Top 100: #95 Vast: Crystal Caverns

Truly unique games something that I keep an eye out for. Vast: the Crystal Caverns, is one of the more unique games we have - although more and more games are trying to do similar things. What Vast does that no one else has done is every player has different game play and victory conditions. There are five roles in the original game players choose from; the knight, goblins, dragon, thief, and even the cave itself!

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In order to win the game the knight needs to kill the dragon. The goblins need to kill the knight. The dragon needs to wake up and escape from the cave. The thief just needs to sneak around stealing treasure while everyone else is trying to kill each other. Lastly, the cave is trying to collapse and bury everyone in rubble before anyone else can achieve one of their victory conditions.

Not only do each of the roles have different victory conditions, they also play differently. The knight will be doing different tasks like killing goblins, exploring the dungeon, and breaking crystals to gain strength. The Knight will need to gain strength in order to take out the dragon. While similar the dragon is trying to slowly wake up and, once he has had his coffee, escape from the dungeon. Some of the things that help the dragon wake up is eating goblins, hoarding treasure, and improving the dungeon for the other players.

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Goblins try to manage their clans from the unexplored regions of the board always, lying in wait to attack the knight. The thief is somehow immortal as even if killed comes back on future turns to steal more and more gold. However, they don’t want to get killed as each person gets benefits if they manage to off them. Lastly, the cave is one of the most different play styles as they are completely separate from the rest of the players. They need to destroy crystal tiles but before the destruction can begin all of the tiles have to be placed. They wind up being the timer for the game as they will inevitably win if one of the other players doesn’t hurry and accomplish their goal.

While it seems like it would be complicated each role is rather simple to play. Mastering all five would likely take a while. No reason to switch it up unless the players want to give all the roles a try. And because they know it will likely be confusing each of the characters have a reference sheet to help. Mixing the simplicity with everyone having different goals is what makes this one of my favorites.

Top 100: #96 Las Vegas

While I obviously like some heavy strategy games there are also the times that I just want to make simple choices and chuck some dice. One of the go tos for that situation is Las Vegas! The end goal in this game is to have the most money at the end of the game. You get that money by having the most dice on the casinos with the best money cards each round.

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To start the round each of the six casinos are loaded with money until they have at least $50k in value. On each player's turn they will roll all of the dice they still have and group them by number. Then place all of the dice of one number to the casino that matches. You can’t split up the dice so sometimes you will really want to place on a number but it will consume more of your dice than you want to use. Once everyone has used up all of their dice the round will be over.

Scoring is quite interesting in Las Vegas - but definitely not overly complicated because that's not what I come to this game for after all! The person with the most dice gets the best value card in the casino and then second most gets the second best card and so on. However, if two players tie for the amount of dice they cancel each other out! A player in third place might get the best value card while first and second get nothing because they had an equal number of dice.

After five rounds the player with the most money wins. There is lots of chucking dice - deciding to use overwhelming force on a casino or to place minimal dice down so you can snipe a casino at the end. While it will never require deep thought Las Vegas combines fun dice rolling and real choices as one of the best filler games.

Top 100: #97 Lorenzo Il Magnifico

While being magnificent enough to be in my top 100 games there is a lot to digest as it's the first game on the list that is complex to set up and explain. But just like every game on my list, once you know how to play your turn can be quite simple. Deciding what to do on your turn however will always be hard with all of the choices the game provides for you.

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Each player has four family members and other resources to use on their turns. With four family members that means each round you only get to take four actions as all of the actions require you to play a family member. The abilities of each family member will change from round to round because at the start of the round after setting up the towers full of wonderful cards the start player will roll the three dice. Each one shares a color with one of your family members. The values on the dice are the power for their respective family member for that round. Although you can always have helpful servants increase the power of one of your dice for the round.

Each round you will try to figure out how best to use your various family members to the best effect. Most of the actions you will take will be to purchase cards from the towers. There is a sense of urgency there as well because if someone else is already in the tower you have to pay to go into the tower. The cards you buy from the tower will be of four different types - Territories, Buildings, Characters, and Ventures. The first three of those will give you immediate bonuses and/or modify your actions to make it so you are more powerful than your opponents! Ventures on the other hand are mostly end game points.

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After six rounds, each of the players will judge how well they have done in using their family members and building their empire. You score points for lots of different things like the number of territories you have, how faithful you have been to the church, and how much military strength you have. Most of the points at the end reward those that focus on single endeavors but you also can’t ignore things if you want to win!

That was a rather condensed version of how the game is played but I am always happy to teach this one! I like that you have to adjust your plan on the fly as you never quite know exactly what will be available or what power of workers you will have for the round. Deep strategy with a need to be able to think on your feet!

Top 100: #98 Ingenious

The first abstract game on my list and one that we have played a great many times. I’ve always wanted to try to make a giant version of this one similar to the Qwirkle set we use at Platypus-Con ,but the need for a board has always slowed our roll. Regardless it is a terrific game of tile placement and potential for being quite cutthroat!

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On your turn all you do is play a tile. Each of the tiles look like two hexagons put together on one of their sides. There is no rule on where you have to place the tile other than it needs to be in the confines of the board. Although generally you are going to want to play them near tiles that have the same shape/color combo as what you are placing. Being next to similar symbols is how you get points. For the five directions radiating out of each of the hexagons you placed you go as far as you can without hitting a different symbol. Adding together all of those values is the score for that color you got from playing the tile!

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If you manage to max out your score in one of the colors that is called getting an ingenious. You have to hold up jazz hands and say, “Ingenious!” (Not really but its a house rule I keep trying and failing to get my friends to adopt). In reality what you get is another turn right away! If you plan it right you can even get multiple extra turns if you Ingenious multiple colors in succession.

The end game scoring is one of my favorite parts of this game. The score you get is the lowest value among all the colors. So while getting an Ingenious gives you a benefit, you need to make sure not to ignore any of the colors. Especially if you playing with me! If I notice you currently have a lower score than me, I might try to make the color you need inaccessible securing my victory! Although I promise to try to play nice the first time you give this great game a try!

Top 100: #99 La Isla

It's not everyday that I enjoy making agonizing choices. There were lots in making this list! But I really like trying to make choices in La Isla. Each round you will have to three cards to do very different things with. But which card to use for each function is where the difficult choices begin!

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The three things you are doing with your cards are giving yourself a special power, collecting resources, and modifying the point value of one of the animals that the players are trying to collect by placing their pawns on the board. Choosing your special power can sometimes be super easy because lots of them are great - and if they set up with another you already have then all the better! After the third round you are going to have to start replacing special powers with new ones though which is also a tough decision!

Collecting resources is one of the other functions of the cards and those resources are used to put explorers on the board. You need a pair of resources matching the location you want to place on in order to put down the pawn. But what if you need the resources from a card with an awesome special power?! When you do place adventurers down you have a chance of collecting an animal chip which gives you points at the end of the game based on its place on the point value track. And that's what you do with your third card, increase the point value of one of the animals. Hopefully one that you have or plan to have lots of chips in!

La Isla is great in that with a small board and a deck of cards it gives an endless source of decisions to be made. And once you get deeper into the game there are even advanced cards with more intricate powers on them to make the decisions even more fun!

Top 100: #100 Medieval Academy

Starting off the list is a great drafting game set in a medieval times theme. But I feel the theme is closer to the restaurant experience than to the actual time period. There is dragon fighting, tournaments, and wooing damsels. But don’t forget to pay favor to the king, attend to your studies, and give to the poor!

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While there are lots of choices in Medieval Academy it boils down to a pretty simple drafting game. Everyone will get dealt cards and then slowly building up a hand to use in the second phase by picking one card from each set of cards that gets passed. Once all the cards have been drafting players take turns playing all but one of their cards from their hand influencing different tracks on the board.

After card playing is finished different tracks score. Some score every round (like the tournaments) while others like fighting the dragon are only scored at the end of the game. The scoring differences between the tracks are one of my favorite parts, as it makes you choose between points now and points in the future.

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The ability to play a game over and over is important to me (despite the fact I don’t get to do it often) and this game delivers. Not only does having different players and different strategies alter how the game will go because of the drafting but each scoring board has two sides. You can mix and match which ones you want to flip for each game making a ton of different combinations.

If a person enjoys drafting games this is going to be one of our first suggestions if they haven’t tried it already.

 

Flying Kiwis

We love deep strategy games to figure out how to manipulate the game within the rules for the best score. However, sometimes we just want a silly game of complete chaos. Most people from our name know we have a soft spot for animals in the area surrounding Australia. So when we heard that there was a game called Flying Kiwis we were on board!

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Players have little ramps with a elastic band that they will be repeatedly using to launch discs with illustrated kiwis into the box. The goal of the game is to get either a row of 4 or a 2 by 2 square into the spaces of the box. But the trick is everyone is launching their kiwis at the same time. Sometimes they run into each other in the middle of the air. You can get super close to winning then someone will cover up one of your kiwis!

All of the kiwis are cutely illustrated on their discs. And the trick of using the box as both the means to carry it as well as the game board makes it even more fun. It isn’t the most thoughtful of games but sometimes we love just sending the kiwis on the first flight of their lives!

Arcane Academy

Arcane Academy is a game of competitive students trying to be become the best spellcasters in the school. While the game becomes a fun and interesting puzzle, it starts out with really simple choices to make. On your turn you can cast one of the spells on your board, exhausting it, or you can rest and remove all of the exhaustion markers on your board.

One of the main spells you can cast adds new tiles to your board, building up the abilities that you can to do on your turn. This is also when the puzzle nature of the game comes into play. The tiles have linking circles on some of their edges so you can combine them to tiles already on the board. When you cast one square, you can also activate any other linked spells that aren’t exhausted.

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The other actions that are available get you resources from the general supply that are used to complete either your private tasks or one of the public tasks in the middle of the table. Some of the tasks that you complete will give you items that can be used with one of the other casting squares. Some of the items even help you unexhaust some spells without having to rest which is super helpful.

Once someone has completed 8 assignments everyone, including the player who had triggered the end of the game, gets one more turn to try to get the most points possible. Lots of simple choices in a strategic puzzle game makes Arcane Academy lots of fun!

Terraforming Mars

Mars seems to be a popular theme in both popular culture and in board gaming. One of the most popular games to use that theme is Terraforming Mars. The game uses a huge variety of cards to make every game a little different. Different corporations also add some flavor as each player will have a little be different bonus to affect their play style.

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The start of the game and each round begins with players drafting cards until they have selected the 10 they want for the round. Choosing a card in the draft doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to keep them. As each card you keep will cost you some of your valuable money to add to your hand. You might draft a card you don’t want to buy in order to keep it from your opponent.

Play continues around the table with each player taking one action and possibly a second each round. If you don’t want to take that first action you have to pass, but then you are done for the round which is why you might stretch out your actions more so you can stay in the round longer. Some of the cards have requirements like how much Mars needs to be terraformed before use or possibly it might already be too terraformed for the card to be effective.

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There are lots of ways to get points but a lot of them are from taking steps to make Mars more habitable. There are three factors that determine how friendly the planet has been made for human life; water, oxygen, and temperature. Two of the other big ways to get points is by claiming one of the milestones if you have met their requirements. There are some end game ways to score but the players will choose over the course of the game which ones they want to activate - not all of them can be used in a game making end game scoring variable. Some of the cards you play also provide points to the players, especially some of the later cards where you are developing life.

Once three gauges marking the progress of terraforming mars have been maxed out then the game ends at the end of the round. Which adds another layer of variability as you never know how many rounds you have until the end of the game and you might not want to end as you have grander plans for the planet and its moons! With so much variability there is always something new to explore - and now there are even new maps to change the game up even more.

Next on our space adventure is Venus!

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is another modern classic both because of its simplicity and how the game can change based on how cutthroat the players want to be. On each player's turn they add a tile to the table slowing building out the area of Carcassonne. There are five different ways to score using your meeples. Meeples being, of course, the cute iconic game pieces that was first used in Carcassonne.

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The tile you place has to match all of the features already on the table which can reduce the number of choices available to you. You rarely won’t be able to play a tile in your hand. What's more likely is the only place to play the tile will help your opponent. You also want to make sure that placing a tile doesn’t it make it impossible to complete features on the board or use your tile to make it impossible for an opponent to complete on their features!

The second part of your turn is putting one of your meeples on the tile you just placed - not on any of those already in play. Meeples can be a monk in an abbey, a trader on the road, a knight in the castle or a farmer in the field. Each of them score differently but the important point is they can’t be removed from the board until the task they were assigned is completed. This can be a problem if you don’t have any meeples on your turn then you aren’t going to be able to add to your scoring possibilities.

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Carcassonne can be completely family friendly as players just try to use their tiles points and not interact very much and still have tons of fun. However, you can try to steal points from other players. While it is difficult to muscle in on someone's points, it is doable and that is where the game can really shine for a group of people going all out to win.

The simplicity of Carcassonne and how much fun it can be is why it is on many people's list of essential games to own. There are many expansions, modules, and reworkings of the classic which are fun as well. But to get your toes wet we recommend the original classic to see if it is the game for you.