, but Urias can hit.

John: I know conventional wisdom is not to trade within your division, but if you were Jeter, would it make sense to find a partner for Stanton in the Braves/Mets/Phillies? If he’s good, he probably opts out before you’re competitive and if he’s not, it’s a long term hamstring for whoever ends up with him.
Keith Law: That conventional wisdom is stupid. Of course they should explore in-division trades … but the Mets aren’t touching a contract like that.

Drew: With his second consecutive, and third overall, Cy Young, do you think Scherzer is a Hall of Famer? I admittedly can be a bit of a Nats homer, but was surprised that Boswell wrote that “Cooperstown talk is a long way off because Max was a bit of a late bloomer who became good in 2010, then great by ’13 as he added a curveball to his repertoire.” Your thoughts?
Keith Law: Ask me this after Mussina is elected.

David: Hi Keith, You mentioned on Twitter that Beltran should make the Hall of Fame. I agree. He was a tremendous player with a great career. I noticed his career WAR and JAWS totals were similar to Kenny Lofton (about a 1 WAR difference on B-R over their careers and peak). Why do you think Lofton never got a push? Was it simply a lack of power in a power-heavy era?
Keith Law: Yes, and that Lofton moved around a lot so he didn’t have a fan base or local writers stumping for him.

David: What do you see as the future for Jordan Luplow? Everyday player? 4th OF? More? Less?
Keith Law: Fourth OF.

Mattey: You’re aware of the beautiful baseball stadium slated for demolition in Camden. I think it’s obvious that an affiliated minor league team would have much better there than the independent league that was there, but is that right? How much would having an affiliated team there hurt Phillies ticket sales?
Keith Law: Don’t think it’d hurt at all. Might even help, as fans would have a better chance to see prospects on their way up.

Russ: Define projectability. We have a 13yo outfielder/2nd baseman who is already 5’9 and 163. He’ll naturally add height and mass as he gets older, but does he want to leave room for “projectability” or get as strong / athletic as possible……….
Keith Law: I am not a fan of kids that young doing heavy weight training to get bigger. I doubt we know the consequences of that over the long term. Just stay in shape and have fun.

Michael Izen: Hi Keith, which team do you think will land Otani, and how much of an impact will he make on that team?
Keith Law: No idea who’ll land him.

Richard: Do you still think Ohtani’s hitting is being way overhyped?
Keith Law: Absolutely. But facts don’t matter much any more, do they?

DHugh: If Ohtani comes to the MLB this off-season, would it be permissible for a team to promise that they’d release him to free agency after a year or two?
Keith Law: MLB has made it clear they’d consider that a violation of the rules. After the Atlanta imbroglio I doubt anyone would flaunt the Commissioner’s authority so brazenly.

tom: My eleven year old granddaughter has become fanatical about baseball. When asked what she wants to do when she grows up she answers,”I am going to Yale to study economics so I can train to be a GM”. Can you recommend any books that will provide her a better understanding of the dynamics of a baseball game as well as the construction of a team. While very bright, she is just eleven years old with the expected math skills for that age. Thanks. Tom PS – she chooses Yale over Harvard, because her dad is an alum.
Keith Law: I don’t know of many books on the topic – if you’re here, then you probably know about my book – but I’d certainly suggest Moneyball too, even with its flaws. Also, tell her she should study whatever subject she loves. Economics isn’t necessary or even that useful for this sport.

Jason: Given the statistics on how rare false accusations are (and how many victims stay silent), what would it take for you not to believe an accuser of sexual violence/harassment?
Keith Law: That’s a good question without an easy answer. Certainly, if the accused can produce evidence that, say, he wasn’t in that place at that time, or something else that’s clearly disproof, that would settle it. But you’re right about how rare false claims are.

Pat D: Hate to ask this, but what’s your guess on how many people use the Franken story to justify/excuse/outright ignore the Roy Moore story?
Keith Law: I don’t follow any alt-right nitwits on Twitter, but that stuff shows up in my feed anyway, and I’m seeing a lot of that nonsense. Here’s a real hot take: Franken should resign immediately. Maybe we should just go with a Senate of 100 women instead.

Greg: What’s your outlook on Gregory Polanco? Was he just constantly hurt last year? Or has he maybe taken a step backward?
Keith Law: Seems to be a lot going wrong – not healthy, but not as selective as he was, and not making hard enough contact either. The disconnect between his physical ability and his major league performance is huge. I can’t give up on that talent, but perhaps the Pirates need to find a different coach to work with him.

Dennis: Best choice for Angels to fill the chasm at second? Sign Neil Walker? Trade for Kinsler or Gordon? Convince Cozart to switch to second?
Keith Law: Lots of 2b available now – Gordon would be the best fit if they can afford him (in prospects).

Justin Y: Rumors were flying around of a Melancon/Heyward swap. Worth the risk for the Giants? Play him in CF.
Keith Law: Andy Baggarly said it was nonsense.

Jim: How long will it take AA to make a move or two in Atlanta? At some point, they have to start trading prospects for ML talent, right?
Keith Law: Knowing Alex, I’m kind of stunned he didn’t make three trades before leaving Orlando.

Jim: What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food to cook that doesn’t contain any dead animals?
Keith Law: Dead animals can be delicious. But my Thanksgiving menu is typically turkey, two stuffings (one with chicken stock, one with andouille sausage), and then a LOT of vegetables. I roast 2-3 pounds of Brussels sprouts at high temp and toss them in a sweet and sour sauce; that’s often a big hit and it scales well for the crowd.

Adam Trask: Does Al Franken’s apology matter, or should we throw him out, too?
Keith Law: I thought the apology was weak – but does an apology unring the bell? Does it un-violate the victim? There are plenty of candidates out there who didn’t grope anyone. Step aside for one of them instead.

JR: At my kids 10u game last Friday, the pitcher for the opposing team threw 99!! pitches over 5 innings. It was the second game of a double header and after the fact we found out he had thrown an inning in their first game, so between in game and warm up pitches, etc, he probably threw around 150 pitches that day. Our team was literally in shock that they had him throw so many pitches. Crazy what adults will do too young kids to win game. Sadly, the tournament has an innings limit for each kid, but not a pitch count, so they didn’t break any rules.
Keith Law: You should approach the tournament directors and push for a rule change, then.

Dr. Rob: Which player from the 70’s or 80’s do you think should be in the HOF that would surprise the most people? For me it’s Bobby Grich.
Keith Law: Whitaker is my main guy, but I agree on Grich and also Trammell.

Andrew Vargha: How much stock do you put into 1st time through the order stats when projecting how a starter could be as a reliever?
Keith Law: Not a ton because we expect a pitcher’s stuff to tick up in a relief role. It’s more that a pitcher who struggles the 2nd/3rd time through is probably not going to work out as a starter.

Alex: After seeing/hearing about Austin Riley – don’t you think 3rd base should be what AA targets this offseason?
Keith Law: I would explore it, but you can only acquire what’s available, and I don’t think 3b is that strong (not like 2b, which is deep).

Foster: In the Verlander trade, the Tigers had to pay a reported $8 mil. a year of his salary to get Perez, Cameron, and Rogers. At the deadline, if the Yankees paid all of Verlander’s salary, but insisted on sending back Ellsbury, how much of Ellsbury’s salary and what prospects would the Yankees have had to send to complete the deal? Thanks.
Keith Law: I really can’t answer that at all. I’d just be making shit up. But I should point out that any team below Houston in the standings could have just claimed Verlander on trade waivers, even to block him, but didn’t. That alone may have been the difference between Houston winning the World Series and them losing in any of the three rounds of the playoffs, especially the last two.

Doug: I read an article last week that the Sox are thinking about trying Chavis at 2B. Does he had enough range to be passable there?
Keith Law: Worth a try. Don’t think it’ll work, but it’s a good experiment.

Brad: I’m a college student that loves board games but I don’t find video games enjoyable. One of my other three roommates have the same view as I do, but the other two won’t even give them a chance. Is there anything I can do to convince them?
Keith Law: Boardgames inspired by videogames? X-COM is out. Fallout is coming. Seeing more of these as we go along.

BrandonW: Part of me is like “good on the Twins for being transparent about an issue with Marte that can be tested and proven” and another part is “are they allowed to disclose this? Are there HIPAA issues at play?” Thoughts?
Keith Law: He’s not a citizen – does that matter? I don’t know any specifics of HIPAA. Maybe it would have gotten out anyway.

Brad: Can you explain the new tax law they’re trying to pass? I had a professor come in my class and said that it was very good for America, and that it would help all of us college students with finding a job, because more jobs would be created. I just don’t understand it and everyone seems to have an agenda these days.
Keith Law: I doubt I could do a bill that complex justice here, but that professor seems to have given you a very one-sided view that isn’t supported by the history of such tax cuts. Trickle-down economics hasn’t worked; the top marginal rate in the US and the effective corporate tax rate are low enough by global standards that cutting them hasn’t led to the sort of growth proponents have promised.

John: Long term- Kevin Maitan or Vlad Jr.?
Keith Law: Vlad Jr. Not even close. Maitan might not be a top 100 prospect any more; Vlad is top 10.

Leroy: Now that Alex Cora is a manager, who will be your new top recommendation for manager jobs?
Keith Law: That should be my new offseason project – finding the next Alex Coras out there.

KJohn: Just curious how much time you spend on baseball-related matters? A 40 hour week would be about 2,000 hours/year, with intermittent peaks and valleys. How does your time investment compare?
Keith Law: Dunno. My days are so unstructured that it would be hard to count it. I’m certainly not working 9-5 on baseball each day.

Elton: Hello Keith. I think you were the first source from which I heard about the allegations about Louis CK. You must have seen Michael Schur’s apology regarding this. I’m very conflicted and ashamed myself as a (former) big fan of CK who was hoping the stories were somehow not true. Do you think this extraordinary cultural moment where men are being held more accountable will spread to athletes, when so many of them have seemed to continue unscathed after allegations of serious sexual misconduct?
Keith Law: I really hope so. Because you KNOW this is happening across sports. But the handful of times that women have come forward, they’ve had their lives torn apart. Look at Jameis Winston’s accusers – and, by the way, he skated on everything. In the time you asked that question, Jerry Jones signed three more players with histories of violence.

Bobby: Keith – First, as always, thanks so much. I look forward to these chats every week. I don’t want the Yanks to sell low on Betances – particularly if they are at least going to try Green in the rotation – but it is hard to have someone who, while generally dominant, has 2-3 periods during a season where he just loses his mechanics. What would you do w him if you’re Cash?
Keith Law: I’d consider moving him because the bullpen is such a strength for them and he’s superfluous – and could be a closer option for a team that doesn’t want to spend on a Wade Davis. Related: I don’t like moving Chad Green back to the rotation.

Jacob: Should Roy Moore win the special election, and there is a strong chance he will, will you publicly blast Alabamans for sticking behind an obvious pervert….or will you admit that there are many Democrat policies that are so unappealing to many people that they would rather vote for a pedophile than a Democrat?
Keith Law: What policies would those be? I’m genuinely curious. Incidentally, if I had a comparable choice here, I’d simply abstain. I wouldn’t vote for someone who did what Moore has done even if I agreed with all of his policy plans.

Bobby: Again, love the chats. Thanks. Best side dish for Thanksgiving? Also, do you think a sous vide machine is a good purchase or not necessary? If so, which one do you recommend? Finally, Yanks next manager – guess as to who?
Keith Law: Definitely not necessary but very fun to have. Anova is what I own and the only one I’ve used. Best side dish … depends on what you like. I have a mac & cheese recipe here on the site. I mentioned the Brussels sprouts. I really try to jazz up the vegetable sides, because people say they want turkey and starches, but you can only shove so much of that into your stomach before you want to curl up and die.

Andy: Isn’t there a concern with the Braves about their position player prospects? There aren’t many after Acuna and they are about to take away Maitan, Gutierrez, Severino potentially.
Keith Law: Hi, I’m Keith Law, President of the Cristian Pache Fan Club. Can I come in and show you some literature on this fine young centerfielder? I promise it’ll only take two to three hours.

G: Being a Pirates fan, after watching Pelotero, I was no longer comfortable rooting for their acquisition methods in Latin America. The dismissal of Rene Gayo seems like a move in the right direction, but ultimately, is there a way to compete for LA talent while still playing fair, or is the problem systemic?
Keith Law: If MLB enforces its rules, we might see a real sea change in practices down there – but they must keep in mind that impoverished players have nothing to lose by breaking the rules. You police the teams, not the players.

Another Cody: Cody Carrol has gotten hype from the AFL – is he a future big leaguer?
Keith Law: Great arm. Definite big league reliever for me.

James: Given how few free agents actually live up to their contracts why are teams so willing to give out long term contracts? In your opinion did capping the draft and international free agents actually hurt small market teams because it limited the talent they could bring in and develop?
Keith Law: It’s a constrained market: Teams have lots of money to spend and strong incentive to spend it to win now, but the pool of players on which they can spend freely is always limited. The players who’d be the best investments rarely reach free agency. And yes, those caps hurt low-revenue/low-payroll teams the most.

Patty O’Furniture: Nice use of imbroglio
Keith Law: My sesquipedalian proclivity comes in handy at times.

Drew: Follow up to my Scherzer question: I *completely* agree with you about Mussina. Do you think he makes it there eventually?
Keith Law: I do. He’s going to be the next cause celebre for those of us who pick causes celebres for the Hall.

Joe: Can you explain how position affects the defensive side of WAR? I’ve tried reading about it but don’t completely understand. Is it bumped up or down depending on what position one plays?
Keith Law: Think of it this way: All MLB first baseman, in aggregate, hit .265/.347/.487 in 2017. All MLB shortstops hit .264/.319/.416. Therefore, to be an above-average hitter for a first baseman, you must hit above that mark … which would make you a superstar hitter for a shortstop. An above-average hitter at shortstop could still be a below-average hitter at first base. Positional adjustments take this into account: The standard varies by position.

JR: Thoughts on Bitcoin? Do you own or staying away?
Keith Law: Don’t own any.

Dr. Bob: If every powerful male who abused women loses his job, there’s going to be a lot turnover in politics, top levels of business, sports, etc.
Keith Law: I’m good with that.

Sal: Sorry if this is too personal, but could you talk about your daily routine a little? For example do you read eary in the morning? I’m trying to increase my productivity.
Keith Law: My routine varies more than it should, depending on how much sleep I get. But I do like writing first thing, after I drop my daughter off, because it seems to get my brain going.

Johnny O: If you’re hiring a new manager with a team that is young and at least 50% Hispanic, how much importance would you place on finding a candidate who speaks Spanish? Or is that a factor if you have two equally qualified candidates but one of them is bilingual?
Keith Law: I’d consider Spanish skills a requirement for a managing job at any level of the system, from complex leagues on up.

Chris J: What do you expect from Julio Urias going forward?
Keith Law: I’d be surprised if he pitches again.

Steve: That should be *flouts* the commissioner’s authority. Flaunting it would be the opposite.
Keith Law: You are correct; they’d be flaunting their flouting, so to speak.

Frankie: Francis Martes — does he still have a future as a starter?
Keith Law: Not impossible; more likely a reliever for me, but far from certain.

Tom: I have a product I spent a lot of money on but now I don’t like the company. So I’m going to smash said product to smithereens even though the company already has my money cause that’ll learn em. That’s how this works, right?
Keith Law: I was so torn, because Keurigs are awful for the environment, and they make terrible coffee (the grounds are stale by the time you brew that cup), but my God was it funny to see the reactions. And, by the way, no one seemed to want to admit that Hannity claimed on air that a 14-year-old could consent to sexual contact, which is false.

Carl: Did you know Ingenious is no longer available for purchase on the App Store? That game got me through several long plane trips!
Keith Law: I didn’t – that’s a bummer. Maybe I can talk to some industry contacts about bringing it back. I think the company that did Caylus went under too.

Jay: Garvey Murphy Trammel Morris Whitaker Bill Madlock all 80s guys that got so little respect from HOF
Keith Law: Well, Garvey, Morris, and Madlock are all well below the line. Dale Murphy is a tougher one: he had a Hall of Fame peak without the longevity.

Buck: I keep seeing good reports on Austin Riley in the AFL. SSS, or could there be a little bit of a breakout here?
Keith Law: I saw him. Same guy at the plate. AFL stats aren’t useful, given the small sample, good hitting environment, and highly variable levels of competition. He has improved defensively since 2016, though – I saw it, and I have heard the same from scouts who saw him this year too.

sk: Will Hunter Renfroe ever hit for average in the majors?
Keith Law: Gotta hit or lay off the slider away for that to happen.

Sam: Are the critical reports on Maitan accurate? or a little over the top being that he’s a 17 year old playing just one season over here. Also how much time does Blake Rutherford have before people start to grumble that he could be a bust?
Keith Law: I’ve heard a lot of reports about his body that I think were over the top, but his swing looks awful now. Rutherford is probably at that point now. Another bad year and he’ll get written off. (Not without reason, given his age.)

Brian: Will you do a Periscope this year as you prep your bird?
Keith Law: Absolutely. I get requests for this every November.

addoeh: People always bring up Duke lacrosse as a counterpoint to any sexual assault claim. But in addition to a single accuser who made it up, there was also a DA, Mike Nifong, who made many serious prosecutorial errors that weren’t uncovered until later. If Nifong had done his job, we probably never hear about it.
Keith Law: Agreed. Or an ethical DA (I think Nifong was disbarred for his actions?) might have uncovered lesser crimes that didn’t become a national news story.

Jesse: Mastodon’s Emperor of Sand a candidate for your top 10 albums this year?
Keith Law: I liked it, doubt it makes my top 10 offhand.

Brian: Pressure cooker or slow cooker?
Keith Law: Pressure cooker.

Jim: How do you come up with your opening statement for Klawchat?
Keith Law: Tends to be from a song I heard in the last week.

Dennis: Funner read: Don Quixote or The Count of Monte Cristo?
Keith Law: Monte Cristo by far. It’s a hell of an adventure.

Jason: What’s Pache’s ETA? And assuming the Braves move Inciarte before he’s ready, who is the better defensive CF between Pache and Acuna?
Keith Law: Three years away. Pache might be a 70 defender now.

Bryce Harper: Keith Hernandez: Hall of Famer?
Keith Law: Not for me.

Brent: If you’re the White Sox, it’s a smart move to trade your intl cash for Vieira? That arm and Cooper, it’s not crazy to hope for another Kahnle type, no?
Keith Law: Sure. I don’t mind the trade. But I don’t think he’s a great prospect. He might not be top 20 in that system now.

Lance: Were you classmates of Radhika Jones? Know her?
Keith Law: Don’t know her. I think she was ’95.

Ham Bone: With all the allegations of sexual assault, how is Peyton Manning not brought up again. He is still the face of State Farm and Papa John’s.
Keith Law: Because no one believes women who accuse athletes.

Jackie: Dwight Evans was much better at baseball than Jim Rice. And Dewey didn’t snub my autograph request when I was eleven …
Keith Law: Evans had a legit HoF case but didn’t have any hack writers stumping for him.

Vince: Mixed feelings about the situation in Zimbabwe. Mugabe was a tyrant, but military rule is almost never the answer. Thoughts?
Keith Law: Same. Mugabe’s reign of terror has impoverished the country, though. Unless they fall into anarchy like Somalia, it’s hard to fathom anything being worse.

JP: can Profar still be an above-average regular with a change of scenery?
Keith Law: I think so. Would love to see him get the chance.

Ty: Hi Keith! Shouldn’t baseball make teams at minimum ask teams to bid draft picks for Ohtani? Seems insane that they are letting a player send $100M-$200M in surplus value to one lucky team. Obviously, the better solution is to declare him a free agent which would take care of the surplus value question.
Keith Law: That’s an interesting idea. Detroit picks first; what if MLB said hey, you can take him, today, and pay him #1 pick slot, but give up that pick? If they pass, go to the next team. That’s crazy and impossible and I kind of love it.

Iowa Cowtipper: I’m glad that the many sexual assaulters are finally being exposed and agree that most accused are guilty. Still, I’m troubled by the rush to judgement that follows accusations today. I fear a new Macarthyism of sorts.
Keith Law: The accusations we’ve seen so far have either been supported by concrete evidence or been exceptionally well sourced by the journalists who’ve brought them forward. I can think of one recent allegation that didn’t fit that – George Takei – and that has, for the moment, failed to gain traction as a result. (Which is not to say it’s false.) I’d love to say we’re at or approaching some equilibrium, where every assaulter/harasser is called out and faces the consequences of his actions, but there are no false accusations out there. That’s an impossible goal, and right now, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to it.

mike : being ifa can keep previous bonus, whats stopping them from lying during interviews to get paid twice?
Keith Law: If a player lies about his age or name or something similar, he won’t get to keep the money. IFAs have no incentive to balk at illegal deals, though; in fact, the system probably discourages them from balking at them. But I think the solution is to crack down on teams offering such deals, as Boston did and apparently Atlanta did too.

Steve: Has the beer industry gone too IPA happy?
Keith Law: You mean too hoppy?

Kilgore Trout: If a male engaged in any of this boorish or offensive behavior as a minor, but later grew up and realized the errors of his ways, should there be consequences?
Keith Law: Consequences like disqualification from public office? Sure. But that’s separate from any judicial process.

Bill: A lot of people are writing off Gardenhire as an old school manager, but he seems to have embraced the analytics training he got with the Diamondbacks, an idea backed up recently by comments from Torey Lovullo. Old dog/new tricks?
Keith Law: This will only be borne out by his actions on the job. He can say the right things now, but it’s all just words until we see a real change in his style.
Keith Law: OK, that’s all for this week, and with the holiday next week I will not chat again until the 30th. I will do a Periscope video chat while I’m prepping for the big meal, though, so I hope some of you will join me there. Thank you as always for reading and for all of your questions!

7 Wonders app.

7 Wonders has been one of my top 2 all-time boardgames since I first played the tabletop version back in 2011 (here’s my original review), and after a bit of a layoff – which happens given all the new games I need to try for Paste and Vulture – I got back into it this summer and found it hasn’t lost a thing for me. It’s just a brilliantly designed, fast-playing game that rewards long-term thinking, has a lot of interaction among players, and leaves players with very little downtime. All that was missing was an app version of the game, which had been promised at least as far back as early 2015 but seemed stuck in perpetual beta.

Well, I have good news: The 7 Wonders app is here, for iPads at least, with an Android version due next month, and it is great – if you already know the game, at least. The AI players are solid, the app itself is easy and intuitive to use, and there’s a lot of info crammed on the screen. I have some questions about whether this would be so intuitive to someone who’s never played the game, given what isn’t shown on the screen, and feel like there is room for some added features before the developers deliver the promised Leaders and Cities expansions.

7 Wonders is a card-drafting game with set collection elements, working much more quickly than most card collecting games do. There are three rounds, and in each round, players will get to buy (or just take) six cards to place on their tableaux. The unique mechanic of 7 Wonders is that you start each round with a hand of seven cards, choose one to play, and then pass the remainder of your hand to an adjacent player. Once you’ve played a few times, you know what cards are in each age, but you can never know what cards will be available to you in a specific game. In a game with six or seven players, the cards you pass will never come back to you; in a game with fewer, you’ll at least get something back from your original hand, but you can’t predict what it’ll be.

The cards themselves typically cost resources to acquire, but unlike many resource collection games, 7 Wonders doesn’t come with bags upon bags of little wood and stone tokens. Instead, you get resources every round from cards you’ve played that produce those, and you can buy resources from your two neighbors for 2 coins per unit – if the neighbors actually produce them. Many cards also give you the right to play specific cards for free in later ages, which can be a very powerful way to rack up points without producing a ton of resources yourself.

There are multiple avenues for scoring points, and while there’s a lot of debate over an ideal strategy, I find they’re all fairly balanced, and often the best strategy is just the one that no one else is pursuing. You can gain military points if you have more military symbols than each of your neighbors at the end of each age. You can rack up science points by acquiring green cards with three different symbols in sets. Blue cards simply give victory points. You can also discard cards to build stages of your Wonder, usually three different stages, each of which confers some benefit in resources, points, gold, or sometimes extra actions. And the purple guild cards in the third age can lead to huge bonuses.

The app version of 7 Wonders looks fantastic, and the developers have managed to get all the relevant info for you on to one screen, with most of the real estate occupied by your tableau and your hand, and with two smaller sections on the left and right sides to show what your neighbors have. Because card play is simultaneous, when you drag a card from your hand (bottom of the screen) to your tableau, your opponents’ moves happen at the same time, and you’re immediately given your new hand of cards.

Each card in your hand will be outlined in green, yellow, or red, with an indication in the lower left of the cost to play it. Green-outlined cards are either free to play or are already covered by resources you produce or cards you have. A check mark in the lower left says you’ve covered the cost; a chain link symbol means you have a card that gives you this one for free. Yellow outlines indicate you’ll have to pay at least one coin to buy resources from neighbors to play the card. Cards you can’t play are outlined in red, and if you try to play them anyway, you’ll get a Not Enough Resources message. You can click and hold any card to see a text explanation of its effects, including cards your neighbors have played. You can also see your neighbors’ current military strength, money, and wonders (including whether they’re completed) at all times.

The app moves fast – I can rip through a game against AI players in about five minutes – which might be confusing to new players. There isn’t a speed setting, although you can turn on an option to require move validation, which would at least make it feel slower. It would be incredibly useful if you could click and hold a card to play and see what its point or gold value would be at that moment, even though it could change later in the age or the game. The game-end scoring screen shows you how many points each player got from each scoring method, but switching back to the game at that point shows you the cards without further explaining the scoring breakdown, which I think would also be useful for new players.

I found the AI players to be sufficiently challenging, and surprisingly agile – they clearly respond to what you’re doing on the military side, which requires you to react in turn – but after a handful of plays over the last 24 hours, I’m finding my winning percentage approaching 50% already. I have won with military, with blue bonus cards, and with racking up guild points, but have yet to win with science – although once I lost to an AI player with 48 science points, which I think is a good sign I just wasn’t paying attention. (If you’re curious, that’s three cards with one science symbol, three cards with another symbol, the wild-card scientists’ guild, and two cards with the third science symbol.)

The app has online play and what appeared, on day one, to be an active lobby of players, although today on day two I haven’t been able to connect via the app. You need at least 3 players, on or offline; the 2-player variant isn’t included here, although I’ve never loved that rules tweak anyway. It is not available for smaller screens like iPhones, and while I’m sure that’s disappointing to a lot of users, I can understand why given how much information is required and how busy the screen gets by Age III even on the iPad. I’m completely hooked at the moment, and unless/until I start killing the AI players regularly this is going to be one of my go-to boardgame apps. I’ll update this post when the Android version is out, but if you have an iPad, go get this app.