The Test of Time

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I've always shied away from trying to compile "best of" lists. Considering that your tastes change, little by little, every day and that when you're put on the spot it's often hard to remember just how much fun game A was and just how strategically impressive game B was and so on and so forth it's pretty hard to pick a definitive top twenty games and basically a nonsense to try and put them in some sort of order. And yet the itch remains: everyone likes reading and commenting on these sorts of lists and so the desire remains there to write one, however impractical it might actually be.

However, all this changes if you can decide some particular critera on which to base your list. If you've got some criteria then you can be a bit more scientific about it and if your criteria happens to be numeric then you can be entirely scientific about it. It's not a best of list anymore of course but it's a close approximation and you have the bonus of being able to tell your readers exactly what it is a list of, and how games came to be on it. All you need to do is pick a suitable criteria. And that's what I've done.

Actually what I've done is created two lists based on the same criteria - total play hours. It seems to me that this is the only fair way in which to judge how much value you've got out of a game. It may well be that after fifteen hours of any particular game you're sick to the back teeth with it, but it's still a game that got you fifteen hours of fun. The reason I've split the list into two is because it didn't seem fair to compare games that I can play online with games I only play face-to-face: for me,finding time and opponents for playing online, especially via email is very much easier than doing if face-to-face and so if I just went on total play hours the list would be dominated by games that via played PBEM. So I took the top 15 or so games which had seen the most play-hours in each category, eliminated duplicates, threw out a couple that really didn't deserve to be in there and voila! A top twenty-five games that have given me the most value for money over the past few years.

The final ranking is based on total play hours with games from each list interspersed with one another.

#25 Nexus Ops. Nexus Ops remains the champion of fast-playing, lightweight Ameritrash games in spite of strong competition from the likes of Last Night on Earth. And after a good few sessions I'm pleased to report that my initial concerns about it being repetitive aren't really valid: there's a surprising amount under the bonnet in this one if you care to look.

#24 Bohnanza. I'm eternelly surprised by how such a simple framework can generate such different play experiences every time it hits the table. Sometimes it's nice. Sometimes it's funny. On occasion it can be downright brutal. It's always entertaining.

#23 Battle Line. Four games in and we've yet to see a proper Ameritrash title. This is a slightly cheating entry because I'm also counting plays of Lost Cities in with this, since you can play that using a Battle Line deck. But man, is Battle Line ever a whole lot more fun than Lost Cities. The various competing problems that assail you in trying to pick the best card to play in each turn bear down on you like physical pressure and yet the game is light and quick and fun to play.

#22 Richard III. You saw my review of this last week and how impressed I was. Further evidence of how much I've enjoyed playing is provided by the fact that in the space of weeks it has managed to elbow its way in to the lower reaches of this list, in amongst games I've been playing over several years.

#21 Genoa. I've had a lot of fun playing this but after a good few games I have mixed feelings about it. I'm no longer sure that the game is as open-ended as it first appears because after a while everyone starts to get a good sense of what any given good or service is actually worth in terms of potential income and it ceases to be a game of wheeling and dealing and becomes much more of the usual Euro number-crunching. Still the way it balances negotiation with posititonal aspects remains impressive.

#20 Napoleons' Triumph. This is a game I wanted to like more than I did. Much about it is breathtaking - but my is it hard work on the brain to play! Much heavier than I'd usually go for it nevertheless gets its place by virtue of the fact that it keeps making me want to try it one more time, just to see if I can get to grips with the strategy on the next occasion

#19 Mare Nostrum. Is a game I like a lot but never seem to want to play. But I'm always glad when I do.

#18 Settlers of Catan. The original AT-favourite Euro still manages a high place on my list, although there are a couple of it's siblings further down. The overall balance of analysis, negotiation, random and postitional play has yet to be bettered in my opinion.

#17 Carcassonne. I value Carcassonne because it's the ultimate utility game. It's just about simple and engaging enough to interest anyone, and is a great one to get out after-dinner. And yet it can still rank as a gamers' game played 2-player. I slightly regret not playing this more, but I'm so rubbish at it that it always puts me off.

#16: Attika. Another hugely underrated game in my opinion. It does the whole "spatial euro" thing to perfection and doesn't get overly bogged down with extra rules and play time like many other entries in that category. A great balance of random and strategy, more player interaction than it first appears and a bit of nasty screw-you if you decide to pass the buck for blocking a nearly-completed shrine route to the next player.

#15 DungeonQuest. Never has instant death been more appealing! Who cares if it lacks strategy when it's so fast, simple and funny!

#14 Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. I have mixed feelings about this. It delivers frustrating, even boring games a significant amount of the time but when it's firing on all cylnders it's pretty much peerless as a two player gaming experience. And so every now and again I get the urge to try my luck at this title and see if it's going to come up with the goods on this occasion.

#13: The Hell of Stalingrad. This is primarily here because I was surprised to find that the solo rules, which seemed like an afterthought, were surprisingly engaging. But I've played it multiplayer several times too and it's an engaging title, in spite of the fiddle-factor.

#12 Imperial. This is an awesome game that fits the picture of what I thought a Euro should be like when I first started playing them and found most were dull as dishwater. Reasonably short and simple, crammed up to the eyeballs with player interaction and strategically demanding enough to make your brains dribble out of your ears. A gem.

#11 The Fury of Dracula. This is the GW version which has seen quite a lot of table time in my neck of the woods, in spite of the occasional poor session. It's actually bowled over a couple of Eurogamers in my local group, although most of them remain sceptical.

#10 Hammer of the Scots. However much I liked Richard III this is currently the block game with the play-hours to back it up.

#9 Twilight Imperium 3 has seen the table more often than you might imagine. Because from time to time I insist on it. This is now pretty much the only "epic" game I can be bothered to break out and play because frankly, if you don't get many opportunities to play longer games, you want to be sure that you pick the very best when you're going to.

#8 Through the Ages. Say what you like about this - it's the first efficency engine game I've come across that really sucked me in. A smidgin of player interaction and a generous dollop of themeing certainly helped a lot and it pleases my desire for variety to have a game of this nature that I actually find a lot of fun, and challenging to boot.

#7 Battlestar Galactica. I wanted to like BSG more than I did. The essential problem for me is that however nerve-racking the search for cylons in the ranks can be, the game is mechanically very repetitive and that, combined with the loss of tension when cylons out themselves, often makes for a bit of a dull endgame. But hey, the social aspect of the play is what sells this, and that aspect is easily good enough to merit it this spot on the list.

#6: Scrabble. Okay, so this certainly isn't my sixth favourite game in the world. But the fact is that this sees quite a lot of family play, what with it being my partners' favourite game and so it's of great value to me and it has provided me with plenty of good times. And I think it's underrated - it's a fun game so long as the analysis paralysis doesn't become overwhelming.

#5 Memoir '44 The base game of this is fun enough but gets a lot of play because it's so easy and fast - if you're bored of a Friday afternoon you can usually slot in a 20-minute Vassal game without problem. But it earns it's spot here by virtue of it's excellent expansions, with the Campaign Book this year really being the crowning glory of the system.

#4 Return of the Heroes. You may be surprised to see this here since I dissed it in a review earlier this year. But numbers are numbers and the fact of the matter is it did see a lot of play, especially solo play, before it got irritating and so it was totally worthwhile for that alone. I've also yet to try Maka's "Realm of the Heroes" variant which I suspect could give a whole new lease of life to this title.

#3 Titan. My enthusasm for this brilliant game of strategic and tactical balancing has been dented recently by Dr. Mabuse repeatedly handing me my arse on a plate.

#2 Arkham Horror. Given how much I usually hate co-op games, you could want no more glowing testament to the brilliance of this design than the number of hours I've invested into it. And every one has been a joy.

#1 Twilight Struggle. Well, you knew it was going to be, didn't you?

Matt is the founder of Fortress: Ameritrash. He is also a regular columnist for Board Game News.

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Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.


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