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Top Ten FFG Games - PART TWO
Welcome back. This is part two of my "Ode to FFG". In this week's episode we will be looking exclusively at games that the company brought back from the dead. For a bunch of nerdy guys in Minnesota, their Necromancy skills are quite high. Yes, FFG really started making a name for themselves by bringing many beloved games back to the market. Some were really terrific. They were games that made you weep a little because you never thought you'd get your hands on them. Others were a little less well received. Hey they can't all be winners!
Just to be clear, this list will only cover FFG's reprint and workings of other company's games. This list won't cover games made by other companies that FFG simply distributed. With that little caveat out of the way... onward and upwards we go!
FFG's power as a reprint house is titanic. No other publisher in the history of hobby games has been the home of so many iconic, timeless games. They have made many, many missteps over the years but curating a portfolio of some of the world's best and most important designs is one of the best things Mr. Petersen and company have done. I think they have finally sorted out that despite the successes of Arkham Horror and Fury of Dracula, which both had major redevelopment work, it's best to leave these games alone. DungeonQuest revised edition and the inclusion of the full, original Merchant of Venus is testament to that. As is the failure of Rex and Gearworld.
Despite mangling two Eon games, Cosmic Encounter is probably the best reprint of all time. They did right by it, and I think Kevin Wilson's guidance really updated the game for a new generation. They kept everything as it should be, and then managed to add new material that was totally in the spirit of the original design. Talisman is right up there too, they completely picked up where GW left off and took the game into completely new spaces. Maybe too many. Wiz-War is just as good as those, really, but with more limited expansions.
Arkham Horror really may as well be a new game. I still haven't played 3rd edition Fury of Dracula.
That being said the best thing I ever did was trade Cosmic away, because it brought me Spartacus... maybe someday I'll give it another shot. I have actually not played quite a few of the mentioned games but it got me pondering the ones I do own or have played. After thinking about it and just ranking the games with FFG on the box without knowing adhering to your restrictions, this would be my combined list.
10. BB: TM
8. X- Wing
5. Fury of Dracula
4. Akrham Horror
3. Android: Netrunner
2. Chaos in the Old World
1. Twilight Imperium 3rd
I have some more thoughts to add after my kids stop freakin' out.
I think you can probably even do a third top ten with all those games that FFG have been the distributor for. Heck, you could probably squeeze a top ten licensed games as well and look at all those GoT, LotR, WFB, 40k, SW, etc games against each other.
As much as FFG has done well, there's also been a ton of clunkers. Add a top ten worst list to the fire...
Anyway, my thoughts on these ten.
10. Nexus Ops - I like this game a lot and part of the reason is the charm of those day-glow pieces and early 80s arcade cabinet art. I haven't played this new version, and not sure how much I would enjoy it knowing that kitschy other version is out there.
9. Arkham Horror - Played twice. Seemed long and fiddly. I wished I were playing Call of Cthulhu instead. A case where an RPG is easier to get going than a boardgame?
8. Battle Lore - After playing Manoeuvre, I got out of the C&C titles. Sold off M'44 and Ancients. Manoeuvre at least lets me move units if I don't have their card. Units just standing around in C&C and not ever able to do anything (without cards) feels lame.
7. Android Netrunner - Never played, but have recently gone back and forth on buying it. Been curious how fun it would be to play with my son and just focus on the base game and a few expansions. I don't want to detour his Pokemon love and fear only base cards would get old. Even if not, knowing there's a ton of new cards out there would make staying at only the base game hard to do. I don't want that psychological fight right now.
6. DungeonQuest - Still haven't played any of the new versions. I understand there still isn't the pre-battle option of waiting or fighting, so not totally sure if it's a straight up reprint of the original. Plus, no Phyll Madaxe or Azoth the Faceless...no sale!
5. Talisman - I actually think this is their crowing jewel in reprints. The changes they've made have been for the better and they've provided more obtions than ever. Sure, some aren't all hits, but I don't think the quality has dropped off as far as the later GW expansions did. Job well done here!
4. Merchant of Venus - I'm actually surprised this has placed so high. Are a lot of folks still playing this one? Seems like Firefly, Merchant & Marauders, or that Xia game have been preferred around here.
3. Wiz-War - Haven't played this edition either. Big fan of the original. Has 'Thumb of God' made an appearance yet?
2. Fury of Dracula - I haven't played the new edition, but did the one before this (from '05 or '06) I felt about that version the same way I did the FFG Warrior Knights. They added too many procedures to what was a cleaner game. Pass.
1. Cosmic Encounter - I've found my enjoyment of this game depends on the players and not a consistent good time. For this sort of Euro I prefer Citadels by a long shot.
Honorable mention to Chaos Marauders...outside of the art, a better package than the original.
I will say that coming up with this list was WAY, WAY easier than the original design top ten. I feel like from 6-1 those are all must include games to mention. From 10-7 you could probably make some changes. I'm sure a few folks would have loved to have seen Warrior Knights on there or Fortress America.
Another thing that stands out is that while the first list was dominated by Corey K, this one has Kevin Wilson all over it. I'm not a huge fan of his original designs, but the man does have a careful eye for resurrecting older games. I don't exactly remember when he left the company, but I wonder if there is some correlation between the quality of FFG's re-workings and his leaving the company? Was he there for REX? Not sure. It's interesting to see how he is no longer a household name after just a few short years away from FFG. Back in the mid 2000s he was on fire with successful reprints. I don't think I can name a single design he has done since leaving except for X-Files. Maybe the new TMNT game will be a return to glory for him.
@ Mr. White - The reason that Merchant of Venus is so high on the list is because it's such an incredible reprint. It's two great games from the price of one! They did a really great job with the classic game (though I've heard some folks still prefer the AH version), but the new rules are a trip! I think San Il Defonso is the only person I've ever seen that likes them. Two great games in one box. I think most people tend to sleep on this game. I like that it isn't a super serious sci-fi space game. It has character and soul. My gut is that it will soon be put out to pasture by FFG.
Also good call on Chaos Marauders. I love that little game. Lots of fun in that box.
I think I'm done with FFG lists for now, but I might do another one this time next year. At this point I figure you're all sick of talking about FFG games lol. Maybe not.
I may have issue with FFG, but they do make up the bulk of the board/card games I have left and they have given the hobby much over the years.
Plenty to still talk about and I hate to see them absorbed into Asmodee...
Bruno Faidutti has some FFG stuff that seems to go pretty much unnoticed. Mission: Red Planet (almost made the reprint list) is one of his best games, Ad Astra is a really enjoyable Euro, Red November never seems to get much love, and Letter of Marque was a fun bluffing micro-game before those were even a thing.
The games that really get lost in the shuffle are many of FFG's own original creations like Battlemist, earlier editions of Twilight Imperium, Diskwars. Most have been eclipsed by newer editions with fancier coats of paint and refined rulesets. Then they had a slew of smaller games that never really made much of an impact like Orcz, Wreckage, Mutiny, Quicksand etc... They certainly have one of the most diverse portfolios in all of gaming.
Although its already been mentioned I don't think anyone can sell short the importance of artwork toward the "feel" of all games, and a particular change in a design esthetic if not done right can really hurt a reprint. You take a half played game of DQ using the original Swedish version, the GW one, and the FFG one and I promise that for many folks the look alone WILL be the difference if they are willing to play or play more than once. Rex's map looks HORRID when compared to the surface of Dune, let me feel like I'm taking a planet for god's sake. Playing board games is done in a physical space and that makes these things matter more than in video games, it solidifies the actions you are making. Kinda like a pinball machine where great artwork and fun toy factor can push a good game to an all time great. Medieval Madness would still be a fantastic table design without that great castle in the middle, but I bet it wouldn't be so many people's number one game and would feel a lot less fun.
Enough rambling and a few snippets of why some of their stuff doesn't work for me.
DungeonQuest - Artwork WAY less fun and too serious. Give me coffin shaped decks, old school vibe, and most importantly SNOTLINGS. Making checks easier overtime goes completely against the spirit of the game which alone is enough to condemn the effort, get that 2D6 shit out of here. I do like their resolution of the catacombs.... but Revised Edition or not do yourself a favor and find a GW version.
Rex - Even though I love TI, I love Dune more. I've never played Rex and almost assuredly never will. It might even be a decent game, but there is no game and I dare say there may never be a game that so nails asymmetrical player powers while tying in with the source material in such a satisfying way. I personally think its the finest designed game of all time so any change really had no chance of doing anything but detracting.
Tigris and Euphrates - One of my favorite games ever getting reprinted? *Looks at the pieces and artwork* Nope. Too much attachment to old art and look I guess. This is how I imagine a lot of you feel about Nexus Ops.
Android - One of those failed games that is so interesting but not sure if its really fun. I haven't really played it enough, but just enough is off to likely not change that fact. Its tough to get rid of it though because you want it to be better, very experimental stuff.
Wiz War - This is another one where I think they did a good job, I'm just kinda meh on the game. There's other stuff I'd rather play with 4.
Cosmic Encounter - I'm just not a fan, on paper I should love it but it falls flat. I don't really have any major gripes, maybe wishing attack wasn't determined randomly, so I think its just not for me. Sure the right group would make it fun, but that is true of literally anything.
I kinda wish I had been into some of FFG's earlier stuff, but it doesn't seem to get the love that the early GW stuff gets (and deserves) so maybe I don't need to check any of it out. I did own Wreckage however and that inspiration to X-Wing thing is garbage.
But my eagerness to agree with this entire list reinforces my belief that, by and large, they make better reprints than they do in house designs. Nothing wrong with that. Reprints are their main bread and butter with ridiculous amounts of arkham horror sold.
And also, nexus ops is just fine, ....IF you can ignore or get used to the tiles. They really were an egregious design error on the art directors part.
1. Arkham Horror: With all the expansions in the mix, AH has nearly infinite replay value. The illusion of a cohesive narrative is enjoyable, and the components do a great job of conveying the distinctive setting. Although the ideal number of players is probably four or five, it can scale just fine up to nine. Scaling below three players doesn't really work, unless using extra characters.
2. Space Hulk: Death Angel: The base set is an incredible value, and most of the expansions add exponentially to the replay value. Every game is tense and exciting. The Deathwing expansion offers a great challenge because half the special characters are weak and there is less overall synergy with the special abilities.
3. Fury of Dracula (2nd ed.): I loved to play Hide and Seek as a kid, and FoD scratches a similar itch. The deduction element is engaging, though the combat system is a bit frustrating. I haven't tried third edition, and won't even consider buying it without playing first, because second edition is one of my favorite games.
4. Cosmic Encounter: I was a huge fan of Shadowfist, and also Magic for the first couple of years. I can totally see how those games were inspired and informed by Cosmic Encounter, which is a more accessible game because of the absence of deckbuilding. FFG did a great job on their edition, by anticipating and avoiding so many potential rules conflicts that plagued the previous editions. My only complaint is that it's possible for a game of CE to end before everybody has had at least one turn.
5. Battlestar Galactica: The base set really nails both the theme and setting of the show, and offers a great narrative arc. Unfortunately there is a scaling problem that is clumsily patched. I haven't tried most of the expansion material, but the expansions seem to be a grab bag of optional rules of variable quality.
6. Android: I remain very impressed by the bold experimental mechanics in Android. Both the setting and theme are realized in depth, and the overall game holds together well. However, the conspiracy puzzle feels bolted on, and can potentially derail the game from the murder investigation into a resource grabbing race. The attempt at incorporating personal stories deep into the structure of the game doesn't quite work for me, and trying to keep track of every opponent's current win/loss conditions can be a headache.
7. Blood Bowl: Team Manager: Aside from Slapshot, this is the only deckbuilder that I enjoy. Somehow the sports theme seems like a great match for a deckbuilder, as I can easily imagine the players not in my hand are currently injured. I like the level of focus for the overall game, covering just highlights in each game while addressing the overall arc of a season of play.
8. Twilight Imperium: Sometimes I am in the mood to spend a long block of time on a big, complex game, and TI3 is a great one. Epic scope and many interesting details. And yet I always find it to be an exhausting experience, more for the complexity of the evolving game state than the mere length of play. I wish that the game was less focused on Mecatol Rex, because sometimes TI3 feels like nothing more than an incredibly overwrought game of King of the Hill.
9. Citadels: The best of the old FFG Silver Line, Citadels is primarily interesting for the role selection meta-game. I don't love Citadels, but I like it well enough, and its presence on this list is in place of various others FFG games that I tried and didn't enjoy.
10. Chaos in the Old World: The visual design of CitOW is great, especially that brutal-looking board. But aside from Khorne's direct approach, I feel like there is a disconnect between theme and mechanics that impairs my enjoyment of the game. Instead of simulating doing cool stuff with game mechanics, it feel like I'm accomplishing tasks according to very arbitrary rules.
9. Eldritch Horror
7. Chaos in the Old World
5. Merchant of Venus
4. Wiz War
3. Fury of Dracula
1. Cosmic Encounter
It's a pretty decent mix of both reprints and original designs. Hell, if I only owned those ten games and their potential expansions I'd probably have enough stuff to play for the rest of my life.
I find it sort of ironic that as FFG is being assimilated into the ravenous Gelatenous Cube that is Asmodee that the new torch bearer for high quality, trashy-style games is actually Games Workshop. GW seems poised to make a massive re-entry into the boardgame market and so far things have been pretty positive. I'm looking forward to Lost Patrol, more Warhammer Quest and whatever else they decide to cook up and drop on us on at a moments notice.
FFG makes amazing games, but I think it was Barnes who said that they have their own category/style of game. It's not quite Ameritrash....it's like they design Hybrid Euros that focus heavily on the Trash side of the spectrum. They're design philosophy is almost mechanically obsessive to fault...always trying to figure out a way to re-invent the wheel when a die roll might have been appropriate. Still, I hope the shift to their new European Overlords doesn't have too much of an impact on their designs. I'm looking forward to what surprises they announce at Gen Con. Supposedly there is Arkham Horror: The Living Card Game that is going to take the place of Call of Cthulhu and be a co-op game similar to LotR LCG.
Mine is very different top 10 from many others: (in no particular order)
Lord of the Rings co-op card game
Middle-Earth Quest (we live in our own pocket of insanity, as we're the only ones who seem to be fond of this one)
Space Hulk: Death Angel
One of the Descents (either Descent + Road to Legend or Descent 2nd)
Ingenious (great as a partners game)
Elder Sign (plus any/all expansions; I enjoy them all)
Lord of the Rings co-op board game (big box reprint)
Runebound 2nd edition (w/ all expansions)
Colossal Arena (#11 bonus)
And if we're tossing in kid/family stuff, Hey! That's My Fish! needs to make an appearance.
Runebound 3rd edition is a partial improvement over 2nd edition, but it also screws some things up.
Warhammer Quest Adventure Card game is really strong, but it's also a blend of Death Angel and LOTR coop card game. I don't think all three need to make the list.