Exit: The Game.

I have a new board game review up at Paste today as well, covering Pandemic: Rising Tide, a standalone spinoff of the best cooperative game on the market.

Exit: The Game won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2017 in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored and much better-reviewed Terraforming Mars, which I thought was the best complex game (or “expert game,” which is the literal translation of Kennerspiel) of its year. (It also beat Raiders of the North Sea, which I have played just once but enjoyed.) I’m guessing Exit won because it’s novel – it’s a series of cooperative puzzle games that are supposed to mimic the escape-room experience in a tabletop setting. There are other new games in this vein, like Unlock!, but Exit does this really well, with puzzles that you can reasonably solve in the allotted time and, more importantly, a very strong system for helping you if you’re stuck.

Each Exit box gives you a single play, because you’ll be changing destroying components, including tearing or cutting cards, marking up pages, and maybe even disassembling the box. I played four of the games: The Abandoned Cabin (the first in the series), The Forgotten Island, The Polar Station, and The Forbidden Castle, which vary from two to four on the game’s 1-5 difficulty scale, and there was a noticeable difference in the challenges – although I’m not sure the difficult boxes are better, just harder.

One Exit game box comes with three card decks – riddles, solutions, and help cards with hints – plus a booklet specific to that game, a disk of three concentric dials used to decipher codes, and sometimes some “special objects” that may be stencils or windows for finding clues on other cards or pages. You’ll start the game with one of the riddle cards plus the text on the first page of the booklet, and then must find a series of three-digit codes to progress through the game. Each game has roughly ten codes to find, represented by different shapes on the disk, which also help you figure out which cards and pages might work together. The puzzles come in lots of forms, and we found it was better to think a little like a kid to solve many of them. Some of the puzzles are visual – you have to trace things, connect dots, color in cards, fold pages into different shapes, cut pages into strips, all things you’d never expect to do with a board game. Some puzzles are self-contained, while others require you to solve three smaller ones to get each of the digits for the code.

Once you think you have the code for a specific puzzle, you locate that puzzle’s symbol on the outer rim of the disk and then rotate the three inner dials to match the code. (Some games use colors or other glyphs instead of numbers, but there will then be a reference card to help you translate them into numbers so it doesn’t become a drag on the game time.) A card number from 1 to 30 will show up in the center of the disk, which sends you to the Solutions deck. Some cards in that deck will tell you you’re wrong right away; others will ask where you saw that symbol – on a piece of furniture, a briefcase, a trunk, a door – in one of the images you’ve seen in the booklet or on a new card. You’ll then be directed to yet another Solution card, and if you were right, that new card will give you further instructions that will include at least one new Riddle card and perhaps give you a special object. This multi-step process makes it difficult to accidentally see an answer to a Riddle, and cheating via the Solutions deck would be nearly impossible.

Components from Exit The Abandoned Cabin
Components from Exit: The Abandoned Cabin.

The Hints deck is the cleverest aspect of Exit’s mechanics by far, and I think it’s what makes this game so playable even if you run into a puzzle you can’t solve. Every puzzle gets three Hint cards with its symbol on it, with the first card telling you what cards, pages, and/or objects you need to solve the puzzle (and maybe one small hint), the second card telling you most of the information on how to solve it, and the third giving the actual solution with an explanation. There were puzzles we solved without any Hints, and a few where we needed all three hint cards to move along. (The game has a timer app you can use, but there really isn’t any need for it except to let you know how long you’ve been playing and nudge you into looking at Hint card.) Having the first Hint card tell you which cards you must have to solve that puzzle is particularly useful if you have pieces of a few puzzles and aren’t sure which one to attack next.

Everything is fair game for solving these puzzles, including things like the game box itself, outside or inside, and each game we played had at least one puzzle that required us to use something that you might assume wasn’t part of the task. (The image on the inside of the top of the box in one game was quite faint, though, which I think is a mistake and makes the game less accessible.) We did find one glitch in The Forgotten Island, as the final riddle’s solution didn’t work; I haven’t heard back from the designer about this, but I’d pass on that particular module for now. The other three were all quite good and my daughter and I were able to solve them in about an hour using a few hints here and there; each had at least one eye-roller solution, but I think that’s the price of entry given that the designers have to come up with ten or eleven puzzles for each box, meaning some are going to be a little weird or ridiculous, especially when the designers, Markus & Inka Brand, try to make the riddles more difficult. The games list for $15-18 and, even as single-play games, they seemed like a good value to us, enough that we bought one after we finished the review copies I’d received (and my daughter will get some more for her birthday). If you’re intrigued, start with The Abandoned Cabin, since it’s first and I think the most straightforward of the four I’ve played.

Race for the Galaxy app.

I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t share the broader tabletop community’s love for Race for the Galaxy, a very popular deckbuilding game that ranks in the top 50 on BoardGameGeek, for two reasons – you need to know the deck rather well to play the game at even a competent level, and there’s one strategy (produce/consume x2) that is superior to others (military, trade). That strategy isn’t entirely dominant, but you are also somewhat restricted in your choice of strategy by the ‘home world’ card you’re dealt to start the game; if you get New Sparta, you almost have to use the military strategy, for example.

So it might surprise regular readers to hear me offer a strong recommendation for the Race for the Galaxy app ($6.99 on iTunes or Google Play) given what I’ve said before about the game itself. Those problems still hold true in the app, of course – this is a faithful implementation of the physical game. The app, however, is just about perfect in how it implements the game, with strong AI players (on the hard setting), and because it’s so fast to play, you can start to learn what’s in the deck a little faster to get yourself up to speed.

In Race for the Galaxy, players must build out their tableau of cards, representing worlds, ships, or people in their empire, using specific action types each turn – drawing cards, spending them to play cards, producing goods on cards that have that power, trading goods for more cards, or trading goods for victory points. Cards you play also carry victory point values of their own for the end of the game, and some award bonuses based on what else you have already played. You start with a home world card that, as I said above, kind of dictates your strategy for the game – some home worlds are ideal for trading, some for the military, some for the produce/consume strategy.

On a turn, each player chooses one of the available seven actions, and then the choices are all revealed simultaneously. Every player gets to take all of the actions chosen in that round, but you get an extra ability when taking the action you chose, such as building for one card less than the normal cost, or getting to keep two cards of the ones you draw instead of just one. Turns are fast, and players can usually do their turns at the same time. The game ends when one player has built (played) 12 cards to the table, or when the communal pool of victory point chips is exhausted.

The app is nearly perfect, and it helps reduce the time new players might spend learning what’s in the deck and what cards are useful (or even essential) for certain strategies – for example, if you are trying the military strategy, getting the cost-6 development card New Galactic Order, which gives you one victory point per unit of military strength on all your cards, is critical. The AI players move very quickly, and the actions chosen by each player are clearly visible twice, once at selection, then during the round in a bar on the left side of the screen that highlights the actions in use for the round. You can see the details on any card – the app uses the graphics from the physical game – with a double-tap, which is necessary to play it on a small screen, and you can see key details, like cards or VP tokens remaining, easily on the right side. You can also see how many cards your opponents have played and what goods they have available without expanding their tableaus, so you have ample warning if the game is approaching its end. There’s an undo button on the right-side menu for just about every action you can take, and the app requires your confirmation of certain actions, like discarding cards or trading multiple goods. The trading/consuming mechanism isn’t quite obvious – when that phase starts, cards with a trade or consume function will be highlighted, and you must click the card you wish to use, then drag the good(s) you wish to trade/consume off into the blank area next to your tableau.

I did mention above a few times that the produce/consume x2 strategy, where you alternate turns producing goods and selling them for victory points with bonuses, tends to be the optimal strategy, but the first time I beat two AI players in the app came via a military strategy. I started with New Sparta and blitzed my way through to twelve cards before either AI player could really get rolling with production and consumption:

You’re damn right I’m proud of that one. So it can be done, but it requires a bit of luck and leaves you no margin for error – which I think is more evidence that the hard AI players are up to snuff.

The app comes with the New Worlds mini-expansion, and the Rebel vs. Imperium and Gathering Storms are available as in-app purchases.

Stick to baseball, 12/30/17.

Since my last links post, I’ve written three Insider pieces, on Colorado signing Wade Davis, Cleveland signing Yonder Alonso, and San Francisco trading for Evan Longoria.

On the board game front, I reviewed Photosynthesis for Paste, and ranked my top ten board games of 2017 for them too. Over at Vulture I did another Best of 2017 list, looking at the best light game, heavy game, board game app, expansion, and more.

The Wall Street Journal asked me to contribute to their annual “Who Read What” series, where 50 avid readers provide one or two books that really stood out for them in the preceding year. I was specifically asked to name one work of fiction and one of non-fiction, and chose The Erstwhile and Betaball.

As always, feel free to sign up for my email newsletter, which costs you nothing and won’t clog your inbox; I’ve only sent three total in the last two months, so if anything, I should probably be sending more. And, of course, thanks to everyone who bought Smart Baseball for themselves or as a Christmas gift.

And now, the links…

Lotus.

The new board game app for Lotus (itunes) • android), a 2016 title from designers Mandy & Jordan Goddard, comes from the same studio that brought us the wonderful Lanterns app last year, and the game has a very similar look and feel from the graphics to the animations to the sound. The game itself is quite simple and should lend itself well to the app format, but there are a couple of problems with the implementation that keep me from recommending it yet.

On each turn, a player has two actions, which can include placing one or two petals from his/her hand to a single flower, trading in cards for others from the player’s own deck, or adding a ‘guardian’ with his/her symbol to a flower already underway. Each petal card has a specific color and shows one or two icons of your own symbol; when a flower is finished, there’s a bonus for the player who had the most symbols on the flower, whether from petal cards or guardians. When your turn ends, you can refill your hand from your deck or take ‘wild’ flower cards from the table, which have a specific color but no player symbols, and thus are useful for finishing a flower but not for gaining control of it.

When a flower is finished, there are two bonuses handed out. The player who finishes a flower gets one point per petal on the flower, from three (purple) to seven (pink). The player who had the most tokens on the flower, whether from petals or from guardians, gets a second bonus, which can be five points regardless of flower type, or can give the player one of three special abilities for the remainder of the game: a hand size limit of 5 instead of 4, the ability to play three or more petals to one flower in a single action, or adding a guardian with double the influence. The first two are extremely valuable if you get them early, but I’ve had minimal success with the bigger guardian and prefer to skip it for the five points.

Lotus app screenshot

Lotus largely devolves into a game of chicken, where you’re trying to force other players to play petals so that you can finish off one or more flowers on your turn, especially the higher-valued pink or white flowers. There’s always the five-point bonus you get when you have the most petals/guardians on a flower someone else finishes, but even that is subject to change if an opponent plays wisely. If you finish the most flowers, you’ll probably win, even if you weren’t working too hard on maintaining control via your symbols – you’ll get a few along the way regardless. So often players, even the AI players, will trade cards to burn off an action in the hopes that someone else will place cards that make it easier to finish a flower next time. It’s a bit of a drag, and also boosts the luck factor because you need to get the right cards at the optimal time.

The app is gorgeous and runs smoothly, but I have two real issues with it, one of which is that the AI players are not very good, even on the ‘hard’ setting. I had never played this game before I downloaded the app, but can easily beat the hard AI when playing one or two opponents, and usually win or come in second with three. The AI players just don’t utilize the added abilities well enough to compete with a decent human player. The other issue is the lack of an undo function. You have two actions on your turn, and thus should be able to undo the first one before you’ve taken your second one. This is a simple enough function for the programmers to include and I think it’s a necessary one for a board game app that isn’t real-time or involves revealing information with each action. So while the game itself is pretty and pleasant to play, I think both of this issues need to be addressed before I can recommend it.

Stick to baseball, 12/16/17.

The MLB winter meetings were a bit slow this year, but I did have five new Insider pieces this week, covering:

The Dodgers/Atlanta salary swap and the Matt Moore trade
The Santana and Cozart signings, plus the Galvis trade
The Piscotty and Kinsler trades, and the Shaw/McGee signings
The Marcell Ozuna trade
A quick take on a few interesting Rule 5 picks
The Giancarlo Stanton trade

My ranking of the top ten new board games of 2017 went up at Paste on Sunday evening. My latest game review for the site covers Ex Libris, a fun, light strategy game that’s extremely well balanced, and made my top ten as well.

The holidays are upon us! Stick a copy of Smart Baseball in every stocking.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 12/2/17.

My Insider post on Shohei Ohtani is finally up, with a scouting report compiled from aggregating opinions of multiple scouts who’ve seen him hit and pitch, and thoughts on what MLB’s rigging of the rules against him really signals. Between the lack of significant activity in the hot stove and the fact that I got quite sick in the middle of the week, that’s been my only baseball content since Thanksgiving. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

For Paste, I reviewed the train game Whistle Stop, a mid-weight title that’s among the best new board games I’ve played this year. My ranking of the top ten games of 2017 will go up the week of December 10th. EDIT: My first piece for Ars Technica is up now – a look at a beta version of Catan VR, an upcoming digital port of the global bestseller from Asmodee Digital.

I’ve taken an unintentional hiatus from my free email newsletter, but will resume this week. The holiday, PAX Unplugged, and that virus I had have all conspired against me, I swear.

Smart Baseball is out now in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats, perfect for your holiday shopping! Buy one or forty copies, your call.

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.

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.

Eight Minute Empire.

Eight-Minute Empire is pretty much what it sounds like – a Civilization-style 4X boardgame that plays in just a few minutes, promising 8 to 20 minute playing times on the box depending on the number of players (from two to five). The tabletop version came out in 2012, followed by a standalone sequel game, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, that doubles the playing time by adding another layer of rules, which sounds to me like it might defeat the original’s purpose. I missed the physical games, but did pick up the new app version of the original Eight-Minute Empire, which is out for iOS phones and tablets and Android devices for just under $5, and it’s pretty fantastic. The tutorial is great, the app has some in-game tips for newbies (which you can later turn off), and you can rip through a whole game against 3 or 4 AI players in just a few minutes.

Eight-Minute Empire starts with all players on the same region on a map of multiple continents, with each player getting three military units on that space. On a turn, each player will choose one of six available action cards, which cost from 0 to 3 coins to purchase, and which determine the player’s action on that turn: Recruit new troops, move troops on land, move troops on land or via sea, build a city, destroy one troop anywhere on the board. Different cards allow different numbers of troop movements or additions. Building a city gives you the ability to recruit troops to that city as well as to the start region. Each card also has a symbol of one of the game’s six trade goods on it; collecting more of one type can gain you 1, 2, 3, or 6 points, depending on how many cards with that symbol you acquire.

The game lasts seven to ten turns, depending on the number of players, and while the app shows scoring in-progress, there’s no intermediate scoring – the game is only scored at the end. You gain one point for each region you control (more troops than any other player, with a city counting as +1 troop); one for each continent you control (whoever controls the most regions); and various points for the goods you’ve collected. Some cards have wild-card goods tokens, and the app will automatically place those wherever they’ll gain you the most points. If two players tie, which happens fairly often in my experience with the app, the winner is the player with the most coins remaining.

Eight-Minute Empire distills most of the best parts of map/exploration games to keep it simple for players. Everyone starts with the same number of coins, and you can’t get any more during the game. Turn order starts with open bidding; you can bid one or two coins to get to set the turn order, and there’s an advantage to going later rather than going first because you get to make troop movements after other players are done, thus ‘stealing’ another region or even a continent. Conflict is limited to the handful of cards that let you destroy a troop, which the AI players will use if you have one unit alone on a continent (which gives you control of that region and the continent, so beware). There are no actual battles in Eight-Minute Empire, no trading, no theft. You thus focus on where to put your units, where other players might choose to move theirs, and taking the action cards that will help you with units and/or goods while also potentially taking cards that might help your opponents.

The app comes with three levels of AI players, and I’d say the hard AI players are quite capable, strong enough that I needed many plays to beat them and still don’t do it consistently. (The randomness of card draws helps smooth gameplay out too.) It also offers clearer iconography than the printed version of the game, and the only drawback I see in the presentation is that with over 3 players you can’t see everyone’s points/goods status at once. The base game has two maps, the original (pictured) and a “sister continents” map, with several other maps available for $1.99 each or in a pack for $4.99; there’s also an IAP for the Mountains expansion, which was a free print-and-play addition to the base game, available for $1.99. I’m enjoying the two base game maps so far but I have a feeling I’ll eventually spring for others just to add some variety – the configuration of continents alters game play in a significant way, since the cards that allow movement by sea are rarer than those that only allow movement on land. Eight Minute Empire also plays very well on the smaller screen of my iPhone, which makes it a great little time-waster when I’m stuck somewhere without a book. I give it a very strong buy recommendation.

Stick to baseball, 10/28/17.

No new Insider content this week, as I was writing up the top 50 free agents package. That and a look at the offseason trade market will run the week of November 6th. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

I spoke with Arizona’s KJZZ about my book Smart Baseball and the rise of Big Data in the sport. You can find links to buy the book here.

I also run a free email newsletter with personal essays and links to everything I’ve written since the previous newsletter. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you, and yes, I’m overdue to send another one out.

And now, the links, with boardgame stuff at the end as usual…