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Go to the Magic: The Gathering page
Go to the Ascending Empires page
Go to the Dixit page
Go to the Cosmic Encounter page
Go to the Dominion page
Go to the Bohnanza page
Go to the Bohnanza page


46 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

Bohnanza is a bit of a weird game. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that. A game about trading and farming beans is pretty obviously weird.

When I teach Bohnanza, there are a number of strange little rules that throw new players off. You can’t rearrange your hand! The order matters. New cards go in at the back, you play the cards from the front… but when you trade, the cards can come from anywhere. On your turn, you have to play the first card out of your hand… but you can play two. You start with only two bean fields. It’s okay, though: you can harvest at any time, but if one of your bean fields only has one card…

Their eyes glaze over. They’ve never seen such a fiddly game. “I just want to put the different bean types all together like any reasonable card game!!” they say.

But soon, they see what’s going on.

The fixed hand order, the forced planting, the limited space. These strange restrictions breed perhaps my favorite trading game of all time. When the tidal forces of these restrictions meet the vagaries of the bean deck… well, sometimes you draw the most valuable bean in the game… but it’s going to cost you huge if you don’t give it away for free. Or worse.

And somehow, the games are always tight. I’ve played this hundreds of times and I don’t think I’ve ever won by more than 4 points. Sure, introverted players are at a disadvantage, but I’ve found that even the most reserved players get into it. They learn that you have to get in there and make offers. You have to become the Gordon Gecko of beans.

But it’s a social game, too. I’ve gotten handily beaten when pushing a little too hard for value in a trade turned the whole table against me.

There’s so much depth here, hidden behind a tiny deck with ridiculous illustrations and a few oddball rules. But in the decade since I became an “avid gamer”, there are very few games in my collection that have seen as much consistent play, year after year, as Bohnanza.

Go to the Dixit 2 page

Dixit 2

59 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

Aesthetically, Dixit is not a game of minimalism: from the awesome bunny meeples on the score track to the huge, gorgeous cards. Sure, there’s a certain child-like simplicity to the illustrations, but the artist clearly revels in creating compositions that drive expansive free-association.

On the other hand, while a game with the simplicity of Go would abhor expansions, it makes perfect sense in Dixit. There are no new mechanics here, no special powers, or new pieces. Just new material, new, tiny words to explore.

And this is just the way it should be. Dixit’s one main problem was that seeing the exact same cards with the exact same group can sometimes devolve into rehashing the same stories. By nearly doubling the available card pool, there’s a lot more opportunity to mix things up.

Personally, I’d love to see new Dixit expansions with some frequency. Of course, some monolithic art factory churning out neo-surrealist game cards is kind of the antithesis of Dixit, even if it would make for a great illustration for a Dixit card. So, perhaps the scope for this sort of frequent expansion might be limited. Whatever happens, though, as long as the quality remains as high as Dixit 2, all I can do is recommend expansions with enthusiasm!

Go to the Dixit page


34 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Apples to Apples is sort of a party game archetype: one player takes the role of judge and plays a card, everyone else plays cards in response, and the judge determines the result. Simple enough.

With Apples to Apples, though, it might be too simple. Most games descend into pandering to the current judge or rehashing the same tired material: if someone says “I have the PERFECT card!”, it’s probably Helen Keller or Hitler. There’s really just not much there.

Dixit is often cited as the paragon of gaming creativity, and I’m generally inclined to agree. But it’s impossible to deny that it doesn’t have its roots in the A2A archetype. Dixit, however, adds a great deal to that baseline.

Each player in Dixit has a hand of big, beautiful cards with wonderful and surreal illustrations. Even if you decide the game isn’t for you, take some time to enjoy images of the cards online. It’s worth it! The judge, or “storyteller” in Dixit parlance, takes a card from his or her hand and tells a little story about it. A sentence, a single word, a fragment of a song. Whatever.

Then, each other player plays a card from their hand that they think goes well with the storyteller’s story. All the cards played are shuffled face down and the judge lays them out.

Each other player now attempts to pick which card was the storyteller’s. Points are given out based on who votes for what: the storyteller doesn’t want to be so obvious that everyone picks her card, but not so obscure that no one does. Then, hands are refreshed up to six and the game moves on. Minor changes to a simple archetype.

Where Dixit shines is the depth of possibilities in those cards. The illustrations are simple, but evocative. They’re not abstract, but the disparate figures are juxtaposed with fantastic settings. There are so many intricate details in each composition, it’s quite possible that four voters might have latched on to four different aspects of the same image. The possibilities for creative (and surprising!) free association are enormous.

Of course, that enormity can be overwhelming. When a new player takes their first crack at being storyteller, it can be overwhelming trying to pick a card and craft a perfect story to go with it. I’ve found that even ostensibly creative folks often balk at the possibilities. And people that are utterly sure they’re uncreative can just shut down at the task.

But once the game gets rolling, even the most staid gamers can get into the action. Even if a player isn’t big on surreal flights of fancy, they learn to make their sentences play evoke associations with their own card based on the cultural experiences they share with the other players.

That, if anything, is the main skill required to win in Dixit, which alone puts it miles ahead of A2A’s tired jokes and pandering. But I couldn’t in good faith encourage anyone to play Dixit to win. Enjoy the amazing art, work the right side of your brain, and enjoy a bit of free association–with the cards and the friends you’re playing with.

Go to the Tobago page


98 out of 106 gamers thought this was helpful

As themes go, treasure hunting on a mysterious island is pretty sweet. Strange stone heads spinning around spitting out magical amulets! How can you not love that?

Luckily, there’s a sweet game here, too.

I’m sure others have taken (or will) the time to run through the basic overview of the game, but in rough terms: drive around the island, play cards to track down the buried treasures, and revel in the spoils–unless they’re cursed.

Now some folks well tell you that this is a deduction or logic game, but that’s not really true. The treasure hunting revolves around cards that, when played, state that the treasure is “in the biggest lake” or “not next to a hut”.

You play those cards to narrow down the location, but this isn’t like some abstract Sudoku puzzle (“Aha! That square MUST be a 7!!”). If your card says that the treasure is “not on a mountain space”, you simply take that treasure’s cubes off of any mountain spaces. When only one space still has a cube, well, that’s where the treasure is! (There is a bit of mental work when the treasure hunt first begins because there won’t be enough cubes to mark every space on the map.)

So you’re really not deducing where the treasure is. In fact, one of the most important parts of the game is playing these cards so that it narrows down the location of the treasure to places that are already close to you.

There’s also a nice press-your-luck element. When a treasure gets raised, everybody who helped track it down gets a share. Whoever raised it gets the first pick of the treasure cards–but you don’t know everything that’s in there. Do you take the 3-point card… or pass and risk revealing the cursed skull?

There are enough cool factors like that, plus a semi-modular board that offers several dozen possible board configurations for plenty of replay, to keep the game interesting, while maintaining a level of accessibility that makes it a great family game. The components are beautiful, to boot. I’ve played it about a dozen times and I’m always happy to play it when a new player requests it.

Go to the Dominion page


87 out of 96 gamers thought this was helpful

There are about 15 million reviews of Dominion out there on the Interweb that give excellent overviews of the game. I’m going to forgo that and talk about the comparisons that are often made between Dominion (and other deck-builders) and CCGs like Magic: the Gathering.

I think the most important taxonomical difference between deck-building games (DBGs) and CCGs is the meta-game. That is, a CCG has two distinct phases: deck-building and game-playing. DBGs typically have only one: the game play. In a CCG, it’s like players build airplanes and then see how well they fly. In a DBG, you’re building the plane, on the runway, during takeoff.

Now, we could imagine a game like Dominion where players build a deck using copies of the available 10 Kingdom cards and perhaps some number of Copper cards and then run their decks in a race for victory points. This might not be broken, but it would probably be pretty dull.

But this is exactly how CCGs like Magic work. When a new set comes out, top-level deck builders look at the pool of cards, find interesting combinations and determine the strategic cruxes that will define that format. Decks are built, tested, and tuned before “real” play ever begins. What’s the difference? Well, 10 Kingdom cards versus several hundred for even the smallest Constructed format in Magic… it’s the size of the card pool.

I see Dominion as essentially a stand-alone version of what Magic players do each time a format rotates: look at the card pool, find the key interactions, and build decks. The build-as-you-play element, the merging of game and metagame, primarily serves to keep things improvisatory. If players could spend an hour theorizing and playtesting decks from a 10-card pool, by the time they met to test their creations, the optimal strategy would probably be pretty clear.

Instead, Dominion forces players to bring their analysis of the card pool to bear against the luck of the draw and opponent interaction. The result can be quite exciting, as Dominion’s following demonstrates!

So, for lapsed CCGers looking for a wallet-safe, card-flopping haven in Dominion, or Dominion players considering a leap to Magic, et al., consider which part of the CCG equation excites you. If you’re happy to grab a Magic deck and battle but don’t care for deck-building, the decisions that Dominion offers might not be interesting. But you set to brewing with every new release, Dominion offers that same great taste in a less-filling 20-minute package.

Go to the Power Grid page

Power Grid

82 out of 92 gamers thought this was helpful

Some gamers enjoy a silly card-flinging romp or a visceral dice-chucking combat scenario. Power Grid isn’t for them.

The target audience here is anyone who find joy in looking at a roiling, complicated system, reducing it to a mathematical essence and wringing every point of advantage out of the matrix of options that emerges. This is gaming for engineers.

And it’s a fitting theme: expanding your company’s power grid while developing new power plants and, importantly, making money from it. But the most impressive part of this game is how intricate this system can be.

You have to have a keen (even preternatural!) sense for how much things are going to be worth not only when you buy them, but potentially for the rest of the game. Is it time to surge forward into new cities? Or do I need to hang back, stock up on fuel or a new plant? How much can I bid for that new power plant? And if I overpay, am I going to get stuck with unpowered cities and a crippled income stream?

A lot of players will find this extreme min-maxing fiddly, even tedious. And those opinions are totally valid. Power Grid is absolutely a game of extreme min-maxing. But for those who love that sort of thing, Power Grid is a masterpiece of a game.

Go to the Ascending Empires page

Ascending Empires

148 out of 164 gamers thought this was helpful

My game collection is to the point where a new game really has to have something special to excite me. Do something I haven’t seen before and you’re on my watch list. Execute it well, and… well, shut up and take my money!

Ascending Empires managed to skip the watch list. I saw this in my FLGS (Amazing Wonders, Lexington, KY!!!), read the back, and bought it on the spot. Within twenty minutes some friends and I had everything stickered up, the cool puzzle-piece board assembled, and our warp drives powered up.

The game itself is simple. You can do one thing on your turn. Recruit troops to worlds you control, mine for victory points, build stuff, research technology, or move around. Standard fare. But ship movement involves literally flicking the little wooden space ship discs. This has blown the minds of innocent passers-by at the shop. Because it’s awesome.

This game might be bland without the variance of the flick. And rolling dice to see how far you move–well, let’s just say sophisticated gamers aren’t fond of that one. But with your finger tensed to flick, the feeling that you are in control of the destiny of that ship and her crew… it’s intense. Then you flick. And the ship flies off the board, lost in space. How did that happen? And what are you going to do now that you’re outnumbered in an unfriendly sector?

There’s just so much to do here, so much excitement. And because you only get to take that one action on your turn, the downtime is practically nil. Perhaps after a ton of plays, some new expansion material might be nice, but so far it’s just been great fun to introduce this to as many gamers as possible and flick some ships!

Go to the Magic: The Gathering page
68 out of 77 gamers thought this was helpful

Magic: the Gathering is the original CCG. Richard Garfield didn’t just create a new game. He created a whole class of games that has (one could argue) made it possible for the game industry to explode to the heights we enjoy today.

Of course, historical interest isn’t what keeps me cracking packs, building decks, and casting spells 16 years after I first tapped a land for mana. Garfield created a game system that has proven to have incredible depth.

The color pie and mana system create a wonderful tension in deck construction: you can’t play all the best cards in the same deck because the game will punish you–unless you spend time and resources to get the colors you need–but those are resources you need to keep your opponent’s goblin horde at bay. It’s beautiful.

Magic is no slouch after the decks are shuffled and actual gameplay begins, either. There’s resource management, combat tactics, bluffing, engine building. You will get screwed by a bad draw from time to time, but the amount of room for skilled players to crush their weaker adversaries is astonishing.

Haters will hate, though. And sometimes they have a point. Keeping competitive in tournament Magic can be expensive. There are trade sharks that live to separate you from your chase rares. There are obnoxious kids who will smirk when you have to look up the text of some obscure Japanese-version card (foiled and signed, of course). But these are metagame issues. When you can find a good group to play with, those complaints fade into the background and Magic truly shines.

Simply put, It’s an incredible, infinitely deep game. Richard Garfield and, very importantly, the amazing designers and developers that have continued his legacy have produced such a cornucopia of gaming goodness, it’s almost ridiculous. Even if Wizards never printed a new card, the scope of the game is so immense I don’t think I’d be able to explore every facet of the game in another 16 years of play. There are a ton of great CCGs (and LCGs too) that have followed in Magic’s wake, but I don’t think I could say that about any of them.

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