Last year my top 10 saw some change as my tastes had shifted somewhat, with Warhammer 40K: Kill Team coming out of nowhere to make my list and Blood Bowl: Team Manager joining it as a surprise hit with me. This past year the friend I played Kill Team with moved away so I didn’t get any plays of it in and while I still think it’s a great system I’ve cooled on it a bit. I very well could have found a community for it locally, but my enjoyment of that game was primarily bound to the experiences I had with my friend Gregg and my realization that the game represented the experiences I was missing out on by not looking outside of my typical euro-centric gaming tastes. As for Blood Bowl: Team Manager, it is still high on my list, but I’ve also played some other very, very good games this past year that have displaced it. There are many repeats here this year, but some things have shifted position (including my top 3) and I’ll always lean towards the heavier euros in my tastes so it should come as no shock that Kill Team’s replacement comes from what I’m familiar with and enjoy. Without further ado, I present my top 9 games of all time, plus an honorable mention to round it out, 2019 edition.
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Mombasa has been on this list before, and returns after a play with Proper Brian and Just Bryan that rekindled my love for this one. Proper Brian eventually procured his own copy he liked it so much, so now it’s even more likely that Mombasa is brought to a game day we attend. We’ve spoken about this one on the podcast often, but I’ll sum up my thoughts here briefly. I think this is Pfister’s best game (of the one’s I’ve played) and he demonstrates his ability to deftly bring together mechanics that, on the surface, don’t seem like they’d gel together. The card play in particular is brilliant and is the primary source of “brain burn” here. Whether this game stays in the top 10 or not, it will likely remain high on my list in the future.
9. THE ESTATES
The Estates is a reimplementation of the auction game Neue Heimat. It’s also a game with very sharp elbows. Every bid is important, whether your hoping to win it for yourself or attempting to manipulate another player into doing what you want. There is some shared incentive here, as players are bidding on block and rooftops used to construct buildings on three lanes. There are also permits which can shorten or extend a lane and a piece that allows permits to be discarded. The catch is that lanes that include any unfinished buildings score negative points, so players are constantly trying to finish a building or put an opponent’s piece over their own on a building that’s about to score negative points to bury them in debt. I’ve loved every play of this game and despite being a “mean” game, it’s not the kind of experience that leaves you angry at the other players. If someone makes an aggressive move that cuts your profit, just wait a turn or two and you’ll be returning the favor. This game kindled in me an interest in auction games that is still running strong today, so it’s place on this list is due not only to how great a game it is but for how it’s shifted my gaming preferences and opened my eyes to a mechanic I hadn’t given much thought to.
I didn’t expect to like Gloomhaven. I’d heard the hype, but it just didn’t seem like the kind of game I’d get into for the long haul. That changed when Just Bryan started a Gloomhaven campaign and another player dropped out the week they were intending to start. I couldn’t make that first meeting, but I could jump in starting that next week. Now I look forward to the bi-weekly Gloomhaven nights with great anticipation. From the interesting classes, awesome leveling and upgrading systems, to the cool card play and exhaustion mechanics, Gloomhaven is a fun game.Gaming is about the experiences, and I can’t write about this game without thinking of how much I enjoy the group I play this game with. Our Gloomhaven gaming nights have strengthened friendships and also become an unofficial scotch tasting night for our group. I didn’t plan on getting into a Gloomhaven campaign, but I’m glad that I did.
7. FOOD CHAIN MAGNATE
My first (and only, thus far) Splotter game, I immediately liked the mechanics and the fact that it can be a brutal game isn’t a turn off for me. You really can lose this one in the first turn, and while it can be punishing I enjoy the challenge. I’ve never played anything quite like it, and I was hooked instantly. To the haters that say the art is kind of basic, I don’t care. The gameplay is where it’s at. The art also doesn’t get in the way and once that board fills up it does start to look cool.
It’s hard to say something I haven’t said about this game before. Last year I called it an “old friend” and I still feel that way about this one. I skipped the deluxe edition this past year, and while I’m sure it’s lovely I plan to see my first edition get plenty of more wear on the edges of the box from use. Suburbia seems like it’s going to have quite a bit of upkeep, but due to a good player aid and great design it never really feels like it does in practice (at least for me). Seeing two tiles combo off of one another always gives a satisfactory feeling, and balancing your suburbs growth and your always dwindling funds is challenging. This one actually moved up on my list this year, and I think it’s primarily because I realized just how much I want to keep playing it.
Vital Lacerda is one of my favorite designers, and Lisboa may be his masterpiece. In addition, it is artist Ian O’Toole’s best collaboration with him in my book. The mechanics match the level of the art here as well. I love the card play, figuring out whether to play a card to my tableau or to use it to seek favor with a Noble. Lisboa is the complete package, a heavier game that integrates it’s mechanics and theme very well along with interesting choices and a beautiful table presence. It represents Vital Lacerda at his best and I really like this game.
Madeira provides such a lovely brain burn. It’s been a favorite for years now and with a new deluxe edition coming out this year I am even more excited to play this game now. I love the dice placement, the way that you have to plan ahead for the king’s requests you have and those you hope to pick up, and that feeling when things come together for you. There’s also that nagging feeling that you can never do everything you want and that you may just be one turn from doing something cool, even as you take your last turn. I don’t see this game leaving the list anytime soon.
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My former number 1 game, since…well, since I played it years ago. I played Agricola after being introduced to worker placement (and gaming) with Lords of Waterdeep, and the challenge of trying to eek out a living as a farmer in this game immediately caught my attention. Some people call this game “Misery Farm” and many don’t like how punishing it can be, but for me that’s part of the draw. When I actually manage to upgrade my farmhouse I feel like I’ve actually done something, and then I have to look around at my meager farm or ranch spaces and realize that I’ve had to neglect something to do so. You can’t do everything well, but you’d better do a little of everything. Even though Agricola has finally been eclipsed as my top game I don’t see it leaving my collection or even this list, it’s a great game that I really enjoy every time I get to the table.
2. LE HAVRE
Two years ago I wrote that Le Havre is the game that would most likely eclipse Agricola for me, and this year it’s done so, although surprisingly not for the top spot. I looked at my write up for Le Havre from last year’s list and I think it’s worth quoting here. I don’t see myself summing up my thoughts on the game any better this year:
“ Le Havre is simple in it’s mechanics, but offers some real depth on the decision front. You don’t have many turns to get things done and there is a definite tension, but at the same time you rarely find yourself without some good choices in front of you. If someone took the building action you wanted, you can often find another option or pivot into a different strategy quickly. The end goal is to be worth the most money at the end, so it always hurts when you have to take a loan so you can feed your workers or pay for an action, although there is always the hope of a big payoff in the end. I love the arc of this game, as players start from nothing and build up there is a struggle to get the best buildings and late game it’s to maximize their resources so they can ship out that last boat full of goods and make a few dollars more than the next player.”
1. THE GALLERIST
As beautiful mechanically as it is aesthetically, The Gallerist is (currently) both my favorite Vital Lacerda game and my favorite game. It was also my first exposure to Lacerda and his designs. Seeing as how he’s now one of my favorite designers the nostalgia factor is high with this one. From the unique theme, to the way artists are discovered and then promoted, to the use of kicked out actions to squeeze just one more chance to do something out of the game this one is nearly perfect for me. This one has just the right amount of brain burn, and the mechanisms are tied in well with the theme. The whole package is a game that I enjoy every time I get it out. It helps that this is one is a little more accessible than some of his other games. It still retains that crunchy euro feeling where every choice matters and if you can only squeeze in another kick out action then you might be able to pull something amazing off. I really enjoy playing The Gallerist and sharing it with others, it’s as simple as that.