Hey!  This blog is alive!  That’s right, I’m writing a blog post!  Stop the presses!

So I’m taking a page from the end of the year lists that folks like to make about the previous year (yes, I’m looking at you, Lorin) and forming my OWN Top Ten List of Board Games that I have played in 2011.

In the last year Valerie and I have dove into a mutual appreciation of board games, brought on by my sister-in-law Lyn’s boyfriend Pete introducing us to a few games (Dominion and Carcassonne). This sparked our own interest in the field and we’ve played a number of games since.

In terms of rules and play of the games listed – in the interests of keeping things simple I’m including links to videos that show the game and how to play it. This should give an idea of what the game’s about and whether or not you think it might be something you too might be interested in.

For this list, each game is ranked in terms of my two cents of the games’ overall fun, but I’ve added metrics for if it plays well with non-gaming folks, if it has an iPad version (or has one planned), whether or not I can realistically beat Valerie at the game, and why it’s ranked in that position.

Credit to most of the game videos demonstrating the play of these games goes to Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower, one of the best commute podcasts about gaming… ever. His voice may indeed be a little nasal, but his enthusiasm for the games shines through.

1) Ticket To Ride (and it’s many variations)

Does it play well with non-gamers? Yes. The rules between variations (see below) are extremely straightforward. You have trains. You have destinations between cities you want to set a route between. You have cards with colors. You get enough cards of the right color, you set up a train path between two cities. When somebody runs out or nearly out of trains, the game is over. Total up the points, and there’s a winner!

How Long is the Usual Game? About an hour, give or take a moment of shuffling or analysis paralysis.

Does it have an iPad version? Oh yes. The network game is a near identical rip of the current game AND it plays faster. It’s a great 2-player downtime game.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) There are a LOT of different maps.

There’s USA, Europe, Markin (Germany), Nordic Countries, Asia, and Switzerland/India.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? Are you kidding? Heck no! She destroys me at this game.

Why it’s #1: Simply put, the board game AND the iPad games are musts. And I have fun even though I lose regularly to Val.

2) Carcassonne

Does it play well with non-gamers? Yes. Again, rules are straightforward. You draw a tile. This tile either helps you build a city, a road, or extend a field. You have the choice of place exactly ONE small wooden person figure (affectionately called a “meeple”) to part of a feature (land, road, city or cloister) that you want to complete. When the feature is completed, you get the figure back and get points. There’s also ways of sharing/stealing (depending on perspective of the player) features before completion to share in completed features. Whomever has the most points, wins and afterward, you’re left with a strangely artistic and pleasing set of tiles representing the French countryside on your table.

Does it have an iPad version? Yes.  However, it does NOT have as many expansions on-line – only two add-ons at this moment.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) I think I lost count at ten, all of which adding different variations to the above theme (more tiles, capturing/eating meeples, faster tile drawing, etc.) And there’s more coming out this spring! Yay!

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? NO. I think I may have won ONCE or TWICE last year period. And yet, I still love this game!

Why it’s #2 and not #1: I feel that the iPad version needs more expansions before I can give it the top spot. It also takes a LITTLE longer to play (about 1.5 hrs) than the #1 spot, and I rarely get the taste of victory.

3) Alhambra

Does it play well with non-gamers? Yes. It’s a bidding, card trick taking game while assembling color grouped tiles with walls to form the best Alhambra you can. So it’s part Carcassonne (without meeples) and part card game!

How Long is the Usual Game? About an hour.

Does it Have an iPad Version?  No!  And there should be!  Interested parties with iOS5 programming experience, call me!

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?): There are six expansions. We own five, the sixth is hopefully coming to Casa Steelaraza soon!

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? Yes, actually. But I’ll be modest about it.

Why it’s #3 and not #2: No iPad version… yet.

4) 7 Wonders

Does it play well with non-gamers? Yes. It’s a historical resource management game with card drafting involved. The idea is that you play an ancient wonder and the better you plan your resources, the more “power over time” you have and thus, winning the game by influencing the ancient past.

How Long is the Usual Game? About ½ an hour.

Does it have an iPad version? Not yet (though one is planned)

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) One as of this writing, and another coming out in spring this year.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? About 50/50%

Why it’s #4 and not #3: No iPad version yet, and the “card” and “tile” elements of both Carcassone and Alhambra are there, but there are a LOT of fiddly bits (i.e. small pieces that can easily get lost) to the game. However, it does play quickly and is a lot of fun.

5) Pitchcar

Does it play well with non-gamers? Absolutely. Pitchcar is a simple game. You set up pieces of wood track to form a racetrack. You then take your “car” (a colored puck with a print of a car on it) and flick it across the track. If you go out or flip over, you lose a turn, and return to the track where you left it. First one to do three complete laps wins the game.

Those of you on facebook have seen the Pitchcar gallery… here’s a few examples:

How Long is the Usual Game? About 10-30 min setup (depends on the number of expansions you use) and 10-20 minutes/game.

Does it have an iPad version? No. Considering the “flick” gesture of moving your car, this would be a TOTALLY naturally adoptable game for the iPad. And yet, no iPad version yet. Again, those with iOS5 programming experience, call me!

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) Currently, there are five expansions. I have three of the five, and I’m missing two (Expansion 3 with long straight pieces and expansion five, called “The Cross”). The three we do own have varying degrees of jumps, turns, and even elevated structures!

Can I beat Val at this game?  About 50/50%, but it’s definitely more of a “Max and Daddy” game.

Why it’s #5 and not #4: It’s a little TOO straightforward and not enough “meat for the brain” to be high on this list. That said, setup and play with Max is great dad-and-son bonding that it’s got to be on the list. And for what you get, it is rather pricey since the copies are primarily imported from Europe. That said, those of you folks with young boys or girls that enjoy track setting experiences (i.e. Thomas the Tank Engine) or looking for a new “Quarters Challenge While You Drink Your Fifth Beer” might want to take a look at this one.

6) Fresco

Does it play well with non-gamers? Well enough. You’re a painter painting the Sistine Chapel. You have 5 (sometimes 6) painters. You buy paint, mix paint, paint portraits for cash, or paint a tile from the Fresco to gain victory points. If the bishop is near the tile you paint when you do it, you get an extra victory point boost since he’s obviously pleased with your work. There are 25 tiles, once there are less than 3, the game ends. Most victory points win! It’s very colorful (paints are represented by colored cubes) and is a fairly straightforward resource management game.

How Long is the Usual Game? About an hour.

Does it have an iPad version? No. And I don’t know if there’s any planned versions, but it should translate well enough.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) There are three with the basic box. And then there are five more after that.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? About 50/50%.

Why it’s #6 and not #5: The expansions vary dramatically – from “annoying to track” to “why would you NOT include this in the basic game, it’s awesome”?

7. Pandemic

Does it play well with non-gamers? That depends. This is a co-op game (players against the game), but it is fraught with analysis paralysis (i.e. what can I do vs. what SHOULD I do and there’s so many choices!). The idea of the game is simple. There are cubes (diseases) spreading across the globe. Stop the diseases from growing, cure them, cure four of them, save the world. I’ve played this game three times. The box’s selling point is across the box: “Do YOU have what it takes to SAVE THE WORLD?” In each time I’ve played it, the answer, sadly, is “no”.

How Long is the Usual Game? About 1.5-3 hours.

Does it have an iPad version? Not yet. But it is in the planning stages.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) One so far. It adds a “bad guy” to the mix. One of the players can be a bio-terrorist and be spreading the disease. So then it’s “players against player vs. the game”.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? We don’t have the bio-terrorist expansion yet, so the question is moot.

Why it’s #7 and not #6: Two reasons – one, it needs four people even though it suggests two to four. In addition, because of the analysis paralysis, games take longer than our usual “room for game time in the day”. That said, when we played this last, the teams of folks I had playing this game mention it frequently, so there’s interest in bringing it back to the table.

8) Dominion

Does it play well with non-gamers? I’d say “no”. But if you’ve ever played Magic The Gathering, there’s definitely something for you there without the collectible-ness of constant card purchases. It’s a card drafting game with a victory condition achieved by card play and recirculation.

How Long is the Usual Game? About 45 minutes

Does it have an iPad version? Not yet. Release in Spring.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) I think there are five, maybe six.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? Yes. So it’s got that going for it. 🙂

Why it’s #8 and not #7: This appeals to my left brain side. My left, much as sometimes I may wish otherwise, is more dominant than the right.

9) Dixit

Does it play well with non-gamers?  Actually, it probably plays better with non-gamers and right-side brain dominated people.  Dixit is a “game of imagination”.  You receive a hand of cards with images on each.  One of the players is a “storyteller” and comes up with a phrase or sentence that would identify their image.  Other non-storytellers pick an image from their hand that matches the phrase or sentence as best as their brain and hand of cards will allow.  However, here’s the catch – the phrase or sentence should be HARD enough to be vague on ON POINT enough to catch only one person’s vote for maximum points – if more people vote for the story teller’s card – they get points instead for “making the story too easy”.  Vote on the non storyteller cards are counted 1:1.  So in-jokes with folks at the table are often key in scoring points.

How Long is the Usual Game?  Depends on the number of players.  Most recently eight players took us about 1.5-2 hours, and I’d guess you wouldn’t want to play with less than four.

Does it have an iPad version? Yes (called iDixit), but I haven’t played it.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) Currently there are two expansions – Dixit 2 and Dixit Odyssey. Basically, they add more images.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? Valerie and I were playing on a team, so the answer here is TBD. But Valerie’s good at this game too! (I knew there was a reason why I married her – her superior gaming abilities!) 😉

Why it’s #9 and not #8: Part of this is that my mind is too darn literal. That, and it requires a good sized party to play it for maximum fun/enjoyment.

10) Kids of Carcassonne

Does it play well with non-gamers? Absolutely. It’s great for playing with kids and getting them ready for Carcassonne. Heh heh heh.

How Long is the Usual Game? About 15-20 minutes.

Does it have an iPad version? No.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? (Expansions?) No.

Can I win against Valerie on a regular basis? About 50/50%, but the real idea is to get Max started early.

Why it’s #10 and not #9: Primarily a primer for getting your kids ready to play Carcassonne, and it’s great to watch their little gears in their head more around.

 Honorable Mentions:  Arkham Horror and Illuminati Deluxe Edition

Why they didn’t make the list: These are not non-gamer games. And they take a long while. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. But I doubt I’ll ever get Valerie to play either of them.

Why they should be mentioned anyways: To me, one common theme of a good game is that a good game is a game you enjoy even when you are losing.

With Arkham – I played with a group of Pete’s friends and we gained the upper hand through 90% of the game and then the game slapped us around for the next two hours and finally beat us. Arkham is a co-op similar to Pandemic, except in this case, rather than diseases plaguing the Earth, it’s ancient alien god monsters.

In the case of the Illuminati, any game in which you can say “The Orbital Mind Control Lasers” are taking control of the Boy S(pr)outs for the win”, this is a superior game.

However, both games need a good sized party (four or more) and a LOT of time (2-5 hours) to play. Basically, they are too darn long for the casual gamer. But both are a LOT of fun.

So that’s my list. Discuss.

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