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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Friday, March 10, 2006

My Favorite Series

I love going next to last on these QotM.  At least I’m writing something this week!

One question I’ve struggled with this week is “what is a series”? One definition of series is “similar things placed in order or happening one after another” – a wide open definition that I plan to narrow. Eric at least attempted to frame his response, ruling out the Kosmos 2–player line as a series (it is a product line), and calling out the Carcassonne games as a canonical example.  I tend to agree with Eric, but I’ll add a few more criteria to add some precision:

  • A game plus a set of expansions isn’t a series.  It is a single game system with expansions.  I wouldn’t consider Magic: the Gathering or Duel of Ages a series.
  • A set of games marketed as a product line doesn’t necessarily count as a series.  I think there needs to be more of a unifying theme or system involved than just a marketing brand.  Many will disagree with this – for example, some would point to the Alea Big Box series of games.  I just don’t agree that those games have enough in common to be considered a series.  Just my opinion.
  • There should be something unifying about the games in the series beyond the size of the box, number of players, or publisher.  Examples here include setting (the Catan universe, Carcassonne) and mechanics / game system (the GIPF series, card-driven games). 
  • Most likely the games will come from the same publisher, though a notable exception is the Command and Colors series that have been produced by a wide range of publishers (GMT, Days of Wonder, Hasbro).

Given these criteria, here are my favorite series.

3. Carcassonne – While there are a number of expansions for this game, it is truly a series given the number of stand-alone entries that share the same core theme and mechanics.  My favorite by far is Carcassonne: the City, and I much prefer to play any of the games in the series with only 2 or 3 players.

2. GIPF Series – My favorite abstract games by far are in the GIPF series – I’ve played all of them except, surprisingly, the original GIPF.

1. Block Game Series – Though started and still dominated by Columbia Games, GMT Games has jumped on board with the release of Europe Engulfed and the soon-to-be-released (hopefully) Fast Action Battle: The Bulge and Asia (Pacific?) Engulfed.  I simply love how I can learn a base set of mechanics and apply it to a wide range of historical conflict settings.  This is strictly true of the non-Columbia games, but the basic mechanics of hidden information, laying your blocks face up for combat, and rotating the blocks to represent strength, are present in all of the games (as far as I know).  I still have several unplayed games in this series but (of course) hope to knock those out this year.

It is very likely that the Commands and Colors series will creep into my top 3 or 4 after I’ve played the new GMT release a bit more – that might happen this weekend.  While it feels like a block game (because it has, well, wooden blocks), the blocks are just representations of what used to be miniatures in the other entries in the series.  No hidden information, no rotating blocks.

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