Top 5 – Games Over Ten Years Old
Things move quickly in the board game world. This year’s Blu-Ray soon becomes last year’s Betamax. If you head to one of the bigger Facebook board game groups and ask for recommendations, the vast majority of suggestions will be from the last two or three years.
You could argue that games are always improving, and that the gradual refinement of mechanisms makes games fundamentally better as time goes by. But surely that can’t always be true? Surely there are some good games that still hold-up well today?
The answer is yes, there are loads of great games from years gone by which are still great. If you’re prepared to shy away from the shiny new Kickstarters, and lavish, over-produced games flooding our timelines, that is. Below you’ll find my Top 5 games that are at least ten years old, that you can still buy easily, and that I believe still deserve a space in your collection.
So, in no particular order (but because the world and Google love a top xx list)…
5. Jamaica (2007)
Jamaica is a fantastic game. It’s dripping with cartoon pirate theme, and it’s my favourite race game. Jamaica is really easy to learn, and it’s a great first step on the ladder of modern hobby games.
It’s a pretty simple game of playing cards in combination with dice, and there are loads of little cheers and groans as battles are won and lost. Every game I’ve played comes down to the wire, and win or lose, everyone will have fun. Play a card, move forwards and backwards, fill your hold with treasure and food, and engage in nautical battles with the other players – it’s all really good fun.
More recently we’ve seen games like Flamme Rouge and Rallyman: GT, and while they’re both great, neither of them have the same charm and universal appeal as Jamaica.
Jamaica also has one of the best box inserts in any game. I’m not saying you should buy a game based on its insert, but it’s a very satisfying game to set-up and pack away.
4. Cosmic Encounter (2008)
Cosmic Encounter is bonkers. Absolute craziness. Three-to-five of you will sit around a table and assume the role of an alien race. On your turn you’ll be targeting other players’ planets and playing cards face-down. They might be attack cards, they might not be. You might have told that person you’re not attacking, but secretly, you are. You back-stabbing turncoat.
Alliances are formed and broken, promises with the strength of tissue paper are tested, and people you’ve trusted for years suddenly become the sneakiest, least-trustworthy people you’ve ever known. Cosmic Encounter is a riot from start to finish, and one of the only games I’ve played where a joint victory – through dealings and alliances – is a perfectly viable and desirable outcome.
Each alien race has some kind of crazy power, which usually completely subverts a normal rule, and there are 50 different aliens in the base game box. That’s a huge amount of variety. Then you’ve got six expansions, each adding in at least 20 races. If you want to, you’ll never play the same game twice. Quite how the designers managed to balance them all, I’ll never know, but they have.
The whole game revolves around the interactions between the players, and games can vary in length from an hour to more than two, but with the right crowd, there’s nothing quite like Cosmic Encounter. Strategy and Euro game fans might find the style of game jarring, but it really is worth trying.
3. Dominion (2008)
Dominion, the grand-daddy of deck-builders. So many games have come since Donald X. Vaccarino unleashed Dominion onto an unsuspecting public, but few have come close to the pure deck-building brilliance.
Dominion was one of the first games I bought, and I still play it now. Every single week I play it with my brother and some friends, and we’re still not bored. The theme is skin deep, but it just doesn’t matter. The simplistic Action, Buy, Clean-up (ABC) gameplay loop is fast and easy, and every single person I’ve introduced the game to has grasped the idea inside their first game.
There are 26 different decks of action cards included in the game, and you’ll use a combination of ten of them in each game. The variety in the setup means you need to approach each game slightly differently, and it keeps the game feeling fresh for a long time. Cycling through your carefully-crafted deck is really satisfying when you find cards that work well together.
Dominion has had a ton of expansions over the years, and for the most part they’re all great. Even without any additions, the base game has a crazy amount of replayability. Don’t just take my word for it, there’s a thriving scene at the official online implementation here, and I’m currently beta testing a really good official Android app.
Dominion is here to stay, and if you like deck-building games, you owe it to yourself to play it if you haven’t already. And if you haven’t played it already – why not?!
2. 6 Nimmt! (1994)
The oldest game in this list, 6 Nimmt! is a must-have. A small box with 104 numbered cards is all you get for your £10(ish), but the game you get for that money is worth so much more.
Choose a card from your hand and play it face-down. Your opponents all do the same. All of the cards get flipped and added, lowest-to-highest, to the row with the next-lowest number. If yours is the sixth card in a row, you pick the other five up, and the number of little bull head icons on the top of your collected cards are subtracted from your starting score. Some cards are worth more bull heads than others, and those are the ones you’re trying to avoid.
That’s it. That’s the entire game right there, but playing it so much more nuanced. when all four rows have four or five cards in, and you’re waiting to see the revealed cards, the tension is fantastic. The groans from people when they realise that they’re going to be picking up cards are matched with laughter from those who just got away with their risky play. There’s proper scope for strategy, which is surprising at first, given how simple the game seems.
It’s a brilliant game, and it scales really well. It’s one of the few games I could name that I find as much fun to play with any number of players from three to seven. If you want to try before you buy, you can play it on Board Game Arena right now, for free!
1. Troyes (2010)
How many of you expected Troyes here? How many of you have played, or even heard of Troyes before? Pronounced ‘twah‘, Troyes is one of the best examples of a classic German-style Euro game. The differentiation, for me, is that Euro games nowadays really fall into that category of multiplayer solitaire. People are doing their own thing, and there’s very little direct interaction. If your exposure to Euros has been games from the last few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s how they’ve always been, but it’s not the case.
Troyes is ruthless. You’re trying to get your workers into the three main areas of the board, but with three or four players there simply isn’t room for everyone. The solution? Barge someone out of their place. And you know what? They can’t do a thing about it. All of those workers you’ve squeezed into each area give you dice to spend on actions in the next round, so what do you do if you get strong-armed out of your spaces? Simple, buy your opponents’ dice and take them from them, and once again, they can’t do a damn thing about it.
Some people are genuinely shocked the first time they play, especially if they’ve been brought up on the friendlier Euro games like Lords of Waterdeep or Ticket To Ride, because it’s so interactive. It’s not just a game about bullying your way to victory however, each of the three areas can win you the game, plus your own secret objective, and there’s a big variety in the way the game is set-up each time you play.
Troyes is another game you can play on BGA right now, and if you enjoy it, it’s still in print. You can pick it up at your favourite games shop for around £40. It sits up there with Hansa Teutonica as one of the best examples of a proper ‘screw you’ Euro game.
There you have it then, five games released at least ten years ago, that I think still hold up today as some of the best in their genres. Far from struggling to find five, I had to really whittle this list down and make difficult decisions. Twilight Struggle, The Castles of Burgundy, Agricola, Mage Knight, Through the Ages, Le Havre, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, 1830, Village – all fantastic games that fit the category, but got demoted to the bench. In fact Village was in this list until I slept on it and made a last-minute decision to put Cosmic Encounter in its place. Maybe I’m fickle, but that’s how hard I found it to make this list.