Jim's 10 Favorite Board Games of All Time!!! (and a giveaway!!)

Jim's Top Ten Games of all Time!!!

I love lists AND I love ranking things, so it was only a matter of time until I got to work on this post. One thing I do want to make clear is that these are not what I think are the best games of all time, but rather my personal favorite games of all time. This distinction may be small, but I think worth mentioning.

Without further ado, please enjoy this list of my favorite games! (Followed by a game giveaway!!)

10. London

This was one of the first games I played that involved building up a tableau and I fell in love with it almost immediately. I really enjoy having to balance building up on the board, with building up your tableau, with not taking too many poverty tokens. Knowing how many piles of cards to have in your tableau and when its OK to build over a card are awesome decision points.

This is the newest game on the list by a couple years. If you read my recent review of this game, you'll know already that the original Pandemic has a very special place in my gamer heart, as the first modern game to really captivate me. Pandemic: The Cure has all the fun, puzzlyness, cooperation, and heartache of the original - but it adds dice! If I had to only keep one of the two games, I think I would choose The Cure over original Pandemic. But only if you forced me to choose. =)

One of my favorite designers is definitely Mac Gerdts. I haven't played everything he has put out, but everything I have tried, I have really really enjoyed. Navegador was the first of his that I've played. I really enjoy working within the confines of Mac's evil/glorious rondel - doing what I can to bend its inflexibility to my will better than my opponents. I like that there are several directions for players to go in pursuit of victory, and I like even more that those different paths to victory not only feel different, but are all pretty viable.

Just like many of the games on this list, I don't get to play Lords of Vegas as much as I would like (in fact, I own the expansion, Up!, and haven't gotten to play it yet!). This is even more true for Lords of Vegas, since it really isn't worth playing with only 2 players (which is how I play most of my games). Lords of Vegas has a lot that I really like about board games. I really like the stock market aspect, as well as the acquisition of property. The risk/reward present in Lords of Vegas is so much fun, going for hostile takeovers and paying double to develop properties that might just go to someone else when the card comes up. There are things in Lords of Vegas I don't like, but I always have a great time when playing it.

Stratego was one of those "classic" games that I played when I was younger that I remember really enjoying. The concept of having your units be secret from your opponent was just so great. I really like the Lord of the Rings movies, so The Confrontation is a perfect fit for me. The game is pretty abstract, but still feels pretty thematic. One of my favorite things in games is when the "Vizzini effect" comes into play. I know that you know I  might play this card, but you know that I know that you know that, so maybe I should play this card...etc. Many games can create similar situations, but none do it better than Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

This is definitely my favorite "gateway game." I like Ticket to Ride, but I find this one just so much more interesting (and really not nearly as mean as TtR can be). I really like games with stock market mechanisms, and Airlines Europe implements a stock market-ish system really well, and is really simple to play and teach. 

I love Star Wars. When I heard that FFG got the license for Star Wars card and RPG games I immediately got very excited. I love this game. I love how much it feels like Star Wars, I love how gorgeous the art is, and most of all I love how the game plays. The only thing I don't love about this game is that my wife doesn't care for it. I don't get to play this game very often, but that just makes the times when I can play that much more special. This entry in my list also hold the honor of being the most likely to be replaced within the next few weeks - by another FFG game in fact...=P

I love to laugh. I don't think I've ever played a game of Bohnanza that didn't involve me getting out of breath from laughing too much at least once. This is another game that I can bring out with really any group of people who want to play a game, and it is 99% guaranteed to be a great time. I like playing it with close friends the best, but this is a great game for people who don't already know each other to play - its remarkable how quickly you can get to know someone while planting and trading beans.

Uwe Rosenberg is my favorite designer of all time. That, despite the fact that I have acquired, given up on, traded, and reacquired Agricola no less than 3 times. Yes - the copy of Agricola I currently own is my third. It took me a few plays to warm to the game, but I absolutely love it now. I love how the base game is mostly the same from session to session, but the cards you draft can change so much about how you go about pursuing the best farm. Agricola is one of those games that I am always willing to play, no matter what.

War of the Ring is a thematic masterpiece. Middle Earth absolutely comes alive on my table whenever I get to play it. I certainly don't get to play it very often, but whenever I do, the experience is always epic, and always so much fun. I get to experience one of my favorite stories of all time - but I also get to change it and manipulate it in different ways to see what would happen. War of the Ring is my favorite game of all time because it is simultaneously very strategic and solidly story based, but also keeps those exciting moments and randomness and chance with the card draws, die rolls, and chit pulls. Every single game of this leaves me in awe of both the design and of Tolkien's masterpiece itself.

There you have it! My 10 favorite games of all time!

One of the most interesting thing I find about this list is that even though one of my favorite things about games is playing and learning new ones, most of the games on this list are more than 2 years old. That's not much time in the grand scheme of things, but for a cultist of the "new," a lot of games get released in 2 years.

I think what this says is that while I really like exploring brand new game spaces, its takes a lot for a new release to be good enough for it to supplant any of the games on this list. I am always searching for great new experiences in games, and even though I've played many games I've really liked in the past few years, almost none have been fun enough for me to add them to this list.

Now, as I promised, a game giveaway!! One of the best new games I've gotten to play this year is Imperial Settlers, from Portal Games. So, to celebrate my list, the holidays, the end of the year, my awesome readers, and the fact that Imperial Settlers is awesome, I'm going to be giving a new copy of it away to one of you!

The Rafflecopter thingy is down below - I know some people don't like using Rafflecopter, but just know that there is only 1 mandatory entry - please leave a comment on this post that includes both your favorite game on my list above as well as your favorite game that is not on my list.

Remember that leaving a comment on this post is a requirement for entering!! You MUST do so in order to qualify for the prize!!

You can earn extra entries every day from now until the contest is over - Sunday, December 22 at midnight EST!!!

Please note: I will put $15 towards shipping, which will fully cover you if you live in the US. International readers are more than welcome to enter, but know you'll have to help me out with shipping.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure Reviews

Today, dear readers, you are in for a treat! Not one, but TWO reviews for the price of one! (Still free.) I'm going to take a look at two new games in the "Pandemic-verse," - Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure.

Pandemic has a special place in my gamer heart. It is the first modern board game I played (I had already tried Carcassonne and Catan at this point) that really captured my imagination and made me think, "Wow - we can do this with a board game?? What else is out there??"

Pandemic is the game that is responsible for me doing new things with old friends, meeting great new friends, having an owned games list over 200 (and a previously owned game list approaching 1000), and for writing these silly game reviews.

When I heard on the Dice Tower that a Pandemic dice game was in the works, I was definitely interested. I obviously love Pandemic, but I also really enjoy cooperative games and dice games in general. I was also excited when I heard about Pandemic: Contagion - the idea of playing as diseases sounded neat, and I wanted to see what Z-Man would do with that concept.

The first thing I should mention about Pandemic: Contagion is that it is a stand-alone competitive game. It has Pandemic branding, but aesthetics is pretty much where the similarities end. In fact, Contagion is not designed by Pandemic's designer, Matt Leacock. Contagion was designed by Carey Grayson.

As I mentioned, in Pandemic: Contagion, players are diseases, trying to infect and kill off as much of humanity as possible. Countries are represented by cards, which players will be placing their cubes onto - each cube represents that disease infecting 1,000,000 of that location's population.

On a turn, a player will have two actions available. Players can draw cards (Incubate), infect a location card, or mutate their disease. Cards are the currency of the game, and come in 6 suits - one matching each continent in the game. In order to infect a new city, a player must discard two cards matching the color of the city, but to spread an infection where a player already has her disease present only costs 1 matching card.

Mutating your disease means discarding cards in order to move up on 1 of 3 tracks. The first two tracks dictate how many cards a player draws and how many cubes she places each time she takes an Incubate or Infect action, respectively. The last track, the Resistance track, symbolizes how resistant a player's disease is to the effects of humanity's medical and epidemiology communities. Each round, a new event card will be revealed. If the effect is negative, being higher up on the resistance track means a disease will be less affected by the event.

Players will score points by having the most or second most disease cubes in a city when the total number of disease cubes meets or exceeds the total population of the city.

Play continues in this way until either the event deck runs out or when there are only two city cards left. All remaining cities are scored and the player with the most points wins!

Pandemic: Contagion is not a bad game. It is also, unfortunately, not a good game. I really like when games have upgrade tracks that each player can move up to individualize how they will play the game. I was hoping that this is where the interesting decisions in Contagion would be. Unfortunately, Pandemic: Contagion does not have anything interesting here. Not much changes from game to game, and although I haven't played the game over 10 times, I would feel pretty confident in saying players should always upgrade their Incubation ability, then their Infection rate, and then their Resistance level, if they feel like it. In all of the games of this I've played, the first few rounds consisted of everyone taking the same exact turn - Incubation action then grade Incubation track.

The game starts to get interesting once a few players decide to stop upgrading and get infecting the board. But even then, the game doesn't have much to offer. There are some interesting decisions to make when infecting, since the player who places the cube that triggers a scoring gets a one-time special action, but that's about it. Even the once a round global events deck is rather boring.

Pandemic: Contagion is a very simple card game with a neat theme. It is inoffensive enough, but I found myself bored while playing it. I can't recommend it. 5.5/10.

Jim would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing him a review copy of Pandemic: Contagion.

Pandemic: The Cure has a lot more in common with its big sister than Contagion. The Cure is cooperative, and it was also designed by Matt Leacock, the designer or the original Pandemic. In Pandemic: The Cure, players are a team of specialists, working together to cure 4 diseases ravaging humanity worldwide, before either the number of outbreaks or the number of infected become overwhelming.

The world map is represented by 6 tiles, arranged in a circle. Each tiles has a continent on it and is assigned a number from 1-6. Players can move their pawns to adjacent tiles by using a boat die result, or to any tile by using an airplane result.

Much like the original, players will all win if they can cure all 4 diseases. In The Cure, they do this by collecting samples of the disease, and finding a cure by rolling the samples and getting a result of at least a 13 or higher. 

Disease cubes in The Cure are actually 6 sided dice. At the end of each player's turn, a number of cubes are drawn from a bag and rolled. These disease cubes are placed onto the continent tile that has the number matching each cube's die result. Any cross symbols are moved to the CDC tile as resources the players can use whenever they wish.

On a player's turn, she will roll all of her available dice. Any Biohazard results must be kept and will advance the Infection Rate. The player can take actions according to her die results, or she may reroll her dice. In fact, she may continue rerolling as long as she has not used all of her available dice.

Aside from the Biohazard symbol, the player dice also have the basic actions of Fly (move anywhere), Sail (move to an adjacent location), Treat (take a disease cube from your location and place it into the Treatment Center), and Collect Sample (take a disease cube from the Treatment Center and put it onto your role card, with the Collect Sample die on top).

Each player's dice will also have special symbols on them, depending on their role. Some roles are better at moving, some are better at treating and curing, while others have special faces that are unique to their role.

At the end of any turn which a player has enough samples, they can attempt to find a cure for a disease. To do this, they roll all the disease cubes they have collected, and if the result is a 13 or higher, a cure for that disease has been found! If players find a cure for all four diseases, they win! If either the Infection Rate or the Outbreaks markers reach the end of their tracks, or if there are no disease cubes left in the bag and more need to be drawn, the game ends and the players all lose.

I think the biggest gripe I have with Pandemic: The Cure is that depending on how the dice get rolled, the players could either have a cakewalk or have their butts handed to them. This is not too much of a con, since this was also true for the original Pandemic - I've certainly experienced both the "cakewalk" and "butt-handed-to-me" varieties of that game as well. 

One of my favorite parts of this game is (unsurprisingly) the dice. First, the disease dice are not simple D6 dice with a cross on one side. They are weighted very differently - the red dice, for instance, do not have 2, 3, or 5 sides. This means that certain diseases will mostly affect certain continents, which makes outbreaks more common. Another thing I like about the disease dice is that because they all have a cross side, each time a player draws disease dice from the bag, there's always hope that at least a couple of them will come up as crosses, which can be spent by the players during the game to pay for communal event cards (which all have positive effects).

Thirdly, I really like the player dice. It is really neat that the dice for each role have custom sides, but I also really like the press your luck mechanism of players being able to roll as much as they wish, but all bad results must be kept. It really adds a lot of excitement to each turn and to each roll.

While Pandemic: The Cure is a bit shorter than the original, I would say that it retains much of the feel of the "full game." The Cure even simulates the collection of cards in Pandemic by forcing players to temporarily give up dice while they are looking for a cure. 

I really like Pandemic: The Cure, and would be hard pressed if asked which game I would rather keep, original Pandemic or The Cure. Fortunately, I don't have to make such a ridiculous decision. =) I'd rate Pandemic: The Cure 8.5/10.