The Decision Space

The Tabletop Game Night Blog

What Makes A Game Make The Top-Ten?

It's a new year, and you know what that means... Top Ten Lists!

I love seeing everybody's top ten tabletop games lists! And, as might be expected, there are some great games out there that made more than a few of those lists. But why should that be the case? There are hundreds (or thousands?) of new games released each year. Certainly, more than a hundred of them should be scattered among all the top ten lists. Alas, there seems to be some repetition.

However, one list was especially engaging to me: the one from Robert Oren. Rob has something to do with MiniatureMarket, and his list was a breath of fresh air. I had not seen any of the games he ranked top-ten on any other top ten list! And the only game I recognized was Too Many Bones. What?! How is that possible? It was like opening a door into a new treasure room! (Another great group of games is from Tom, Zee, and Sam from The Dice Tower.)

I rate games based on a few criteria. High marks in these criteria mean the game is going to be played more because it's enjoyed more. If you have never considered why a particular game is in your top-ten, maybe this will help:

  1. Does it challenge? A game must challenge me in the way I want to be challenged. We all have different moods at different times. In the context of tabletop gaming, this means that one night I might want to play Kingdomino, and the next I might want to play Food Chain Magnate. If I'm hankering for a deep, tactical game, with a variety of possible winning strategies, Machi Koro won't scratch that itch. If I want a light and quickie, chess will be too heavy and long. The point is, for each of whatever moods I might experience, there will be games that challenge me in the mood I'm in. Each game I've mentioned here is satisfactory in one of my moods, but not all of them.

  2. No matter how good a game looks, it better play. Aesthetics are secondary to game-play. Scythe is a beautiful game; but, even if it wasn't, it would still be a good game. (I don't say "great" game because I've only played it a few times, but I am really enjoying it so far. It looks to be a great game.) Food Chain Magnate, according to many people, is just downright ugly and inappropriate. However, I was enamored when I first saw it-- with its simplicity of design and a decor that matches the setting. I immediately saw myself back in a neighborhood of the 50s trying to get my up-start restaurant started up. I, dare say, might even balk at any attempt to re-design the components. Blasphemy! Despite its apparent lack of aesthetic appeal, it is currently #28 in the list of games, putting it far ahead of many other "beautiful" games. That's because it's a great game.

  3. Are the mechanics appealing? There are a variety of mechanics a game can implement. Some mechanics I enjoy (tile placement, worker placement). Others are not appealing (press your luck, co-operative play). This is a somewhat "subjective" type of criteria, because you and I might have different favorite mechanics. But, for my top-ten list, a game will probably include mechanics that I enjoy.

  4. Is. It. Fun? I don't care how amazing a game implements my favorite mechanics, how beautiful it is, or how challenging it could be, if I'm not having fun playing the game, I'll play it once. Once.

And that's it. Does it engage my brain? Does it play good? Do I enjoy the game mechanics? Is it fun? Of course, choosing a game will depend a lot on the group I'm with. I have a Hard Core group of gamers who enjoy the heavier games, and I have a Gamers Lite group that plays not-so-heavy fare. My top-ten for each group is going to be different.

So, what other criteria are there?

One final top ten list, check out Top 10 Board Games of 2017 by Man Vs Meeple. (I actually saw it while writing this article!) Great production value, with a lot of good commentary about all the games.

The top ten list videos in this article are not necessarily the best ones out there. Search for those yourself, because there are so many to choose from. These are just the ones that stuck out from among the ones I watched. Let me know in the comments or in the forum what top-ten videos you appreciated from 2017.

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