I was recently blamed by a friend for my articles on this website making him spend over $100 on board games. I know Iím wont to effusively praise most games on here, so Iím going to make an effort here to come up with an Anti-Top 50 list of games. Iím generally full of praise because I honestly love most eurogames. Clearly Iím a fan, given the fact that I couldnít limit myself merely to a Top 10 favorites, but rather needed to expand to a Top 20, which wasnít enough, and now I canít even fit into a Top 50 favorites since Iím overflowing into a bunch of honorable mentions. Nonetheless, there are still a few games that I just donít get or simply donít gel with me. So if youíre looking for a list of games that you can avoid, in order to save money (or shelf space), in contrast to my normal advice to Buy! Buy! Buy!, then look no further. Iíve suffered through all of these games (many of them multiple times to confirm my opinions) so you donít have to, and Iím happy to warn you about them. Although, I should preface this with a warning to my warning, which is that lots of people love many of these games, and to each his or her own. I'm not trying to say that these are bad games or that they have something intrinsically wrong with them, but rather that I don't enjoy them (and hopefully I will shed some light on why I don't enjoy them so that you can decide for yourself whether they may or may not be right for you). De gustibus non disputandum est. However, with that being said, if you find your tastes in games aligning with mine based on the rest of the articles on this website, and youíre looking to prune your wishlist, then youíd do well to check out this list of my least favorite board games.
The order of this list is a complex and highly scientific combination of factors (or perhaps itís somewhat arbitrary). The order is based on: (a) how much I donít like something, (b) how popular the game is (i.e., how overrated I think it is), and (c) how many times Iíve played it (so games Iíve played more times tend to appear higher on this list since Iím more sure of my negative opinion). I based the order on this combination of factors because it didnít make sense to stick the flat-out worst games at the top of the list since youíre probably not even considering whether to buy those games. I also excluded mindless and pointless games like LCR, Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, War, Tic-Tac-Toe, and even the likes of Monopoly, Risk, and Life. I limited myself to hobby games, designer games, or German-style games, depending on your preferred nomenclature. So this means that the game ranked at 10 on this list is not necessarily worse than the game ranked at 20 (since the order is a combination of how much I dislike a game, how overrated it is, and how many times Iíve played it). So without further ado, itís time to reverse the trend of constantly praising games on this site, and hopefully help keep you from going bankrupt spending all of your money on games in the process.
Power Grid Ė Iíve already said all there is to say about why I donít like this game in my Frieseís Fiddly Funkenschalg Flop review. Itís definitely not the worst game on this list, but seeing as it is currently ranked as the #3 game of all-time on BoardGameGeek, and my formula of balancing my dislike of a game with itís general popularity in determining the ranking here, it is the clear choice for the #1 spot on my Anti-Top 50. I clearly just donít get it when it comes to Power Grid since it has throngs of adoring fans (including 920 people who give the game a 10 out of 10 rating on BGG, which means they think it is ďOutstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never changeĒ). Iíve played it 5 times so I think Iíve given it a fair shot and itís time for me to move on. Itís clearly just too mathematical for me and the catch-up mechanic bothers me too much, although I will concede that I love the supply-and-demand resource market in the game and would like to try a different game that employs a similar market. So maybe Iím only temporarily saving you a penny, until I find that other game with a similar market mechanic, which Iíll surely recommend and urge you to buy.
Acquire Ė Iíve played Acquire 6 times and have been actively trying to avoid playing it again, having gone so far as to sell my copy recently. While I recognize that this is a classic game and a grandfather to modern eurogames, Iíve come to realize that I can respect it without having to partake in it (like Mozart in a way). I have two major problems with Acquire. First, if you're not involved in the first or second merger, youíre going to face a serious uphill battle for the rest of the game. You need your company to go defunct quickly to get a majority or minority bonus right away. Second, more often than not, all 6 of the tiles you're holding don't do anything at all, and you can't help but place one of them completely randomly because none of them add to an existing corporation, join corporations, or present the possibility of forming a corporation; they're just off in the middle of nowhere. This is particularly true in the first half of the game. I have never understood what people see in this game. It's alright, but I feel like I must be missing somethingÖ perhaps nostalgia?
Modern Art Ė The first (and not the last) Knizia design to make the list. Reiner Knizia is certainly one of my favorite game designers (if not my overall favorite, contending with Wolfgang Kramer for that title), given the fact that Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, and Through the Desert all reside in my Top 20, but Knizia is so unbelievably prolific that some of his games are sure to be duds, at least for me. Iím sure just about everyone can find a couple Knizia games they really enjoy and a few theyíd rather never play again. Modern Art is my least favorite Knizia game. It has the unfortunate destiny of inevitably being compared to the rest of Kniziaís ďAuction TrilogyĒ (i.e., Modern Art, Ra, Medici), and coming up short in my mind. I enjoy Ra much more, as evidenced by my 53 plays of Ra. Although I gave Modern Art a decent shot with 4 plays. Perhaps Iím missing something but precise valuation of the item up for auction in Modern Art seems much easier than in Ra. This makes the process of bidding less interesting and more of a foregone conclusion. Everyone knows the maximum possible value of each painting sold, and as bidding tends to approach that value, it seems more and more pointless. I seem to do better in this game when I actually sit out and donít win any of the auctions since the return on a painting is so slim. This is due not only to the fact that itís easier to predict the values, but also, and more importantly, due to the fact that each item up for auction is worth the same to every person, in stark contrast to the divergence that players quickly experience in Ra.
San Juan Ė I donít like San Juan. I didnít enjoy Race for the Galaxy. And now Iím afraid to even try Glory to Rome. I think you get the picture. I must not be a fan of hand management and card combinations. Theyíre just not mechanics that interest me. Moreover, these card games arenít much quicker than board games, so Iíd generally just rather be playing a board game instead. As for San Juan in particular, itís not as interesting as the board game upon which itís based (i.e., Puerto Rico). I do think the mechanic of having the cards in your hand double as currency in San Juan is clever, but the game usually feels rather boring (at least in my 4 plays of it) as players go back and forth building racing to build whatever they draw. Perhaps I unfairly compare it to Puerto Rico, but just as with the card game versions of Settlers of Catan, Tigris & Euphrates, and Caylus, the card game version of Puerto Rico is not for me.
Thurn & Taxis Ė Back-to-back Seyfarth designs on the list (so Iíll take a brief moment to say how I enjoy Seyfarthís classic Manhattan more than most people). I canít believe how many times Iíve played this game Ė a whopping 17 plays. What was I thinking? This game has almost no player interaction whatsoever. Thatís saying something, coming from someone who defends the amount of interaction in most games traditionally labeled as ďmulti-player solitaireĒ (e.g., Princes of Florence, Caylus, Agricola). I think thereís plenty of subtle interaction to be found in most games, but Thurn & Taxis must be too subtle for me because I always feel like everyone is playing completely separately. Sure the values of the bonus points decreases if you claim one that someone has previously claimed, but itís not like you really have the flexibility to adapt your route to respond to that and itís not like it makes that big a difference since itís only 1 point. The game feels very repetitive and unoriginal. Perhaps Iím particularly biased against it because it won the Spiel des Jahres in a year when lots of other great games were released, such as Imperial, Arkadia, and Mr. Jack, and one of those is even a good candidate for the family-friendly Spiel des Jahres award (i.e., Rudiger Dornís masterful Arkadia).
Saint Petersburg Ė My opinion of this game steadily dropped over the course of my 9 plays of it. I started off enjoying it very much, but I ended up feeling months later as if every game of Saint Petersburg is remarkably similar to every other game of Saint Petersburg. Buy lots of workers, buy a few buildings, buy as many different aristocrats as possible. Some of the cards are unique and interesting, but most are almost identical with only slight differences. I think this is a well designed game, that is great fun to explore the first few times you play it. But it simply doesn't stand up to numerous repeated plays.
Metro Ė This is the worst tile-laying game I have ever played. First and foremost, the artwork in Metro makes the board look completely convoluted and impossible to decipher. The subway paths on the tiles are twisting and turning so that what should be a light and quick game devolves into a painful exercise of tracing the maze-like paths with your finger to figure out whatís happening in the game. I tried Metro 3 times and promptly traded it away. The other problem with the game is that itís not nearly as interesting as other tile-laying games, such as Carcassonne. There arenít very many different places you can choose to place your tiles and the choices generally arenít very difficult and interesting. Thatís plenty to earn its spot here, but Iíll also mention that the scoring track around the edge of the board is one of the worst offenders, and the game wonít let me choose my color.
Attika Ė Iíve only played this highly recommended Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle game 2 times, but I feel it still deserves a spot in the Anti-Top 10. Iíd be willing to give it a third try, but I got rid of the game, so itíll have to be suggested by someone else if thatís ever going to happen. My expectations for Attika might have been too high (as they probably were for Power Grid) because it came so highly recommended, but I have a general proclivity for enjoying most games I play so plenty of games have met or exceeded my high expectations. The game felt like a boring race to build all 30 tiles, which wasnít interesting and didnít feel like there were really any strategic or difficult decisions to be made. I only played it as a two-player game, so maybe itís better with more players, but Iíve read that the problem with more players is that someone has to sacrifice themselves to block an opponent, but a third party will be the one to benefit, so thereís a collective action problem. Iím happy to just forget about this one and move on as the experience was rather forgettable.
Hacienda Ė I suppose both of my favorite designers arenít perfect. First Knizia makes the list with Modern Art, and now Wolfgang Kramer shows up with Hacienda. Kramer may have designed many of my favorite board games, such as El Granda, Java, and Princes of Florence, but I guess that doesnít mean heís surefire bet. Four plays was more than enough to confirm that I never want to play Hacienda again, especially given the fact that I could playing Through the Desert instead, which scratches the same itch but is infinitely better. Not only does Hacienda introduce the luck of the cards into the mix (whereas Through the Desert is one of the rare eurogames without any luck whatsoever), but it also incorporates the scoring system that I abhor (just like Saint Petersburg and Stone Age). The market links in Hacienda score based on the 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, etc. progression, just like the aristocrats in Saint Petersburg. The problem I have with mixing this sort of scoring system with other methods of scoring that merely grow incrementally is that it makes the games lopsided. The strategy becomes dominated by trying to connect the most markets (or get the most unique aristocrats) with the rest of the methods of scoring becoming secondary. I just donít understand choosing to play Hacienda when Through the Desert is available instead.
Australia Ė Rounding out the top 10, Kramer proves that Seyfarth isnít the only one with back-to-back duds. Australia was another disappointing Wolfgang Kramer game after 4 plays, and this one was actually co-designed with Michael Kiesling (who worked with Kramer on the fabulous Java, excellent Torres, and solid Maharaja, among others). It may be unfair to compare games like Hacienda and Australia to the other brilliant Kramer releases, but compare them I always do nonetheless. First, the rules of Australia were very unclear and the translation was incorrect at points. Second, the flimsy plastic bits just donít cut it for me. Third, limiting color choice by the number of players is a pet peeve of mine obviously. Those are all separate from the gameplay itself, which was also unsatisfying. You donít seem to have many viable options on your turn with the best play seeming fairly obvious, unlike Java with its wide open possibilities on each turn.
Citadels Ė I donít know if it was the designerís idea to claim the game works well with anywhere from 2 to 7 players, but if it was the publisher then they did a huge disservice to this game. Iím a bit of a stickler for honing in on the optimal number of players for any given game, and Citadels is one of the worst offenders. I think the game is decent with 4 or 5 players, but suffers at either extreme end of the spectrum. With 6 or 7 players, the game takes far too long, with excessive downtime between turns. With 2 or 3 players, the bluffing mechanic during role selection doesnít work nearly as well. Just like Bohnanza, the claim of 2-7 players is rather overstated. Even with the potentially perfect middle number of players, the game has a tendency to get bogged down and take too long for what it is. The role selection part is somewhat interesting as you are often torn between a couple different possible roles, but your actual turn of drawing cards, collecting money, and constructing buildings is dull. Iíve tried it 6 times so far, and wouldnít necessarily veto a future play, but would definitely be happy to get rid of my copy.
Marvel Heroes Ė This one would likely make the Anti-Top 10 if I played it a couple more times (and was thus even more sure of my reaction), but as it is Iíve only played it once, and I hope to avoid playing it ever again. Itís surprising given that itís from the same Italian design team that brought us the impressive War of the Ring, but I guess if this list teaches us anything, itís that designers are human, and just because you like or love one of a designerís games, you may just hate a different one created by the same person. I'm a big advocate of games only lasting as long as they should, and this game lasts far longer than it ought to. I don't mind playing a long game of Die Macher or another game that has enough meat to keep it interesting, but this game takes far too long for what it offers. It is essentially a dice-fest, but adds in far too many rules complexities, making the game bog down and drag (and I donít mind a dice-fest if itís of an appropriate length, such as Nexus Ops or Canít Stop). It might be slightly better for big fans of the source material, but I'm not sure. The other problem is that the board is completely irrelevant because there is almost no player interaction. You simply place a unit on the board to fight against a randomly drawn card from the enemy deck, and then take your unit back, over and over again. It would be fine if it was shorter and simpler so it could do what it does best, but instead it's caught in a no man's land of being neither short enough nor heavy enough.
5-6 Player Expansion for Settlers of Catan Ė The first of two expansions to make the list, and both expansions are for very good base games interestingly. This is the worst expansion in my book. I love Settlers of Catan with either 3 or 4 players, and unlike many people I canít decide whether I prefer it with the open board of a three-player game or a tighter board of a four-player game, but regardless, Iím sure I hate it with 5 and especially with 6 players. As I explained above for Marvel Heroes, a game needs to last the right length for that game, whether that be 15 minutes for Canít Stop or over 4 hours for Die Macher or Roads & Boats. This 5-6 Player Expansion for Settlers of Catan turns a game that lasts the right amount of time into a game that definitely overstays its welcome. The negotiations take far too long with so many people and the downtime incurred by adding in an artificial way to let people use resources on other peopleís turn to avoid the robber hand limit make this game a painful experience with extra players. Two plays with this expansion were two plays too many, thank you very much.
Taj Mahal Ė Another highly regarded Knizia classic makes the list. I wanted to love Taj Mahal. Knizia plus Alea was a recipe for high expectations, which is why I gave Taj Mahal 8 plays before giving up on it and trading it away. Iíll start with the best thing that Taj Mahal has going for it, which is that itís a rare eurogame that allows players to not only make short-term tactical decisions, but also long-term strategic decisions (i.e., whether to focus on connecting a network of palaces or on collecting goods such as rice and spices). Most eurogames are excessively tactical so Taj Mahal was a welcome reprieve from that tendency. However, the game just doesnít work in my mind. Players are playing cards to attempt claim a few prizes available on each turn, with each prize going to the person who plays cards with the most symbols corresponding to that prize. The problem is that playing the cards goes around and around the table so an arms race can develop, and that everyone loses all of the cards played, regardless of whether they win any of the prizes. As a result, the players who happen to draw the cards and go after the uncontested prizes will win what theyíre after easily, and the players who happen to get stuck in card battles will lose horribly. Iíve been on both ends of this and itís really not enjoyable regardless of the result. For example, player A could get stuck over a few turns in card battles with B, C, and D, whereas B, C, and D are only stuck in those battles with A. Thus, A has 3 card battles, and everyone else has 1. The cards expended in one of these contests are valuable and both players in a battle lose in actuality, even the one who wins, because the one who technically wins really paid far too much for the prize usually, and the winner is the person who was fortunate enough to run off for a different prize cheaply. I know itís supposed to be a game about picking your battles and essentially folding much of the time to avoid such costly contests, but youíre still wasting cards and coming up empty-handed when you fold and after repeated turns of folding youíre sure to find yourself lagging significantly. Iíll stick to the plenty of other Knizia games that work for me, and leave this to one the poker players.
Niagara Ė Another Spiel des Jahres winner that suffers my wrath in part because of its undeserving win of that coveted award. Niagara even managed to win in 2005 when the hobby was flooded with fabulous games, such as Kreta, Louis XIV, Caylus, Twilight Struggle, and Bonaparte at Marengo. I know most of those are obviously not contenders for the family-friendly SDJ award, but definitely Kreta and maybe even Louis XIV are far more worthy. Niagara is a gimmick. It gives off the appearance of being an innovative game with nice components and an interesting mechanic of a flowing river. But the choices are very limited and the game can overstay its welcome. 8 plays of Niagara has been enough for the sheen to wear off, and makes me wonder if the jury members deciding the award quit playing after just a few plays before they saw through the veneer. Save yourself a mountain of pennies and take a pass.
Pirateís Cove Ė Pirate themed games are an elusive genre with people always looking for the best pirate game and usually coming up empty-handed (sort of like the ďCiv LiteĒ Bigfoot of the gaming world). I only tried Pirateís Cove once, but that was enough to convince me to avoid it henceforth. Itís an extremely frustrating game because everyone simultaneously and secretly chooses where to send their ship, and then all reveal together. This mechanic works in some games, such as Wallenstein or RoboRally, but not here. Itís frustrating in Pirateís Cove because you canít fight someone and exact revenge on them no matter how hard you try, unless you get lucky and pick the same destination as them. It seems very silly to just sail off to a practically random destination every turn and if you happen to be all alone youíre in luck, or you might find yourself face to face with someone elseís cannons. As far as pirate themed games, Iím not particularly on a quest for one, but the relatively abstract Cartagena by Leo Colovini does the trick for me instead.
Entdecker Ė Iíve been intrigued by Entdecker ever since I first learned that Klaus Teuber originally conceived of Entdecker, Settlers of Catan, and Lowenherz as one giant game before later breaking them down into three distinct games. Iíve played Entdecker 5 times in my attempt to explore it and discover what it has to offer. Iíve come to the conclusion that it doesnít have much to offer, and as with many tile-laying games, it comes up short in comparison to Carcassonne, and as with all Teuber designs, it comes up short in comparison to Settlers. I simply donít feel like Iím making any interesting and meaningful decisions while playing Entdecker. Sure I have to decide where to start the boat each turn and how many tiles to buy, but thereís no saying what tiles are going to show up, and itís very frustrating when none of the tiles fit where youíre going. I donít mind a bit of randomness in my games (for example, I already mentioned above enjoying Kreta and Nexus Ops), but this game just seems so aimless and meandering.
Memoir í44 Ė Iím not going to go into much detail about Memoir í44 or its brethren, Battle Lore and Commands & Colors: Ancients, because Iíve already written up my problems with these games elsewhere. Iíll simply point you to my C&C Game Factory article where youíll find a more detailed description of my disappointment. If youíre looking for a condensed version, it would go something like this: (1) long setup time, (2) excessive dice, (3) poorly integrated theme, (4) fiddly, and (5) unpainted. So I guess my overly verbose articles can be boiled down to a sentence, go figure.
Antike Ė I canít believe how wrong I was to dismiss Imperial in my reflections on the 2006 Essen releases because I didnít enjoy Antike and figured that another game by Mac Gerdts with the Rondel mechanic would be too similar. How wrong I was! I ended up loving Imperial (and even naming it my favorite game of 2006) and never feeling the need to revisit Antike again. I originally had pretty high hopes for Antike after reading about it, until I saw the Board Games with Scott video, which praised the game, but explained that fighting was relatively punishing so players tended to turtle (i.e., build up in their own corner and avoid conflict). Games that allow fighting but discourage it are a pet peeve of mine (e.g., Twilight Imperium), and I was worried that this would fit that mold. Unfortunately it did. I was somewhat ambivalent about the game until I later tried Imperial. I liked the Rondel mechanic since it makes turns quick and presents some difficult decisions, but combat w almost too simplistic for its own good. The game also felt split into two parts, with the first being a race to pick up the easy victory points, and then everyone reached a plateau, at which point whoever could avoid fighting and wait around to pick up the spoils would have the best chance of winning. The stalemate plateau towards the end of this game really soured the experience since an arbitrary third party who was able to avoid fighting the longest ended up winning. Now that I have Imperial to scratch the Rondel itch, I donít think Iíll ever have to return to Antike, and you can skip this first entry in the trilogy altogether and move right along to the sequel.
Lord of the Rings Ė Speaking of trilogies, this is game that doesnít live up to the trilogy upon which it is based. Speaking of sequels, the next Lord of the Rings game by the same designer is infinitely better in my book. Reiner Knizia gave us this cooperative Lord of the Rings game in 2000, but came out with the two-player Stratego-esque Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation in 2002, and that next effort at translating the franchise to a board game is my go-to game if Iím looking for hobbits and rings in my board games. I had originally thought that it was possibly just the cooperative nature of this board game that turned me off, but having played Pandemic three times and enjoyed it significantly, I suppose I can say that itís really just the boring gameplay that actually turned me off. In contrast to the tense and edge-of-your-seat nature of Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, this prior Lord of the Rings game is tedious and lacks anything compelling to keep you engaged.
Ticket to Ride: Europe Ė This second version of Ticket to Ride is caught in no manís land between the great simplicity of the original Ticket to Ride (with the United States map) and the third version, which was Ticket to Ride Marklin (with the map of Germany). The basic first version is still the best of the bunch for introducing new people to board games (and is one of the best three games for that purpose in my mind, alongside Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan). The more complex third version (Marklin) with the addition of passengers and splitting the tickets into short and long decks is my favorite version for playing with more experience players. That just leaves Ticket to Ride: Europe with no reason to exist. It adds the confusion of tunnels, ferries, and stations without adding another layer of strategy (in contrast to the passengers in Marklin), so youíre simply getting more rules without any reward for that extra complexity. Iíve tried it 3 times and think Iíll stick to the others in the series from now on.
Gheos Ė I was very excited about Gheos in October of 2006 when it was released. Iíd read the rules and it sounded like a wonderful mix of the tile-laying from Carcassonne with the civilization building from Tigris & Euphrates with the timing mechanic from Ra. It was a match made in heaven since those are all games I love. I was so willing to give Gheos a chance that I actually played it 14 times before eventually trading it away. In practice the game just doesnít seem to work. The rules seemed great, but the game itself didnít live up to my hopes. The problems with the game are difficult to describe, but basically itís too chaotic and too difficult to come back from a deficit. The first problem is that itís too chaotic because players can either play a new tile to expand the landscape or play a new tile to replace an existing tile. While you have to pay sometimes when replacing, there are many times when you can replace without paying, and the cost isnít very large anyway, so the land masses are constantly shifting and rarely growing. This makes the lifespan of the civilization much shorter than in Tigris & Euphrates. The second problem is that itís very difficult to catch up once you fall behind because the leader can simply take followers in the same civilizations and match the person theyíre beating stride for stride to make sure the gap canít be closed. The limited number of followers available in each civilization is a neat idea, but in practice it means the players, especially in a two-player game, wonít be able to differentiate themselves significantly if one player is trying to prevent that from happening. Finally, I have to say that the artwork is very distracting with all of the grain, sword, cup, temple, and pyramid symbols strewn across the landscape making it very difficult to read the map at a glance.
Carcassonne: Princess & Dragon Ė As many people have pointed out before, Carcassonne: Princess & Dragon is when Carcassonne expansions ďjumped the shark.Ē Iíve tried playing with this expansion 4 times and am now looking to get rid of it. I really enjoy Carcassonne, and as I discuss in my review of the game, I think the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansion add a lot to the game, making it much better. I only play with those expansions now. This expansion on the other hand is not a worthwhile addition to the franchise and is when it began to feel like expansions were simply being released for the sake of releasing expansions rather than for the sake of adding interesting elements to the game. The dragon unit that the game takes half its name from is relatively useless since players take turns moving it back-and-forth, so that it almost always walks in circles and rarely actually impacts the game. This is particularly true in a two-player game (which is the best number of players for Carcassonne in my view) because you simply take turns marching the dragon around the board, but almost never reaching any meeples to devour.
Pillars of the Earth Ė Now itís time for a trio of worker placement games that pale in comparison to the king of the worker placement genre Ė Caylus, and its two decent followers Age of Empires III and Agricola. First up is Pillars of the Earth. Iíve only tried Pillars of the Earth once, but once was enough. It would almost certainly appear higher on this list if Iíd played it a couple more times. Iíve already explained my reasons for disliking this ďCaylus cloneĒ in my article on the Attia Family Tree. Iíll post an excerpt of that discussion here: ďThe first descendant was Michael Rieneckís and Stefan Stadlerís Pillars of the Earth, nominally based on the Ken Follett novel of the same name, but based in much greater degree on the William Attia game of a different name. Pillars of the Earth was widely referred to as ďCaylus LiteĒ (at least until Caylus Magna Carta was later released), an appellation that I think is very fitting. Pillars was widely expected to win the 2007 Spiel des Jahres award, but it turned out to not even be nominated, only receiving a ďlowly recommendation,Ē with the ultimate prize going to Michael Schachtís panda-covered Zooloretto (a shoe-in in hindsight). However, Pillars of the Earth did win the 2007 Deutscher Spiele Preis, which is generally known as the ďgamersí game awardĒ (and is actually one of the awards that my preferences correlate best with) and the Game of Year from Games Magazine. Despite all of this, I donít see myself ever wanting to play Pillars of the Earth again, especially given the alternative game (i.e., Caylus) that could be played instead. This might be surprising given how much Pillars had going for it, those things being the features that it borrows from Caylus and that make it unbelievably reminiscent of its parent, not only the unique worker placement but also the more traditional engine-building concept of converting resource cubes into victory points. Despite all this, or maybe because of it, Pillars pales in comparison to Caylus for me because the blind draw of the master builders from the bag ruined this game. Unlike Caylus where workers are placed consecutively, the workers are randomly drawn from a bag in Pillars, with the first workers drawn being exceedingly expensive to place, such that those players end up passing and having to place last after all the good spots are taken. The luck of the worker draw (along with the randomness of the cards) results in a game that takes most of the concepts of Caylus out of a game that involves no luck and puts them into a game that involves a large amount of luck. This may be just what others were hoping for and enjoy most, but itís definitely not something I personally enjoy at all. This is not to say that I dislike luck in all games, just look at how much I enjoy Nexus Ops, Kreta, and Tigris & Euphrates, but rather that luck has its place, and needs to fit into the game for me. Perhaps its just that I never felt the need for a ďCaylus Lite,Ē so I was prejudiced against a slimmed down version of the game, but Pillars of the Earth was the first in a long line of embarrassing children in this potentially illustrious family.Ē
Caylus Magna Carta Ė William Attiaís homage to the long tradition of releasing card game versions of successful board games was Caylus Magna Carta, the true ďCaylus Lite,Ē which stripped Pillars of the Earth of that (dis)honorary title in many peopleís minds. To be perfectly honest, I don't really understand the appeal of card game versions of board games. I guess I'm not the target audience because I don't find games like Caylus, Puerto Rico, or Tigris & Euphrates too long or complicated. And thus I don't feel the need to own or play the shorter and simpler card game versions. I gave Caylus Magna Carta a try and it certainly wasn't bad, but I just don't see the point. Itís not that much shorter than Caylus, maybe saving you 15 to 30 minutes. But in saving that time you're losing the favor track and adding in a fair amount of luck with the card draw. I just don't see any reason for games like this to exist except to capitalize monetarily on the predecessor gameís success. The favor track in Caylus was one of its principal virtues, injecting a good deal of long-term strategic decision-making into an otherwise principally short-term tactical game, distinguishing it from the masses of overly tactical eurogames. Removing the favor track was like removing the soul of the game, leaving you with the body of the game, but no heart, and nothing compelling to draw you into the game.
Stone Age Ė The third and final worker placement game to make this list. I simply don't see any reason for this game to exist. Iíve played it 5 times in order to make sure to give it a fair shot. I understand that every designer wants to try his or her hand at the worker placement genre, and some manage to distinguish themselves sufficiently to make them worthwhile, but more often than not they simply end up paling in comparison to the original and greatest worker placement game Ė Caylus. Just like Pillars of the Earth which came before it, Stone Age is another worker placement, resource collection, turn resources into victory points game that I can't see ever wanting to play when I could just as well be playing Caylus. The added randomness of Stone Age is a downside in my mind, as is the scoring of the artifact cards (reminiscent of the aristocrats in St. Petersburg or markets in Hacienda). I didn't like that scoring progression in those games and don't like it in Stone Age either. I simply don't understand why games like this exist.
Carcassonne: The Castle Ė Another trio of games, but this time itís Carcassonne stand-alone spin-offs. This is another Knizia design that I was very excited about, just like Taj Mahal. This time I was excited because it was a combination of Reiner Knizia and the Carcassonne franchise. I was also expecting great things from Carcassonne: The Castle because the idea of limiting the placement of tiles by using a frame to surround where the tiles can grow is a great idea for making two-player Carcassone tighter. In the end though, after playing Carcassonne: The Castle three times, I traded it away. Iíd already played and enjoyed the base Carcassonne game so many times that my brain couldnít intuitively grasp the rule that only roads need to line up in Carcassonne: The Castle, and the other features donít need to line up between tiles. This is unlike the original Carcassonne, and is the reason that I canít grasp or enjoy any of the subsequent stand-alone Carcassonne games. The board is just ugly because it doesnít fit together like a puzzle since the non-road features can simply end abruptly without matching up.
Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers Ė Another stand-alone Carcassonne game that I traded away after playing 3 times. I have different problems with this version though. All of the features do have to match up but the game has two other problems. First, Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers simplifies the farming, which makes it much less interesting. This may be a positive for some people, but itís a major negative to me. The value of the farms in this H&G version is based on the number of animals in the farm, unlike the original Carcassonne where itís based on the number of completed cities, which is a separate variable that other players can influence by making cities harder to complete or making them decide whether to complete their own cities and where to build their cities. Thereís a lot more to consider in the original and the farms play a much bigger role, which makes the endgame of the original Carcassonne very tense and interesting as players try to add meeples to the large farms, which often determine the outcome. Second, the fact that Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers only has one meager expansion to spice it up is a major detriment in my mind. Unlike the originally Carcassonne, which has the great Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions, plus the decent King expansion, Count expansion, and River expansion, the later Hunters & Gatherers stand-alone only has one small Scout expansion. This means that H&G pales in comparison to the original since it lacks all of the possible variability and choices in terms of how to play by mixing-and-matching the expansions.
Carcassonne: The City Ė Itís three in a row for the Carcassonne franchise and the fourth appearance on the list, which may just be a product of my bias for the original Carcassonne. Carcassonne: The City appears below Carcassonne: The Castle because Iíve only tried The City once, but the reason it makes the list is the same reason I got rid of The Castle. The City is another stand-alone version of Carcassonne in which only the roads need to match up when placing tiles and the rest of the features donít need to match up. This make the board less attractive, but more importantly it makes the game less intuitive. The nice thing about the original Carcassonne is that new players can grasp how to play without even needing much of a rules explanation. If you give someone a handful of tiles they will naturally try to make them all match up. All you need to explain is how scoring works. The box and components of The City are definitely nice, but the gameplay makes me wish I was playing the original Carcassonne instead.
Turf Master Ė Iím not a huge fan of racing games, but if theyíre short enough then they can be fun, such as Um Reifenbreite and Jamaica. However, Turf Master is a long racing game. Very long. Unlike the racing games that I enjoy, which take about 45 minutes, Turf Master takes well over an hour, possibly up to 90 minutes. Itís very repetitive over that time with players doing the same thing over and over again. I like the use of dice in Turf Master because the same dice rolls affect everyone (like in Galaxy Trucker), but the game is just boring and tedious after a while.
Hart an der Grenze Ė Talk about games that take too long for what they are. As with Marvel Heroes and Turf Master, this is another game that overstays its welcome. Hart an der Grenze is a light and silly bluffing game where players put try to smuggle valuable goods in a suitcase and lie about its contents with a straight face. It might be fun for 20 minutes, but definitely not for 45 minutes or more. Itís not that I canít handle long games, as Iíve said, itís that I want a game to last the appropriate length for the gameís depth. The deeper and more complex a game, the longer it can be without overstaying its welcome. You donít see fun and silly Haba dexterity games lasting for an hour (just like you donít see monster Splotter games finishing in under an hour), so other games should take a hint from that and gauge the length by how much the game has to offer in terms of interesting and engaging decision-making. Iíve only tried Hart an der Grenze once, so maybe it would work better with a different group of people, and Iíd be willing to play it again to give it another chance.
Masons Ė Leo Colovini is often unfairly maligned as making overly abstract games with irrelevant themes and yet games that are not true abstracts (like a Project GIPF game) because of their use of luck. So theyíre caught in the middle between a eurogame and an abstract. However, I actually find myself enjoying some Colovini games, such as Clans and also Cartagena. Masons, on the other hand, was a Colovini game that went too far for me. It was completely abstract and excessively random. The luck of the dice and the cards would be fitting for a light eurogame. The complete lack of any meaningful theme would be fitting for a pure abstract game. The mix of the two just doesnít seem fitting for any game. Itís fine if the theme is paper thin if thereís no luck or little luck, such as Through the Desert which I enjoy very much. Itís fine if thereís lots of luck if I have a theme to explain the luck, such as Nexus Ops which I also enjoy very much. Masons, like Ticket to Ride: Europe discussed above, is another game caught in a middle no manís land.
Brass Ė Martin Wallace games have a unique, quirky feeling and sometimes youíre just in the mood for Wallace design. If I have three players then Iíll opt for Byzantium, four players then pull out Perikles, five players means its time for Liberte, and if I want to skip all those and just play his masterpiece then Age of Steam it is. This leaves no room for Brass, which is just as well since after playing it twice I donít think it quite matches his others. He set a high standard though, so thatís not saying that Brass isnít necessarily fairly good. I made sure to give this a second try after not being particularly enamored after my first play, and the second play only served to confirm my feeling that this may just not be for me. Many people seem to love this one, and I was certainly eagerly anticipating Wallace finally making another non-fighting game, since heíd been doing things like Byzantium and Perikles lately. However, I think Iíd always choose Age of Steam over Brass because Age of Steam is just a more fulfilling route-building game. Admittedly Brass is very different, and has some interesting elements going for it, such as the clever way the resource market and movement works and the upgrading of buildings (like a technology tree). I donít mind the board wiping clean in Amun-Re, but the way the Old and New Kingdoms work in Brass just doesn't sit right with me as it seems a bit too forced. I also know I shouldn't judge the game's balance after only two players when I'm sure it was playtested countless times, but I can't see the shipyards not being the dominant strategy, so the idea of having plenty of choices seems misleading since getting your four shipyards seems like it ought to be your focus, it's certainly been the winning strategy in both games I played. I'd be willing to give Brass a third try, but won't be seeking to play it again.
Vegas Showdown Ė Another tenuous connection to Amun-Re, but in a very different way. Unlike Brass, which imitates Kniziaís Amun-Re in its distinct first and second halves of the game which requires removing almost everything from the board that has been built up, Vegas Showdown imitates Kniziaís Amun-Re in its auction mechanic. In fact, it very closely imitates Amun-Re because it has a board broken up into regions with a strip of numbers in each region, and players have to bid the next higher amount on that strip if they want to win that region. This makes for an interesting auction because it takes away the flexibility to bid up by however much you want and forces the bids to get increasingly expensive at a faster rate. Vegas Showdown doesnít borrow as directly from Kramerís Princes of Florence, but it still feels a good deal like it because players are all building up a network of buildings on their own player mat, trying to get the right buildings and make them fit well in their own playing area. I enjoy both Amun-Re and Princes of Florence very much, and highly recommend both, but Vegas Showdown didnít appeal to when I played it. If the theme grabs you then this might be the right game for you, but otherwise, youíd be better served playing one of the more finely tuned eurogames that it imitates. Iím glad to see Avalon Hill bringing eurogame mechanics to American games, but that doesnít mean Iíd rather play the imitation over the real thing.
Zooloretto Ė Iíve only played Zooloretto once and Coloretto three times, but while I have enjoyed the latter, I am not a fan of the former. The mechanics of the two games are almost identical. Those mechanics are well-suited to the small box, card game, $10, 20-30 minute format of Coloretto. Those same mechanics are not well-matched to a large box, board game, 45-60 minute, more expensive format of Zooloretto. I may be biased against Zooloretto because it won the Spiel des Jahres, instead of the more deserving (in my mind) Arkadia and Notre Dame (not to mention the best game of that year Ė Imperial, which of course had no shot at the award). Then again, I was happy to see Schacht win the award since I very much enjoy some of his previous games, especially Hansa (discussed here) and China. The problem is that the innovative mechanics of the card game Coloretto are a perfect fit for a quick filler game where the level of decision-making is engaging for that amount of time and makes for a tight and exciting game, but those same mechanics just arenít enough to flesh out a full board game version. In both games players are repeatedly faced with one essential decision. There is one empty grouping of items per player at the beginning of each round, and you must decide whether to add a random item to a grouping or to take a grouping. This is often a tough choice as you donít know whether what you want will still be there on your next turn or whether something better will come along or whether what you want will be taken by someone else before your next turn. Itís a great fun, for a little while, which is why I strongly recommend Coloretto, and not Zooloretto.
Yspahan Ė I was enamored with the clever use of dice in this Ystari game when it was first released. I had never seen dice used in such a way in a board game before. Basically there are 6 possible actions, but at the beginning of each round someone rolls 9 dice, and what is rolled determines which actions are available for that round and how strong each action will be. The point of the game is basically to place cubes on the board to fill up regions of various sizes worth various points and to gets gold and camels, which you use to purchase buildings, which in turn give you points and special abilities. The components are nice and the rules flow together well, which make it a very appealing package. However, after 5 plays, I traded the game away because underneath all of that, it dawned on me that there arenít really any meaningful decisions to be made in this game. You are faced over and over with deciding which action to take, but the choice is rarely difficult because it is generally readily apparent which action is best, based on how the dice shake out each turn. Itís not a horrible game, but it doesnít hold my interest, especially at its length (45-75 minutes), given the lack of interesting or tense decisions to be made. I prefer a game where I have to agonize over whether to X or Y, not a game where Iím shepherded merrily along.
Basari Ė This is another in the long line of board games based on the mechanic of trying to out guess your opponents, just like the Klaus Teuber classic Adel Verpflichtet (i.e., Hoity Toity). Itís basically a rock-paper-scissors board game. Players have to choose between three different actions each turn, and the goal is to select an action that no other player chooses. It drags on far longer than it should given the fact that all youíre doing is essentially playing rock-paper-scissors over and over again. Itís not a particularly long game at 30-45 minutes, but it doesnít have nearly enough to it to fill the time it takes.
Mesopotomia Ė I wasn't sure Klaus-JŁrgen Wrede could ever make anything non-Carcassonne. Mesopotamia is a game with gorgeous pieces, but unfortunately it lacks much in the way of variety and different paths to victory I traded it away after playing it four times, which I think is a fair shake for the game. It just never struck me as something I'd be eager to play or ever suggest. I'd be willing to play it if someone else really wanted to, but I don't miss it. The components were nice (e.g., I like the way the tiles of the board interlock, which would be nice for a game like Settlers of Catan), but the gameplay was too repetitive for me.
Tower of Babel Ė Only 12 to go and then Iíll be back to my normal self of raving about tons of fabulous games that you need to rush out and buy, or at the very least try. Not that I havenít snuck in a bit of praise here and there along the way with this list, such as for China, Hansa, Princes of Florence, Amun-Re, Byzantium, Age of Steam, Liberte, Through the Desert, Nexus Ops, and Um Reifenbreite, among many others. In the meantime, while youíre waiting for this list to end so you can finish crossing games off your wishlist, itís time for yet another Knizia game. I guess he just makes so many that probability means Iíll end up disliking a few. I played Tower of Babel three times before getting rid of it. Itís not a horrible game by any means, but it just didnít click and I didnít see it getting to the table any more given all the stiff competition for precious gaming time. I suppose the problems were that Tower of Babel felt very abstract (even for a Knizia game), which was disappointing given its very promising Wonders of the World theme. And it was an abstract game that felt like players had relatively little control and could do relatively little planning. Thatís a bad match for me as I prefer my thematic games to involve luck and my abstract games to not involve luck. Perhaps thereís a gem waiting to be discovered deep inside Tower of Babel, as I suspect many convoluted Knizia scoring systems merely take time to be unpacked and digested, but I donít see myself having the time to learn to appreciate Tower of Babel even if that is the case. My experience with this game has also made me hold off from buying other Knizia games that have received a similarly lukewarm reception in hobby community, such as Palazzo.
Fifth Avenue Ė The ugly step-child of the Alea big-box series. Both this (#9 in the Alea line) and its predecessor Mammoth Hunters (#8 in the Alea line) were destined to fail to live up to the enormous expectations following the release of Seyfarthís Puerto Rico (#7 in the Alea line). Rather than standing on the shoulders of that giant or riding its coat-tails, they both suffered a backlash even larger than they deserved. It was dark days for Aleaís big-box line between the release of Puerto Rico in 2002 and the release of Notre Dame (#11 in the Alea line) in 2007, which was hailed as a game that ďharkened back to the glory days of AleaĒ by Rick Thornquist in his Essen 2006 convention report. Iím actually not one to disparage Mammoth Hunters that much, perhaps because of my predilection for joint Moon and Weissblum area majority game designs. However, despite its overabundance of typos and clear underdevelopment, Mammoth Hunters has a certain charm. Nevertheless, something has to take the fall for three straight sub-par big-box Alea releases, and since I have a soft spot for Mammoth Hunters and havenít played game #10 (i.e., Rum & Pirates), itís got to be Fifth Avenue, which I found completely uninspired after two plays. Perhaps it deserves another shot, and perhaps itíll get another on the strength of being about New York City (which certainly gives Seyfarthís Manhattan a bonus point in my book). But given the number of set collection and auction games out there, Fifth Avenue is competing in awfully crowded field. Some games can stand out not because of their own inherent strength but mainly because they fill an abnormal niche in terms of mechanics, player count, or length, but Fifth Avenue is a mediocre game in possibly the most crowded field form eurogames. Itís analogous to Midgard in the field of area majority games. Both are inoffensive and perfectly decent games, but decent doesnít cut it when youíre up against heavy-weights such as Ra (in set collection and auction) or El Grande (in area majority).
Amyitis Ė Classic Ystari fare, which is a great thing for some people, but is starting to get old for many others, including myself and my game group. Ystari has a knack for sucking all of the life out of games and infusing them with more abstract wooden cubes than you could possibly imagine. This felt new and fresh with Caylus in 2005 as the game was a pure elegant German-style board game focused on efficiency and optimization. This began to feel a bit less inspired and bit more like old hat in 2006 with Ystariís release of Mykerinos. More cubes, more dry, less original. The straw that broke the camelís back was Amyitis in 2007. Yet another game in the line of classic Ystari fare that lacked any sense of originality or freshness. Thankfully Ystari has also started to break its own mold with games like Yspahan and Metropolys, but Iím still wary of the upcoming Sylla and whether it wall fall back into the previous pattern, only time will tell. For the time being Iíve got a lightly used copy of Amyitis available because 3 plays was enough. Sure thereís a working game there with some interesting decisions and probably depth as well, but no hook to keep me coming back for more.
Downfall of Pompeii Ė One of Klaus-Jurgen Wredeís few non-Carcassonne games, but one that proves perhaps he should stick to his tried and true Carcassonne franchise. Downfall of Pompeii was surprisingly light with not very much control and not particularly difficult or interesting decisions. I do like the mechanic of splitting the game into two phases (reminiscent of Fjords, among others) but the game is still very simplistic since it's basically just play a card in the first phase and play a tile in the second phase (although I suppose prioritizing which people to move out of the city first is a decision reminiscent of the difficult early decisions in Through the Desert or Hey That's My Fish). The real crime here is that anyone playing Downfall of Pompeii should do themselves a favor and go out to buy an old copy of the 1982 Parker Brothers classic Survive! This 26-yearold American game is the eerily similar to Downfall of Pompeii but infinitely more fun, exciting, and tense. It has the same sorts of decisions about saving your own people or killing your opponentsí people, trying to position your people and block off your opponents, plus a large amount of luck to make it tense and sill at the same time. If youíre looking for a half-nasty, half-light-hearted game then Survive! is definitely your best bet, and you can leave Pompeii to the archaeologists.
Hoity Toity (Adel Verpflichtet) Ė Long before Klaus Teuber became a ďhousehold nameĒ for Settlers of Catan, he gave the world Adel Verplichtet in 1990. Renamed Hoity Toity for its American publication by Uberplay, and By Hook or Crook
and also Fair Means or Foul for various other publications, this many-named game is widely praised by those nostalgic for having been introduced to the German board game hobby by this Teuber design (#5 in the Alea big-box line). Thankfully Iíve tried it a few times so you donít have to. Just like with Sid Sacksonís classic Acquire, I think nostalgia is coloring many peopleís view of Hoity Toity. Neither game measures up in my mind to modern developments in the board gaming hobby. While I acknowledge that both Acquire and Hoity Toity contributed to the mechanics that we know and love today in our eurogames, and respect both of them for that contribution, I donít see any reason to play either any more. The repetitive rock-paper-scissors of Hoity Toity turns it into an overly long bluffing game where you have nothing to go on but your intuition. Itís a guessing game with not enough information to make informed guesses so a lucky guess is the best kind. Youíll be bored before itís halfway over.
Indus Ė This was one of the worst board games I have ever played. It would appear much higher on this list if I had played it more times to confirm how much I dislike it. It was almost completely random and far too long for what it offered. The artwork on the board was exceedingly confusing, making the game almost impossible to understand at a glance. The rules were very poorly written and did not explain how to play. Did I mention that looking at the board made me almost wish I was blind? The combination of the large role of luck with all of the dice rolling with the perplexing rules and horribly confusing board made this one of the worst board gaming experiences Iíve ever had in many thousands of games played.
To Court the King Ė Glorified Yahtzee. An interesting concept but not my kind of game. Itís not that I donít like any dice in my game (for example I enjoy Age of Steam, Die Macher, Twilight Struggle, Nexus Ops, and Byzantium among others), but rather itís that I need something in addition to the dice to draw me into the game. If the dice are a sideshow that donít overwhelm the main act then Iím willing to accept them, but games like To Court the King make them the main event, which bores me. This is why Iím skeptical of games like Airships and Kinsburg, but would be willing to give both a shot to see how they are in practice.
Tsuro Ė Metro-like path building (see entry #7 above in this list). The best thing I can say about it is that it's very quick, but not much to offer besides that, except pretty nice components. Maybe I have something against twisty, turning paths that are impossible to follow, or perhaps itís just that Iíd like some interesting and meaningful decisions in my games, but either way, Tsuro fails on both counts. It was a 15-minute tile-laying, path-building game so not long enough to be truly boring, but random enough to pointless.
Mille Bornes Ė Perhaps itís unfair to add this 1954 card game to the list since it doesnít fall into the same genre as any of the other games on this list. Itís an old and exceedingly simple card game. However, it has a sufficiently large group of fans to justify a low spot on this list, just to warn you about how very boring it is. Imagine you and your opponent sitting there, poised for an exciting car race, speeding down the highway lightning fast, except thereís one small hitch Ė neither of you can draw a green light card. So youíre stuck and a stand-still, drawing and discarding for turn after turn, with nothing to do but wait. When you finally do get going, your opponent is guaranteed to have a handful of cards to stop you time and time again, so that you spend at least 90% of your time standing still and not moving. Sound like an exciting car racing card game? I didnít think so.
Race for the Galaxy Ė I may have gone into my first game of Race for the Galaxy with a bit of a prejudice since I'd previously played San Juan a number of times and didn't like it at all, but I'd like to think that I kept a somewhat open mind about Race for the Galaxy and that I disliked it on its own merits. It's impossible to not compare San Juan to Race for the Galaxy if you've played both though, and I'm certain that the reasons I don't like the former are pretty much the same reasons that I dislike the latter. These card games are both just boring to me. Hand management and card combinations are not mechanics that interest me, and these card games are not any quicker than board games, so I'd generally just rather be playing a board game instead. I also get frustrated in San Juan and Race for the Galaxy by the fact that you end up spending time reading and thinking about all the cards you draw, but end up tossing the vast majority of them to spend as "money" to place a different card, so it just seems frustrating.
What would a list of 50 games be if I didnít append a few honorable (or not so honorable) mentions onto the end? Iím far from decisive enough to limit the list to a mere 50 games, so Iíve saved some space at the end for a few more games that you can cross off your wishlist. The following five games didnít quite make the cut for the list above, but they were close, so why not give them a shout-out here:
Blue Moon City Ė Meh... this Knizia game didn't grab me in the same way that Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Ra, and Amun-Re all did. It's just not particularly engaging (at least for someone unfamiliar with the Blue Moon theme). I do like how all of the cards are balanced by the 1's having the best ability, the 2's having some ability, and the 3's having no ability. The ability to cycle cards by discarding and redrawing at the end of every turn is nice, and the possibility for interesting card combinations is there, but most turns are still pretty straightforward. The game does scale pretty well from 2 to 4 players, although it's a bit too chaotic with more people. Having played Blue Moon City five times makes me thinks Iíve given it a fair shot and it just doesnít live up to Kniziaís high standards. I wonder if the same game released by an unknown designer would capture the board gaming hobbyís attention and my own attention/praise too, perhaps, but as a Knizia game itís just another so-so game.
Medieval Merchant Ė This game was painful. It had elements that reminded me of Power Grid, and that's definitely not a good thing for me. Just like in Power Grid, the board is ugly and covered with a bunch of cities where everyone is trying to build a network of houses, and the cities are linked by routes that cost varying amounts, with the numbers listed on the routes. There is serious downtime between turns as everyone takes a long time to calculate all the different routes they could use to expand their network of buildings. It's very mathematical and dry and tedious as you are constantly calculating the costs of building and the payouts from doing so.
California Ė This was a disappointing Schacht game indeed. Perhaps it's unfair to compare California to some of my other favorite games of his, like Hansa and China, but it just doesn't measure up in terms of interesting decisions. Your decisions seemed much more obvious in California when deciding what to buy, unlike your moves in either Hansa or China. I'm happy to cross California off my list of games to ever play again or consider buying.
Vabanque Ė Another blind guessing game (in the same vein as Basari or Hoity Toity, both listed above) that I just don't enjoy. If you like bluffing games then give this a try, but if you're like me and find bluffing games more like completely random games (along the lines of Candy Land or Chutes & Ladders) then you can skip this one and count yourself lucky.
Moai Ė This is one of the nastiest and most vicious eurogames I have ever seen. It's all about screwing your opponents. That kind of thing works in a two-player zero-sum environment, but fails in a multi-player one because the results become completely arbitrary as it just depends on who manages to get picked on the least. The experience was particularly soured for me when at the end of the game I was forced to play kingmaker with my move, choosing which out of two opponents would win and which would lose. I could not possibly win on that last turn but I was forced to guarantee victory for one other player.
In case that list was a bit too much negativity, let me reiterate how much I love board games and how I was prompted to write this article because the feedback Iíd gotten was that I was too positive about every board game. In order to temper my excessive praise for most of the games I talk about on this site, I thought it might provide some nice balance to point out a few of the games I didnít enjoy as much. As I said at the beginning, there are many fans for all of these games, so you may very well enjoy some of them and want to try them out. Everyoneís tastes are different and perhaps my description of why I didnít like one of these games will even turn out to be a reason why you might really like one of them. I may not have gone into quite as much detail describing these games since I generally donít know them as well and intentionally havenít taken the time to know them as well as the games that I particularly love and elaborately praise in other articles. But hopefully I gave you enough to go on so that you can decide for yourself whether a game is right for you.