What Makes 10 Great Games Great

I’ve been keeping track of my games played for almost fourteen full years. That means that I have a pretty robust listing of games that have worked well enough to get numerous replays from me over the years. They represent a set of great games, with features that any would-be great game could endeavor to repeat. So this week I’m going to go through my listing of those top games and offer my opinions on either of their best features — the ones that make them so worth playing and replaying. Continue reading

The Design and Care of a Tile-Based City Builder

Tile-based city building games are among my favorites. That’s in large part due to the creativity that they introduce. I mean, I’m one of the generation that grew up with SimCity (1989), obliviously building until the sun began to flood into my college dorm room, suggesting that it was time to be off to bed. I love being able to put together the puzzle pieces of a city, and a good tile-based city builder lets you do that.

City TycoonThe General Shape of the Game

When I’m talking about tile-based city builders, I’m specifically limiting my consideration to game designs that meet several criteria:

  1. Obviously, they allow you to build cities out of tiles: usually square tiles, but occasionally hexes.
  2. Often, you’ll have your own city that you’re working on … but quite a few games instead have you contributing to to a joint city.
  3. The tiles that you place are complete and coherent buildings, businesses, residences, or other structures within a city. They’re not just parts of a whole.

There are probably hundreds of tile-based city games that I could have picked from in writing this article. I opted for the ones that I know the best, because I’ve played them. I’ve mostly focused on recent ones. My complete list for this article includes: Acquire (1964), Alhambra (2003), Between Two Cities (2015), Big City (1999)Carcassonne: The City (2004), Chinatown (1999), City Tycoon (2011), Key to the City: London (2016), Quadropolis (2016), Saint Malo (2012), Suburbia (2012), and Urbania (2012). Obviously I could have picked others (and I may expand this article in the future).  Continue reading

El Grande & The Art of Majority Control

El GrandeEl Grande (1995), by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, is one of the foundational games of the eurogame genre. I still try to play it at least once a year, but I’ve never written an in-depth discussion of it, so I wanted to take the event of this year’s play to talk about it a little bit.

The Majority Control

At heart, El Grande is a majority-control game — or really, the majority-control game that defined much of what followed in eurogames. You place cubes into regions on the board and you try to have just enough to beat your opponents. It’s a simple recipe of efficiency mixed with risk-reward.

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A Second Look at Expansions (or: The Expansion Expansion)

Several years ago, I looked at expansions in board games. At the time, I concentrated on how the expansions were integrated into the games, and offered the theory that expansions that were permanently added to games weren’t that great, but when you could (optionally) choose to use them or when you could replace some core game system (or even the whole game), things worked better.

It’s now six years later, and I’ve seen many more expansions come and go — some successful and some not — and so I wanted to attack the topic again by instead examining what game expansions do. Along the way, I’ll use examples from some of the more recent games I’ve been playing, such as 7 Wonders (2010), Innovation (2010), Kingdom Builder (2011), and Ascension (2010).

So, how do you expand a game?

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My Fives and Dimes: 2011

Games that you played five or ten times in a year (five and dimes) have been used as a barometer of the board gaming world for years. Here’s what made my five and dime board gaming list in 2011:

Dominion — 19 plays

My winner for the year was Dominion, which made 19 plays, many of those after the releases of Cornucopia and Hinterlands. This also made Dominion my most-played board game ever, with its 94 tabletop plays edging out the 93 plays across all variants of Ticket to Ride.
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A Wife’s Perspective

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I asked my wife to write an article for Boardgame News. Though Kimberly enjoys the occasional game, she’s by no means a serious gamer. Thus she offers a unique perspective on what games your loved one might enjoy. So, consider this a guide to games you might play with your non-gaming-spouse-or-girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, and an insight into why those or other games might be enjoyable. You might even print it out and give to them, so that they can decide for themselves if any of the games sound fun.

As for us, maybe we’ll play some Carcassonne or Lost Cities after a nice dinner out tonight at our favorite Cajun restaurant.

I’ll now turn things over to my wife, Kimberly Appelcline —SA Continue reading

Anatomy of a Game: The Carcassonne Standalones, Part Two: Rules Changes

Welcome to what just might be my last game design article on Carcassonne. In case you’ve missed them I’ve written five previously. The first four extensively covered the main game and its expansions while the last article instead looked at the standalone variants, and examined how their tile selection and scoring differed.

This week I’ll be continuing my look at the six standalone Carcassonne games and taking a look at how each one offers different answers to some major game design questions. I’ve identified three major elements, each of which differs quite a bit from game to game. Examining them offers some interesting insights both into game design and how the Carcassonne series has changed and evolved. Continue reading