Tuesday, 4 November 2014

All time favourite games

Something a little different from me today. I play a fair few boardgames as well as miniatures games (truth be told, I play a lot more boardgames than miniatures games these days), and it's fair to say that boardgame mechanisms have influenced my own designs over the years, generally pushing the idea of 'game' to the fore.

My Boardgamegeek profile lists my 'top ten' games. Now, these aren't necessarily the games that I play most frequently (those ebb and flow depending on mood and who I'm regular playing with), but they are games that I come back to pretty often and that I always seem to enjoy. And as such, these are usually the ones I recommend when people ask me for game suggestions, depending on their specific requirements. There's a mixture of miniatures and boardgames in my list, as you might expect.

Here are a few notes on why I enjoy these particular ten, and I hope that writing this will maybe open up these great games to a few new players who've not heard of them … if you enjoy any of these yourself, or fancy sharing your favourites (one, two, ten, or however many) please feel free to leave a comment or a link to your own top ten on your blog.

And let's face it, everyone wants to receive a new game for Christmas, right? Surely?

Anyway. In no particular order:

De Bellis Antiquitatis: An Ancient & Medieval miniatures game that I've been playing since it came out in the early 1990s. It completely turned my idea of miniatures gaming on its head and suddenly armies became affordable, the space I had available was easily enough, and several games could be played in one sitting. And it was pretty simple to play. So many imitators, so few challengers. My preferred editions are still 1.0 and 1.1, but I'm looking forward to trying 3.0.

Carcassonne: A wonderful, simple to teach tile-laying game, considered one of the best 'gateway games' to introduce non-gamers to boardgames. There's a lovely feel to it (you don't kill anyone, for starters!), a nice pace, and the jigsaw element of play seems to really get people going (once they realise this isn't a game like Monopoly). Because a player always draws a tile and places it immediately, it's very simple to teach new players, and creates a nicely sociable environment as you play.

Blitzkrieg Commander: Based on the concepts of Warmaster, BKC is a Second World War miniatures game. I use it to zip tanks around the Western Desert, and love the fast play, rivet-free, abstract nature of the command mechanism. This really rekindled my interest in WW2 games, having developed nosebleeds over the 1980s offerings from Tabletop Games (teaching myself Combined Arms nearly finished my interest for life…).

Drakon: Like Carcassonne, another tile-laying game but this time it comes with some plastic pieces (one of which is a dragon - this sells the game to most people without me needing to say any more). The twist here is that different types of tile have a different effect in the game, and you trigger them by moving your character onto said tile. There's a fine element of screwing your opponents' plans, and the fantasy theme doesn't overpower the essence of gameplay.

Hey, That's My Fish!: Plastic penguins. Check. Tiles depicting ice and fish. Check. Very simple rules. Check. Cut-throat game play that will make you hate your friends for ten minutes after the game ends. Check. What could be better?

Memoir 44: The vague-sounding title gives way to a superb mix of miniatures and boardgaming. This is possibly the easiest to understand wargame I've come across. Tonnes of plastic figures and tanks, a hex board, a very clever card-based command mechanism that introduces a resource/hand management challenge to the game, simple rules, and an historical background that most people will have some awareness of (D-Day in the Second World War). Not a game to play if you wish to distinguish your Panthers from your Mark IVs, but a very nice game to get out on the table - and one that may lead on to the designer's similar and slightly more in-depth Commands & Colors games (Ancient and Napoleonic versions).

Britannia: "On an anvil of blood and terror they forged the destiny of an island!" This boardgame is based on the history of Britain from the coming of the Romans to the Norman invasion. I got this for my birthday in 1986 or 1987 and not only have I played it regularly since then, but it kickstarted my interest in this period of history and playing games set in the Dark Ages. Pretty simple to understand, accommodating four players, and offering you the opportunity to push a cardboard Arthur, William, Harold, Hengist, or Fergus around the board. Great.

Saga: A miniatures game heavily influenced by boardgame mechanisms, and all the better for it in my opinion. Set in the Dark Ages, this is for me one of the best warband-sized games around (catering for skirmishes involving a couple of dozen models per side); I love the concept of building battle boards based on your dice rolls (resource management once again), and the special rules for each different 'faction' (Vikings, Saxons, Normans, etc) add a - ahem - saga-like flavour to gameplay. I was lucky enough to try out the game pre-publication for an article I was writing, and have been hooked ever since (although I rarely win).

Shadows Over Camelot: An Arthurian-themed board game with a lot of plastic models and great card hand-collecting mechanism. Unusually, this is a co-operative game, where all players band together to defeat 'the game'. There are a number of other co-operative games out there, but the Arthurian theme captures my imagination best, and I enjoy the game's twist of a potential traitor among the players. I've played a lot - a LOT - of Arthurian games over the years, and this is my favourite boardgame with this theme.

Song of Blades And Heroes: A miniatures game intended for fantasy skirmishes, although I find it works well for historical encounters also. There's a clever activation mechanism that could end your turn prematurely, and a simple combat system reminiscent of DBA (mentioned above). The 1980s-style fantasy art adds charm and scratches my teenage rpg itch, but what really shines through is the entertaining and challenging gameplay (combined with the game's magical lure: seeing any model you like the look of and working out how to fit it into your warband).