50 – Mystic Vale
Breaking into the top half of my list is Mystic Vale. Mystic Vale takes the idea of the deck building game one step further with the concept of card building. In most deck building games you add new cards to your deck. In Mystic Vale you have 20 cards to begin and you always have 20 cards. As you draft new “cards” for your deck in Mystic Vale, what you get are transparencies with features printed on them. You slot these transparencies into your existing cards to change them. This creates a really neat puzzle as players “build” their own custom cards while fighting their way to victory.
49 – Gardens
In Gardens players place square tiles showing 25% of a flower garden in each corner of the tile. There are 4 player colors (red, blue, yellow, and pink) and each player color is represented by the color of the flower garden on one corner of every card. The goal is to place your tile so that where the tile intersects with other tiles, your color is represented the most. This is a game concept called “area control.” Once 4 tiles have intersected to complete a set of four colors, if one player has a majority of colors in that set, they get to “plant” their garden there. The garden is a special tile that sits over the top of the intersection. This tile is just a bunch of flowers in your color. You want these on the board because this is how you win the game. To make placing tiles a bit more challenging, each tile also has pictures of walkways on them, and many also have water features. When placing a tile, you must match these features up as though you were doing a crossword puzzle. So, it’s not just a matter of putting your color where you want it. But wait, there’s more. Those walkways aren’t just for decoration. Your gardens don’t plant themselves. Every player has gardeners (pawns) that walk on those walkways. When you place a new tile, your gardener has to have a clear path to walk to the tile that you’ve placed. If your gardener can’t get to a tile, you can’t place it there. (And other player’s pawns can block your gardener.) I really can’t emphasize how much I love this game. It would be in my top 10 except that the two player version of the game is a little wonky. In the two player variant, to keep the board “tight,” each player plays 2 colors. (So, it’s really a 4 player game.) Julie and I really didn’t like trying to alternate between colors like that. It made things more confusing than they needed to be. (I am considering trying to play the game straight with just one color per player to see how it works, but haven’t tried it yet.) Gardens is a great game, but don’t expect to pick one up at your local game store. It was only published in Germany. (I had to find the English language rules on line and print them out for my copy.) But, if you really want to play, give me or Julie a call! I’m sure that we could work something out.
48 – Azul
Another tile laying game, Azul nudges past Gardens in my list (because of the aforementioned 2 player issue.) In Azul, players take turns drafting colored tiles from the supply to their player board. Later in the round, players score points based on how they've placed their tiles. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and completing sets. Wasted tiles harm the player's score, and it’s possible for other players to draft tiles in such a way that you can get stuck with a bunch of tiles that you can’t use. Azul is an interesting puzzle. The tiles are attractive chunky pieces of bakelite of various colors and with various patterns. Azul looks great on the table, and Julie and I like pretty games, so this helps to push Azul further up in my 100. Azul is a game you can easily find in your local game store, and it even has a couple of sequel games that are also very good.
47 – Pandemic Fall of Rome
I have already talked a bit about Pandemic and cooperative games. Fall of Rome is a Pandemic game where you are defending Rome from hoards of various enemies and trying to prevent Rome’s inevitable collapse through diplomatic and military means. This is a great variant of the famous cooperative game. It adds combat mechanics which are neat, and Julie doesn’t mind so much when we lose because, “That’s what was supposed to happen.”
46 – Pandemic The Cure
So, moment of truth: I don’t actually own the base game of Pandemic. I have Cthulhu, which plays very similarly but with a much cooler theme. I have Fall of Rome, which plays very similarly but with a much cooler theme, and I have this game, The Cure. Pandemic The Cure has the same theme as base Pandemic. (Save the world from a pandemic – very topical.) But, Pandemic The Cure’s game play is nothing like base Pandemic, and I for one, like The Cure much better. Pandemic The Cure is a dice game. Dice are used instead of cards to spread disease and represent disease in the world. Speaking of which, “the world” in The Cure is (for me) much easier to navigate than the cumbersome game board of the base game. Here you have coasters representing different parts of the world, and moving between them is very straight forward. There’s never any problem figuring out where something goes. Finally, the player powers in The Cure are awesome. Every individual player has their own set of specialty custom dice that reflects the abilities of their unique character. This awesome aspect of the game elevates it past all the other Pandemic games. Pandemic The Cure is the best!