My head is spinning from cold medicine, so please forgive me if there is a noticeable drop in coherency relative to my normal ramblings.
For all the moaning board gamers do about CCGs, we sure like our series, don’t we? Some like the challenge of seeking out the last obscure title to complete a collection; others get a visceral thrill out of seeing a full set of Alea games stacked next to each other; yet others like to speculate – or at least anticipate – what will come next in the series. We are all guilty of this sick consumeristic phenomenon to some extent, so how ‘bout you cut us CCG players some slack, ‘kay?
I have gotten a lot better at not collecting series. I abandoned collecting everything in the FFG Silver Line and Kosmos 2-player series long ago, and am now actively selling existing games in these series. I just dumped two collections (Panzer Grenadier; Down in Flames) at an auction and spent the money to complete my GIPF series. In all of my favorite series listed here, I have yet to complete the collection and really have no plans to, but I still eagerly await each release to see how the concept or vision further evolves.
Third Place: Fantasy Flight Games HexPlay Series
Twilight Imperium (3 editions); Battlemist; Thunder’s Edge.
I am a big fan of the multi-player conquest game (MPCG) genre. While FFG has been releasing more elaborate productions to greater acclaim, I have a soft spot for their earlier releases. The three titles feature Settlers-like tiles to create unique boards with each play and have a similar “create units which are sent out to grab more sites which generate resources which are used to create units which are sent out to…” design.
Twilight Imperium (space opera background) employs the most straightforward approach, which undoubtedly explains why it received two reworkings while the other titles were not. In my opinion, all three editions suffer from gameplay taking too long given the limited maneuvering that occurs. However, I have enjoyed play-by-web TI2, both has a GM and a player.
Battlemist (Tolkien fantasy) has the strongest theme, but the design consisted of two subsystems which did not fit well together. Additionally, the rules were unwieldy, and the horrible imbalance of the racial powers was worsened with the otherwise appealing sea-based expansion. I doubt this will get re-released, given the massive amount of development that it would have to undergo to match the quality of their latest releases, and considering that their Warcraft title fills the fantasy MPCG niche in their catalog.
Thunder’s Edge (sci-fi military) had the weakest theme of the three by far; instead of having a handful of richly themed races like the other games, they created several factions with little background and abilities that had very little impact on the game itself. However, the exploration element was intriguing (hexes were only revealed when units were sent to surface) and the combat system is still my favorite in any MCPG I have played.
Second place: Kosmos 2-player games
Avalon; Babel; Balloon Cup; Caesar and Cleopatra; Crocodile Pool Party; Dracula; Druidenwalzer; Elchfest; Finale; Gone Fishing!; Heave Ho!; Hellas; Hera & Zeus; Jambo; Kahuna; Lord of the Rings – The Confrontation; Lord of the Rings – The Duel; Lord of the Rings – The Search; Lost Cities; Odin’s Ravens; The Reef; Rosenkönig; Tally Ho
This series has been a mixed bag, especially in recent years. However, I just cannot resist those tidy little packages; I have purchased every title on that list except for Crocodile Pool Party. Kosmos always does a great job with graphical presentation, and I am always on the look out for great 2-player games.
Babel is the only game in the series for which I currently have a Top Shelf rating, but most of the others are solid Thumbs Up titles, many of which – Odin’s Ravens, Heave Ho!, Lost Cities, Jambo – will get a lot of play due to their accessibility and replayability. While I have given a few these titles a Thumbs Down, Avalon and die Pyramiden des Jaguar are the most likely candidates to be given a lesser score if I were to increase the granularity of my ratings. Also, two of the Lord of the Rings titles (The Search and The Duel) are among the very few games that I decided to trade immediately after reading the rules (i.e., I have never actually played them).
While this series has neglected my two favorite themes – Ol’ West and Pirates – to an extreme, my choice for next game is a 2-player design of Jerry Dziuba’s that I had a chance to play at BGG.CON last year. Everything about his game – theme, game weight and length, number of components – fits perfectly in this series, and the theme and mechanisms, while not being true originals in the gaming world, are definitely unrepresented in this series. I have no doubt that, with further plays, it would reach the upper tier besides the likes of Odin’s Ravens. You, Kosmos man, get on it!
First place: Klaus Teuber’s “Catan” series
The Settlers of Catan; The Seafarers of Catan; The Cities and Knights of Catan; Settlers of Nuremberg; The Settlers of Catan – Historical Scenarios; Settlers of the Stone Age; The Settlers of Catan – The Book of Games; The Settlers of Catan Card Game (+ several expansions); Starship Catan; The Starfarers of Catan; Anno 1503; Candamir: The First Settlers; Elasund: The First City of Catan
Okay, throwing Anno 1503 in there is arguable, but it is derivative of the card game and has a similar feel to the Catan Adventures games that were released soon after it. I think I count 35 different ways to play Settlers up there; I would be perfectly happy – instead of our current smorgasbord practice – to play one of those a week, and then restart the cycle on the 36th week. The only Top Shelf titles there are “vanilla” Settlers (the original board game without variants) the Settlers card game sans expansions, and The Starfarers of Catan. What makes the base Settlers the most attractive to me is the length of play; I believe much of the game is determined by your initial placement, and I just assume see it play out to its conclusion as soon as possible and then give it another go. I have played the card game more than any other non-CCG (~70 plays). Starfarers is unique in the line in that the open space really allows you to dynamically and drastically change your strategies mid-game.
The only titles in that list that I have given a Thumbs Down to are Nuremberg, Starship, Settlers of the Stone Age, and Elasund; I think that Nuremberg and Starship are overly restrictive in terms of feasible strategies, that Stone Age has a slight leader problem (and a major “trailer” problem), and that Elasund is more than a bit dull. Still, I would be happy to play any of those if someone were to request it. All of these titles dangle the possibility of a lucky run in front of the players, and this is something I really enjoy.
Now, I’m not sure the world needs anything else Catan – although I suspect someone else will pick up the baton after Klaus “retires” – but, since they already did a pirate-themed expansion for Anno, how about an Ol’ West expansion for the card game? I’m thinking a self-contained expansion, built around more uses for gold. Instead of Knights, you would have Deputies and Outlaws, with the Knight’s Tournament become a shootout. Example buildings:
- Trading Post: Once per turn, trade one gold for one resource of choice.
- Gambling Den: When an Event comes up, you may spend 1 gold and roll d6; on 3-6, gain two gold.
- Brothel: When you win a shootout, gain two gold.
I could go on all day with that.
Honorable mention: The Magi U. series (unpublished, untitled)
This is my own system for which that I have designed three games already. The background is Magi University, a school for wizards-to-be which is more Unseen University (Discworld) than Hogwarth (Harry Potter), though it predates my exposure to both. There are five sources of magic – fire, water, earth, light, and aura, the latter of which is the most powerful yet unpredictable source – and the games share a hand management mechanism whereby players have to decide how to spend their mana via spellcasting. The three games I have designed are a maze game (freshmen hazing ritual), quest game (graduating seniors looking for jobs), and an economic game (faculty at the marketplace trading for supplies). The series highlights how I use theme to drive game mechanism decisions in my designs. Not even I know what will come next...