15. 7 Wonders
Repos Productions, 2013
At number 15 comes 7 Wonders. This is a pretty light civilization building card drafting game. Players simultaneously choose one card from their hand to play and pass the rest of their hand to the next player. This is done several times over the three rounds (ages) in the game. Players build up their stockpile of resources in order to build more advanced buildings later in the game. Points are awarded for building certain types of cards – military, markets, temples, guilds, and technological advances. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner. This game might have been higher but in my opinion the two player variant is very clunky with the dummy player. Since I play many of my games two players and this one doesn’t come out too much at game nights, 7 Wonders and it’s expansions sit on the shelf most of the year.
I also own two expansions for 7 Wonders: Leaders and Babel. I actually have not played 7 Wonders with the Leaders expansion yet and will not comment on what it adds to the game. I have played with Babel and I think it adds to modules that put more tension into choices throughout the game. The first module is the great works module. Besides building cards for a player’s personal tableau, the player can contribute a certain type of building to the Great Works. At the end of the age, if the Great Work was built, players contributing to it will gain a reward. If the Great Work was not built, players who did not contribute will suffer a penalty. The second module is the Tower of Babel. On a players turn, they can decide to build a section of the tower. By building a section, the player gains points for the end game scoring but furthermore, each section of the tower changes a rule in the game such as changing intermediate scoring, adding secondary markets for resources, or preventing players from taking certain actions. Although I might not teach the game with these modules, I want to play with both of them every time I take 7 Wonders off the shelf!
Mayday Games, 2015
Card drafting, tile placement, set collection, resource management
My first backing on Kickstarter. I ended up backing this one close to the end of the Kickstarter campaign after I saw a bunch of early reviews of this game being overwhelmingly positive. This game is relatively themeless; however, the artwork is AMAZING! Sometimes we need to pause the game just to admire the artwork. The gameplay itself is very strong. Players are building their pyramid of power by drafting cards through a simple bidding mechanism in order to collect sets and victory points. I told you… not very thematic 🙂 At the beginning of a round, players simultaneously bid secretly on cards using one of the four colored gems. If two players pick the same color, both lose their gem and they move on to a second round of bidding. It sounds harsh, but players can talk about what they want to bid on before the big reveal – this can lead to negotiation and bluffing. The next part of the round is building the pyramid. Players can build up to three cards using their gems and gain the rewards of that card. (By the way, the cards are square so they build an actual pyramid shape which gives a great visual effect on the table.) It is more expensive to build a card on a higher level in the pyramid but the rewards are greater! Players can also build “law” cards which may give them instant rewards or an end game scoring condition. After twelve rounds, the player with the most victory points wins. I enjoy this game a lot because of the resource management aspect of using gems to bid on cards AND also for building. There are many different paths to manage resources and score victory points, which all seem fairly balanced. A great pick up if you can find a copy.
13. Ghost Stories
Repos Productions, 2008
I got this game in a trade recently after hearing about it as the “hardest cooperative game EVER!!!!” Okay… maybe that’s a little exaggerating… but still, many folks out there have classified Ghost Stories as extremely difficult to win. And I agree – the game is very difficult to beat, even on normal mode, which we have never won. Players are monks, working together to defend a village from advancing ghosts. Players must fend off an entire deck of ghosts before the final incarnation appears. Upon defeating all the final incarnations, the players win! Sounds easy?? Between failed exorcisms, curses, multiple ghosts appearing per turn, and other terrible events usually makes us end the game in utter defeat!! But defeat does not dampen my spirits about the game. The compost quality if top notch with cool monk and ghost miniatures. The game board is modular and each player has a unique special ability. Ghost Stories is a staple (in my opinion) for those who love cooperative games. I know some folks are not going to like the theme (some of the artwork is dark) and I know some folks will be frustrated at never winning the game. If you love cooperative games and want a challenge (or more than a challenge) pick this one up! I think there was a recent reprint by rRepos Productions.
12. Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Academy Games, 2012
Cooperative, point-to-pont movement
This game is the most controversial game I own and play – and I have many reasons why I keep this game in my collection and expose my gaming community to Freedom. Academy Games has a great track record for historically accurate games filled with educational opportunities. Freedom has a different theme which no other game tackles directly head on – slavery in the United States. The game is a well done cooperative game with solid gameplay mechanics. The cards, events, and gameplay have a lot of history packed into the game, which brings the theme through very strongly. The mechanics are very strong and force the players to work together to achieve their goals. The game is won if the players help a certain amount of slaves escape to Canada AND get financial support for the abolitionist movement. The game is very difficult to win – usually we are able to complete one of the in conditions but not the other.
The issues I have with this game and theme comes naturally with the state of race is our country and the history that comes along with it. I believe games can be used as an educational tool and a jumping off points to talk about race and other social justice issues facing our country and hobby hence why I started this blog. However, I think a game like this needs adequate facilitation for it to actually be effective. Slavery is often taught in a more positive light (yes, I know it sounds counter intuitive but bear with me). This game approaches slavery in the United States from an abolitionist point of view – the Americans who saved the slaves. This is problematic for many issues but I want to focus on two here: The White Savior Complex and opting out of the conversation. By talking only of abolitionists, we are able to opt out of the real conversations about race and focus that “we did good in the face of evil.” Because we are “good” and not racist, we do not have to address race or racism in our country. Second, this sets a precedent of White folks saving people of color from an otherwise terrible fate, communicating that people of color cannot do anything themselves in this country without charity or help from White folks. Okay okay do not jump down my throat just yet. While to you or to others, this may not seem like the outcome of helping (or being an abolitionist) (I know mostly we all have good intent), this potentially is the impact of many people of color. We need to recognize the totality of slavery in this country, talk about it in healthy and constructive ways, and address the lasting impacts of slavery.
Overall, I believe this is a good game and has the potential to be an amazing conversation starter about race.
Hand management, tableau building, action point allowance
Carl Chudyk makes a second appearance on my Top 25. At #24 was his co-design with Chris Chieslik Red7. Innovation is a chaotic civilization building card game designed in the Glory to Rome fashion. Players have a certain amount of action points on their turn to play cards, draw cards, get an achievement, or activate a dogma (card in their tableau). Innovation has a very interesting mechanic with activate dogmas. Every card has a variety of symbols on it depicting different categories of advancement. Each dogma has a symbol by it corresponding to on to the categories. If a player has equal or less than the other players of a symbol of a dogma they want to activate, their opponents must (mandatory) execute the dogma first. There are also “demand” dogmas, which players can only activate if they have the most of the symbol. The player who gains a certain mount of achievements first wins the game. There are also a slew of other ways the game can end and in the last couple of ages, the ending can be a little swingy. But I do not mind the swingy nature because the powers of age 9 and 10 are really cool! This game is not for everyone but I would recommend you at least try Innovation!